Monday, April 18, 2022

Maybe Ferndale aluminum refinery should include in it's restart plan the ability to mothball the plant temporarily during periods of low aluminum prices.

Price of aluminum is going up again and there is talk of restarting the mothballed aluminum refinery near Ferndale. They say it could bring back hundreds of family wage jobs. The state has tossed in some money to help, if the plant can restart.

Main issue now is negotiating a new electric power contract with BPA. Aluminum refining uses lots of power and usually gets it at a cheap, bulk rate.

I got to thinking that the plant may only be able to operate while aluminum prices are high. If the price goes down, the plant could have to be mothballed again. As they negotiate the power contract, they might be hoping to set a lower power cost as they take periods of lower aluminum price into account.

Instead, maybe they could agree to a higher power price, assuming the plant mothballs again, if aluminum prices drop.

I realize I don't know that much about running such a plant and power contracts. People might say I don't know what I am talking about, but this is my blog. I can toss out an idea for what it's worth.

A somewhat higher cost of electricity could be seen as being like buying power at the "green power rate." Sometimes rate payers, like the city of Bellingham, voluntarily agree to pay a bit more for so called "green power." This puts money toward green sources, such as solar and wind, which can be a bit more expensive.

I know that the refinery would still get a bulk rate, cheaper than smaller users, like the city government of Bellingham, but this concept could be considered as they negotiate the deal. It might mean the plant has to operate with a business plan that takes mothballing into account, during times of low aluminum prices.

Mothballed, of course, means layoff for workers again.

Due to world economics and climate change, it seems like things need to be more flexible. Plants closing and reopening, given conditions.

That would also imply more flexible housing, in this area, for workers who would have to come and go with the price of aluminum.

More things like mobile home courts, RV parks and what they call "man camps" (non gender specific) in the county. More flexible housing arrangements than the standard American dream.

This might be good for some personalities, who like change. Americans have been somewhat of a nomadic people, in past decades, but high housing costs and low vacancy rates have been making it harder for people to follow their jobs and dreams during more recent times.

Sometimes, when a mill closes and jobs end temporarily, folks can take advantage of those times for career change, vacations, schooling, or whatever.

Back in the 1980s, it seemed like corporations transferred people a lot. Maybe, due to less mobility, these days, this happens less often now?

The Pizza Place, I worked at right out of college, had a reputation for transferring the managers to Burian, WA.; for some reason. Moving around can be bad for establishing roots in a community, but some people like it. Folks often look forward to change. A new location and a new adventure.

At a time when so many folks are hanging onto old versions of the American Dream; hanging on with fear, we might need to plan for more flexibility; especially due to things like climate change.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Inflation may be the inevitable price for our quick economic recovery from the pandemic.

Seems like inflation is almost an inevitable price for prosperity.

The problem of income inequality still persists so some folks have trouble just keeping a roof over their heads, but prosperous times have come back since the pandemic.

Here in the US, government relief saved a lot of businesses and people's well being during the pandemic. It's brought prosperity back, to some extent, but new money does push inflation. Home values, wages and all that. An alternative would be deeper recession. We can't have it all.

Gas prices go up again as travel and commuting is returning to pre pandemic levels and beyond. There are natural limits to how much fossil fuels we should be burning.

Birth control would be better, but a higher death rate might bring the silver lining of a more stable world population.

Warning. Some morbid thinking.

Headlines say US death toll is highest in history. I would guess that it's partially because our population is highest in history. All the numbers are bigger.

I would think that there were times, in the past, when the death rate, per thousand, was higher. Times before modern medicine and safety standards, back during the Civil War and so forth.

At the same time, our death rate, per thousand, has increased in the past few years. Worse than in some other countries. This, because of the pandemic, vaccine hesitancy, income inequality, general cultural things; including mental health and the opioid problem.

Worldwide, I fear that humankind is in for higher death rates as well. Less wheat production, due to the war against Ukraine, is likely to be among factors increasing world hunger.

World population has been projected to reach 10 or even 11 billion in the near future before eventually stabilizing. Given the state of the world, we are having trouble just keeping our 7 to 8 billion current inhabitants alive and thriving.

Increasing deaths may keep the world from reaching 10 billion which, in a morbid way, may be sort of a blessing in disguise.

