Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Updates from GE

Sea Change: GE’s French Wind Turbine Factory Will Power Germany’s Renewables Revolution
By Tomas Kellner – GE is a relative newcomer to offshore wind. The company explored the field a decade ago and returned to the industry in 2015, when it acquired the energy assets of Alstom, and built its first wind farm in Long Island Sound near Block Island, Rhode Island, last year. As the inaugural offshore wind farm in the United States, the project made a splash even though it holds just five turbines. But Merkur, which will have 66 turbines, is a much bigger beast. “This one is special,” says Pascal Girault, who runs the Saint-Nazaire plant. “Everything is big.”

Girault spent the early part of his career managing supply chains for the car industry, but ramping up production for Merkur is no Sunday drive. Workers in Saint-Nazaire make generators and assemble nacelles for the 6-megawatt GE Haliade turbine. The nacelle is the casing on top of the tower that shelters the generator and other equipment. It includes some 30,000 components.

Adding to the task’s complexity, the composite blades for the machines’ 150-meter-diameter rotors come from GE’s LM Wind Power factory in Spain. The steel segments for the tower are being made in Germany and China. U.S. and European companies supply electronics and mechanical components for the converter and generator. “The scale and the speed of the project are challenging,” Girault says. more> https://goo.gl/GSScqV

How Trump v Kim can wreck the world economy without a shot being fired

By Larry Elliott – The assumption underlying the muted response is that there will be no war between the US and North Korea, nuclear or otherwise, and that the smart investment play is to buy into any dips.

The markets are part right. It still looks unlikely that Trump will sanction a pre-emptive strike. Kim knows that, which is why he would be dumb to up the ante by aiming some missiles into the sea off Guam first.

But the financial markets – and the broader global economy – could still turn nasty in an repeat of what happened 10 years ago even without a shooting war.

For a start, the world has never really recovered from the last crisis. Growth rates have been weak and have only been possible because years of low interest rates and quantitative easing have encouraged consumers and businesses to rack up large amounts of debt. As the economist Steve Keen notes in his new book Can we avoid another financial crisis (Polity), many countries have become what he calls debt junkies.

“They face the junkie’s dilemma, a choice between going ‘cold turkey’ now, or continuing to shoot up on credit and experience a bigger bust later.”

Keen says the countries to watch out for have two characteristics: they already have high levels of personal debt and have relied substantially on credit as a source of demand in the past five years. Australia, Canada, South Korea, Sweden and Norway are all on his list of candidates to be future debt zombies. But so is China. more> https://goo.gl/f7WBnq

The Psychology of a Nuclear Standoff

By Tom Jacobs – The “nuclear taboo” has held for 70 years for two reasons, according to Jacques Hymans: “the enormity of the decision of use nuclear weapons,” and the unpredictability of the consequences of doing so. Nevertheless, he warns, these are dangerous times.

New nuclear states have always been highly interested in trying to use their weapons as means of compellence, i.e. threats to get some benefit. New leaders have also had such tendencies. This is understandable, because it takes time and experience to accept the counterintuitive reality that the biggest bomb in the world is mostly useless as a military weapon, and therefore also useless as a means of compellence. So, history teaches us that both the U.S. and North Korea at present are liable to try to push their nuclear luck. That makes for a dangerous situation.

The chances are higher that the U.S. will launch first. But this would be a terrible humanitarian catastrophe and the U.S. would lose Asia politically for a hundred years. more> https://goo.gl/CtHxCU

The Scaramucci effect: what White House havoc means for the world

The Trump administration is now a beacon of dysfunction. Allies, and enemies, are taking note.
By Leslie Vinjamuri – What does this mean for US leadership?

For some, Trump’s heavy-handed, even aggressive unilateralism is a symptom, not a cause, of the country’s relative decline.

According to this view, the country’s investment in liberal internationalism is an outdated strategy predicated on the historical need to counter the Soviet threat. It was designed for a different time, when the US’s military and economic power far surpassed that of any of its European counterparts, even when combined. The country’s retreat from the global stage is long overdue, so the argument goes.

In the absence of a clear national security imperative, foreign interventionism is both bad strategy and bad for the US. Trump’s style may be repugnant – but his America First instincts are not wrong.

But this is shortsighted.

Soft power is crucial to US leadership, more so now than ever before. In an era in which power is diffuse, and problems do not respect national borders, the capacity of any nation to influence others depends on the goodwill of a large number of state and non-state interests. more> https://goo.gl/qhPfM8

The Age of Biological Annihilation

By John C. Cannon – The loss of approximately 200 species a century might not seem extreme through the lens of one person’s lifespan, but it’s as much as 100 times faster than historical estimates, according to a 2015 study also led by Ceballos. He explained that under “normal circumstances,” it might have taken as many as 10,000 years for that many animals to vanish.

The researchers discovered that the populations of nearly one-third of these animals in this sample are on the decline. In terms of sheer numbers, the study’s maps show that perhaps half the number of individual animals that once inhabited the Earth with humans are gone—a loss that numbers in the billions.

