Reinert Interview: Climate Change

Today is the seventh post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here. –Kay M.

K.M.: What advice and cautions do you have for us regarding the subject of climate change?

Reinert: I worry about who the leading spokespersons are who are presuming authority on climate change. I worry about how too often it is nonexperts who have little understanding of energy who are the ones telling us what we need to do to prevent climate change. And, I worry about how well we can predict the future by extrapolating models because I’ve worked with models plenty in my life and I understand their limitations.

Lord Stern made cataclysmic predictions about climate change that didn’t come true. James Hansen speaks in a similar tone, and that concerns me. I see a lot of people who are the beacons of climate change and they are too often the people least prepared to discuss the science surrounding it. To give you an example, I was invited to a “secret” high level meeting about climate change a number of years ago. I was asked to write a white paper for it, which I did, but, of course, nobody at the meeting had read it. At the table were a couple dozen well known public figures, along with myself, and one university scientist. The discussion at that meeting frightened me because of the low level of scientific knowledge and the lack of understanding of the energy issues, yet, these same people had positioned themselves to lead the public dialogue on climate change.

I’ve done a lot of energy models, and, yes, we can curve fit and model the past, we can smooth out the curves and model carbon, but it is difficult to accurately predict the future from models. I’m worried about climate change and I think we need to address our use of carbon, and I think we’ve begun a hopeful downward trajectory. But while I’m very worried about the acidification of the oceans and the dying of the coral, I’m also worried about people who offer prescriptive remedies to address climate change who don’t understand the huge complexities within the energy systems and the unintended consequences that their often faulty prescriptions might have.


The meeting that Reinert described to me was a rather horrific experience for him, as he named one of those calling the meeting, a former vice-president of the United States who, at the time, was advocating that by converting our fuel supply to one sourced from switch grass, we could help stop the cataclysmic global warming that was rapidly coming at us. Although Reinert had explained in his white paper why it wasn’t possible to convert our fuel to switch grass sourced, they never read his white paper, so he told the table of persons gathered there that day at the end of the meeting that they “were an embarrassment” and shamed them for trying to lead the public discussion about climate change. The other scientist present at the table said he agreed with Reinert, and they left the room.

Weeks later, Reinert said that he received an apology from (Gore) in a written letter. (That day also marked a turning point in Gore’s message to the public about switch grass being the solution to our liquid fuel problem.)

When you hear that and think about the aerial views of the very large house that this vocal spokesperson lived in at the time (do you remember?) it makes us even more confused and frustrated about the message this person was sending.

Today, of course, the information we are listening to on climate science is from scientists, hopefully, but future predictions still are reliant upon models of an extremely complex system. That is why those of us who follow them see so many surprising headlines which show that the science continues to be evolving. Here are two great examples of that from just this past week, each reflecting rather large changes in the modeling: “The missing piece of the climate puzzle – Researchers show that a canonical view of global warming tells only half the story”, and, “New model includes critical plant-soil interaction processes in climate assessments”. —Kay M.

To see last week’s interview subject on “Farming and Monarchs” click here.

Coming next week will be Reinert’s comments on the future of renewables.

Photo credit: FlickrCC by Fizzr.

Building a Cold Frame

Building a cold frame was last weekend’s project at our house and we did it in the nick of time, just before the cold blast of arctic air and many inches of snow hit us this week.

Although we built a winter greens hoop garden a few years ago and it is working to produce winter greens like a charm (see my post about that here), my goal was to do a fall gardening project using the salvaged glass I’d saved years ago to make a cold frame.

Being in town, unfortunately, our neighbor to the south has a lot full of huge overgrown trees which shade our house in the wintertime, therefore my chosen “best” spot site for this mini-greenhouse isn’t perfect, but will get a few hours a day of sunlight on sunny winter days. The spot happens to be sandwiched between the concrete driveway and the house.

First, we took a trip to a neighbor’s dumpster where they are deconstructing part of a house and picked up a couple pieces of wood there, and then, we headed to our fabulous Boulder Resource Center (recycled community materials) to look around. It was a lucky day there, because we found three perfect sized lengths of redwood which ended up being exactly what we needed for the project.

The first photo, below, shows the project in its early stages. Designing the box with the materials at hand was the hardest part and I took a great deal of care and time in the planning stage. To construct it, my husband did the sawing and I got to have fun using the electric screwdriver.

