Category Archives: environmental history

October 23, 2013, 1:57 pm

Burning the Midnight Photovoltaics

One of my students is working on a paper on how much solar power each branch of the military uses. It’s a fascinating topic, as the military has gotten (partly because of outside pressure, partly because of the usefulness of mobile energy sources like solar power for fighting wars) extremely interested in renewable energy. This chart graphically suggests the scale of the challenge and the sheer size of the American military:

Chart from Schuyler Null, “Defense Sustainability: Energy Efficiency and the Battlefield,” Global Green USA, February 2010.


The Pentagon consumes as much energy as Portugal, and more than Nigeria and Denmark and New Zealand. The US military is responsible for 1% of American energy consumption. That’s a lot.

September 27, 2013, 5:15 pm

Notify Hudson!

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The Northwest Passage is open for cargo:

A large sea freighter completed a voyage through the hazardous Arctic Northwest Passage for the first time on Friday as global warming opens routes that mariners have wanted for centuries.

Last Voyage Of Henry HudsonThe quest for the Northwest Passage has been going on for centuries, and has even been immortalized in a TV series. Now, global warming has opened up the route. While smaller ships have managed the trip before, the Nordic Orion is the largest cargo ship to make it.

Henry Hudson would be pleased, if anyone knew where he was.

January 9, 2013, 7:00 pm

Damn The Platinum Coin, Man! Full Speed Ahead!

BALXBqACMAEUf0f An obscure law aimed at coin collectors is now all the rage in DC. It allows the Treasury to make a platinum coin in any denomination it wants, thus giving President Obama a possible, if somewhat sketchy, way around the GOP’s debt-ceiling hostage taking (“We passed a law requiring you to spend the money, now we’re going to make it legally impossible for you to actually do so! Haha! Impeachable offense no matter what!”) See here and here for some details.

That is NOT the topic of this post.

The topic instead is a tweet sent out by the National Republican Congressional Committee about the platinum coin: “The amount of platinum needed to mint a coin worth $1 trillion would sink the Titanic” along with the picture to the right.

We will ignore for a moment the complete ignorance of the concept of “fiat currency,” which suggests that the GOP last took an economics course in the…

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August 8, 2012, 11:56 pm


Edible Geography on beer caves:

There are nearly thirty malting caves under Nottingham, each with a well and soaking vat of some sort, a larger germination room, on whose sloping floor the wet barley would be spread and allowed to sprout, and a roughly spherical kiln room, in which the grain was roasted.

If you’re not reading it, you should be.

December 1, 2011, 7:25 pm

A Global Great Society.

[Editor's Note: Bob Reinhardt, a PhD candidate in our department, submitted this TDIH before the late unpleasantness on our campus. He then asked if I would hold off on posting for a bit. Well, a bit has passed, and it's time to talk about smallpox. Really, though, when isn't it the right time to talk about smallpox? Thanksgiving dinner, I suppose. Anyway, thanks, Bob, for doing this.]

23 November

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared all-out war on a universally despised enemy. The announcement didn’t concern Vietnam — Johnson had escalated that police action months before — nor poverty, against which the US had allegedly been fighting an “unconditional war.” This particular declaration targeted a different enemy, older and perhaps more loathsome than any ideological or socioeconomic affliction: smallpox. As the White House Press Release explained, the US…

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August 5, 2010, 4:50 am

The spill is gone.

Well, on its way out.

The well that tormented the nation has flatlined. Federal officials green-lighted the cementing of the well, already jammed with mud, late Wednesday. Federal waters are reopening gradually to fishing. The oil slick, the once-horrific expanse of red-orange mousse and silver sheen, has largely disappeared, federal scientists said Wednesday, even though the amount of oil left is more than four times that dumped by the Exxon Valdez.

The Obama administration breathed a sigh of relief, holding a midday news conference featuring top officials who claimed credit for guiding BP in getting the well under control. Officials hastened to remind the public that Macondo won’t be incontrovertibly dead until a relief well drills into it near its base and plugs it with cement. But even the cautious retired Adm. Thad Allen, national incident coordinator, called the static kill a…

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July 11, 2010, 10:15 am

The third Bush term.

