Category Archives: Powering the Planet

Geography 2050 – finally, a strategic dialog based on geography

2050 LogoIn the Fall, I was elected to the Council of the American Geographical Society, which is a cool organization with a very long history.  It was founded in 1851 as the first scholarly organization in America dedicated to the study of geography.  And, as you might expect from the era, they were heavily involved in mounting expeditions to the Poles, to the American West, and to exotic countries of which we (Americans) knew little.  Expedition was a primary mode of geographical research.

Well, the world has changed.  In the 20th century, we saw the rise of satellite remote sensing and the establishment of a global positioning system that enabled precision geopositioning by surveyors, and at the beginning of the 21st century, anyone with a cell phone.  Also, over this 160 years, the actual geography of the world has changed.  While the continents have only moved centimeters, humans, human activity and the technologies we have unleashed have remade the geography of the world.  And, this process of change will only accelerate in the future.

It is with this view on the world that the AGS has come to revive the role of expeditions.  Yes, the AGS will continue to mount socalled “Bowman Expeditions” named after their former Director Isaiah Bowman, to work with local and indigenous populations to make sense of their world through participatory mapping.  But in addition, AGS will now be exploring our future world as it convenes its Fall Symposium entitled Geography 2050:  Mounting an Expedition to the Future.

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This effort is not just a single event.  The November 19th Symposium, hosted by Columbia University’s Earth Institute in the historic Low Library, will be the inaugural event of a multi-year strategic dialog about how our world will change between now and 2050, the major factors driving these trends, and the investments that we will need to make in order to better understand, anticipate, and weather this change.

The coolest thing is that this event is not just about sitting and listening  to smart people (though, feel free to come, sit and listen!).  Rather it is about engaging this process as a thinker yourself, and engaging Geography 2050 as a platform for participation.  Come and speak up with your ideas and analysis.  Perhaps you could take a lead in driving the debate and analysis about our changing world by participating in this inaugural event, and the many events that will flow from it.  Perhaps you can help society navigate this uncertain future more effectively.

See you in NYC on November 19th!  Register now!

Frak Natural Gas! Watch GasLand


(Geo)graphic provided by the Google Machine.

Never let it be said that I don’t admit when I am wrong.  Just over a year ago, I posted a glowing recommendation for a book (which had been showcased by the Aspen Strategy Group (which I generally hold in high regard)) that touted the virtues of natural gas as “the gas bridge” to a renewable energy future.  The enormous volumes of deep natural gas that the book, The Great Energy Transition, described seemed like such a clean burning alternative to oil and gasoline (particularly after my trips to New Delhi where Compressed Natural Gas – CNG – was clearly creating a better, cleaner Delhi).  But nowhere in that book did the author, Robert A. Hefner, III, discuss the Fraking Process.

No, this is not something from my wife’s favorite TV show, Battlestar Galactica.  It is the “fracturing” process that Halliburton got exempted from the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and many other laws and regulations in order to crack the underground geology where epic amounts of natural gas resides.  It is this fracturing that is required to free the gas.  As it turns out, the extremely toxic chemicals used in this Fraking process, and the natural gas itself is contaminating the ground water in 34 states.  And, by contaminating, I mean, for instance, people’s drinking water can be LIT ON FIRE!!!

I had no idea, until I watched the documentary GasLand on HBO.  Yes, Dick Cheney is complicit.  But, he is just a sideshow.  Watch this documentary and you will abandon the natural gas bridge to a brighter future.  This is just another case of a rosy picture being sold of an energy source, without a net assessment of the total lifecycle environmental impact.

Can anyone tell me why the mainstream media is completely incapable of discovering things like this?  Did it really have to be left to some guy living in Pennsylvania with his CamCorder?

I now feel bad for my children, and somewhat helpless to fix this.  As I live here in Washington, I observe the complete and utter silence, even with Democrats controlling both chambers of Legislative Branch, and the White House.

I think I will have another glass of wine.

Let’s GET It On!!!


This (geo)graphic is pulled from Robert Hefner’s not yet released book, The Grand Energy Transition (The GET).

I know it isn’t released, but if this guy isn’t completely daffy, then I will have to completely rework all of my assumptions about how to tackle global warming, alternative energy generation, and reducing dependence on foreign oil.  After listening to Saul Griffith calculate (or recalculate…) the globe’s energy requirements and the alternative energy requirements that must be met in order to avoid certain cataclysmic carbon thresholds, I figured that we were beyond the point of no return.  All of his calculations involved building or deploying so many or so much so fast, starting yesterday, that I saw no way to hit the mark before 2050.

Then comes this guy, “The Father of Deep Natural Gas”, in this Aspen Strategy Group forum.  I tell you what, his diagnosis of the situation, his estimate of the amount of Deep Natural Gas available in North America (and worldwide for that matter), his commentary on the politics of oil and why Official Washington has ignored natural gas, makes me very concerned that the Obama Administration is jumping to a cap and trade system before looking at this.  Especially given his commentary on what cap and trade would and would not be capable of solving.  And, given what he sees being achieved in merely 5 years, if the right resources were applied (e.g., STIMULUS PACKAGE!!!!), I think someone at the White House should be paying attention.

But, then again, perhaps this guy is a nut job.  However, I simply suspect that Hefner is right, and it is one of those things that Official Washington ignores because it is inconvenient.  Of course, “An Inconvenient Truth” has recently been deemed not-so-inconvenient.  So, I guess we are at an impasse.  If “An Inconvenient Truth” is not too inconvenient, then why should this be?

I hope Owen asks Dr. Chu what he thinks!

Help Iceland Help Iran Help the Rest of Us

Iran Geothermal potential map

This (geo)graphic was posted on Younes Noorollahi’s website.

As I continue to read about Iran’s putative quest for nuclear weapons amid their claims that nuclear simply offers a reliable civilian energy source, Google, as always, sent me in an interesting direction.  Iran, and interestingly also Afghanistan, sits atop considerable geothermal potential.

It turns out that Younes attended the United Nations University Geothermal Training Program in Iceland.  I spent my summer vacation in Iceland and was stunned by the power (forgive the pun) of their use of geothermal.  Perhaps Younes is onto something.  Iran has an Office of Modern Energies and appears to already recognize the potential in geothermal.

If we were to have a robust dialog with Iran regarding their energy needs, I would hope that it would encompass geothermal.  God knows that Iceland needs some new economic opportunities.  Perhaps we could help Iceland help Iran help the rest of us not have to worry about nuclear proliferation when there are clearly already one too many global crises.  The Himalyan Geothermal Belt already generates some serious Megawatts.  This could definitely change the landscape and dialog with Iran, as well as Afghanistan.