Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2047: Earth & Mars On Different Paths

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 3 – By Andy Silber
August 24th, 2047
ICE3 Station, Greenland

Greenland harborToday the ship has come to pick us up. For over two decades I’ve been here keeping the glaciers from flowing into the ocean. The press release talked about the cost and better ways to spend our resources, but we know the real reason. Once the rains came, it was hopeless. At first we only had to deal with the melting ice and refreeze whatever made it to the ground. That we could do and keep the water from lubricating the glaciers and speeding their path to the ocean. Once a year or so, a pipe would break and need to be replaced. Once the rains came, we could only turn the water to slush, which lubricated the ice and there was nothing we could do to slow the inevitable march to the sea. Now our pipes are breaking every month. It’s just a matter of years, maybe a decade, until Greenland is ice free. It actually doesn’t matter whether the ice melts or not. Once it is floating, rather than resting on land, the seas go up.

It seems like it was a lifetime ago that I was in the NOAA Corp and I told one of the researchers I was interested in glaciers. He suggested I volunteer for the Greenland Ice Dam project. I was here when the power line came in from Iceland, when the drilling started, when the fusion reactor went online. I’m the only one left from those early days. I’ve spent half of the last 20 years on this rock, 10 days on, 10 days off.

[see author’s note at end][Read Chapter 2][read Chapter 4]

After growing up in Akron, who would have imagined I would have spent half my adult life in Greenland and the other half in Iceland. I’m not quite ready to retire, but I’ve been too busy to think about what’s next. Maybe I’ll make up for being away from my wife, Emelía, and stay home and putter in the garden. I could write a book about the history of the ice dams, in the spirit of “My Life in Kenya” by Lionel Hardcastle. Sara is in college in Rejevik and Aron is busy on his aqua farm, so it would be quiet, but not as quiet as Greenland.

When the fish stocks crashed, Iceland was one of the most impacted countries in the world. Only 1% of the country is arable, so much of the food has always come from the sea. Modern sea farming was born in Iceland, out of necessity. Aron loves tending his kelp and sea grass and harvesting the fish who live there. Fishing has become like raising cattle or sheep: tend the land; harvest the animal. One funny thing is Iceland is one of the few places where our accessible land is increasing. Rising sea levels have been compensated by melting glaciers. Of course, none of that land is suitable for farming: it’s just rock that’s scraped clean of anything resembling soil.aquaculture

Maybe the ice dams have bought us enough time. Dikes have been built, people have migrated uphill or inland. The glaciologists estimate that the ice dams bought us at least five years and maybe ten. That sounds like a good investment to me. Now that the glaciers are moving.

At least a boat came to pick us up. When the MEP closed up shop, we left the Martians on Mars. The terraforming is going well, so maybe that’s for the best. Once a week they broadcast a status report and it’s the highlight of my week. I guess I connect with them, since we’re both on a barren, isolated rock. The difference is I get to go home to the “lushness” of Iceland every month. On Mars the algae is doing well, the asteroids continue to bring them water and there’s even a patch of grass thriving in Ylla. You can’t walk around without a rebreather, but they have hope. The population was 8,500 when the Ark stopped coming, now it’s 9,200. Those children are the real Martians; the ones who have never lived on Earth. They’ve even started building things that they can no longer count on getting from Earth. Raw materials will be the easy part: they’ve already sampled the meteorites from the terraforming effort and they’ve got enough metals, including rare-earth metals, to keep them busy for generations.

I can’t help but feel that the closing of MEP is part of a bigger, scarier development. The progress of civilization has been about an expanding sense of Us as opposed to Them. First it was family, then clan, village, town, city, country. The Mars Exploration Program was the ultimate realization of that: every country in the world sent people to Mars, expanding Us to including not only everyone on Earth, but also everyone on Mars. I believe that this was the pinnacle of human civilization. Since then it’s been nothing but contraction. International trade has dropped, since many ports have shut down due to the rising sea level. Travel is less common, both because of cost and fear of spreading diseases. Our focus has turned inward and it seems to become more closed every year.

The harvesting of the northern bogs for fertilizer has reduced the fires and been used to halt the desertification that was happening as rain patterns shifted and the globe heated. It’s slow going, but it has already reduced the fires enough that atmospheric CO2 levels have started to drop for the first time in about 250 years. At this rate, in 30 years we’ll be back down to 400 ppm.

