Julian Barg's blog. Stuff I came across recently.

European drama around tanks for Ukraine

How to sidestep a red line

What is problematic?

I read an article about the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and want to put into words what is problematic. Here is the article: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/18/conservative-us-network-undermined-indigenous-energy-rights-in-canada. What is problematic about astroturfing and industry shills or troll? How do we even know who is a troll? Is everybody with ties to the industry a troll? Is "collateral damage" when talking about industry trolls acceptable?

War in Ukraine--energy diplomacy

The conflict between Russia and the EU is also a show case for energy diplomacy. A lot of attention is on one specific pipeline project--Nord Stream 2. Business decisions regarding energy are intimately intertwined with other interests.

Consequence--jail time

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-28/china-jails-almost-50-steel-executives-for-faking-emissions-data . Would have loved to see this story discussed more widely. 50 steel executives jailed for faking emissions data. It was somewhat of an open secret in China that firms would fake their emissions data. What are you going to do if not reaching your goal is not an option? As a response, China implemented a mandate that data would be send live from the source (sensors at the smoke stacks from what I understand) to the regulator. Now, even if a company wanted to fake their data, there is a high chance that there would be some discontinuities in the data when they change over from one data source (sensors) to another--a computer generating random data. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing-based NGO, has some of the data, which is very cool. So now some inconsistencies were found and people went to jail. Now I am wondering: who should go to jail for corporate environmental crimes? Environmental fines are often seen as the cost of doing business. I think it is fair to say that jail time for environmental crimes is rare, especially in countries like the US where corporations are more and more becomming persons, and executives have less and less personal responsibilities. Before I start discussing punishment on the body through imprisonment rather than on the organization, I should probably revisit Foucault's Discipline and Punish. But I think this warrants a debate. Serial polluters--people, not organizations--are a pest and I will hold onto that fragment of hope that they can be removed from industries.

RCMP and oil and gas industry

How valuable is the RCMP's Community-Industry Response Group to the Canadian oil and gas industry

Wet'suwet'en--a short note

Writing down what I know--which isn't much, but otherwise I will definitely forget

Using Taguette--some notes

I used Taguette for analysing one set of data--here are some ways forward for the project

Sampling discourse

A short description of the post.

Language and Institutions

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Discourse and control

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Discourse and microinteractions

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Unexpected mechanisms

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When you cannot actually push back

The fantastic Emily Atkin of Heated raised an interesting point regarding the premise of pushing back against the oil & gas industry. I thought it was just the oil & gas industry having the big money--and hence resources such as manpower--that you need to plaster every channel with your message. Turns out, it's more than that: [you may refused if you try to go through some of the same channels with your anti-fossil message](https://heated.world/p/we-arent-comfortable-running-that). That's just what happened to [polluters expsed](https://polluters.exposed/). Their campaign is very blunt--I assume it is assumed to have the feel of a political ad?--and some clips name and shame polluters directly. But then again, ads from the other side are very blunt, too. Doesn't surprise me that a gas station ad platform delivered the most blunt rejection--oil & gas ads are probably a considerable source of revenue for those guys.

EIS--what do we know?

[The oil & gas journal picked out an interesting bit from the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the East Lateral Xpress pipeline](https://www.ogj.com/pipelines-transportation/pipelines/article/14206058/columbia-gulf-gets-louisiana-pipeline-draft-eis). The statement was drawn up by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). And with regard to climate impact, the findings are an astute "we don't know". I'm not sure why I am so surprised, I did know already that there is no reliable way of calculating that. Even @Erickson2014 encompasses a wide range of potential impacts. I guess it's probably just surprising to see it spelled out like that by FERC, and it sounds so resigned. (Continue reading.)

Problems and Solutions

AOM ONE is holding a plenary session under slogan "From Problems to Solutions". Here are my five cents.

Footnote 2021-07-24 on institutions and legitimacy

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Heat and rain

Turkey and North America are suffering from unforgiving heat, parts of Europe and China experience torrential downpours. Hundreds have died. The bigger picture: [The Nothern hemisphere is sectored into alterning heat domes and areas of lower pressure](https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/07/20/heat-wave-northern-hemisphere/). The jet stream over the Northern Hemisphere is basically experiencing a traffic jam. The human costs are enormous. In some countries, problems are worsened by social policy. [For example, 3% of the population of Portland is homeless!](https://grist.org/cities/portland-heat-wave-homeless-support/) Can you imagine? I like to think that Europe has a much smaller homeless population than America. But then again, in the further North you go, the less houses have air conditioning--things are not going well. I think about this as the _actual new normal_. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent, _that_ is the actual cost of climate change. Sure, we can clean up after one Hurrican Katrina. And California's economy somehow survived the 2011-2017 drought (more like 2011-2021 drought with temporary relief...). Are we going to start really struggling in a few years, when these events become a regular occurance? Wikipedia already has articles on the 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2018, and 2021 heat waves. When do these heat waves just become weather? It is easy to overlook that places like Pakistan, South Africa, and Bangladesh are already struggling because of a double whammy of climate and policy failure. What other countries are going to be added to the list before the end of the decade?

