Beautiful, Clean . . . Coal?!?

Type “beautiful clean” into Google, and it suggests these endings to the phrase:

beautiful clean coal

There is no such thing as “beautiful clean coal” — coal is actually, of all energy sources, the most harmful to the environment, as scientists have shown again and again. The phrase has been made famous by our current president, Donald Trump, who appears to have the lowest level of scientific literacy than any other American president, living or dead.

Move over, George W. Bush.

Is This What’s Going On? A Set of Questions of Global Concern.

Is This Whats Going On

I have a set of conjectures, and want input from my friends and blog-followers about them. How much of this has actually happened over the past months, weeks, and days?
1. The Chinese have been buying huge amounts of silver, thus driving up its price, because…
2. The political and business leaders in Greater China are, themselves, sick of living in an environmental nightmare based on decades of high consumption of oil and dirty coal, and are working on building enormous numbers of solar panels to get away from fossil fuel consumption, using lots of silver, which has the highest reflectivity of any element. China’s silver buying-spree is being misinterpreted, globally, because China is not well-understood, outside China.
3. These leaders of China have to breathe the same air, for one thing, as many Chinese people with much less power, and going green is the pragmatic thing to do. It is quite Chinese to be pragmatic. Living in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, or other population centers, air quality is a major issue, as is global warming and other environmental concerns — all issues which many Americans are in the habit of ignoring.
4. As the Chinese phase themselves out of the human addiction to fossil fuels, total global oil consumption drops. Evidence: gasoline prices fell. I was buying for under $2 a gallon a week ago.
5. Falling oil prices have led to severe economic problems in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. Higher-than-usual amounts of political stability have rippled through the Middle East through the last five years, and this has intensified further in recent months. The latest such development has been in Turkey, often seen as the most politically stable country in the Muslim world, is going through an attempted(?) coup, on the far side of the Middle East from China.
6. In the USA, one of the people running for president is a reactionary xenophobe, as well as a populist demagogue, and is running against an opponent with little to no ethical principles who is winning by default because she’s running against Trump. Donald Trump and his people (and he has a lot of people) have been spewing Islamophobia and Sinophobia, and they’ve been doing it loudly.
7. Many people all over the world are reacting to the Trump Trumpet o’ Hate, and freaking out. Various end-of-the-world scenarios are been floated publicly, especially in cyberspace. People are getting “off the grid” if they can, either because it’s a good idea, or because they’re panicked. In some places, efforts are actually being made to use the force of government to stop people from weaning themselves off the services of utility companies.
8. Few people realize that a lot of this is a set of unintended consequences of China (of all nations) leading the charge to do the right thing regarding oil addiction, from an environmental and ecological point of view, plus having a lunatic run for the White House.
9. The rising price of silver, panic-in-advance about a widely-expected coming collapse of fiat currencies, and the pronouncements and predictions of Ron Paul and his ilk, are all feeding off each other, in an accelerating spiral. In the meantime, the political instability in Turkey is capping off a slight rise in gas prices over recent lows, just in the last week.
10. Most Americans don’t know much about a lot of this because we’re at a point in the current, nasty election cycle that America as a people has simply forgotten (again) that the world outside the United States actually exists. Ignorance about the Middle East, economics, environmental science, and Greater China is widespread in the best of times. Thanks to (a) the “Donald and Hillary Show” playing 24/7 on cable news, (b) civil unrest at home (brutality on the part of some, but not all, police), and (c) a backlash against Black Lives Matter, with horrible behavior from some, but not all, of the protesters on all sides, and (d) an anti-or re-backlash against BLM is in “full throttle” right now, and (e) unrest abroad (Turkey, etc.), these certainly aren’t the best of times.
I invite anyone to weigh in on the subject of which of the above conjectures are valid, and which are invalid. I have deliberately cited no sources, yet, because I am asking for independent peer review, and so do not wish to suggest sources at this point. In addition to “Which of these statements are correct, and which are wrong?” I am also asking, “What am I missing?”

Goodbye, Mom

Mom's Dodecahedron

Soon, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will run my mother’s obituary. However, it would not be right for me to allow the obituary they print to be her only one.

Mom’s name when she was born, on January 4, 1942, was Mina Jo Austin. Later, she was known professionally as Mina Marsh. However, I chose to legally change my last name to her maiden name, in 1989, after my parents divorced. I did this so that I could have a last name I associated only with my good parent, for I only had one — the one now in this hospice room with me, as I write this, with little time remaining to her.

