All posts by Tudenggongbu

I am an avid student of life. I yearn to acquire a writer’s skill, not to spin empty yarns, but to capture moments in life—moments worth remembrance, moments deserves public attention, and moments filled with romance, and much more.

Utility Companies Need to Evolve as The Energy Market Does

Utility Companies Need to Evolve as The Energy Market Does Solar energy continues to grow at a record-breaking pace, reaching a total installed capacity enough to power 5 million American homes in 2015. While solar supporters celebrate the growth, utility companies lament that increased solar energy production is causing them to lose revenue due to reduced energy demand. At the center of this debate is Net Metering (NM), a key policy behind the solar energy growth. Under NM policy, a customer is only billed for net energy consumption, the difference between energy s/he generates and consumes in a given period of time (see NM map below).

Net Metering Summary Map

If a customer nets out to zero energy consumption, s/he pays nothing to the utility. Given the variability of solar energy source, utility companies are quick to point out that solar customers still rely on the electric grid and insist them to pay fees accordingly. Solar-induced “disruptive challenges” causes utility companies to lose revenue and leaves them with a shrinking pool of customers to recover their costs from. The resultant increased rate, utility companies argue, drives more customers to adopt solar and puts utility companies on a perilous death spiral (see the figure from EEI’s report).

Utility Death Spiral

(Source: EEI

Solar supporters, however, point out a slew of values solar brings to the grid. The values include avoided cost to develop more power plant capacity in order to meet hours of highest energy demand; reduced wear and tear on the grid system, and avoided environmental costs. If these benefits are integrated into the valuation, the benefits of solar energy outweigh its costs to the electric grid. Solar energy supporters believe “NM is a fair way to compensate solar owners for the value they provide.”


While the NM debate continues, it’s of paramount importance that utility companies do not impede solar energy growth. First, the imperative of low-carbon mandates continued solar energy generation. A new study points out just last week that we can emit far less carbon than previously estimated in order to have any chance of keeping the global warming within 2C. Second, NM is an important driving force for distributed solar energy growth, which in turn helps wildlife conservation. Distributed solar prevents wildlife falling victim to more oil and gas spills and incidents, and keeps energy production out of undisturbed or only partially disturbed lands. Reduced transmission lines also avoid disturbance and fragmentation of habitat in a variety of ecosystems.


(A monkey electrocuted while crossing a high-tension wire. Photo credit:

Third, the traditional government-guaranteed return on investment utility business model no longer suffices the nuanced energy market needs. It’s long overdue that utility companies and their regulators allow the invisible hand to drive market innovation.

To serve as an aggregator and a trading platform for reliable and equitable energy of the future, utility companies need to evolve as the market does. It’s either that they be part of the clean energy revolution or left behind with the energy of the past.

The New U.S.-China Climate Accord: Game Changing Agreement Offers Real Hope for Climate Progress

Next week the nations of the world will come together in Lima Peru in an effort to build momentum for a binding global climate accord.  The negotiations come on the heels of the November 12 announcement of a landmark climate agreement between the U.S. and China at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing. The world’s largest two economies and emitters of carbon dioxide agreed to curtail and contain their carbon emissions before the end of next decade.  During the upcoming two weeks of climate negotiations in Lima, China will host a forum with the state of California sharing some of the early initiatives designed to drive implementation of the accord, a forum where ICLEI and partners will highlight the key role of local government action in achieving the agreement’s ambitious goals.

To fully implement the new climate accord between the two countries, the U.S. has committed to emitting 26 percent to 28 percent less than it did in 2005. This is double the current pace of emissions reduction from an average of 1.2 percent per year during the period from 2005 – 2020 to 2.3-2.8 percent between 2020 and 2025.  China pledges to reach peak emissions or cap its total emissions by 2030, if not sooner. To reach that goal, China’s President Xi pledged to generate 20% of the country’s total energy consumption from clean energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, by 2030.

This new climate accord between the world’s two largest economies, consumers of energy, and emitters of greenhouse gases fundamentally reshapes the geo-politics of climate negotiations.  It makes a global climate agreement at the climate summit in Paris 2015 a very real possibility, accelerates global clean energy deployment and associated economic growth, and prevents an estimated 640 gigatons of CO2 from entering the already carbon-thick atmosphere.


No More Fossil Fuel Falsehoods

First, this new climate deal eviscerates climate obstructionists’ “China won’t engage, and we can’t do it alone” mantra. For years, the fossil fuel industry has deployed an army of supporters to try to drive a wedge between developed and developing countries and keep the world from reaching a globally binding agreeement.  In particular they pitted the U.S. against China and portrayed them as the leaders of two opposite camps when it comes to combating climate change.

