Mycologists Cure Ailing Bees

(p. 4) Sometime in the 1980s, microscopic mites that had been afflicting honeybees outside the United States found their way to Florida and Wisconsin and began wreaking havoc across the country.
. . .
This mite, Varroa destructor, injects a slew of viruses into bees, including one that causes shriveled wings, a primary factor in widespread colony collapse. Worse, these parasites have rapidly developed resistance to synthetic pesticides.
Beekeepers in the United States lost an estimated 40 percent of their colonies between April 2017 and April 2018. But we might be able to save honeybees at least from this parasitic scourge without chemical intervention. I along with scientists at Washington State University and the United States Department of Agriculture recently published in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature, a study that could inspire a paradigm shift in protecting bees.
Our research shows that extracts from the living mycelial tissue of common wood conk mushrooms known to have antiviral properties significantly reduced these viruses in honeybee colonies, in one field test by 45,000 times, compared to control colonies.
. . .
Nature can repair itself with a little help from mycologists.

For the full commentary, see:
Paul Stamets. “Saving Bees With Mushrooms.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018): 4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 28, 2018, and has the title “Will Mushrooms Be Magic for Threatened Bees?”)

The commentary is related to the author’s book:
Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2005.

Variability of Wind and Solar Increase Costs of Reliable Energy Sources

(p. A17) President Trump mocked the Democrats’ Green New Deal and its renewable-energy aspirations in a recent speech: “When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric.” But the most destructive consequence of wind and solar power result from periods of oversupply.
Coal and gas generating plants have to be kept on standby and ramped up to cover the shortfall resulting from still air and darkness. That forces them to operate less efficiently and pushes their costs up. During periods of low demand, wind and solar can produce too much electricity, creating gluts and driving wholesale prices negative, meaning grid operators have to pay consumers to burn unwanted energy. That makes nuclear, coal and gas generators unprofitable, necessitating extra subsidies to save the power stations needed to keep the lights on.

For the full commentary, see:
Rupert Darwall. “When There’s Too Much Sun and Wind; The biggest danger of renewable energy is overproduction.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, March 11, 2019): A17.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2019.)

Miami Is “Investing in Resilience”

(p. A27) Climate change is not a distant threat for Miami; it’s a daily presence in people’s lives. The city has been fighting to stay above water for decades. It knows that its future as a vibrant international hub for business, tourism, arts and culture depends on making the city more resilient to the impact of global warming.
That’s why the city of Miami is moving aggressively to adapt; in 2017, its citizens voted to tax themselves to build resilience against flooding and storm surges by approving a $400 million bond issue that is financing projects across the city.
. . .
Investing in resilience protects businesses and communities from devastating losses, so it must be measured in the lives saved and businesses that remain open. We are only now learning how to quantify these benefits to communities. Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, for example, calculated that projects to reduce wind and water damage avoided $81 million in losses when Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016, while costing only $19 million to carry out. The projects included raising buildings, improving drainage, and buying and demolishing properties in vulnerable areas.

For the full commentary, see:
Ban Ki-moon and Francis Suarez. “Miami’s Battle Plan for Rising Seas.” The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019): A27.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 20, 2019, and has the title “Miami Battles Rising Seas.”)

Cow Burps Increase Global Warming More Than Cow Farts

(p. A10) Agriculture was responsible for 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2016, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. While the sectors with the most emissions were transportation and electricity generation, at 28 percent each, United States agricultural emissions were still greater than Britain’s total emissions in 2014, according to data from the World Bank.
Cows and other ruminants are responsible for two-thirds of those agricultural emissions. Their guts produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that’s more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, though it also dissipates faster. Cows release some of that methane through their flatulence, but much more by burping.
Deer, camels and sheep also produce methane. But in the United States, it’s cows that primarily account for the 26.9 percent of methane emissions, more than any other source. Natural gas accounts for 25 percent.

For the full story, see:
Pierre-Louis, Kendra. “Source of the Problem, Also Part of the Solution.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 7, 2019): A10.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 6, 2019, and has the title “No One Is Taking Your Hamburgers. But Would It Even Be a Good Idea?”)