Irish bog farmingOur ship is in port. All of the critical materials have been loaded on board. Most everything is being left behind. The fusion reactors have been decommissioned and we’re running just on the HVDC line from Iceland. Given my veteran status, I’ve been given the dubious honor of throwing the switch that turns everything remaining off. It’s like pulling the plug on the life-support on a loved one: it’s painful, but you know that the time has come and it’s the right thing to do. Good-bye old friend.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2035: Terraforming and Colonizing Mars

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 2 – By Andy Silber
September 11th, 2035
Space City, New Mexico

Orion_docked_to_Mars_Transfer_VehicleI take my last breath of REAL air. Sure, I’ll still be breathing nitrogen, oxygen and trace amounts of most everything else. Eventually it will be made by plants. Or we all die. But never again will I breathe “Earth air”. Never again to see an Earth sunrise or sunset or an ocean. I doubt I’ll even see a lake, but there is some hope for that.

I board the space plane to take us to our home for the next 6 months. The Martian Exploration Program (MEP) calls it the Orbital Transfer Vehicle, but everyone else calls it The Ark. But no animals, though later trips will be bringing eggs and maybe even live animals. Just humans for now, 2 by 2. Mating pairs. Chosen based on our skills, genetic makeup, diversity yada, yada, yada. Oh yeah, political connections and money don’t hurt. We’re supposed to be the best of the best, but many of the most impressive people in the training program just disappeared. One day they’re part of the program, the next they’re gone.

[see author’s note at end][read Chapter 1][Read Chapter 3]
It is amazing how quickly this all happened. When the northern bog fires started in 2027, we all realized how bad things were going to get. We cut CO2 emissions to near zero, but the atmospheric levels didn’t drop. If we put out the fires, then we’d get methane, which is worse, so we let them burn. But the more they burn, the warmer they get, the more the methane thaws and the more the world heats.

Then the jellyfish took over the oceans. Fish stocks collapsed. The GMO kelp and plankton has reversed the trend, so we’re not going to suffocate. The kelp is processed into something resembling chewy tofu called MariFu, which is only a slightly better name than what everyone calls it: Soylent Green. The pH levels in the ocean are slowly returning to normal and we are all hopeful that healthy oceans will return. But for now, the oceans have stopped absorbing CO2. That’s part of the reason atmospheric levels aren’t dropping.NA with ice melted

Ever since humans finished colonizing Earth we have dreamt of moving to Mars. Venus is too hot, the Moon too small, but Mars, there’s hope there. We just have to terraform it: create an atmosphere we can breathe, or at least walk around in short sleeves. The CO2 that has caused such wreckage on Earth would be perfect for the job. Too bad we can’t just carry half of our atmospheric CO2 and methane with us.

Then someone had a brilliant idea. We were already mining asteroids for precious metals; how about water, a powerful greenhouse gas, for Mars. We might get some methane as well. A robot fleet was sent out to the asteroid belt to nudge icy planetoids onto a collision course with the Red planet. Three have already struck and two more should hit before we land. The humidity in the air has increased from near zero to that of Antarctica in the winter, the lowest found on Earth. By the time we arrive, it should be close to Katmandu in the winter. Still no oxygen, but warmer nights and more comfortable “space suits”. From this point on, the meteors will all strike on the unpopulated side of the planet. Some day we might want to mine the minerals from them, but for now we’re just happy to have the water.

Our settlement is named Ylla, though some of the geekier among us call it Terminus. They’ll be 500 of us living in temporary structures while we dig a more permanent home. That’s what I’ll be working on. I think troglodytes might be a better name for us than astronauts. The Martian rock will protect us from the cold and radiation. Since Mars has no magnetic field and a thinner atmosphere than Earth, the surface gets much more particle radiation from the Sun than Earth.

There is lab equipment, shelter, food, water and fusion reactors there already. Solar power isn’t great on Mars since the solar irradiance is one-quarter of Earth’s. We’re bringing enough fuel for 30 years with us. By then we should figure out how to get more locally.

