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Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice

One of my large goals for the year was to get a better understanding of climate change and the potential impacts coming toward our civilization in time.  One avenue for pursuing that is to read books, which I’ve spent the last five months or so doing.  The first book was Climate of Hope from Carl Pope and Mike Bloomberg.  Next was the Michael Mann book with comics interspersed.  The newest book is Understanding Climate Change, which I knew when purchasing was going to be one of the more scientifically focused reads.

This was an excellent primer for normal folks (like me!) who aren’t really educated in the scientific realm on the actual rigor of scientific evaluation.   It’s not an easy read.  It’s kind of hard, actually.  Spending hours learning about albedo and the natural systems of earth and how we are directly or indirectly altering them, and how it’s captured as data, is not necessarily my idea of a fun night at home.  But it’s important, and people spend their lives learning how to do these things, I’d like to understand it at face value.  Conceptually understanding what people are talking about, without having to know the intricacies of the practice, will get you a long way.

I stumbled across the book due to listening to Chris Nelder’s Energy Transition Show when Sara Harris was a guest.  She was teaching about the carbon cycle and spoke about the different reactions of molecules in the atmosphere.  And as I sat in my car driving home, listening to her eloquent explanations of science, it struck me how smart she was and that anything more I could learn from her would be of value.  She partners with Sarah Burch on this and they put together a really thorough book on climate change.

The book itself is a holistic approach to the issue at hand–humans burning fossil fuels and adding carbon dioxide, as well as other harmful greenhouse gasses, to the atmosphere at a rate that has not been seen in our anthopogenic, or human, timeline.  Yes, the climate is always changing.  But we are accelerating the amount of these gasses very quickly in such a way that increases the stock of carbon dioxide to a level that will increase temperatures consistently over time.  Right now we are likely locked in to a hotter future, but it’s tough to say just how hot.  Probably two degrees at the minimum, potentially six degrees or even more.

No big deal right?  Six degrees warmer, that would be great here in Minnesota!  Unfortunately that is not the case.  Those six degrees (or even the two degrees) will have incredible impacts on human civilization.  The sea level will raise.  Cities like New York, Boston, LA and countless other cities on coastlines or low lying island nations will be in extreme danger at all times and potentially be swallowed by a new ocean rising.  The oceans will continue to acidify, killing off the coral reefs and limiting the amount of habitable places for innumerable species of ocean life.  The same will happen on land.  Small tweaks to the system result in bullwhip effect displacement.  That displacement isn’t just nonhuman animals; the most populous areas for humans are the coasts.  Where do you think these people will go?  A refugee crisis is unavoidable with these kinds of alterations to environments, and with such a crisis comes more and more conflict across borders.

The heat will have extreme impact on our ability to grow crops and create food.  It will expand the potential for viral infection from previously uninhabitable landscapes now welcoming carriers (zika is a great example of something that has been isolated to tropical areas but would expand significantly.)  Less food, medicine, shelter, and more potential for disease and strife.  It’s like a direct attack on Maslow’s Hierarchy.

I won’t go on.  There are many, many other impacts that will severely limit human civilization’s ability to exist in the same fashion.  This is literally an existential threat.

That’s a big deal and it scares the you-know-what out of people.  It becomes easy to look the other way and forget about it.  But it’s our kids, our grandkids and their offspring that will be left the tab.  We have to get serious about this and we can’t rely on others to do it for us.

This book did a great job explaining the concepts around climate change in a way that is scientifically accurate.  It delves into how to combat it lightly, and explains some new paths forward.  Read it for a good cover on the actual science.  To get a handle on the sociopolitical areas for how to impact, there are other primers.

Next steps for me are considering how to adapt to this threat within or without our existing systems.  Many will tell you that we are politically incapable of meaningful change in the face of such a threat.  I don’t believe that, but do see the difficulty.  The next book on my docket is all about climate change versus capitalism.  Hopefully I can finish before the end of the year.


In Minnesota a good deal of time is spent tending to the changes in weather.

During the spring you typically clean the inside and outside of the house, mostly due to being cooped up during colder months.  It’s just part of what you do as the weather warms up, open the windows and clean.  There is typically a lot of rain at that time too, which actually melts any leftover snow and cleans up some of the dirt lingering around.

That rain transitions to summer and the grass grows very swiftly initially.  It needs cutting and the trees need trimming.  It isn’t a lot of work, but it keeps you busy enough during weekends.  During the latter part of summer sometimes there will be a lack of rain and the need to trim and cut the lawn stops; however lately that hasn’t been the case.

The fall comes slowly and leaves abruptly here.  The late August early September timeframe is truly a wonderful experience and the peak fall season is really captivating.  Trees turn different shades and meld together into a melting pot of natural beauty, only to last a few days or at most a week.  Experiencing that aspect of life here alone is probably worth all the cold.

