The gas leaking monster of Marcellus, but at least they measure it

PulltoReleaseCO2British Columbia, listen up, wise up and measure methane leakage! Natural gas’ reputation as a clean alternative to coal relies heavily on the drilling and fracking companies being ultra-cautious and preventing the methane from leaking. A leak rate of anywhere >3%, and the methane supercharges climate change due to its high global warming potential.

“A survey over hydraulic fracturing sites in Pennsylvania revealed drilling operations releasing plumes of methane 100 to 1,000 times higher than what the EPA expects from that stage of drilling, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Via the Washington Post, here’s more data that drilling companies are allowing methane to escape into the atmosphere at far higher levels than claimed. This data adds to earlier measurements by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado in Boulder that showed high leakage rates in Colorado and Utah. This also adds to the body of work from Cornell University (Howarth et al. showing high leakage rates. It is pretty clear that escape rates vary from area to area, and also on the ability/willingness of fracking companies to control emissions. What is BC doing about this? As DeSmog pointed out last year, nothing. We assume that our leak rate is 0.4%, best in the world. While BC’s companies are required to “report” methane emissions, they are based on modeling, not measurement. It is pretty clear now that these numbers are not verifiable or reviewable.

Float On


All refrains "float on", except the 9th one, which is "even if things end up"

All refrains “float on”, except the 9th one, which is “even if things end up”

Sometimes, learning lyrics is hard, and making a table out of it seems to help (disclaimer: I do not use pie charts for anything serious)

Call Direction Response
We’ll all float on Up All right, already
We’ll all float on Up Now don’t you worry
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up All right, don’t worry
We’ll all float on Up, hold All right, already
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Down All right, don’t worry
Even if things end up up A bit too heavy
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up All right, already
We’ll all float on Down Okay, don’t worry
We’ll all float on Up even if things get heavy
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up don’t you worry

(Direction refers to whether float is higher in pitch than all, or lower)

Stalking my walking.


Google Now tells me I have walked 74 km in February (one of the last meaningful acts of my phone before it passed away). That’s mostly me walking from my bus stop to work and back, 3.6 km everyday, something I don’t consider exercise to the point that I undergo serious bouts of self-criticism about “not exercising enough”. I post this because I, like many around me, am very concerned about the amount of digital surveillance in our society. Everyday, Snowden’s document dump brings new revelations. Yahoo webcam images, anyone? But the benefits of benign surveillance are potentially big. I would like my phone to remind me that I am exercising, that my bus is scheduled to arrive in 5 minutes (of course, BC Transit does not have real-time information, so this is theoretical), that I am near a grocery store that has my favourite cereal on sale (this would need open data on retail prices), that my neighbour on the bus is reading the same book that I am (okay, too much!).

Cellphones are now intelligent, location and context aware. They can do a lot of good. Hell, I’ll even tolerate the use of some of my metadata for advertising and information gathering as long as it is transparent. But the data is also used by governments non-transparently to track my movements and actions, and I am deeply uncomfortable with it. Till now, my gee-whizness and fairly high belief in the value of a trust-based open information commons keeps me from closing off these data streams. If we stop trusting in the good of an open internet and stop contributing, the internet is seriously harmed.

Book Review of Serious Men by Manu Joseph: Why the misogyny?

SeriousMenI have been meaning to read Serious Men by Manu Joseph for a while now, and I really wanted to like it as well. I did get my hands on a copy finally, and, what a disappointment. Serious Men is billed as a story of class struggles and politics in a government run university, very similar to the one I attended. And on those aspects, it mostly delivers, albeit with a heavy dose of unrealistic narrative moving incidents strewn predictably at all the right points in the plot. The class divisions in the book are real, and ones I was privileged not to really notice when I attended those institutions. The professors were mostly upper class, the lower/mid level administrators mostly other castes. The author brings these divisions out, and uses them to make what could have been an interesting and enjoyable story. But, don’t read it unless you like your women characters one-dimensional and devious.