This photo shows the project farther along, with glass in place. Careful measuring has paid off nicely.

Finally, the box is in place. Since this photo was taken, I’ve sunk it’s edges into the ground, found an old thermometer to put inside, and started a few spinach seeds as an experiment. I stacked rows of bricks against the back wall and plan to place a few old milk cartons inside that are filled with water as additional heat sinks. The floor is already covered in small rocks which should also help retain heat for this passive solar mini-greenhouse.

It seems to be pretty well settled that the plastic hoop house works best for growing winter greens in our area and if you think about it, glass conducts cold a lot better than plastic does. Eliot Coleman layers plastic with success in Maine’s cold winters. My project is an experiment and I hope to try a few things but mostly I want it for starting seeds next spring. I already think I should have made it taller so it could house some short tomatoes, but I will work with what I have. The glass panes slide apart nicely to vent it when it gets too hot inside and I will either bring the cold-sensitive seed starts indoors or throw a blanket over the frame on the colder spring nights.

Whew. Got it finished just in time. The total cost was about six bucks for this salvaged-materials project.

NOTE: As I post this, the outdoor temperature is 27F and the cold frame’s thermometer is showing 85F after the sun hit it an hour ago. Later… 100. Wow.

Also recommended, this previous post: Extend Your Growing Season with Simple Backyard Coldframes or Hoop Gardens.

Old Image: British Poultry Farmer 1944

How To Keep Poultry – Advice To Chicken Keepers, UK, 1944. A poultry farmer adds chicken feed to a food trough on a farm somewhere in Britain, as some of his chickens look on. The original caption states that “food should be placed before birds in a simple trough that can be cleaned easily. The trough should never stay on the same spot for successive days”.

(Note that Thursday is Luddite Photo Day at B.P.A.)

TED Talk on the Coming Antibiotic Crisis

This 14-minute TED talk by Ramanan Laxminarayan discusses the history, the challenges, and the squandering of antibiotic use, beginning with the story of penicillin.

“To save a few pennies” for our meat, we’ve used antibiotics sub-clinically for growth-promotion, not for treatment.

Now, bacterial resistance has become common.

Included in the talk is a stunning must-see U.S. map showing the progression of Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii across the states from 1999 to 2012.

“we stand at a cross-roads”

Every time an individual misuses an antibiotic, it affects humanity as a whole, which is “a problem of the commons”. Laxminarayan describes this as a problem of co-evolution, and compares it to using oil appropriately – related to climate change. He suggests an antibiotic tax just like people have suggested emissions taxes.

The newer antibiotics are becoming much more expensive, too. He tells us that this newer higher price is a signal that we need to practice conservation of antibiotics, just as high priced gasoline signals to us that we need to switch to methods that conserve gasoline. He mentions newer avenues and investments in antibiotic technologies, but says that these need to be balanced by investing in the proper use of antibiotics.

Because of resistance to our treatments across quite a number of areas to technologies we’ve only had for the past 80 to 100 years,

“essentially in a blink, we have squandered our ability to control”

because we have not recognized that actual selection and evolution was going to find a way to get back and we need to completely rethink how we’re going to use measures to control biological organisms … and we need to start thinking about them as natural resources … and change how we do business.

Which States Produce the Most Pumpkins? Illinois is Number 1.

I consider this good news, to find out that the fourth-top corn producing state of Illinois produces way more pumpkins than any other state. Next comes California, followed by Ohio and Michigan.

See the following chart and information about pumpkin growing from the USDA:

In 2013, the top 6 U.S. pumpkin producing states supplied over 1.13 billion pounds of pumpkins. Pumpkin production is widely dispersed, with crop conditions varying greatly by region.

Illinois remains the leading producer of pumpkins, with a majority of the state’s production processed into pie filling and other uses.

Supplies from the remaining top five pumpkin producing states are targeted primarily towards the seasonal fresh market for ornamental uses, as well as home processing.

Demand for specialty pumpkins continues to expand as consumers look for new and interesting variations. In addition to the traditional jack-o-lantern market, there is an increase in pumpkins available in alternative colors (white, blue, striped), shapes (oblong, upright), skin (deep veins, warts) and sizes.