Saturday, July 17, 2021

Weekend Reading: The Back to Risk Assessing Edition

I don't know if I'll have many links for you this week. I got frustrated/depressed by the news about the Delta variant spreading and the heat waves and floods and other climate-related disasters and I decided to spend less time on Twitter and am instead working on a jigsaw puzzle my parents lent me. My husband has already done this one so he is staying away and therefore it is taking me longer to do (which is a good thing since I was looking for an offline distraction).

I am on the fence about what to do about social media long term, but for now I am cutting back and that seems to help a bit.

I don't just delete my accounts because I have gotten some real value out of Twitter. I've learned a lot about various topics over the years, and it was how I was ahead of the game during this pandemic. Tweets that came across my feed were why I'd stocked up a bit on staples before the lockdown. They are why I bought and started wearing masks early. Tweets (and the articles linked in them) have helped me figure out how to keep my family safe while also not being complete hermits.

This is breaking down now, though. I very much want to find reliable information to help me figure out how to keep my unvaccinated 11 year old safe right now, and I am not finding that. Instead, there is a lot of yelling about whether we should be mad at unvaccinated adults or whether our anger/ridicule is keeping them from getting vaccinated. There are a lot of anecdotes about breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, but when I do find real data on that it is still very, very rare.

And today, I read this short article that indicates the vaccines for 5-11 year olds might not be approved until mid-winter. That's going to suck for a lot of elementary schools, particularly in places that are prohibiting mask mandates in school. (My school district sent out an email saying all kids and staff, vaccinated or not, will need to wear masks indoors but probably not outdoors.)

So... what are we doing? I am working on new rules for us based on these observations. I will put links where I have them, but I don't have as many links as I'd like:

  • The Delta variant is definitely easier to spread. I have seen scattered reports of outbreaks in outdoor events, but so far those are events where people are close together for long periods of time, like weddings and parties. I haven't yet found any systematic survey of the risk when outdoors, though.
  • Fully vaccinated adults and teenagers are still really well protected from infection, even with the Delta variant. If they do get sick, they are more likely to have mild symptoms and less likely to end up hospitalized. 
  • Older adults and people with compromised immune systems seem to be at higher risk of breakthrough infections. 
  • There was one anecdote I came across of a family like ours, where 3 out of 4 members are vaccinated. Their 11 year old got infected on vacation and then passed it to the rest. I think vaccinated household contacts of an infected person are at particular risk of breakthrough, but I haven't seen data on this.  It makes sense to me that the vaccinated parents of a sick child would end up sick, because their exposure rate would be so high. 
  • I saw a thread from a patient group that is tracking long COVID that indicated there are some long COVID cases among breakthrough infections. I have also seen plausible arguments from infectious disease experts that you'd expect fewer long COVID cases among the vaccinated who get sick, because there should be lower viral load. I think we just do not know yet what the risk of long COVID is for vaccinated people. 
  • Data from the UK indicates that kids do get long COVID.
  • Kids are also at risk for MIS-C, a covid-related disease that we don't really understand yet.

Looking at all of this, I think Petunia is the family member most at risk because she is completely unprotected. She has mild exercise induced asthma but no other risk factor, so if she gets sick, her risk of serious illness is low, but I have no way to assess her risk of long COVID or MIS-C. 

If Petunia gets sick, there is a good chance that the rest of us will, too. Our risk of serious illness is low but I don't really know what to think about our risk of long COVID.

Basically, we still need to be careful because the pandemic is not over and our vaccine protection cannot be complete until Petunia turns 12.

I wish all people who are eligible for vaccines would get them and that we'd all wear masks indoors until either transmission is really, really low or vaccines are available for everyone. But neither of those things will happen.

So what will our family do to keep safe? Here's my plan right now:

  • We all wear masks in any indoor public place. I bought another box of KF94s. Petunia will wear those while shopping, etc. The vaccinated people in the family can wear our cloth masks, but I wore a KF94 for a recent doctor's appointment and I think that if in doubt, I will err on the side of the better mask.
  • None of us will dine indoors at a restaurant until we are all vaccinated. We will eat outdoors at restaurants, though, looking for well-spaced patios.
  • If we go to an outdoor event, we will not be in close quarters with other people whose vaccination status we cannot know. While the kids were in Arizona last month, my husband and I went to a local rugby game. That felt fine because it wasn't packed, so we could sit more than 6 feet away from other people. I would not go to a crowded event right now.
  • We will still see vaccinated friends and family without masking, but will bias towards outdoor get togethers. Luckily, the weather in San Diego right now makes that an easy choice.

