Thursday Throughput: Nuclear Explosion Edition

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Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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  1. Avatar DensityDuck
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    It’s Christmas At Ground Zero!

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  2. Avatar DensityDuck
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    And you might be wondering “what you you mean recreate the conditions at the core of the Sun, how exactly do they do that,” and the answer is that modern nuclear bombs have a second, smaller nuclear bomb inside them that explodes as a trigger for the big bomb. The pressure of the smaller bomb’s explosion compresses the bigger bomb’s nuclear material to the point where it fuses, and that’s the “core of the Sun” thing.Report

  3. fillyjonk fillyjonk
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    ThTh2: I already ranted to a couple of my classes about this study and about “so this is why you can get some really terrible follow-up infections after a disease like measles.”

    Some of my students are parents and I hope none of them have been influenced by the anti-vaccinationist movement.

    I mean, in the abstract, it’s an interesting finding and it explains stuff we’ve seen in the past. But in the concrete, it’s scary, because of the decline in vaccination rates (at least in some groups).

    A few years ago I was having to travel to an area where a measles outbreak was happening; I actually went to my doctor and asked to be revaccinated just in case. She did an immune titer instead….I came up as still immune, so that was good. (I have had three MMRs in my life…got one with the standard set as a baby, got re-vaxxed when my younger brother did because the doctor thought that earlier batch of vaccine was not very effective for some reason, and then got vaccinated AGAIN in grad school because they couldn’t find a record of my having been, despite both myself and my mother telling them the history. It was okay, I didn’t grow a second head or anything….)Report

  4. Avatar Aaron David
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    ThTh-8- I had read that also, very depressing if it holds up. We may have F’ed up biggly.

    Also, for all my science peps (too late for my dad and uncle):

    Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper
    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02918-5

    For the past two decades, Cormac McCarthy — whose ten novels include The Road, No Country for Old Men and Blood Meridian — has provided extensive editing to numerous faculty members and postdocs at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) in New Mexico. He has helped to edit works by scientists such as Harvard University’s first tenured female theoretical physicist, Lisa Randall, and physicist Geoffrey West, who authored the popular-science book Scale.

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  5. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    Th Th 8
    And to this day we don’t have a good way of dealing with mental illness.

    Our modern way is to put them in jail instead of asylums, or let Darwinian forces of exposure, assault and disease cull them from the population.

    Part of this is that there isn’t really a cure for mental illness, and treatment is wickedly expensive.

    But as with all things, how we choose to allocate the wealth we create says a lot about our priorities.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Cain
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    ThTh3: There’s some old (long before DNA testing was a thing) science fiction short story about a police detective working a case where the outcome hinges on him realizing that two people have an identical (to measurement error) fingerprint.Report

  7. Avatar PD Shaw
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    ThTh3: “Now, a blind DNA search could identify potential suspect. But confirmation requires additional evidence to show that it’s not just a random match. I’m not sure our law enforcement industrial complex appreciates that subtlety.”

    The recent DOJ guidelines for using forensic genealogy require police to first exhaust traditional crime solving methods, including searching their own criminal DNA databases, and limit genomic research to violent crimes such as murder or rape, and to identify human remains. I believe it applies to the feds, plus state and local agencies that receive federal funds.

    In any event, the Golden State killer case was solved by identifying a class of suspects using a public genomic website, then conducting a genealogical research, taking into account age, gender and location, which was followed by taking a confirmatory DNA sample of the accused (by some accounts a sample taken from a discarded cup).Report

  8. Avatar North
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    ThTh7 Of course. I mean, of course it is. But nuclear is scary.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North
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      But nuclear is scary, because people are ignorant.

      FTFYReport

      • Avatar North in reply to Oscar Gordon
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        Yes, but if a sensible policy on addressing climate change requires vanquishing the collective ignorance of the populace on nuclear power I struggle not to despair.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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          Or not caring about it.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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            Not caring about what? Climate change or nuclear power?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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              Not caring about the collective ignorance of the populace.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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                Well yes, in that case a sensible policy on addressing climate change wouldn’t require vanquishing the public’s ignorance about nuclear power.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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                There’s a point at which someone will seize power and explain that they’re doing this for the species.

