Physicist Richard Muller explains global warming to Occidental College audience


Lighting struck physicist Richard Muller, converting him from skeptic to believer about the human causes of global warming. (Jim Burns)

Lighting struck physicist Richard Muller, converting him from skeptic to believer about the human causes of global warming. (Jim Burns)

Activist physicist Richard Muller spoke at Occidental College today, explaining to a mostly student audience exactly why he became a “converted skeptic” about  the human causes of global warming.  In 2011, Muller testified to the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee confirming an overall global warming trend, for which he later said: “Humans are almost entirely the cause.” But he also explained that his healthy initial skepticism came from reading untenable conclusions based on inadequate research.

His talk was both amusing and frightening. He repeatedly took former Vice President Al Gore to task, and reminded the audience of the little-known fact that a British judge would allow Gore to distribute his Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” free to school children only if he included a list of nine errors, including that Greenland would melt, causing a massive ocean rise. Gore declined. He also reprimanded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for publishing in its fourth assessment report that the Himalayas would melt by 2030, which was not based on any science.

Muller blamed research “cherry picking,” as well as the politicizing of research contents as the culprits, and reminded the students to “remain objective.” He cited media reports as widely off the mark when it comes to global warming, saying that his own data show that there are no more hurricanes or tornadoes today than there were at the beginning of the century.

“This is something you all need to master,” he said.” How do you go about looking at a subject in a purely objective way? I would say that the thing that characterizes our civilization more than anything else was the discovery of objectivity. Remember that word and think about it.”

The professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Faculty Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory as well as the founder of Berkeley Earth is also the best-selling author of  “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines” (2012).

On the frightening side were graphs showing rapidly increasing carbon emissions from the developing world, notably China and India. Muller, who drives a Prius, said that it did no good in solving global warming because the average citizens in those countries can’t afford to buy one. Rather, Americans should embrace affordable examples. His dual saviors were solar energy and natural gas.

Muller endorsed controversial fracking — coaxing natural gas and oil out of rocks through horizontal drilling — as the way to get China off carbon-producing coal and into cleaner natural gas. As U.S. carbon emissions slow, he said, this was the most efficient way to stop the heating up of the planet.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

L.A. mayor announces largest solar contract in DWP history


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announces two major solar projects while at Occidental College. (Jim Burns)

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announces two major solar projects while at Occidental College. (Jim Burns)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the creation of two large solar projects today while at Occidental College.

“Today, we’re signing the largest solar contract in the history of the DWP,” Villaraigosa said. “Our contract with the K Road-Moapa Solar Project will provide 250 megawatts of solar power. That’s enough energy to power over 113,000 homes.”

K Road will develop the solar arrays on the Moapa River Indian Reservation in southern Nevada.

The contract with the Copper Mountain Solar Project will send up to an additional 210 megawatts to Los Angeles, enough to power another 76,000 homes. These two projects join the city’s other major solar projects, the Adelanto Solar Project, Kern County and the Feed-in Tariff program, which provides a financial incentive to homeowners who install on-grid photovoltaic systems.

The mayor chose Occidental College because of its new $6.8 million, 1-megawatt solar array, a project whose innovative design takes a distinctively liberal arts approach to green power with its blending of technology and art, according to the college.

With the almost-completed hillside array as a backdrop, he told a group of around 50 that the city’s goal for renewable energy use is 33 percent by 2020. Los Angeles gets about 40 percent of its energy from coal.

“We’re the only public utility that I know of in the entire state that isn’t just talking about a goal, but we have a real plan to get there. The fact that we’re at 20 percent and will be at 25 (percent) by 2015 is indicative of the milestones necessary to get to 33 (percent).”

Sierra Club President Allison Chin lauded the contracts as well as Villaraigosa from the podium.

“The Moapa Solar Project will be a boost to the Paiutes and the Sierra Club’s ongoing efforts to replace coal with clean energy in southern Nevada. The Pauite families are suffering from high numbers of asthma attacks, heart conditions and even cancer that’s associated with coal pollution,” she said.

The Sierra Club and the Moapa Band of Paiutes, located near the Reid Gardner plant, have called for its closure, but in August the federal Environmental Protection Agency green-lighted NV Energy to continue operations, as long as it installs controls to reduce the air pollution.

See you on the river, Jim Burns