Wednesday, May 31, 2006

 

The oil addict's desperation move

(Turn clean water and clean-burning natural gas into oil. "Anything but conservation" seems to be the watchword.)
Canada Pays Environmentally for U.S. Oil Thirst
Huge Mines Rapidly Draining Rivers, Cutting Into Forests, Boosting Emissions
By Doug Struck
Wednesday, May 31, 2006; A01

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta -- Huge mines here turning tarry sand into cash for Canada and oil for the United States are taking an unexpectedly high environmental toll, sucking water from rivers and natural gas from wells and producing large amounts of gases linked to global warming.

The digging -- into an area the size of Maryland and Virginia combined -- has proliferated at gold-rush speed, spurred by high oil prices, new technology and an unquenched U.S. thirst for the fuel. The expansion has presented ecological problems that experts thought they would have decades to resolve.

. . .
The miners have created a marvel of human industry that takes a spongy muck once considered worthless and converts it into oil for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. But the price of that alchemy is high: Each barrel of oil requires two to five barrels of water, carves up four tons of earth, uses enough natural gas to heat a home for one to five days, and adds to the greenhouse gases slowly cooking the planet, according to the industry's own calculations.

. . .
Critics also question the wisdom of using natural gas to heat and upgrade the oil sands. "We are taking a cleaner energy source and turning it into something that produces a lot of emissions when you produce it and when you burn it," said Dale Marshall, a climate change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation in Ottawa.

. . .
Mining operations have been permitted to take twice the amount of water from the river than is used annually by Calgary, a city of 1 million people, according to Pembina. The group's report predicts that the oil sands mines will increase withdrawals by 50 percent in the next six years.

. . .
Industry officials say they do not pollute the river, and instead reuse the water they take as often as 17 times. The leftover emerges as a black, foul liquid collected in tailing ponds. The ponds have grown; one dam is among the largest in the world. The mining companies must fire off propane cannons to scare away migrating birds from the toxic waters. (WA Post--free registration required.)


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

 

Lansing Premiere Advance Benefit Showing: An Inconvenient Truth

Save the date! The Mid-Michigan premiere showing of

"An Inconvenient Truth"

will be a special benefit held at Celebration Cinema in Lansing.
(prior to the regular opening the following day).

Thursday, June 29, 2006. (Time: Evening, TBA)

Requested donation: $25 or more
(Donations above the ticket price of $7.50 are tax-deductible for those who itemize.)

This Lansing area premiere
--an advance showing of the most important film of the year--
is sponsored and hosted by the
Lansing Post-Petroleum Planning Project (LP4).
All proceeds will go to nonprofit environmental organizations
working on energy conservation and climate change issues
in Mid-Michigan.

Visit http://peakoillansingmi.blogspot.com/

 

Neutralize Yourself!

Neutralize your carbon, support renewables and efficiency!

They laughed when I sat down to . . . neutralize my household annual CO2.  But I showed them.
Thanks to www.carbonfund.org.

I was paying the local utility $7.50 a month to support their "green power" option, but it only funded the purchase of 250 kWh/mo of renewable power (out of our average monthly consumption of 461 kWh).

Now, for about $13 a month, we neutralize the electricity, PLUS the 806 CCF of natural gas we use annually, PLUS the 8000 miles we put on our 25 mpg car PLUS up to 2000 miles flown annually.  So we gave $15 a month, and it's TAX-DEDUCTIBLE.
===============================
Thank you for supporting Carbonfund.org!
Your contribution to Carbonfund.org:
1. Offsets your personal carbon footprint,
2. Reduces the effects of climate change, and
3. Supports carbon reducing projects and education and outreach activities.
Please take a moment today to tell a friend or family member about Carbonfund.org.

Carbonfund.org is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Your donation is tax deductible as allowed by law. No goods or services were exchanged for this donation. Our tax ID# is 20-0231609. Please keep this for your records.

Also, as a token of our gratitude, if you would like a free Greenlight Magazine annual subscription (four quarterly issues) in digital format, then go to to www.greenlightmag.com/subscribe.php

If you are interested in volunteering your time and energy to help Carbonfund.org, we want to hear from you at volunteer@carbonfund.org.

Thank you again for supporting Carbonfund.org and protecting the environment we all share.
Your friends at Carbonfund.org

Please read this entire page carefully, then print this page for your records. This receipt will also be emailed to you.

IMPORTANT: THIS DONATION WILL APPEAR ON YOUR CREDIT CARD STATEMENT AS "GROUNDSPRING.ORG". GROUNDSPRING IS OUR SERVICE PROVIDER FOR ONLINE DONATIONS
You have chosen to make a recurring donation. A donation to Carbonfund.org for $15.00 will be automatically charged to your credit card every month. You will receive information about managing your recurring donation options by email. Your next scheduled donation date is 6/30/2006.

Donation made to Groundspring.org for Carbonfund.org

 

The Great Yellow Hype

The Great Yellow Hope
I’ve been traveling in the American Corn Belt this past week, and wherever I go, people are talking about the promise of ethanol. . . .  But as much as I’d like to have a greener fuel to power my car, I’m afraid corn-based ethanol is not that fuel.

. . .

Absurd as it is, the rush to turn our corn surplus into ethanol appears unstoppable, and the corn belt, laboring under the weight of falling corn prices for the past several years, is celebrating the great good fortune of $3-a-gallon gas prices. We’re desperate for alternatives, and all that corn is waiting to be distilled. As corn prices rise (and the giddiness has already given them a bump), farmers will be tempted to produce yet more corn, which is not good news for the environment this whole deal is supposed to help. Why not? Because farmers will apply more nitrogen to boost yields (leading to more nitrogen pollution) and, since soy bean prices are down, they will be tempted to return to a “corn-on-corn” rotation. That is, rather than rotate their corn crops with soy beans (a legume that builds nitrogen in he soil), farmers will plant corn year after year, requiring still more synthetic nitrogen and doing long-term damage to the land.

. . .

So why the stampede to make ethanol from corn? Because we have so much of it, and such a powerful lobby promoting its consumption. Ethanol is just the latest chapter in a long, sorry history of clever and profitable schemes to dispose of surplus corn: there was corn liquor in the 19th century; feedlot meat starting in the 1950’s and, since 1980, high fructose corn syrup. We grow more than 10 billion bushels of corn a year in this country, far more than we can possibly eat — though God knows we’re doing our best, bingeing on corn-based fast food and high fructose corn syrup till we’re fat and diabetic. We probably can’t eat much more of the stuff without exploding, so the corn lobby is targeting the next unsuspecting beast that might help chomp through the surplus: your car.

(By Michael Pollan, behind the NY Times pay wall.)

 

BushWhacking energy conservation--just in time for hurricane season!

from the May 31, 2006 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0531/p02s01-uspo.html

Bush energy plan whacks conservation

More than a dozen efficiency efforts are set for trims or elimination as the administration pushes long-term projects.

. . .

Even without that breakthrough, the tiny Industrial Technologies Program routinely saves the United States $7 worth of energy for each dollar it spends, proponents say.

So, with energy prices spiking and President Bush pushing for more energy research, the ITP would seem a natural candidate for more funding. In fact, its budget is set to get chopped by a third from its 2005 level. It's one of more than a dozen energy-efficiency efforts that the Energy Department plans to trim or eliminate in a $115 million cost-saving move.

. . .

The same fate awaits the $4.5 million Building Codes Implementation Grants program. It helps states adopt more energy-efficient requirements for new buildings, the nation's largest consumer of electricity and natural gas.

. . .

One of the nation's priorities is improving the security and reliability of the electric grid. One option for doing that sooner, rather than later, is the emerging technology of "distributed generation." Under that approach, the nation would build more but much smaller power plants so that small businesses and even individual homes could have them.

True, such systems would burn costly natural gas - but at twice the energy efficiency of today's grid - to produce both heat and electricity for homeowners. If such systems caught on, they could vastly reduce load demand on central power stations and slash the need to build new power plants.

But that vision of the future may be delayed, since the DOE's "distributed energy" program has been cut in half and the remainder is being heavily earmarked by federal lawmakers for specific projects that they favor. The program is slated to be terminated in 2008, observers say.

