Climate Change, Laundry & A/C

Many people interested in climate change may think this is a new phenomena brought on by global population expansion, increased use of technology, higher agricultural demands ravaging the Earth’s ecosystems and increased usage of fossil fuels. The truth is this has been going on for about two hundred years. Yep, since the beginning of the industrial era.

When factories began firing up their furnaces in the early 1800s, long before fossil fuels had really made their mark, the continents and oceans of the Earth began warming. Scientists can detect changes that far back as they study ice samples from the Arctic. And it’s not only ice cores that reveal this tragic timeline. Australian researchers have pored over 500 years’ worth of data collected from tree rings and coral in addition to the ice core studies.

The gringa thinks it’s safe to say that scientists from 200 years ago were probably laughed at by their peers for doing such silly and useless things as recording climate temperature measurements. I’m sure they never dreamed that today they would be considered pioneering heroes. Without their foresight and dedication we would not know just how long we humans have been spitting in the face of the one and only planet we can call home.

As early as 1830 increased greenhouse emissions were already causing the temperatures of tropical seas to creep upward. The Northern Hemisphere began to experience higher than average climate temperatures around the same time. At first, the scientists of that era thought this was a natural cycle. They believed that after a period of volatility upon Earth where volcanic ash and dust particles had caused global cooling effects that it was only natural for things to bounce back the other direction.

They had no idea that what had happened millennia ago was not the catalyst. They were clueless that they were witnessing the onset of a human induced global catastrophe that would culminate hundreds of years later. No one was sounding any alarm bell. The factories were being erected as fast as manufacturers had the cash to expand. As industry grew, individual wealth grew. It soon became every person’s dream to own a car and zip about willy-nilly just for the sake of being seen. Little has changed since 1830. Even though we know we are killing our planet (and, hence, ourselves), industry still expands and consumers are still obsessed with consuming and being seen with their latest procurement so that everyone knows they have “arrived”.

In such a state of smug self-satisfaction we humans do not like to be reminded that we should, rather, trade in that latest state-of-the-art washing machine for a non-electric hand-crank model. It is beneath an ambitious individual’s self-worth to be expected to toss out an electric dryer and opt for grandma’s tried and true method of wringing out the wet laundry and hanging it out on the line. As for surviving without air conditioning and heating, surely you jest. Oh, yeah, sure, previous generations got by but certainly such a primitive lifestyle should not be expected by an advanced civilization like this current generation of humans. After all, with global warming who can survive such temperatures? Oh, but you see, your air conditioning is also contributing to the problem that you want relief from. We seem to be caught in a catch 22. Whatever shall we do?

So, who wants to join the gringa in the slow, very ungraceful transition to an off the grid lifestyle? Are there enough people in the world for such sacrifices to even matter? The gringa can’t say. I only know that on Tuesday my non-electric hand-crank washing machine arrived and I have committed to not replacing my slowly dying electric dryer with an equivalent. The caveman thinks I’m mad but I kindly remind him that he is, after all, a caveman. Such lifestyle changes should suit him perfectly.

I still don’t know what to do about air conditioning. When I’m home alone I am quite happy with 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I can even manage to handle 85 with the right incentives, no clothes and plenty of ice water and a splash of beer. Despite living in the incredibly warm climate of the Texas Gulf Coast, I, personally, can get by with using the A/C only during the hottest parts of the afternoon in June, July and August. But whenever the caveman or one of our demanding, unruly, but adorable children or grandchildren are here, they scream, “Do you even have the air conditioner ON?!”

I implore them to embrace nudity as an alternative but so far the gringa has gotten no support for a shift toward nude living as another aspect of living off the grid. I mean, after all, it would also create less demand in the laundry area, thus providing further conservation of water and energy.

I mean, doesn’t the dear reader see the strong correlation between climate change, laundry, and air conditioning? Perhaps that is the solution. If people living in warm climates would simply go nude, or at least opt for bikinis or sheer Romanesque body drapes, think of all of the textile and clothing factories that would no longer be necessary, close down and no longer contribute to human induced climate change. Think of all of those dresses and jeans and pajamas no longer contributing to fossil fuel emissions when shipping and trucking of apparel is no longer needed.