Footnote 2021-07-19--discourse

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Footnote 2021-07-15 on duality of structure

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Fracking & PFAS

The world is so small, at least when we're talking pollutants. PFAS, or "forever chemicals" are a group of substances that is associated with numerous superfund sites in the US, many of them related to manufacturing sites that were operated by the military. I swear I read an excellent lengthy news report about one of those sites before which laid out in detail the suffering of the current residents--most of them minorities (of course...). Cannot find it anymore unfortunately, but it seems there are many stories out there. [Turns out, some fracking chemicals form PFAS as a side product.|https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/12/climate/epa-pfas-fracking-forever-chemicals.html] That's not where the story gets interesting though. The interesting part is that the EPA knew since 2011, but failed to follow up. And that this issue has been revealed through a FOIA request by Physicians for Social Responsibility. The group does a great job at unveiling concerning developments, in an investigative journalism fashion. The takeaway is something I had in my mind for a longer time. (1) The EPA is not (always) on your side. (2) FOIAs are THE most important tool in our toolbox to shape discourse toward protecting humans and the environment. And (3) to make a positive impact requires an enormous amount of resources and patience. Many agencies fight tooth and nail to prevent a release of information. To obtain information, one frequently needs to follow up with the court, and be willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court. Only an organization that has significant financial resources and personnel continuity can succeed in pursuing an issue like that. And the number of organizations like that in the US can probably be counted on ~10 hands? I think that's why its so easy for relevant information to go unnoticed, and for corporations to get away with polluting for extended periods of time.

Hoover dam emtpy

That's an interesting one that I haven't had on the radar: [Hoover Dam is empty](https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2021/06/06/hoover-dam-drought-water-levels-lake-mead/5291323001/). Climate change strikes again! Aparently, the reservoir has been in decline since about the turn of the century. Curious how they are going to make up for the decline in energy production--most likely fossil fuels though unfortunately.

Consumer Energy Alliance

I do have to admit that I am fascinated by those industry-sponsored store fronts for opinions. Just had a look at the Consumer Energy Alliance, and the number of times they state on their website that they are "the leading voice for sensible energy and environmental policies" is just hilarious. I assume that there is an internal rule to include that paragraph in every post--which, as we know, almost definitely makes it true. You just have to say it often enough. Anyways, their approach is very interesting--back some moderate positions and then throw your weight behind pipelines. They are expressing support for offshore wind, but also Line 5. So if we were to write the playbook--if you want to do astroturfing right, don't just create radical organizations. Sure, with those you can get the Trumpers. But maybe there is a chance to get some moderates, too, with moderate organizations?

Is Keystone XL qualitatively different?

[This is something I haven't considered before](https://www.eenews.net/stories/1059969867). Some farmers in Texas talking about their experience with Keystone XL, and contrasting that with other pipelines. TransCanada stands out, negatively. "Holland estimates that there are more than 50 pipelines crosing his property." First of all, wtf? He even lost track of the exact number? That guy must be living somewhere near a major terminal or sth I assume. Also, yes, that is where your food comes from (if you are American). To be fair, I have a couple of farmers in my family, and yes, people don't really know where their food comes from. It's mostly not great. And if people did know, they probably wouldn't like it. But I am getting distracted. What stood out to me was that out of all those pipeline operators, TransCanada is the one that will not allow the farmer to move heavy equipment over the line. Which is a problem if you are a farmer and the line runs 2 miles across your property. So maybe some of the challenges that TransCanada encountered do stem from the fact that they are lacking experience in the US and made some enemies with their behavior?

Mayflower oil spill

[Somehow I missed this "epic" pipeline spill in 2013](https://insideclimatenews.org/news/24102019/exxon-oil-spill-neighborhood-mayflower-arkansas-sealed-depositions-illnesses-fines/). Diluted Bitumen, hit a small town. At 12,000 barrels not enormous, but still quite large, and highlights what damage an oil spill can do to human health. I really don't understand why the industry is to intent to downplay the risks. "The smell got into her house, she said, and for a year she couldn't shake a mailse triggered by coughing, congestion and miraines." "They told of the unexplained death of pets. They said they became afraid to even take walks through their neighborhood." The dilutans include some known carcinogenes, so I expect the cancer rate to go up in the long term, and there are probably going to be a couple of premature deaths. Yet were supposed to believe that when it spills into the ocean, it is just processed by hydrogen-degrading bacteria an that's it? Also, the case highlights again the regulatory capture of the PHMSA, which for five years blocked all efforts to obtain documents on hearings etc. Despite the fact that these information on exactly what was spilled are obviously very important to the poisoned families.

Montana's efforts to revive Keystone XL

I have had this one on my desk for a while. [Montana is now actively trying to revive Keystone XL](https://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/montana-delegation-demands-keystone-xl-pipeline-project-be-revived/article_0aa74db2-3bf9-534d-94db-eb87d7bafc3a.html). [Also on board: 20 other republican states](https://thehill.com/changing-america/sustainability/energy/543913-21-states-sue-biden-for-cancelling-keystone-xl). This highlights an interesting dimension that Keystone XL will take in the future. It is not over, yet. It also highlights the role that states such as Montana take. Maybe the default position would be to believe that states are arbitrators in the process, checkin the merits of a project before approving it. The reality is probably that individual decision makers--not in all cases, but often enough--act as active cheerleaders for projects such as Keystone XL.

Carbon offset (scam?)

[Great piece by Bloomberg on the problems associated with carbon offset](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20xMbGkEIQI)--I think a lot of use have heard about this, and how the reality is a little questionable, so I am glad to finally hear a more detailed story on this. Seems like in particular The Nature Conservacy is glad to exaggerate their accomplishments a little bit in exchange for conservation work funding from big corporations--but really, "we will not chop down this forest, and that's how the we reduce carbon emissions"... not a good story. Meanwhile, the land has been owned by The Nature Conservacy all along. And of course that means their customers don't really need to change anything about how their businesses work, while claiming the big green zero--convenient. Of course the fact that the rules of carbon accounting allow for that in the first place is concerning. Looking at you, American Carbon Registry.

