A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.

16 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. “Let Them Eat Plague!”

    That’s the title of this fairly long essay.

    It’s worth reading I think although it does bog down at one or two points. An early problem is that it’s the kind of Marxist analysis which can’t find any fault with a nominally Marxist country. China is not Marxist at all any more, so the writer really should not trouble ’emself on that score.

    For me, the surrender of China to COVID-19 marks the final global triumph of capitalism. Capitalism’s (neoliberal) model has triumphed everywhere. Boosters of capitalism will be triumphalist about this but it marks no end of history. It marks an acceleration of history. With no political-economic brakes or obstacles left, capital will make, or rather unmake, the world as it wishes and do so extremely rapidly.

    One of our local boosters of endless infection by a BSL 3 pathogen stated that you “can’t hurt the economy” (by taking any serious measures to contain SARS2). The corollary of this is that “you can hurt people”. This will be the accelerating outcome going forward.

    I’ve read Raina MacIntyre’s book “Dark Winter” and wondered whether it might have been better titled “Dark Genetics” or “Genetic Winter”. A parallel to “nuclear winter” is intended in the title. We have the power now. We could destroy ourselves with a genetic winter just as easily as we could destroy ourselves with a nuclear winter.

    One of Prof. MacIntyre’s lines of argument is that serious lab accidents and accidental releases of pathogens have been too frequent in the cold war and post cold war era. Indeed, she also cites several case of Western governments deliberately experimenting by releasing supposedly benign biological agents on their own populations in order to ascertain the potential for the dispersion of biological agents in general. Some of these agents turned out to be not so benign. People did die, as in San Francisco’s Operation Sea-Spray.

    Prof. MacIntyre writes about the unwillingness to look forensically, in addition to epidemiologically, at pathogen outbreaks where terrorism or bio-weapons research involving both deliberate and accidental release could be implicated. She then moves on to the issue of cover-ups. There is much more to the discussion, including the issue of the kind of evidence that could indicate a lab leak. I won’t precis her book here. Suffice it to say that there are masses of circumstantial evidence that SARS2 was engineered by gain of function research in the Wuhan lab, funded, aided and abetted by US money and US researchers. There is also massive circumstantial evidence (my term and interpretation) that there has been a concerted international cover-up. As with other lab leaks of the past, if we live another 20 years or so, we may well learn the truth. It can take that long for the truth to come out. It has taken that long in the past.

    But back to “Let Them Eat Plague!”. The author speaks of the kind of conspiracy it takes to generate such events as this capitulation to a very-likely human-engineered and accidentally lab-leaked virus.

    “It’s not your “fault” if you aren’t a virologist, immunologist, epidemiologist, or evolutionary biologist. It’s the job of experts and trusted voices to convey the truth and give you guidance. Not only have they failed at this, they have engaged in an active disinformation campaign dedicated to making the pandemic “disappear”. This has not been the result of a classic caricature of conspiracy — some tiny council of elites, gathered in the shadows to craft policy out of whole cloth. What we’re actually witnessing is the quiet collusion of class interest. This form of conspiracy is a feature of cultural hegemony, and it has aligned itself in direct opposition to public health and scientific reality. A “conspiracy” of this sort takes place in full view of the public. Every actor within it has openly telegraphed motivations that we are all taught to see as acceptable: keeping the current economic system intact at all costs.” –
    “Comrade Dremel”.

    On this point, the archaically named Comrade Dremel is correct. This is how conspiracies work in this system and it is how people naively consent, cooperate and conspire in their own destruction.

  2. JQ published a piece yesterday (Jan 22) titled Mitigated disaster: How can we respond to a world of cascading disasters?

    It included (bold text my emphasis):

    Those policies aren’t adequate, but they are a long way from the ‘Business as Usual’ scenarios we were looking at not long ago. On current policies, the best estimate is that we will ultimately see 2-3 degrees of warming. That would be disastrous in all sorts of ways. But it’s not that long ago that we were thinking about 4 degrees of warming, which would be catastrophic.

