Friday, June 30, 2006
Important--Carbon sequestration: less than meets the ear
Geological carbon sequestration and storage: recipe for leaks and toxic contamination?
A great deal of energy is being expended these days to see how close to "business as usual" we can remain and still deal with the climate change crisis. Ford's decision to abandon hybrids for "flex fuel" cars (i.e. defer reduced emissions another decade or so while ethanol 85 becomes available) and power companies eager embrace of geological carbon storage and sequestration are just a couple of examples. The latter has hit a bit of a bump in the road: a recent study by Kharaka suggests that CO2 increases pH and mobilizes toxic metals creating a potential for contamination of nearby aquifers. Geology study
Richard Kerr of Science reported:
Scientists testing the deep geologic disposal of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are finding that it's staying where they put it, but it's chewing up minerals. The reactions have produced a nasty mix of metals and organic substances in a layer of sandstone 1550 meters down, researchers report this week in Geology. At the same time, the CO2 is dissolving a surprising amount of the mineral that helps keep the gas where it's put. Nothing is leaking out so far, but the phenomenon will need a closer look before such carbon sequestration can help ameliorate the greenhouse problem, say the researchers.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Kicking the Carbon Habit
Dear Mr. Sweet,
I just finished your book, Kicking the Carbon Habit: Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy, and I wanted to write to commend you for it.
However, I must add that the discussion of nuclear power needs significant expansion to address a key issue, one that you clearly recognize as critical when discussing other forms of energy. We can call this the EROEI (energy return on energy invested).
There is a growing realization that nuclear plants require so much embedded energy that they are net energy sinks for a non-trivial period, and that nearly all of this energy causes the release of CO2.
That is, the enormous amounts of energy that go into making the plants (particularly in concrete but also in various steels) and the fuel rods (mining, milling, enriching, fabricating) is not at all insubstantial.
Thus, it is incorrect to ignore this or to say that nuclear plants are essentially zero carbon plants. Sure, they don't emit carbon (or anything else) while burning fuel, but that's like saying that hydrogen is a zero carbon fuel by ignoring all the carbon released in making hydrogen.
Naval nuclear plants, for example, use such high-enrichment fuel (to avoid refueling requirements) that they never produce net energy. And while civilian light water reactors do not require that kind of enrichment, new nuclear plants still start out with a huge carbon and energy debt to work off, which means it is years before they produce more energy than they consumed along the way (I have heard estimates exceeding 15 years when all the construction and fuel cycle energy use is accounted for).
Given that a plant ordered tomorrow would probably not carry base load for ten years, and would probably not reach an energy profit for at least another decade, it's very unclear whether the commitment of $100 billion for nuclear plants is a very wise investment for the United States. On a CO2 reduction per dollar basis, I suggest that the same money would be far more effectively spent on national and local rail projects (to elminate truck transport and to slash airline travel), combined heat and power plants (such as Tom Casten proposes, which you seemed to dismiss far too lightly), conservation, and small, distributed generation projects.
Again, I want to commend you for the book, especially for the sections discussing the climate modelers, which was fascinating. And I do hope you will revise and expand the third section so that it offers lay readers a more rigorous look at the energy alternatives and the net energy return they offer.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Interesting title and writeup: Gardening when it counts
Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times
by Steve Solomon
The decline of cheap oil is inspiring increasing numbers of North Americans to achieve some measure of backyard food self-sufficiency. In hard times, the family can be greatly helped by growing a highly productive food garden, requiring little cash outlay or watering.
Currently popular intensive vegetable gardening methods are largely inappropriate to this new circumstance. Crowded raised beds require high inputs of water, fertility and organic matter, and demand large amounts of human time and effort. But, except for labor, these inputs depend on the price of oil. Prior to the 1970s, North American home food growing used more land with less labor, with wider plant spacing, with less or no irrigation, and all done with sharp hand tools.
But these sustainable systems have been largely forgotten. Gardening When It Counts helps readers rediscover traditional low-input gardening methods to produce healthy food.
Designed for readers with no experience and applicable to most areas in the English-speaking world except the tropics and hot deserts, this book shows that any family with access to 3-5,000 sq. ft. of garden land can halve their food costs using a growing system requiring just the odd bucketful of household waste water, perhaps two hundred dollars worth of hand tools, and about the same amount spent on supplies - working an average of two hours a day during the growing season.
Steve Solomon is a well-known west coast gardener and author of five previous books, including Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades which has appeared in five editions.
Permaculture--where Lansing must go
This is from some friends in the Pacific NW (near Bellingham, WA, pretty far up toward the Canadian border). Although this area has more folks, we also have a richer growing season (and colder winters!). This report about permaculture installations in the Northwest is inspiring.
This is what Lansing will need to do--all this stupid grass has to go, to be replaced with edible crops, and we all need to learn to put food by again. Michigan as a whole is blessed with a great climate for growing a great abundance and variety of things. What we need is to be teaching Michigan kids useful skills in schools---like how to grow food, and how to preserve it---so that they can live independently of oil supplies.
Here's the report on permaculture:
This week on Thursday I wangled a visit to a local Bellingham permaculture home. The guy was a younger person, friend of someone I know at the college, and he agreed to show my friend and me around the place after he got done with work.
He bought an old small house 8 years ago, and it had the usual gravel drive and grassy lawn, just like most of the neighbors still have---totally boring American landscape needing constant mowing and trimming to fit into the surroundings.
Not this guy's place - it was a jungle on a nice-sized city lot. The grass in the pathways he simply tramples down as he walks through. The rest is raised beds with perennials or re-seeded plants. Surrounding is fruit and nut trees, with berry bushes underneath - with no spacing between, totally thick and very productive. Probably dozens of species of plants.
He has very little of the standard high-maintenance veggie garden---stuff just grows each year and he harvests and pulls out invasive weeds and occasionally makes changes to an area. I liked his model for how to replace grassy areas with food in a city lot. He even has chickens in an enclosure with lots of trees and shrubs - and they absolutely control weeds on the ground around the plants. He still has to feed them. When he bought the place, no birds at all---now it's a little bird haven surrounded by human devastation (lawns, driveways, and streets).
On Friday, we visited another permaculture site on a much larger scale---10 acres plus. The Bullock brothers bought 10 acres of forest (doug fir, cedar) on Orcas Island back around 1980---they had studied permaculture with Bill Mollison and Holmgren and came from Hawaii.