                Democracy will always vote for donuts today, eat vegetables tomorrow, after all.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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                Call me a cynic, but I don’t think that will ever happen. Our own history, both recent and near recent, pretty clearly identifies that environmentalism is a luxury good. People aren’t going to pitch a coup over environmental issues unless we’re dealing with something unambiguous, severe, something the government can directly and immediately address and something that the public can blame mostly on government policies. AGW basically ticks none of those boxes.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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                We’ve got 12 years, dude. 12 years.

                I won’t even be retirement age.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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                The “We’ve got 12 years” crowd won’t even throw a bricks or attack a gas station. I can’t say if that says more good things or bad things about them but there it is. Launching an enviro-coup is not really in reach unless they’re planning an enviro-coup of a mid sized coastal town.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to North
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                I’ve read a few articles linking the Little Ice Age to all sorts of historical, political, and technological changes in the period.
                There is no reason to think that a changing climate won’t affect the future in a similar fashion.

                For example as the polar ice cap thaws and the Northwest Passage becomes a reality, history will likely link the political and military struggle over Arctic mineral rights to climate.

                Meaning that no, no one is going to grab a gun because of thawing Arctic ice, but plenty of nations will go to war over the spoils that the thaw reveals.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Chip, I am most assuredly not saying AGW won’t be a huge deal- I think it will. I agree that climate related migration, famines, and struggles over newly habitable northern climes all may have an impact. I think that’s all unambiguously true.

                But AGW doesn’t click that way. The effects of it are too dispersed, too long term, too unimmediate to provoke some kind of mass uprising that could lead to a coup. That’s always been what makes it such an insidious problem.

                And likewise the solutions to AGW are about 5% sticking it to Mr. Richy-Rich and 95% about costs that everyone will have to pay. The trade offs aren’t made for Hollywood.

                And that is why no one is gong to seize power and say “we’re doin’ it for the species”. Not over AGW anyhow- it doesn’t work as that kind of issue.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to North
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                Agreed.

                AGW will always be the hidden energy input driving things that seem entirely unrelated and unpredictable, but in fact are the inevitable outcome of a changing climate.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to North
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              Nuclear powered climate change is da bomb.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to North
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      Nuclear may be scary, but the study found that it was the increased cost of energy that was the killer, so by extension any tax or regulatory cost on energy also kills. Well, kills old people. Or more specifically kills old people when the temperature drops below zero Celsius.

      More constructively, I think nuclear needs subsidies to be competitive with subsidized green energies, and nobody like the big energy companies that would receive them.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to PD Shaw
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        And certainly, old people not being able to pay for electricity can have only one solution, which of course, is socialism.

        So really, not implementing socialism has killed more people than Stalin.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to PD Shaw
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        Well yes, I’m inclined to agree with that and probably the solution is simply to apply a cost to carbon energy sources and lump nuclear in with other non-carbon energy sources for subsidies.Report

        • Avatar J_A in reply to North
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          As long as all the externalities are priced in.

          In real life (like, having worked in power generation for close to 30 years), I can’t make an economic case for nuclear power that adds all the costs associated with it. Most of which no one even mentions:

          Like…

          – Disposal of fuel residues
          – Decommissioning and cleanup of the site (what, did you think the plant will be there one hundred years from now?)
          – Insurance. Nuclear power in not insurable in the commercial reinsurance markets
          – Financing and cost overruns protections (I.e. no matter the final costs, the tariff will be adjusted to make the plant profitable enough to service debt) or loan guarantees.
          – Accident clean up costs.