Insurance for oil & gas

[Oil sand companies in Alberta are struggling because activists are targeting their insurance providers](https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/bakx-oilsands-tmx-insurance-1.6030960). This is the Extinction Rebellion playbook. Oil & gas might seem mighty, but there are some bottlenecks, if you are reckless enough to target them. Network analysis 101. Sometimes those vulnerabilities are physical, and can be targeted through blockades. But in this case, the inability to obtain sufficient insurance coverage might threaten pipeline projects, specifically the Trans Mountain pipeline. And it seems activists needed relatively little manpower to achieve partial victories. If TMX can be defeated by activists, one could argue that a small number of self-appointed environmental leaders have done more for the climate than Trudeau? That would be a remarkable feat.

API--Washington Post

Apparently, if you have enough money, you can outsource part of your website to a Washington Post domain now. I'm sure that helps. With SEO. And with shaping public opinion. The API managed to buy their way into a Washington Post series on "Tackling Climate Change". "Content From API. [Check out this post on how American's should fund the oil industry to develop all those "lower-carbon" technologies so we do not actually need to change anything to tacke climate change](https://www.washingtonpost.com/brand-studio/wp/2021/05/10/tackling-climate-change-woth-a-collaborative-approach/). Cause they have such a great track record on developing technology. They built like 10 wind turbines and a solar park somewhere, I'm sure. To use in an ad, and abandon the year after. I am not even exaggerating--[renewables made up for 0.8% of capital investments of oil firms in 2019, despite being a popular theme in ads of ExxonMobil, BP, and the likes](https://earthrights.org/blog/big-oil-dumps-billions-into-misleading-advertising-campaigns/). An interesting offshoot of that thouht is wheter technology isn't more valuable for the oil and gas industry in its current shape of being the perpetual future. Think about it: now that its still the technology of the future, the theme can be used to raise funds, and oil companies can point at it and say "oil and gas is fine!" That is a much more comfy situation compared to building carbon capture and storage sites and discovering that it is not that simple, or cheap, or reliable in keeping the carbon in. So if anything, the industry should try to stay in this state a little longer, where technology is still a thing of the future with potential, rather than a reality with flaws.

Keystone XL documentary

[Bloomberg just released this short documentary about Keystone XL on their Youtube channel.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6QvM5Heewo) Nicely summarizes some of its history, and interesting interviewees. [This is another documentary I just watched, about a well that has been spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico since 2004.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztT45A501Tc) The company behind it displays an incredibly cynical attitude, good reminder why it is worth digging deeper on the oil & gas industry.

Michigan pipeline shutdown?

I don't like being wrong. Like so many of us, being right makes me feel smart. But in this case I would not mind being wrong: [Michigan wants to shutdown a poorly maintained pipeline connection across the Great Lakes to Ontario](https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-line-5-pipeline-a-ticking-time-bomb-must-be-shut-down-by-next-week/). As [I have mentiond before, I have my doubts about pipelines actually being shut down](https://www.jbarg.net/posts/2021-04-29-once-the-pipeline-is-there-its-not-going-anywhere/). And the shutdown of a pipeline--even if it is a "ticking time bomb"--would certainly be surprising from a state that [only last year experienced a dam break of a dam that was known to be dangerous for years](https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/thousands-fled-their-lives-when-two-michigan-dams-collapsed-more-n1230841).

Once the pipeline is there, it's not going anywhere

[So Biden allows the Dakota Access Pipeline to keep operatings, despite it having no Environmental Impact Statement](https://www.ogj.com/general-interest/article/14202049). I am not too surprised. Why should you still care? One of the most intriguing thing about studying pipelines is this: the construction of pipelines as our mode of shaping the world. In German there is a term for that: "Fakten schaffen"--"creating facts". Implying that while your counterpart still contemplates about what action to take--or even before that stage, you take action, do something, anything. The intent being that by just by acting first, you get to decide, you get to take your preferred action. A fitting example would be buying an expensive car before consulting your husband or wife. Nothing you can do about it now, the contract is already signed! In 2017, the Trump administration waived the need for a full environmental review for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners managed to build the pipeline within Trump's tenure. The story that follows is pretty convoluted, [a court ordered the pipeline to be shut down while the environmental review is completed](https://www.ogj.com/general-interest/article/14180097), [another court overturned that order before it went into effect](https://www.ogj.com/general-interest/government/article/14179644), and the Biden administration now confirmed that DAPL can keep operating. What I am getting at is that academia is speding a whole lot of time contemplating things while the world keeps moving. While we study the environmental effects on one ecosystem, two more have already fallen victim. I think there is a lot of merit to analyzing the world as a burst of decisions that flow from our social structure, rather than contemplating about the ins and outs of individual decisions.

Pipeline environmental review

[Great short summary of Harvard's Environmental & Energy Law Program on the environmental review for pipelines and executive orders from 2019](https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/2019/04/energy-eos-in-depth-new-presidential-permit-for-keystone-xl-and-changes-to-presidential-permitting/). I did not realize that not only did Trump rubberstamp Keystone XL (which was later undone by Biden), but he also kneekapped the environmental reviews for pipelines in general. Not sure whether that was later undone by Biden. [To do so he relied on a trick that the Republicans already attempted in Congress when Obama was still president--although Obama called their bluff](https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/us/state-dept-to-put-oil-pipeline-on-hold.html). The rule he introduced states that the Department of State has 60 days after an application is received to collect information on the basis of which the president then makes a decision. Since not a lot of information can be collected in 60 days, this makes it easier for the president to rubberstamp such applications. As a side note, Obama's response back in the days was to deny the application, stating that not enough information could be collected to confidentially determine whether the project is in the national interest.