Ports Can and Do Adapt to Rising Sea

(p. B5) When the Port of Virginia began a sweeping renovation of its major Norfolk International Terminals, some easy-to-miss line items on the $375 million agenda included boosting the site’s electric power stations several feet off the ground and adding data servers as far back from the water as possible.
The actions at the fifth-largest container gateway in the U.S. are among the small steps seaports are starting to undertake as more reports project rising ocean levels in the coming years and cargo terminals consider the impact of higher waters and increasingly forceful storm surges.
. . .
Most major ports have infrastructure plans that don’t extend as far into the future as the forecasts for climate change, said Walter Kemmsies, an economist specializing in ports and infrastructure at real-estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.
. . .
Ports whose berths are at least 14 feet above sea level at high tide should be safe from flooding for the near future, Mr. Kemmsies said. “As long as the probability is really low and it wouldn’t matter if you raised everything by a foot or two, you leave it alone until the cost-benefit ratio might be higher,” he said.
That is the case at the Port of Houston, where officials said container docks stand 18 feet above the water.
Houston is the largest U.S. hub for energy exports and a rapidly growing container port. It also has withstood some of the worst storms to hit the U.S. in recent years, including Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

For the full story, see:
Erica E. Phillips. “Seaports Add Protections as Ocean Levels Rise.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019): B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version has the date Feb. 11, 2019, and has the title “At the Water’s Edge, Seaports Are Slowly Bracing for Rising Ocean Levels.”)

Chernobyl Discredited Communism, Not Nuclear Power

(p. C2) In his chilling new book, “Midnight in Chernobyl,” the journalist Adam Higginbotham shows how an almost fanatical compulsion for secrecy among the Soviet Union’s governing elite was part of what made the accident not just cataclysmic but so likely in the first place. Interviewing eyewitnesses and consulting declassified archives — an official record that was frustratingly meager when it came to certain details and, Higginbotham says, couldn’t always be trusted — he reconstructs the disaster from the ground up, recounting the prelude to it as well as its aftermath. The result is superb, enthralling and necessarily terrifying.
. . .
Higginbotham describes young workers who were promoted swiftly to positions of terrific responsibility. In an especially glaring example of entrenched cronyism, the Communist Party elevated an ideologically copacetic electrical engineer to the position of deputy plant director at Chernobyl: To make up for a total lack of experience with atomic energy, he took a correspondence course in nuclear physics.
Even more egregious than some personnel decisions were the structural problems built into the plant itself. Most fateful for Chernobyl was the baffling design of a crucial safety feature: control rods that could be lowered into the reactor core to slow down the process of nuclear fission. The rods contained boron carbide, which hampered reactivity, but the Soviets decided to tip them in graphite, which facilitated reactivity; it was a bid to save energy, and therefore money, by lessening the rods’ moderating effect. Higginbotham calls it “an absurd and chilling inversion in the role of a safety device,” likening it to wiring a car so that slamming the brakes would make it accelerate.
. . .
. . . Chernobyl exposed the untenable fissures in the Soviet system and hastened its collapse; the accident also encouraged Mikhail Gorbachev to pursue drastic reforms with even more zeal.
Higginbotham observes that the plant was run like the Soviet state writ large — with individuals expected to carry out commands from on high with an automaton’s acquiescence. At the same time, when it came time to assess responsibility for the disaster, any collectivist fellow feeling evaporated, as the ensuing show trials insistently scapegoated a few individuals (some of them already dead) in a desperate attempt to keep a crumbling system intact.
The accident also decimated international confidence in nuclear power, and a number of countries halted their own programs — for a time, that is. Global warming has made the awesome potential of the atom a source of hope again and, according to some advocates, an urgent necessity; besides, as Higginbotham points out, nuclear power, from a statistical standpoint, is safer than the competing alternatives, including wind.

For the full review, see:
Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Nuclear Disaster In Chilling Detail.” The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019): C2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Enthralling and Terrifying History of the Nuclear Meltdown at Chernobyl.”)

The book under review, is:
Higginbotham, Adam. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019.

In a “Terribly Regulated” Germany “People Look for Their Little Spaces of Freedom”

(p. A1) BERLIN — It seemed like a no-brainer: Lower Germany’s embarrassingly high carbon emissions at no cost, and save some lives in the process.
But when a government-appointed commission in January [2019] dared to float the idea of a speed limit on the autobahn, the country’s storied highway network, it almost caused rioting.
. . .
(p. A10) Call it Germany’s Wild West: The autobahn is the one place in a highly regulated society where no rule is the rule — and that place is sacred.
. . .
Germany is woefully behind on meeting its 2020 climate goals, so the government appointed a group of experts to find ways to lower emissions in the transport sector. Cars account for 11 percent of total emissions, and their share is rising.
A highway speed limit of 120 kilometers an hour, or 75 miles per hour, could cover a fifth of the gap to reach the 2020 goals for the transport sector, environmental experts say.
“Of all the individual measures, it is the one that would be the most impactful — and it costs nothing,” said Dorothee Saar, of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a nonprofit environmental organization that has lobbied for a speed limit.
. . .
Once, during the oil crisis in 1973, a German transport minister took his chances and imposed a speed limit. Road deaths stood at over 20,000 a year at the time (six times today’s level) and with oil prices skyrocketing, Lauritz Lauritzen thought Germans might reasonably see the benefits of saving some lives and some money on gas, too.
The speed limit lasted four months, and Mr. Lauritzen not much longer.
The experiment gave birth to the “Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger!” campaign — or “Freedom to drive for free citizens!” — the car lobby’s most powerful slogan to this day, and one used by political parties and car companies alike, a sort of unwritten second amendment.
“It’s all about freedom,” said John C. Kornblum, a former United States ambassador to Germany, who first arrived here in the 1960s, and has been living (and driving) here on and off ever since.
. . .
“Germany is terribly regulated, for reasons which have to do with the past, with a fear of uncertainty, a fear of being overwhelmed,” Mr. Kornblum said. “But then people look for their little spaces of freedom and the autobahn is one of them.”
And speeding isn’t the only freedom the autobahn offers.
Driving naked in Germany is legal, too. But if you get out of the car nude, you face a $45 fine.