          Plus, the large size of nuclear power plants (to squeeze the last possible economy of scale possible), and their must-run characteristics (not only they can’t cycle up and down following the load, they can’t easily be turned off and on either) create further operational issues

          – The grid has to carry large generation reserves (for those days when nuclear is off for maintenance) which are rarely used, but have to be paid off by customers too (he, another externality).

          – Lastly, for now, nuclear requires large (and expensive) transmission systems to distribute all that energy. More distributed generation would be far easier to manage, more reliable, and much cheaper to move around.

          I would agree that many of these issues could be avoided if somehow there were commercial small nuclear plants, similar to those in nuclear powered vessels. I do not know what are the technical and economic reasons why no one in the world has, to my knowledge, built one such small (let’s say 50 MW) nuclear plant. But, 1GW nuclear plants only make economic sense to investors if the public bears almost all the risks. Not even Apple, Shell, or Aramco, could survive Fukushima.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to J_A
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            Well if we build passively safe nuclear power systems then a lot of these concerns go away. The long and the short of it is that nuclear has been actively smothered by both the left (environmentalists) and right (fossil fuel fetishists) for decades. It’s like talking about powering the country on Solar power panels or wind turbines from the 80’s. An enormous amount of the issues you list are significantly caused by a hostile regulatory regime and a regime hostile to new nuclear development that was put in place by those same powers with the express purpose of eliminating nuclear research and use.
            And, of course, any wind or solar powered grid- if it was even remotely possible at all- would also require enormous transmission capabilities.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to PD Shaw
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        New nuclear coming online today would receive the same ¢/kWh type subsidy that wind gets. The wind subsidy goes away at the end of 2020, the nuclear does not. Vogtle 3 and 4 have received $12B in federal loan guarantees which drastically reduced their borrowing costs. NuScale Power is getting free land and federal risk assumption for their first-of-kind plant to be built at the Idaho National Lab, and will be eligible for both the loan guarantees and the production subsidy.

        The biggest problem for nuclear today is that it costs about $8B per GW to build, and takes 8 years. Wind costs about $1B per GW* and typically less than 2 years.

        * Apples to oranges somewhat. Wind in good locations produces 30-40% of the time. Nuclear historically produces 80-90% of the time.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Michael Cain
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          I was referring to state subsidies. I think half of the six nuclear plants in my state threatened to close if they didn’t get the same subsidies as solar and wind.

          If I roughly understand the technical issue that was raised — nuclear has an on-off switch for each plant; coal has the ability to modulate (maybe not the right word) by virtue of multiple units in the plant and controlling the coal feed or other features so as to allow it to generate percentages of potential outputs, and wind and solar just run based upon environmental conditions regardless of energy price. When wind and solar are generating significantly, the nuclear plants were being forced to generate below their operating cost and the companies involved would rather just run coal plants in that environment.

          Nukes got their subsidies.Report

          • Avatar J_A in reply to PD Shaw
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            Im only familiar with California, but renewable generators do not get a state subsidy in CA. What you have is a mandate that utilities buy X% of renewable energy.

            Which obviously, is a big thing, but it’s not a cash subsidy.Report

            • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to J_A
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              Illinois taxes utilities and spends the money on green energy. It’s got a lot of complicated elements, including the tax at some point starts to decline as a market index for electricity rises. Illinois has a zero-net-emissions objective, for which I think nuclear is currently providing 95%. The closures would have scrapped that, so they gave subsidies.

              (I also recall some part of the issue is how the auction is conducted by regional transmission organizations, which the state has no authority over)Report

        • Avatar J_A in reply to Michael Cain
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          With newer technology used today, 40% is in the very low end of onshore wind being built today, though 30-40 % is right (for now) for solar.

          Offshore wind produces way above 50%, and it’s significantly more reliable. Regretfully, in practice, the Jones Act makes it impossible to build offshore wind in the USA. Just one more thing the Jones Act is fishing us with.