"Hurricanes, terrorism, and blackouts have given us so many reasons to emphasize distributed generation, and instead we're putting emphasis on new forms of centralized power," says John Jimison, executive director of the US Combined Heat and Power Association, a Washington advocacy group. "It's too bad it's getting cut because it was a very modest program."

There may be a glimmer of hope for energy-efficiency programs. The House Committee for Energy and Water Development subcommittee moved last week to restore some funding to ITP and hybrid technology for heavy trucks. The committee voted earlier this month to fully fund the president's $2.1 billion Advanced Energy Initiative.

Full HTML version of this story which may include photos, graphics, and related links


 

Ask your HR dept: How to Write-In Carbonfund.org During Your Workplace Charitable Giving Drive

This morning on the bus to work I realized that really getting broader acceptance for CO2 reductions requires that people be able to buy carbon offsets tax-deductibly through payroll deduction.

Carbonfund.org is a nonprofit. Thus, what we need is to connect Carbonfund with EarthShare, which conducts workplace giving campaigns (a la the United Way) for member charities, which are all enviro groups.

Contact Carbonfund [modified: and your HR dept and ask about writing in carbonfund.org as a recipient of your contributions] so you can buy your carbon offsets through your company's payroll deduction. Then sign up to neutralize your carbon emissions.

You'll be doing us all a world of good.

 

What did the optimist say while falling from the top of the Empire State Building?

"So far, so good," as he passed each floor. 
Note the graph (from EPA) that purports to predict daily US gas and diesel consumption in 2025 as 10-20% higher than today.

Diesel a Savior in Squeeze on Energy? Obstacles Exist
By MATTHEW L. WALD (NYT)
Diesel vehicles, which get better mileage and are eligible for tax breaks, may become more attractive to consumers. But refining capacity for diesel fuel is limited.


Monday, May 29, 2006

 

Personal Carbon Neutrality: Indulgences and Snake Oil?

[Seems not . . . that is, the climate science types at RealClimate.org think that buying credits to offset your own CO2 emissions is valuable, though credits for reforestation are questioned. Go to the complete story to read the comments, including one by the CEO at Terrapass.com.]

Buying a stairway to heaven?

Just in the last year or so, a new type of scheme for reducing personal carbon emissions has appeared, the remarkably painless purchasing of “carbon offsets.” Carbonfund.org claims to neutralize a person’s CO2 footprint on the Earth for the low, low price of $99 per year, plus if you act now they will throw in an extra 5 tons for free! And you get a pen! Prices listed here range from $5-30 per ton of CO2 from a variety of similar organizations around the world. The average U.S. citizen is responsible for about 24 tons of CO2 release per year.

Compliance with Kyoto, a mere 5% reduction in carbon emissions, was forecast by Nordhaus [2001] to cost a few percent of GDP globally. The cost to stop emission completely and immediately may not even be calculable. Carbonfund.org promises zero net emissions, for a fraction of 1% of the average U.S. income. Can this possibly be real, or are we talking indulgences and snake oil?

. . .

The only piece of this picture that I don’t personally believe is carbon credits for land-use changes, reforestation. This was a U.S. idea in the Kyoto negotiations, back in the day when we were still pissing in the tent from the inside. It is true that forests hold more carbon per square meter than bare land does. However, estimating the exact amount of carbon in a forest is not so easy, because most of the carbon is in the soil, where its concentration is variable and laborious to measure. Could a forest that was cut and burned last year be claimed to be a carbon sink this year, as the forest grows back? What if the forest is cut again next year, will the carbon credits issued this year be chased down and revoked? To its credit, Carbonfund.org is quite up front about these sorts of concerns, and gives donors the option to invest their money in ways that are more transparent.

. . .

Carbon offsets are beneficial in the meantime, however, because they do cut carbon emissions, and the money stimulates development of alternative energy technologies. The bottom line is, despite my deep initial skepticism, I now see how carbon offsets could actually work as advertised, enabling an individual to live a carbon-neutral life, even in the United States. This is a terrific idea. Sign me up!


 

My, what powers of prediction!

NY Times story on coal:

WRIGHT, Wyo. — More than a century ago a blustery Wyoming politician named Fenimore Chatterton boasted that his state alone had enough coal to "weld every tie that binds, drive every wheel, change the North Pole into a tropical region, or smelt all hell!"

 

What great civilizations do right before they disappear:

Find ways to build even greater monuments to their belief that their society could never collapse from resource exhaustion.

Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, apparently subscribes to the Ignorance is Bliss theory of governance, in which the ever-louder roaring sound is presumed to be applause of the masses and not the sounds of a huge waterfall ready to pitch the ship of state out into space and onto the waiting rocks below. In an article in which he all but breaks his arm to pat himself on the back for selling a stretch of Indiana highway to foreign investors, Daniels demonstrates again why great civilizations seem to build their greatest, most demanding monumental projects (think pyramids, Mayan cities, Easter Island's monoliths) right before their utter collapse: the failure of leadership to conceive of changed circumstances and resource overshoot.
Of course, the ultimate success of this policy depends on how the state uses these new funds. As in business, in government it is a mistake — a misdeed, even — to take value from a capital asset and use it for short-term operating purposes. That's why we insisted that the value liberated from our road be redeployed swiftly into new, long-term public assets that will strengthen our economic backbone: thanks to this deal, we will be able to quadruple the amount of state money devoted to new road construction projects over the next decade.
In other words, having managed to sell a piece of soon to be worthless infrastructure to a consortium of foreign suckers, the State of Indiana is not about to let wisdom get in the way of pouring even more soon-to-be-worthless concrete (which is itself a source of tremendous amounts of CO2). I saw the story about Indiana's pyramids the same day as this most important question concerning ethanol, which is apparently supposed to power all the cars down the roads in Mitchell's state:
Pimentel offers a simple test for whether ethanol producers really believe their own hype. If ethanol offers such a magnificent energy gain, then why don't ethanol plants run on ethanol instead of coal and natural gas? Not surprisingly, this question has so far been met with dumbfounded silence.

 

Energy Humor and Not

(Three letters to "A Word A Day" about "erg," a unit of energy: two humorous and one raising an interesting point for Americans, who insist on clinging to the English system units whenever possible.)
===========================================
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg
Refer: http://wordsmith.org/words/erg.html

This word spawned a great one-line joke that I heard often while in school at MIT: the lesser known "arg" which is "the unit of work done incorrectly."

===========================================

Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg

An erg is a very small amount. My physicist husband says it's the amount of work done when a fly does a pushup, and was named for the tiny grunt he makes as he does it!

===========================================

Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg

Erg is not a SI unit, i.e.. it doesn't correspond to international measurement standards. That simply means it shouldn't be used any more. Instead people should use Joule as it is the official SI unit for Energy. In many counties (including the EU) the use of erg as a unit of energy (as well as other units from the CGS system) is no longerofficially allowed. In Germany it hasn't been allowed since 1978 to use erg as a unit of energy.

Scientists and engineers, but also anyone else should settle on a common 'language of units'. If everyone uses her/his own private units for measurements this will lead to global chaos and misunderstanding. That was already known by ancient cultures like the Greek and Roman, both of which implemented universal standards for mass, length etc.

In our times of global exchange of people, ideas, and products, it is no longer sufficient to agree on a system of units in an area like the Mediterranean: we should adhere to global standards.

Richness of language --as exemplified in many mails from this list-- is a marvelous thing. In the case of units this 'richness' is rather a poorness, since it tells the same thing (how much energy) in a manner incomprehensible to others (who use Joule), without adding any meaning that couldn't also be expressed by correctly using Joule.


 

The Holdup

    One of the arguments against addictive drugs is that the addicted person will do anything to maintain the supply, making them a danger to everyone around them.  This certainly seems borne out in the case of oil, where part of the pitch is that "the government"--that would be you, pilgrim--should pick up the cost of developing "oil shale" for industry in a deal where, on the off chance that it ever becomes commercially viable, industry can buy out the government interest at an agreed-upon price.

