It’s 104 degrees in Sacramento and almost that in the gold-rush foothills where my folks live. I’ve dutifully come 600 miles to visit them but I’ve escaped, briefly, to the cool mountains above. I’ve settled into the duffy shade of a huge mountain hemlock, the sweat of a perfect dayhike is cooling me, and a snow cornice gleams above a silver-dollar lake set deep in its talused cirque.
I love this. The High Sierra.
I loved it in detail, over years of exploring, before I abandoned the sins and automotive savageries of California for the cool green urbanisms of Portland.
In my hand is a book of poetry — Stephen Dunn’s — and I’m about to enter a long, savoring poem listing his “Loves.” In detail. Things and people and … How much he loves! And with what precision and determination: The ocean in winter. Shifting from second to third.
I guess it’s a kind of epicure’s trick, to save a book like this for a moment like this. But it works for me, helps lift me from the pettiness of my familial disapprovals and frictions. You know what I mean: the morbid power a loved one’s ill-concealed faults can exert over you. In my family (as in yours, I bet) there is racism and fundamentalism and bigotry — smug, impervious to evidence, infuriating. I’m the gay son come home to make nice for a few days. Each night I call my partner — whose name is never uttered here — to try to draw strength from the thin stream of voice in the earpiece.
I hiked up here today across glacier-slick granite a-dance with streams and melts and trickles under that famous sharp and somehow divinizing light. Pines limber and lodgepole are gardened into it, a bonsai wide as the world, with tiniest greens of grass and flower lipping the pools and tumbles. I loved this, and I came here to love it again. But instead, for half the journey, I have been rehearsing the unspoken arguments that muddy up my heart: making the iron-clad Q.E.D. for global warming (yes it’s real!), for diversity and inclusion, for a bigger god…
We are all, too much of the time, captives of the wreck and the mistake. Can’t take our eyes off it, can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop picking that scab. We slide into our merely negative identity — defined by what we refuse.
But it’s not enough, is it? Is our nation adrift, hijacked by mountebanks and neocons and thugs? It is not enough to hate them. We must remember what we love. Time spent saying no is, at some point, time robbed from the yes that must follow. A long time ago I read Jesus’ words “Do not resist evil” and wondered what in the world he could have meant. Maybe this: We must stand on what we love — live it, be it and bring it. And not waste time in the other direction, preaching up devil and denunciation. In mere reaction we become impotent and diminished — as I know well. It’s no place to live.
A bit tired and a lot refreshed, I return toward evening and find a meal set specially for me, of pork chops seethed in sweet apples and onions. A hundred-dollar-bill is tucked in at my place, to help with the trip. So wrong on the macro, on the micro these are good and loving folks. What can I do but love them back?
There’s a random dangerous rightness abroad in this wide shining world. It’s a rightness, not a correctness. We don’t need so much to counter other people’s errors as to bring the light and joy of that right and beautiful world: what we desire for our planet and ourselves, what we are doing instead of hating and denying and bombing.
If I live to be my parents’ age, I’ll have three more decades to help Portland develop its answers: how we’ll live in a warming world without cheap oil. Will it be a good life in 2036? Every day, in my adopted hometown, we struggle and argue, build and make choices toward a yes — one that might someday be useful all over our swaggering, sweltering, beloved land.
Our job is to work on what we love. Daily. In detail. With precision and determination.
David Oates is the author of City Limits: Walking Portland’s Boundary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Essay first published online at The High Country News on October 16, 2016.
Coors had appealed a water court decision that said any water not used by Coors in its augmentation plans must be returned to Clear Creek.
Coors wanted to reuse water after it left its treatment plant and lease water rights for that water to other companies, according to the appeal.
Coors’ water reuse plan was opposed by competing Clear Creek water users including the cities of Denver, Golden, Centennial, Arvada, Thornton, Georgetown and Northglenn along with private companies including the Farmers High Line Canal.
The Supreme Court ruled that Coors could not circumvent a requirement to obtain a new water right by amending its augmentation plans in order to reuse water leaving the plant.
“We further conclude that the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan does not change its character,” the court ruling says.
Currently a tributary of Clear Creek is diverted to the Coors plant. Water that is not used flows through its wastewater treatment plant and then back into Clear Creek.
Coors believed that it could reuse water leaving its wastewater plant or lease it to other users downstream.