Spoiler alert

Why all the should haves and could haves? The book is unfortunately steeped in a misogyny so deep that I wonder what Manu Joseph was thinking. One of the narrative movers is the accusation of research fraud levelled by a woman scientist Oparna against her fellow upper caste supervisor and institute head Dr Acharya. See, Oparna gets very attracted to Acharya, makes her intentions clear to him in a fairly unrealistic way. Their interactions culminate in a two week affair when Acharya’s wife Lavanya is out of town. Lavanya hears very quickly of the affair and confronts Acharya, who immediately ends the affair, while still continuing to work with Oparna on his dream project. Oparna’s character throughout this period is reduced to her looks and her demeanour around Acharya and at work. The juxtaposition of her sexual awareness and honesty during the affair, and her complete turnabout into a “scorned woman” after is unbelievable.

Yes, the book is a satire and as such, the author has additional license to exaggerate differences and character flaws, and little need for plot realism. However, an author has a conscious choice in whom they choose to satirize, privileged male authors violate my (soon to be trademarked) “poke fun upwards” guideline on safer humour by writing one-dimensional female characters and making them the objects of satire.

While the author makes both Oparna and Acharya question Oparna’s attraction for Acharya (it’s all about the projection of his charisma and power, never mind his age or his supervisory position), the unlikeliness is not explored further. Fine, young women do have affairs with older men in positions of power. But it’s a terrible stretch for Oparna to deliberately contaminate a sample in the glow of the affair “so he can feel happy about a positive result”, then once the affair ends, claim in public that he forced her to falsify the results. The use of a scorned woman trope  in a book that is supposed to be about class distinctions in academia mostly ruined the book for me. India’s gender disparity means it is a minefield of sexual harassment and terrible power differentials in academia. This book fails completely at understanding the links between gender- and caste-based discrimination. There are three women characters in this book. Two are dutiful “wives”, no other role required, the third, Oparna we already talked about! Oparna is reduced to just her womanly essence, in the end, becoming an unprofessional “liar” for the sake of advancing the plot, which incidentally involves the lower-caste protagonist Ayyan helping the “good brahmin” Acharya against the other “bad brahmins”

Yes, this is a work of fiction and Manu Joseph is free to populate his book with very poorly written female characters and win prizes. But. as this reviewer points out, do you want to read books with passages like these?

“Free love, Ayyan knew in his heart, is an enchanting place haunted by demented women. Here, every day men merely got away. And then, without warning, they were finished. The girl would come and say, like a martyr, that she was pregnant, or would remember that all the time she was being raped, or her husband would arrive with a butcher’s knife. Such things always happened in the country of free love. Ayyan Mani had fled in time from there into the open arms of a virgin. But Acharya had fled the other way.”


“She wondered how women would have handled this situation. What if the jury had been comprised of menopausal women? That was a disturbing thought. They would have butchered her in a minute. But this jury of ageing men was going to be easy.”

Even more

“She would wander through life beseeching men to love her, frighten them with the intensity of her affection, marry one whose smell she could tolerate, and then resume the search for love. And she would suffer the loneliness of affairs…”

Ugh, don’t bother.

My alma maters take a stand against India’s anti-homosexuality laws

377On January 28, 2014, India’s Supreme Court declined to review its terrible decision to re-legitimize India’s colonial era laws against “unnatural sex”. I am disgusted by the judges’ decision to use “judicial restraint” to mask their prejudice. I wholeheartedly endorse this message from the Indian Institutes of Technology against the ruling. The IITs I attended in the 90s were misogynistic environments, with the student bodies being >90% men, with the women present being subjected to either constant attention or unbelievably nasty talk (mostly behind their backs). We received absolutely no guidance on how to treat women well. There was no dating culture, and given that I knew very little about homosexuality or queerness then, I shudder to contemplate what anyone not conforming to 100% heteronormativity went through. This blog post from 2012 appears to signal that not much has changed. The large number of people (including me) who felt deeply uncomfortable in this environment were mostly silenced. I remember speaking against the entrenched misogyny occasionally, but I also remember being silent often. I am glad that so many people associated with IITs all over India signed on to this statement condemning the Supreme Court. Do read their statement in full at the link below.