Russia's anti GLBT attitudes and it's attempts to increase it's population, is backfiring. It's population is already more sparse than other countries, due to less people per land area, but people are dying from the war and fleeing both Russia and Ukraine. Less people to innovate and work. Less to pay into whatever Social Security they have.

Meanwhile, here in much of the West, we still see no shortage of refugees seeking a better life in our societies. No shortage of potential workers to pay into our Social Security who are, at least, chomping at the borders hoping to get in, if only we could accommodate them with affordable housing and so forth. Plus we have our worries about the impact on the environment, that so many folks with their aspirations, can bring; especially if they try and live the traditional old American dream as unmodified.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

A cross Bellingham bicycle route I like. Part trail. Part road. To be used in conjunction with a map, or Google map of Bellingham.

Railroad Trail from Lake Whatcom and Whatcom Falls area down past Barkley Village.

Cross I-5 on it's own bridge. Then south on Lincoln Street.

Lincoln goes under Alabama Street near I-5.

Kentucky or Iowa Street. Iowa has a stoplight across busy James. West to bike path east of Options High School. Part of Iowa is gravel lot, but still goes through. Kentucky is paved.

Looking back the way you have come past Options High School.

Cross Ohio Street. Follow bike path across little bridge over whatcom Creek.

Looking back the way you've come as you cross York and follow Railroad Avenue through Downtown Bellingham.

Past bus terminal at Railroad and Magnolia. Follow Railroad across Holly, Chestnut, Maple to Laural.

East on Laural to South Bay Trail which passes more apartment buildings.
Crossing Trestle.

South Bay Trail to Railroad Crossing.

Old picture from train crossing. Now there is a pedestrian signal.

Through Boulevard Park to walkway if you wish to go slow, or take Bayview Street (car access to park) to 10th Turn left on 10th just before Boulevard.

If one is in more of a hurry, one can skip South Bay Trail and Boulevard Park. Take the Boulevard Street with it's shoulder.

Follow 10th Street to another trail segment.

Continue on 10th again through Fairhaven District.

Pick up trail again at where 10th bends around to Donovan.

Under 12th Street Bridge and along Padden Creek to Interurban Trail.

South along Interurban Trail north of Old Samish Highway.

My Interurban Trail map.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

The way climate changed is discussed may not be that convincing to some economics minded Americans.

Some conservatives don't believe climate change is much of a problem. A 1.5 degree C temperature rise since, pre industrial revolution, doesn't seem that much. Here in USA, we use Fahrenheit scale so it's actually 2.7, in our degrees. A bigger number. Maybe scientists should describe it in our "American" terms.

Still, only 2.7 doesn't seem that much to us. The change comes in well over 100 years, but there are more tangible effects, from this change; such as severe drought in the American Southwest.

California is America's most productive agricultural state. Droughts, for year after year, are likely to end much of California agriculture.

Drought with forest fires threaten to destroy the California redwoods. Those in the Sierra Mountains at least. Loss of a national treasure.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell, on the Colorado River, are running so low of water that 5 states, they serve, have to cut way back on water use. Lake levels, at the dams, are getting so low that there may not be enough "water drop," at the dam, to generate power.

The Southwest could see a few more wet years, but most scientists think the long term trend is "dry" because of climate change. In the recent past, there has been several dry years in a row. This trend may continue well into the future.

Yes, the Earth will survive and it's seen climate change before. The main difference is that we have not seen this type of climate change since the start of modern civilization.

It's the continuation of our way of life and our economy that we should be worried about.

Things can change. California's Sierra Nevada Mountains will survive, but they might become more like dry mountain ranges of Nevada's deserts. The Sierra might become more like mountains of the Mojave Desert farther south.

We, humans, might be able to adapt. I already hear of farmers, in California's Central Valley, who can no longer get irrigation water. They are giving up on food crops and turning the fields over to solar panels.

The world is changing, but conservatives and others alike tend to try and hang onto the status quo.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Microwaves are not really that micro compared to light waves. Our evolving language about the electromagnetic spectrum can be confusing and frightening.

I just got to thinking that much of the fear about the radiation, that we are exposed to each day, comes from the the ways we think about "radiation."

Heat and light are "radiation." They are part of the electromagnetic spectrum of radiation, but we are less worried about them because we can see light and we feel heat.

