Saturday, April 15, 2017

Do We Fight Global Warming Or Not?

This is an issue that has become politicized to the extreme,  which precludes rational action. What I present here has absolutely zero to do with ideologies or politics.  It is simple logic and common sense. 

There are two things to consider,  but only one available choice.  Whether humans cause global warming or not is not a matter of choice,  it is something decreed by nature,  which does not tell us which is true.  Our only choice is whether or not to act,  based on what we do know. 

What we know is this:  (1) there is a huge volume of ice on Earth located above sea level,  (2) if even some of it were to melt,  sea levels would rise sharply,  (3) added heat melts ice,  and (4) most of our critical institutions and a major fraction of our population live in the zone threatened with flooding. 

What portends here is a disaster far exceeding the temporary flooding of a city by a hurricane,  or the migration of millions out of Syria and Africa to escape war.  What could happen is the forced migration of billions,  and (nuclear) war over failing food resources.  So,  this decision is important to get “right”. 

Filling Out The Decision Matrix

One simple way to decide this is by a version of the trade study matrix,  a pretty standard tool.  However many choices you have is the number of columns (in this example 3),  however many versions of the unknown natural issue there might be is the number of rows (in this example 2).  That gives you a 6-hole pigeon-hole matrix to fill in with likely consequences. 



There are two rows because human emissions might,  or might not,  cause global warming.  You do not get to choose between them;  this is decided by nature,  not humans. 

There are three columns instead of two,  because if we decide to act,  there’s two ways this action might turn out.  There is only one,  if we choose not to act.  Acting versus not acting is the choice available to us.  If we act and it doesn’t work,  we’d better already be working on how to cope (the third column).

As for the consequences,  they need not be detailed,  and it is OK to exaggerate them for better contrast.  

If we choose to act,  we will spend lots of money to act,  and there will be monetary losses,  too.   These costs could range from significant (damaged economies) to catastrophic (going back to the stone age).  That variation doesn’t matter,  just fill in all four “choose to act” cells with “lose $$”.

If we choose not to act,  then the consequences depend upon what nature does not tell us:  whether or not human-caused global warming is real.  If not real,  there will be no meltdown,  no sea level rise,  no migrations,  no war,  and no money lost.  If real,  all those things will happen,  and both money and lives will be lost (at catastrophic levels). 

That fills in all 6 cells with consequences.  5 of the 6 involve lost money,  there is no avoiding that.  1 of the 6 involves life loss as well as loss of money;  that one is really bad.  1 of the 6 has no bad consequences in it at all. 

Now We Must Choose

You cannot choose which row you want (political ideologies notwithstanding).  You can only choose a column!  The standard way to use the matrix is to pick the outcome that you cannot abide,  and then cross out the entire column that contains it. 

In this example,  losing lives is to be avoided,  which rules out choosing not to act.  This valuing of lives over money is in accordance with the teachings of all 3 Abrahamic religions in the West.  Most of the Eastern religious traditions agree. 

That result says:  act,  and be prepared ahead of time to cope,  if your initial action fails. 

Did you notice that not once did I refer to any of the prognostications or temperature history data of the climate science community?  I didn’t need it to make this decision.  I need it only to help define the actions we might take to mitigate this threat:  reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

And,  there is another independent science dataset that says the same thing:  observed ice melting behavior as the fossil fuel-guzzling population has exploded.  Getting the same answer by two independent means lends a lot of confidence to that answer. 

Climate-Modeling Science

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that humans are causing major effects with greenhouse gas emissions.  They arrive at this conclusion with a combination of (1) computer modeling of climate,  and (2) various proxies for past temperature data earlier than historical measurements. 

There is inherently a lot of uncertainty in the computer modeling,  and a lot of inference in the proxies for past temperatures.  There is potential for error,  disagreement,  and even fraud.  Many folks outside the community are uncomfortable with that,  and this is the weakness exploited by those who prefer to disbelieve that we are causing climate change. 

Ice Melting Behavior

Ice behavior is unambiguous.  The mountain glaciers have been generally receding since the 19th century.  Now there are enormous summer sea ice losses,  and thousands of summer meltwater lakes on Greenland,  that we have never seen before!  The co-timing of these symptoms with the increases in measured atmospheric carbon dioxide to unprecedented levels since 1958,  is quite damning.