Where the Delhi High Court’s ruling was a bold effort to give life to the promise of Indian Constitutionalism, the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse it is a deceptive attempt to use judicial restraint as a cover for its refusal to critically interrogate the social effects of legal provisions. Ignoring the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in India altogether, it argues that Section 377 merely penalizes certain acts and does not stigmatize a class of Indian society based on sexuality and gender identity. By failing to recognize the fact that the law exposes LGBTQ people to illegal extortion, harassment and persecution, and by suggesting that the rights of LGBTQ individuals are less worthy of protection because of their “miniscule proportion”, the Supreme Court has failed to perform its constitutional responsibility and betrayed the trust of the Indian people.

A 2014 Reading List

We circulated a flash card around friends gathered to celebrate the start of 2014 and each one contributed the name of a book that you should add to your reading list soon. Here they are, in no particular order.

I’ve read six of these, and liked them all, which bodes well for the rest of them.

Indian Supreme Court refuses to strike down anti-homosexuality laws

In a major setback to gay activists, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held that homosexuality or “unnatural” sex between two consenting adults under Section 377 Indian Penal Code would be an offence and this provision did not suffer from any constitutional infirmity. I am appalled, disgusted and feel for the millions of Indian LGBTQ. India’s laws against homosexuality (section 377) were written by British colonizers in 1860 (pdf) and no parliament since has bothered to strike them down. They are not enforced with vigour, or at all, perhaps, but the very presence of such a law silences, intimidates and oppresses the people of India, and in fact, anyone visiting as well. The LGBTQ in India suffer from oppression and silencing for reasons that go well beyond the presence of a law, but changing laws is often the first step in societal change in India. The Delhi High Court in 2009 did the right thing (and politicians a favour) by ruling the law unconstitutional. The supreme court had other ideas, apparently. The court argues (very disingenuously) that they find nothing nothing wrong with a law that the Delhi court found violated Article 14 of India’s constitution, and that the onus is on the legislature to repeal the provision. Given the idiocy of defending laws that clearly discriminate between different types of sexual activity between consenting adults, who is to blame here?

  • The British: Thanks for imposing your morals on India, no one asked you to.
  • The Congress-led ruling coalition, which initially opposed the Delhi verdict, then supported it, then mounted a tepid defence at the supreme court (like Obama on gay marriage in the US). They had the opportunity to strike the law down legislatively in 2009, and could have used their majority to do so at any point in time, they did not.
  • Indian fundamentalists. The Christians, Muslims and Hindu fundamentalists launched a united front against the ruling and argued in court together.
  • Civic organizations like Prayas, who seem to think that sex between consenting adults has something do with protecting children.
  • The Delhi Commission for protecting children? This is a governmental organization tasked with preventing child abuse. Again, they seem to think that sex between consenting adults and abuse of children are somehow connected. Sexualized abuse of children in India is terribly common and primarily perpetrated by family members,
  • The Supreme Court in India, which by law should not always be deferential to legislative process, especially when the constitution is concerned. It is well within the court’s jurisdiction to look at laws enacted before the Indian constitution and void them if they violate the constitution. The fact that they decided in this case to pretend to “see nothing wrong” indicates that they made up their mind and found a rationalization.

rainbowWhat next? India’s election is in 4 months, nothing will happen then. Given the congress coalition’s recent weakness, and the BJP’s resurgence, India may be looking at a right wing coalition led by the BJP coming to power. Given their close ties and identification with Hindu fundamentalism, and their social conservatism, the law is likely to stand for a while longer. It will oppress millions.

Fun with maps: BC Smart meters and the 2013 election

SmartMeterVotingMapI have been MOOC’ing this summer and learning how to do maps. Geography as an adult is much more fun than my 10th grade geography class.