TerraformedMarsGlobeRealisticOur underground village will have greenhouses for air and food and to treat our sewage, research labs, bedrooms, communal kitchens, and a medical clinic. It will also have a nursery. No kids for now, but once our warren is complete, we’re expected to breed.

I’m not sure how I feel about raising kids in a cave, but I know I don’t want to do it here. Over the last 10 years people have been moving to higher ground. Refuges are everywhere. Some places are pretty horrible, like the mountains between Bangladesh and India or Egypt. The most interesting are the 2nd wave Afrikaans, refuges from The Netherlands welcomed to South Africa by the black government: one side gets capital and highly educated workers; the other a home above sea level. Since the US has large amounts of land above sea level, we’re doing OK, but the maps look funny with Florida missing. The food system is highly stressed. The North American breadbasket has moved north, the Sahara desert has expanded south. Scotland is an up and coming wine region, though the melt from Greenland is weakening the Gulf Stream and that is likely to reverse to warming trend in Europe.

Once our village is complete, we start working on the home for the next wave. The plan is 500 more colonists every year, until…who knows. An interesting thing we’re bringing is a constitution. For the first five years we’ll be run like a forward operating military base with command being MEP headquarters in Lima. For the following five years we transition to self-rule and a Parliamentary system with a preferential voting system. It’s assumed that at some point we’ll have to be totally self-sufficient, no one knows when.

A critical mission is figuring out something, probably a GMO algae, that can live on Mars and make oxygen. That’s where my wife, the biologist, comes in. She was part of the team that worked on the GMO plankton. I know she’s why we’re on this ship. The hope is they can create one that can spread across the globe and form the basis of an ecosystem. Then they’ll focus on something that can eat the algae plus other plants. I’m hoping we quickly get to a grass or something a cow can eat, because I’m not wild about the idea of being a vegetarian for the rest of my life.Blue-green_algae_cultured_in_specific_media
Dam safety briefing. You’d think after 18 months in the training program we could skip the safety briefing. Has anyone in a space plane every used their seat as a floatation device. We’re taking off from New Mexico and headed east. By the time we’ve over a body of water bigger than a pool, we’ll be10 miles up and moving at Mach 3. Time to buckle up and head to our new home.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

GreenLife Stage Demos Announced

West Seattle Summer Fest GreenLife Demo Sked 2014Greenlife logo

West Seattle Summer Fest and Sustainable West Seattle are pleased to announce this year’s line-up for the 4th Annual GreenLife Stage.  The GreenLife Stage is sponsored by Alki Bike and Board and features 3 days of sustainability demonstrations.  Topics include:  Building with Reclaimed Materials; Backyard Beer Making; and Home Canning and Preservation.  We are also excited to have performances of the highly acclaimed Illuminatio Dance on Friday and Sunday afternoons.

The GreenLife area is sponsored by West Seattle Nursery and is located in the Chase Bank parking lot, off California Ave SW and SW Edmunds St.  GreenLife runs from Friday, July 11th through Sunday, July 13th.  For more information and to view the schedule, please visit:   http://wsjunction.org/summerfest/green-life/.
The schedule is also here as a PDF(click to enlarge):

West Seattle Summer Fest GreenLife Demo Sked 2014

1st Phase of Westwood, Sunrise Heights Roadside Rain Garden Nearly Complete

raingarden mapKing County Wastewater Division  announces that their 2014 Roadside Rain Garden construction program in Sunrise Heights and Westwood is nearly complete. Construction  will begin begin on two new streets in late June.

King County’s work to build roadside rain gardens on seven streets in Sunrise Heights and Westwood is will finish ahead of schedule. The deep wells on the 15 streets planned to have roadside rain gardens are also complete.

To finish the project more quickly, crews will start work on two blocks scheduled for construction in 2015 (see red circles on map) later this month. Working ahead of schedule will return 34th Avenue SW to traffic this fall and reduce what is left to be done next year.

King County will continue to work closely with neighbors affected by the project in advance of any new work.

What’s left to do this year?