This is an old photograph of her, and her two younger sisters, taken when my mother was a teenager.


Her father, whom I knew (all too briefly) as “Daddy Buck,” taught her many things, very early in life, just as Mom did, much later, for me. He taught her about justice, and its opposite, using as one example of injustice the internment camps for Japanese-Americans which were then operating, here in Arkansas, when my mother was a little girl. Even in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and in complete disagreement with the masses, my grandfather thought it an obscenity that people had been herded into these camps simply because of their ethnicity, and, in a world where evil does exist, he decided his daughter needed to know about it. Only with knowledge of evil can one stand up to it, oppose it, and speak truth to it, even when that evil is mixed with power, as happens all too often. He instilled in her a strong sense of justice, and taught her courage, at the same time.

Mom started college at Harding University, in Searcy, Arkansas, and demonstrated her courage, and refusal to tolerate injustice, there, during the 1960 presidential election campaign. The assembled students of Harding were told, in chapel, that it was their duty, as Christians, to go forth on election day, and cast their votes for Richard Nixon, because allowing John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, to become president would be a horrible, sinful thing to do. She found this offensive, in much the same way that her father had found America’s treatment of Japanese-Americans offensive during World War II. On principle, therefore, she withdrew from Harding, and transferred to the University of Arkansas (in Fayetteville) to complete her college coursework. She also, later, left the denomination associated with Harding, eventually becoming a member of the Episcopal Church. I am grateful to her church here in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the many comforts they have given her over the years. They even went so far as to raise the funds needed, in 2010, for her emergency transportation, by air, to a Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where surgery was performed to save her from a rare adrenal-gland tumor called a pheochromocytoma. Without this help from them, her life would have been shortened by over five years.

Mom is survived by two children. I came along in 1968, and my sister (who had three children herself — my mother’s three grandchildren) was born the following year. Mom is also survived by three step-grandchildren, and two step-great-grandchildren. Mom began to teach both my sister and myself, as early as she could, what her father had taught her, early in life. Strangely enough, one of my earliest memories of her doing this also involved Richard Nixon, for the first news event I clearly remember seeing on television was Nixon’s 1974 resignation speech. At that young age, and with my parents clearly disgusted with America’s most disgraced president to date, I blurted forth, “I wish he was dead!” Mom wasn’t about to let that pass without comment, and did not. I remember the lesson she taught me quite well: there was nothing wrong with wishing for him to lose his position of power, as he was doing — but to wish for the man to die was to cross a line that should not be crossed. One was right; the other was wrong. It is my mother who taught me how to distinguish right from wrong. From this point forward, I now have a new reason to try, in every situation, to do the right thing: anything less would dishonor my mother’s memory.

It was around this time that my sister and I started school, and to say Mom was deeply involved in our experiences at school would be to understate the issue. In a conservative state where many schools openly (and illegally) do such insane things as teach young-earth Creationism in “science” classes, and anti-intellectualism is sometimes actually seen as a virtue, our entry into the school system was not unlike entering a battleground. At this time, education specifically designed for gifted and talented students simply did not exist in Arkansas. Mom had already had some teaching experience herself, although she had since moved on to other work. She was often appalled by the inane things that happened in our schools, when we were students, such as this from the fifth grade, and this (also from elementary school), and this especially-awful example from the seventh grade. Never one to tolerate injustice, Mom was deeply involved, from the beginning, in the formation of an organization called AGATE (Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education), which fought a long, uphill, but ultimately successful battle to bring special programs for the education of gifted and talented students into the public schools of our state. She did this for her own two children, true — I consider forcing someone (who already understands it) to “practice” long division, year after year, to be a form of torture, and she was trying to save me from such torture — but she also did it for thousands of other Arkansas students, and tens of thousands have since benefited from her work in this area.


Mom was never content to fight in just one struggle at a time, for there is too much important work to do for such an approach. She was also a dedicated naturalist, a Master Gardener, and served as the Deputy Director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission for 25 years, seeking ways to protect and preserve areas of natural beauty, and scientific significance, in our state. After retiring from that position, she later served on the board of directors of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, and also became the Development Director of the Ozark Natural Science Center.