At the lower boundary of their property was an old valley swamp without the water. Somehow they re-flooded the swamp as their first action and it's still a productive bog with permanent water. Then they took out forest trees in a scalloped pattern in the lower half of the property to
develop as a food-growing and nursery area, adjacent to the swamp. They built structures on the upper ridge, probably 100 feet above the swamp.
At the mid-levels, above the intensive growing area, is where interns (maybe a dozen?) live and work. The interns pay something like $100 a month to stay there and work under guidance (aka slaves, but with the twist that the slaves want to be there and pay for it and have freedom
Spotted around the property are 10 composting toilets, very crudely built with locally available materials - but highly effective. The little outhouse structures have handles on them, and when needed they pick them up and move them on, leaving the composted waste in situ. That's then a great place to put a new tree.
Water management is where they've put in a lot of work - solar PV cells (used, previously fried, very cheap, still working fine) drive DC pumps that move water from the swamp area to holding tanks up the ridge, which then gravity (& also other-pump-pressurized) feeds the highly complex watering system. Orcas gets half the precip that B'ham does, and they have a south -west facing slope that makes it quite warm, even hot when we were there.
They have numerous greenhouses without active controls for propagating plants and have some semi-tropical varieties in the warmer spots. They have fruit/berry bushes from all over the world, plus some they've managed to invent. For fruit trees, they have a system of keeping grass away and nutrients in by planting day lilies right near the tree, then a ring of comfrey in about a 6-8 foot circle around the tree. The lilies and comfrey come up each year on their own and bring nutrients to the surface, and the dead comfrey is mulch to keep out the grass. Very low maintenance and good for the tree.
We're gonna do that very soon this summer with our fruit and nut trees. I also want to learn to graft like Doug (tour guide) Bullock does so we can grow different varieties of fruit on tree-stock that has good roots but is presently non-productive---he's done that on many, many trees at
the site. I'm also going to be propagating the bushes like mad and make the areas I'm developing bush factories galore to help keep down grass and make food. Gooseberries, currant (big on them), aronia, sea buckthorn, goumi, thornless blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and so on.
The only animals are chickens, which they use for eggs and as chook tractors (chickens in a movable cylindrically-shaped cage---they totally eliminate weeds wherever the cage is) and ducks that they use for slug patrol during the non-growing season (I don't know where they go in the spring - didn't see them). Also didn't see any slugs or mosquitoes, amazing enough for this area.
They are now developing another 8 acres of leased land adjacent to theirs. It was hard to figure out the business model - I think the interns are one source of income, and the nursery another---they sell plants you just can't get anywhere else in No. America. They also sell design/ development services in other countries---Nicaragua was one that kept popping up in conversation. . . .
The next step up in complexity for permaculture is likely the top level---applying permaculture philosophy to a town or region such as a county. Unfortunately, there is no model for that to my knowledge. Some wannabes (S.F., Portland, ...) just starting down the road, yeah, but nothing in place. It may be possible for a town like Bellingham (a little over 100,000 folks) that's still not totally packed with people---but we're infilling as fast as possible still and housing prices are way beyond reasonable now & probably not sustainable.
Bellingham is perhaps small enough that, if we can preserve the good growing land surrounding the city, enough food might be grown there to support the town and be close enough to the population to get it to them even after oil shortages become endemic.
The city will also need to educate people on the model of the first place I visited so as many as possible grow as much of their own food as possible and have some joy in the process of doing it. That would inevitably stimulate much better neighborhood relationships as people learn to know each other and share ideas that work well. My big question is whether the city, or any city, can get through that multi-decade process peacefully enough to actually survive. If we start right now, possibly. If we wait until the actual gasoline shortages hit and prices skyrocket, perhaps not. I fear we'll soon find out what lengths people will go to (even neighbors) when the feeling of panic occurs when we can't afford to buy (or cannot even find in stores) the food we need.
I have no idea how society will survive on the larger, more dense scale of cities with millions of people; how can Japan feed the inhabitants of Tokyo without oil to grow and deliver food to their 37 million mouths?
Here's a link to the Bullock bro. farm website so you can read a bit about permaculture and see some photos of their stuff: http://www.permacultureportal.com/
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Yes, please, lets!!
Age taking its toll on interstates Liz Heitzman, Columbia Daily Tribune
Imagine an America with no interstates.
(and trains linking everybody!)
Friday, June 23, 2006
Must read: Deffeyes' "Beyond Oil" updated and now in paper
Deffeyes, a geologist who was among the first to warn of the coming oil crisis, now takes the next logical step and turns his attention to the earth's supply of potential replacement fuels.
This book explains both why the decline of our most precious fuel is inevitable and how challenging it will be to cope with what comes next.--Richard E. Smalley, University Professor, Rice University, and 1996 Nobel laureate
With world oil production about to peak and inexorably head toward steep decline, what fuels are available to meet rising global energy demands? That question, once thought to address a fairly remote contingency, has become ever more urgent, as a spate of books has drawn increased public attention to the imminent exhaustion of the economically vital world oil reserves. Kenneth S. Deffeyes, a geologist who was among the first to warn of the coming oil crisis, now takes the next logical step and turns his attention to the earth's supply of potential replacement fuels. In Beyond Oil, he traces out their likely production futures, with special reference to that of oil, utilizing the same analytic tools developed by his former colleague, the pioneering petroleum-supply authority M. King Hubbert.
The bad news in this book is made bearable by the author's witty, conversational writing style. If my college econ textbooks had been written this way, I might have learned economics. --Rupert Cutler, The Roanoke Times
About the Author
Kenneth S. Deffeyes
is Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. His previous book, Hubbert's Peak
: The Impending World Oil, was published in 2001 by Princeton University Press.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Sad but all too true: Lansing a least-liveable city for those without cars
More portents of global warming
Is Global Warming Fueling Western Wildfires?
Bill Blakemore, ABC
This year, wildfires have already burned more than 3 million acres — more than three times the average at this time of year.
Many scientists say that these fires fit exactly into the pattern predicted for global warming and that it's likely to get, on average, even drier and hotter.
Over the last month, ABC News has traveled through the San Bernardino Mountains, Western Sierras, and Rockies to find out what scientists and firefighters make of the new flames they must now face.
The size and ferocity of these wildfires plaguing the West right now — many growing in size every hour — astonishes even experienced fire chiefs like Mat Fratus of the San Bernardino City Fire Department.
"I had talked to people who had been in the fire service their entire career, and not only this fire, but fires in preceding years, because of the drought, because of the fuel conditions, they produced fire behavior, flame links, intensities that we had never really experienced before," Fratus said.