    Per the Hansen et. al. pre-print paper titled Global warming in the pipeline, submitted 8 Dec 2022 to Oxford Open Climate Change and publicly available at arXiv, included (bold text my emphasis):

    Improved knowledge of glacial-to-interglacial global temperature change implies that fast-feedback equilibrium climate sensitivity is at least ~4°C for doubled CO2 (2xCO2), with likely range 3.5-5.5°C. Greenhouse gas (GHG) climate forcing is 4.1 W/m2 larger in 2021 than in 1750, equivalent to 2xCO2 forcing. Global warming in the pipeline is greater than prior estimates. Eventual global warming due to today’s GHG forcing alone — after slow feedbacks operate — is about 10°C. Human-made aerosols are a major climate forcing, mainly via their effect on clouds. We infer from paleoclimate data that aerosol cooling offset GHG warming for several millennia as civilization developed. A hinge-point in global warming occurred in 1970 as increased GHG warming outpaced aerosol cooling, leading to global warming of 0.18°C per decade. Aerosol cooling is larger than estimated in the current IPCC report, but it has declined since 2010 because of aerosol reductions in China and shipping. Without unprecedented global actions to reduce GHG growth, 2010 could be another hinge point, with global warming in following decades 50-100% greater than in the prior 40 years. The enormity of consequences of warming in the pipeline demands a new approach addressing legacy and future emissions.

    Figure 6 indicates to me that the cooling effect of aerosols (primarily human-induced from the burning of fossil fuels) in the atmosphere has kept the global mean surface temperature of the order of 0.7 to 1.0 °C lower than it would have been if there were no aerosols in the atmosphere. By decarbonising, humanity will be exposed to a rapid temperature increase as the cooling effect of aerosols diminishes. This is the ‘Faustian Bargain’ humanity has committed to that Hansen alludes to.

    The Earth System is already at around +1.2 °C warming level (relative to the 1880-1920 global mean surface temperature). Per the Hansen et. al. pre-print, that means we are already committed (excluding slow feedbacks) to breach the +2 °C warming threshold at the current GHG concentration level, likely on our current GHG emissions trajectory in the 2040s (per Figure 19).

    In the longer-term, including the slow feedbacks (over centuries to millennia timescales), the warming level will be significantly higher – about +10 °C for a doubling of atmospheric CO₂ concentration, per Hansen et. al. pre-print paper.

    I think it would be foolish to bet that Hansen & colleagues are significantly wrong on this issue.

    Three stages are required to mitigate the climate emergency:
    i. Deep and rapid decarbonisation of civilisation ASAP – no more new fossil fuel developments AND a rapid phase-out of the utilisation of existing fossil fuel infrastructure;
    ii. ‘Negative emissions’ or atmospheric carbon drawdown to safely get greenhouse gas concentration levels back to well below 350 ppm (CO₂-equivalent); and
    iii. Maintain arctic summer sea ice cover.

    There are no ifs or buts here – the Laws of Physics are non-negotiable.
    I’d suggest a modest step in the right direction is still failing – we/humanity need to do what’s required, or face civilisation collapse before 2100!

  3. Finally, a mainstream media report which tells the current disturbing truth about our national covid-19 predicament and puts forward positive, helpful and hopeful suggestions on what can can be done.

    I’ve also noted Geoff’s excellent post above about climate change. I will reply if and when I can add anything both useful and hopeful to enlarge on what Geoff has written.

  4. A meditation by Dr Deepti Gurdasani, followed by a few comments of my own.

    “I find it odd how much value society puts on academic qualifications, and knowledge – while diversity of lived experience (e.g. adversity, caring for others, illness) is completely devalued, or even used to dismiss a person’s credibility.

    I feel that lived experience is often the most valuable & hardest to teach someone else. Those who’ve seen diverse experiences in life- be it adversity, marginalisation, illness, trauma – often have perspectives that aren’t easily captured in ‘academic knowledge’.

    This is precisely why clinicians who listen to patients know that often symptoms don’t present as medical textbooks say, and patterns that you see can be different from what classical teaching is. That’s why you can’t be a good clinician just by reading medical textbooks.

    So let’s stop devaluing people’s lived experience. I find that often people who haven’t experienced any adversity or cared for someone who has are the least knowledgeable about the world. There’s really no substitute for lived experience- but you can learn if you listen.

    But that means redefining value systems that dismiss life experience as making one ‘biased’ rather than enriching ones perspectives on life and the world around us. You’re far more likely to be biased when you haven’t experienced much of what you think you know about…

    Academia encourages overconfidence in credentials & certain types of evidence, dismissing anything lived experience brings as being ‘qualitative’ and therefore ‘inferior’… but it isn’t. Lived experience is vital to understand – because after all it is the experience of living.

    How can one practice medicine or be a scientist without caring about the human experience – be it of illness, response to treatment, poverty, racism, misogyny, disability, transphobia? Surely, that is what we’re trying to improve, so why do we devalue it so much?” – Dr. Deepti Gurdasani.