These climate obstructionists would often assert that “they – [namely China and India] won’t be engaging and reducing their own emissions.” The obstructionists have long argued that China, as the world’s number one emitter since 2006, does not and will not engage in ambitious emissions reduction efforts, and the U.S. cannot save the world alone, claiming these facts effectively tie the hands of the U.S. from pushing forward climate action.  The argument continued that any unilateral attempt to abate emissions would not save the world, but rather ‘harm’ one country’s economy, while benefiting the economy of the other.  Such “economic scare tactics” as Paul Krugman has called it, effectively prevented the U.S. from ratifying the Kyoto Agreement, the world’s first climate change treaty adopted in December 1997. However, after Wednesday’s announcement of the historic climate change deal between the two countries, it is no longer credible to cite China as the reason for inaction by the U.S. or the rest of the world.


Moving Closer to a Global Climate Agreement

Second, the climate agreement between the U.S. and China offers the world renewed hope for reaching a meaningful international climate agreement at the twentieth session of the Conference of the Parties(COP20). These sessions, often referred to as COPs, serve as the yearly meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For the past nineteen sessions, negotiations often came to a screeching halt, because of the perceived chasm and division between developed and developing countries. That division was further exacerbated by the heated debate on cumulative emissions versus per capita emission.  The culmulative vs. per capita debate has led to  nations are more responsible for carbon emissions, and therefore should be more responsible for emissions reductions. Different ways of reporting global emissions by countries generates different lines of countries as the leading emitters. For example, if you examine cumulative, or total, emissions China leads the world as the number one emitter since 2006. It was responsible for 27% of global emissions in 2012 and thus is often portrayed as the ‘climate villain’.  However, looking at per capita emissions, or dividing the total emissions of a country by its population, there is a very different distribution of global emissions. The U.S. leads the world with more than twice the amount of per capita emissions of the next biggest polluter (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Global Emissions: Cumulative v. Per Capita

These two different frames often lead to an unfortunate and seemingly unresolvable climate tug-of-war between developed and developing countries.

Representatives from developing countries often enter international climate negotiations pointing out that per capita cumulative emissions of the developed countries have exceeded their fair share. As a result, the only fair way to climate equity would be to require developed countries to make deeper emissions reduction and compensate for their historical responsibilities. On the other hand, developed countries often argue that developing countries, led by China and India, now represent the lion’s share of global carbon emissions. Without a commitment from China and India, developed countries often refuse to sign any global climate deal. However, with the new joint plan to curb emissions, the U.S. and China –often portrayed as the leaders of developed and developing countries, respectively –sent a strong signal to the world that it is time to move past this deadlock because attacking climate change is a truly a common cause of humanity.

Combined with the European Union’s pledge to cut its emission 40 percent by 2030, we now have commitments from more than half of the world’s total emissions (see figure 2). As many analysts point out, this new climate deal will undoubtedly increase the chance of reaching a meaningful global climate agreement in Paris in December 2015. It will also encourage other nations to follow suit and put forward their emissions reduction targets, as Denmark did by committing to go 100% renewable by 2050. The new climate deal helps put the global community much more firmly on a path towards real emissions reduction.  It helps delay, if not avert, the Years of Living Dangerously.

Figure 2 U.S. and China’s Share of World Carbon Emissions

(Source: Energy Information Administration, 2014)


Driving the Clean Energy Economy

Third, the climate deal between China and the U.S. is also positively game-changing for the global clean energy economy. In order to cap its emissions no later than 2030, China has pledged to increase its use of energy from zero-emission sources such as renewable energy and nuclear energy to 20% of its energy consumption by 2030 (see figure 3).

Figure 3 China’s Clean Energy Pledge

(Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2014)

In doing so China is pledging to develop an additional “800 – 1000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emissions generation capacity” within the next 15 years or sooner. Renewable energy already represents 19% of global final energy consumption in 2012, and it continued to grow in 2013. This newly pledged energy capacity from zero-emissions sources of energy by China, which is “more than all the existing coal-fired power plants in China and close to the total electricity generation capacity in the US”, will indisputably further accelerate the already dramatic cost reduction and explosive expansion of global clean energy development.

Next, if we take a step back, and convert the new climate deal to gigatons of carbon emissions prevented from entering the atmosphere, Climate Interactive and MIT’s Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support (C-ROADS) simulator estimates that, if fully implemented, a total of 640 gigatons of carbon emissions or more will be kept from being emitted into the atmosphere (see figure 4).

Figure 4 U.S. – China Climate Accord in Emissions Reduction


Critics are quick to point out that many of the above-mentioned impacts will only materialize if the new climate deal is fully implemented. But those critics understate the drivers of implementation.  Regardless of the reasons the parties reached the agreement, China and the U.S., each have compelling economic and political reasons to pursue aggressive emissions reduction and clean energy development. These benefits include economic growth, new jobs, enhanced energy security, healthier living environments, and global leadership, among others.

The new climate deal promises to further open up vast new clean energy markets.  Although this new economic sector is still in the early stages of development, renewable energy jobs already reached 6.5 million in 2013, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.  China and the U.S. were two of the leading countries with the largest number of renewable jobs – 2,640,000 and 625,000 renewable energy jobs (see figure 5). The total investment in renewable energy and fuels, excluding large hydro-electric projects, totaled at $214 billion worldwide.