My current work in layman's terms

I just had an epiphany on what my current work is actually about. Not the stilted academic version, but the explanation in layman's terms. There are three elements. Obviously, as always, I am focusing on environmental pollution. The second broad area is that of decision making, and the illusion of rationality. But right now, with my work on pipelines, it is much simpler. While reading the [testimony of former TransCanada employee and whistleblower Evan Vokes](https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/former-transcanada-engineer-warning-to-residents-south-of-the-border-dont-trust-transcanada/) (what a name, eh?), I realized how much there is actually on the record on social action leading up to big, collective decision making, and how much of it I have seen or read in the past, particularly with regard to the oil & gas industry. And that is the kind of stuff that should be on record in the academic literature. We do not have to guess as to the underlying reasons of corporate action & communication. We certainly should not *always* hesitate to speculate about their intentions, and assume some kind of rational optimization at the aggregate level. At the surface, the discourse seems oriented toward environmental safety, but it really does not need a lot of scratching to reveal a lot more complexity.

Yet another way to prevent the flow of information...

My current work is very much about communication and the flow of information. And there are always surprises. Chose an interesting phenomenon *pats his own shoulder*. So the latest in unexpected ways of breaking the flow of information is this: [just sleep through the testimony](https://www.desmog.com/2015/08/06/keystone-xl-permit-hearing-concludes-after-nine-contentious-days-south-dakota/). Usually I look at the phenomenon on a fairly abstract level, but every now and then it is good to be reminded that it always comes down to people. Organizations don't communicate, people do. Sometimes, you can aggregate things. But some processes still happen at the individual level.

Pipelines & expropriation

I don't like the term "eminent domain". It is clearly a euphemism. [Here is another story about expropriation in the US](https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/22/byhalia-pipeline-memphis-black-landowners). Sure, the US will never date nationalize your company or put any significant tax on your riches--but they will take it for the benefit of corporate profits. What great progress. The usual modus operandi for the construction of pipelines, as with many public works in the US, poses a justice issue: like with highways in the mid-century, property value are a factor for deciding where to build pipelines. Guess which neighborhoods are usually poorer and have their propert value assessed at a lower level? So African-Americans, who are already disadvantaged, have a harder time building up any wealth because if they buy real estate at lower value in an African-American neighborhood do not get the same returns on their investments that the European immigrants get. Chances are, they will even lose a significant share of their money. I remember reading a great article written in first person on "redlining" and "black homeownership" in present times, cannot find it anymore. But google shows that there are many interesting reads around on that.

DDT is back, baby!

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is a classic. DDT may be the most famous toxic pesticide out there. Where did DDT go after it was banned? [Turns out, straight into the ocean.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGWgg4rem5s) Hundreds of thousands of barrels. Great choice!

Oil & Gas discourse in one swift article

The fantastic Emily Atkin over at Heated managed to [summarize the whole discourse on climate change between the oil industry and activists in one swift article](https://heated.world/p/mike-rowe-oilsplainer). Mike Rowe, television host of *Dirty Jobs* gets sponsored by the API to make a show about history--cynically titled *Six Degrees*. Shout outs to the oil and gas industry galore. Not only that, but he will gladly defend his connection to the industry on Facebook--writing 6,000 words, free of charge to the API presumably. I believe Emily Atkin hits the nail on the head when she observes that this is not a guy selling out his believes--this is a guy who genuinly beliefs what he is saying. A far more weighty observation. Here is my take on this. He has made a show called *Dirty Jobs*. The implication is that "it's a dirty job and somebody has got to do it." "It ain't pretty, but we need it." Do we though? It seems he genuinly beliefs it, and he thinks those who disagree with him are naive. Is it naive to envision an alternative future though? In my opinion its not, it is far more naive and unimaginative to see the reality we live in as inevitable. *Alternativlos*--without alternatives--as we say in German. Few things are, but a lot of people want to tell us that it is. That's lazy thinking.

Qualitative data analysis

Today I have been looking at software for qualitative data analysis, and it is quite disappointing. The feature set that I would be hoping for of course is quite extensive, that is probably part of the reason. It should be (1) FOSS, (2) actively being developed, (3) available on Windows, macOS, Linux, (5) able to import text documents, PDFs, and ideally html files, (6) capable of importing highlights and notes from PDFs, (7) save its data in a convenient form, for instance as an SQL database. But it seems outside of Atlas Ti and NVivo there isn't much going on. RQDA is really janky, but at least it saves its data as an SQLite database. QDAP only works with text data. Cassandre's website looks... sketchy... Of course Atlas Ti uses SPSS under the hood, which only makes sense if you are being developed by the same software (just a guess, I don't actually know). And it cannot import websites, only if you have already saved them to PDF. And NVivo straight up doesn't have a Linux client (you could probably run it in wine, but that's not the pont) AND requires NVivo to be installed on your system for you to be able to launch its browser version. What a dumpster fire. So the way I see it, you can do two things. Either organize your material yourself, but I think getting all the crossreferences into a discourse would not be feasible without taking way too much effort. Or you can think short term and run a project on Atlas Ti. I am sure they won't be at the top of the pack in ten years, so that's a pity. Won't be able to migrate your data out, either. I am now trying to organize as much as possible outside of software, before importing stuff as the last step. But the fact that you cannot even import the annotations that are already saved to a PDF document--so annoying.