    Asked why she included the title Dr. with her name, Deepti Gurdasani replied:

    ” … I had my credentials (and credibility) questioned for years until I included it. Misogyny and racism are rife.”

    Her point is not that a doctorate is nothing. Equally, her point is that a doctorate is not everything. A doctorate plus wide lived experience, plus ethics, plus the ability to listen to other lived experiences can indeed be a lot. A lack of ethics, in particular, turns a sharp brain into a murderous weapon. We have seen as much during the genesis and promulgation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    We ought to consider Orgel’s 2nd rule well, “Evolution is cleverer than you are.” This rule does not tell us that evolution is conscious, purposive or designing. It tells us that the products of evolution are far more intrinsically “ingenious” or complex than anything humans could ever design. The products of cosmological emergence to date are also far more complex and endlessly novel than anything humans can or will ever imagine. We are indeed, individually and collectively, just subset(s) of the cosmos set itself.

    All of this ought to teach us humility in considering our own intelligence, imaginativeness and inventiveness, plus any lifetime successes we might have had. These qualities and outcomes themselves are all products of emergent and evolutionary forces. We did not and we do not make ourselves. The detectable cosmos did and does this, including its fundamental laws operating within us and without us. This finally ought to tell us that the widest gap between persons in intelligence (I mean roughly in the normal to genius range) is far less than the gap between total achieved human genius and knowledge and the outright complexity and imponderable nature of the cosmos itself. Our main problems individually and collectively are our hubris, our wanton greed and our blind destructiveness. First, we should do the least harm humanly possible.

  5. 2nd, maybe, “How Should We Teach Kids to ‘Pay It Forward’?

    “In Lewis Hyde’s classic anthropological treatise The Gift from 1983, he famously refers to the ceremonial gifting of Kula rings among people who lived scattered across a vast island chain off Papua New Guinea. The rings were passed between trusted friends along with gossip and visiting, making their way through the islands and thereby keeping the communities in contact with each other. It was a marker of status to be given a ring, and so it became one to pass it on. Holding onto a ring for too long was frowned upon; their purpose was to be passed. I thought of the Kula rings recently when reading about a group of single moms who passed $50 back and forthbetween them through lean times. This is the kind of charity that can hold people together.

    “A lot of sharing child care works the same way. Exchanging sleepovers and dinners is how families come to rely on each other over time; it’s through the accrual of small favors back and forth that a sense of mutual reliance solidifies. Encouraging kids to borrow favorite books and toys from each other is another way to get the concept going.

    “Paying it forward was never meant to function as a “surprise!” to strangers. It was meant to create a ripple of good feeling that affirms the goodness of a group to itself.


  6. Sadly, all we are paying forward at the moment are climate change and COVID-19. These are litmus tests of our morality.

    “Lose Your Health” –

    “Oops, there goes morality, up goes mortality,
    IG-nore reality, all the fatality,
    But don’t close the rows and the flows where all the money goes,
    Up to the billionaires, pumping up the squillionaires.” – Eminus. (Parody)

  7. Solar modules get more efficient

    Idéfix is yapping at me to share a striking illustration of the steady technical progress in solar energy, often overshadowed by the far more dramatic fall in costs. Sandra Enkhardt at PVMagazine ( ) :

    “Starting this year, ground-mounted solar modules in Germany can be replaced before the end of their service life, unlocking gigawatt-scale potential for new generation capacity without lengthy permitting processes or the need for new sites. […] Karl-Heinz Remmers, one of the BNE members who operates solar parks in Germany, says that by introducing the option of active repowering for solar modules, it [the one-line change in the EEG law] could increase the capacity currently installed in Germany from 63 GW at the existing locations to 100 GW or more. The repowering legislation does not apply to rooftop modules but, even so, it is estimated that 36 GW of Germany’s 63 GW of solar capacity has the potential to be doubled or in some cases even quadrupled via repowering. The change in the law means solar generators can raise the production capacity of their assets indefinitely from now on. However, solar energy subsidy payments secured under the EEG will only apply to electricity generated by the original production capacity agreed in tenders.”

    How come? Massive increases in module efficiency.
    “Before 2009, around 6 GW of ground-mounted solar was installed in Germany, with panel conversion efficiency ranging from 5% to 12.5%. That meant 8 square meters to 20 square meters was required for each kilowatt-peak of generation capacity. In the boom years, from 2009 to 2013, around 30 GW of PV was added, with efficiencies of 5% to 14%, thus requiring 7 meters2 to 20 meters2/kWp. Remmers estimates the 9 GW of solar added between 2014 and 2018 consisted of modules with 14% to 17% efficiency and a surface footprint of 6 meters2 to 7 meters2. Since 2019, module efficiency has ranged from 18% to 22%, for a space requirement of at least 4.6 square meters per kilowatt-peak.”