Yet the winter itself has its own treasure to offer.  Preparing for it takes time and thought.  Cleaning out the gutters and bagging the leaves.  Placing outdoor amenities inside or under coverings so as to limit their wear.  Putting plastic on the windows to limit the heat loss out of the house.  Rearranging the garage for cleanliness so as to hinder any need to do so when the cold sets in.  The list goes on.

All of these things are ritualistic.  They create a sense of comfort both in their outcomes and the actual recurring nature of the actions.  Winterizing is part of life here.  As is spring cleaning, summer maintenance, fall yard work and everything in between.  Keeping the grounds means keeping a rhythm.

Thank Yous

Time to say thanks.

Thanks to everyone in my life who has helped me to be the person I am, and is helping me become a better person.

Thanks to my wife, I love you and everything you do for our family.  You are everything to me.

Thanks to my daughter–hope springs eternal and Juniper is a walking embodiment of great things to come.

Thank you to my parents for teaching me everything about hard work and what it means to be a good person.  Sometimes life feels really mixed up and I miss Alexandria–thanks for your past and ongoing support.

Thanks to all the people I work with, it’s amazing to be a part of a team leading in the industry and learning how to make a real impact.  Thanks to the people that lead the company and create an environment for us to thrive, it’s not easy but I recognize the hard work you are doing.

Thanks to all my friends for being there.

Thanks to my dogs, because they are unquestionably the best companions you can have.  :-)

Thanks for reading, you certainly don’t have to.

Thanks for your understanding, this year has been a good one overall but fraught with stress in other ways and sometimes I’m not the best version of myself.  Work in progress.

I’ll leave the thanks at that, just know that you are appreciated.  Every day you may make someone’s life better simply by talking to them and being there.  Embrace that.  Embrace your family next weekend, I know I’ll be doing that.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

The Year of the Podcast

2017 has been filled with a lot of audio.  I’d never really listened to podcasts before starting my job at Mortenson, and did so to learn about the industry I work in.  There are a number of podcasts about energy, and the first one that hooked me was The Energy Gang, which is really well produced, topical and interesting.  The hosts discuss topics happening in the industry and some outside of it, while peppering in interviews with different folks and perspectives.

That podcast alone taught me a great deal about energy and the economics surrounding it.  But I didn’t stop there.  Podcasts are really interesting in that when done well

they are somewhat addictive.  Like a great television show or new hobby, you gravitate toward it again and again.  I expanded my list of podcasts, most of them work related but a few sports related for entertainment as well.  I love basketball and listening to podcasts on that is better than TV in my opinion.
All of this audio is on the way to and then back from work, or sometimes during mowing the lawn or a road trip to see my parents in Alexandria or Teresa’s in Cloquet.  It truly is edutainment at it’s finest.

The only issue I have is that my time spent listening to music has gone down.  I still buy albums but don’t repeat them as often.  They tend to come in and go out of my life faster than previous years, and that’s kind of an issue because many albums take a lot of listens to really resonate with you.   Right now I’m listening to Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s new LP, it’s slower and bluesy to an extent, but it’s well done.  This is the type of album you have to “learn” to really appreciate; the music is good but it’s not something that hooks you immediately.

Many, many things have changed for me this year, which I’ll probably update more during my December end of year or new years resolutions posts.  I’ve started some really good habits this year, and podcasts are only one of them.  But I do wonder if music listening is going to suffer, or will this be a temporary change?  Time will tell, as with all things.  Hope fall is treating you well.

The Madhouse Effect

Recently I’ve begun researching climate change.  It’s always been something important to me, since learning about it when An Inconvenient Truth began

making waves over a decade ago.  As part of that effort, I acquired five books on the subject through work.  Thankfully my company supports ongoing education (this is something I’ve expected out of all my employers, some have been more supportive than others; a post for another time but if you employ people, you should consider how to help your employees grow).   So in addition to attending seminars and reading new texts allows for me to understand some of the drivers of our business. Again we build solar power and a large driver is governance which is meant to help combat our effects on the environment.

The first of the books was The Madhouse Effect by Michael Mann and Tom Toles.  This is a very simple text meant to introduce people to the science behind climate change and how to explain what’s happening.  If you’re anything like me, you are certain about the science but don’t know how to adequately explain it to people who do not.  The interesting component of this book is that it’s coupled with small comics meant to make light of some of the political aspects of this surprisingly divisive topic.

Mann does well to explain the science, however sometimes feels as though he has a personal vendetta against those who’ve attacked him and his work.  I can’t blame him, I likely would also, but it doesn’t necessarily do much for the reader to go through the names of folks who have steadfastly stood to obscure the science and spread FUD.