But in 2014, the Colorado State Engineer did not approve a new lease request by Coors to send treated water to Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., according to the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court ruled that Coors’ water rights only allowed a single use of the water diverted by Coors. Any unconsumed water remains waters of the state and must be returned to the stream, the ruling says.
I’ve already cast my ballot for Amy Beatie, won’t you join me? The Colorado General Assembly will be well-served with a water attorney who knows how to work within the legal system and find environmental benefits. If you live on the Northside please cast your primary vote for Amy. If you know folks that live up here please let them know how important it is to vote for her.
Two years ago this weekend I was in British Columbia, with two must-see items on my agenda. I had spent the previous five days, courtesy of the Canadian government, visiting first Toronto and then Vancouver. The consulate in Denver, where I live, wanted journalists and others to see and hear about all the wondrous things being done in Canada’s two marquee cities to quell greenhouse gas emissions.
After our final Vancouver visit, on my own agenda and on my own dime, I rented a car and drove up the Sea-to-Sky Highway. In Whistler, I wanted to see how the ski company was helping save the planet. And in Squamish, 40 minutes why of Whistler, along Howe Sound, I wanted to see where a great experiment was underway that might help save Whistler’s snow. My curiosity about the Squamish project was well founded as recent news shows.
In Whistler, I was graciously given a tour of the mountain, the Peak 2 Peak gondola, the bike park, and more. Our last stop, the Fitzsimmons Creek run-of-the-river hydroelectric project, was the most important to me. Though it wasn’t all that much to look at, it represented perhaps the most important effort up until then of a ski company taking responsibility for its role in this giant energy challenge facing humanity.
Despite the Fitzsimmons hydroelectric project, despite the new solar farm that makes the Colorado ski area of Wolf Creek 100 percent solar powered, despite all the wondrous things Vancouver and Toronto are doing, we’re still speeding into an unmapped climatic wilderness.
In April, we tripped across the threshold of 410 parts per million, a 130 ppm increase since the start of the industrial age two centuries ago. Most of that increase has occurred since I was born in the 1950s. We’re accelerating our emissions, almost triple the annual rate from when I was a youngster, learning to ride a clunker of a bicycle. In the process we’ve already elevated our temperatures by 1.2 to 1.3 degrees C.
Now we’re racing toward 450 ppm. Unless we slow our emissions, says Scientific American, we’ll hit that mark in about 18 years.
Climate scientists don’t know for sure that anything calamitous will happen at 450 ppm. It could be just another increment, like a hair of once-brown head turning gray: deeper droughts, longer heat waves, more powerful typhoons and hurricanes. And, of course, warmer. Or it could be much worse, a big spurt of change. Some of the uncertainty has to do with the feedback mechanisms, such as the thawing of methane, a far more powerful heat-trapping gas, in the Arctic tundra. These are the unexpected, nonlinear, and frightening outcomes that scientists warn could result from pushing the climate system too hard.
Ice cores extracted from glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica, and elsewhere provide surprisingly insightful mirrors of the past. For example, the Greenland ice from 1,700 to 2,500 years ago shows levels of lead that indicate lead and silver mining and smelting by the Greeks and Romans. Ice cores also show CO2 in the atmosphere. Those now are 100 ppm higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.
Writing in the New York Times Magazine last year, Jon Gertner noted the last time atmospheric CO2 levels were as elevated as now, three million years ago, sea levels were most likely 45 feet higher and giant camels roamed above the Arctic Circle.
That’s where Squamish and geoengineering comes in. Many scientists have concluded that the only way to avert the perhaps intolerable climatic changes is to conduct massive geoengineering, to reverse the effects of global warming. Geoengineering is an umbrella word, kind of like snow sliding, for two broad categories of activities.
One type of geoengineering seeks to deliberately tinker with the climate, to reverse existing and continued effects. One such idea, for example, would attempt to replicate the effect of volcanoes. In 1991, for example, Mt. Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, exploded, pushing a plume of gas and ash—including nearly 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide—into the atmosphere, eventually reaching an altitude of 39 kilometers. The most particulates went skyward since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. The aerosols formed a global layer of sulfuric acid haze, cooling global temperatures.5 degrees C in the years 1991-93. Krakatoa had had a similar effect, depressing temperatures by as much as 1.2 degrees C in the northern hemisphere and also helping produce 38 inches of rain in Los Angeles, which averages 15 inches.