    In other words, cowboy socialism:  privatize profits, socialize costs, with only the rubes to suffer.  Don't forget to end the "death tax" so that the shareholders can pass this bonanza onto their children without the inconvenience of complicated accounting tricks.

    This testimony was including in the weekly Peak Oil Weekly by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO).  That newsletter carried this disclaimer:  Note: Commentaries do not necessarily represent ASPO-USA's positions; they are personal statements and observations by informed commentators.

Commentary: How To Proceed With Oil Shale R&D and Commercialization
By Bob Loucks

Comments submitted to a U.S. Senate hearing to be held June 1, 2006

Dear Senator Domenici,

Thank you for scheduling a hearing on oil shale in Grand Junction on June 1. Your foresight and determination are greatly appreciated. I would like to enter this statement into your hearing records.

The campaign to reduce our dependence on unstable foreign oil supplies leading to an oil-free economy should include shale oil development along with encouragement of conservation and development of renewable resources.

[Did he just say that the key to the oil-free economy was shale oil?  Is black white?]

The use of the extensive shale oil energy supply will be an important component of the process to get us through the coming transition from non-renewable hydrocarbons to other resources.  However, we must not repeat the mistake of prior energy crises and assume that shale oil is ready for commercial development.

[Oh, I see.  We get off of hydrocarbons by pouring billions and billions into hydrocarbons.  How clever.]

Despite all the attempts to develop a shale oil industry in the US over the past 100 years, the fact remains that no proven method exists for efficiently removing the oil from the rock. There are a number of candidate processes possible, but none has demonstrated a practical capability to produce oil.

For this reason, it is imperative that the next step in shale oil development be a demonstration and test phase. It is possible that the BLM RD&D leasing program may serve this purpose, but I am unconvinced because it seems to be essentially a duplication of the failed 1970-80 prototype leasing program.

Another possibility is a government center to provide the proper conditions for test activities. There have been previous efforts in this direction in the past, e.g., the Bureau of Mines and Colorado School of Mines work at Anvil Points. Also, a thorough analysis of the merits of government and industry partnerships is available in the report DOE/EIS-0068 dated September 1980.

Other proposals include a “Proof-of Concept” facility at the federal C-b site by Occidental Oil Shale in 1990 as discussed by Russell George of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources at your recent hearings on shale oil. Additionally, Federal legislation was passed in 1992. See US Code: Title 42, Section 13412.

An attractive alternative was outlined 30 years ago. Little has changed in the past 3 decades.

In June 1976, Robert McClements, Jr., president of Sunoco Energy Development Co., a subsidiary of Sun Co., Inc., said his firm advocated a jointly-funded government-industry program to support oil-shale efforts through the stage of technology development. Mr. McClements expressed concern about several things:

“First, technology, which has been demonstrated only at the pilot plant or semi-works level; thus the scale-up to commercial-size units carries with it a high technological risk.

“Second, the operational risk involved with a commercial oil-shale facility. For a large-scale plant to successfully maintain design production levels, it has to be on-stream—-working as a unit—-a high percentage of the time. Another operations concern relates to labor. Oil-shale plants will be built in areas where there is presently no reservoir of people to operate and maintain them.

“Third, the environmental aspects. Since we don’t know what the final environmental regulations will be for oil-shale plants, we simply don’t have a good grasp on how to design a plant.

“Fourth, the highly uncertain public policy climate that exists today and which restricts the operation of market forces

“Fifth, timing. Enormously long lead times are involved in synfuels facilities and when you are talking about an expenditure of $1 billion [as assumed in 1976] per plant, the orderly, coordinated timing of capital investment is essential. But that’s impossible with the present uncertainties.

“Sixth, economics. Even under the most optimistic assumptions for capital investment and operating performance, the required selling price for synthetic oil may still exceed the market price for conventional oil. A loan-guarantee program does not deal with the basic difficulty. That is, the size of the investment required, coupled with existing policy, technical and financial uncertainties, effectively forecloses the initiation of commercial oil-shale undertakings.

“An alternative approach can be a program that will assure the demonstration of a wide range of existing infant technologies on a broad scale. Such a program should provide for the construction of a number of modest-sized operating modules. But, since each module would cost about $100-$200 million [in 1976 $]—-on which no return can be expected—-this program could not be initiated solely by private industry.

“The most realistic approach could be to pattern it on a joint government-industry demonstration plant concept. Such a program could be initiated by a clearly identified governmental sponsor, which would solicit specific proposals from private companies for a variety of joint efforts. Government financing would then carry the projects through the stage of demonstrated technology. Thus, if a module(s) successfully demonstrates a technology, and if economic conditions permit, the government’s interest could be acquired by the program’s industry partner under previously agreed-upon terms.”

[After the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy noted that "While success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan."  With oil shale, success would have one father--the oil companies--while failure would be a ward of the state.]

Irrespective of the outcome of the debate on the real status of ‘peaking’ oil, shale oil process testing must happen. I have no doubts of our ability to make the transition. Our country has proven time and again that we can meet enormous challenges and succeed. Please let me know if you would like any of the above referenced materials or if I may be of assistance to you.

Sincerely,
Robert A. Loucks

Bob Loucks has been involved in shale oil for the past 30 years. He was Project Manager of the C-b Project in Colorado, part of the 1974 DOI Prototype Leasing Program to prove the viability of the resource. He is author of the book "Shale Oil - Tapping the Treasure."

 

The planetary question: Can we call liars by name?

Swift Boating the Planet

(The estimable Paul Krugman)
. . .

Dr. Hansen was one of the first climate scientists to say publicly that global warming was under way. In 1988, he made headlines with Senate testimony in which he declared that "the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now." When he testified again the following year, officials in the first Bush administration altered his prepared statement to downplay the threat. Mr. Gore's movie shows the moment when the administration's tampering was revealed.

In 1988, Dr. Hansen was well out in front of his scientific colleagues, but over the years that followed he was vindicated by a growing body of evidence. By rights, Dr. Hansen should have been universally acclaimed for both his prescience and his courage.

But soon after Dr. Hansen's 1988 testimony, energy companies began a campaign to create doubt about global warming, in spite of the increasingly overwhelming evidence. And in the late 1990's, climate skeptics began a smear campaign against Dr. Hansen himself.

Leading the charge was Patrick Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia who has received substantial financial support from the energy industry. In Senate testimony, and then in numerous presentations, Dr. Michaels claimed that the actual pace of global warming was falling far short of Dr. Hansen's predictions. As evidence, he presented a chart supposedly taken from a 1988 paper written by Dr. Hansen and others, which showed a curve of rising temperatures considerably steeper than the trend that has actually taken place.

In fact, the chart Dr. Michaels showed was a fraud — that is, it wasn't what Dr. Hansen actually predicted. The original paper showed a range of possibilities, and the actual rise in temperature has fallen squarely in the middle of that range. So how did Dr. Michaels make it seem as if Dr. Hansen's prediction was wildly off? Why, he erased all the lower curves, leaving only the curve that the original paper described as being "on the high side of reality."

The experts at www.realclimate.org, the go-to site for climate science, suggest that the smears against Dr. Hansen "might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become." But I think they're misreading the situation. In fact, the smears have been around for a long time, and Dr. Hansen has been trying to correct the record for years. Yet the claim that Dr. Hansen vastly overpredicted global warming has remained in circulation, and has become a staple of climate change skeptics, from Michael Crichton to Robert Novak.

There's a concise way to describe what happened to Dr. Hansen: he was Swift-boated.

. . .

Now, Dr. Hansen isn't running for office. But Mr. Gore might be, and even if he isn't, he hopes to promote global warming as a political issue. And if he wants to do that, he and those on his side will have to learn to call liars what they are.


Friday, May 26, 2006

 

VERY enlightening on switchgrass. Punch Line: Still no free lunch

http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/3/7/03949/82426


Thursday, May 25, 2006

 

Devastating analysis on ethanol

http://www.energybulletin.net/16400.html

This guy is right on, except for allowing the ethanol coproducts to be counted as beneficial in the energy calculation:

If we're going to widen the analysis boundary to include the coproducts as a positive addition to the output of ethanol, then consistency requires that we look beyond the simple addition and consider the uses of those coproducts. 

