Planet Earth Is One Hot Mama, And That Just Might Save Us
We're talking enhanced geothermal, kids!
I often worry that climate nihilism or climate despair may now be a greater threat to taking action than flat out climate denial is. The good news is that governments and industry are finally taking steps we need, and we're already seeing encouraging news. (Here, have a gift link to David Wallace-Wells's article explaining why the most dire predictions of just a few years ago are now less likely.)
The once unthinkable is now national policy: The US is actually committed to shifting away from the fossil fuel economy. Not fast enough yet, but measures like last year's Inflation Reduction Act are nothing to sneeze at, either, providing a boost to the clean energy transition, and clean energy jobs, that really should be cause for optimism. There are some incredibly smart people working on moving that transition along, and a hell of a lot of money to be made, too. So let's talk about enhanced geothermal energy, an energy technology that, along with solar, wind, hydro, and some nuclear, may have the capacity to save humanity's bacon. (OK, sure, eating less meat would also help there.)
As rightwingers will happily remind you, the big drawback to wind and solar is that the wind doesn't always blow and the sun does that "night" thing every day.
There are workarounds, especially storage batteries that can capture excess capacity to use as needed, but it would also be nice to have a reliable, always-on source of clean electricity that can be ramped up as needed to augment wind and solar, or replace 'em when they aren't online. And that's why geothermal is so attractive: You're generating electricity from the Earth's heat, which doesn't care about the weather or the time of day.
The problem with geothermal is that until recently, you had to find places where underground heat warms up water that makes it to the surface, either as hot water or steam. Most of the really good naturally occurring geothermal sites for electricity generation are already being used, like the Geysers, in California, and some 60 other sites around the US.
The idea of enhanced geothermal is to drill down to where the rock is hot, then use hydraulic fracturing tech to create cracks in the rocks — more or less the same technique as fracking, but instead of doing it where oil is hidden down there, the fractures would be filled with water, which would be heated and steamed up to the surface through a second well, where it would heat up refrigerated gases that run turbines and generate electricity. The water is then cooled and pumped back into the well. To oversimplify a bit: Break hot rocks, add water, harvest geysers.
As the MIT Technology Review 'splains,
A noted MIT study in 2006 estimated that with a $1 billion investment over 15 years, enhanced geothermal plants could produce 100 gigawatts of new capacity on the grid by 2050, putting it into the same league as more popular renewable sources. (By comparison, about 135 gigawatts of solar capacity and 140 gigawatts of wind have been installed across the US.)
“If we can figure out how to extract the heat from the earth in places where there’s no natural circulating geothermal system already, then we have access to a really enormous resource,” says Susan Petty, a contributor to that report and founder of Seattle-based AltaRock Energy, an early enhanced-geothermal startup.
In February, the US Department of Energy announced $74 million in grants for seven enhanced geothermal pilot projects. Another attractive thing about enhanced geothermal is that since it uses much the same technology as fracking, it could provide green jobs for people and companies currently working in oil well drilling — but without the toxic brines and oil/gas production. The drilling would avoid oil and gas deposits, which would mean you won't have people's water wells getting contaminated, too.
The really exciting promise of enhanced geothermal is that it could also be used to store up energy, basically using the geothermal site as a giant "battery" that could be tapped as needed when wind and solar need to be supplemented. As MIT Tech Review reports, commercial geothermal company Fervo managed a big step toward that at its plant in Nevada in January. In a series of tests, the company pumped water thousands of feet down into hot rock, then capped off both well heads and watched the pressure build. Once it was released, the water pumped out at higher pressure than normal for hours.
The results from the initial experiments [...] suggest Fervo can create flexible geothermal power plants, capable of ramping electricity output up or down as needed. Potentially more important, the system can store up energy for hours or even days and deliver it back over similar periods, effectively acting as a giant and very long-lasting battery. That means the plants could shut down production when solar and wind farms are cranking, and provide a rich stream of clean electricity when those sources flag.
The tests simulated the cycle of how a well might be used to back up wind and solar, "shutting the well down for eight to 10 hours and opening it back up for 14 or more, operating it as they would on a grid with plentiful daytime solar power." And by golly, it worked as planned.
It's going to take time and money to start turning experiments like this into actual generating capacity, but if it can be done at a scale that makes the power commercially viable, enhanced geothermal looks very promising. Site selection and system designs will have to minimize the risk of earthquakes, for instance; the article goes into depth (ha! ha!) on several ways that can be done.
So hooray, we just might not be doomed.
[Guardian / NYT (gift link) / IPCC Report homepage / Vox / MIT Technology Review / Scientific American]
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Joe Biden Just Throwing Affordable Insulin At America Like Paper Towels After A Hurricane
If you've been planning to get diabetes, now's your chance!
Joe Biden's woke agenda of reducing the cost of insulin keeps rolling forward, inflicting significant out of pocket savings on Americans with diabetes, who need the drug to stay alive. It all started last summer, when the Inflation Reduction Act reduced the cost of insulin for folks on Medicare to $35, although Senate Republicans voted down a matching price cap for everyone else, just to be big jerks. (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema did not join them on the jerk train that time, we checked.)