Pollution from chemical weapons

[Interesting article in the Smithsonian Magazine on the US army's handling of chemical weapons during the cold war.](https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-death-6000-sheep-spurred-american-debate-chemical-weapons-cold-war-180968717/) Reading this and looking at the map of US superfund sites, I can really imagine how that came to be.

Why this blog?

When I started writing things down here, I had a vision in mind. Short notes, writen almost in a train of thought fashion. I come across interesting tidbits frequently, and I sometimes go back to some of them randomly. Obviously, I could just create a list, but that doesn't really correspond to my structure of thinking so to say. A blog seemed like a more intuitive tool to use. Last week I was thinking that it would be easier to just collect links and post them once a week. That kind of fails, because I never got to the "once a week" part. That's where the second benefit of this style of blog that I am aiming for comes in. Writing a note should only take me five minutes--then it is something I can do 2-3 times throuhout the day. Any polishing and it is going to throw my day off to much. Writing a post is also a great day to get the day started--knock something out right away. Hope I will get to enjoy doing that the next couple of days. Here goes for more productive blogging this week!

Keystone spill without media coverage

Today while looking at some PHMSA data, I came across a curious bit of information. Apparently there has been a spill at the Keystone Pipeline Lucas station in Beaumont, Jefferson county, Tx. I was not able to find any newsreport on this spill, so here some basic information. The spill was discovered on May 7, 2020 by am employee conducting a routine inspection--NOT by the fancy newfangled real-time monitoring system (SCADA) that was also up and running at the time. A total of 442 barrels was spilled, and some had run off the facility by the time the spill was discovered. The spill was caused by a corroded pipe. Fortunately, the station was shut down at the time of the incident, or a lot more crude oil might have leaked. For more information, see PHMSA report number 20200166.

Maguire & Hardy (2009

I took an in-depth look at Maguire & Hard (2009) today. Great read. See my critical summary here: http://wiki.jbarg.net/Maguire%20&%20Hardy%202009

'Privatized police force' harassing activists on behalf of Enbridge

[A water warrior claiming to be harassed by Minnesota police on behalf of Enbridge](https://heated.world/p/i-dont-feel-safe-here). Police officers trailing activists en route to protests for hours and billing Enbridge for the time. The original intention of the law that this is based on might have been to shift costs from the state to Embridge. The interesting question is whether Enbridge told the police to go all-out or whether police offices took the initiative and what we observe is a revenue-generating strategy by the police forces. My sense is that it did not require much communication for this situation to occur if Enbridge and the police are on the same page on this issue anyways. Another aspect: the first example in the text is a woman getting fined for failing to signal more than 100 feet before a turn. That police strategy we have all seen before: pull over a member of a group that you don't like--if you know the law well enough you will always be able to fine that individual for some obscure infraction. There are also lots of instances of use of excessive force of male police officers against female activists.

A different take on America

[Well this is certainly a different take](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNghg1Y-WIc). I think it's not just my own perception that America is far from where it was ten years ago, when it was still the undisputed "greatest country in the world". Looks like the Gravel Institute was founded to counter the infamous alt-right Prager U. The video certainly provides an interesting take. Taxes are higher in the US than elsewhere if local fees an health insurance is included. And the health system is of course abysmal, as the last couple of months have shown.

ALEC criminalizing protests

[It seems that ALEC still is not done with criminalizing environmental protests](https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/fossil-fuel-protest_n_602c1ff6c5b6c95056f3f6af). Four new states might introduce the legislations that ALEC has shopped around, which would make it illegal to trespass on "critical infrastructure"--which of course includes pipelines. That creates a problem because, well, you cannot see a pipeline that is burried underground. The article has a lovely example. Approach some workers and cross an invisible line between public land and a construction site--and you will be arrested.

Fossil fuel subsidies

[Looks like we will hear a lot more about fossil fuel subsidies](https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/katie-porter-big-oil-exec_n_6048243fc5b6cf72d0929289). From the "right side" of the issue.

Localized approach

[Here an interesting vision of what sustainability can also look like](https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/10/study-highlights-under-the-radar-uk-community-projects-green-benefits). The idea is to focus on local initiatives.

Texas, winter storm & chemical industry

A, classic! There was a little bit of a winter storm in Texas recently, remember? The one that knocked out electricity for most of the population. Well, guess what is also in Texas. Most of America's chemical industry. Because it is an attractive place for the chemical industry to be, where you can have your [chemical plants](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Fertilizer_Company_explosion) [blow](https://www.npr.org/2019/11/27/783263942/massive-explosion-rips-through-texas-chemical-plant) [up](https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/hurricane-harvey/harvey-danger-how-toxic-air-texas-chemical-plant-explosion-n797876) [without](https://www.reuters.com/article/us-chemicals-fire-tpc-portneches-idUSKBN1Y80HH) [significant](https://www.cnn.com/2014/04/22/us/west-texas-fertilizer-plant-explosion-investigation) [repercussions](https://www.texastribune.org/2018/03/30/arkema-disaster-harvey-regulations-texas-crosby/). The EPA there is a toothless tiger: it will help you clean up and communicate with the public that they are safe, but they do not actually have the resources--or legislation--in place to prosecute the perpetrators. The problem with having the chemical industry concentrated there is that the world is facing a [shortage](https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/polar-storm-paralyses-us-gulf-coast-petrochemical-sector/4013306.article) in [certain plastics](https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/polar-storm-paralyses-us-gulf-coast-petrochemical-sector/4013306.article). Not that I am a fan of plastics in the first place, but I do appreciate the irony. Lax regulations have led to the location of much of the chemical industry in Texas, a weak preparation of said plants for disasters, and to the devastating blackouts. Something, something, economically unsustainable etc.