There is a documentary film available in whole or in part on Youtube named “Chasing Ice”.  It was made by James Balog as part of his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS).  The award-winning film was first shown in 2013.  The time lapse photography of glacier melt-back in the last 30 minutes of that film makes my point better than any words. 

Trade Study-Recommended Actions

The mitigation action to take first is to cut back carbon dioxide and methane emissions as fast as we can,  but without hurting or killing somebody for lack of energy, which limits how fast we can do this.  The coping action to take in case mitigation fails is twofold:  (1) start stockpiling foodstuffs,  and (2) to start moving critical institutions and assets to much higher ground.  

Any other “geo-engineering” activities we contemplate must be reversible,  because we simply do not know that they will do more good than harm.  If they do not work,  we have to be able to undo them. 

It is that simple. And it is that stark.  And,  it has absolutely nothing to do with politics or ideology.  Those who claim otherwise are lying to you.  Follow the money to see who and why. 

Previous Related Article on this Topic

There was one earlier article that I wrote on this topic,  which the current article updates and replaces.  That was “On Global Warming”,  dated 1-12-2010,  and sharing the same search keywords you can use to filter searches for this topic on this site:  "bad government",  “bad manners”,  “climate change”,  and “idiocy in politics”.  That older article was last updated in 2014 to show a simpler 4-cell version of the 6-cell trade study matrix presented here.   It now refers the reader to this article.  


Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Time Has Come to Deal With Iran and North Korea

Both of these rogue nations are pursuing ballistic missiles tipped with atomic weapons.  They have made enough progress that we should be seriously concerned,  especially in the case of North Korea.  Action is required now with North Korea,  and very,  very soon with Iran.

North Korean Progress

North Korea has made enough progress toward atomic weapons that they have been testing such weapons underground for several recent years.  They have been doing this for enough years to have at least begun (and possibly completed) the necessary miniaturization of the atomic weapons,  so as to fit a more ordinary-sized rocket.  It is the rocket that is still giving them problems,  so that many rocket flight tests have been made recently. 

There are 4 things the North Koreans require,  in order to strike a mainland US city with a blast weapon:  (1) a miniaturized atomic bomb,  (2) a reliable launch rocket,  (3) a heat shield for the warhead to survive re-entry,  and (4) guidance precise enough to actually hit fairly close to the intended target (both detonation altitude and miss distance are important). 

There are only two of these needed to damage us severely with the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) of a nuclear explosion in near space.  To do that requires only the bomb and the rocket;  the precision guidance and a heat shield are unnecessary. 

If they have not successfully miniaturized their atomic bomb yet,  they will within a year or two at most.  By then,  their rocket should also be flying reliably.  That means we are credibly at risk “right now”,  and very most certainly within a year or two.   It is now past time to put an end to their efforts.

Iranian Progress

Iran already has the rocket “in hand”:  they have launched satellites into orbit.  Our own history shows that any satellite launcher can fly sub-orbitally with a larger payload.  That payload can easily be a miniaturized atomic weapon. 

That is why Iran’s main effort in recent years was toward those atomic weapons.  Like North Korea,  they could do us great damage with only the rocket and bomb as an EMP attack.  With a heat shield and precision guidance,  they could also do a blast weapon attack.  Those last two components are easier to do,  than the miniaturized bomb and the rocket,  and easier to conceal. 

The nuclear “deal” with Iran has temporarily slowed (perhaps even halted,  but I really doubt that) Iran’s uranium fuel program.  We have already seen them highly-enrich uranium,  something unnecessary to run a power reactor.  Highly-enriched uranium is only bomb material,  simple as that. 

However,  not often considered in the news reports is the fact that even low-enriched uranium can be used in a modified reactor design that breeds plutonium from the non-fissionable leftovers from the uranium enrichment process.  Plutonium makes even better bomb material,  although how you set it off is different from highly-enriched uranium.  But,  how you set off either is publicly-available knowledge! 

The upshot of that is that any country who can build reactors that use low-enriched uranium,  can also breed plutonium and make plutonium-based atomic bombs!  The Iran nuclear deal does NOT prevent that from happening!  From that point,  all that is required is miniaturization of the atomic bomb to fit the rocket.  And Iran already has the rocket!

It might take Iran a single-handful of years to build plutonium bombs and get them miniaturized successfully.  At that point,  they can successfully strike us with atomic bombs.  It is therefore pretty-much time to put an end to their efforts,  too. 