Chad Skelton over at the Vancouver Sun intrigued me with his data retrieval and mapping of British Columbia’s Smart Meter uptake. if you’re not from BC, here’s a short intro (#BCpoli-aware feel free to skip the next two paragraphs).

BC Hydro is the government owned (Crown Corporation) utility that produces and distributes electricity for the province of British Colombia in Canada. In 2011, BC Hydro announced its intention to spend $$$ upgrading all its electricity meters to “smart meters”. These meters are capable of being read via wifi by meter readers, and potentially also give BC residents the ability to monitor their electricity usage in near-real time.

Many concerns were raised about the smart meters. One was about the costs of the program vs. perceived benefits. The others, which gained traction were around an emerging movement in BC connecting wifi, cell signals and wifi-enabled smart meters with a whole variety of health effects. While few, if any of these health concerns have been actually causally linked to smart meters, or even to the amorphous descriptor “wifi radiation”, these health concerns have gained traction even among official bodies such as the Union of BC Municipalities, municipal councils and school boards. The BC provincial election in 2013 was a chance for people to voice their concerns. The opposition parties all brought the issue up during canvassing.

For my peer assessment mapping project, I wanted to see if areas of relatively high smart meter refusal were correlated or co-located in any way with voting against the ruling BC Liberals.

This is the map I made, my first ever map not scrawled on paper.

View Larger Map

Reading the Map

The electoral districts are colour-coded by BC Liberal Party percentage, darker means higher vote for the BC Liberals. I chose this rather than “who won” because I was looking more for an anti-BC Liberal effect. I will, at some point in time, try to overlay “who won” as well. The smart meter refusal data is in three different coloured and sized circles. Large and red means higher refusal, and small and green means low refusal. This is a hybrid of a graduated circle symbol scheme and a diverging colour scheme. Clearly, using points to represent areas is a big limitation, but it is sufficient for a quick peek.

Anything to See?

  • An overwhelming majority of people had smart meters installed, > 90% in most places. So, BC Hydro’s brute force, no options, default installation plan was mostly successful
  • Places of higher than normal refusal tended to vote against the BC Liberals. I believe this had more to do with existing anti-BC-Lib tendencies influencing smart meter refusal rather than the other way around.
  • Urban centres like Victoria and Vancouver had relatively low rates of refusal. Is this because of higher apartment proportions, or because smart meter refusal was restricted to a small number of high information, highly motivated individuals whose number varied by location and whose numbers in places like Victoria were muted by larger populations?. Note that my home area of Victoria had the most (7300) rejected smart meters, even though the percentage is small. The ageing white (l)iberal enclave of Saltspring Island (Ganges), aka hippieville, Canada had by far the highest refusal percentage. So, is this smart meter refusal map mostly a hippie population distribution map?

The take home message for me was that the anti-smartmeter movement had little influence on the election, which was most likely won on the usual and mundane issues of the economy, trust and corruption.


  1. I downloaded data on smart meter refusal from the Chad Skelton’s post and Tableau public
  2. The data from BC Hydro is categorized using their division of BC into distinct geographical billing areas. I used billing area names to geotag the information. The site has a feature where addresses can be uploaded in bulk via a text interface, and the site returns the place, and latitude longitude. I added province and country to the place names, and edited ambiguous names to make the search more effective.
  3. I uploaded this table to arcgis to form one layer. Arcgis is a big and expensive GIS software, with a limited free online playpen where this map is displayed. I used graduated circles and natural breaks to represent the different levels of smart meter refusal. A big limitation to this approach is that the BC Hydro billing areas are just that, areas, not points on a map. However, the area boundaries are not available as a shape file, and geographical areas vary widely. So, the points correspond to the centre of the nearest big population area mentioned in the BC Hydro billing area description
  4. I downloaded BC electoral district shape files from Paul Ramsey of Open Geo. These shape files are an improved version of those available from Elections BC, again, thanks to Chad Skelton for pointing me in this direction
  5. Elections BC lists 2013 provincial election results information by party by district. However, there is no publicly downloadable mapped source for the election data results. I used the open source GIS desktop software QGIS to open the shape file and add the attribute of BC Liberal percentage to the shape file. I uploaded this shape file to arcgis and layered it with the smart meter refusal rate graduated circles to look for patterns.