The point being that dried distillers' grain (DDG)--the main coproduct that the ethanol lobby wants us to count--is used to prop up an insanely energy-wasteful system of beef production, which uses incredible amounts of grain and water for each kilo of beef product, which is then shipped incredible distances using petroleum products.  And the greenhouse gas contribution of beef cattle is anything but negligible: cows fed on grains fart and belch a LOT (just as you would if you were not being fed your natural diet staple), making a significant contribution to global methane production (20x more heat-trapping than an equal volume of CO2).

If you're not ready to add all that into your calculus to determine whether corn ethanol is beneficial or a net negative, then a rigorous analysis would exclude the DDG entirely.

Not to mention that corn is a voracious soil waster--probably the best thing one could do with corn ethanol coproducts is figure out how rapidly they can be reintroduced into the soil as a step toward preserving some of the tilth that corn destroys.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

 

Scylla and Charybdis: Peak Oil and Global Warming

http://research.unc.edu/endeavors/spr2006/feature_01.php

The always-terrific Energy Bulletin highlights this terrific, must-read piece about the Scylla and Charybdis (the original "rock and a hard place") of our time, from an another university town, Chapel Hill.


 

Even Fiercely Determined Pollyannas Eventually Allow Reality to Intrude

Perhaps after it's too late, but at least another denialist publicly recants.
It's amazing that a country that pours hundreds of billions of dollars into preemptive wars and phony "missile shields" worries about overspending on preventing global climate catastrophe.

(This piece is not behind the NYTimes pay wall so you can read the whole thing at the link below.)
http://select.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?tntget=2006/05/24/opinion/24easterbrook.html&tntemail0=y&emc=tnt&pagewanted=print

Finally Feeling the Heat
By GREGG EASTERBROOK
Washington

TODAY "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's movie about the greenhouse effect, opens in New York and California. Many who already believe global warming is a menace will flock to the film; many who scoff at the notion will opt for Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks. But has anything happened in recent years that should cause a reasonable person to switch sides in the global-warming debate?

Yes: the science has changed from ambiguous to near-unanimous. As an environmental commentator, I have a long record of opposing alarmism. But based on the data I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert. . . .

That research is now in, and it shows a strong scientific consensus that an artificially warming world is a real phenomenon posing real danger:

The American Geophysical Union and American Meteorological Society in 2003 both declared that signs of global warming had become compelling.

In 2004 the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that there was no longer any "substantive disagreement in the scientific community" that artificial global warming is happening.

In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences joined the science academies of Britain, China, Germany, Japan and other nations in a joint statement saying, "There is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring."

This year Mr. Karl of the climatic data center said research now supports "a substantial human impact on global temperature increases."

And this month the Climate Change Science Program, the Bush administration's coordinating agency for global-warming research, declared it had found "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system."

Case closed. Earth's surface, atmosphere and seas are warming; ocean currents are slowing; ice shelves are melting faster than projected; spring is coming ever sooner; rainfall patterns are changing; North American migratory birds are ranging father north; the ability of the earth to self-regulate to resist warming appears to be waning. While natural variation may play roles in climatic trends, overwhelming evidence points to the accumulation of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, as the key. . . .

The greatest worry is that climate change will harm the agricultural system on which civilization is based. Suppose climate change shifted precipitation away from breadbasket regions, sending rain clouds instead to the world's deserts. Over generations, society would adjust — but years of global food shortages might occur during the adjustment, likely causing chaos in poor countries and armies of desperate refugees at the borders of wealthy nations.

President Bush was right to withdraw the United States from the cumbersome Kyoto greenhouse treaty, which even most signatories are ignoring. [?!?!?!] But Mr. Bush should speak to history by proposing a binding greenhouse-credit trading system within the United States. Waiting for science no longer justifies delay, as results are now in.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

 

Even more awesome

[A friend writes:] Here's something cool, too. I saw this when I was in Germany a few weeks ago. It's called "Call a Bike" a bike-rental program from the German railway. When you're done, just leave the bike at a major intersection:

http://www.callabike-interaktiv.de/kundenbuchung/process.phpproc=english&f=500&key=56360ae0c6dae06f6ac071cdc42bd779...00000

Cool, eh?

 

Long overdue: Car sharing considered for Ann Arbor

U-M promotes car sharing
Ann Arbor News
By Dave Gershman

http://www.mlive.com/news/aanews/index.ssf?/base/news-17/114839524432760.xml&coll=2

The University of Michigan wants to bring car sharing to campus in time for next fall, hoping to sign a deal with a national company like Zipcar, Inc. . . .

Companies like Zipcar rent cars by the hour to members, who make arrangements over the Internet and use a credit card-like key to pick up the car from a designated parking lot. Gas is covered by the company and drivers don't need their own basic insurance. When they're done, they leave the car in the same spot they found it. . . .

Car sharing would be attractive to people who'd rather not drive to campus, Miller said, but feel they need to drive because they might need quick access to car - such as the staff member who has to dash across the city for a lunchtime meeting. Some students bring cars to Ann Arbor
but only use them to get away on weekends, he said.

Car sharing would take some vehicles off the city's roadways, Miller said. The service is part of U-M's attempt to discourage students from bringing cars to campus and to encourage more employees to commute by bus or carpool, he said. . . .

Mary Sienko, marketing manager at the University of Minnesota parking and transportation services, said while the university hasn't conducted a user survey, she believes the car sharing service is attractive to a wide range of people.

"You might think the only people who would be interested are people who are very environmentally conscious, but it's not like that,'' Sienko said.

Since the program began in January, 106 people have become members, she said. They like the convenience of having access to a car, but don't want the hassle or expense of owning one, she said.


 

Damning with faint praise

The only thing guys like Tierney see in global warming is an chance to push nukes and spank the nasty anti-nuke liberals--ignoring (if he even has the slightest idea about) the massive amounts of CO2 released in the construction of the plants and the mining, milling, and enrichment of the fuel.  Many months ago, Dr. Nathan Lewis of CalTech said that we would have to build a nuke every two days for the next 50 years if we were to try to use nuclear energy to replace fossil energy.  We're many hundreds of nuke plants behind then, so perhaps renewables and conservation _are_ the more important topics.  Sorry, the whole thing is behind the NYTimes pay wall.

Gore Pulls His Punches
By JOHN TIERNEY
If Al Gore's new movie weren't titled "An Inconvenient Truth," I wouldn't have quite so many problems with it.
. . .
Gore isn't exactly likable in the film — he still has that wooden preachiness and is especially hard to watch when he tries to be funny. Yet you end up admiring him for his nerdly persistence. He turned out to be right about something important:  global warming is a problem worth worrying about.

But the story he tells in the movie is hardly "an inconvenient truth." It's not really true, and it's certainly not inconvenient for him or his audience.

. . .
Gore shows the obligatory pictures of windmills and other alternative sources of energy.  But he ignores nuclear power plants, which don't spew carbon dioxide and currently produce far more electricity than all ecologically fashionable sources combined.

A few environmentalists, like Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, have recognized that their movement is making a mistake in continuing to demonize nuclear power.  Balanced against the risks of global warming, nukes suddenly look good — or at least deserve to be considered rationally.  Gore had a rare chance to reshape the debate, because a documentary about global warming attracts just the sort of person who marches in anti-nuke demonstrations.


 

Reasonably good summary of the corn ethanol problem

* [Corn] Ethanol won't solve U.S. energy problems
Detroit News (editorial)

The Big Three automakers, in an effort to deflect yet more fuel
economy regulations, are pushing Congress to create more subsidies for
ethanol. For now, that's not a good solution.

http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060522/OPINION01/605
220342/1008


Monday, May 22, 2006

 

The last oppressed group

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/48458


 

A model for selling Energy Star appliances to more people with less money?

(With Energy Star appliances, you could use the energy savings to finance the usage.)

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/271040_msftflex22.html

Microsoft tests 'pay as you go' computers
Plan is geared to developing nations

. . .

People in developing nations are accustomed to buying minutes for their mobile phones in advance. Now, Microsoft Corp. wants to see if they'll purchase PCs in much the same way.