I do believe the gringa is on to something. Nudity could very well save the world. Unless, of course, you live in Siberia. But winter wear is a subject for another post.


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Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain

Although Olympic focus has been trained on Rio, the gringa would like to take the dear reader back in time and to the other side of the globe to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When China was preparing to host this historical event, pollution was high on the list of problems to solve. Although everyone is probably familiar with the tactic of temporary bans on driving & factory operations as drastic measures to help reduce smog. What many may not be aware of is China’s ambitious plans to control the weather, a $30 million dollar plan that they are still working on today. A plan to shoot into the heavens special “bullets” filled with salt and other minerals. What in the world are those crazy Chinese scientists up to? Apparently, nothing new! They’re just trying to make it rain.

Officially called “weather modification”, China helped clear their smog-filled skies during the Olympic games by making it rain, rain, rain. They are not alone in being rainmakers. Fifty-two other countries have developed their own rainmaking strategies. Ten of these countries joining the rainmaking team only five years ago. Rainmaking countries include: Canada, United States, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Australia, India, Senegal, South Africa, Russia and the list goes on. You can see the map created by the World Meteorological Organization to see who all is in on the rainmaking game.

The gringa is rather ashamed to admit that as for the United States, the origins of its weather modification program is not as noble as China’s. For the U.S., it all started with Operation Popeye which was a top secret program that weaponized weather during the Vietnam War. Although I’m sure the scientists who worked for General Electric had noble intentions, they probably had no idea that the U.S. government was going to take their technology and rain down silver iodide on the poor Vietnamese people.

But I digress. Back to China. In addition to creating rain to saturate polluted air and get rid of smog, they also wanted to prevent rain from spoiling events taking place in the stadium that was dubbed the “Bird’s Nest”. To achieve this amazing god-like feat, the Chinese implemented a 3 stage weather modification strategy:

  1. Officials tracked weather patterns with satellites, planes, radar and supercomputer.
  2. 2 aircraft, 20 rocket launcher & artillery sites sprayed silver iodide and dry ice into remote cloud systems that might approach the stadium so they would dump their rain before arrival.
  3. Nearby cloud systems filled with rain were seeded with chemicals that shrink the water droplets thus ensuring that the clouds would have time to pass over the Bird’s Nest without dropping their rain.

Now was all of this really necessary? The Beijing Olympics were held in August which is a high precipitation season for China so, yes, the gringa supposes that it was necessary. Consequently, China’s success in being a master rainmaker or rainstaller has resulted in China being the world leader in the weather modification sciences. They have more than 1,500 professionals devoted to all things necessary in controlling the weather: scientists, pilots, flight crews. Also proudly serving in the program are tens of thousands of peasant farmers who are more than happy to help their government blast away a cloud when crops have been inundated or have clouds seeded during times of drought. Peasants are on call to operate more than 7,000 aircraft guns and almost 5,000 rocket launchers when called to report to rainmaking duty.

The gringa is not too sure what to make of all this. For the most part I am the type to believe that the less we interfere with nature, the better. However, considering how bad mankind has screwed things up where climate change is concerned, it may just be that Mother Nature could use a few rainmakers. So, I say to the Chinese:

Let it rain. Let it rain. Let it rain.



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X-Plane… Better than X-Men

Forget about X-Men and say hello to X-Plane. Now, of course, you want to know what the heck it is. X-Planes are NASA projects to produce all different types of aircraft that will be fueled with green energy, constructed of revolutionary materials and featuring innovative designs. Their energy consumption requirements and noise pollution contributions will be cut in half.

In response to Obama’s challenge to the agency to provide clean transportation, NASA launched the New Aviation Horizons initiative. The goal is to unveil experimental aircraft within a decade, hence the “X” of the X-Plane, and green aviation technologies.

Technology demonstrations have been happening for about six years now. With lightweight composite materials, shape changing wing systems, special coatings and revolutionary propulsion systems, researchers are predicting the airline industry will save hundreds of billions of dollars within the first two decades of putting the X-Planes into service.