    This is a very good deal for the owners of old solar farms, who can now roll over the subsidy on the old capacity and get a reasonable market price for the top-up. Many of them were in any case looking at significant mid-life expenditure on new inverters, which have half the 30-40 year lifespan of the modules.

    The public policy case is less obvious. You would get more total national capacity for the same money just building on new sites. But Germany is pretty crowded, and frugal land use is important to keep public opinion on board. The market impact will be immediate – an important factor in the current energy crisis -, as no permitting is needed. The balance of advantage will be different in spacious Australia. Besides, many of the old panels will find their way to Africa at bargain prices for the second half of their lives. They will new new mounts and cables, which can be sourced locally, as well as new imported inverters.

  8. V2G update

    Reputable-looking new study (Leiden U, US NREL, published in Nature Communications) finds that an EV fleet equipped with V2G can meet total world demand for electric grid storage very easily and with quite low adoption rates.
    (via PvMagazine)

    They put the total fleet storage capacity in 2050 as 68-144 TWh (much higher than other estimates), against storage demand of 3.4–19.2 TWh. “Without any second-use batteries in stationary storage, grids would require vehicle-to-grid participation rates of a modest 12–43%. If we assume that only half of second-use batteries are used on the grid (with others used off-grid, for other EV or storage purposes, etc.), the required participation rate of vehicle-to-grid drops to below 10%.”

    Higher participation rates could bring balance as early as 2030. Note that the math seems to assume an instantaneous participation, though in practice EVs will only be available to the grid while parked at home or fleet depot, crudely half the time.

    They use current data to estimate battery degradation, acknowledging the high uncertainty of future developments in this important aspect.

    My pennyworth:
    1. Creating a strong market framework for V2G that protects consumers should be a top priority for regulators. The automated algorithms that will control the process, in both cars and grids, will be completely inaccessible and incomprehensible to normal people, who could easily be exploited by the large corporations who are the monopolistic vendors.

    2. My electric car is a Kona from Hyundai, my utility Endesa. Hyundai has given me a valuable eight-year guarantee on the battery, and has an interest in not damaging it and in maximising the resale value of the car. Endesa could not care less about either, and is only interested in access to the car battery. I would feel much safer with the V2G process being managed by Hyundai. The same goes for other pairs of car-makers and utilities.

    3. The Kona is not in fact V2G-ready like the newer Ioniq, though its battery management system is recent and must have most of the features required. I have asked Hyundai to design an appropriate upgrade in due course, for which I would be ready to pay. Owners of the 50 million legacy EVs without V2G need support from regulators to make this happen.

  9. PS. V2G is a very young technology. Bidirectional chargers are hard to find. Enphase have just demonstrated a residential one designed to integrate with their solar microinverters, but have not announced a market date or price. However it is a dead cert that the gear will be widely available very soon. V2G is already possible with recent EVs from VW and Hyundai.

  10. My geothermal hobby-horse

    I follow a small Canadian startup, Eavor, with an engagingly retro approach to enhanced geothermal energy, aka “hot rocks”. Their Big Idea is to jettison the bit of traditional EGS that causes problems, viz. fracturing the deep hot rocks with water under pressure to create an artificial hydrothermal reservoir. They simply drill a loop of sealed deep pipes in which the water or other fluid will just be heated by conduction, forming an inverse radiator. They have a demonstration working shallow loop in Canada, and are drilling a precommercial one in Germany piggybacking on a failed EGS project by another company.

    If the scheme works, the resource of hot rocks is enormous. Go deep enough anywhere on the Earth and you eventually hit hot granite. Commercial geothermal wells will of course pick good sites, but they are not scarce like natural hydrothermal ones. If you can get it, geothermal is pretty near the ideal renewable: completely reliable, completely despatchable, handy scale (typically 50-100 MW per plant), small surface footprint, very safe.

    Eavor have just announced successful completion of a directional drilling test in New Mexico, in deep granite (18,000 feet and 250 deg C). No hot water yet. Eavor claim that “the milestones reached at Eavor-Deep in 2022 have validated all the key elements required to construct and operate commercial Eavor-Loops.”.