In a departure from their traditional business models, Microsoft and hardware makers will test a pay-as-you-go plan for PC users in emerging markets around the world -- letting consumers buy time on their home computers through prepaid cards and subscriptions.

. . .

"You could think of it as financed with payments that map to a family's budget and their usage of the PC," Wickstrand said.

As a general rule, Microsoft says a consumer using the FlexGo program could expect to initially pay around 40 percent to 60 percent of the standard cost of a PC. But then, the price per hour of usage is expected to range from about 50 cents to 70 cents. Consumers would own the PC after buying a preset number of hours, in the general range of 600 to 900 hours.


 

A Book for Every Home

Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices
by Michael Brower

ISBN: 060980281x

A clear, practical, and rational overview of the choices consumers can make that will have a large positive impact on the environment — and of the highly touted concerns that are not worth worrying about.

Publisher Comments:

From one of the most prestigious nonprofit organizations devoted to environmental issues comes a clear, practical, and rational overview of the relationship between consumers and the environment.

Paper or plastic? Bus or car? Old house or new? Cloth diapers or disposables? Some choices have a huge impact on the environment; others are of negligible importance. To those of us who care about our quality of life and what is happening to the earth, this is a vastly important issue.

In these pages, the Union of Concerned Scientists help inform consumers about everyday decisions that significantly affect the environment. For example, a few major decisions — such as the choice of a house or vehicle — have such a disproportionately large affect on the environment that minor environmental infractions shrink by comparison.

This book identifies the 4 Most Significant Consumer-Related Environmental Problems, the 7 Most Damaging Spending Categories, 11 Priority Actions, and 7 Rules for Responsible Consumption. Learn what you can do to have a truly significant impact on our world from the people who are at the forefront of scientific research.

Review:

"Too many people drive their Land Rovers to the grocery store and think that 'paper or plastic' is a meaningful choice. The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices will help you distinguish the crucial from the trivial and make choices that are congruent with your values." Denis Hayes, Chair, Earth Day 2000

"This engaging book gives consumers the information they need to vote with their wallets for a better environmental future." Gary Hirshberg, President, Stonyfield Farm Yogurt

"[S]ound, practical advice, based on thoughtful analysis of how our ordinary daily actions affect the environment." Booklist

About the Author

Michael Brower, Ph.D., is a physicist and expert on energy and environmental issues. Warren Leon, Ph.D., is deputy director for programs at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Since 1969, the Union of Concerned Scientists has brought scientists and citizens together to work for a healthy environment and a safe world.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

 

A prescient warning

Here's a manual version of the cover of a great book.

OVERSHOOT
The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change

carrying capacity: maximum permanently supportable load
cornucopian myth: euphoric belief in limitless resouces.
drawdown: stealing resources from the future.
cargoism: delusion that technology will always save us.
overshoot:
growth beyond an area's carrying capacity, leading to
crash:
die-off

William R. Catton, Jr.
Foreword by Stewart Udall

This is such a great book. Even the foreword (by a former Secretary of the Interior---back when they were interested in fighting the rape and pillage lobby, rather than dropping the gate down and leaving the moat unguarded) has more substance than most books published today. Here is just some of that prescient warning--from 1980:

These developments suggest that a major reorientation is necessary if we are to cope with an energy predicament which threatens to cripple our country. If the atomic age now appears to have been an age of overestimation, then it is vital that we put technology in perspective and gain a better understanding of its strengths, and its limits. This will entail a reassessment of the contributions of technology--and of cheap petroleum--to postwar progress. Such an inquiry might challenge, for example, the claim that the Green Revolution is a monumental triumph of science and technology. How much of our farm productivity increase has been due to science, and how much to cheap oil, superior U.S. soils, and the beneficient weather of recent years?

It is undeniable that scientific advances in agronomy, in plant genetics, in weed and pest control, and in new insights about the applications of fertilizers and the mechanization of farming have added substantially to agricultural output. But petroleum that was deceptively cheap has played a major role in nurturing this illusion of perpetually expandable abundance. It has supplied fuel for water pumps and processing plants and field machines, and it has served as low-cost raw material for fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. Studies have already shown that the food and fiber industry is the single largest user of energy in this country, so we should abandon the pretense that our success in farming is solely an achievement of science and technology.

It is equally instructive to take a fresh look at transportation, another sector supposedly the scene of engineering's greatest achievements. Again, the available evidence suggests that the contributions of technology have been overstated, while the role of cheap oil has been understated. . . . It was not just the advances in pipeline technology that made it possible for people in New York and New Jersey to burn Texas gas in their homes; it was a one-time abundance of natural gas. Nor was it the skill of aerospace engineers which allowed our air transport to flourish; dirt-cheap petroleum made the whole thing "fly."

(All emphasis above added. I haven't finished the book yet, but it's clearly going on my top 100 most important book list. University of Illinois Press, ISBN 0-252-00988-6, 266 pp. plus endnotes, glossary, indices.)

 

Forked-tongue arguments for ethanol

This comment was posted to the "R-Squared" blog discussion about the "60 Minutes" program on ethanol. The comments are eerily--even startlingly--like those made to me by Dr. Bruce Dale at an energy seminar in Lansing put on by MSU's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. When I asked the very nice guy from Minnesota about the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) for ethanol, some other guy (whom I later learned was from the National Corn Growers' Assn.) literally jumped up, cut off the speaker, and said "Bruce, why don't you respond to that one?" Whereupon Dr. Dale gave me a pitch almost exactly like this.

Not long after the seminar, I wished I had a recording of my question and the exchange and Dale's response. Then, when I found these comments, I immediately said "That's him!" (Which, of course, may actually not be the case at all.)

I'm posting the comments here rather than just a link because I don't want them to disappear, as I intend to come back to them at some length. These comments are exquisitely deceptive and misleading, and they merit detailed analysis. I especially like the subtle suggestion that people who question ethanol might not like capitalism.
I think you're wrong about ethanol and that EROEI analysis is a waste of time. Somewhere in your education you learned that energy was conserved when it was converted from one form to another. Many people seem to think that this means that the economic value of energy is conserved as it is converted from one from to another. They act as if 1 million BTU of energy was equally valuable regardless of the form it is in. Wrong! 1MMBTU in the form of coal costs about $1.50. In the form of natural gas it costs $6.55 today. In the form of wholesale gasoline you will pay about $16 today. Ethanol at $2/gal works out to be $26 / MMBtu. The high price is likely due to ethanol's value as an oxygenate and octane enhancer. Using 2 MMBtus worth of coal to make 1 MMBtus worth of ethanol makes sense when you understand that clean transportation fuels are much more valuable than power generation fuels. Although an economic analysis is the best way to evaluate ethanol, if you don't like capitalism then you could just look at MMBTU's of transportation fuel consumed versus MMBTU's of transporta[t]ion fuel produced. That ratio is around 1:8 if I remember rightly. Consult the recent article in Science about biofuels if you want the exact number.

There's another reason I dislike EROEI analysis which is that I have always suspected that it would be very difficult to do such an analysis accurately and fairly. It depends too much on details of farming and industrial practise which are subject to change and for which accurate data is hard to find. It seems that the biggest energy input is the distillation step. As ethanol distillation is a fairly low temperature process, it is a good candidate for the use of waste heat from some other industrial process like power generation. If that became standard practice, then it would make a big difference to the EROEI calculation.

Speaking of power generation, the EROEI for operation of a modern coal burning power plant is about 0.36! Most of the input energy ends up in the cooling water. Maybe we should stop making electricity! I'm sure candle making has a better EROEI than that!

 

Commodify your "skepticism"--Exxon's buying

How repulsive.

"Being in the minority is difficult," he says, adding that while he now earns a small amount of money writing for TCS Daily, a Web site funded in part by ExxonMobil, "I have always said, if you want to make money in this business, the skeptics' side is not the side you want to work on."
Oh, really?  Is Exxon paying the others too?

How a Global Warming Satirist Breaks the Ice

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/20/AR2006052001151_pf.html
Somewhere in an office about 600 miles southwest of here, former NASA scientist Roy W. Spencer is laughing. The 50-year-old, white-haired PhD dreamed up the spoof site -- sort of the Onion meets the Weather Channel -- because he thinks people are overreacting to the threat of climate change.