All manner of ideas have been formulated to intentionally disrupt the climate. One idea would have us deploying mirrors, perhaps in deserts or perhaps in outer space, to reflect back light into space. Another idea is to brighten clouds, to make them more reflective. Still another idea, crudely employed, would be to scatter materials over glaciers, once again to reduce the albedo effect of the native snow and ice. Then others have toyed with dumping iron into the ocean, to spur the growth of carbon-sucking algae. None of these ideas have gotten very far.
The second major type of geoengineering seeks to withdraw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The International Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report surprised many by identifying 116 scenarios in which global temperatures could be prevented from rising more than 2 degrees C. Of these, 111 scenarios involve sucking massive quantities of CO2, from the atmosphere. As Wired magazine noted in a story last December, the goal is to attain “negative emissions,” perhaps lowering CO2, emissions below 400 ppm, even down to 350 ppm, as Bill McKibben proposes.
Trees suck carbon, but they do grow slowly, don’t they? Other ideas involve growing plants and then harvesting them, burning them, and producing energy in that way. Such ideas have generally been dismissed as impractical for the kind of carbon reduction needed in the next 30 years, simply because of the space required. As Wired noted, just growing the crops needed to fuel these bio-energy plants would require a landmass one to two times the size of India—and this transformation would have to occur within the lifetimes of the millennial generation.
In Squamish, a relatively new company called Carbon Engineering is capturing air then using industrial processes to remove the carbon dioxide. Several similar processes are being tried in other experiments around the world.
David Keith, now of Harvard University, founded the company in 2015. He obtained funding from two billionaires, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Norman Murray Edwards, who has a big stake in the oil sands of Alberta and also owns the Fernie, Kimberley, Kicking Horse, and other resorts of British Columbia.
Being of a different income class than these billionaires, I stayed at the hostel in Squamish, sharing a room with about 35 other guys. (There are times, if rare, when I am actually glad for my hearing loss.) The next morning I drove around Squamish, visiting the Sikh temple, watching immigrant families frolic on the waterfront, and admiring the giant rock formation overlooking the town. Only later, after returning to Vancouver, did I learn that a base jumper had leaped to his death from the granitic monolith of the Stawamus Chief at almost precisely that same time. The parachute of the victim, an ex-Marine, had failed to deploy.
At length, I found Carbon Engineering on a sliver of land jutting into Howe Sound. Peering over the locked gate of the chain-link fence that Sunday morning I saw a long metal shed, several tanks, pipes, and a shaft.
A story in the Guardian described the great challenge of this alchemy using the example of M&Ms. If you were allowed to eat every red M&M in a bag, it would be easy to do so if they were but one of every 10 in a bag. But, if the concentration fell to one in every 2,500—the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere—you might just give up on the red M&M’s.
Carbon Engineering in its plant at Squamish has modified old processes to address this challenge. The process uses a strong hydroxide solution to capture CO2 in a structure modeled on an industrial cooling tower and convert it into a carbonate. Next small pellets of calcium carbonate are precipitated from the carbonate solution. The calcium carbonate, once dried, is then heated, to break apart the CO2 and residual calcium oxide.
According to the company website, the plan is to move to commercialization, creating industrial-scale air-capture facilities outside of cities and on non-agriculture land.
But there’s more. Carbon Engineering’s vision combined this direct air capture technology with water electrolysis and fuels synthesis to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels. In this process, the CO2 and hydrogen are thermocatalytically reacted to produce syngas and reacted again to produce hydrocarbons. In principle, a wide variety of hydrocarbons can be generated, but the company says it intends to focus on providing a product that replaces diesel and jet fuel. The plant at Squamish has been producing a barrel a day of synthetic fuel.
“If we’re successful at building a business of carbon removal, these are trillion-dollar markets,” Adrian Corless, then chief executive of Carbon Engineering, told Kolbert.
But could it do so cost-effectively? That has been the big question facing Carbon Engineering and every other company organized to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Cost estimates had run up to $600 a ton or even more.
Scale is what matters. Can the process be scaled? That was the chief criterion in Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge. He offers $25 million for the first scalable solution for removing greenhouse gases. So far, the money has been unclaimed.
On June 7, Carbon Engineering announced publication of a peer-reviewed paper in the energy journal called Joule that declares that the process tested at Squamish since 2015 has been refined such that it can done for as low as $94 per metric ton. The news—if not all the paper’s qualifying statements about financial assumptions and so forth—was quickly splashed around on BBC and other international news organizations.