...Today's wildfires are part of a worsening pattern most everywhere.
Since 1970, the number of major wildfires has soared not only in North America but around the world.
(21 June 2006)
Ethanomania dreams spreads to biowaste
[Apparently we've put in a new kind of soil that doesn't need tilth renewal all over America.]
New Fuel Source Grows on the Prairie
With Oil Prices Up, Biomass Looks More Feasible
By Justin Gillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 22, 2006; A01
IMPERIAL, Neb. -- Just outside this town in the middle of the great American prairie, 37 miles from the nearest traffic light, stands a huge pile of cornstalks and leaves. It looks like a 35-foot mountain of yard trash, yet black cables snake into the pile, attached to sensors that monitor its vital statistics by the minute.
If ambitious plans taking shape in Washington and in state capitals come to fruition, this pile of stalks and many more like it will become the oil wells of the 21st century. The idea is to run the nation's transportation system largely on alcohol produced from bulk plant material, weaning America from foreign oil and the risks that go with it, including wars, global warming and terrorism.
Farmers have pushed for years to get more people using gasoline mixed with ethanol made from corn kernels, but so far such ethanol has replaced only about 3 percent of the nation's gasoline, and by most estimates, the country would never be able to grow enough corn to replace more than 10 or 12 percent of its fuel supply.
Now many scientists -- and eager Silicon Valley venture capitalists -- are focusing on a new type of ethanol made from agricultural wastes and other plant residues, a potentially vast supply of material known as biomass. . . .
"If you think we're heading towards a future where oil prices are going to stay relatively high, $50-plus a barrel, then the energy cost delivered in plant biomass is much, much less than the energy cost delivered in oil," said Bruce E. Dale, head of the Biomass Conversion Research Laboratory at Michigan State University. "I'm completely convinced that this industry is going to happen on economic grounds alone. The demand for liquid fuels is so high and rising that we're going to convert an awful lot of stuff to liquid fuels."
. . .
Two former directors of central intelligence, R. James Woolsey and John M. Deutch, have become advocates of biomass as a fuel source. The basic insight, Woolsey said in an interview, is to realize that global warming, the geopolitics of oil, and warfare in the Persian Gulf are not separate problems -- they are aspects of a single problem, the West's dependence on oil. Woolsey throws fundamentalist Muslim terrorism into the mix, noting that funds for the schools that turn out Islamic radicals come from Persian Gulf states enriched by oil money. "This is the only war the U.S. has ever fought where we pay for both sides," Woolsey said. . . .
For 30 years, some scientists have believed the ultimate feedstock for transportation fuel would be something called cellulose--for the elementary reason that it is the most abundant organic molecule on the planet.
Cellulose, like starch, is made up of glucose molecules, but packed so tightly they're extremely hard to break apart. Plants use cellulose chiefly as a structural material -- it helps trees and grasses stand upright. If efficient ways were developed to break open the molecules, a wide variety of agricultural wastes or specially planted energy crops could feed the new industry.
Scientific progress has been slow, but now it seems to be accelerating. Enzymes needed for the process used to cost more than $5 per gallon of ethanol, but biotechnology companies, under government research contracts, have reduced that to 30 cents per gallon. . . .
Now a new set of questions is dawning in farmhouses across the land. If the industry takes off, what would be the practical realities of gathering hundreds of millions of tons of bulk material to feed the ethanol factories of the new age? . . .
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
What Lansing needs most
--a way to be car-free and still engaged in the social, civic, and economic life of the area. If _Dallas_ can do it, any city that pulls its head out can. See LightRailNow.org for more.
Looks Easy Now ...
The Bumpy Road to Light-Rail Success
Dallas’ light-rail system is so successful today, it’s hard to imagine how close it came to foundering. DART recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the opening of its first rail line. It’s good, then, to look back on those difficult early years because they show other regions how vision and tenacity can overcome cynicism and self-doubt.
First, though, how successful is DART? As the Dallas Morning News recounted recently, the 45-mile rail system has begun reshaping its region, not just by offering another way to work but by changing the way land is used along its path. According to studies, developers have announced or built more than $3 billion in projects in DART rail corridors in the past decade. “Rail does the same things highways have done,” DART’s board chair told the Morning News. “Before, businesses actually turned their facades around to face the highway. What we’re doing now is turning that back around again to face our rail lines.”
And then, of course, there are the passenger statistics. DART hauls 70,000 riders on weekdays, about 17.5 million a year, very close to original forecasts. And though it’s still new, DART is already the fifth-largest light-rail system in the country. “It’s part of an emerging new fabric of Dallas,” one civic leader told the Morning News. “DART already has, and will have, a very, very significant impact on how we grow in the future.” (To view a map of DART’s rail system, click here.)
But it was almost not to be. . .
Footnote: So what’s next for DART? The big prize is connecting with Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, which should be achieved in another seven years. When completed, DART will have 93 miles of rail lines, more than twice its present size.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
The Long Adjustment begins as oil prices filter through economy
USA Today: Asphalt prices are skyrocketing as costs for oil, a key component of the paving material, are near records. In some parts of the country, there are asphalt shortages, and both price and availability problems are forcing local governments across the U.S. to scale back or cancel road projects during the main summer paving season.
The signs keep piling up
Next Victim of Warming: The Beaches
By CORNELIA DEAN (NYT)
As sea levels rise, many experts fear that costly efforts to stem the tide will prove futile.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Scientists call for Manhattan Project on Energy
Looming energy crisis requires new
'Manhattan Project': US scientists
by Zachary Slobig Fri Jun 16, 12:27 PM ET
The United States urgently needs an effort similar to the Manhattan Project or NASA's moon mission to confront a looming energy crisis, according to scientists at a high-level energy conference.
Soaring global demand for energy and rapid depletion of resources need to be addressed by a long-term government-led project similar to the World War II-era effort to develop an atomic bomb, University of Southern California scientist Anupam Madhukar said at the annual National Energy Symposium on Thursday.
"A sense of urgency is needed like the Manhattan Project or sending a man to the moon," Madhukar said.
But the scientists spoke of the difficulty of a paradigm shift in the way the United States addresses its energy needs to fend off an energy crisis on the order of the 1970s, scientists and politicians at the symposium said.
They agreed that it would take 50 years to shift energy consumption policies in a more sustainable direction, pointing at how, for most of the 1800s, the United States relied on wood for its energy needs.
