Monday, April 28, 2008

Effect of carbon tax on gasoline prices

This is a back-of-the envelope calculation to show what the approximate effect of carbon tax would be on fuel prices.

First, figure out how much carbon is in your unit volume of fuel.

For liters, this is easy. Gasoline is about 85% carbon by mass (the rest is hydrogen), although this number may vary based on blends and additives. The density of gasoline is about 0.73 kg/l so multiply the density by the carbon fraction (.73 x .85), and you get 0.62 kg carbon per liter.

For gallons, just multiply 0.62 by the number of liters per gallon, which is 3.78.
3.78 x .73 x .85 = 2.35

Most proposed carbon prices are by the metric tonne, which is 1000 kg. So a $10 per tonne carbon tax would be $1 per 100 kg, or one cent per kg.

With 0.62 kg/liter, this amounts to 0.62 cents of excess tax burden per liter of fuel.

For a gallon, this is 2.35 cents per gallon extra in tax.

However, there is a catch. Producing and transporting gasoline to the end user requires the use of gasoline (or equivalent). I don’t have a good figure for this (anyone?), but I have a vague recollection that each unit of fuel you use requires an additional 0.2 units to get from the ground to your car. So if these costs are passed on to the consumer, a $10/tonne tax would cost 0.75 cents per liter- a 20% increase over the 0.62 cent rise.

The $10/tonne tax on a gallon of gasoline would be 2.8 cents per gallon, up 20% from 2.35.

Most carbon tax proposals call for a tax rate somewhere between 10 and 100 dollars per tonne of carbon, which would equate to a tax of 2.8 to 28 cents per gallon. The current federal tax is 18 cents/gallon, and the current state tax average is about 28 cents/gallon. So even a high carbon tax would be of a similar size to current taxes.

28 cents is only about 8% of the current cost of gasoline ($3.50/gal)- with most of that cost coming from the high price of oil caused by poor supply and high demand. So even the most extreme carbon tax scheme floated by reasonable people would have a much smaller effect than market forces, slightly larger than federal taxes and similar to state taxes.

I’ve heard fearmongering that a carbon tax could add $2 to the price of gasoline. This would require a rate of 200 cents / 0.28 cents per carbon tax dollar = a carbon tax of $714. I can't even find nutjob greenies who support a tax that large.

Of course, if you really want to reduce the price of gasoline, you need to reduce global demand for oil- or hope that supply will continue to increase forever.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

92Nb in meteorite accessory phases

ResearchBlogging.orgI must admit to being a fan of the element niobium. It is quite possibly my favorite element on the periodic table. So imagine my delight when I came across this paper on short-lived Nb chronology of meteoritic zircon and rutile.

Today, Nb is monoisotopic. But although all isotopes with a mass other than 93 are radioactive, 92Nb has a half-life of several million years, and is stable enough to have still been present in the early history of the solar system. It decays into 92Zr.

So, the 92Zr we find today is a combination of the solar systems original 92Zr plus the solar system’s original 92Nb, all of which has now decayed. Before the 92Nb decay was complete, there would have been less 92Zr around relative to the other Zr isotopes. So a phase with high Zr and low Nb (e.g. zircon) should show a 92Zr deficit if it formed while 92Nb was still around.

Similarly, a phase with high Nb and low Zr that formed when 92Nb was still live should have a 92Zr excess. Rutile is a prime example of a high Nb, moderate Zr phase.

So, armed with a multicollecter ICPMS and a laser, our intrepid authors pick meteorites with zircon and rutile in them, fire away, and observe the expected isotopic anomalies.

They then combine their results with those of other short-lived P process isotopes and attempt to constrain the nature of the supernova that created the isotopes, and the time between this supernova and the formation of the solar system.

I honestly don’t know enough about astronomy to know what an SNII-sources neutrino-driven wind is, so I can’t really comment on that unless a friendly blogging astronomer can help me out.

As for the 10 MA time period, this really depends on the exact age of the analysed phases. Amelin et al. 2002 give the age of CAI as 4567 MA, with chondrules being 2-3 Ma younger. So unless we know the age of the Chaunskij zircon relative to CAI’s, it isn’t apparent what this 10 MA means. In theory either U-Pb or Hf-W should help answer this question, but the absolute age of this zircon isn’t given. I didn’t chase up the references for the reported values for other short-lived P-process elements.