Figure 5 Global Renewable Energy Jobs


(Source: EcoWatch, 2014)


The new climate deal also offers real political benefits to both countries.  For China, with its choking toxic air pollution, severe water pollution challenges, and serious environmental and health concerns in many parts of the rural countryside in combination with growing demands for more environmentally friendly practices and greener products, the U.S.-China Climate Accord is both timely and strategic.

President Obama and the Administration have made another big step forward in delivering on his plan – one of three key components of the President’s Climate Action Plan to “lead international effort to combat global climate change and prepare for its impacts.”  By publically shaking hands with President Xi on this new climate deal, President Obama made it even more difficult for climate deniers in Congress to undermine this climate agreement.  Any attempt to stop implementation of the new climate deal would mean not only opposing the President, but also China – the U.S.’s most important trading partner.

Providing Strong Framework for Cross-Border Climate Collaborations

The landmark U.S. – China Climate Accord elevates the importance and urgency of local and state/provincial governments’ climate engagement. It also provides an ideal framework and political backdrop for bilateral initiatives aimed at facilitating and accelerating mutually beneficial climate collaborations such as the California-China Urban Climate Collaborative (CCUCC) – a dynamic and long-term exchange between cities in California and China seeking to mitigate carbon emissions, alleviate air pollution, and advance clean energy economy.

The CCUCC is designed to advance the work of California Governor Brown to engage China to jointly address the global threat of climate change. “I see the partnership between China, between provinces in China, and the state of California as a catalyst and as a lever to change policies in the United States and ultimately change policies throughout the world,” said Governor Brown signing a first-of-its-kind agreement on climate change between China’s National Development and Reform Commission and the State of California in September 2013.

Through the California-China Urban Climate Collaborative, ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA, in partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the California-China Office of Trade and Investment, the Bay Area Council and the Asia Society, will provide participating Californian and Chinese local government staffs with tools, resources, and training around ICLEI USA’s Five Milestones of Climate Action Planning – conducting a baseline emission inventory and forecast, adopting an emissions reduction target, developing a local Climate Action Plan, implementing policies and measures, and monitoring and verifying results.

The Collaborative also connects cities with subject matter experts from both countries to identify and address their unique challenges such as emissions reduction, air quality, transportation, water conservation, infrastructure resource and energy efficiency, waste management, among many other topic areas. Most importantly, the CCUCC is designed as the first step of a collaborative process that will set U.S. and Chinese cities on a sustainable and replicable pathway towards a long-term and effective city-to-city urban climate collaboration.

In short, the U.S.-China Climate Accord fundamentally reshapes the politics of global climate change for the better. It silences climate obstructionists, advances a cleaner global energy economy, and sets the world on a path towards realizing a more promising climate future. What’s more? Both the U.S. and China have major economic, social, and political incentives to uphold their promises and honor the full implementation of the agreement for a cleaner economy, healthier population, and safer climate for the generations yet to come.

The Audial World of A Café

Rao'sAs an undergraduate at Duke University, I took a class on anthropology of sound, studying the culture of sounds and the sounds of different cultures. We have covered materials in which the sound of a church bell has constituted a unique and shared communal identity. Even in the absence of any clear geographic boundary, a fading or closing sound of a church bell allowed local commuters to know when they were back home or leaving it behind.

We have also visited the audial world of faraway cultures, some of which created and sustained fictitious creatures through artificial noises. A shortened nowadays equivalent of such audial creation may be the noise we generate in an attempt to startle an unguarded friend or the eerie sounds that we implant in an epic haunted house on Halloween.   

Years from that semester, I find myself mentally revisiting the class over Catherine Reid’s Song Heart Rail. From a volunteer birder-to-be listening to taped bird calls to witnessing a Virginia Rail’s call – “it clicks and wheezes, a hammer on an anvil, a bagpipe filling and emptying” – Ms. Reid not only brought back memories of that particular undergraduate course, but also enhanced the audial world of a café that I frequent in west Massachusetts.

A faint music is always played in the background. While none of the customers seem to pay any particular attention as what’s been played, the presence or the knowledge of its presence made all the cacophony of noises much more bearable, or more precisely enjoyable. The sudden spins of the blinder, scoops against ice cubes, coffee beans in a grinder, plates and cups clink as they get dropped off in a bin, hellos and goodbyes as customers file in and out of the café, pulls and pushes in an effort to position tables and chairs, but none of the individual noise is able to impose any distinct impact in the presence of the background music.

As faint as the music may be, it absorbs, shapes and reshapes a café full of noises. Conversations along with all the rest of sounds merge into a single cloud of overhanging noise, which magically crafts a very distinct audial world of a café.

Even without take a sip at the newly brewed coffee, the sounds of a café satiates one’s caffeine needs through his/her ear bones of hammer, anvil, and stirrup vibrating in response to the café’s pulsating audial world. 

The noise then adds to the quality of the café as much as tranquility does to a starry night.