  • Finish roadside rain gardens on 31st Ave. SW between SW Othello St. and SW Elmgrove St.
  • Construct roadside rain gardens on SW Kenyon St. between 34th Ave. SW and 32nd Ave SW.
  • Remove all the bright yellow bollards protecting the deep wells (to be completed by the end of June).
  • Relocate utilities and construct roadside rain gardens on 34th Ave. SW between SW Thistle St. and SW Trenton St. (begins in late June).
  • Protect all of this year’s roadside rain gardens with orange fencing while plants grow for two months.
  • Possibly move all the water and sewer lines on remaining 2015 streets later this summer.
  • After plants are established, crews will test the rain gardens to make sure they work. Then they will be open for business!
  • Monitor and maintain roadside rain gardens into the future

For more information, contact Kristine Cramer at King C0unty Wasterwater at 206-477-5415, or

cell 206-255-7089, or email at Kristine.Cramer@kingcounty.gov, or check out their website http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/wtd.aspx

 

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2025: Warmer, Higher Sea Level, Fusion Power

solar flaresIn a Climate Changed World: Chapter 1 – By Andy Silber
July 17th, 2025
Richland, WA

We’re all just sitting here waiting for the President. Not in person of course. Too busy with the Greenland ice dam or the crisis in Bangladesh or something. I think she just didn’t want to come out here in July, when it’s 110 F. Or maybe it’s the leaky tanks of radioactive waste left over from building the A-bombs. Whatever, she’s not really here. But she’s going to throw a virtual switch to start the world’s first commercial fusion reactor. Even though we were confident that it would work, we still fired it up last night just to be sure. Zpinch containmentHer people insisted on that: the President didn’t want to press the pretend button and have nothing happen, or worse have it explode. People hear fusion and they think H-bomb. After 75 years of hope, sweat and money, once we figured out how to make the standing wave plasma reactor work, it only took us 4 years and unlimited resources to go from the lab to a 100 megawatt plant. I guess waiting another 20 minutes isn’t going to make much difference.

[see author’s note at end][Read Chapter 2]

Ever since the South Greenland ice sheet collapsed into the North Atlantic in 2023, dealing with the climate catastrophe, as everyone now calls it, has been an all hands on deck fight. The climate deniers disappeared just like those who opposed the US entering WWII vanished after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Tsunami on Wall Street and on the Capitol steps was a wakeup call that could not be ignored. The water receded somewhat, but the rate of sea level increased 10-fold from the increased melting in Greenland and Antarctica caused by the higher sea levels. It’s not clear if we can build dikes fast enough.

What is clear is that if the Greenland ice sheet continues to fall into the sea, every coastal city will be under water. New Orleans was a challenge before, but now it’s abandoned by all but those that would rather die than leave. Since the Army Corps gave up on trying to maintain the dikes in face of increasing sea levels, it won’t be long until the Gulf claims the Big Easy.

arctic_temperature_trendSo we’re building the Greenland ice dam: the world’s largest ice maker. A thousand miles of pipes carrying ice cold refrigerant across the glaciers, freezing the melting ice, rather than letting it lubricate the glaciers and helping the flow to the sea. The heat will be pumped into the deep ocean, hopefully not creating other problems. This won’t solve the problem, just buy us time, which is what we need. This will take an enormous amount of energy. So far, that’s come from an undersea line from Iceland, where vast amounts of hydro and geothermal energy are available. That’s been fine for construction and some early trials, but not the full system. That’s where we come in. We have a second fusion unit ready to ship there tomorrow, once the President makes her damn speech.

 

Politicians! For decades we techies begged and pleaded for action. Half of the politicians said “I not qualified to comment”, but then didn’t listen to those that were. The other half would say how important reducing carbon emissions is, but then do little.

Well, the collapse of the ice sheet changed that, but I suspect too little, too late. On the one-year anniversary of the start of the collapse, the politicians signed the Tuvalu treat, named after a country that no longer exists. All coal plants to be shuttered by 2030; gasoline to be gone by 2035 (replaced with biofuels and electric cars); introduction of a worldwide carbon tax; research on ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans; and some money to help poor countries adapt, but not much.

Solar, wind, geothermal and storage can meet most of our needs, but there’s no question that fusion will help. Our reactor can go into an existing coal plant and replace the boilers, but keep most everything else unchanged. We’ll create combined de-salinization/deuterium extraction/fusion power plants that will supply the world with all of the fuel we will ever need. There’s enough deuterium in our oceans to meet our current power needs for 10 times longer than the universe has been around.