  11. No matter how environmentally friendly we make our energy generation system, if the devices we use at the consumer level to harness the energy and do something useful are poorly engineered and break down too early, via planned obsolescence or not, then that remains a source of environmental inefficiency and consumer disutility in our whole system. I think that’s where we are at present with consumer goods in general and EVs in particular: supply problems, lack of quality and labor and trades shortages. There are big shortages of competence too. IMHO, modern businesses and corporations are not interesting in anything except profit. Environmental inefficiency and consumer disutility are things they do not care about.

    So, would I get an EV? A few years ago, I thought I would. These days I am not so sure. Battery technology still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s clunky, inconvenient and not as safe as it needs to be yet. ICE standards are a low bar. ICE motors are worse than electric motors of course. I hate ICE engines. They are noisy, smelly, greasy, polluting and sometimes cantankerous. I won’t be running out to buy any more ICE vehicle(s) or engines that’s for sure. But I won’t buy an EV either until I think they are cheap enough and good enough. Price and battery tech are not good enough yet by a long chalk. Will they ever be made good under slowly collapsing, late stage, consumer capitalism? My guess is no.

  12. Ikon, “No matter how environmentally friendly we make our energy generation system,”.

    Maybe to late Ikon, maybe geopolitics and crapiyalusm will scupper efforts, yet we know how to get there.

    “The total emissions from mining and processing those materials are significant, but over the next 30 years they add up to less than a year’s worth of global emissions from fossil fuels… Wang says”.

    “Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy

    “We won’t run out of key ingredients for climate action, but mining comes with social and environmental ramifications.
    January 31, 2023

    “To better understand the material demands of reaching climate targets, the researchers looked at 17 of the key materials needed to generate low-emissions electricity.

    “For the most ambitious climate action scenarios, nearly 2 billion metric tons of steel and 1.3 billion metric tons of cement could be needed for energy infrastructure between now and 2050.

    “Production of dysprosium and neodymium, rare-earth metals used in the magnets in wind turbines, will need to quadruple over the next several decades. Solar-grade polysilicon will be another hot commodity, with the global market predicted to grow by 150% between now and 2050.

    “The path ahead for climate action is narrow, but a close look at emissions data provides a few reasons to be optimistic.

    “There will be consequences for digging into those reserves. The researchers found that emissions impacts from mining and processing these crucial materials could reach a total of up to 29 gigatons of carbon dioxide between now and 2050. Most of those emissions are attributed to polysilicon, steel, and cement.

    “The total emissions from mining and processing those materials are significant, but over the next 30 years they add up to less than a year’s worth of global emissions from fossil fuels. That up-front emissions cost will be more than offset by savings from clean energy technologies replacing fossil fuels, Wang says.

    “Future demand for electricity generation materials under different climate mitigation scenarios”

    Seaver Wang et al

    “In nearly all cases (84th percentile and below), cumulative material-associated emissions in 1.5°C mitigation scenarios amount to <20 Gt CO2eq, or half a year’s global GHG emissions at current rates. The 1.5°C mitigation scenario with the highest cumulative material-associated emissions yields 37 Gt CO2eq, about 1 year’s current global GHG emissions, while the 2.5th–97.5th percentile range of estimates for 1.5°C scenarios spans 4–30 Gt CO2eq (median of 12 Gt). This is comparable to a range of estimates in Kalt et al. for cumulative 2021–2050 emissions associated with bulk use of steel/Fe, concrete, Al, and Cu in the electricity system (5–55 Gt CO2eq).

    For 50% and 66% chances of avoiding 1.5°C warming, the remaining carbon budget from the start of 2022 is roughly 420 and 320 Gt of CO2, respectively.

    "Cumulative emissions associated with deployment of new power sector generation infrastructure in a 1.5°C mitigation scenario thus represent 1%–7% of the remaining 50% avoidance budget and 1%–9% of the 66% avoidance budget. We do note that carbon emissions required to achieve full societal decarbonization will be larger when considering equipment and infrastructure needed to decarbonize other sectors such as transportation, buildings, industry, and agriculture.

    "Probability distributions of materials used for power sector generation infrastructure in global mitigation scenarios

    "(A–C) Probability density functions showing probability distributions of (A)–(C) cumulative 2020–2050 materials-associated CO2eq emissions.

    (D–F) Cumulative 2020–2050 power generation steel and cement requirements.

    (G–I) Cumulative 2020–2050 power generation neodymium (Nd), silver (Ag), and tellurium (Te) requirements for a selection of 75 integrated assessment models, categorized by (left column) end-of-century category of global mean warming outcome, (middle column) by share of combined wind and solar capacity as a percentage of total electricity generation capacity in 2050, (right column) by modeling group

    [Above are compared againt 5 models.]

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