The comics are funny and a nice touch.  This was a pretty fast read, not too long, and very accessible, which seemed to be the main point as opposed to longer more scientifically focused offerings.  I’d recommend it for people interested in climate change without much background on the subject.  For those who are already well versed, probably not a must read by any means but fun nonetheless.

Next up is Understanding Climate Change, which gets much more into the science.

Fall Music and Shows

We are approaching fall here in Minnesota, time to bunker down the hatches, take out the docks and lifts, wrap up the outdoor furniture and clean out the gutters.  Seems odd to be saying that given that it was mid 80s the last few days, but it’s on my mind as October approaches.

That also means my music of the year post is coming in a few months, which was one of the reasons I had the site fixed.  It’s actually been a slower year for music thus far, however there have been a few break throughs.  Strangely, I’ve had a number of events for music in the last month that I’ve been really excited to see. A few weeks back Conor Oberst played at Palace Theater in St. Paul.  He played a really good mix of his older tunes and newer stuff.  His new album is really good, highly recommend picking it up.

Shortly after we went up to Cloquet to visit Teresa’s family.  I took her dad to see John Prine at the DECC auditorium, and it was a fantastic show.  John is getting on in age but you would never know it by his set.  He played a good hour and 45 minutes and his guitar was immaculate.  His voice is obviously a little different than his 20s and 30s, but he sounds great.  Some artists lose that (my favorite artist, Bob Dylan falls into this category for sure) but Prine is still on top of his game.

In two weeks Frankie Cosmos is playing at the Triple Rock.  I’m as excited to see this band live as anyone, they are one of the most interesting groups making music today.

If you are looking for some new albums:  Alvvays new one is really good.  Deer Tick’s new double album sounds pretty good thus far but I’ve only listened a few times.  Open Mike Eagle just dropped an album I haven’t picked up yet.  It seems like the spotify model of streaming is taking over for most people, but I’m sticking to albums for now.  It costs more, but it’s better for learning an artists style and change over time in my esteem.

Climate of Hope

Earlier this year, I visited New York City for the first time.  It was for work, but the day of landing at the airport my coworker and I checked out a few tourist areas.


This was Central park, I saw the financial district later that night, as well as the Times Square, below.

New Yorkians have always caught me a bit off guard.  They tend to reference their city often, “I’m from New York, it’s different there…” and generally I find that the East and West Coasts have very differing perspectives from my midwest.  I could actually spend a long time explaining some of the differences, they really are fascinating, but that’s for another time.  That ideology that people from New York are different always seems a little arrogant.  I also really dislike the Yankees, as a Twins fan.  Despite these things, for some reason people from the East Coast tend to get along with me quickly due to me being pretty straight forward.  When you actually break bread with people from the East Coast they are actually pretty similar to most other

folks, just have a different outlook due to the urban economies they’re brought up in.

Anyway, that initial high brow perspective on New York always bugged me.  It just seemed like everyone must be overrating the city.  So when I went there for the first time, mentally I expected to be a unimpressed.  Or at least not in awe of another city.  I’ve been to many cities and what could be that different here?

Well, I was wrong.  New York City is one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to.  There’s a vibrant aspect of the people there that is really entrancing and fun.  The food was amazing, the people and places in the city don’t really stop.  “The city that doesn’t sleep” is an apt description.  I was enamored.  Central Park was a gem, the city was clean and had a lot of great places to visit.  For what it’s worth, other cities that I’ve visited recently haven’t been nearly as interesting.  For instance, Philadelphia and Boston didn’t have the same charm; though they were interesting as well.

ClimateofHope_HI-RES_3quarterbook-1While in town, the Bloomberg New Energy Finance gathering was happening.  During that a free book was given to me, Climate of Hope.   The book is written by Mike Bloomberg and Carl Pope–a former governor of New York City and a former director of the Sierra Club (founded by John Muir–a West Coast icon) respectively.  The narrative is specifically set up to juxtapose the two protagonists who are attempting to address climate change while having seemingly far different ideologies and backgrounds.

It works.  It’s clear they aren’t really the same person, but have a similar goal.  A goal we all need to consider and attempt to solve.

The premise of the book is that of independence, particularly in the role of cities and smaller organizational groups of people taking the reins to solve issues as opposed to waiting for the larger oversight of federal government to lead.  They provide a great deal of examples where this has already happened previously and advocate for more efforts throughout the US and beyond.  And that’s what has to happen.  The federal government has all but washed it’s hand of the science showing what a dire future we’re facing.  They’ve put leaders in place who deny not only that science but the very efficacy of the people and departments which they’ve been sworn to oversee!   It’s a strange time to be certain.

