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Join me at The 2014 SkeptiCAL Conference on May 31st in Oakland

15 May

The 2014 SkeptiCAL Conference
Saturday, May 31, 2014
9 am to 6:30 pm (Check out the schedule)
Oakland Asian Cultural Center
388 9th Street, Oakland, CA 94607
http://oacc.cc/directions/

Join science fans and people who enjoy examining the foibles of the world for a day of stimulating ideas and fun conversation.   Speakers and topics include:

·        Sheril Kirshenbaum (U of Texas, and coauthor of “Unscientific America”) on science literacy in the 21st century

·        Benjamin Santer, climate scientists at Lawrence Livermore Labs, on the human influence on climate change

·        Andrew Fraknoi, astronomer at Foothill College, on Nancy Reagan’s astrologer, jetology, and the zodiac

·        Psychologist Patrick O’Reilly (UC San San Francisco) on cons, scams, and undue influence

·        Paul Doherty of the Exploratorium on the boundaries of science.

·        Plus other speakers, science comedian Norm Goldblatt, exhibits, and a chance to mingle with interesting people

Please visit the website at www.skepticalcon.com to see the full speaker lineup.

Tickets are now on sale on a first-come, first-served basis. Regular tickets for the whole day are available at $50.

Younger Americans More Supportive of Exporting Natural Gas Than Older Americans

30 Apr

The new UT Energy Poll data is out today! Here I’ll highlight changing American attitudes related to the export of natural gas.

The infographic above shows a snapshot of current survey responses collected March 3-­17 among 2,133 U.S. residents aged 18 and older*.

The first thing I notice is that younger Americans are much more likely to support natural gas export than older Americans. It makes me wonder if this may reflect older respondents’ memories of living through the 1970s energy crisis.

Republicans and Libertarians are also more likely than Democrats and Independents to support natural gas export, but age seems to be the most influential factor we observe in the data.

Looking at the data over time [not pictured], support for export has increased during the past year from 28 to 37 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who disagree has decreased from 39 to 28 percent. Still, nearly one third of Americans remain neutral, which is not surprising giving energy literacy among the public remains low.

Why are we seeing increased support for natural gas export? It’s possible that these trends may reflect the current media attention to Russian energy and the crisis in Ukraine. We can’t be sure, but it will be interesting to see the Fall data in six months…

 

* Data from the poll were weighted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, as well as propensity scores, to ensure the sample’s composition reflects the actual U.S. population. MOE for this wave is 3.0

This post originally appeared at Scientific American’s ‘Plugged In

The Most Important Energy Source for the Future is…

29 Apr

For months I’ve been writing about how hydraulic fracturing is shifting our energy mix from oil to natural gas. From environmental impacts to geopolitics, new horizontal drilling technologies are transforming the 21st century energy landscape.

But the most important energy source for the future isn’t oil or gas – at least, according to Exxon. It’s energy efficiency. And I agree. As Exxon’s new Outlook for Energy points out, the world’s population will grow by 2 billion people by 2040. We will be more urbanized and industrialized and we’ll need a lot more energy to meet demand.

Overall energy consumption will go up 35 percent during that time but it would be far higher without advances in energy efficiencies…That’s everything from more fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrid cars, to more fuel-efficient power plants. Electricity generation will grow by 90 percent by 2040 but the amount of fuel needed to generate that electricity will only grow by 50 percent.

Not everyone has the same impact when it comes to energy consumption. Consider: On a per capita* basis, the average Texan consumes about twice as much energy as the average American, four times as much as the average person living in the UK, and about eight times as much energy as the average person living in China. Those at the low end of that spectrum are going to want to adopt more energy intense technologies, so all around the world, the focus must be on efficiency.

The UT Energy Poll will be released tomorrow and this wave takes a close look at public opinion on energy efficiency. The new data considers consumer attitudes and behavior, knowledge, and perceptions about the barriers to success. So stay tuned…

* It’s important to note that considerations of per capita consumption can be deceiving. Texas consumes a tremendous about of energy in order to produce energy for other regions. But the message remains the same – impacts are not uniform.

This post originally appeared at Scientific American’s ‘Plugged In

Who Wants To Export Natural Gas?