But there’s more than just powering the ice dams and replacing coal plants. There are some people around, seem like government types but they won’t say, that we’re been told to give complete access. I’m not sure why the extra access, because the Tuvalu treaty requires us to license our technology. For all I know, they’ve already setup an alternative supply chain and are about to push their own button. The more the merrier.

Here she finally comes:

Fusion Elements“A source of energy first envisioned a century ago, one that powers our sun and every star in the sky that we see; one that has been pursued for three-quarters of a century, becomes real today. In our existential battle to undo the harm we’ve done to our home, we have a powerful new ally. A source of power that is clean, safe, and without end. A new age, to stand along with stone and bronze and industrial, begins today. With the pressing of this button, I have the honor of opening the fusion age.”

With that, she throws the switch and the plasma is ignited; the standing wave generated; the deuterium-tritium fuel pellets injected; the nuclei collide and become Helium and emit energy; the heat creates steam; the steam drives a turbine and generates electricity. The waste heat will be used in the plant next door creating glass blocks out of waste left over from the nuclear bomb projects. Whether it’s enough, only time will tell.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Help Map Polluted Surface Runoff Problems Using Instagram

Waterspotter tagThe Washington Environmental Council and Resource Media have created a new social media project around mapping polluted runoff problems: #WaterSpotter!

The goal is to solicit photo contributions from community members to document and map polluted runoff problems such as

  • Street flooding;
  • Pooling of water;
  • Sheeting of water;
  • Oil sheens on pavement; and
  • Clogged storm drains throughout Puget Sound.

It’s as easy as taking a picture and sharing it using InstagramHere’s how it works:

  1. Spot runoff (water in a puddle, overflowing drains, water with an oil sheen);
  2. Photograph it with Instagram;
  3. Hashtag your photo with #waterspotter and then drive folks to #waterspotter via Facebook and Twitter.

The website, (http://waterspotter.wordpress.com/) has more info including a Frequently Asked Questions page to learn how to use Instagram to locate and hashtag your photos

Take photos today and Instagram to #waterspotter, the photos can be of runoff or of any stormwater solutions you see in buildings. 

The goal is to solicit photo contributions from community members to document and map polluted runoff problems: street flooding, pooling, sheeting, oil sheens, and clogged storm drains throughout Puget Sound. Upload to Instagram with the hashtag #waterspotter and your photo will appear in the digital swamp of water behaving badly.

Their website, (http://waterspotter.wordpress.com/) has more info, sample photos and a section dedicated to Solutions to Pollution, notice the 12,000 rain garden challenge.  They are also developing a Google map program to start mapping the photos!

For more information, contact WEC Puget Sound Advocacy Manager Rein Attemann by phone at 206-631-2625, or cell 206-334-6472, or email rein@wecprotects.org.

Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission Needs Candidate To Fill Term

SEEC logoThe Seattle City Council is seeking candidates to fill a vacancy on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) for a term lasting until December 31, 2016.

The SEEC is an independent committee comprised of seven volunteers. The Mayor and the City Council each appoint three Commissioners and the Commissioners select the seventh.

“The Ethics and Elections Commission is one of the City’s most important bodies,” said Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess. “They are the guardians of our local democracy, ensuring a fair electoral process and an ethic of principled public service among City employees.”

The Commission is responsible for interpreting and applying the Seattle Ethics, Elections, Election Pamphlet, and Whistleblower Protection Codes and the City’s Lobbying Regulations. Six staff members investigate complaints, monitor compliance, and offer information and guidance to citizens and employees regarding these Codes.

SEEC candidates must demonstrate a commitment to fairness and integrity. Once appointed, Commissioners serve without compensation and may not participate in any City election campaigns or be an officer of any political party.

Interested candidates should deliver a résumé and cover letter by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, June 30 to Councilmember Tim Burgess by e-mail (tim.burgess@seattle.gov), by fax (206-684-8587; provide cover memo with Attn: Tim Burgess), or by mail to:

  • Council President Tim Burgess
    • Chair, Education and Governance Committee
    • Seattle City Council
    • P. O. Box 34025
    • Seattle, WA 98124-4025