Climat change is cancelled!

Cancel culture? How about [Donald Trump trying to cancel climate change data](https://www.theverge.com/22313763/scientists-climate-change-data-rescue-donald-trump).

Covid close and personal

I think one reason for the American schism on covid is the lack of "human-interest stories" on covid, for the lack of a better term. I saw a lot of reports on the lockdown, people "suffering" from the mask mandate, etc. But relatively little on people suffering from covid, the doctors, nurses, etc. There is one new relevant documentary from the times accessible [here](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5BhuzqeDRU). It's probably not easy getting into a covid wing like that with your camera, so I appreciate the effort. And I also appreciate the perspective of what its like to battle covid in a less affluent community. Great stuff! **Edit**: I forgot to mention, I am somewhat sure that one reason for the dearth of more personal covid content is Youtube's restrictive policy. I remember at least a handfull of creators mentioning that merely saying the c-word can lead to their video being demonitized. I understand that the policy was put in place to tackle desinformation, but it would be interesting to see in how far it has also done a bit of the opposite. My intuitition is that a nurse or patient suffering from covid would go either to youtube or to twitter to document their fate or make a plea to others. Now the only way to get on youtube and reach a sizable audience is to have an official news team by your side. Of course there is also the fact that many of the sickest cannot talk or comment on their fate at all.

Gulf stream

A weakening gulf stream has been a convern in Europe for a number of years, one that is not talked about a lot in American media. The gulf stream is what makes for such mild weather in Europe, so it's kind of a big deal. [Now we see new negative records.](https://www.livescience.com/gulf-stream-slowing-climate-change.html) That's more than a bit concerning. Not only would it mean colder winters in Europe, but also more extreme weather on both sides of the Atlantic (think hurricane season).

Sublime text on new machines

As you may know, I do have a bit of an obsession with IDEs, especially free and/or open source software. I have ignored sublime text for a couple of years but finally came around to it. And now I have finally discovered my favorite feature of it. To install packages in sublime--and the packages are really the killer feature--you first need to install thepackage manager. Turns out, [if you place the package manager file in the sublime folder, sublime will install the package manager automatically on startup.](https://stackoverflow.com/a/19531651/8963109) And then you can also place a file with your installed packages in the settings folder, and sublime will install these for you too. Why this matters? It means you can set up a new machine with something like ansible, for instance installing sublime with apt, and then a simply get all your options with curl, and your machine is ready to go, but also has everything installed from scratch.

Facebook's worst ad ever

Not related to what I am usually interested in, but still. [Facebook's ad that wants to convince you to opt into tracking on iOS.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRABUy6G2GY) God. I don't know why it gives me such creepy vibes. The music. The visuals. The 1984-esque message. What a terrible ad.

Freshwater fish under threat

We have heard a lot about the oceans being under threat. There is the warming climate, and runoffs, we witnessed a terrifying bleaching event at the Great Barrier Reef, an algea bloom off the cost of Florida, and a [Starfishes literally "dissolving"](https://www.jbarg.net/posts/2021-01-31-starfish-extinction-event/). But many rivers are also under threat, and [now WWF has summarized how bad things are for freshwater fishes](https://www.cbsnews.com/news/freshwater-fish-catastrophic-extinction-endangered-species-climate-change/). The answer: very.

German forest 'dying'

That's probably a topic that most outside of Germany are not familiar with, but Germans really care about the forest. What forests don't like are high temperatures, droughts, and extreme weather. All of which we had plenty of in the recent past. So maybe its not all that surprising that the German forest is in a really bad shape. So bad that [German Spiegel writes that the German forest is "dying"](https://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/wald-in-deutschland-noch-nie-sind-so-viele-baeume-gestorben-wie-2020-a-5233254c-b79e-4f8e-83c3-de50b2349ef4). Only 21% of trees have an undamaged crown, the lowest number ever recorded. A surprising cause of this decline: monoculture. Many of Germany's forests aren't all that natural. They have been created, e.g., to serve the early mining industry many centuries ago. And of course for that purpose (or whatever other purpose) you would only plant whatever kind of tree serves you best. So bark beetles are having a blast right now.

Texas blackout

[Great video at Climate Town last week](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmYvkCXXI4E). Texas experienced power outages, related to extreme weather. The power grid, all sorts of power plants, all struggling, but that is apparently not what Fox told its viewers--they blamed it on renewables. Anyways, the Texas blackout was an interesting episode of climate change. As a reminder: climate change means that our climate does not just become warmer on average, but the variance of our weather also increases. In this case, something about the [polar vortex having become unstable or "wobbly" and leaving its semi-permanent home, the arctic](https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/texas-power-outage-underscores-looming-climate-tests/). (cont.)

US flood risk

The US is getting flooded. A lot. [And the price for flood insurance is going up.](https://www.npr.org/2021/02/22/966428165/a-looming-disaster-new-data-reveal-where-flood-damage-is-an-existential-threat) Paradoxically, that may be a good thing. Flood insurances are subsidiced, and the price of the insurance is not based on the price of the house. In other words, rich folks benefit a lot from the subsidies. Just like those beautiful Miami beaches are always gonna be taken care of by the government. Also, it is just a terrible use of resources. Crappy houses are rebuilt again and again. And dams galore.