Now a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, Spencer says human activities have "likely" contributed to climate change, but he argues that "since we do not understand natural climate fluctuations, we don't really know how much, quantitatively, of the present warmth is man-made versus natural."

Spencer describes his Web site as "a spur-of-the moment effort that resulted from the increasing number of news stories that quoted people who blamed global warming for events such as tsunamis and the latest flood, drought or hurricane. . . . Also, I have a somewhat twisted sense of humor, and the Web site gives me an additional creative outlet." His other creative outlet: He's lead guitarist in a contemporary Christian rock band at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Huntsville. (His environmentalist- mocking alternative lyrics to Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit": "I'll take a little bit, I'll take a little bit of your wealth from you/So give a little bit, oh, give a little more than a dime to me.")

It's all a way of keeping his sanity, Spencer explains.

"Being in the minority is difficult," he says, adding that while he now earns a small amount of money writing for TCS Daily, a Web site funded in part by ExxonMobil, "I have always said, if you want to make money in this business, the skeptics' side is not the side you want to work on."


 

Subsidy Farmers

A rah-rah puff piece on corn ethanol in todays WA Post. The corn lobby has done such a number on the US . . .

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/20/AR2006052000953_pf.html

Thousands of Iowa's Corn Farmers See the Future in Fuel
Growers Investing In Ethanol Plants Across the State

Excerpt: "The farmers have their own incentives to find cheaper sources of fuel. To plant their crop this year, the Horans will use 10,000 gallons of diesel. The fuel costs continue through the summer to harvest season, powering the engines that sow, tend, reap and transport beans and corn."


Saturday, May 20, 2006

 

An encouraging word: The Great Lakes as Regional Renewable Energy Source

Read this one for sure if you are starting to think suicide is the only solution:

http://greengold.org/wind/documents/88.pdf

 

A second great intro to Peak Oil

A great survey of Peak Oil and the many dreams for solutions,

written by the guy who runs this excellent, meaty site.


 

Part II: How I learned to start worrying and love the PO Bomb

We live on the west side of Cascade mountains in Washington state, a moist and moderate climate where everything grows fast. Our 10 acre lot is about half forested and half open field with grass that a local farmer cuts for his cows. Our home is all-electric, including the furnace. I began intensively cutting dead and down trees for heating and found that our home heats well enough with an air-tight wood stove to get by during most winter weather, with wood I collect on our own property - one problem solved (using a gasoline powered chain saw, however)!

The Pacific Northwest is lucky to have most of its electric power produced by hydropower, so peak oil and gas would impact our electric supply relatively little compared with the rest of the U.S. We also generate very little electricity with coal burning, and if the world decides to reduce coal combustion to limit greenhouse gas emissions we again would be relatively immune. Because we have a relatively decent outlook for our electric supply, we decided to experiment with electric propulsion for transport. However, just try to buy an electric vehicle in the U.S.! It made little sense to use a heavy electric car to move my weight back and forth to work, so I bought an electric motor kit for my recumbent bicycle from a guy in Toronto who purchased the parts from China! That worked pretty well, but the speed was rather limited for rainy days (which we get a lot of here). So I shopped around and purchased an electric scooter (top speed 30 mph) from a guy in Florida who owns a business that imports from China and distributes from Chicago! Thanks to China and a couple of North American entrepreneurs, I now have electric transport that's really cheap, albeit unprotected from wet weather. With enough oil-based clothing I can stay dry.

As soon as we understood the food/oil linkage, we began planting fruit and nut trees in our open field areas. Soon after that I discovered the concept of 'permaculture' - which originated in Australia - and 'edible forest gardens' (one of the permaculture ideas). We are still in the process of planting food-producing trees, bushes, and groundcover as rapidly as two aging people can, while still trying to enjoy all our hobbies and dealing with an intensively-managed vegetable garden. We anticipate that, when economic tough times do arrive, we may have some of our children (or even local friends) sharing our home, and our food planning takes that possibility into account.

One of the more bizarre aspects of this entire discovery process is the reactions we experience from others when we try to share our knowledge. Most people just dismiss the warnings and seem to ignore them completely! Some appear to take us seriously, but make no changes in their lifestyle. A small minority start reading and making serious changes. These reactions helped us decide to change our retirement plans - we will stay right where we are rather than move into the city of Bellingham where obtaining enough food and staying warm in the winter could be real problems a few years from now. Cities that do not plan and begin preparations for this future could soon become very unpleasant places to live.

The dean at our college convinced me to make one more attempt to inform our college and community before retiring completely. The community college has adopted as its "Issue of the Year" for 2006-2007 the combined topics of peak oil, climate change, and permaculture (some folks think of this as sustainability). I outlined some pretty aggressive possible outcomes, including lifestyle changes among college students, faculty, and staff. We also will attempt to do the research needed to plan for energy descent at the city and county levels, following models created by people in scattered places like Kinsale-Ireland, San Francisco, and Portland (Oregon).

I've showed the documentary film "The End of Suburbia" several times at the college, and we're beginning to view the second great documentary "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil." The latter DVD is the story of how Cuba responded to falling off the oil cliff in the early 1990s. In contrast, the "developed world" will probably experience a much more gradual decline. Within a few years during which many people thought they might starve, the Cubans discovered permaculture and began growing food just about everywhere, after they spent considerable effort revitalizing soil depleted by the green revolution growing methods. This film has several powerful messages for people existing in their comfortable bubble of the consensus [trance], as James Kunstler describes it.

You owe it to yourself, your family, your friends, and your community to watch one or both of these films, do your homework on peak oil/climate change/permaculture, pass your information on to anyone who'll listen, and start making drastic changes immediately.

If you want to see a list of books, websites, and web- based articles that have influenced my thinking the most, go to my college course website and become a peak oil addict yourself: http://faculty.whatcom.ctc.edu/jrawlins/phys109/artlist.htm

And Good Luck - we'll all need it.


 

How I learned to start worrying and love the PO Bomb

Here's a personal story of my discovery of peak oil . . . . If you want to use this also in some way at your site, welcome to it.

tooj
*********************************************

A Personal Peak Oil Discovery Process

John Rawlins, Bellingham Washington

I recall reading a Scientific American article in 1998 about world oil supply. Colin Campbell and Jean Leherrere predicted that the world oil extraction rate would increase until around 2005-2010, then peak and quickly enter decline, with decline rates of a few percent per year. That seemed interesting but not all that worrying to a 58 year old semi-retired nuclear physicist teaching astronomy and physics in a community college in northwest Washington state. I posted their graphs on my office door and occasionally discussed the topic with students. But I didn't really get it. Just having less gasoline for transportation is the least of our worries. So I basically did nothing to begin getting ready for the cursed event until more recently. Now, in May 2006, world oil extraction seems to be peaking, gasoline prices are rising even before the summer driving season, the next hurricane season starts soon, geopolitical nightmares are developing in many oil-producing regions, and my wife and I feel unprepared for (and worried about) collapse.

In my previous career with Westinghouse Hanford Company in eastern Washington, I spent a few very frustrating years in the early 1990s working on U.S. energy policy issues. In the end I was convinced that our democratic form of government is totally unable to formulate a wise, technically coherent, long-lasting national energy policy. Fifteen years later, my worst fears are being realized, and my faith in any government "solution" is at absolute zero for this country. We consume far too much energy, and two-thirds of what we consume depends on fuels that are no longer reliable: oil and natural gas. Of these, oil is the most fundamental: almost everything that moves uses an oil derivative for fuel.

In the fall of 2003 our investment advisor noted that our portfolio was heavy in big oil stocks and she suggested we review our situation and think about changing our investment profile. I visited a local bookstore and browsed for recent books on oil and just happened to buy Richard Heinberg's book "The Party's Over." What a surprise reading that was during the December 2003 holiday break! His thesis: world oil extraction would soon peak, and everything in our life would change because everything depends to some extent on oil, the economy would disintegrate, and chaos would likely envelop the world of all who depend on oil. Furthermore, he claimed that alternatives to oil would prove insufficient by a large margin. In a state of semi-shock I began reading everything I could find on the subject.