It’s long since become conventional wisdom that it took the Democratic Clinton administration to bring elements of the Reagan revolution to fruition, just as it would take the New Labour Blair government to bring elements of the Thatcher revolution to fruition. Will we someday be saying that it took the Democratic Obama administration to bring elements of the G. W. Bush revolution to fruition?


July 11, 2010, 4:41 am

Endless summer.

I suspect it would be easier for Floridians and other Gulf Coasters to accept the permanent change in their lives if there were more widespread and public acknowledgment that it is indeed a permanent change in their lives.

June 24, 2010, 5:07 am

Will this well end well?

There oughta be an axiom of regulation, that if you’re changing the rules in such a way that will make you sound grossly culpable when something goes wrong, you shouldn’t do it.

June 21, 2010, 10:22 am

Of shakedowns and slush funds.

In response to the Mississippi River flood of 1927, the administration of Calvin Coolidge dispatched Herbert Hoover to serve as what we would nowadays call the “czar” of the flood relief effort. Among other tasks, Hoover set about raising money for a cleanup and reconstruction fund. From John M. Barry, Rising Tide:

On May 24, he [Hoover] called a meeting of thirty Memphis bankers and businessmen at the Peabody and told them their quota was $200,000…. Those assembled shifted uncomfortably. One man protested. Suddenly, Hoover began to curse, his words as rough as those he had used decades before to miners a thousand miles from civilization. Then he made a simple promise. About 25,000 black refugees were in camps in Memphis. It was 2 P.M. He gave them to 5 P.M. that day to deliver pledges for the money. “If not,” he warned, “I’ll start sending your niggers north, starting tonight.”… By…

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June 19, 2010, 6:19 am

First draft of history.

An excellent chronicle by Sean Flynn in the July GQ of the events on and around the Deepwater Horizon just before and just after the explosion. I’ve put some excerpts below the fold but the whole thing is worth reading.


May 26, 2010, 3:33 pm

Let's hope this "top kill" works

Via Steve Benen, an awesome or rather horrific photo-set of the oil’s arrival on the Louisiana coast.

We hear about fears of its effects on the American Gulf coast, and of what might happen as it moves out into the Atlantic — but has there been much discussion of its effects on other Caribbean countries? This map, for instance, shows that it’s expected to move past Havana and the north coast of Cuba.

Update 5/27: optimistic reports.

May 21, 2010, 9:45 am

More boot heel, please.

Rand Paul keeps on giving.

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’” Paul said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”

This is yet another thrilling episode pitting the modern Republican Party against the scientific community.

Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill’s true scope.

We can also file this under “I Miss Republicans,” and the enduring mystery of why academics don’t vote Republican more than they do.

May 14, 2010, 10:22 am


Public reports are starting to say what a bunch of fairly knowledgeable people have been quietly saying: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a Very Bad Thing because nobody knows how bad it is: nobody knows how much oil is down there or how fast it’s flowing, and therefore nobody knows how long this will go on. What we do seem to know is we don’t know how to stop it:

“We don’t have any idea how to stop this,” Simmons said of the Gulf leak. Some of the proposed strategies—such as temporarily plugging the leaking pipe with a jet of golf balls and other material—are a “joke,” he added.

“We really are in unprecedented waters.”…

If the oil can’t be stopped, the underground reservoir may continue bleeding until it’s dry, Simmons suggested.

The most recent estimates are that the leaking wellhead has been spewing 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons, or 795,000 liters) of oil a day.

And the …

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March 4, 2010, 6:47 am

The new blue marble.

The early photographs of our planet as seen from space are supposed to have fueled the ecological awareness of the early 1970s, as suddenly everyone could see how small, fragile, and together were all were on the lonely, gemlike earth set in the hostile vacuum. Now NASA has put together a high resolution animation of the earth rotating in space from satellite images.

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