The importance of local governance and self directed efforts are perhaps never more important than here and now.  If you’re interested in how cities and citizens can take charge now, this is a good start.  Bloomberg in particular seems like someone who could get things done.  I’ll be watching to see if he has higher aspirations in regard to office–seems like someone I could vote for.

A Quick Low Down

Since it’s been near six months from our last posts, it’s probably a good time to recap what’s been happening lately.

Probably best to start with work.  Mortenson continues to be an excellent place to spend my working hours, and the solar industry is an absolute joy.  I oversee the marketing for our operating group, it’s a lean team but we’re also an industry leader and there’s a lot of room for growth.  The solar industry has been booming the last few years. 2016 was the largest year in history, near double the size of any other mostly due to an expiring tax credit.  The technology is getting less and less expensive and is now competitive with other types of generation assets like natural gas and wind.  In many areas it’s the least expensive technology.

The industry is going to continue to grow for the next three decades, maybe longer, until something better is developed.  In all likelihood this is where my entire career will unfold.

It feels pretty amazing to be working in an industry like this.  The biggest reason is that climate change has been on my mind for near a decade, but before starting here I really had no clue what to do about it.  I still don’t have the answers, but do have a plan.  One of the best aspects of this role is it’s tangential nature to very smart organizations like Fresh Energy, Great Plains Institute and SEIA who do excellent work to help decarbonize our electricity infrastructure.


One of my biggest goals this year was to become educated on climate change.  In the last few months I’ve began reading books on the subject and hopefully will become more active in taking actions that lead to a better future for younger generations.  The first book I just completed was by Mike Bloomberg and Carl Pope, called Climate of Hope, it’s a book explaining how urban areas control their own destiny and can lead without federal oversight.  More to come on that and many other books in the coming months.  Learning the science is next up.

Outside of work Juniper has been growing like a weed.  She learns new words every week.  She speaks in complete sentences (sometimes) and has a wonderful personality.  Well wonderful isn’t the word for it, I’m more in awe of her as a being than her personality being wonderful.  I love her to death but she is particular and favors her mother a great deal.  Tough to blame her, I would too.  She is back full time in day care as Teresa just started her new school year.  Sounds like most of her kids are great but the last hour is a little squirrelly.

This summer went quickly, it’s near fall now.  We rebuilt our deck this year, it looks really nice.  We just had some new carpet put in two rooms, one for guests and another for Juniper to move into when she outgrows the crib.  It struck me the other day that we are pretty much rebuilding this house from the inside out.  There are only a few more “big” projects, but a whole lot of small ones.  My guess it will be another five years before everything is final structurally speaking.  That’s OK.

A lot of friends have been buying their second houses lately.  The only place I’d really want to move to would be South Minneapolis, either the Cedar Lake area or around Lake Harriet and Minnehaha park way.  I’d consider it, but the houses aren’t much nicer, just a lot more expensive, as are taxes.  Who knows, maybe someday.

Not a lot more news than that, it’s time to winterize everything here and up at the lake with Mom and Dad.  Mom just had her knee replaced.  This is the second surgery and it sounds like everything went well.

We are running up to Bethel today to see a friend and his farm animals.   Speaking of that, a few weeks ago we went to a llama farm for Teresa’s birthday–I’ll try to update this with pictures after the functionality is fixed.  Currently it’s not working…enjoy your labor day.

Hackety Hack Hack

It’s been an extremely long time since I’ve written anything on the blog, and the main reason is that it was hacked!  Nothing serious, just some adware and a few other issues.  The actual, real, secret reason is that after it was hacked I was too lazy to get it fixed.

Well, sort of lazy, just as much busy.  More to come on that.

This is technically a test blog, just to see if everything is on the up and up.  I have a lot to write about soon, mainly how work is going and what I’m learning about.

Talk to you soon.  :-)

Dr. Sleep

drsleepI’ve only read one Stephen King book prior to Dr. Sleep.  That book was The Shining, and the only reason I picked this up was because it’s the sequel to that book.

The Shining to me stands alone as a monument of frightening reading, in the best way possible.  It tip toed around the supernatural in a way to make ever nook and cranny a potential pitfall and drove you up and up to that mountain peak then downward into they abyss.  It kept you guessing until the very end.  It was a masterpiece.

Dr. Sleep does not meet that level of excitement, but it is a really good book.  It’s written in a way that unveils a few surprises but steadily keeps the pressure up over time, it loses a bit of steam at the mid point but will keep most people’s attention throughout.

This is the story of young Danny growing older and dealing with similar demons that he saw growing up.  Some are outsiders, some are old accomplices of some sort.

If you’ve read the first part of the story, you’d be selling yourself short to not read this.

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