Jun.  14th, 2014

The Flowers Never Made it, But Love Has

My Love Bouquet

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Honey! Sorry, the flowers caught traffic and wouldn’t make it there on time.”

She is away at a psychology conference in Austin Texas. The night before she flew off we had lobsters to celebrate Valentine’s in advance. With her usual charm, she tried to learn what I had in stock for her for the Valentine’s Day. I am never good at keeping surprises, not even our engagement proposal. However, I stood my ground and kept my lips sealed. “Not telling you, but you will love it,” I assured her.

What’s the surprise then? You may wonder.

Hershey’s chocolate? No, she never liked chocolate.

Stuffed bear hug with a personalized card and candy treat? Sounds fun, but lack romance.

Upon her checking in to the local Radissons Hotel & Suites, I asked for the room number. She was bit tickled and asked what it was for. “Nothing, just want to know,” I replied. Silly? Yeah, but didn’t have a more witty line on the fly.

After virtually roaming every floral shop in town, I settled with a Be My Love Floral Bouquet – red roses and carnations exquisitely arranged with white Asiatic lilies and chrysanthemums in a ruby red glass vase. I was certain that the flowers would adorn yet another beautiful and romantic chapter in our life.

“May I order a flower bouquet for delivery please?”  I asked.

“Sure. For tomorrow? Valentine’s Day?” the florist responded.

“Yes. For tomorrow,” I confirmed.

After taking down the delivering address and my card info, he asked for my phone number and email address.

“Do I need to provide my email address?” I wasn’t ready to put my email account in any harm’s way – subject to endless spam.

“Yes, we want to make sure that the delivery is on time. If we couldn’t reach you by phone, we will email you,” reasoned the salesperson. They sound really responsible. You may wonder, so have I, until things gone south.  

The service fee was over $16. Yes, it’s not a typo. “It’s Valentine’s day rate. Everyone is paying that much,” as the salesperson put it.

“You sure that you guys will deliver the flowers on time, correct?” I asked. I wouldn’t pay $16 delivery fee if they weren’t ready to do it on time.

“Absolutely. I can assure you,” promised the salesperson.

So the order has been placed. There is nothing left but waiting.

I even mentally run the episode in my head, imagining a delivery person at her hotel door.

Knock, knock.

“Who is it?” she asks.

“This is for Mengyao,” he hands over the flowers.

Yes, I can see the smile on her face. The joy runs through her. I even had my phone ready for her call. What a fantastic Valentine’s Day – near or far, together or apart. I had it all planned out.

Not exactly … here comes the reality, the evil floral shop.

After a numerous call to the front desk, no flowers have been delivered. I went through my web browser history and dug out the merchant’s number (1-800-848-5510). Six calls, none went through. Their facebook page states that they are no longer taking any orders for Valentine’s Day. The full romance I had installed in the bouquet started to escape.

Every call to the front desk, every attempt to reach the Evil Flower Shop bled the romance a little, until there was nothing but utter disappointment and abhorrence. How could they do this to any customer?  Let along on Valentine’s Day?

The wind became chiller. Folks started to file out of the café. Every time someone leaves the café, a gust of fridge wind breaks through and imposes a lasting shiver upon the dwindling customers.

At 5:32, I received an email, most likely automated, from the floral shop. It states:

FROM:  WWW.FLOWERSDEPOT.COM                                                    EMAIL:FLOWERSDEPOT980@GMAIL.COM                                                                                                                              DEAR (addressed to me) : DELIVER OR CANCEL                                                                                                                           



BUSINESS DAYS AS PER OUR DELIVERY POLICY.                                      


WILL CANCEL YOUR ORDER.                                                         





“Please tell me this is a Valentine’s Joke, a silly one. I have paid close to $80 for a flower bouquet and now you are refusing to deliver it as scheduled.” I pleaded.

“I have asked time and again (review your recordings, if you have them) whether you will be able to deliver it on Valentine’s Day, and the answers were resounding ‘ABSOLUTELY,’” I argued.

“I refuse to accept your overbooked at this late in the day (5:32pm). Deliver my flowers as you promised. You’ve already successfully drained every last drop of romance out of this effort. Deliver my flowers as we agreed. She is there at a conference and not going to stay around three days to wait for your flowers,” I reasoned.

No responses from the shop. They have gone silent. This is war. I mentally declared war on this ill-managed floral shop ( They were super good at charging extra fees, but equally good at failing their promises. So where does this leave my Valentine’s Day.

The flowers never made it there on time. The floral shop resent the automated email and once again promising to deliver it within the next three business days.

My valentine has been very good sport about it. She appreciates the effort as much as she would have with the flowers.

The flowers never made it, but the underlying emotion has, fully.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Melon! ­­­­­­


Little Brother Shields Baby Sister From Punishment

BrotherThis post is dedicated to a second grade little boy who tries to shield baby sister from receiving punishment for not turning in her homework.