“Imagine driving up to your local gas station and being able to choose between regular, premium or carbon-free gasoline,” offered the National Geographic.
The BBC, after describing the “tangle of pipes, pumps, tanks, reactors, chimneys and ducts on a messy industrial site,” concluded that the process underway at Squamish “could just provide the fix to stop the world tipping into runaway climate change.”
“I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic savior, which it isn’t, or that it is absurdly expensive, which it isn’t, to an industrial technology that is do-able and can be developed in a useful way,” David Keith, a founder of Carbon Engineering, told BBC News.
In 2010, I had met Keith in Calgary, where he was then teaching, with dual appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Calgary. This was on the tail-end of a trip to Fort McMurray, also courtesy of the Canadian government, designed to show-and-tell why the oil/tar sands were not such a terrible thing.
To my surprise, the Canadian consulate media liaison in Denver—a former bump-skier from Vail—had wanted us to meet with David Keith. I was impressed, because even then I was aware of some of Keith’s big-picture thinking.
Keith, now 54, comes across as somebody deeply loving of the same things as most people in mountain towns do. He grew up in Canada, the son of a researcher with the Canadian Wildlife Service who did groundbreaking work on the insidious effects of pesticides; his mother was a historian.
After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in physics, Keith took journeys to the Arctic. In the first trip he camped alone in a remote region of Labrador for three weeks. Then he spent four months living in a plywood shack in the middle of the Arctic Archipelago, tracking walruses with a polar bear biologist. He has said it was one of the happiest times of his life.
He continues to seek out solitude in wonderful places. On a recent honeymoon he went backpacking in northern British Columbia. Protecting the climate of existing ecosystems and places clearly drives him.
Some of that thinking has been at meetings convened during the 1990s at the Aspen Global Change Institute. One of the speakers Keith heard had been a proponent of using nuclear devices for massive earth-moving goals, such as digging new canals. But the speaker by then was talking about geoengineering as a way of addressing the massive challenge of carbon dioxide emissions.
As a civilization, we’ve done our best to tinker with weather. Jeff Goodell, in his 2010 book “How to Cool the Planet,” offers a delightful history of the flimflam artists of the early 20th century who promised they could deliver rain to soak farmers’ fields and fill reservoirs in San Diego. After World War II, such efforts became more scientific, with the deliberate seeding of clouds with silver iodide and other substances to produce rain and snow.
Vail, the ski area operator, has been paying to seed clouds over Vail Mountain since a disastrous drought in 1977 as well as other of its properties. So do major water utilities, such as Denver. This is despite a major, 10-year study bankrolled by Wyoming that found only marginal success of cloud seeding.
The U.S. government, through a program called Project Plowshare, in the 1960s and early 1970s explored the idea of using nuclear devices to move massive amounts of Earth. One of the ideas was to thoroughly shake up the subterranean in order to unloose natural gas encased in tight rocks. Call it nuclear fracking. One of those blasts occurred west of Aspen and Vail in 1969, near the town of Parachute. It created rubble, all underground, but no natural gas worth anything. It was radioactive. At last, the U.S. government pulled the plug, in what one Cold War analyst says “the reluctant admission that a nuclear utopia was not imminent.”
In Calgary, Keith wouldn’t singularly bad-mouth the tar sands. (Because this was a Canadian government trip, it was always “oil sands,” and that’s what Keith said, too). But what stands out from my notes almost eight years later is his insistence that all our efforts to that day had been largely symbolic. “For the United States and Canada, motivation for action that goes beyond symbolic is very low,” he said.
“It’s important to be realistic about this,” he added.
In his 2013 book, “The Case for Climate Engineering,” Keith articulated the same thought about a disconnect between efforts and outcome. “Why has the spending on clean energy produced such meager results?” he asked. “Either the cost of cutting emissions is much higher than analysts’ estimates of what’s needed or the money is getting grossly misspent. Carbon emissions are so large that deep cuts can only be realized by actions that are cost-effective and scalable.”
Cost effective and scalable remain the key words. The paper in the journal published last week described a rate of “levelized cost per tonne of CO2 captured from the atmosphere ranging from $94 to $232.”