My mother affected the lives of a great many people in her 73 years of life, including many who do not even know her name — but neither gaining credit, nor fame, was ever her goal. She will be deeply missed.

# # #

[About the rotating image: the picture of the banded agate, a reference to AGATE, the organization, on the faces of Mom’s dodecahedron, at the top of this post, came from here. The rotating dodecahedron itself, which the ancient Greeks associated with the heavens, was created using Stella 4d, software available at this website.]

Testing a Climate Change Claim: Does Burning a Gallon of Gasoline Really Put Twenty Pounds of Carbon Dioxide Into the Atmosphere?



When I read, recently, that “every gallon of gas you save not only helps your budget, it also keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” (source) I reacted with skepticism. Twenty pounds? That seemed a bit high to me.

Just because it seems high, to me, though, doesn’t mean it’s wrong, any more than “” putting it on the Internet makes the statement correct. No problem, I thought: I’ll just do the math, and check this for myself.

So, in this problem, we start with a gallon of gasoline. In units I can more easily work with, that’s 3.785 liters (yes, they rounded it incorrectly on the gas can shown above). Google tells me that the density of gasoline varies from 0.71 to 0.77 kg/L (reasonable, since it floats on water, but is still heavy to lug around), so I’ll use the average of that range, 0.74 kg/L, to find the mass of a gallon of gasoline: (3.785 L)(0.74 kg/L) = 2.8 kg.

Next, I need to find out how much of that 2.8 kg of gasoline is made of carbon. That would be an easy chemistry problem if gasoline were a pure chemical, but it isn’t, so I’ll estimate. First, I’ll ignore the elements which only make up a minor part of gasoline’s mass, leaving only hydrogen and carbon to worry about. Next, I consider these things:

  1. Alkanes larger than methane (major gasoline components), whether branched-chain or not, have slightly more than two hydrogen atoms for every carbon atom. This ratio doesn’t exceed three, though, and is equal to three only for ethane, which has too high a boiling point to remain in liquid form at typical temperatures and pressures, anyway.
  2. Cycloalkanes, another major component of gasoline, have exactly two hydrogen atoms for every carbon atom.
  3. Aromatic hydrocarbons can have fewer than two hydrogen atoms for every carbon atom, and these chemicals are also a major component of gasoline. For the simplest aromatic hydrocarbon, benzene, the H:C ratio drops to its lowest value: 1:1.

For the reasons above, I’m choosing two to one as a reasonable estimate for the number of atoms of hydrogen for every atom of carbon in gasoline. Carbon atoms, however, have twelve times the mass of hydrogen atoms. Gasoline is therefore ~12/14ths carbon, which reduces to ~6/7. I can now estimate the mass of carbon in a gallon of gasoline: (6/7)(2.8 kg) = 2.4 kg.

So how much carbon dioxide does that make? Well, first, does a car actually burn gasoline completely, so that every carbon atom in gasoline goes out the tailpipe as part of a carbon dioxide molecule? The answer to this question is simple: no.

However, this “no” doesn’t really matter, and here’s why. In addition to carbon dioxide, automobile exhaust also contains carbon present as carbon monoxide, unburned carbon, and unburned or partially-burned hydrocarbons. To have an environmental impact, though, it isn’t necessary for a given carbon dioxide molecule to come flying straight out of the tailpipe of one’s car. In our oxygen-rich atmosphere, those carbon atoms in car exhaust which are not yet fully combusted (to each be part of a carbon dioxide molecule) are quite likely to end up reacting with oxygen later on — certainly within the next year, in most cases — and the endpoint of carbon reacting with oxygen, once combustion is complete, is always carbon dioxide. What’s carbon monoxide, then? Well, one way to look at it is this: molecules of carbon monoxide are simply half-burned carbon atoms. When the other half of the burning (combustion) happens, later, carbon dioxide is the product. So, for purposes of this estimate, I am assuming that all 2.4 kg of carbon in a gallon of gasoline ends up as carbon dioxide — either directly produced by the car, or produced in other combustion reactions, later, outside the car.

The molar mass of elemental carbon is 12 grams. For oxygen, the corresponding figure is 16 g, but that becomes 32 g of oxygen in carbon dioxide, with its two oxygen atoms per molecule. Add 12 g and 32 g, and you have carbon dioxide’s molar mass, 44 g. Therefore, 12 g of carbon is all it takes to make 44 g of carbon dioxide; the rest of the mass comes from oxygen in the air. By use of ratios, then, I can now find the mass of carbon dioxide formed from burning a gallon of gasoline, with its 2.4 kg of carbon.

