IceCube finds the “Holy Grail”

Just back from a fantastic week in Alexandria, Virginia, celebrating the announcement of their huge new discovery with my IceCube friends. They’ve found the first “neutrino star” — although it isn’t a star exactly; it’s a galaxy (a blazar to be precise) about half-way between here and the edge of the visible universe.

Amazingly, although I finished my book just before this drama began to unfold, Francis Halzen, who’s been the guiding spirit of this project for almost thirty years, actually predicts just such a discovery in the very last paragraph of the book. His “criminal optimism” can make him creepily clairvoyant sometimes.

Here’s my article in Scientific American.
(The three papers mentioned in the article are here, here, and here.)

It was quite a week. We’ve all got to get some rest …

Calling all Don Quixotes

Here, three years after my last post, I am moved to blog again by the superb short story that one of our local treasures, novelist Howard Frank Mosher, has published in another of our local treasures, Northern Woodlands Magazine. It comes out seasonally, so it doesn’t grow on one’s shelf like moss. I find that I read every issue cover-to-cover.

Mosher’s piece, Where is Don Quixote?, was published in the Autumn 2015 issue. Curiously, the only letter that appeared in the subsequent issue was critical of Mosher’s message, so I wrote the following letter, which has just been published in the current, Spring 2016 issue. It summarizes my present thinking on alternative energy in Vermont pretty well, with the caution that “this is,” as Guy Stewart Callendar wrote about the greenhouse effect back in the 1930s, “a difficult subject: by long tradition the happy hunting ground for robust speculation, it suffers much because so few can separate fact from fancy.”



Watching the Wind

To the Editors,

How surprising that the only letter evoked by Howard Frank Mosher’s fine fictional piece in your Autumn 2015 issue was critical of his message. I have written two books about global warming, no one can call me a denier, yet I agree 100 percent with Ezekial Kinnneson, the story’s protagonist, that the wind towers looming in increasing number over New England’s mountain ridgelines bear very close watching. There will always be trade-offs in the development of alternatives to fossil fuel burning, but it is now clear that those associated with industrial-scale “wind factories” make them essentially unsupportable in this region. They do make sense on the vast flat plains of the Midwest, for example, where they can be “two-dimensional,” but on our one-dimensional ridgelines, they make no sense economically and have a negligible effect on carbon emissions, while destroying some of the loveliest scenery and most delicate habitat in our region.

Five and ten years ago, the notion was that we shouldn’t pick a winner, we should let the different alternative energy technologies mature and sort themselves out. Well, New England has now tried wind, and it is failing. Solar is already competitive in price, if not cheaper, and it is nowhere near as destructive to landscapes and ecosystems. It would take wind towers on half the iconic mountain ridgelines of my home state to supply our own modest electrical needs, while it would only take one percent of our existing farmland to do the job with solar—and this is leaving out rooftops and small yards and fields.

As a non-fiction writer, I found myself envious of Mosher’s ability to encapsulate the issue so succinctly and to hit all the right notes. One he hits very well is the fact that industrial wind is almost always located in the most distant and pristine—and usually poorest—areas, and is gradually transforming them into “energy ghettos” in order to supply power to distant cities. The next thing coming down the pike will be thousands of miles of transmission lines. Rooftop solar, which is intrinsically distributed and won’t need such infrastructure, is clearly the better alternative.

Mosher’s piece was so inspiring that it prompted me to give a subscription to some friends, so they could read it and all the other wonderful articles you have in your magazine.


Open for comments

Well, we just went live …

The new Web site has just gone up, and I’ve broadcast an e-mail to let the world know about that and the birth of this blog. Guess I’ll take the existential step of asking for your comments — about the site, the blog (see “welcome to ‘tipping points’ ” to the right), the book … and, of course, the issue.

Please be polite.