After forests were depleted, it took half a century for the country to make the shift to coal, and it will take just as long to shed what President George W. Bush has called "our addiction to oil," according to scientists.
"There has never been a year in history when we have used less energy than the year before, and it would be optimistic to think that we could reverse that trend," said Nathan Lewis, professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.
[Nathan Lewis is the speaker in this most excellent streaming video presentation:
Powering the Planet: Where in the World Will Our Energy Come From?
While you are there, you should also watch:
Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil,
[Back to our story excerpt:]
. . .
Scientists said that to keep up with demand, the country must diversify its energy portfolio by developing technologies in natural gas, biofuel and nuclear, wind and solar power.
Madhukar stressed the urgent need for a concerted state-led effort at diversification.
"Clearly, all possible sources must be pushed to their limits," he said, emphasizing the need for expansion of solar energy in the country's mix. . . .
Some scientists believe the United States cannot afford to wait 50 years for a substantive change in energy practices. . . .
Analysts agreed at the energy symposium that any tangible change in energy policy will require firm governmental leadership. But some believe that conservation is also driven by localized responsibility.
"Just look at this room," said Debbie Cook, a city council member from Huntington Beach, just south of Los Angeles.
"There's a gas fire in the fireplace in the middle of June and a tremendous amount of unnecessary lights hanging from the ceiling."
"Energy is the engine of growth for civilization," said Lewis. "It is the currency of the world." Scientists just believe the United States is squandering this currency.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Funding both sides
FOREIGN POLICY ANALYSTS CALL WAR ON TERROR A FAILURE
LYNDA HURST, TORONTO STAR - - Washington is failing to make progress
in the global war on terror and the next 9/11-style attack is not a
question of if, but when. That is the scathing conclusion of a survey
of 100 leading American foreign-policy analysts. . . . The main reasons for the decline in
security, they said, were the war in Iraq, the detention of terror
suspects in Guantanamo Bay, U.S. policy towards Iran and U.S. energy policy. http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1150321812412&call_page=TS_World&call_pageid=968332188854&call_pagepath=News/World&pubid=968163964505
Birds and Wind Turbines
I am reading a great book about the obsession with the American lawn --
American green : the obsessive quest for the perfect lawn / Ted Steinberg.
In it, the author notes that 7 million birds are killed by lawn treatment chemicals ANNUALLY.
I recall estimates about bird kill from house and feral cats on the order of tens of millions annually. I know that skyscrapers and bridges and other static structures kill untold numbers of birds.
I think we need to do some serious cost-benefit on the various methods of bird kill before we decide that wind machines are a big problem.
We know that many species of birds not be able to adapt to a world that is 5-10 degrees F hotter.
This is a huge and not-easily-solved conflict because one of the things that characterizes bird flyways is high average wind speeds--that's why birds use them as flyways. There are places with high windspeeds that aren't bird flyways--but there are exactly ZERO places where someone doesn't have five reasons fight tooth and nail against a wind turbine (fears of noise, fear of EM fields, disturbance of pristing land, fear of shadow, fear for birds, "view" concerns . . .).
Because wind machines are a permitted use (meaning, the developer has to get permits), the enviro community has many good opportunities to defeat the permits and lots of skill in doing so. (The question is whether we have any skills in getting the right technologies built, rather than just stopping a few examples of what we dislike.)
Meanwhile, the coal plants get built--each one representing a 60 year (or more) commitment to pump billions to tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, while sucking up the capital and making it unavailable for clean energy. And the lawn and golfing industry merrily pours toxic chemicals over an area the size of Kentucky (no permits required) and people keep cats outdoors (no permits required).
I'm not arguing for siting wind turbines in the most sensitive spots--but I am saying we better have a serious and rising sense of real urgency about ensuring that _huge_ numbers of wind turbrines can and are sited in Michigan, or else we're simply doing our part to condemn all species, including birds, to a hellish future.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Advance Tickets Now Available!
Advance Benefit Showing:
Al Gore in
“An Inconvenient Truth”
Lansing’s Celebration Cinema:
Thursday, June 29, 2006 (6:30 PM)
Requested donation: $25 or more
An advance showing of the most important film of the year–
Hosted by the Lansing Post-Petroleum Planning Project (LP4) http://peakoillansingmi.blogspot.com
Net proceeds go to URBAN OPTIONS and ENVIRONMENT MICHIGAN, two nonprofit environmental organizations working on energy conservation and climate change issues in Mid-Michigan.
FOR ADVANCE TICKETS:
By phone: Call Urban Options: 517-337-0422 ext. 5
Online ordering: www.EnvironmentMichigan.org
This benefit performance will likely sell out, so advance tickets are recommended.
(Note: contributions to Urban Options above $7.50 are tax-deductible for those who itemize.
Contributions to Environment Michigan are not tax-deductible.)
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Companies to document their global warming vulnerabilities?
"Investors have a right to know if a company's buildings are in the path of hurricanes that might be exacerbated by climate change, or if it will face high costs when greenhouse gas emissions are regulated. They need that information to reduce their portfolio risk," said James Coburn, a policy adviser at Ceres, a coalition of environmental groups and investors who collectively manage more than $1 trillion in assets that sent a letter asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to require that companies disclose their financial vulnerability to changes in climate, the New York Times reports.
World Grain Stocks Plunge
[Modern agriculture is "the use of land to convert petroleum into crops." Hence, there is no cheap grain in a world of diminishing fossil fuel supplies.]
Earth Policy News -
World Grain Stocks Fall to 57 Days of Consumption:
Grain Prices Starting to Rise
Eco-Economy Indicator - GRAIN HARVEST
June 15, 2006
Eco-Economy Indicators are the twelve trends the Earth Policy Institute tracks to measure progress in building an eco-economy.
Grain production is the best indicator of the adequacy of the food supply. On average, half the calories we consume come directly from grain and a large part of the remainder come from the indirect consumption of grain in the form of meat, milk, eggs, and farmed fish.
WORLD GRAIN STOCKS FALL TO 57 DAYS OF CONSUMPTION:
Grain Prices Starting to Rise
Lester R. Brown
This year's world grain harvest is projected to fall short of consumption by 61 million tons, marking the sixth time in the last seven years that production has failed to satisfy demand. As a result of these shortfalls, world carryover stocks at the end of this crop year are projected to drop to 57 days of consumption, the shortest buffer since the 56-day-low in 1972 that triggered a doubling of grain prices.