The team also drilled down into the research on populations of 177 well-studied mammals to see how they have fared since 1900. They found every single one has lost at least 30 percent of its habitat, and around 40 percent of these mammals have lost 80 percent or more of their former ranges. more> https://goo.gl/o4dxkY

Do we matter in the cosmos?

By Nick Hughes – By recent estimates, the Milky Way is just one of 2 trillion galaxies in the observable Universe, and the region of space that they occupy spans at least 90 billion light-years.

If you imagine Earth shrunk down to the size of a single grain of sand, and you imagine the size of that grain of sand relative to the entirety of the Sahara Desert, you are still nowhere near to comprehending how infinitesimally small a position we occupy in space.

And that’s just the spatial dimension. The observable Universe has existed for around 13.8 billion years. If we shrink that span of time down to a single year, with the Big Bang occurring at midnight on 1 January, the first Homo sapiens made an appearance at 22:24 on 31 December. It’s now 23:59:59, as it has been for the past 438 years, and at the rate we’re going it’s entirely possible that we’ll be gone before midnight strikes again.

In the grand scheme of things we are very, very small. more> https://goo.gl/Dp2NaC

Supreme Court Just Ruled That Using Social Media Is a Constitutional Right

By Ephrat Livni – Public space in the digital age has no shape and no physical place. But the Supreme Court is now sorting out what that means for free-speech rights.

On June 19, the justices unanimously held that states can’t broadly limit access to social media because cyberspace “is one of the most important places to exchange views.”

“A fundamental First Amendment principle is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. Given the fact that social-media platforms in particular allow for this kind of free communication, and that the constitution protects the right to exchange, more> https://goo.gl/XRLDt7

Sending a strong signal on global internet freedom

By Stuart N. Brotman – The growing restrictions on internet freedom around the world are easy to document; less so any visible American strategy that would reverse the ominous trends at hand.

According to its most recent annual report in this area, Freedom on the Net 2016, two-thirds of the world’s internet users live under government censorship. Internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year.

The types of blocked content include political communication aimed at promoting democratic values, such as online petitions and calls for public protests. Even satire can be punished severely: a 22-year old in Egypt was imprisoned for three years after photo-shopping Mickey Mouse ears on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Unfortunately, this type of criminal penalty is hardly unique.

Overall, Freedom House deemed only 17 surveyed countries to have real internet freedom; 28 were partly free and 20 were characterized as not free. The leading bad state actors should not be surprising: China, Syria, Iran, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan and Cuba (North Korea was not included in the survey, alas).

The U.S. would be hurt if the marketplace of ideas and the online commercial marketplace that thrive here are diminished overseas.

However, there has been radio silence to date about this issue from the White House and the Department of State. more> https://goo.gl/msTcLz

Updates from GE

Renewable Energy Makes Things Tough On The Grid, But New Software Could Help

By Bruce Watson – In 2016, more than two-thirds of power in Europe came from nonrenewable sources. Globally, renewables are expected to reach parity with coal and gas around 2040.

Nevertheless, the speed with which intermittent renewables — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow — are coming on board is making it harder for European utilities to balance the grid. That’s because the grid, as large as it is, is also a delicate system where supply must match demand at all times or there’s a risk of blackouts.

In France, for example, strong winds in the north mixed with a sunny week on the Riviera in the south can lead to a surfeit of electricity that puts the balance at risk.

The intermittency also makes profits hard to find, with European utilities on average struggling to increase profits 1 percent in 2016. Countries around the world are watching how Europe uses thermal generation to keep the grid balanced; prioritizes low-cost, clean and renewable energy; and keeps utilities profitable amid a rapidly changing energy network. more> https://goo.gl/iC532f

Updates from GE

The Time To Invent The Technologies That Will Power Our Future Is Now
By David Danielson – The year 2050 sounds pretty far away, doesn’t it? But in terms of the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, 2050 is today: it’s right around the corner.

By 2050, there will be almost 10 billion people on Earth, one-third more than there are today, with essentially all of this population growth predicted to be in currently less-wealthy nations around the world. And the approximately 9 billion people living in these nations in 2050 will be hungry to consume more energy, requiring an almost doubling of energy usage per person to achieve a good standard of living by some estimates.

At the same time, the world’s best scientists have determined that we must simultaneously reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050, relative to today’s levels, in order to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

Scaling and improving today’s clean energy technologies can take us part of the way to the future we all want. Technologies like wind power, solar power, LEDs, electric vehicle batteries, and many others are already rapidly approaching widespread cost-competitiveness with traditional forms of energy.

But these technologies alone will not be enough: it has become clear now that to provide universal energy access around the world while simultaneously achieving required emissions reductions, we must unleash an unprecedented Energy Innovation Revolution today – and over the next few years – to develop the transformative new energy technologies that will be needed to close the gap between the 2050 we are headed for and the 2050 we want. more> https://goo.gl/57jCZr