Full paper:
Yin, Q.Z., Jacobsen, S.B., McDonough, W.F., Horn, I., Petaev, M.I., Zippel, J. (2000). SUPERNOVA SOURCES AND THE 92Nb-92Zr p-PROCESS CHRONOMETER. The Astrophysical Journal,, 537, L49-L53.

Amelin et al. 2002 Science Vol. 297. no. 5587, pp. 1678 - 1683

Friday, April 25, 2008

Torch relay smashing success for China

So, the Olympic torch relay came and went yesterday, and the lemming family escaped unscathed. The media are all calling it a success and a demonstration of Australia’s ability to host events.

What happened was this:
Amid fear of interruptions by Tibetan protesters, the Australian police put a huge cordon of security around the torch. China responded by busing tens of thousands of students and other expats in from the big east coast cities, creating a sea of red.

And while the police and TV cameras were occupied with the running of the torch and the area immediately surrounding it, gangs of Chinese toughs roamed the streets after the cameras and officials passed by, beating the shit out of anyone with gold, blue, or white on. The SMH has details (via Ned Kelly).

The big winner, or course, is political correctness. After all, symbolic security was perfect. The torch went around inner Canberra like clockwork. With that success, who cares about the safety of the people who actually live is this town?

And while the relative morality of genocide vs. imperialism can be debated, there is no doubt that this time around China is more media savvy than the pro-tibet folks. After all, they played the Australian media and security forces like a fiddle. In contrast, I reckon that the Tibetan activists can be their own worst enemy. I mean, duh, who started the torch relay tradition back in ’36?

Jon Stanhope said, “I uphold utterly the right of anyone to use the leg of today's relay as an opportunity to have their voice heard”. What he meant was, “In order to make everything look slick, we will let the Chinese government and their henchmen chose who gets to express their opinion in Australia’s capital today.”

Way to advance Australia fair, Jon. And it is my deep regret that the blanket of PC conformity that now smothers the Australian nation prevented this sort of thing from happening again.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Do Muslim clerics need a holiday?

According to this BBC report (hat tip frenzyj on the livejournal geology feed) various Muslim activists are calling for adoption of Mecca time instead of GMT. For the sake of this argument, we will ignore the fact that time is now measured using UTC, which is based on an atomic clock, and has replaced GMT. Instead, their argument for Mecca time is far more amusing.

One of the arguments that is brought forth at their meeting (by an anonymous geologist, no less), is that Mecca’s longitude is in perfect alignment with magnetic north.

This is not correct. Mecca actually has a magnetic declination of about 2 degrees E. But the argument is an interesting one. London, after all, is a dreary place, and if a sunnier locale with 0 magnetic declination could be found, we might all be better off adopting their lifestyle and time zone.

Well, such a place does exist. The city of Montpellier, on the French Riviera, currently has a declination of zero. So perhaps it is the relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle to which these Muslim activists secretly aspire. If we were all to adopt Montpellier time, complete with 30 hour work week and mandatory relaxing by the sea, then maybe all this bombing and shooting that troubles the globe at the moment could be avoided.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gilbert and Sullivan’s ancestors...

Would have stayed up in the trees had they known what would happen today. Sadly, Digital Cuttlefish seems to have decided that this is “bastardize operetta in the name of science” weekend. So in the spirit of poetry month, I shall do the same:

Oh, better far to live and die
between the godless earth and sky,
Than play a sanctimonious part,
With a monkey’s head and a preachers heart.
Away to the doctrinal world go you,
Where pious all are well-to-do;
But I’ll be true to the song I sing,
And live and die a Primate Thing.

For I am a Primate Thing!
And it is an evidence-based inkling
that I’m Primate Thing!

For I am a Primate Thing!
You are!
descended from chordate Things!
And I never evolved a membranous wing
To be a Primate Thing.
Oh no!
Hurrah for our Primate Thing!

When I sally forth to seek my prey
I prove them wrong in a factual way.
I stomp a few more toes, it’s true,
Than a well-bred chemist ought to do;
But many a theocentric dogma drone,
If he wants ancestral apes disowned,
Must manage somehow to get through
More hypocrisy than ever I do,

For I am a Primate Thing!
And it has a rather bestial ring
To be a Primate Thing!

For I am a Primate Thing!
You are!
diverged from an ovine Thing!
And tracheal changes let me sing
that I’m a Primate Thing.
They do!
Hurrah for our Primate Thing!