A chill breeze reminds people the turning of the season. Soon this part of Tibet will start to receive its regular snowfalls. A row of adobe houses amidst rolling green hills serves as the entire school facility for the local kids. Nothing about the morning suggests anything different about the day.

The sound of the school bell cracks the morning tranquility and sends little kids racing towards those adobe houses. The teacher cups hands against his mouth to keep them warm before walking down the aisles to collect homework. The aged wooden floor sends out squeaking sounds as rusted nails give way to loosen pieces of woods against the teacher’s weight. The floor even squeaks at the weight of a child. Everything at the school indicates decades of regular use with little maintenance.

A gentle breeze sends the door ajar and the teacher goes on collecting homework. He stops by the desk of a little girl, who doesn’t have anything to turn in this particular morning. Students often receive punishment for not doing their homework. She rose, barely visible behind the desk, and pressed her hands by the sides. The teacher waits for an answer, and she has none. She drops her head and tears well up in her eyes. The teacher leads her to the front of the classroom. As he reaches to a ruler, which he often uses to beat students’ palms for making mischief or failing to turn in their homework, a little boy makes his way to the front. He stops right by the little girl and lifts up a notebook without looking at the teacher.

“Here is my sis’s homework,” says the little boy.

“Why is it with you then?” asks the teacher as he examines the dog-eared notebook.

The morning resumes its absolute tranquility for a few minutes before the teacher asks where the little boy’s homework is. The room fell silent again. The little boy stared at the floor and ready to accept the punishment.

With a closer look, the teacher noticed a wet spot on the back of the notebook where the student’s name was. The little boy has tried to rub off his name and turn in the homework as his baby sister’s. He was ready to accept the beat on his baby sister’s behalf.

Hydraulic Fracturing


One of the most heated environmental debates has recently centered on the costs and benefits of shale gas extraction, namely through an unconventional gas exploration technique known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The fossil fuel industry lauds the opportunities that shale gas and its production can bring. To the proponents of gas drilling, shale gas production means job creation, economic growth, and energy independence. On the other hand, environmentally and socially minded people highlight the much greater cost that fracking imposes on the environment and the human health. 

Contrary to the stories that gas companies spin, shale gas development is never and cannot be about environmental protection, energy independence, or any other deceptive charms the companies have advertised.  It is purely about profits for the gas companies regardless of all the harms shale gas production and consumption imposes on the nation and its citizens. It is important to not fall prey to the rhetoric of the gas industry.

Hydraulic fracturing, as the name suggests, is an extremely water-intensive energy production practice. It involves injecting large quantity of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into wells in order to extract natural gas. The process imposes dire risk of groundwater and surface water contamination. A recent study from Duke University found that fracking contaminated groundwater the majority of the time. Fracking has been linked to over 1,000 confirmed cases of groundwater contamination nationwide. It is estimated that 65 to 91 percent of the chemically treated fluids with toxins including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene remain underground. These chemicals, along with methane gas, will migrate into waterways through fissures and cracks. Additionally, spillages prior injection of chemically treated water or during the recovery, transportation, and disposal of millions of barrels of toxic wastewater can directly find their ways to rivers, lakes, and drinking water systems. Even if we put the water contamination aside, hydraulic fracturing still imposes major threat to water resources by using millions of gallons of water per gas well, and pumping aquifers dry in regions where lingering droughts have already made water scarce.

Then there is the industry’s favorite argument, which goes that “the environmental footprint of shale gas can be far more easily ameliorated than that of coal and other fossil fuels” (Jaffe, 2013). Dr. Ingraffea of Cornell University, who has studied fracking since 1982, points out that “producing and burning natural gas could do more to aggravate global warming than coal” (Cornell, 06/27/12). His study found that certain degrees of methane leakage are inevitable due to the failure in casing and cement. Not only would methane leakage contaminate underground sources of drinking water, but also damage air quality. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms high methane leakage rate up to 9% from gas field (Think Progress, 01/02/2013).  It is also important to point out that methane, as a greenhouse gas, methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time scale  (Think Progress, 10/02/2013). Consequently, the production and burning of shale gas is likely to have a greater greenhouse effect than conventional gas or other fossil fuels. Researchers from NOAA point out that if methane leakage is replicated elsewhere, the methane emission will utterly vitiate any climate benefit of natural gas.

Hydraulic fracturing also imposes unparalleled level of harm to human health, natural landscape, and public infrastructure, to name but a few. With all the environmental and social costs, we are still debating about fracking.  Do we not have any legitimate alternatives? The answer is definitely yes. Renewable sources of energy, higher energy efficiency, and better end-user behaviors are only a few of the many choices we have.

Despite that gas companies have been belittling renewable sources of energy, the booming industry of renewable energy has made great strides, and with the right policies it can become a major source of our power. The potential of renewable energy is limitless. A 2003 factsheet by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory noted that a “100-by-100 mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity” and that much of this electricity could come from abandoned industrial sites. Energy Information Administration concludes, “covering 4% of the world’s desert area with PV could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity” (EIA, 12/19/11).  Internationally, German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour, equaling to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity last May (Reuters, 05/26/12). In Spain, wind power exceeded 6 terawatt hours, enough energy to light almost all the homes in the country (World Future Society, 02/13/13). According to the Global Wind Energy Council (2013), wind power capacity increased tenfold over the last decade. 