          (If Tulsi had wanted a cause that could propel her in the nomination, she should have seized the Jones Act. Hawai’i is the state most fished up by the Jones Act, even more than Puerto Rico (though PR doesn’t have EVs so it doesn’t count for fish). The Texas Gulf Coast oil industry is up there too (hey Senator Rafael Eduardo, do something for your state for a change, instead of looking for things your state can do for you))Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird
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    ThTh7: This is where The Trolley Problem ceases to be merely a silly thought experiment. Do you pull the lever?

    ThTh9: I cannot believe that we still do Daylight Savings Time. I cannot believe that the argument that we needed to extend it all the way back in the oughts by the Energy Policy Act resulted in it being extended. I can’t believe that the studies that said that the extended time change resulted in additional power use were ignored. I would prefer getting rid of DST entirely but, if we can’t, please let’s put it in year round AND JUST STOP CHANGING.Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Jaybird
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      If we go to year-round DST, we also need to move the start of school back by a couple hours so kids won’t be killed in the dead of winter by tired adults trying to get to work in the dark.

      the last (dark) morning of DST, I was coming up the road (which runs past apartments) to get to my building, and there was a middle-schooler, standing in the middle of the road (either waiting for the bus or walking to a bus stop) and she was in entirely-dark clothing. I saw her in plenty of time to swerve but it still gave me a hell of a jolt.

      I would be more amenable to “one last move-ahead of a HALF hour, and then we stop” than going to year-round DST. I find going home from work in the dark a lot less objectionable than going to work in the dark.
      Disclaimer: I am almost at the western-most edge of my time zone, so it’s darker later in the day than it would be in, say, Memphis.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird
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      DST is so bad that they’re making horror movies about it. Sadly, this looks like it would be a better movie than the latest Terminator or Star Wars flicks.Report

  10. Avatar Dark Matter
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    [ThTh3]: If you feed a few hundred crimes into this database, you are guaranteed to match a profile to some random person and claim — falsely — that there’s only a one in a billion chance they’re innocent.

    If you just use the database you’ll look pretty silly claiming a ten year old is guilty of 20 year old crimes. Most people are wildly inappropiate matches for a specific crime and any closer examination will trivially exclude them.

    Yes, you need more data/evidence, but this is one of those situations where knowing the answer is the bulk of the solution and what comes after that is easy and obvious.Report

  11. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    Tangential to ThTh 7:
    An interesting article in WaPo about how climate change is threatening a small North Carolina island:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/how-do-we-continue-to-have-life-here-amid-flooding-and-rising-sea-levels-residents-of-one-barrier-island-wonder-if-its-time-to-retreat/2019/11/09/dff076c0-fcab-11e9-ac8c-8eced29ca6ef_story.html#comments-wrapper

    The basic outline is pretty straightforward- rising sea level causes seasonal hurricanes to become increasingly destructive, forcing residents of both the island and mainland to make hard choices about whether to rebuild or not.

    But the deeper takeaway for me is how the ripple effects of this one factor spread out through the body politic. The hard choices turn into political standoffs over public resources and pit once-friendly groups against each other.

    The shifting economic prospects of the town cause a demographic shift as the more affluent leave and less affluent and more desperate enter.

    A sense of peace and optimism about the future changes to pessimism and despair and erodes the trust in community that allows it to do even the most simple and basic of tasks.

    A similar story can be written about communities in the West where wildfires ravage towns forcing the same sort of decisions about how to allocate scarce reconstruction resources.

    Global warming is usually written in the future tense in terms of speculative science fiction, but what we are seeing is the actual manifestation of it and how it looks. Instead of bizarre events, it looks utterly banal and ordinary.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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      Or you could cast all such stories as “Let’s stop taking responsibility for making bad decisions and just blame other people, or better yet, blame mother nature for being cruel!”Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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        Blaming mother nature for burning billions of tons of coal and petroleum is certainly one way of taking responsibility for bad decisions.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
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          It’s both, really. The decision to burn fossil fuels is pretty hard to denounce in hindsight. The disasters you’re pointing out here are the result of bad general policy colliding with the shrinking envelope of latitude that nature is giving us for bad policy that AGW is causing to constrict.