In the future people will no longer be launched through the heavens in an aluminum tube. Hi-tech composite materials will create a craft where the wings blend into the body and have smart flaps that shape-shift to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. Special surface coatings will reduce drag further by making it possible for things like bugs that get splatted, stick and disrupt fine aerodynamics to just slide their slimy guts right off the surface of the aircraft.

Engines will not be limited to being wing or tail mounted. They can also be a part of the fuselage. The gringa envisions literally flying through the clouds, straddling a rocket, bug guts never sticking to my teeth. Preliminary models of super-efficient subsonic aircraft depict elongated fuselages that are twice as wide as the average subsonic aircraft with narrow wings, electric propulsion and an embedded engine.

With the development of an X-Plane that is supersonic, those sonic booms heard from time to time will become a thing of the past, or at least a sonic “poof” is all that will be heard. With a propulsion system fueled by low carbon bio-fuel, aircraft will be much quieter as they break the sound barrier.

Depending on how things go, NASA expects the first of the X-Planes to be in service by 2020. This, of course, all depends on funding, field tests and the cooperation of airports, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration.

NASA test pilots have already performed successful test flights for the Tecnam P2006T. This Italian production aircraft features electric propulsion and is similar to some X-Planes already in development. One model is a hybrid concept integrating the wings into the aircraft fuselage and engines mounted at the top rear of the plane. The turbofan engines are flanked by two tails that serve as buffers to engine noise.

However, by following the lead of the Italians and focusing on electric propulsion, future commuter aircraft would be environmentally friendly and reduce noise pollution. One such model NASA is working on is called Sceptor (Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology and Operations Research). This aircraft is based on the Italian produced Tecnam P2006T. However, it is modified to have a different wing configuration that features integrated electric motors. Developers hope to test the performance of both the Tecnam P2006T and Sceptor and compare their capabilities. This goal is probably about three years away.

To test the experimental wings, they mount the wing to the top of an 18-wheeler truck cab and then drive like the dickens through the desert, reaching speeds in the 70 mph range, to simulate a wind tunnel. This allows researchers to gather data on drag, lift, pitching and rolling. I don’t know about you, but driving that truck sounds like fun. The gringa would like to have that job for a day.

Technology, aviation, chemistry, truck driving, computer modeling… the future for our youth has something for everyone. With each generation we need to cultivate the minds of our future scientists and innovators. And, with programs like X-Planes, what an inspiration for kids everywhere!

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Maaahhhvelous MAVEN!

Yesterday was an important anniversary at NASA. Celebrations were in order to mark a successful year of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet fulfilling its mission of understanding the upper and lower atmospheres of Mars. Scientists want to know how Martian atmospheric gases that escape into space change the climate of the planet. The ultimate question is whether or not the pattern of atmospheric evolution can trace back to an ancient history where life could once have been supported there.

MAVEN inserted itself into a Mars orbit in September, 2014 and had a dangerous encounter with Comet Siding Spring within its first month in action. Over the past twelve months, MAVEN has carried out and recorded atmospheric observations for ten of those months.

It has detected a pattern of particles at both poles that create a “Mohawk” effect as they escape the atmosphere in plumes. Mars also has a metallic particle layer high in the atmosphere which lights up when affected by solar storms. These particles are leftovers from space rubbish left behind by comets and meteorites. The gringa thinks Mars would be the perfect place for some rock-n-roll concerts.

The violent atmosphere of Mars is punctuated by solar and space radiation, magnetically and electrically charged solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections that strip the upper atmosphere of Mars of electrically and magnetically charged ions. The data collected on MAVEN can be analyzed to hopefully answer the question if this is the reason for atmospheric loss on the Red Planet and if so, scientists will then attempt to establish a time frame for the continued erosion of the Martian atmosphere.

NASA is very proud of the teamwork that has produced such a successful Martian mission as the MAVEN project. Engineers designed and built a sturdy spaceship that remains in excellent working order despite the extreme conditions it functions within. Although mission completion date is only months away, it is expected that the mission will be extended. The rich amount of data for a hungry science community is too valuable to give up as long as MAVEN is still operational. NASA will be giving the green light for this little workhorse to stay on the job at least one more year.

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