Here is the ratio needed: 2.4 kg of carbon / unknown mass of carbon dioxide produced = 12 g of carbon / 44 g of carbon dioxide. By cross-multiplication, and using “x” for the unknown, this equation becomes (12 g)(x) = (44 g)(2.4 kg), which simplifies to 12x = 105.6 kg, so, by division, x = 8.8 kg of carbon dioxide produced from one gallon of gasoline.

Each kilogram (of anything), near sea level on this planet, weighs about 2.2 pounds. This 8.8 kg of carbon dioxide, then, translated into “American,” becomes (8.8 kg)(2.2 pounds/kg) = 19.36 pounds. Given the amount of estimation I had to do to obtain this answer, this is close enough to twenty pounds for me to conclude that the statement I was examining has survived my testing. In other words, yes: burning a gallon of gasoline goes, indeed, put about twenty pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

However, I’m not quite finished. Carbon dioxide is an invisible gas, making it quite difficult to picture what twenty pounds of it “looks” like. To really understand how much carbon dioxide this is, it would be helpful to know its volume. So I have a new problem: 8.8 kg of pure carbon dioxide is trapped, in a balloon, at standard temperature and pressure. What is the balloon’s volume?

To solve this problem, one needs the density of carbon dioxide under these conditions, which chemists refer to as “STP” (standard temperature and pressure). According to Google, the density of carbon dioxide at STP is about 1.98 kg per cubic meter. Since 8.8 kg / (1.98 kg/m³) = 4.44 m³, this means that a gallon of gasoline can produce enough carbon dioxide, held at STP, to inflate this balloon to a volume of 4.44 cubic meters. For the benefit of those who aren’t used to thinking in metric units, that volume equals the volume of a perfect cube with an edge length of ~5.4 feet. You could fit a bunch of people into a cube that large, especially if they were all on friendly terms.

Now, please consider this: all of that was from one gallon of gasoline. How many gallons of gas do you typically buy, when you fill up your car’s gas tank? Well, multiply by that number. How many times do you fill up your car, on average, in a year? Multiply again. Next, estimate the total number of years you will drive during your lifetime — and multiply again. You now have your own personal, lifetime carbon dioxide impact-estimate from just one activity: driving.

This may sound like a change of topic, but it isn’t: what’s the hottest planet in the solar system? Even though Mercury is much closer to the Sun, the answer is Venus, and there is exactly one reason for that: Venus has a thick atmosphere which is chock-full of carbon dioxide. In other words, yes, the planet nearest the Earth, and the brightest object in the sky (behind the Sun and the Moon), Venus, is one of the best warnings about global warming known to exist, and we’ve known this for many decades. One wonders if any theologian has ever speculated that the creator of the universe designed Venus this way, and then put it right there “next door,” on purpose, specifically as a warning, to us, about the consequences of burning too much carbon.

The science, and the math which underlies it, are both rock-solid: climate change is real. Lots of politicians deny this, but that’s only because of the combined impact of two things: their own stupidity, plus lots of campaign contributions from oil companies and their political allies. Greed and stupidity are a dangerous combination, especially when further combined with a third ingredient: political power. Voting against such politicians helps, but it isn’t enough. One additional thing I will do, immediately, is start looking for ways to do the obvious, in my own life: reduce my own consumption of gasoline. Since I’m putting this on the Internet, perhaps there will be others persuaded to do the same.

The truth may hurt, but it’s still the truth: the United States is a nation of petroleum junkies, and we aren’t just harming ourselves with this addiction, either. It’s time, as a people, for us to invent, and enter, fossil-fuel rehab.

[Image credit: “GasCan” by MJCdetroit – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –]

The Pegasus Crude Oil Pipeline


The Pegasus Crude Oil Pipeline

I live quite near Mayflower, Arkansas, site of an oil spill and ongoing cleanup efforts. You’ve probably seen it in the news.

Living in a landlocked state, we did not have “oil spill” on our worry-lists here.

You may live near this pipeline, too, and not even know it. That’s why I’m posting this map (which I did not create, but simply found with a Google image-search). There may be other such pipelines here, as well. Few people notice them — until one breaks.