Even if we put all the environmental and human concerns with fracking aside, and entertain the gas companies with their drilling, the hard fact is that shale gas, like all fossil fuels, is finite and we will run out. What then? We have to turn to renewable energy sooner or later. Why not sooner and to avoid dangerous impact of a warming planet?

Let’s also entertain the gas companies by saying that natural gas “will” phase out oil and coal. Even then, even if we switch to gas entirely, the International Energy Agency estimates an increase of 3.5 oC in average global temperature, which is far higher than the 2-degree target set by the United Nations.

In closing, despite all the gas companies promises of job creation, bridge to clean energy, and energy independence, it is of paramount importance to recognize and to internalize the fact that the dirty fuels of the past have no place in a sustainable future.

02/18/13 Tupgon

Noise @ Nightfall


This post is as much of a heads-up for potential future tenants of this house as it is to unload a cacophony of noises, which through time has almost engraved in my bones and driving me crazy. 666 Crescent (modified) is too old to stay quiet.

Imagine yourself living underground, where the city’s water lines run, as you try to drift off to asleep, water kept splashing against the half empty pipelines. It is like the sound of tides encased in pipes and installed in this old house. Night deepens, but the noise sustains.

Imagine yourself living next to a leaking pipe, where the sound of flowing water dropping down into a pool of water, and kept making a boy’s peeing sound, every time when you think it’s over, he pushes bit more.

Imagine yourself living upstairs of a hardworking blacksmith, whose hours extend late into the early morning hours. Every time a second of drowsy descends, he hammers it away. The noise of metallic clicking sound is so severe, one couldn’t help but to worry the water pipes bursting into splash of water jets any second.

Imagine yourself living at an old train station, where an countless approaching carts or pulling away steam locomotives whistle to signal their arrivals/departures. The whistles are weak in spirit, but loud in volume. The aged heater in this house make such a desperate and worn hissing sound, it is simply suicidal.

Imagine yourself walking up some ancient wooden towers, where every step of ascend sends out such a weary shriek, you almost hesitate to take the next. It is not so much of a fear of falling through broken stairs, but alerting dormant spirits, which often dwell in such old places, or so do the yarns spin.

Worst of all, living in this old and noisy house, you are not living at any single spot mentioned, but at all spots with all the noises jumbled together into the most venomous and eerie voice of darkness and unknown lurking spirits.

Listen, noise @ nightfall.


Control Gun, Now!

Bang. Bang. Bang.

On university campus in Virginia, in a cinema in Aurora, in a high school in Columbine, and now at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, bullets are flying across U.S. states, striking innocent people as they fly, taking young lives, turning holiday into tragedy.

Every single time, the media follows, police storms, and people outcry. However, as soon as the news fade, campus reopened, and vigils held, we tend to resume our lives and the topic disappears all together until another tragedy strikes.

Once again when twenty some people gone cold instead of getting ready to unwrap what Santa Claus has in stock for them under the colorful Christmas Tree, people outcries: it is time to debate gun control. May be they will? Or may be their ears will prefer the holiday season jingle bell to an aged debate—Gun Control.

“It’s about democracy. It’s about people empowerment,” says one of my friends. Her views echo what has been the debate on gun control. You cannot take away people’s basic right to own guns, we hear. It is written in the U.S. constitution, some reason. However, what about the lives lost during these coldblooded carnages? What about the bullets sunk into innocent lives and cut them prematurely short? Others question.

I do not pretend to have the perfect answers for these questions. These questions, nonetheless, are essential for people to bear in mind, continue to debate, and find policy solutions for, not as an emotional reaction to an unforeseen tragedy, but as a proactive and preventive measure to take. Now, more than ever, is time to debate and implement gun control.

Control does not mean or equal to outlaw. Therefore, by controlling the government is not taking away its citizens’ constitutional right to own guns, but to tighten relevant rules and regulations, so that no more innocent lives will be lost as a cost to the delayed implementation.

Control gun, now.

COPs With Procrastinator’s Syndrome

United Nations’ Climate Talk, the Conference of Parties (COP), has recently been diagnosed with chronic Procrastinator’s Syndrome. The illness exacerbates in environment, where there is higher presence of atmospheric GHGs concentration. Its symptoms include willingness to trade current actions with distant visions, fear of any SMART (specific, measureable, accountable, reasonable, and time-bound) plans and commitments, and discordance between one’s believe and behavior. Patients of chronic Procrastinator’s Syndrome often die of a combination of hyperpyrexia, hydrocephalus/hydropenia, and disorders of blood circulation.