What Could We Do About North Korea?

North Korea has a weakness we can exploit as a unilateral action:  their rocket is still unready to fly their atomic bombs.   Stop the rocket tests,  and you can still stop their capability to hurt us,  at least for a while.  Longer-term,  there must be regime change in North Korea,  or else this threat will never go away.   

We have various battlefield and longer-range anti-missile and anti-satellite weapons.  Some of these seem to work,  at least under restricted circumstances.  With all of them,  there is still credible doubt about their efficacy during general warfare.   But what we need here is only efficacy in a restricted circumstance:  shooting down every test rocket launch conducted by North Korea,  for the forseeable future. 

That is exactly what I propose as the initial step against North Korea:  shoot down every single test missile they launch.  This has two effects:  (1) North Korea cannot verify their rocket to be reliable,  at least for the short term,  and (2) it shows China we are very,  very serious about taking unilateral action if they do not rein in their protégé state. 

In the longer term,  we will need the help of China to resolve this situation.  They are the source of imports and support that actually keeps the rogue state of North Korea alive and functional.  It is in China’s interest as well as ours that there not be a failed state in North Korea.  Further,  there is some reason to believe that the Kim dynasty in North Korea has limited days left.  When it ends,  chaos is the most likely result,  unless a major power steps in. 

But,  I rather doubt that China might support reunification of the Koreas under the government of South Korea,  even though that would be a favorable outcome for them and for us.   So,  the realistic prospect is that there will still be two Koreas indefinitely into the future.  The “trick” is getting China itself to replace the paranoid Kim dynasty with something more sane and more tolerable,  to us and to them.   

What Could We Do About Iran?

This is by far the tougher problem to solve. 

Iran has the rocket,  but they do not yet have the bomb to ride that rocket.  It is only a matter of a very few years before they do have the miniaturized bomb,  despite the nuclear deal.   Whether they cheat on the deal,  or not,  makes no real difference. 

The exact locations of all their nuclear facilities are too uncertain for us to strike,  and those we do know precisely,  are buried deep underground.  Conventional weapons simply cannot take them out;  only a ground-penetrating nuclear strike could do this job.  The world will not condone that. 

Like North Korea,  Iran is ruled by extremists who policy objectives are demonstrably insane by any standards that we in the west understand.  In that respect,  they differ in no practical way from ISIS,  Al Qaeda,  or the Taliban. 

Unlike North Korea,  Iran has no major power as a “sponsor” to keep them functional.  In point of fact,  Iran is a major regional power all on its own,  complete with proxy armies (Hezbollah,  Hamas,  and some others) to do its bidding to spread chaos everywhere. 

Diplomacy (the nuclear deal) has slowed the problem only a little,  but definitely has not stopped it.  Short of nuclear genocide,  there is little we the US can unilaterally do,  or even do with multiple allies.  Yet something must be done,  and all the Iranians’ neighbors agree.  The people of Iran are actually good and decent folk;  they do not deserve nuclear extinction.  But their government certainly does!

This one is a real “rock-and-a-hard-place” problem.  About the only hope I can offer is that diplomacy with Iran might be more effective,  if we have already made an example of North Korea.  And also perhaps of their co-supported (with Russia) puppet:  Assad in Syria. 

To that end:  put an end to Kim Jong Un in North Korea,  then make sure Bashar Assad in Syria dies for conducting chemical warfare attacks.  Target him (instead of airfields) with cruise missiles.  Let the Russians install whomever they want in Syria to replace him,  but we must be sure Assad dies.  Period. 

That is a very difficult prescription indeed,  but it must be done!  After it is done,  both us and the Russians may actually benefit.  And those extremists ruling Iran may be more tractable. 

Maybe.  Maybe not.  No guarantees. 

GW

Previous Related Articles That This Article Supersedes:

date,  search keywords
article title

4-6-09,  North Korean Rocket test             
Thoughts on the North Korean Rocket Test And Beyond      

12-13-12,  current events, North Korean rocket test                   
On the 12-12-12 North Korean Satellite Launch

2-15-13,  Mideast threats, North Korean rocket test
Third North Korean Nuclear Test
                                
4-5-13,  current events, North Korean rocket test                  
North Korean Threat Overblown, So Far
                                

9-12-15,  bad government, bad manners, current events, idiocy in politics, Mideast threats                
Iran Nuclear Deal Nonsense
                                
                                

                                

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spacex Re-Flies Used Booster

Spacex’s seemingly-routine successful launch on 30 March 2017,  of a satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit is a bigger deal than it first seems.  The Falcon-9 first stage booster rocket was a used item landed before,  and now landed again.  