First I looked for predictions about oil supply from retired, independent oil geologists and read a book by Ken Deffeyes, who worked with M.K. Hubbert. Hubbert developed a method for predicting oil extraction time profiles, given a few decades of extraction and discovery experience. I then read similar treatments by other retired oil geologists and found that to first order they were in agreement with the original predictions I'd seen from Campbell and Leherrere in 1998. My worry factor increased because I was unable to conclude how to protect our investments from this oil-depleted future.

My next major discovery was the food connection, which I suspected could be a problem. The dean at our college sent me a Harpers Magazine article about the "oil we eat," which argued that our food production since the green revolution has become at least 90% correlated with and dependent on oil and natural gas. A more detailed analysis by Dale Allen Pfeiffer confirmed this conclusion. So now I had to find out about the natural gas situation, another unhappy story. Soon I found a book by Julian Darley called "High Noon for Natural Gas," which warned that gas extraction in North America was about to peak (it did), and that prices would rise and decline could be rapid (they did, and it is). He further warned that world extraction rates would peak soon after oil peaked. In that case increasing U.S. imports of natural gas in the form of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) would not be a rescue option for long, and a poor investment in any case.

About this time I began teaching an introductory physics/energy course at the college, and the course focuses on the peak oil problem and potential adaptations. During that teaching process, I became convinced that Heinberg and others were absolutely correct in asserting that no combination of alternatives to oil could come anywhere close to replacing oil at present use levels. That includes coal to liquids, natural gas, oil shale, methane hydrates, hydrogen, ethanol, bio-diesel, and nuclear/wind/solar-based electric (including compressed air) cars comparable in size with today's subcompacts. The required adaptation time (2-3 decades) is quite simply not available. This is a scary conclusion for a technocrat like me.

Finally I found a book about investing viewed through the lens of peak oil, by Stephen and Donna Leeb. The Leebs reiterated all the peak oil predictions I'd stumbled on and recommended investing in a variety of stocks, mostly related to energy. We rather quickly loaded up even more heavily in energy and mining stocks and eliminated stocks from our portfolio that we thought would not do well in a world of high oil and gas prices and never- ending inflation. With that issue finally settled we began to do things to get ready for a future of permanent shortage.

(continued)


 

The Conundrum

How did a group that started out about this:


Welcome to Scenic Michigan, an affiliate of the national non-profit organization Scenic America. We are headquartered in Petoskey, Michigan, and work to enhance the scenic beauty of Michigan's communities and roadsides. Our principal activity is informing the public of the economic, social, and cultural benefits of highway beautification. Scenic Michigan promotes and sponsors programs to encourage natural beauty in the environment, enhance landscapes, protect historical and cultural resources, and improve community appearance.

write this?

===========================================
Dear Friend of Michigan's Scenic Resources,

I am writing to share Scenic Michigan's position on the use of wind driven electric power plants.

Scenic Michigan enthusiastically supports the use of alternative energy sources to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. This includes wind driven electric power plants, provided they are properly located, operated, and with provision for removal in the event of obsolescence.

Scenic Michigan believes some measure of local input and control of siting and operation is mandatory, perhaps through a model ordinance which could be used throughout Michigan. Given their potential impacts, Scenic Michigan does not believe installation of large, wind driven electric power plants should be permitted in Michigan as a matter of right by developers, electric utilities or units of government.

The factors which should be considered for each installation include:

** Impact of location of these tall structures (hundreds of feet high)in environmentally or visually sensitive areas
** Visual impact to residents and tourists
** Need for and appearance of facilities to connect to the electric grid such as a substation, security fencing, power lines and roads
** Blade and/or hub lighting to FAA requirements, especially flashing strobe lights
** Light flicker on neighbors due to sunlight reflected off blades
** Ice shedding potential
** Color of the units
** Proximity to migratory bird flyways and night flying birds and bats
** Noise
** Maintenance of the power plant site
** Economic viability, with and without tax credits
** Removal bond in the event of obsolescence

Communities and organizations evaluating wind driven electric power plants can obtain more information from Scenic Michigan.

Please note new e-mail address for Scenic Michigan:info@scenicmichigan.org

Abby Dart
Scenic Michigan
445 E. Mitchell St.
Petoskey, MI 49770
231-347-1171
231-347-1185 (fax)
231-881-6266 (cell)
website: www.scenicmichigan.org

----------

Their laundry list of things to take into account isn't all bad, but it misses just one key thing: the consequences of making electricity with fossil fuels, which are the alternatives to wind in our fair state.

It appears that what people want is electricity made by little genies behind electric switchplates and socket covers.

I wonder: how much tourism Scenic Michigan expects to see after our failure to cut CO2 emissions from power plants comes home to roost?


 

There oughta be a law . . .

. . . in Michigan that makes any municipal or private ban on
clotheslines ("solar clothesdryers") unenforceable. (A friend told me
that there are developments that forbid you from hanging out your
clothes to dry.)


 

A good relocalization model to follow

The Northwest Earth Institute developed a series of high-quality study guides for people to use in small groups of friends and neighbors, churches, etc. These are great models for the kind of educational materials we will need to develop around relocalization topics. Check them out here.


 

Planning . . . get your fresh Lansing planning links here

http://www.re-news.net/plan/


 

The One Global Warming Article to Read

. . . if you're only reading one. 24 short, well-written, plain English pages (pdf). Read it.

Climate Change: a catastrophe in slow motion
by Ray Pierrehumbert (one of the Real Climate contributors)


 

Good article on Lansing's #1 public works need: electrified transit

Back to the Future . . . a number of early electric power companies
started "traction" companies because they needed a use for the power
they made--so they built electric trolley lines. Lansing had a terrific
system at one point, and should again.


 

MUST READ: Can we still avoid the Climate Abyss?

For those wondering why Peak Oil can't be discussed without so much emphasis on global warming, the reason is this: the non-negotiable American Way of Life (as Bush I called it) means acting as if they earth was infinite and doing anything to avoid using less of anything.

Thus, we are going to see intense pressure building to use our vast coal reserves to make liquid fuels, as the Nazis did throughout WWII, and to make power for the electric cars and vehicles. . . . Anything other than drive less, in other words. And that would be the end of the world. I'll post another article later that makes the excellent point that we can't quite destroy the world with oil and natural gas, because there's simply not enough of it, and there's not enough carbon in them, to double the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. But we have more than enough coal to render the planet a non-stop sauna.

The link takes you to the full presentation, briefly summarized below

Can We Still Avoid Dangerous Human-Made Climate Change?
(PDF 3.7 Mb; 42 pp)
James E. Hansen

Summary:

The Earth’s temperature, with rapid global warming over the past 30 years, is now passing through the peak level of the Holocene, a period of relatively stable climate that has existed for more than 10,000 years. Further warming of more than 1ºC will make the Earth warmer than it has been in a million years.

“Business-as-Usual” scenarios, with fossil fuel CO2 emissions continuing to increase ~2%/year as in the past decade, yield additional warming of 2-3°C this century and imply changes that constitute practically a different planet. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the Earth’s climate is nearing, but has not passed, a point or no return beyond which it will be impossible to avoid climate change with far ranging undesirable consequences.

The changes include not only loss of the Arctic as we know it, with all that implies for wildlife and indigenous peoples, but losses on a much vaster scale due to worldwide rising seas. Sea level will increase slowly at first, as losses at the fringes of Greenland and Antarctica due to accelerating ice streams are partly balanced by increased snowfall and ice sheet thickening in the ice sheet interiors. But as Greenland and West Antarctic ice is softened and lubricated by melt-water, and as buttressing ice shelves disappear due to a warming ocean, the balance will tip to rapid ice loss, bringing multiple positive feedbacks into play and causing cataclysmic ice sheet disintegration.

The Earth’s history suggests that with warming of 2-3°C the new equilibrium sea level will include not only most of the ice from Greenland and West Antarctica, but a portion of East Antarctica, raising sea level of the order of 25 meters (80 feet). Contrary to lethargic ice sheet models, real world data suggest substantial ice sheet and sea level change in centuries, not millennia. The century time scale offers little consolation to coastal dwellers, because they will be faced with irregular incursions associated with storms and with continually rebuilding above a transient water level.