COP18 comes and goes, as its predecessors have, leaving little achievement as how to curb the rising global emissions. The COPs have become somewhat of fading echoes of one another. The perpetrator vs. victim debate continues. Environmental protection is once again pitted against economic growth. A grand, but distance, vision yet again replaces current intervention—clear symptom of chronic procrastinator’s syndrome. Industrialized nations once again shy away from any substantial commitment, because according to them warming continues without China and India on board.

In 2012, COP suffered from unprecedented high fever or what is known medically as hyperpyrexia, according to Dr. NOAA and Dr. NCDC (visit Samenow’s article on Warmest period in U.S. records carries on). In July 2012, COP undergone “some of the hottest temperature occurred in the Plains … a full 4 degrees above average,” (Samenow, 2012).

(Source: The Washington Post, 2012)

COP has also shown strong symptoms of hydrocephalus/hydropenia and that is to say suffering from too much or too little water. Yunnan in southwest China, celebrated as the third national water-rich province, suffered from three consecutive years’ drought—2009 to 2011. Cracked lands and withered crops stretched across the province. (For a brief report on Yunnan’s drought, please visit my earlier post on Yunnan Drought Report ). While some suffer from lack of water, others float in flood.

(Source: Global Development, 2012)

Most recently Typhoon Bopha, “the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit island of Mindanao,” (The Atlantic, 2012) wiped through southern Philippines, and left 650 dead, near 800 missing, and over 400,000 displaced.

(Source: The Atlantic, 2012)
Super Storm Sandy wreaked havoc parts of the U.S. east coast after tearing through the Caribbean. Sandy killed reportedly 125 people in the U.S., and caused about $62 billion in damage and other losses (Las Vegas Sun, 2012).

(Source: Chicago Tribune, 2012)

As the atmospheric concentration of Greenhouse Gases hit record highs in 2011 (i.e., Carbon dioxide at 390.9 parts per million, Methane at 1813 parts per billion, and nitrous oxide at 324.2 parts per billion), COP’s Procrastinator’s Syndrome worsens.

COP18 in Doha hardly made any progress. Connie Hedgaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, lauded: “In Doha, we have crossed the bridge from the old climate regime to the new system. We are now on our way to the 2015 global deal,” (Europa, 2012).

We seem always “on our way to” a future deal. COP’s future deals are like chasing the end of a rainbow. The distance seems never to be scaled. We assure ourselves it’s there, but we can never really get there.

COP continues to suffer from severe chronic procrastinator’s syndrome. During COP18 in Doha, developed countries pledged to secure $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with climate change, but no plan as what to do before then and how to fulfill the pledge.

Climatic negotiations have shifted from previous prevention-oriented talks to compensations for loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change. World Bank report suggests that “the world [is] on a trajectory for a global mean warming of well over 3 degree Celsius,” (The Washington Post, 2012).

(Source: The Washington Post, 2012)

Is COP nearing its end? What are the key issues to focus? 1. Ambition: how much emissions to reduce in order to meet the 2-degree target (e.g., to address the gap between pledged emissions reduction & 2-degree-required reduction); 2. Means to materialize the climate ambition (e.g., Finance: Renewal of the Fast Start Finance, Plans for The New Green Climate Fund; Mechanism: Promotion of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Transparency and Accountability for Emissions Accounting, and adoption of effective emissions mitigation measures); 3. Collective Action (e.g., Plans for the Kyoto Protocol Second Commitment Period, Path to the 2015 Agreement and beyond), 4. Equity (e.g., poor countries are supported and not punished for the developed countries’ historical emissions), and 5. Adaptation (e.g., concrete measures to adapt to the new climatic norms).

While a global framework and legally binding agreement is the key to achieve meaningful emissions reduction within a “hopefully” reasonable timetable. However, we are indisputably running out of time. Consequently, it is vital to draw comprehensive long-term plans, but at the same time not lose sight of the valuable immediate actions (i.e., carbon club, sector-specific reduction target, national and regional efforts/strategies, etc.).

Addressing the loss and damage associate with negative impact from global climate change is a must, but it should by no means be a reason for delayed intervention or substitution for immediate action, because lives lost can never be fully compensated. The very attempt to use monetary means to recompense human lives lost is offensive not only to families affected, but also to all the institutions (like hospitals), and social movements (i.e., fighting against global hunger, capital punishment, and death), whose very existences are conceived upon and sustained by the value of human lives.

As the Philippine Climate Change Commissioner, Naderev M. Sano, appealed to his fellow negotiators in Doha, the outcome of COPs is not and should never be about what political masters want. It is about the survival of humanity.

As COPs continue to suffer from Procrastinator’s Syndrome, it is not only COPs’ life on the line, but that of the fishermen lost at sea in the Philippines, the farmers whose livelihoods parched with lingering drought in southwest China, residents whose homes lost to the wrath of increasing wildfires in the U.S., and Islanders whose worlds disappearing due to the rising sea level.

It is time to cure COP’s Procrastinator’s Syndrome, and curb global emissions now.

12/10/12 Tupgon T.