World carryover stocks of grain, the amount in the bin when the next harvest begins, are the most basic measure of food security. Whenever stocks drop below 60 days of consumption, prices begin to rise. It thus came as no surprise when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected in its June 9 world crop report that this year's wheat prices will be up by 14 percent and corn prices up by 22 percent over last year's.
With carryover stocks of grain at the lowest level in 34 years, the world may soon be facing high grain and oil prices at the same time. . . .
For entire text see http://www.earthpolicy.org/Indicators/Grain/2006.htm
For data see http://www.earthpolicy.org/Indicators/Grain/2006_data.htm
For an index of Earth Policy Institute resources related to Food and Agriculture see http://www.earthpolicy.org/Indicators/Grain/index.htm
Monday, June 12, 2006
LP4 Every-Other-Wednesday Sustainability Video Series Kicks Off 6/21
Mark your calendars--from now through August, the Lansing Post-Petroleum Planning Project (LP4) is hosting a FREE series of important DVD showings,
every other Wednesday at 7 p.m., in the Community Room at
EVERYBODY READS bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave, Lansing (next to Gone Wired Cafe)
June 21 7 p.m.
THE END OF SUBURBIA: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream
July 5 7 p.m.
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
July 19 7 p.m.
PEAK OIL: IMPOSED BY NATURE
Aug 2 7 p.m. To be announced
Aug 16 7 p.m. To be announced
Aug 30 7 p.m. To be announced
Everyone is welcome.
Host: The Lansing Post-Petroleum Planning Project is a local group made up of people concerned with helping the Greater Lansing area create a plan to thrive in the very challenging years that are coming up, as the world supply of cheap energy begins to diminish and the need for drastic reductions in overall fossil-fuel usage further limit our options.
Please post/publicize/forward wherever appropriate.
A Michigan academic predicts World Peak Oil by 2010
So much for wanting "sound science"
BUSH REGIME GETTING RID OF THOSE LIBERAL, TREE HUGGING SATELLITES
BETH DALEY, BOSTON GLOBE - NASA is canceling or delaying a number of satellites designed to give scientists critical information on the earth's changing climate and environment. The space agency has shelved a $200 million satellite mission headed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor that was designed to measure soil moisture -- a key factor in helping scientists understand the impact of global warming and predict droughts and floods. The Deep Space Climate Observatory, intended to observe climate factors such as solar radiation, ozone, clouds, and water vapor more comprehensively than existing satellites, also has been canceled. And in its 2007 budget, NASA proposes significant delays in a global precipitation measuring mission to help with weather predictions, as well as the launch of a satellite designed to increase the timeliness and accuracy of severe weather forecasts and improve climate models. . . Ultimately, scientists say, the delays and cancellations could make hurricane predictions less accurate, create gaps in long-term monitoring of weather, and result in less clarity about the earth's hydrological systems, which play an integral part in climate change.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
We're running out--so we better start using more, faster!
New Interior Secretary Sworn In And Ready To Go
Kempthorne told senators he was eager to expand oil and gas development on public lands and waters that already produce 30 percent of the nation's domestic supply of energy.
Civilizations in decline are consistently characterised by a tendency
towards standardization and uniformity. -Arnold Toynbee, historian
Dark clouds over the future
The Energy Challenge
Clouds From Chinese Coal Cast a Long Shadow
HANJING, China — One of China's lesser-known exports is a dangerous brew of soot, toxic chemicals and climate-changing gases from the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants. . . .
Unless China finds a way to clean up its coal plants and the thousands of factories that burn coal, pollution will soar both at home and abroad. The increase in global-warming gases from China's coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years, surpassing by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks. . . .
The sulfur pollution is so pervasive as to have an extraordinary side effect that is helping the rest of the world, but only temporarily: It actually slows global warming. The tiny, airborne particles deflect the sun's hot rays back into space.
But the cooling effect from sulfur is short-lived. By contrast, the carbon dioxide emanating from Chinese coal plants will last for decades, with a cumulative warming effect that will eventually overwhelm the cooling from sulfur and deliver another large kick to global warming, climate scientists say.
A warmer climate could lead to rising sea levels, the spread of tropical diseases in previously temperate climes, crop failures in some regions and the extinction of many plant and animal species, especially those in polar or alpine areas.
Coal is indeed China's double-edged sword — the new economy's black gold and the fragile environment's dark cloud.
Already, China uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined. And it has increased coal consumption 14 percent in each of the past two years in the broadest industrialization ever. Every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego.
To make matters worse, India is right behind China in stepping up its construction of coal-fired power plants — and has a population expected to outstrip China's by 2030. . . .
The difference from most wealthy countries is that China depends overwhelmingly on coal. And using coal to produce electricity and run factories generates more global-warming gases and lung-damaging pollutants than relying on oil or gas.
Indeed, the Wu family dislikes the light gray smog of sulfur particles and other pollutants that darkens the sky and dulls the dark green fields of young wheat and the white blossoms of peach orchards in the distance. But they tolerate the pollution.
"Everything else is better here," Mr. Wu said. "Now we live better, we eat better.". . .
The government has set one of the world's most ambitious targets for energy conservation: to cut the average amount of energy needed to produce each good or service by 20 percent over the next five years. But with an economy growing 10 percent a year, and with energy consumption climbing even faster, a conservation target amounting to 3.7 percent a year does not keep pace. . . .
The Hunt for Efficiency
The second big decision facing China lies in how efficiently the heat from burning coal is converted into electricity. The latest big power plants in Western countries are much more efficient. Their coal-heated steam at very high temperatures and pressures can generate 20 to 50 percent more kilowatts than older Chinese power plants, even as they eject the same carbon-dioxide emissions and potentially lower sulfur emissions. . . .
A New Technology
The third big choice involves whether to pulverize coal and then burn the powder, as is done now, or convert the coal into a gas and then burn the gas, in a process known as integrated gasification combined combustion, or I.G.C.C.
One advantage of this approach is that coal contaminants like mercury and sulfur can be easily filtered from the gas and disposed. Another advantage is that carbon dioxide can be separated from the emissions and pumped underground, although this technology remains unproven.. . .
With Chinese leaders under constant pressure to create jobs for the millions of workers flooding from farms into cities each year, as well as the rapidly growing ranks of college graduates, there has been little enthusiasm for a change of strategy.
Indeed, China is using subsidies to make its energy even cheaper, a strategy that is not unfamiliar to Americans, said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China specialist at the University of Michigan. "They have done in many ways," he said, "what we have done."