14 Mar

My last post highlighted how over six months, support for exporting natural gas has increased as opposition decreased. Thirty-four percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “The U.S. should permit the export of natural gas to other countries,” while 30 percent disagreed and 36 percent were neutral. My guess is that most of the country is still not likely paying much attention.

Now let’s dig deeper. The data collected is weighted to reflect U.S. census demographics so we can find out more about how opinion varies across the nation. Here’s a look at those who agreed that we should export natural gas broken down by gender, income, and party affiliation:

Source: UT Energy Poll September 2013. Base: 2,144 All results based on weighted data. Methodology here.

The first thing I notice is that support for exporting natural gas looks a lot like the data across broad energy issues. Women tend to be less engaged than men. High earners are more likely to follow energy topics closely compared to those earning less. And as a group, Libertarians are more likely to be watching energy issues than those from other political parties.

Right now it appears that the Americans who are most focused on energy topics are also more likely to support exporting natural gas. Still, it’s important to note that this data was collected prior to the current situation in Ukraine. The latest poll results from March 2014 will be available in a few weeks, so we’ll be able explore new data on public sentiment regarding natural gas–and many other critical energy topics–very soon!

Should the U.S. Export Natural Gas?

11 Mar

The United States has a lot of natural gas (I’ve already outlined why here). In fact, natural gas will likely overtake petroleum as the leading fuel source in our energy mix in the next decade or two. Given the current situation in Ukraine, many are wondering whether we should export some as a kind of geopolitical move against Russia.

It’s possible, but should we?

It wouldn’t exactly be easy… Even if permits were issued immediately, it would still take A LOT of money and many years of construction to get going. On top of that European countries would also need to create the infrastructure to receive our exports.

Here’s a look at where Americans are on exporting natural gas from the previous two waves of the UT Energy Poll:

[Note: New Spring 2014 data will be available April 30]

More are now in favor of exporting natural gas to other countries compared to last year, while there’s far less opposition. Still, it’s worth noting that the majority of Americans still don’t even know what fracking is and think we get most of our foreign oil from Saudi Arabia.

If we’re going consider some significant changes in foreign policy and energy strategy, I hope we get more of the country up to speed on what it would mean.

[Update: A deeper dive of the data].

Liberals May be More Morally Invested on Climate, but Conservatives Are More Likely to be Energy Efficient at Home

21 Feb

Over at Mother Jones, Chris has a piece about the moral motivations of liberals and conservatives. He points to a new political psychology study led by Linda Skitka of the University of Illinois-Chicago considering the differing moral investments of individuals at both ends of the political spectrum. Skitka and her team report that conservatives feel greater moral conviction on immigration, the federal budget, states’ rights, gun control, abortion, physician-assisted suicide and the deficit. Liberals, on the other hand, are more morally invested when it comes to gender equality, income inequality, healthcare reform, education, climate change and the environment.

Let’s take a moment to consider those last two: Climate change and the environment.

Here’s a look at data from the most recent UT Energy Poll based on a representative national sample of 2,113 Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and Libertarians. The results below indicate percentages of each group who responded that they are likely to do the energy efficient behavior listed within the next five years:

Not surprising so far. In every example, Democrats are significantly more likely to say that they will change their behavior to be more efficient than Republicans. Now let’s take a look at who has already done each of these:

Aside from the purchase of energy efficient light bulbs, Republicans are just as likely or, at times, significantly more likely to be taking these energy efficient measures in their own lives. Sure, the rationale for making such decisions is likely to be different, but there’s more to the story when we consider intent as well as action. What’s clear is that consumer choices that impact climate and the environment are motivated by more than moral convictions.

Will The Lights Stay On In Sochi?

7 Feb

With the world focused on Sochi now that the Winter Olympic Games have begun, will the power stay on?

Russia has engaged in 49 major energy projects since it won the bid to host the Olympics back in 2007. As National Geographic explains, these should boost Sochi’s capacity to generate electricity by 800 percent.

Among the new projects built for the games are a 106-mile (172-kilometer) natural gas pipeline beneath the Black Sea that feeds fuel to the new Adler thermal power plant in Sochi, which is expected to supply one-third of peak energy demand during the Olympics. A second power plant built northwest of the city is projected to provide 25 percent of the power needed to fuel the games. Reylyan said the project involved 460 new power distribution lines.