If this can be construed as the makings of a meme, then I tag Sean.

Before there was wood to petrify...

colorful chalcedonization had to happen to other stuff.

Who can tell me what these deskrops are?

p.s. Answering "float, and therefore meaningless", while correct in a rigorous sort of way, completely misses the point.

update: Callan wins!
Presumably the area used to look like this (minus the grass, of course)

Picture from Lake Clifton WA- about halfway between Perth and the Margaret River wineries...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rivers to nowhere

When I was a little boy, my outdoorsy uncle told me that, should I ever get lost east of the Mississippi, all I had to do was walk down hill. Eventually I would find a stream, and following that stream would lead me to a road crossing (or, in very rare cases, the ocean).

Needless to say, this algorithm is of little use in central Australia.

The following picture shows a series of closed drainages in southern NT that I flew over on the way home from my last trip.

These drainages, like many small rivers and creeks in central Australia, terminate in a dune field. Some of the larger rivers may actually reach a playa or salt pan, and most of the area of Australia is closed drainages. The following picture from the Stirling ranges in WA shows that even quasi-coastal mountains (45km inland) have streams which terminate in salt flats.

I’m still not sure how working out here will change my views on sedimentation and hydrology. But I do now think of flows as a series of discrete events, rather than a continuous process. While these viewpoint seem odd when applied to permanent rivers, as long as sediment transport is governed by short to medium period flood events, it might be worth hanging on to.

Similarly, I find myself assuming that weathering must eventually result in downstream formation of calcrete/silcrete/ferricrete, depending on surface and ground water composition. I still need to wrap my head around the idea of water just shuffling minerals between pedogenic phases of a closed system, instead of washing stuff away into a vast ocean.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Conservative curbs on climate change

One sad thing about the climate change debate is that it is politically one sided. Most conservative thinkers have spend so long burying their heads in the sand that they don’t actually have any practical effective solutions. Which means that there are carbon control strategies that have not been presented. So here’s a little five point plan that uses market forces and tax cuts to achieve reductions in American CO2 emissions. It is written by an American, for an American, so the applicability to small nations may be poor.

First of all, if any progress is to be made, carbon needs to have a price. There are two main mechanisms for pricing carbon- a carbon tax, and a cap and trade system. The trouble with cap and trade is that it generally requires lots of bureaucratic oversight, and can easily be used into a special interest pork distribution network. So I reckon a carbon tax is probably the way to go, and we can always cut taxes in other areas to make sure that it remains revenue-neutral.

I reckon that the carbon tax rate should be linked to the atmospheric concentration of CO2. After all, it is atmospheric concentration, and not emission, that actually traps heat in the atmosphere. So a rate of, say, 50 cents per tonne for each ppm over 300 would be a reasonable sort of level. If we ever get back down to pre-industrial levels, the tax goes away, and the worse we alter the atmosphere, the more expensive emission becomes.

Obviously, this tax is going to cause a price increase for just about everything, so we need to cut taxes to respond. So tax cuts are point 2 So for point 2a, we cut income taxes to give everyone about $1000 bucks less tax to pay, so that they can afford the basics.

Corporations need tax relief too, but here we can be a bit creative. If we tie our corporate tax cut to basic low carbon behavior, then companies can compete to find the most efficient way to earn themselves a tax break. One way to do this is to drop the corporate income tax by 1% for every 10% of a company’s workforce that commute and works without using motorized transport. This would give companies a great incentive to restructure their work environments to reduce commuting, which causes a large portion of our transport emissions. We can give a half sized discount to workers who use only public transport, in order to smooth the transition.

For 2c, we can probably halve highway spending by cutting out pork and future plans for roads that won’t be needed in a tax environment where companies are trying to reduce communing. If we halve the highway spending, then we can halve the transport portion gasoline tax as well, which will help protect consumers from a early jolt in the gasoline price.

Of course, if a carbon tax is to work by making low carbon generation economically preferable, then we need to actually be able to build and bring that generation online in a timely fashion. So, point three is a reduction in regulations for infrastructure. One way to do this is to require state/local governments and NIMBYs to pay the carbon cost for delay sand cancellations of low carbon generating facilities. This may not prevent folks like the Kennedys from stalling wind farms, but at least they would have to fork out the carbon cost that those windmills would prevent.