Friday, June 09, 2006
Eating Fossil Fuels: The coming Ag crisis
New book on oil and agriculture by Dale Allen Pfeiffer
New Society Publishers
Eating Fossil Fuels
Oil, Food, and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture
By Dale Allen Pfeiffer
The miracle of the Green Revolution was made possible by cheap fossil fuels to supply crops with artificial fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation. Estimates of the net energy balance of agriculture in the US show that ten calories of hydrocarbon energy are required to produce one calorie of food. Such an imbalance cannot continue in a world of diminishing hydrocarbon resources.
Eating Fossil Fuels examines the interlinked crises of energy and agriculture and highlights some startling findings:
* The world-wide expansion of agriculture has appropriated fully 40% of the photosynthetic capability of this planet.
* The Green Revolution provided abundant food sources for many, resulting in a population explosion well in excess of the planet's carrying capacity.
* Studies suggest that without fossil fuel based agriculture, the US could only sustain about two thirds of its present population. For the planet as a whole, the sustainable number is estimated to be about two billion.
Concluding that the effect of energy depletion will be disastrous without a transition to a sustainable, relocalized agriculture, the book draws on the experiences of North Korea and Cuba to demonstrate stories of failure and success in the transition to non-hydrocarbon-based agriculture. It urges strong grassroots activism for sustainable, localized agriculture and a natural shrinking of the world's population.
Dale Allen Pfeiffer is a novelist, freelance journalist and geologist who has been writing about energy depletion for a decade. The author of The End of the Oil Age, he is also widely known for his web project: www.survivingpeakoil.com.
Inconvenient Truth Premiere: Beneficiary organizations announced
Lansing Premiere, An Advance Benefit Showing:
An Inconvenient Truth
The Mid-Michigan premiere of
"An Inconvenient Truth"
will be a special benefit showing at Celebration Cinema in Lansing.
Thursday, June 29, 2006. (Time: 6:30 p.m.)
(Regular opening is 6/30).
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 be split between two nonprofit environmental organizations
working on energy conservation and climate change issues in Mid-Michigan:
Environment Michigan (www.EnvironmentMichigan.org) and
Urban Options (www.urbanoptions.org)
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Even the CARTOONIST sees through Ethanomania
Amazing piece by the Detroit News Cartoonist [!]--who does a better job on the ins and outs of ethanomania than the rest of the paper.
Loophole fuels Detroit's ethanol fixation
The Detroit News
By Henry Payne
. . .
Ethanol is already one of Washington's most infamous boondoggles, costing U.S. taxpayers $4.1 billion a year in federal subsidies. The money is a political sop to the farm lobby.
But because of ethanol's mediocre mileage performance, the E85 blend is only in 600 of America's 180,000 filling stations nationwide and a small but growing handful in Michigan.
How does a fuel that is 25 percent less efficient than gasoline help increase fuel mileage ratings and help automakers avoid fines that run into the hundreds of millions of dollars? Welcome to the looking glass world of federal regulations. . . .
Running on gasoline, an SUV like the Chevy Tahoe achieves 20.1 mpg under CAFE's test. Put E85 in it instead and the fuel economy plummets to 14.6 mpg.
America's 100 mpg truck
But for the purposes of CAFE -- and here's where we fall down the rabbit hole, Alice -- the government starts massaging the numbers. It only counts the 15 percent of E85 that is gasoline in its fuel economy rating, increasing the vehicle's mileage figure a whopping seven-fold to
Only Washington, D.C. could actually produce an imaginary 97.3 mpg sport utility vehicle!
The government then takes that number, averages it with the 20.1 gasoline number, runs it through a special formula, and -- voila! -- arrives at the flex-fuel Chevy Tahoe's official CAFE mileage: a healthy 33 mpg. . . .
"If we want a game changer, then ethanol is a very good play for this country," Ford Chief Executive Bill Ford testified on Capitol Hill last month.
Ethanol's benefits evaporate
But a comprehensive study in Car & Driver magazine's July issue finds that ethanol's alleged advantages evaporate, leaving only its CAFE credit as a reason for production. . . . And ethanol consumes more fossil fuels to produce than it saves in use.
Despite a 51 cents-per-gallon tax break in the production of ethanol, plus a 5 cent-per-gallon exemption from the federal gas tax, ethanol still costs more at the pump than gasoline. As long as that remains the case, few service stations will continue installing pumps for a product that gives customers 25 percent less gas mileage.
So sure enough, Michigan U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, this week introduced another ethanol tax scam: Giving subsidies to install E85 pumps at service stations. . . .
Where might we find the money to fix our broken energy systems?
High Cost of Prisons Not Paying Off, Report Finds
The U.S. spends more than any other nation -- $60 billion a year -- to house inmates, but sees little good as a result, a bipartisan panel says.
By Jenifer Warren, Times Staff Writer
June 8, 2006
SACRAMENTO — Americans spend $60 billion a year to imprison 2.2 million people — exceeding any other nation — but receive a dismal return on the investment, according to a report to be released today by a commission urging greater public scrutiny of what goes on behind bars.
The report, "Confronting Confinement," says legislators have passed get-tough laws that have packed the nation's jails and prisons to overflowing with convicts, most of them poor and uneducated. However, politicians have done little to help inmates emerge as better citizens upon release.
The consequences of that failure include financial strain on states, public health threats from parolees with communicable diseases, and a cycle of crime and victimization driven by a recidivism rate of more than 60%, the report says.
"If these were public schools or publicly traded corporations, we'd shut them down," said Alexander Busansky, executive director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, established by a private think tank in New York. Rather, the commission said, Americans view prisons with detachment or futility, growing interested when a riot makes the news and then looking away, "hoping the troubles inside the walls will not affect us."
With 20 members representing diverse perspectives, the bipartisan panel urges Americans to ignore the costs of incarceration no longer. Launched in early 2005 amid what panelists called "accumulating doubts about the effectiveness and morality of our country's approach to confinement," the commission will deliver its findings to a Senate subcommittee in Washington today.
. . .
The report can be found at http://www.prisoncommission.org .
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Think about this and, if you believe it, act on it: our unsustainable patterns of production and consumption won't destroy the earth, just our ability to live on it.