Sounds good BUT then again, there was that incident last November when the lights went out at Sliding Center Sanki… Luge athletes sped down their track at close to 90 miles per hour when the power went off. Yikes! And according to the NYTimes, sliders also reported that some hotels had no power or running water at the time and “those problems are not uncommon to the region around the track.”

But no need for alarm – There are over 120 diesel generators that will be used to keep power going in sports arenas, media centers, Olympic villages, and for emergencies throughout the games. Of course, things don’t always go off without a hitch – even here in the U.S. Remember Super Bowl XLVII?

Still, Russia has guaranteed the International Olympic Committee that they can meet peak energy demands. I certainly hope they do.

The California Drought: “A Stark Warning of Things to Come”

22 Jan

This is what California looked like on January 13 in 2013 and 2014. You’ll notice things have changed.

This image compares January 13, 2013 and January 13, 2014 snow cover as seen by the Suomi NPP satellite’s VIIRS instrument. CREDIT: NASA/NOAA

I live here, so this morning I listened as Governor Jerry Brown delivered his annual State of the State address. He described the drought as cause for long-term concern:

We do not know how much our current problem derives from the build-up of heat-trapping gasses, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come. The United Nations Panel on Climate Change says – with 95 percent confidence – that human beings are changing our climate. This means more droughts and more extreme weather events, and, in California, more forest fires and less snow pack.

I’ve written in the past about how climate scientists cannot pin single weather events on climate change. But what we do know for certain is that it causes more extreme extremes. This means we can expect regions with hot temperatures will get hotter, wet places will get wetter, storms will get more intense, and dry areas will get drier–all around the world.

During the current California drought emergency, we have seen heat records broken and critically low reservoirs. As the governor pointed out this morning, this is no longer an anomaly. Instead, it’s a glimpse into the future.

A Look At Our (Mostly) Independent Energy Future

14 Jan

In my last post, I described how the past eight US presidents pledged to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. None have succeeded yet… but by the time President Obama leaves office, oil imports will be lower than when he arrived, but as I previously explained, it’s not all because of his administration.*

Now let’s build on that by taking a look at the EIA’s projection on total energy production and consumption into the future:

U.S. dependency on foreign oil has been decreasing–and that trend is projected to continue over the coming decades. And it’s not just due to the rise in domestic natural gas production. More efficient energy technologies along with rising energy prices have concurrently reduced demand.

The result? EIA expects a 4 percent net import share of total U.S. energy consumption by 2040! And that 4 percent isn’t likely going to need to travel very far. For example, consider America’s ‘foreign’ oil suppliers in 2012: Our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, provided well over 1/3 of imports alone. For comparison, we received 13 percent from Saudi Arabia and just 6 percent from Iraq.

The United States is looking a lot more energy independent in the years to come. And that’s a good thing.

 

* Government policies since the 1970s funded advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (already available since the 1930s and 1950s respectively). Later, high gas prices provided market incentives to locate new wells on private lands utilizing these technologies. Most recently, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 excluded hydraulic fracturing from underground injection regulations. It’s a rare instance in which markets, government, and technology worked together with a common goal. And succeeded.

Eight Presidents, One Pledge: To Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil

19 Dec

At a time when partisanship seems to lead most every story in politics, it’s worth highlighting a sweeping bipartisan push that’s lasted four decades…

Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have all made the same pledge to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And yet at the end of each administration so far, imports have been higher than before.

The pledge seems to have meant little–until now. By the time President Obama leaves office, oil imports will be lower and this trend will continue. And to be fair, it’s not all thanks to Obama.

Decreased dependence on foreign oil is the cumulative result of many events that set the stage for natural gas. Government policies since the 1970s funded advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (already available since the 1930s and 1950s respectively). Later, high gas prices provided market incentives to locate new wells on private lands utilizing these technologies. Most recently, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 excluded hydraulic fracturing from underground injection regulations. It’s a rare instance in which markets, government, and technology worked together with a common goal. And succeeded.

As a result, the energy transition is now in play, but most people haven’t noticed yet. In fact, Dr. Michael Webber, Deputy Director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, predicts natural gas will overtake petroleum as the dominant energy source in the U.S. within 10-20 years. Perhaps when this occurs and we finally achieve that famous political pledge to “reduce dependence on foreign oil,” more Americans will recognize the significance of what’s taking place.