Then, at the start of this month, after Biden called for a national price cap on insulin in his State of the Union address, Pharma giant Eli Lilly announced it would cap its price for two of its most widely prescribed insulins to $35 per month, for people on insurance and for uninsured folks. Biden called on other manufacturers to follow suit, and now that's happening, so we're certain Donald Trump will take credit for it.
Two more huge pharma dominoes have fallen this week. (No, that's just a metaphor, you can't get insulin from Domino's; pay attention, you.) Wednesday, the Danish pharma company Novo-Nordisk cut its insulin prices by between 65 and 75 percent, depending on the product, although it didn't match the $35 per month commitment made by Lilly. Analysts said the price cuts will especially help people with high deductibles and those who don't have insurance.
Then, yesterday afternoon, after Biden spoke in Las Vegas about his plans to reduce out of pocket medical costs, the French company Sanofi announced it will cap its insulin prices in the US at $35 per month, although the change won't go into effect until January 1, 2024. Like they couldn't do it right away like Lilly did, but quoi ever. Maybe they need time to consider how JERRY LEWIS would handle the policy, and there we go with our timely up-to-date stereotypes about the French.
Also too, Sanofi already makes its insulin brands available to people without insurance at just $35 per month, so we guess we'll hold off on any cracks about the reliability of French cars.
As NBC News points out, this is a friggin' huge deal, because between them, Lilly, Novo-Nordisk, and Sanofi supply 90 percent of the insulin in the US market.
In a White House announcement yesterday, Biden took a little victory lap, saying, "As of this afternoon, all three of the leading insulin producers in America have agreed to substantially reduce their prices, following my calls to expand my $35 cap for seniors to all Americans."
He also took the opportunity to warn against Republican plans to vote to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act for the sake of cutting taxes for billionaires, although of course Biden would veto any such attempt. But it's worth keeping in mind for 2024: Give them the chance, and Republicans would be delighted to roll back healthcare savings that are already helping millions of Americans.
So now, guess it's time for the last 10 percent of insulin suppliers to get on the bandwagon. And to see how Fox News spins this terrific news for Americans as a "woke" disaster.
[White House / NBC News / NBC News]
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Month After MSU Campus Shootings, Michigan Dems Pass New Gun Control Bills
None of these laws could have stopped the shooter, unless they had.
The Michigan state Senate yesterday passed several gun control bills that will expand background checks, create a "red flag" law that will allow judges to remove firearms from people who are at risk of committing violence, and require safe storage of guns in homes where children are present.
The bills were passed a month and a couple days after the deadly mass shooting at Michigan State University in East Lansing, which killed three students and left five others wounded. The shooter in that incident shot himself when confronted by police. The MSU shooting itself occurred the night before the five-year anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida; as we noted at the time, it won't be long until every day on the calendar is the anniversary of a horrific mass shooting.
The package of 11 bills passed on a mostly party-line vote by Democrats, who last fall won majorities in both houses of the Michigan Legislature. Two Republicans crossed party lines to vote for a pair of bills that will exempt firearms safety devices — trigger locks, gun safes and the like — from taxes for one year. Hard to say if that will be enough of a betrayal of the Holy Second Amendment for those two to be censured by the state GOP. It's a tax break, so maybe they'll get away with it.
Several of the bills had previously been introduced in the wake of the 2021 mass shooting at Oxford High School, but failed at the time due to Republican opposition. Clean elections matter: Republicans had previously gerrymandered themselves a majority, but once fair district maps were drawn by a nonpartisan commission, Democrats won.
The Michigan House passed a similar package of bills last week — on a purely party-line vote — but the legislation's language isn't quite identical, so the two houses will have to decide which version to pass and send on to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is planning to sign either set.
Under current Michigan law, purchasers of handguns must undergo a background check for all purchases, whether from a federally licensed firearms dealer or a private party. But private sales of long guns aren't subject to a background check so the bills passed yesterday tighten that up by extending the licensing and background check requirements to sales of all firearms, whether from a dealer or a private party.
There's a narrow exception in the background check bills, for "people under the age of 18 who use their guns for hunting or who possess the guns under the supervision of a parent or guardian."
Another measure would require that firearms owners in homes where minors are present must keep them either in a safe or locked box, or keep them unloaded and locked with a trigger lock.
Since that might be construed as cruelty if applied to children, the locking provisions apply to the guns instead. The law would apply to guns kept in vehicles as well.
Failure to safely store a firearm would be a misdemeanor, but if a minor gets hold of an unsecured gun and commits a crime with it, the gun's owner could face stricter charges depending on the nature of that crime. If the minor injures someone, the owner would face felony charges and up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine; if the kid kills someone, the maximum sentence would be up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine of $7,500.
Red Flag Law
Another measure passed yesterday will put in place the state's first "red flag" or extreme protection order provision. It will
allow family members, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers and others to petition a court to bar someone from possessing or purchasing a firearm if they pose a risk of hurting themselves or others.