Must read: A guide to Relocalization Plans (Energy Descent Action Plans)
A crucial--and overlooked--ethics crisis: Junkets for judges
Junketing Judges: A Case of Bad Science
By Eric Schaeffer
Sunday, June 4, 2006; Page B02
Just how far will corporate lobbyists go to tilt governmental decisions in their favor? Last fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Clean Air Act does not require regulating carbon dioxide emissions that are heating up the planet at an unprecedented rate. It turns out that two of the jurists who helped decide the case -- Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg and Judge David B. Sentelle -- attended a six-day global warming seminar at Yellowstone National Park sponsored by a free-market foundation and featuring presentations from companies with a clear financial interest in limiting regulation.
According to documents released by a watchdog law firm last week, Exxon Mobil Corp. and other large businesses contribute to conservative think tanks to help "educate" federal judges through seminars like the one at Yellowstone. At least one major funder of these judicial junkets has said that the D.C. Circuit is targeted because of its jurisdiction over important environmental cases.
Did the Yellowstone trip affect the court's decision in the global warming case? Ginsburg and Sentelle are both strong-minded intellectual conservatives, and it is possible, perhaps likely, that they would have made the same decision if they had stayed home. The Code of Conduct for federal judges does not prohibit attending such seminars -- as long as participation does not "cast reasonable doubt on the capacity to decide impartially issues that may come before them." But if appearances count, then Ginsburg and Sentelle may have fallen short. And Sentelle did violate the law by not listing on his financial disclosure forms the value of the Yellowstone trip.
Many experts in the scientific community agree that global warming is approaching a tipping point where action must be taken to avoid irreversible consequences. But bowing to the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency reversed itself in September 2003 by ruling that carbon dioxide was not subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. (Administration efforts to soften enforcement rules led several other career officials and me to leave the agency a year before this case.) Convinced that the EPA had misinterpreted the law, a coalition of states and environmentalists sued the agency at the end of 2003, and the case was assigned to the D.C. Circuit.
Sentelle was the deciding vote in the 2 to 1 ruling last fall backing the EPA's decision not to regulate, and he and Ginsburg were part of the 4 to 3 majority on the full court that rejected a request by states and environmental groups to reconsider. The Supreme Court will decide on June 15 whether to hear an appeal.
Well before the issue hit the appeals court, those opposed to carbon dioxide regulation got an early start by persuading Ginsburg and Sentelle to participate in the 2002 Yellowstone conference on climate change, sponsored by the corporate-funded Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment. As documented by the Community Rights Counsel, a nonprofit judicial watchdog group, FREE has for more than a decade hosted seminars for federal judges at Montana resorts. Until last year, Ginsburg was a member of FREE's board. Ginsburg, Sentelle and 10 other federal judges at this particular conference were warned about deep scientific uncertainties, according to FREE's John Downen, who, in writing about the seminar, suggested that people adapt to higher temperatures through economic growth, rather than by cutting emissions.
While relaxing in beautiful surroundings, the judges heard from Caterpillar Inc., the largest U.S. manufacturer of greenhouse-gas-producing construction and mining equipment, and Temple-Inland, a major forest products company. The Caterpillar representative lectured on "the environmental and economic impact of regulation by litigation," which must have been particularly interesting; the company has paid huge fines for rigging its heavy-duty diesel engines to bypass emission controls. Caterpillar and Temple-Inland both belong to industry associations that filed briefs opposing global warming regulation in the case heard later by Ginsburg and Sentelle.
According to FREE, some of its funding has come from the M.J. Murdock Foundation, which also donated $250,00,000 to the conservative Washington Legal Foundation in 2003. WLF filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing regulation of carbon dioxide emissions in the D.C. Circuit case.
FREE's Pete Geddes has dismissed the idea that these judicial junkets affect court decisions, telling a Washington Post reporter recently, "I don't think they're going to come to Montana, go on a horsy ride and run home and strike down federal environmental laws." But judges attend these seminars for an education, so some of what they are taught is bound to stick.
Leaders of Congress and the federal courts seem to recognize that the federal judiciary ought to be out of bounds for lobbyists. Chief Justice John G. Roberts testified during his confirmation hearing that "special interests should not be permitted to lobby federal judges," and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) is sponsoring legislation that would ban such trips, while creating a fund to pay for legal education for judges.
Voters can replace elected officials who seem too close to special interest groups. But judges are appointed for life, and allowing insider access threatens the integrity of the one branch of government that should stand above politics. Court cases must be won by argument, not by influence, and that means putting a stop to judicial junkets that give one side of the debate an unfair advantage.
Eric Schaeffer was director of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement from 1997 to 2002 and now directs the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
The Reading List to go with An Inconvenient Truth
This is a menu of books on global warming and its twin peril, peak oil (which is likely to drive us to a deadly embrace of coal.)
I made this list today because I am arranging with Schuler Books (a small Mid-Michigan-owned chain of bookstores) to offer a book sales table at the benefit showing of the new movie "An Inconvenient Truth" on Thursday, June 29, in Lansing at the Celebration Cinema (with Schuler Books donating 20% of the proceeds from books sold to the benefit).
I haven't read #1 yet. I am reading #2, "Big Coal" now, and it's terrific. And I can recommend #3-#11 without hesitation. All of these (except possibly #11) are available at your local bookstore, or through www.schulerbooks.com, or at the benefit in Lansing on June 29!
1) An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore
2) Big coal : the dirty secret behind America's Energy Future, Jeff Goodell
3) Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Are Fueling the Climate Crisis-and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster, Ross Gelbspan.
4) The Weather Makers, Tim Flannery
5) Out of Gas, David Goodstein
6) Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Colbert
7) The Party's Over, Richard Heinberg
8) Winds of Change, Eugene Linden
9) The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler
10) Powerdown, Richard Heinberg
11) The End of Fossil Energy and the Last Chance for Survival (3d ed. Just released), John Howe, McIntire Publishing Co.
Ethanomania's Dirty Little Secret (Great expose)
Green Fuel's Dirty Secret
by Sasha Lilley, Special to CorpWatch
June 1st, 2006
The town of Columbus, Nebraska, bills itself as a "City of Power and Progress." If Archer Daniels Midland gets its way, that power will be partially generated by coal, one of the dirtiest forms of energy. When burned, it emits carcinogenic pollutants and high levels of the greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
Ironically this coal will be used to generate ethanol, a plant-based petroleum substitute that has been hyped by both environmentalists and President George Bush as the green fuel of the future. The agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is the largest U.S. producer of ethanol, which it makes by distilling corn. ADM also operates coal-fired plants at its company base in Decatur, Illinois, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is currently adding another coal-powered facility at its Clinton, Iowa ethanol plant.