I wish I had prevailed in the discussion about where to take our vacation this year. I wanted to do a car trip here in California, but Mr. Snarky wanted to visit a new state. We settled on a trip to Washington state, with the majority of the time spent at National Parks. We will fly to Seattle. I am feeling far less good about this decision now than I did when we made the reservations but I think it is still not a very high risk.

We haven't cancelled our vacation but I am doing extra research to make sure I have a lot of restaurant options so that we can be sure we never eat indoors. As my kids got older, I starting doing less research ahead of a trip because they could roll with delayed meal times or a longer than expected walk a bit better. I am back to the level of research I did when they were toddlers. I don't mind doing this research (and even enjoy parts of it) so that's OK.

We'll all wear KF94 masks on the plane and the masks will go on when we enter the airport in San Diego and won't come off until we leave the airport in Seattle. We will hope that a flight between two cities with good vaccination rates will be OK, particularly since masks are still required on flights. And I will do my best not to worry.

OK, on to the minimal other links I have!

The stories coming out of Missouri are so sad.

On the impact of the child cash benefit. I hope we can make this permanent. 

This excerpt from Michael Bender's book about Trump supporters is definitely worth your time. It is interesting how the rallies made communities of like-minded people and how that filled a need for some people. This quote from one supporter who was at the Capitol on Jan 6, though, blew my mind:

“We weren’t there to steal things. We weren’t there to do damage. We were just there to overthrow the government.”

In recommended listening: Jamil Smith's interview with Kiese Laymon is excellent.

In happy things:

Do you know about the Alaska bear cams? There was a bearapalooza Wednesday night and it was awesome:

Puffin selfie!

Here's your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend, everyone! 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Weekend Reading: The Heating Up and Cooling Down Edition

We turned on our AC for the first time last night. Petunia hadn't opened her window when we turned the whole house fan on, and so her room hadn't cooled down. It was after the flex alert that had been called to decrease energy usage in the peak hours, so we turned on the heat pump for about an hour. It definitely cools the house fast than the fan does, but we are still minimizing usage. The fan uses far less energy. 

That may change once we get a solar panel and home battery installation completed. We're currently evaluating our options. One of the quotes we got is from the same company who installed our heat pump. In fact, it was from the same person who handled the heat pump installation. He heard that we hadn't used our AC yet this summer and suggested we do a test run soon, so that if there was any problem we could get on the schedule to fix it before it gets hotter and his company gets busier. So, test completed at least.

Speaking of getting hotter... 

David Roberts' latest post on his Volts newsletter is really good. I can't tell if this post is free to all or limited to subscribers. If you can't follow the link - sorry! Basically, he argues that the most important piece of climate policy right now is clean electrification. He calls that the "main dish" and everything else - even if it is a good idea - the side dishes. The reason is that nothing else under discussion now can decarbonize us fast enough. 

Roberts also had a really interesting podcast recently, in which he interviewed Canadian climate activist Tzeporah Berman about a new initiative for a global treaty limiting fossil fuel production. It is a really interesting idea, and Berman is very knowledgeable on the topic of climate change and environmental policy and how activism influences change. She is also a refreshing combination of realistic and optimistic. I am glad I listened to this interview!

In other news... 

Over at Adjusted Latitudes, I wrote about a nice afternoon outing we did in Encinitas.

Here is a cool story about beavers restoring a dry creek bed that was a fire risk.

This thread comparing how South Dakota and Vermont got to similar levels of population immunity is worth your time:

In additional recommended listening: Alie Ward replayed her Ologies episode about marriage this week, and I really liked it.

And in things that made me smile:

This Oatmeal cartoon about wombats.

A pretty blue bird:

Your bunnies for the week:

Have a good weekend everyone!

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Weekend Reading: A Long Weekend Edition

I have a four day weekend for the 4th of July. I'd feel pretty good about that, except my husband has the entire week off next week so while I enjoyed my day off yesterday, I'm going to be pretty jealous next Tuesday when I go back to work and he does not.

Still, I'm going to enjoy the time off I have. I went rollerblading yesterday morning - and I think that will be the last time I go to Mission Bay this weekend. It wasn't too crowded yesterday morning, but there were already a fair number of RVs parked and the port-a-potties were already out, ready for the big crowds that this weekend always draws to the bay. There's a church parking lot in our neighborhood where we can go stand and watch the Sea World fireworks, and that will do for us. 