For the full story, see:
Katrin Bennhold. “Autobahn Speed Limits? Voting With Lead Feet.” The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 4, 2019): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 3, 2019, and has the title “‘GERMANY DISPATCH; Impose a Speed Limit on the Autobahn? Not So Fast, Many Germans Say.”)

PNAS Article Argues Renewable Energy Cannot Fully Replace Traditional Energy by 2050

(p. B1) Democrats in both the United States Senate and in the California Assembly have proposed legislation this year calling for a full transition to renewable energy sources.
They are relying on what looks like a watertight scholarly analysis to support their call: the work of a prominent energy systems engineer from Stanford University, Mark Z. Jacobson. With three co-authors, he published a widely heralded article two years ago asserting that it would be eminently feasible to power the American economy by midcentury almost entirely with energy from the wind, the sun and water. What’s more, it would be cheaper than running it on fossil fuels.
And yet the proposition is hardly as solid as Professor Jacobson asserts.
In a long-awaited article published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the same journal in which Professor Jacobson’s manifesto appeared — a group of 21 prominent scholars, including physicists and engineers, climate scientists and sociologists, took a fine comb to the Jacobson paper and dismantled its conclusions bit by bit.
. . .
(p. B5) The conclusion of the critique is damning: Professor Jacobson relied on “invalid modeling tools,” committed “modeling errors” and made “implausible and inadequately supported assumptions,” the scholars wrote. “Our paper is pretty devastating,” said Varun Sivaram from the Council on Foreign Relations, a co-author of the new critique.
. . .
The weakness of energy systems powered by the sun and the wind is their intermittency. Where will the energy come from when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing? Professor Jacobson addresses this in two ways, vastly increasing the nation’s peak hydroelectricity capacity and deploying energy storage at a vast scale.
“To repower the world, we need to expand a lot of things to a large scale,” Professor Jacobson told me. “But there is no reason we can’t scale up.”
Actually, there are reasons. The main energy storage technologies he proposes — hydrogen and heat stored in rocks buried underground — have never been put in place at anywhere near the scale required to power a nation, or even a large city.
His system requires storing seven weeks’ worth of energy consumption. Today, the 10 biggest storage systems in the United States combined store some 43 minutes. Hydrogen production would have to be scaled up by a factor of 100,000 or more to meet the requirements in Professor Jacobson’s analysis, according to his critics.

For the full commentary, see:
Eduardo Porter. “ECONOMIC SCENE; Traditional Sources of Energy Have Role in Renewable Future.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 21, 2017): B1.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 20, 2017, and has the title “ECONOMIC SCENE; Fisticuffs Over the Route to a Clean-Energy Future.”)

The PNAS “devastating” critique of a total switch to renewable energy, is:
Clack, Christopher T. M., Staffan A. Qvist, Jay Apt, Morgan Bazilian, Adam R. Brandt, Ken Caldeira, Steven J. Davis, Victor Diakov, Mark A. Handschy, Paul D. H. Hines, Paulina Jaramillo, Daniel M. Kammen, Jane C. S. Long, M. Granger Morgan, Adam Reed, Varun Sivaram, James Sweeney, George R. Tynan, David G. Victor, John P. Weyant, and Jay F. Whitacre. “Evaluation of a Proposal for Reliable Low-Cost Grid Power with 100% Wind, Water, and Solar.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 26 (June 27, 2017): 6722-27.

Civil-Rights Leaders Argue That Green Policies Saddle the Poor “with Higher Living Costs”

(p. A19) French President Emmanuel Macron stirred popular rage by trying to raise the gasoline tax by about 25 cents a gallon. He argued that higher taxes would reduce fuel use and hence emissions of CO2, helping France meet the lower emissions goals to which it is pledged as a signatory to the United Nations’ Paris Agreement to fight climate change.
Mr. Macron has learned the hard way that voters don’t see climate change as a threat demanding personal sacrifices. The rebellion is global. Green measures that caused energy prices to soar damaged Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s 2017 election. Green energy plans were repudiated by voters in Australia and helped cause a political upheaval in the Canadian province of Ontario.
Voters in Washington state and Arizona rejected November ballot measures aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. The Journal’s William McGurn reported last week that 200 prominent civil-rights leaders have filed suit against the California Air Resources Board. Green policies, they argue, are saddling the poor with higher living costs.