The grim “Business-as-Usual” climate change is avoided in an Alternative Scenario in which growth of greenhouse gas emissions is slowed in the first quarter of this century, primarily via concerted improvements in energy efficiency and a parallel reduction of non-CO2 climate forcings, and then reduced via advanced energy technologies that yield a cleaner atmosphere as well as a stable climate.

The required actions make practical sense and have other benefits, but they will not happen without strong policy leadership and international cooperation. Action must be prompt, otherwise CO2-producing infrastructure that may be built within a decade will make it impractical to keep further global warming under 1°C.

There is little merit in casting blame for inaction, unless it helps point toward a solution. It seems to me that special interests have been a roadblock wielding undue influence over policymakers. The special interests seek to maintain short-term profits with little regard to either the long-term impact on the planet that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren or the long-term economic well-being of our country. The public, if well-informed, has the ability to override the influence of special interests, and the public has shown that they feel a stewardship toward the Earth and all of its inhabitants. Scientists can play a useful role.


 

If you must drive . . .

( . . . don't drive without offsetting your CO2 emissions. I have a TerraPass as do two friends here in the neighborhood.)

January 05, 2006
http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0105/p16s01-sten.html

Drivers atone for exhaust with carbon offsets

By Linda Baker | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

As a business and fundraising consultant, Pat Castleman drives about 1,000 miles a month. So when the Mill Valley, Calif., resident heard that she could "neutralize" the greenhouse gas pollutants emitted by her new Infiniti sedan, she jumped at the opportunity. By signing up with DriveNeutral, a nonprofit launched in October by students at the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco, Ms. Castleman was able to calculate her "climate change footprint," using simple online calculators. To neutralize that footprint, she bought greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, also known as "carbon offsets." Castleman paid $25 to compensate for about five tons of carbon emissions a year - plus a DriveNeutral decal proclaiming her vehicle's carbon-free status.

. . .

Although the United States is not a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that imposes mandatory greenhouse-gas reductions beginning in 2008, a growing number of cities, states, and businesses are developing market-based programs to buy and sell pollutants that contribute to global warming. These initiatives include underwriting clean energy technology or purchasing carbon offsets generated by planting forests or recapturing methane gas released from cow manure.

. . .

DriveNeutral compensates for pollution from a person's car by participating in a voluntary emissions trading market called the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). The 130 corporations, nonprofits, and governments on the exchange are legally bound to achieve annual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, either by reducing them internally or by buying "emissions credits" from companies that have exceeded reduction targets.

Individual buyers cannot participate in the CCX. But because DriveNeutral is an associate member, it buys blocks of credits and divides them into increments tailored to fit the ecological footprint of an individual automobile. The $25 Castleman paid to offset her Infiniti reflects the current price of carbon, about $1.50 per metric ton.

After purchasing emissions credits, DriveNeutral takes them off the market.

"We intervene, and the overall pool of allowable credits goes down," says CEO Jason Smith. As a result, CO2 emissions decline, while market demand for credits increases, he says.

Over the past two months, DriveNeutral has claimed 600 metric tons in CO2 reductions through 125 car certifications. A for-profit competitor, TerraPass, launched by students at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia last year, cites 19,000 tons in CO2 reductions and 2,500 certifications. Carbonfund, a nonprofit that offsets home, office, and transportation emissions, boasts 37,000 tons in reductions.

. . .

Emissions retailers say they understood the challenges of pioneering a new market. TerraPass uses third-party verification to ensure projects follow "strict rules for additionality," says CEO Tom Arnold. Under the Kyoto Protocol, "additionality" refers to emissions reductions that happen in addition to those occurring under a "business as usual" scenario.

Mr. Smith says DriveNeutral's long-term goal was to build a viable carbon-emissions market. "The availability of low-hanging fruit will quickly diminish," he says.

Easy-to-implement credits stimulate trading, says Melissa McHenry, spokeswoman for American Electric Power, a CCX founding member. "The whole premise is that you can achieve environmental benefits at the least cost." Through a combination of carbon sequestration and power-plant efficiencies, AEP reduced emissions from 166.4 million metric tons to 147.4 million in 2004. Ms. McHenry declined to comment on credits the company had bought or sold on the exchange.

Since its launch in 2003, CCX has traded 4 million tons of CO2 with a value of $8 million. The European Union, which is preparing for mandatory emissions-reductions targets under Kyoto, traded 230 million tons of CO2 in 2005 alone, with carbon selling at $26 a metric ton.

Enterprises such as DriveNeutral aim to respond to federal inaction on global warming, says Ron Nahser, provost for the Presidio School of Management. "We see the potential for a grass-roots movement on the most pressing problem of our time."


 

Turned off by Global Warming?

Notice the percentage cuts in greenhouse gases required . . .
One downside to this article is that the clearly well-informed woman
doesn't get the connection between compact flourescent bulbs and
coal-fired power plants . . .

===========
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/20/opinion/20ellison.html?th&emc=th

Turned Off by Global Warming

By KATHERINE ELLISON
Published: May 20, 2006

San Francisco

BY now, only someone who has been hiding under a rock would need to see the new Al Gore movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," to learn that global warming is real. Even Time magazine caught up to the degree of the threat last month, with its cover story urging us to be "very worried."

. . .

Well, I for one am very, very worried. As the mother of two young boys, I want to do everything I can to protect their future. But I feel like a shnook buying fluorescent light bulbs — as Environmental Defense recommends — when at last count, China, India and the United States were building a total of 850 new coal-fired power plants. Clearly, it's time for some radical ideas about solving global warming. But where's the radical realism when we need it?

Here's the truly inconvenient truth: Scientists have long been warning that the world must cut back on greenhouse-gas emissions by as much as 70 percent, as soon as possible, if we're to have a fighting chance of stabilizing the climate.

. . .

While the California governor backpedals, a team of scientists, economists and business executives have put forward a potentially revolutionary plan. Outlined by Ross Gelbspan, a former Boston Globe reporter and editor, in his book "Boiling Point," the so-called Clean
Energy Transition would start by turning over an estimated $25 billion in annual federal government payments now supporting the fossil-fuel industry to a new fund for renewable energy investments. It would also create a $300 billion clean-energy fund for developing countries through a tax on international currency transactions, while calling on industry
to get in line with a progressive fossil-fuel efficiency standard, forcing greenhouse-gas emitters to immediately work on conservation.


 

Peak Oil and Lansing

Welcome.

This blog is about Lansing ("our fair city") MI, and oil--or, more precisely, the impending lack thereof.

This blog is here now because Lansing is totally unprepared for the end of the cheap oil fiesta and the beginning of what urban and suburban "planning" critic James Howard Kunstler calls "The Long Emergency." That's the mission here: helping the people in this community take up the issues that need to be addressed if we are not only to survive, but thrive.

We're behind the curve already. The city that claims to have put the world on wheels is utterly dependent on the black gold that made those wheels go for the last century, and go so well that a form of transportatation (the car) became, ipso facto, a key organizing principle of society, around which all other social forms revolved.

But even nimble little startup organizations (such as the Pentagon) and cities that are already much better equipped to deal with the end of cheap energy (such as SF and Portland, Oregon) have beamed on to the impending problem. And they have started to take action. Which is essential, because there is little time to lose. A consultant that the Department of Energy hired to look at the problem refused to say when he thought Peak Oil would occur --- but he did say that, whenever the Peak was, we would only avoid catastrophic consequences to our economy and by an intensive, 20-year Apollo and Manhattan Project level of effort beforehand.

Obviously, we forgot to make that level of effort. So, just as with global warming, we're committed to an unspecified amount of disruption and dislocation. But that doesn't mean that we can't make the best possible use of the energy we still have available to us now, while it's still relatively cheap and abundant.

And, despite its current failure to prepare, Lansing also has a lot of positive assets for the post-petroleum future, which we will naturally take up as the discussion continues.

Anyway, welcome to the blog. Bookmark it, visit often, and join the discussion.

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