Volkswagen vs. local emissions regulation

(So now it's Volkswagen's turn to stand up against emissions regulation)[https://www.wsj.com/articles/volkswagen-asks-supreme-court-to-block-local-emissions-regulations-11611694514]. It would be really convenient for them if only state level in the US and up could do emissions regulations, wouldn't it? Why is this such as throwback? [Climate Town has a video on GM fighting regulations that would have mandated EVs on the road--in the 90s!](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNvvvVt_628)

Starfish extinction event

Not exactly on top of the news, but still important: [There was/is a starfish mass extinction event going on since 2013, with starfishes seemingly "dissolving".](https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/18/science/sea-stars-genes.html) Now [researchers](https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2020.610009) have found a likely explanation: [microbial activity under conditions of overfertilization](https://www.spektrum.de/news/bakterien-und-ueberduengung-lassen-seesterne-zu-schleim-werden/1822031). It wouldn't be the first case of fertilizer runoff causing terrifying events. [I hope everybody remembers the toxic algea bloom off the coast of Florida.](https://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/2020/06/08/why-floridas-toxic-algae-crisis-is-worse-than-people-realize/)

Brexit negotiations--the full story

[The FT has written a big tell-all about the Brexit negotiations.](https://www.ft.com/content/cc6b0d9a-d8cc-4ddb-8c57-726df018c10e) It's getting quite clear that Boris Johnson has traded everything--EVERYTHING!--he had on the table for sovereignty. Sovereignty as the highest priority. Higher than anything else. "The process just wasn’t driven by thinking about what the UK really wanted from a deal, but to justify the claims to sovereignty. It was quite astonishing" says one government official. (cont.)

Keystone XL

[So it looks like Biden is planning to scrap Keystone XL on day one](https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/17/biden-yank-keystone-pipeline-permit-460142). One the one hand obviously great news. On the other hand, it shows again what the whole ordeal had already proven so far. Whether or not a pipeline is constructed is not a process that is decided by scientific considerations. It depends mostly on political will. A funny side note is that TC Energy tried to preempt that move by announcing on Sunday that the pipeline would achieve net-zero emissions "across operations". Well, the emissions of **operating** a pipeline is not what we are concerned about...

Flaws in legal theory

[The tether story](https://www.jbarg.net/posts/2021-01-16-tether-defrauding-everybody/) reminded me a bit of Trump's legal strategy. The goal is not to win, but to gain more time. In the meantime, Trump could collect donations to "challenge the vote" (pay off campaign debts), or he could implement policy that--even if later reverted--could have a long-lasting impact. I think this strategy poses an enormous challenge to legal theory: justice will not be done if bad faith actors game the court system. Maybe in the end they lose a legal fight--in the meantim they have already "created facts". How does this relate to my work? The natural environment is truly the most vulnerable actor in this game. Who cares whether you lose the legal fight on the building permit if you have already built the pipeline? The damage to the natural environment cannot be undone.

How is Brexit going?

[Very level-headed and comprehensive article of the Irish Raidió Teilifís Éireann on Brexit.](https://www.rte.ie/news/2021/0115/1190108-brexit-analysis-and-comment/) Refreshing after two weeks of "Netherlands stole my sandwich" type journalism.

Tether defrauding everybody

[This is genius and I love it](https://crypto-anonymous-2021.medium.com/the-bit-short-inside-cryptos-doomsday-machine-f8dcf78a64d3) (inasmuch much as you can love fraud). How to defraud crypto investors these days? Create a currency that you claim is pegged to the dollar (but never actually show you hold the assets). Then use it to buy as much cryptocurrency as you like. Step 3: profit!!! :) **Edit**: it is basically a ponzi scheme that would make Madoff proud.

The tragedy of renewable energy

Renewable energy is as close to "infinite energy" as we will ever get. Why aren't we building a utopia already?

Solar 'cheapest electricity in history'

Quick announcement by the IEA--[solar energy is now the cheapest energy in history](https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/solar-cheap-energy-coal-gas-renewables-climate-change-environment-sustainability). The announcement certainly marks a significant turn for the IEA. But it will probably not come as a surprise to those of you who have watched solar power mature. I think the trajectory was there for a number of years. I remember the resistance against renewable energy veiling itself in a dress of economics, but in retrospect it seems incredible how little forward looking that resistance was, even in economic terms.

Take emission certificates off the market

Today I was thinking to myself 'emission certificates on the EU ETS seem pretty cheap, we could just buy those in heaps to force the prices to go up'. So I did a little bit of digging around and found [the great _Compensators*_ project](https://www.compensators.org/en/compensate-2/) by the even more amazing _Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research_ (PIK). Their website makes it pretty easy to buy emission certificates, either by unit or by price, any fraction possible. At currently 41.52€, still a steal. Although I still remember prices being in the 20s. Well, prices going up is a good thing in this case I suppose.

The case for climate change mitigation through societal transformation

[The Heinrich Böll foundation makes the case for tackling climate change by our society adopting a different lifestyle, e.g., by relying less on cars, eating less meat, and traveling by train rather than plane.](https://konzeptwerk-neue-oekonomie.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/A%20Societal%20Transformation%20Scenario.pdf) I believe that quality of life is determined more by how we spend our time and whether we create meaningful memories, rather than a high GDP, big cars, and big houses, so this report certainly strikes a nerve with me. The most important point though is certainly that we should not assume or hope that technological change will in the future make our current lifestyle more sustainable. I do not see the value in trying to preserve everything *as-is*.

