Stupid Engineer Tricks

hydrogen-bomb

Ask an engineer to reverse global warming, he’ll do it. Just don’t ask about thwe side effects. (Photo by Pixabay)

Saudi Arabia is a desert, with oil under it. There’s nothing you can do with oil in a desert, so the Saudis sell it, for money. That makes them filthy-rich nomads who crave big cities, with palaces for them to live in, slums for foreign workers and lots of fountains, you know, like in Las Vegas. But there’s no water in a desert. Call in the engineers.

(In Vegas, another oxymoronic desert city, their engineers’ solution was to build one of the world’s biggest dams to create one of the world’s biggest reservoirs, which worked for a while but is now drying up and is likely to make Las Vegas uninhabitable. Soon.) Continue reading

Lies, Damned Lies, and News Reports

cell phone news

An earlier, more temperate report on cell phones and cancer has supposedly been eclipsed by a newer, better one. But wait.

“U.S. Leads Globe in Oil Production for Third Year.”

“Major New Study Reveals Cellphone Radiation Causes Cancer.”

These are just two examples of headlines that circled the world in the past week, subtracting from the sum total of human knowledge. Of course there were others: the “violent, chair-throwing riot” at the Nevada Democratic convention that turned out to have involved no violence, no chair-throwing and no riot; the long, dumbfounded pause when a group of pro-gun people were asked a hard question by Katie Couric, a pause that in reality was neither long nor dumbfounded. And on and on.

How are we to fulfill our responsibilities as informed citizens  (I know, it’s a quaint concept) when the information we get is consistently wrong and/or incomplete? For starters, it helps to understand the nature of the problem — in this case the dumbness and dumberness of American journalism. First Rule: when something is happening either because of stupidity or a conspiracy, always assume stupidity. These people aren’t smart enough to maintain a conspiracy. Continue reading

The Fall of the Colors

We look at the fall forest — here at Shavers Fork, West Virginia — but we do not see the falling trees. (Wikipedia Photo)

Every day, most of us look directly at one of the worst manifestations of global industrial pollution — only one of which is climate change — and yet we do not see it. Especially this time of year, we stare at it, take trips to see even more of it, and marvel to each other about how “gorgeous” it is. We look at the colors of the forest, but we do not see the sickness of the trees. Let me warn you: once you do see, you cannot unsee, although you will wish most fervently that you could. Continue reading

If Corporations Were People, VW Would be Bernie Madoff

Auto emissons

No, seriously, I can pass the emissions test, just put me on the machine. I’m a Volkswagen clean diesel, for crying out loud.

Volkswagen has just perpetrated on the United States and possibly the world an act of criminality that is stunning for its scale, depravity, and lack of a payoff. The company — the whole company, not just a few proverbial bad apples — has been caught designing its diesel cars (The Jetta, Passat and the BMW X5) to control their emissions when being tested, but to remove those controls when being driven normally. As a result, for six years about half a million diesel autos have been emitting 40 times the nitrous oxide, a smog precursor, allowed by law. The cars that did this were marketed as “clean diesels.”

In an article headlined “Pure Evil, VW Edition,” a website called Reality Based Community explained what the company did: Continue reading

The Fires This Time

The Rim Fire in California’s Sierra Nevada burned over a quarter million acres in 2013. Seemed amazing then, now it’s just another day in the woods (and on the tundra). (US Forest Service photo)

The Rim Fire in California’s Sierra Nevada burned over a quarter million acres in 2013. Seemed amazing then, now it’s just another day in the woods (and on the tundra). (US Forest Service photo)

An appalling amount of the Northern Hemisphere is on fire. At the beginning of this month, 314 wildfires were raging in Alaska alone. They have seared 5 million acres so far this year and have torched up to half a million acres in a single day. Meanwhile, to the east in Canada’s Northwest Territory, hundreds of fires were raging in the permafrost zone, having covered over two million acres by the end of June. The forested northern provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan were similarly afflicted — 522 fires in northern Saskatchewan alone by June 30, nearly four times as many as last year in the same period. Continue reading

Pacific Apocalypse: The Great Dying Continues

A passel of starving sea lions, rescued from the beach by volunteers, in a California rehab center. They get a lot of attention because they’re cute. But crabs, oysters and anchovies are dying just as fast.

A passel of starving sea lion pups, rescued from the beach by volunteers, in a California rehab center. They get a lot of attention because they’re cute. But crabs, oysters and anchovies are dying just as fast.