Maps are fun to play with, and I know very very little about them, which is a great combination. Every minute I spent making this map was a learning experience. Comments and feedback, please. I think I will slowly incorporate mapping into my skill set. But I think I will use open source/free solutions in the future.


OspreyNot policy related, but I don’t write free form anything ever, so this is a rare occurrence that is going on the blog. PS: Work does not necessarily mean paid work. Osprey courtesy Sergey Yeliseev’s Flickr Stream used under a creative commons licence because the osprey is on my top 5 list of favourite birds and I did see one eating a rabbit on my walk back from work once.


I wish I worked like I walk
One foot in front of another
A steady, fast pace
Direct, seeking straight lines
Obstacles gone around or over
But always pausing to smile at the rabbits
Or to wonder when that osprey’s going to make my day
I wish I worked like I walk
Anticipating every light
Speeding up or slowing down
Observing every car that doesn’t see me
Shaking to a song that moves
But the walk continues
I wish I worked like I walk
Rain or shine, only the clothes and accessories change
The pace is still steady
A destination awaits
I know why I walk
The path is good and the end is clear.
and maybe that’s why
I don’t work like I walk…


US, unlike Canada, considers climate impacts of fossil fuel transport

SeaLevelThe Sightline Institute alerted me to the scope of assessment for the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point in Washington State.

The Washington Department of Ecology, is going to require in-depth analysis of four elements that the coal industry had desperately hoped to avoid: A detailed assessment of rail transportation on other representative communities in Washington and a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts. An assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington. A general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters. An evaluation and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion.

via Scope of Gateway Pacific Analysis is Bad News for Coal Industry | Sightline Daily.

Contrast with Canada’s Kinder Morgan pipeline review. This pipeline aims to triple the flow of tarsands oil through an already existing old pipeline. Tankers carrying 900,000 barrels of bitumen will ply the Salish Sea every day.

But the scope of the review won’t encompass the potential impacts of the oilsands crude that would be in the pipe, or the end-use for the oil.

At a time when greenhouse gases already emitted are set to cause sea level rise that will affect millions, even in affluent countries like the US, considering climate impacts of all fossil fuel projects seems to be a no-brainer. Obama repeatedly mentions climate impacts as an important factor in the US review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The other part of this review that is more comprehensive than Canadian reviews is the explicit leadership of the state environmental agency, the Washington State Department of Ecology. Here in British Carbontaxia, the government gave up its review rights on the Enbridge pipeline.

Industry boosters claim that individual pipelines have nothing to do with the climate, and that the oil will flow one way or the other, sometimes to tragic effect. This Pembina post is a quick start on what the tarsands mean for climate. Note that building these pipelines is key to increasing capacity, hence emissions. Without pipelines, the tarsands will not grow as fast. So, any review that does not take climate impacts of fossil fuel transport into use is not a serious review. A barrel of tarsands oil (at 20% greater than average emission) is around 0.5 metric tonnes of carbon. The Kinder Morgan pipeline would carry approximately 170 million tonnes (Mt) worth of carbon equivalent per year. The greenhouse gas emissions in BC in 2010 was 63 Mt. Surely, we need to consider climate impacts! Just the incremental impact of tarsands oil (more intensive than average) is itself worth about a billion tonnes of carbon over a 50 year lifespan.

Canada claims to align with the US on greenhouse gas mitigation actions. Clearly, this is one of those “not intended to be factually accurate” statements.

Picture courtesy go greener oz used under a creative commons licence.