Other forms of radiation we don't see so they can seem more spooky.

As for cancer danger, from what I gather, the only forms of radiation that are dangerous are the very high frequency (shortest wave) forms.

These frequencies are higher than both heat and light. This would be ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma rays.

They call these the "ionizing" forms of radiation. That's why sunlight can cause skin cancer. It's not the lower frequency light from the sun, but it's the ultraviolet light that causes skin cancer.

Windows tend to block ultraviolet light so the danger is more from being outside in the sun. That's why we need sunscreen.

Radiant heat is basically radiation. If we call it heat, it's less scary, but when we call it "infrared radiation," it can sound more scary.

Some forms of radiation can travel, spookily, through objects; including our bodies. X-rays for instance. Gamma rays also. These are real high frequency waves that can be cancer causing. The ionizing part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Light doesn't travel through most objects, but it can travel through glass. Light seems less scary, but we are exposed to lots of that radiation on a sunny day.

The lower end of the electromagnetic spectrum gets real confusing.

The lower end is radio waves and microwaves. These can travel through objects, like our bodies. That can make them spooky, but they are such low frequencies that they are not cancer risk; from what I understand.

Cellphones use these lower frequencies.

These lower frequencies of electromagnetic waves can cause heating; like the heating in a microwave oven. This can be dangerous as it can cook tissue, but only if exposed to lots of power from being too close to a strong transmitter; like putting one's hand inside a microwave oven when it's running.

In the radio industry, they call that heating the "RF burn," meaning "radio frequency burn." Something you have to think about when climbing a big radio, or TV tower, to do repairs.

Cellphones have less power so even close to the body, they don't cook you. They may heat up a bit, but not enough to cause dangerous overheating; from what I understand.

They say cancer risk is not a factor with the low frequency waves that even 5G cellphones use. It's all still lower frequencies than heat and light.

Still, these waves are invisible and they can travel through us, so they seem spooky.

The language we use to describe radio waves is spooky also, in a way. When radio was invented, it was all real low frequency. Basically the AM band.

Then they figured out how to transmit some higher frequencies that they called "short wave." We still call these low frequency waves, shortwaves, however.

Now we know about much shorter waves so "shortwave" is actually "long" by comparison. FM and television signals are shorter than so called shortwave.

Shortwave bands aren't used that much, these days. They were the international broadcast bands of years past.

Next we figured out how to transmit microwaves. Microwave towers, radar and cellphones. Microwaves are still "long" compared to heat and light waves, however.

Our definitions of short and long have evolved since the early days of radio, but the old ways of referring to these waves remain. We still call shortwave radio, "shortwave." We still think of microwaves as small, but they are big compared to light waves.

Another thing that's confusing is how we talk about "high" and "short" in the same breath. The higher the frequency, the shorter the wave. Short means smaller, but it also means a bigger number for frequency.

I know, it's complicated, but I have found it very interesting as well.

The magic magnetic waves that travel through us all the time bringing so many radio, TV and cellphone signals. All that information passing through us all the time, but they say not hurting us.

The dangerous waves; X-rays and gamma rays are more rare unless one is close to the source, like when having an X-ray.

We have gamma rays going through us all the time from space. I guess low enough power that it doesn't really effect us that much; unless we are living on the space station. Our Earth's atmosphere filters lots of that stuff out.

A very good graphic about the spectrum that I found via Google image search. It's from Encyclopedia Britanica.

My only complaint, about the graphic, is the ultraviolet description. I'd say, "used in black lights," like for black light posters. Fluorescent tubes produce visible light, but that light is created from the ultraviolet light inside the tube being turned into visible light by the phosphorescent paint on the inside surfaces of the tube's glass.

Old style florescent lights used mercury also, inside the tube. Most of these old style lights are now being replace by LED that look the same, but my guess is much safer.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Suburban style subdivisions becoming less viable in recent years

As population in Whatcom County keeps growing and detached homes with yards remain popular, we have a history large new subdivisions being proposed. I just learned about a new one called Semiahmoo Highlands.

Many of these proposals, in the past, haven't been built due in part to strong opposition as well as things like the housing bubble burst of 2008.