Anyway, let's get to the links.

First, in case you missed it: I took advantage of the day off yesterday to write up some thoughts I have on where my husband and I are at in our "electrify everything" process and how the incentives right now do not really line up in favor of people making the same decisions we have.

Yesterday I also finished listening to David Roberts' conversation with Saul Griffith and Arch Rao about electrification. I always find conversations with Griffith encouraging. He clearly understands the challenge but he sees a path forward for us to electrify everything and he is very good at making the case for that path. A podcast conversation between Griffith and Ezra Klein is what convinced me that we needed to replace our furnace with an electric heat pump and I still refer people to it for a really clear-eyed view of how to make climate-friendly decisions without necessarily making huge sacrifices in your lifestyle.

Sticking with climate news for a bit: I saw this news release from GM about a new plan to source lithium for batteries from the Salton Sea Geothermal Field and thought (1) cool, and (2) there's a Salton Sea Geothermal Field? Yes, there is and we're building a geothermal power plant there.

This story about Qanon and the California yoga/wellness culture is disturbing.

This thread on the decrease in child asthma ICU visits during the pandemic is really interesting. My asthma is nowhere near this severe but the thing most likely to send me to urgent care for a breathing treatment is a respiratory infection that causes it to flare:

In things that made me smile:

This cartoon caption is genius:

Petunia came back from a visit to my parents and wanted to heart every single hamster she missed seeing on my Twitter feed while she was gone. I like Dory because she looks a lot like our Daisy:

Here are your rabbits for the week:

Have a good weekend!

Friday, July 02, 2021

Field Notes from the Electrify Everything Camp

As you may have noticed, there was no weekend reading post last weekend. I was in Arizona for the weekend, picking up my kids after a week and a half of high quality spoiling from my parents. 

We drove over in the Tesla. This trip did not involve any unexpected multi-hour delays due to charging infrastructure failures like our first Tesla trip to AZ did. We are smarter about charging decisions now, but the infrastructure is also getting better. The Yuma superchargers have had an upgrade and there is a new bank of superchargers in Tacna, about 40 miles away from Yuma. Even with the bad decisions we made on that first trip, we would have been OK if the Tacna station had existed then.

There is still a long way to go on electric car infrastructure, though. The best charger network - and the only one that really supports long road trips - is still exclusively for Teslas. This needs to change but until there is another network than can support the drive to Phoenix one of our cars will always be a Tesla no matter how many obnoxious things Elon Musk does. 

The Tesla network is far from perfect, though. My parents live near downtown Mesa. The closest Tesla supercharger is roughly 20 miles away, at a fancy mall in Scottsdale. There are some destination chargers closer but they are all at hotels and so not available for us to use. 

I completely understand why the Tesla network is set up this way. The people who own Teslas in the Phoenix area are overwhelmingly in Scottsdale, Tempe, and the wealthier parts of Phoenix. But this means that charging is a bit of a logistical problem when we're staying with my parents.

Luckily, there are some L2 chargers on the Blink network in downtown Mesa and we have used those both times we were in Mesa with our Tesla. However, while a supercharger can charge at speeds of more than 200 miles/hour, the L2 chargers in downtown Mesa charge at speeds of 20 miles/hour. We've been able to make this work because the L2 chargers are close to my parents' house, but it is not ideal. Also, the L2 chargers are much more expensive for us to use - still in the the level of cost that we are happy to pay to support the growth of our electric car infrastructure, but definitely more expensive. We paid more to put ~80 miles of range (over 4 hours) on our battery at the L2 charger than we paid to add ~200 miles of range (in about 40 minutes) at the superchargers in Gila Bend.

I didn't check how hot it was in Mesa while we were there. I think it was around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. That is not abnormal for Mesa this time of year, although the area got to such high temperatures earlier than normal this year. Of course, while we were driving home, the terrible heat wave was just starting in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Hundreds of people died in that heat wave.

Reading the news and thinking about our experiences with trying to make climate-conscious decisions as a consumer is sobering. We are running out of time to prevent a world in which heat waves like what the Pacific Northwest just experienced become ever more common. In fact, far worse heat events will occur. In the recent heat wave, the temperature and humidity stayed below the wet bulb limit for human survival. Temperature and humidity combinations that exceed that limit will come if we continue to warm our planet. 