          Paying people, especially wealthy people, to build and rebuild in flood zones is terrible policy. California’s perverse NIMBY and and proposition 13 incentives encourage spraw out into the hilly arid woodlands far from the urban centers is likewise terrible policy. In the past we skated by with these awful policies because nature was a tech more clement and temperate. As that temperance is declining from AGW we’re watching these raw edges of bad policy decisions start to bleed.

          We need both to take steps to mitigate/prevent further AGW and fix the terrible decisions and policy structures that’re making us especially vulnerable to AGW’s initial fallout.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to North
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            You make a good point about the “shrinking envelope” caused by AGW.

            One of the benefits of the Industrial Age was the ability to expand the envelope of buildable areas through technology like dikes, dams, flood control channels and breakwaters.

            But as the weather effects of climate grow more pronounced, at some point there will be a scene like in The Day After Tomorrow where some Dennis Quaid will take a big Sharpie and draw a line across a map miles inland from coasts, and declare that anything seaward of the line has to be written off.

            Even today, Miami experiences flooding on a near daily basis. At some point in the near future entire neighborhoods will become uninsurable and unllivable.
            No one knows what sort of effect this will have on real estate and the economy of which it is a part.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to North
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            Any areas not covered by glaciers or deserts are subject to wildfires. Alaska has really big wildfires in areas whose average annual temperature is 30 C lower than Cailfornia’s. Canada has huge wildfires. In fact, wildfires are common across a climate range of of 40 C.

            California has had severe wildfires all during the Holocene. Indians often set fires as a hunting strategy, and three bird species in Australia intentionally spread wildfire to flush put game. So as we built permanent structures, we came to rely on forest management and other techniques to try and reduce the scope and intensity of such fires, along with trying to reduce our vulnerability to them.

            California decided to do the opposite, encouraging the growth of underbrush, building structures in fire-prone areas, and cutting back on normal fire prevention and mitigation policies. The 1915 Fresno fire (in Fresno!) burned 151,000 acres but only destroyed four structures. The 1932 Ventura fire (in Ventura!) burned 220,000 acres but didn’t destroy any structures. The Camp Fire was in the middle of no place (Butte County) and only burned 150,000 acres, but destroyed 18,800 structures. If was the same size fire as 1915 or 1932, but it did vastly more damage.

            The only change afflicting California is political, because it has always been fire prone, but now they promote the fires instead of preventing them.

            Everybody else just laughs and points at them as they blame global warming. Well, it’s long been noted that the chief effect of global warming is stupidity, so perhaps California can indirectly connect these fires to global warming.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North
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            In a lot of places, we can build homes to survive fire, storms, and flooding, but the unit cost is quite a bit higher than traditional stick frame construction, and the architecture of such structures is often non-traditional and people don’t find it as appealing (although if they weren’t having their homes constantly rebuilt courtesy of the tax base, they might find a new appreciation for them).

            Regarding fire, I was reading the other day some article that was critical of the fact that some wealthy CA communities hire private fire fighters to combat wildfires. Of course, they buried the lede that the bulk of what the private fire companies do is work with the insurance companies to encourage home owners to mitigate fire danger in the first place (non-combustable roof and siding, insulation, fire breaks, sprinkler systems, etc.). It was very rare for said companies to gear up and actually fight a fire, because their clients homes were survivable.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon
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              Some years ago some genius out there came up with the idea of spraying the super-absorbent diaper material on homes, which formed a water-logged coating that looked like papier-mache. It worked wonders and hosed off easily, so I assume the state banned it because the gel was made of sodium polyacrylates (an evil plastic) that would end up in the soil.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon
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              I wonder if the people who are spending these exhorbitant amounts of money to combat fire damage mark that down in their accounts as “Cost of AGW” to offset the “Taxes Required To Combat AGW”.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                There was a professional fire guy on NPR a few weeks ago talking about all this. He said in the fire-expert community it was known a lot of these communities were fire traps before/while/after they were built, many of them went through bad fires 30+ years ago, and the problems are mostly political.