Where Hundred Acre Woods is, in south part of Bellingham, was once proposed to be "Chuckanut Ridge;" a large housing development. Balfour was another one out Mount Baker Highway. Larabee Springs, north of Bellingham has been scaled back at least. Parts of it are there, but that big development wasn't built as originally proposed.

I think our aspirations need to turn toward denser development which is often fought as well. Reducing worldwide population growth matters as well.

Some of the new developments do plan some density, like townhouses in the mix. Bike paths and parks in the mix, better than the older developments, from decades past like the 1950s, where so many people live today. Some of these older neighborhoods are being retrofitted with trails and other changes.

Still, the future and affordability of single family development is in question for sure; especially in popular areas.

Monday, April 04, 2022

The thousand mile salad may actually help us adapt to climate change.

There is news about a very good crop of potatoes, from Maine, headed west to fill-in for poor harvests, in western states, due to the ongoing drought. Traveling west by rail. More than 500 truckloads worth.

I got to thinking the opposite of what a lot of people think. Climate change may increase, rather than decrease, the distance food travels from farm to table.

Food can travel fairly cheaply; especially by rail. Shipping in food can create a lower carbon footprint than having people try to grow their own food by living in rural settings and then having to commute to their real jobs and errands.

Droughts and floods, in various areas, are likely to mean foods travel farther to complete the diet. Foods from farther afield mean more diversity and redundancy of supply. Conditions vary in different areas around the world. If drought hits one area, better conditions in another area can even out the supply.

What's often called the "thousand mile salad," with components from far afield, continues to feed us.

My thoughts, often the opposite of popular opinion.

For most people, it seems like reducing the carbon footprint tends to favor urban living. Rural folks tend to be more dependent on fossil fuel vehicles to live their lives with longer commutes. Urban dwellers are less apt to be living in detached residences. Easer to heat and cool.

Urban living usually means less space for growing food, so a low carbon footprint urban life can mean food still travels a long ways. The food travels instead of the people.

There can be some food growing space in urban areas. There can be community gardens, indoor, vertical and rooftop gardens. The economics of bringing food in from long distances can still pencil out more faverably, however.

The tendency to want to grow one's own food could actually increase overall carbon footprint if it pushes residences out into more rural settings. Food by itself can be shipped long distances at fairly low enenrgy cost versus people having to commute long distances, each day, to maintain their lives and pay the bills.

As climate change reduces agricultural production in certain areas, the ability to source food from a diversity of regions can come in handy.

In some ways, this is nothing new as large parts of the American west has such a dry climate that the main "local" agriculture is grazing beef cattle. One does not live by beef alone.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Short term versus commitments to long term oil facilities.

Ramping up US oil production with hardly a worry about climate change is seen by some Republican politicians as a solution to current geopolitical problems. Biden accused of standing in the way.

I think it's more than just Biden standing in the way. Worry about climate change is widespread.

We produce most of our huge domestic demand these days and ramping up more production could conceivably help Europe, but there still are the bottlenecks in capacity of LNG ports, for natural gas, between US and Europe. Increasing port and pipeline capacity would be long term commitments in the billions of dollars. Mostly private investments, but still long term commitments in an era of climate change.

Conservation could be promoted more.

For the short term solution, some folks aren't happy that Keystone Pipeline isn't being built from Canada to the US Gulf Coast ports. Pipelines are safer than oil by railroad tanker cars, but a pipeline is a long term investment. I hear that more oil is being sent by rail, from Canada and probably US oil production as well. Being sent by rail along the route that Keystone would have gone without committing billions into building that pipeline.

Strategic oil reserve may serve a different purpose now than in the 1970s. Different circumstances today.

I'm remembering the 1970s when the US was very dependent on foreign oil. The Strategic Oil Reserve was seen as a way to keep fuel going incase we were cut off from unfriendly foreign suppliers; especially if we were at war and needed to keep the tanks and planes running.

Now it is a different situation since we produce most of the oil we use. We still use a huge amount, but we produce a huge amount also. The reserve seems to be used, these days, more as an attempt to stabilize prices.

Biden will get flack for this from some Republicans, probably. Seems like the circumstances have changed since the reserve was in the news in the 1970s, but the situation of us using lots of oil remains. We use even more now, but at least we have more of our own oil production than we did back in the late 1970s.

Maybe the government can make some money if it buys oil to fill the reserve when prices are low and sells when prices are high.