The petitioner would need to show that the person presents a "significant risk of personal injury" to themselves or to others.
Republicans, predictably, whined that nearly all of the bills would only infringe on the rights of "law abiding gun owners," and that "criminals," who are completely different people, would ignore them. They also insisted that the bills would have done nothing to prevent recent mass shootings in the state.
You could certainly make the case that a red flag law might have taken away the gun used in the MSU shootings; in that case, the shooter's father told media that he was certain his son had a gun, which he shouldn't have, following a 2019 weapons charge. And the 2021 Oxford school shooting was committed with a handgun the boy's parents had bought for him as a gift; it was kept unlocked in their home. The parents have since been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter for being shockingly irresponsible regarding their son's dangerous behavior prior to the shooting. Would they have actually kept the gun locked up if it were required by law? That's unknowable of course, but four teenagers would still be alive today if they had — and maybe their very troubled kid would be getting therapy instead of facing life in prison.
At a rally in favor of gun reform yesterday, state Rep. Angela Rigas showed up with a bullhorn so she could heckle and try to shout down those speaking in favor of the laws, including survivors of the Oxford shooting. Because we guess an armed society is a polite society.
In other Michigan Good News, Gov. Whitmer yesterday signed into law an expansion of the state's anti-discrimination law that will now explicitly protect LGBTQ+ folks. Court decisions had already held that the law applied to LGBTQ+ Michiganders, but now they're in the statute. And yes, Whitmer teared up a little as she thanked the Democratic majority in the Lege for coming through on the bill.
"Their tears of happiness are coming down, I’m trying to hold it together — can’t look at them too much,” she joked.
Hell yes. You, over there, stop chopping those onions.
[Detroit Free Press / MLive / Detroit News / MLive]
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Mean Federal Court Still Won't Let Ron DeSantis Cast Woke Demons Out Of Colleges
But ... but ... that means the woke will keep woking!
Wokeness and critical race theory and Marxist indoctrination can continue to run rampant in Florida colleges and universities after a federal court ruled Thursday to keep in place an injunction against enforcing the "Stop WOKE" Act. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request by Gov. Ron DeSantis's administration to please let it stop some woke, even just a little, while the case is being decided.
In November, US District Judge Mark Walker determined the law, which would restrict how colleges and universities can teach about race and gender, was unconstitutional as all fuck, because what part of free speech don't you understand? In a remarkably fun decision to read, Walker called the law "positively dystopian" and cited George Orwell in his order, adding that the bill's formal name, the "Individual Freedom Act," was a dandy example of doublespeak.
As we said at the time, it's awfully refreshing to see an invocation of Orwell by someone who has actually read and understood the dear old lifelong socialist who thought basic human decency might yet have a chance against totalizing ideologies.
In yesterday's 26-word order, a three-judge panel of the appeals court turned down the state's request to stay the injunction Walker issued in November. It also directed the court clerk to "treat any motion for reconsideration of this order as a non-emergency matter," just in case Florida decided to get shirty. In an act of judicial decorum, the appeals panel did not add "Neener-neener, you fascists."
The 2022 law, Florida HB 7 (22R), is yet another of those copy-pasted bills against teaching "divisive concepts" in public schools, but tweaked to apply to higher education and to businesses that offer training on implicit bias and the like. (A separate lawsuit already put on hold the bill's restrictions against private businesses.)
As Politico 'splains, the law expanded Florida's existing anti-discrimination law to protect the sensitive feelings of anyone who might have conniptions when told that other people have been discriminated against, how dare you. The bill prohibits institutions of higher education from ever causing students to feel sad in lessons about race or sex.
Inspired by DeSantis, it takes aim at lessons over issues like “white privilege” by creating new protections for students and workers, including that a person should not be instructed to “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.
As we always point out, OF COURSE no one would ever teach that white children are guilty for things like slavery or Jim Crow, but the problem with these "divisive concepts" laws is that they're written so vaguely that any teaching about racism or sexism could potentially get an instructor or school sued and penalized.
The law was challenged last year in a lawsuit brought by Dr. Adriana Novoa, a history prof at the University of South Florida, and by student Sam Recheck, who are represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a national campus free speech nonprofit. Supporting briefs have been filed by the usual woke suspects like the ACLU and groups supporting academic freedom, even for people who will never ever vote for Ron DeSantis, and how is that even fair?
FIRE issued a statement yesterday saying
“Professors must be able to discuss subjects like race and gender without hesitation or fear of state reprisal. Any law that limits the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms should lose in both the court of law and the court of public opinion."
DeSantis spokesdork Bryan Griffin said the administration will win for sure, and look at how those dopey judges only decided the actual matter before them instead of something else:
"The Court did not rule on the merits of our appeal. The appeal is ongoing, and we remain confident that the law is constitutional."
Gov. DeSantis himself hasn't yet said anything about the decision, probably because he's still scooping gobs of pudding into his mouth with his gross fingers. Does he wash first? Or after? Who even knows? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
[Politico / WFLA / Law & Crime / Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons License 2.0]
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