                If I build a community that will burn down in 30+ years, I will probably be dead or retired before that happens. The people that approved it will be dead or retired. Even the people who originally moved into the first generation of houses will likely be dead or retired.

                And yet we still have the fire-experts who expect there to be serious problems over the next 30+ years and expect it to end in tears.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Yet AGW has nothing to do with the fires, since California has had devastating fires for thousands of years, and the rest of the planet, which in theory is having the same AGW as California, isn’t burning.

                AGW doesn’t cause power lines to arc. It doesn’t cause speeders to flee from cops and end up in fiery crashes. It doesn’t cause people to let underbrush build up. It doesn’t cause people to neglect basic land clearing.

                Overall, the state’s average precipitation varies by a factor of 50 from one area to another, or 5,000%. The average annual temperature varies by 50 F from one area to another. A shift of 0.5 degrees is nothing.

                The mindset in the state is that they’re going to let everyone’s house burn down, in fire after preventable fire, and keep blaming Republicans and oil companies. Maybe that’s a winning issue in local elections, but the result is that Californians be sleeping in tents, with no electricity and no water, while the rest of the world laughs at them as perhaps the stupidest people on the face of the planet.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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                OK, Boomer.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                I’ll put it to you this way.

                Suppose the rest of us are burning fossil fuels because we love watching California burn in preventable fires. Suppose the Chinese have increased their coal consumption by more than the entire US’s consumption just to drop California real estate prices so they could buy up charred land on the cheap. Suppose the Indians are burning massive amounts of fossil fuels merely to burn California homes so more Californian’s have to stay in hotels owned by the Patels. Suppose the Central Americans have convinced their sun god to scorch California so their gangs can exploit the wildfire chaos and take over. And suppose the oil companies are pump oil just so California wildfires make people flee their homes, burning more gasoline in the process.

                If all of that were true, how would screaming about global warming prevent a single wildfire or save anyone’s house, ranch, or barn? The rest of us are not going to do anything different because we think it’s funny to watch California burn, in part because people there won’t do even common sense things to save themselves. For us it’s like watching Mama June and Honey Boo Boo.

                No, ranting about CO2 isn’t going to stop your fires. Only doing those common sense things that Republicans keep telling you to do is going to stop your fires. We’re confident that since Republicans are telling you to do those things, you will refuse to do them and keep banging your sippy cups about CO2, and we’ll keep watching our favorite reality TV show, “California Burning.”

                If you valued your homes and environment more than virtue signalling and political posturing, you’d of course grab up some tools and start clearing some undergrowth, and conducting controlled burns like other states, so that the problem recedes and your electric service comes back on.

                And it will take a lot of controlled burning. My chat buddy in Florida sets fires for a living. He’s accidentally shut down all of I-75 more than once. Florida burns 2,000,000 acres a year, every year, because if they didn’t the whole state would go up like a match.

                Lots of states do that, because back in the old days the country had a lot of wildfires. From the 1920’s through the early 1950’s, about 30 million acres a year would burn from wildfires, peaking at 50 million acres a year in the 1930’s. So we started doing controlled burns and spraying and other measures and dropped that rate to under 3 million acres a year, a rate that we maintained for forty years, and where it still remains in states that aren’t called “California”.

                100 Years of Wildfire Acreage.jpg

                Yes, we had ten times as many acres a year burning in wildfires before global warming or intervention than we now have with global warming and continued intervention. If you drop the interventions, you can expect to return to the rates of wildfire destruction that were common in the early part of the 20th century, and those rates are devastating given California’s modern sprawl.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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      The shifting economic prospects of the town cause a demographic shift as the more affluent leave and less affluent and more desperate enter.

      Yes. Which is why the political establishment HAS to make things work for the upper/middle classes. They have the resources to flee and they will.Report

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