That is still a wide range, and, in any event, it’s well above the world’s highest carbon tax, British Columbia’s $35 per tonne; it is set to reach $50 a tonne by 2021. The point is that the price of carbon emissions must rise substantially or the cost of removing it must be lowered substantially before there will be any traction.
Keith has also been working in the other realm of geoengineering. Keith and another Harvard scientist, Frank Keutsch, had planned to launch a high-altitude balloon, tethered to a gondola with propellers and sensors, to spray a fine mist of materials such as sulfur dioxide, alumina, or calcium carbonate into the stratosphere above Arizona. The sensors, as he told MIT Technology Review, would measure the reflectivity of the particles, the degree to which they disperse or coalesce, and the way they interact with other compounds in the atmosphere.
Should we even pretend to think that technology can come to our aid? Conferences and papers so far debate this very question. Some see it as akin to setting off bombs underground in Colorado. Even Keith has said repeatedly that geoengineering is secondary to reducing our emissions.
Many scientists have argued we shouldn’t even try. Even if successful, would it then allow us to dither on this path toward making a giant energy transition? We could just spew more and more carbon into the atmosphere. As the fracking revolution has taught us, we’re a very inventive species at figuring out how to get carbon from underground.
What about unintended consequences? When inventors in the Silicon Valley were creating smart phones, they probably weren’t imagining that people would be reading their phones as they drove down highways. For that matter, when Henry Ford began mass-producing cars in Detroit, he could not have imagined that one day transportation, primarily from cars and trucks, would be the leading emitter of CO2, emissions. He was creating a greater good, not a greater problem.
Then again, do we have a choice? We’re disrupting the climate through our small, unseen emissions of carbon dioxide millions and millions of times each day across the planet. We’ve already jumped off a cliff. Like the base jumper at the Chief, we had better hope we have a parachute to deploy. It’s too soon to say whether the industrial process for removing carbon dioxide from the air in the metal building in Squamish will be that parachute. But keep your eye on it. It’s terribly important.
he Colorado Division of Water Resources says the levels this year are abnormal and putting the area in almost a drought situation. The conditions are making it difficult for water lovers to do their activities in Pueblo, particularly at the Whitewater Park. In turn, revenue is down at some businesses.
The park is usually a summertime hot spot that draws people from all over Colorado…
Philip Reynolds, reservoir operations specialist for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said, “It would probably rank in one of the ten worst snow melt seasons for the Arkansas River.”
He says during a normal year at the park the rate of flow in the river is well over 1,000 cubic feet per second. Current conditions are only 600-800…
Surfers and kayakers are going to places like Florence where conditions are better. Reynolds says flows will increase part-time in July and August as part of the Voluntary Flow Management Program. Extra water will be released from the Clear Creek Reservoir to help out water enthusiasts.
Worried by growing demands and shrinking water supplies in the Colorado River Basin, Wyoming lawmakers are seeking legislation to authorize water banking in Wyoming and declare it a “beneficial use.”
The proposed changes to water law could allow Wyoming to “bank” Green River water for the purpose of meeting obligations to downstream states, and in doing so keep the state’s water users from running dry in the event of a shortage…
[The] message Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell gave the committees June 18 in Pinedale. “If critical elevations are breached, the system faces threats to [its] ability to control [its] own destiny – Compact compliance, irrigation, drinking water supply, power production, environmental resource preservation and overall sustainability,” his presentation said.
“Five years away or less we could have considerable problems at Lake Powell,” Tyrrell told committee members and the Wyoming Water Development Commission. Wyoming could see water diversions from the Green River curtailed as a result.
Lawmakers voted, without dissent, to draft a bill that would make water banking in Wyoming a beneficial use for contract obligations and drought contingency. The Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee wants to consider a draft at its next meeting in September…
But Compact signers “were under the impression there was a lot more water in the system,” said Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the west-slope Colorado River Water Conservation District. Now, “the system is really fully used, and we have this almost 20-year drought,” he said.
The upper basin share, for example, was initially expected to be 7.5 million acre feet annually — or a little more than a million acre feet for Wyoming. But under today’s hydrology, upper-basin states get about 6 million acre feet annually, state engineer Tyrrell said. That brings Wyoming’s share to some 834,400 acre feet. It is currently using some 598,000 acre feet annually.
Just as Wyoming has yet to use it’s full entitlement, so too has the lower-basin never demanded the upper basin curtail use to meet the obligation at Lees Ferry. But the calculus is changing and the slack is being steadily drawn from the system.