The Pacific Ocean appears to be turning toxic to all life, a prospect with unimaginably dire consequences for humanity. News stories about it are fragmented, and slotted into the “Environment” category, and thus easily ignored by the rich and famous and their news channels. (Breaking News: Donald Trump Running Mate May be Caitlyn Jenner!) In just the latest manifestation of this calamity, what may be the largest bloom of toxic algae ever detected is poisoning sea life from California to British Columbia — with toxin from it detected not far off Alaska. Crab and clam fisheries have been shut down in two states so far, and the so-called red tide is still growing. In Monterey Bay, California, the concentration of domoic acid secreted by the algae is the highest ever recorded. Continue reading

First They Came for the Sardines…

The fish held a meeting, and decided to spread the alarm, but it was too late. They were all dead. (Photo by James Palinsad/Flickr)

The fish held a meeting, and decided to spread the alarm, but it was too late. They were all dead. (Photo by James Palinsad/Flickr)

You see the stories here and there, usually in local West Coast papers and on specialized websites. One has a gross picture of a dissolving starfish, another a heart-tugger of a starving sea lion pup. Then there are the stories that have no pictures  because they are about something that isn’t there, such as sardines and krill. Or something that is happening but cannot be watched, like the slow impassive death of oyster beds. It takes a while for it to begin to dawn on you: Holy Crap! Everything on our Pacific Ocean coast seems to be dying! Continue reading

Engineers Offer to Save World from Engineers

Thank God, it’s an engineer, here to save us from the fire by pouring gasoline on us. (Photo by Sergei Nivens/Shutterstock)

Thank God, it’s an engineer, here to save us from the fire by pouring gasoline on us. (Photo by Sergei Nivens/Shutterstock)

The closer a person or  a society comes to the end of its life, the more attractive magical thinking becomes. Clearly this is not going well, the thought process goes, but I can avoid the inevitable outcome if I 1) pray real hard, or 2) pay enough money to the shaman/priest/doctor, or 3) take lots and lots of Vitamin X while bathed in a strong electromagnetic field, or 4) sacrifice plenty of virgins to a volcano. The more hopeless the situation becomes, the more attractive becomes the idea of a magical, easy solution, and the lust to find one often intensifies until death intervenes. Thus now, in the dotage of our society, we are hearing a rising, insistent chant from the shamans of technology, a promise of an easy fix for the climate that is turning against us: “geoengineer it, geoengineer it.” Continue reading

China and India: Accelerating to the Finish Line

The air in Delhi, shown here in 2011, like the air in Beijing, is barely breathable by humans. Yet these two countries, with their 2.6 billion people, have just begun to burn fossil fuels. (Photo by je poirrier/Flickr)

The air in Delhi, shown here in 2011, like the air in Beijing, is barely breathable by humans. Yet these two countries, with their 2.6 billion people, have just begun to burn fossil fuels. (Photo by je poirrier/Flickr)

Hopium addicts and a few novelists nurture the convenient belief that while the 1.4 billion people of China and the 1.2 billion people of India struggle lustfully to live as luxuriously as do the 300 million people of the United States, they will manage to do so in a manner somehow less wasteful of energy and natural resources, less destructive of the living web of life, than we have done. The belief is convenient because, while there is not a whisker of evidence to suggest it is true, holding it permits the believer to carry on with business as usual. Continue reading

China Hosts Development Celebration. No, Really.

China_Steel_Industries

This Chinese steel factory demonstrates what a boon it is to the Chinese people. And why it must be shut down while the Chinese people have visitors.

Remember when the Marlboro Men, the rugged, cowboy-looking actors hired to glamorize cigarettes, kept dying of lung cancer? Or imagine if they made the overweight Ron White (the Blue Collar Comedy guy) host a TV fitness program while swilling bourbon and puffing on a cigar. Now you have an idea how China feels this week, as it prepares to host the growth-mad Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation organization. It’s hard to glamorize something that’s actually killing you.

Instead of a celebration of unfettered development, a my-project-is-bigger-than-your-project bragfest, a sky-is-the-limit orgy of optimism, the attendees are going to be strangling on the effects of unfettered development and holding hands with a would-be Marlboro Man of countries who is, in reality, terminal. Most people die when they can no longer breathe; in China, you’re in danger if you do breathe. The air is that bad. Continue reading