Who are climate change deniers?

[Interesting video by CNBC on climate change deniers](https://youtu.be/f1rxv1yPQrc). On the one hand, the video highlights some of the money flows to climate change denying think tanks. On the other hand Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center says in the video: "[...] everyone that I knew back when I was a climate skeptic were honestly persuaded that climate change was a wildly overblown concern that is being used by the left to destroy Western capitalism. This [...] explains more of the right's hostility to climate action than a naked story of enjoying checks being cut by the American Petroleum Institute" ([time stamp: 5:54](https://youtu.be/f1rxv1yPQrc?t=354)). For context, Jerry Taylor started his career about three decades ago at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which today has gained infamy for [shopping around anti-protest legislation](https://www.propublica.org/article/how-louisiana-lawmakers-stop-residents-efforts-to-fight-big-oil-and-gas), [with great success](https://www.icnl.org/usprotestlawtracker/)! Jerry Taylor spent 23 years at the Koch-funded Cato Institute before joining the other side of the aisle and founding the Niskanen Center to lobby for a market-based solution of climate change.

Some organizational insights into the Russian security aparatus

With everything happening in the US, it's easy for what happens in the rest of the world to get burried. So I am glad that I did not skip over [this video by Alexei Navalny where he calls the FSB agents that just a few weeks ago attempted to murder him--and one of them actually answers](https://youtu.be/ibqiet6Bg38). Some interesting insights into how Russian security is organized.

Evidence-based surgery?

An [interesting talk by Ian Harris of the University of Sydney](https://youtu.be/jF3d059QBkM) that explains why the scientific method does not always drive whether we receive surgery or not. An interesting example of an area I would have expected to be completely evidence based that is sometimes much more grounded in tradition.

Responsible research Vision 2030 position paper

For anybody who has not come across the [Vision 2030 position paper by Anne Tsui, Jerry Davis, etc.](https://rrbm.network/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Position-Paper_revised_8April2020.pdf) yet, read it! In brief, they advocate for reproducible research on relevant issues, in service of society.


If you haven't seen this [video](https://youtu.be/PJnJ8mK3Q3g) on the issues with recycling, you should probably watch it right now. In a similar vain, [this article](https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycled) by NPR on the topic. In short, the plastics industry created an identifier logo for different plastics that looks very similar to the public domain recycling logo, and then lobbied for legislation to make that logo mandatory on all public products. The result: the public beliefs that our plastics are recycled, when really only 10% of them are (at least in the US).

Global warming experiment

I was looking around for practical experiments that demonstrate global warming, and found [this wonderful short experiment by NASA](https://web.archive.org/web/20161118141122/https://glory.gsfc.nasa.gov/globalwarmingexperiment.html).


If you are like me, or everybody I know, you mix up ontology and epistemology on a regular basis. Well, legendary Aussie psychadelic rock band King Gizzard and the Lizzard Wizzard decided to chima in and write a song about [Ontology](https://youtu.be/D5q5OEho8II). So you can listen to that and still not understand what ontology is about, isn't that great?

A new school of environmental economics?

Not entirely by chance did I come across this interesting discourse in economics about gas emissions. @Shapiro2018a have disaggregated CO, NO<sub>2</sub>, PM10, PM2.5, SO<sub>2</sub>, NO<sub>x</sub>, VOCs, and CO<sub2></sub> emission in the US from 1990-2008 by industry, location, facility, and product. They find that during that time period, emission reductions are driven not by technological change or trade, but by more stringent regulations. The cost of complying with these regulations in 2008 amounted to an implicit pollution tax equal to ~1.1% of total production cost--double the value in the year 1990. (cont.)

Using new software

The last couple of days I have started experimenting with distill, and began integrating it into my workflow--this blog is a result of that effort. The problem with using new software is that a lot of the features I desire are not there yet. In this case, I got a little bit too impatient maybe and went on github to report issues, and make feature requests. Since resources are limited, a lot of my reports have not been picked up yet, but one was. Being an early adapter is always a challenge, and reporting issues is part of that. On the one hand, I don't want to ask too much from open source developers. On the other hand, feedback from early adapters is what open source developers need in order to know in what direction to go. So it's some neat feedback for me to see that one of my reported issues became part of the (milestone 1.2 for R distill)[https://github.com/rstudio/distill/milestone/2]. I hope as a user I am contributing by reporting issues, and not just being a pain for the developers.

Fierce resistance cannot prevent pipeline project

[Interesting report in the Boston Globe about the construction of a compressor station](https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/12/12/metro/was-it-ever-fair-fight/). Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker was determined to approve the project, it seems. This story raises the question of what factors determine whether a pipeline project is approved. Since their 1999 policy revision, [FERC has approved 400 applications for pipeline projects, and has rejected only 2](https://www.analysisgroup.com/uploadedfiles/content/insights/publishing/ag_ferc_natural_gas_pipeline_certification.pdf). There are public input opportunities built into the certification process, but in practice these only serve to "inform" the public of a decision that has already been made.

Vaccine logistics

Why do countries need logistics partners to distribute the new vaccines? [Bloomberg has a pretty cool infographic](https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-uk-vaccine-logistics/). Shipping a few vials is fine, shipping literally millions is going to be quite the challenge.

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