Consider this quote from the article I linked above:

Wet-bulb temperatures above 86°F (30°C) are rare in the U.S. As wet bulb temperatures approach 95°F, even the healthiest people, relaxing in the shade without heavy clothing and with an endless supply of water, cannot prevent themselves from overheating,” Horton said. “Even at lower wet-bulb temperatures, like 79°F (26°C), those with pre-existing health conditions (like respiratory, cardiovascular, and renal disease), the elderly, as well as those performing strenuous outdoor labor and athletic activities, are at a high risk.”

You can play with this online calculator to see what combinations of heat and humidity will produce dangerous wet bulb temperatures. I used 15 inches of Hg for barometric pressure, since Google tells me that is close to the average at sea level. Using this calculator, I think that Phoenix-level temperatures with Atlanta-level humidity would put you over the wet bulb limit.

And that is just the heat itself. It doesn't even consider the increase in wildfires and hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

We should be decarbonizing as fast as we can, doing everything we can to slow the trajectory we are on. We should have huge incentives in place for people to electrify their lives while we also push to decarbonize our electricity grid. 

That is not what we are doing. My husband and I have made two large decarbonizing purchases in the last few years, purchasing an electric car when our Prius needed replacing and an electric heat pump when our gas furnace needed to go. We are in the process of making our third large decarbonizing purchase now: solar panels and a home battery. In none of these cases are the financial incentives that are available enough to make our purchases cheaper than the corresponding carbon intense choice. The one that comes closest is the electric car. We got a tax credit, and if we'd chosen a cheaper vehicle we might have done better than we would have with an equivalent gas-powered car. But we wanted a car that could make the trip from San Diego to Phoenix. At the time, only a Tesla could do that. There are other electric cars with the range needed now, but they are also not cheap and the charging infrastructure is less robust. 

We did not get a tax credit when we bought the heat pump, because we chose a model optimized for our particular usage pattern and that model did not have the right combination of ratings to qualify for the tax credit. It was definitely more expensive than a straight replacement of our gas furnace would have been, but with the heat pump we also get AC and I think one heat pump might work out cheaper than a gas furnace plus an AC unit. We didn't consider that option, though, so I don't really know.

We will get a tax credit for our solar panels, which will be nice. I have not done the math to figure out when we'll hit break even on the cost of the panels vs. the amount of money saved on power bills, but it will be many years in the future because even with an electric car to charge our power bills just aren't that high. We could cut the cost of the system by forgoing the home battery, but I want it for resilience in case of blackouts and my husband wants it because he likes the idea of eventually being able to make our home carbon neutral - we still have a gas water heater, a gas dryer, and one gas-powered car, so it won't be immediate, but with a sufficient home battery, it will be possible eventually.

In our case, we didn't make our purchasing decisions to save money. We made them because we want to decarbonize. We also soon discovered that our electric items are actually better than what they replaced. Electric cars are quiet, don't produce smelly exhaust, and tend to need much less maintenance than gas-powered cars. I love that for our around town needs we can just charge it in our driveway and never have to stop for gas. It is also fun to drive. There is a long, curvy climb between El Centro and Jacumba on the way home from Arizona. There are spots to pull over roughly every mile because so many cars overheat. Our gas-powered cars always did the climb OK, but you'd get mad if someone pulled in front of you and made you slow down, because you'd lose your momentum and struggle to get it back. The Tesla climbs it with ease and if you have to slow down for another car you can get back up to speed with no trouble. Then on the way back down the hill you drive for miles and miles without seeing your range indicator change because you are taking your excess momentum and charging the battery back up. 

The heat pump is also quieter than the furnace it replaced, and since I am no longer burning gas inside my home, it is better for my asthma. It does a great job of keeping our home a comfortable temperature for the months we need it. 

I do not feel like I have given up anything in choosing to electrify our home heating, and the only trade-off I'm making by owning an electric car could be easily rectified if we'd just invest in better charging infrastructure.

However, right now I did spend more money to make these choices. We should figure out the incentive structure needed to make these choices more financially attractive for everyone. People electrifying now will save us all money in the long run, but not everyone can afford to ignore the price difference at the point of purchase. We also need those incentives to happen at the point of purchase, because not everyone can afford  large upfront expense with a promise of a lower tax bill later.

I think we're at an inflection point for our climate future. We have the technologies we need to significantly slow the rate at which temperatures rise. We need to find the political will to accelerate our adoption of those technologies. 