What Type of Climatic Legacy to Leave Behind

Talks in Doha continue, without making any concrete progress. Folks hit the streets—streets that are only too familiar with demonstration to notice a peaceful walk. As nations defend their emissions records, rights to pollute, and excuses for inaction, fortnight of get-together almost comes to an end.

We are unfortunately too accustomed to UN’s climatic conventions. Delegates circumambulate old debates (developed vs. developing; emissions reduction vs. economic growth, etc.) more than Buddhists do of their stupas. While the latter seek accumulation of merits, the former forgo further atmospheric thickening of GHGs. While the latter seek path to heaven, the former headed to climatic hell.

An evermore frequent climatic extremes in the past year or two have taught many deniers that human induced climate change is no longer a distant theoretic debate, but a living reality. However, as we wait for more people, regions, and nations to come aboard, we are literally running out of time.

An increasing body of scientific reports warns that the world is unlikely to meet the 2-degree target even if all current pledges were fully delivered. To top thing off, many of the natural feedbacks, namely emissions from thawing permafrost, haven’t become a part of the climatic conversation until recent months.

As the Kyoto protocol is about to expire, and the promise by rich nations to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help more vulnerable states is nowhere near to fulfill, not even a comprehensive plan in place.

Climatic Skeptics

Climatic skeptics repeat the same old question. “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” They suspect. I wish it were a giant hoax. I wish the climate skeptics were right. I wish the melting arctic, the expanding tropics, and the acidifying oceans have nothing to do with our emissions. I wish a planet increasingly raked by winds, strafed by storms, and scorched by heat has nothing to do with the thickening of atmospheric concentration of heat-trapping gases. I wish the floods in Pakistan, the wildfires in the U.S. West, and the lingering drought in Yunnan Province in China does not share the same root cause. I wish NASA scientist James Hansen’s testimony before Congress in June 1988 meant nothing. I wish the scientists’ discovery of steady rise in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in Mauna Loa in 1950s had nothing to do with our unbridled economic growth and resource exploitation. I wish the world’s leading scientists at U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their reports were all wrong. But then again, what if science trumps ideology? What if emissions do derail the earth’s energy balance? What if we are exhausting many of the earth’s resources and ecological carrying capacity? What if our kids, grandkids, and the many more generations yet to come will not be able to enjoy the oasis generation come before them have? What if we can no longer afford to linger but to act?

Holistic and Systemic Evaluation

It’s time for us all to be real, and stop the nonsensical bickering about who should act, because we all have to.

When a nation is applauded for its greenness, let’s not be shy to shed a light on the sources of its food, the factories where its good are manufactured. If Brazilian produces feed them, and made-in-China supports them, then are they really that green? It is their appetites for goods that have caused international pollution leakage, and driven the pollution bars up on the developing countries charts. The Guardian’s Duncan Clark reports change in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2011, and to no one’s surprise China’s pollution outgrows everyone else’s and India is right behind China. Countries like Russia and EU 15  (-0.305 GT) showed some gains.

Russia’s emissions plummeted largely because of the breakups of the Soviet Union and collapse of its heavy industries. However, recent study found that E.U. emissions have actually gone up by 7 percent rather than the reported gain of 0.305 GT. So, who is right and who is wrong? It’s where trade comes in. In an evermore interdependent and interconnected global web, we can no longer view a nation and/or a region’s emissions solely according to its geographic boundaries. We have to examine and evaluate emissions from a more holistic, systemic, and life-cycle point of view. We have to evaluate the amount of emissions and resource consumption that are embedded in commodities that are exported or imported.

With a more holistic and inclusive global emissions reduction formula, nations may find it easier to move on from the current developed vs. developing debate, and take initiatives. To certain extent, China emits because the world demands made-in-China produces, which consumes energy and emits GHGs. Developed nations find it hard to make legally binding commitments without marching along the developing nations, because they are not fully realizing that their factories and pollutions are often exported into the very nations they blame as cheap polluters.

I find the developing countries’ argument about “you polluted and become developed, and now it’s our term,” is naively silly at best. After all whether the atmosphere holds an equal amount of emissions from every nation or not, the new climatic norms—I am talking about lingering drought, flash floods, stronger storms, encroaching desertification, rising sea level, and much more—will hit us all. It is the impoverished populations of developing countries, who will find themselves hopeless and helpless, if we don’t join hands and act now.

Long-term vision vs. Short-term goals

We need a long-term framework, call it policy vision, if you will, with enough purpose and strategy to it, so that it doesn’t rely on short-term government changes or social fluctuation.

We need short-term goals that will collectively materialize the long-term climatic vision. We need to act rather than waiting for someone else to act. When nations deliver their emissions reduction pledges earlier than agreed, it is time to thank them for their excellent work rather than choking them harder with higher targets.

It is time to collectively hold a firm ground for the protection of ecosystems, upon whose services our livelihoods depend. It is time to safeguard and conserve our shared natural heritage for the many more generations yet to come.

Dec. 4th, 2012

Tupgon T.