For the full commentary, see:
George Melloan. “The Yellow Jackets Are Right About Green Policies; They have distinguished company in questioning the science behind climate-change dogma.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 17, 2018): A19.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 16, 2018.)

“Profit Feeds Impact at Scale”

(p. 1) Eric Reynolds will tell you that he is on the verge of freeing much of humanity from the deadly scourge of the cooking fire. He can halt the toxic smoke wafting through African homes, protect what is left of the continent’s forest cover and help rescue the planet from the wrath of climate change.
He is happy to explain, at considerable length, how he will systematically achieve all this while constructing a business that can amass billions in profit from an unlikely group of customers: the poorest people on earth.
He will confess that some people doubt his hold on reality.
“A lot of people think it’s too good to be true,” says Mr. Reynolds, a California-born entrepreneur living in Rwanda. “Most people think I am pretty out there.”
The company he is building across Rwanda, Inyenyeri, aims to replace Africa’s overwhelming dependence on charcoal and firewood with clean-burning stoves powered by wood pellets. The business has just a tad more than 5,000 customers and needs perhaps 100,000 to break even. Even its chief operating officer, Claude Mansell, a veteran of the global consulting company Capgemini, wonders how the story will end.
“Do we know that it’s going to work?” he asks. “I don’t know. It’s never been done before.”
Inyenyeri presents a real-world test of an idea gaining traction among those focused on economic development — that profit-making businesses may be best positioned to deliver critically needed services to the world’s poorest communities.
Governments in impoverished countries lack the finance to attack threats to public health, and many are riddled with corruption (though, by reputation, not Rwanda’s). Philanthropists and international aid organizations play key roles in areas such as immunizing children. But turning plans for basic services into mass-market realities may require the potent incentives of capitalism. It is a notion that has provoked the creation of many businesses, most of them failures.
“Profit feeds impact at scale,” says Mr. Reynolds, now in the midst of a global tour (p. 8) as he courts investment on top of the roughly $12 million he has already raised. “Unless somebody gets rich, it can’t grow.”
More than four decades have passed since Mr. Reynolds embarked on what he portrays as an accidental life as an entrepreneur, an outgrowth of his fascination with mountaineering. He dropped out of college to start Marmot, the outdoor gear company named for the burrowing rodent. There, he profited by protecting Volvo-driving, chardonnay-sipping weekend warriors against the menacing elements of Aspen. Now, he is trying to build a business centered on customers for whom turning on a light switch is a radical act of upward mobility.
. . .
To succeed, a stove had to be so convenient and clean burning that women preferred it over their existing cooking method.
Mr. Reynolds began testing stoves made in Italy, India, the United States and China. He tried making his own.
He came to realize that the magic was in the combination of stove and fuel. He experimented with making charcoal out of corncobs. (“A stupid idea,” he says.) He tried burning banana leaves. Then he discovered wood pellets, which involve compressing wood and eliminating water, the element that produces much of the smoke.
He settled on a Dutch-made stove that reduces wood down to clean-burning gases. Using pellets reduced the need for wood by 90 percent compared with charcoal. But those stoves cost more than $75.
Then came the epiphany: Inyenyeri could supply the stoves for free while collecting revenue from subscriptions for pellets. Rwanda was urbanizing rapidly, and city dwellers rely on charcoal. They would be eager to switch to pellets, which were 30 to 50 percent cheaper.
. . .
(p. 9) The business model would get more attractive as the cost of charcoal climbed, and as innovation inevitably made stoves more efficient. Inyenyeri would also stand to collect revenue from an arrangement it later entered into with the World Bank to sell credits for reducing emissions.
In 2010, Mr. Reynolds sold his house in Boulder and went all in on Inyenyeri. He unloaded his wine cellar, liquidated his retirement accounts and moved to Rwanda with no plan to leave.
. . .
“This business model will happen,” he says. “If it’s not Inyenyeri that’s the first mover, then it will be someone else who learns from our mistakes and does it better. It’s too big of an opportunity.”

For the full story, see:
Peter S. Goodman. “‘A Low-Cost Fix for Africa’s Silent Killer.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, Dec. 6, 2018): 1 & 8-9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2018, and has the title “Toxic Smoke Is Africa’s Quiet Killer. An Entrepreneur Says His Fix Can Make a Fortune.”)