In the meantime, if you are replacing an energy intensive appliance, please consider electric. Many furnace repair guys will try to talk you out of a heat pump because they find gas furnaces easier to install or just because they are used to thinking of them as the more cost effective choice. But if you live in a relatively temperate climate, a heat pump will heat your house just fine - and even if you don't usually need AC, if you find yourself in an unprecedented heat wave a heat pump will cool your house, too. In colder climates, they sell hybrid systems that use a heat pump while possible and then switch to gas.

I know that not everyone can absorb the inconvenience created by our incomplete charging infrastructure, but if you're buying a car for around the town needs you can probably charge an electric car at home. I know some people who have an electric car and just "trickle charge" with an extension cord from a regular outlet. This only works if you drive <20 miles per day, but if you can install a charging outlet, you'll get plenty of charge overnight. Or consider a hybrid - a plug-in hybrid will get you electric miles for part or all of your commute and give you a gas engine for longer trips. Not interested in dealing with the plug-in part? A regular hybrid acts just like any other car, with much better gas mileage.

Every carbon conscious decision we make buys us a little more time to get our political act together. I'd say "do it for our kids" but as I've learned over the course of this pandemic, a lot of people aren't even willing to wear a mask for our kids... so maybe do it to make your life a little more resilient to ransomware attacks and the climate changes that are already coming? I don't know what the right argument would be. But if you have any questions about what owning an electric car or an electric heat pump is like - definitely ask in the comments! I will give you the unvarnished truth, because honestly that truth is pretty darn good.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Weekend Reading: School's Out for Summer Edition

The school year is over and we have done a drive-through fifth grade promotion ceremony and an outdoors, socially distanced eighth grade graduation ceremony. Both kids were happy with their celebrations and we are proud of both of their achievements. Attending a foreign language immersion school adds some extra challenges to school. Both of our kids have really excelled. 

So if you are wondering where last week's post was... well, it was sandwiched between fifth grade promotion and eighth grade graduation and family was in town and things were busy and I never found time to sit down and write anything.

This weekend, my kids are off visiting my parents - their first visit to to their grandparents' house in roughly two years. My parents had come over to stay with my kids the week before lockdown happened last March, so that my husband and I could go to LA for his birthday. Once we came back from that trip, we were all together up until Wednesday morning of this week, when the kids drove off my my parents. It has been a bit weird adjusting to not having them here! But they are having fun and so are we and I suspect this is good for everyone.

Mr. Snarky and I have gone out for a couple of dinners and had a couple of beers at two brewery tasting rooms. This being San Diego in June, everything has been outdoors or as good as outdoors (big open windows and lots of fresh air) but we have been a lot closer to people not in our family than we have been in a long, long time. That feels a little weird, too, but we're adjusting. I am not sure if this will last - I am watching the Delta variant a little nervously. San Diego county has high vaccination rates, but I am sure the distribution is not at all even and so I think we should all be aware that case rates could go back up. I am particularly nervous for the South, which has really low vaccination rates. 

There is an absolutely tragic story out of Florida about a group of six employees, five of whom caught COVID and two of whom have died. The one who did not get sick was the only one who was vaccinated.

If anyone reading this is not yet vaccinated and is eligible to be vaccinated - please get vaccinated. But I suspect I am preaching to the choir here.

I am somewhat hopeful that once the Novavax vaccine is available (they have announced their trial results, which were good.) it might give some people who have been vocal against the other vaccines a graceful opportunity to climb down from that ledge - Novavax is a protein subunit vaccine, which is much more traditional vaccine technology and has no genetic material in it so the people worried about the vaccines "changing their DNA" (which they do not do!) can get the Novavax vaccine without admitting they were wrong about the other vaccines. We'll see. 

Of course, some people are worried about the Spike protein itself. Derek Lowe has a good writeup about that and why you shouldn't worry.

Here is a good thread about why the Delta variant makes so many people nervous:

In other news:

Monica Hesse's essay about motherhood in the US hit close to home.

In recommended listening:

I learned a lot from Ezra Klein's interview with Jamila Michener about poverty in the US.

In happy things:

I posted another music video in my video tourism series over at Adjusted Latitudes. This one is from Cape Town, South Africa, and I love the dancing in it.

Here's a cool story about a rare orchid being found in the rooftop garden of a bank in London.

This portal project in Lithuania and Poland is interesting.

And that's all I have this week. We have some errands to run and a beach to walk on!

Here's your rabbit for the week. Look how fuzzy!

Have a good weekend, everyone!