This has never-before been done with a rocket capable of reaching orbit.  It portends a near-term dramatic drop in launch costs to space,  but only if the technology proves out the way hoped. 

Reusable launch to orbit is more demanding than reusable launch into suborbital flight.  This is because the conditions when the used stage returns to the atmosphere are far harsher for an orbital launcher. 

In the suborbital arena,  it isn’t widely publicized yet,  but Blue Origin has flown and landed the same New Shepard booster rocket some 5 times now.  That,  too,  has never before been done.  

More To Come

There’s more reusable firsts waiting in the wings.  Virgin Galactic’s “Spaceship Two”,  and XCOR Aerospace”s “Lynx”.  Both are reusable suborbital spaceplanes for the tourist industry. 

There is also Sierra Nevada’s orbital “Dreamchaser” spaceplane,  which is undergoing its initial tests.   And,  Spacex’s “Dragon” capsules were designed from the beginning to be re-used. 

Blue Origin does plan to enter the orbital market with its New Glenn rocket,  which is to be reusable.  That activity is just beginning:  the new big engine for it has begun ground testing. 

Spacex plans to fly soon a much larger reusable rocket called Falcon-Heavy,  that is based on its Falcon-9 hardware.  As I understand it,  the first flight of Falcon Heavy is deferred,  until pad 40 at Cape Canaveral is repaired after last year’s explosion.  This is wise,  because a problem test-flying Falcon-Heavy off of pad 39 then cannot stop commercial Falcon-9 launches off pad 40. 

Spaceship Two is about to resume flight testing after an accident in test a while back.  It will carry about half a dozen passengers,  and a crew of two pilots.  It is launched from a large carrier plane. 

Lynx is smaller:  one passenger,  one pilot.  But it simply takes off from a runway,  flies into space,  and returns to that runway,  perhaps up to 4 times per day.  The first flight test article is nearing completion. 

A Look Behind the Curtain

What is so remarkable about all this is not so much what is being done,  but who is doing it!  Not one of those names is part of the industry that worked with NASA or the USAF all these decades,  which is sometimes called “old space”.  This is entirely what we might call “new space”. 

That is not to say that these “new space” companies don’t work with NASA or USAF,  because many do.  Spacex has NASA contracts to deliver cargo with its Dragon to the space station,  as does Orbital ATK with its Cygnus. 

Spacex has a NASA contract to develop a crewed variant of “Dragon” to deliver astronauts to orbit,  as does Boeing with its CST-100 “Starliner” capsule.  Sierra Nevada’s “Dreamchaser” spaceplane was also contracted by NASA for this,  got dropped for a while,  but may now get contracted again. 

NASA and USAF are also interested in Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital rocket,  especially the engines that will push it.  These engines may be candidates for a follow-on launch rocket to the Atlas-V,  that both agencies routinely buy from the Boeing / Lockheed-Martin venture ULA (United Launch Alliance). 

And Spacex now has contracts from USAF to launch some of its satellites.  Before,  only ULA had any of that business. 

Why This Is Happening

What broke this market open for “new space” entrants was their lower prices.  And that came from competition in the commercial satellite launch business,  something neither NASA nor USAF does.  These American companies and a variety of foreign companies all had to learn how to reduce price,  competing in that growing commercial satellite business. 

Up to now,  the “secret” was simplification of the logistical “tail” that supports production and flight of these rockets as expendable vehicles.  Reducing that support tail from the size of a major city to the size of a small town reduced the “typical” per-launch price from many hundreds of millions of dollars to only several tens of millions of dollars:  almost a factor of 10.

Reusability promises to reduce that by at least another factor of 10!  Maybe more!

It is fundamentally the large size of the commercial satellite launch market that can support so many companies competing in it.  That has taken decades to grow.  But the competition that is inherent with many companies is what spurs the innovation that cuts costs,  allowing lower prices. 

Consolidation into one,  or a few,  stops that competition.  That kills downward pressure on prices,  and thus dis-incentivizes innovation.


Amazing what the truly-competitive market can do for you,  given time and opportunity.