Allowing planning exemption for energy efficient housing would also help companies build housing to get their commuting tax cut. And it would make it easier for builders of such housing to break into housing markets where regulations prevent effective competition.

Point 4 is that climate change is actually going to harm some people, so some of the remaining carbon tax revenue could be used to compensation, provided that a way can be found to prevent rorting.

And finally (5), imports of goods and services from economies with a lower carbon cost would have to be taxed the difference, in order to prevent lenient producers from obtaining an unfair advantage.

So, as you can see, tax cuts and emission reduction are not antithetical. Basic conservative principles of reducing oversight and regulation, providing tax incentives, and letting business solve its own problems can be applied to reducing global warming. Proscriptive bans are not required, and the left will have to find another reason to justify draconian world government by faceless UN apparatchiks.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Put your hands together, people!

Somebody is one year old.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Paper Out

Stephan Klemme , Stefan Prowatke, Carsten Münker, Charles W. Magee, Yann Lahaye, Thomas Zack, Simone A. Kasemann, E. Joan A. Cabato and Benjamin Kaeser 2008. Synthesis and Preliminary Characterisation of New Silicate, Phosphate and Titanite Reference Glasses. Geostandards and geoanalytical research 32 32-54.

Eleven synthetic silicate and phosphate glasses were
prepared to serve as reference materials for in situ microanalysis of clinopyroxenes, apatite and titanite, and other phosphate and titanite phases. Analytical results using different micro-analytical techniques showed that the glass fragments were homogeneous in major and trace elements down to the micrometre scale. Trace element determinations using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), multi-collector inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS), laser-ablation inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and secondary ionisation mass spectrometry (SIMS) showed good agreement for most elements (Li, Be, B, Cs, Rb, Ba, Sr, Ga, Pb, U, Th, Y, La, Ce, Pr, Nd, Sm, Eu, Gd, Er, Tm, Yb, Lu,
Zr, Hf, Ta, Nb) studied and provide provisional recommended values.

So here’s the story: Often the limiting factor in the accuracy of in situ geochemical analyses is the quality and applicability of the reference material or standard. Stephan wasn’t happy with the standards available to the geochemical community, so he synthesized his own, and the rest of us analysed them to determine the composition.
It isn’t much of a story, really. So in order to add some substance to this post, I’ll give the backstory as well. Stephan and I both did our PhD’s on the ex-pet group at ANU- he was a couple of years ahead of me. As it turns out, he was the student whith whom I perpetrated anecdote number three ten years ago (aside- Easter 1998 was ten years ago. Holy shit! Where did the decade go?)
So, fast forward 8 years, and in August 2006 he comes back to Australia for the Goldschmidt conference. Obviously, a boozy catch-up over dinner is required, and we shoot the shit over the usual subjects of kids, life, and inevitably, geology. My poster for that conference is on standard synthesis, so Stephan and Simone (I got to meet the entire German-Edinburgh contingent) tell me about these new ion probe standards they have been analyzing. I point out that we could get values out of those glasses, and he informs me that he’d already been invited to use the lab by his PhD advisor, and asks if I want to show them the ropes and get on the paper. So 5 days later, he and Simone rock up to lab, I set up the run, and away we go.
Stephan is very much a petrologist- I suspect his main interest was seeing how little silica he could put into the phosphate glass and still get a quench- but Simone is a ion probe guru, so she was naturally skeptical of the apparent simplicity of laser ICPMS work. So we spent most of the morning looking at various what ifs that could get spurious results, shooting standards, and looking for potential interferences. At the risk of sounding naff, doing science with one’s friends is a lot of fun.
I didn’t have much to do with the interpretation or statistics done on the data, but as the native English speaker I was supposed to fix any Germanisms in the manuscript. “Supposed to” being the key phrase. These guys write so well that I had maybe one prepositional change to suggest in the draft. In fact, I just noticed that the most glaring grammatical error in the final manuscript was in the paragraph that I wrote. Go figure.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Heard over the HF radio yesterday

..."yeah it is some sort of chloritized pyritic rock, but I don't really want to put a name to it... Some sort of vague igneous texture... drilling is shithouse, only three meters so far..."

It was all I could do to refrain from picking up the mike and saying, "Good luck boys. We're heading back to town today for a shower, a swim, and a cold beer. Should we have a round for you blokes, or are you on a dry site?"