. . . Politicians from the Midwestern Corn Belt are some of the company's staunchest allies. Senators Richard Durbin, Charles Grassley, and Tom Harkin, and Representative Dick Gephardt have consistently supported lavish federal tax subsidies to ethanol producers, for which ADM is the prime beneficiary. All are recipients of political action committee donations from the agribusiness behemoth. The Wall Street Journal has referred to the former South Dakota senator and Senate minority leader as "Archer Daschle Midland," because of his unswerving support for the interests of the company.
. . .Debate has raged for years over whether ethanol made from corn generates more energy than the amount of fossil fuel that is used to produce it. UC Berkeley's Alexander Farrell recently co-authored a comprehensive study, published in Science, on the energy and greenhouse gas output of various sources of ethanol. His group found that corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gases by only 13 percent, which compares unfavorably with ethanol made from vegetable cellulose such as switchgrass. "Our best guess," says Farrell, "is that using corn ethanol today results in a modest decline of greenhouse gas emissions."
Yet the enormous amounts of corn that ADM and other ethanol processors buy from Midwestern farmers wreak damage on the environment in a multiplicity of ways. Modern corn hybrids require more nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides than any other crop, while causing the most extensive erosion of top soil. Pesticide and fertilizer runoff from the vast expanses of corn in the U.S. prairies bleed into groundwater and rivers as far as the Gulf of Mexico. The nitrogen runoff flowing into the Mississippi River has fostered a vast bloom of dead algae in the Gulf that starves fish and other aquatic life of oxygen.
To understand the hidden costs of corn-based ethanol requires factoring in "the huge, monstrous costs of cleaning up polluted water in the Mississippi River drainage basin and also trying to remedy the negative effects of poisoning the Gulf of Mexico," says Tad Patzek of the University of California's Civil and Environmental Engineering department.
"These are not abstract environmental effects," Patzek asserts, "these are effects that impact the drinking water all over the Corn Belt, that impact also the poison that people ingest when they eat their food, from the various pesticides and herbicides." Corn farming substantially tops all crops in total application of pesticides, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and is the crop most likely to leach pesticides into drinking water. . . .
Post Peak Transport Links
The Yellow Peril (Ethanomania)
ETHANOL AND IOWA FARMERS
GEORGE NAYLOR, WASHINGTON POST LETTER - The ethanol fuel boom in Iowa can seem intoxicating, but it is misleading to claim that Iowa farmers in general have benefited. Unless you have been an "investor" in an ethanol plant during recent times of expensive petroleum, the only way a farmer has participated in the ethanol program has been by producing cheap corn and relying on government subsidies to survive.
The Iowa Corn Growers Association. . . has promoted ethanol for more than 30 years. It even sounded reasonable to me when I was a young farmer on the first Iowa Corn Promotion Board in 1978. Now, with catastrophic oil prices and corn prices lower than when I started farming 30 years ago, it would be hard to imagine ethanol plants not being profitable.
Unfortunately, the legacy of the cheap-corn subsidy system is an Iowa landscape of ghost towns and environmental degradation, with corn and soybeans produced from horizon to horizon, interspersed with polluting industrial livestock operations. Boomtowns have never been known for their contributions to morality or culture and often not even for their contribution to long-term prosperity.
Without sound energy and agricultural policies that ensure that farmers get a fair price for their products, ethanol may be the illusory pot of gold at the end of the agribusiness rainbow.
[George Naylor is President of the National Family Farm Coalition]
Wind causing shears among environmentalists
June 6, 2006
Debate Over Wind Power Creates Environmental Rift
By FELICITY BARRINGER
OAKLAND, Md. — Dan Boone has no doubt that his crusade against wind energy is the right way to protect the Allegheny highlands he loves. Let other environmentalists call him deluded at best, traitorous at worst. He remains undeterred.
For four years or more, Mr. Boone has traveled across the mid-Atlantic to make every argument he can muster against local wind-power projects: they kill birds and bats; they are too noisy; they are inefficient, making no more than a symbolic contribution to energy needs.
Wind farms on the empty prairies of North Dakota? Fine. But not, Mr. Boone insists, in the mountainous terrain of southwestern Pennsylvania, western Maryland or West Virginia, areas where 15 new projects have been proposed. If all were built, 750 to 1,000 giant turbines would line the hilltops, most producing, on average, enough electricity to power 600 homes.
Wind projects are in the midst of a huge growth spurt in many parts of the country, driven by government incentives to promote alternatives to fossil fuels. But Mr. Boone, who wields a botanist's trowel and a debater's knife with equal ease, wants to slow them down with community activism, regulatory action and legal challenges.
His crusade harks back to the campaigns against nuclear power plants, toxic-waste dumps and dams on scenic rivers that were building blocks of the modern environmental movement. But the times, and the climate, are changing. With fears of global warming growing more acute, Mr. Boone and many other local activists are finding themselves increasingly out of step with the priorities of the broader movement.
. . .
"There's no free lunch," said Paul Hansen, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America, a venerable sportsmen's group. " 'Not in my backyard' is not environmentalism."
. . .
Mike Tidwell, the director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network and one of Mr. Boone's adversaries, bristles at the attack. "Wind industry guys are the straightest-shooting people," Mr. Tidwell said. "Most got into it because they had an environmental ethic."
. . .
Monday, June 05, 2006
Can Peak Oil and History of Oil Wars be Funny? Yes!
Important decision on nuclear power plant siting
Not sure whether this only applies in the 9th Circuit (Western states), but it has the potential to make new plant sitings a _lot_ harder.
==================================================================================== The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday handed down a decision ruling that NRC must require the consideration of the consequences of acts of terrorism in all licensing proceedings as part of the Environmental Impact Statements under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The decision focused on the successful challenge by the San Louis Obispo Mothers for Peace (MFP) against the siting of a high level nuclear waste dry cask storage facility at California's Diablo Canyon. The NRC had ruled against their request for a hearing to intervene citing an earlier Memo and Order (12/18/2003) that terrorism was too remote and speculative to be raised in a site specific proceeding in several previous licensing proceedings. Court Decision: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf/2BFBC6088AF13AA98825718000723C79/$file/0374628.pdf?openelement The decision concludes "NRC's position that terrorist attacks are 'remote and highly speculative' as a matter of law is inconsistent with the government's efforts and expenditures to combat this type of terrorist attack against nuclear facilities."
"We conclude that it is unreasonable for the NRC to categorically dismiss the possibility of terrorist attack on the Storage Installation and on the entire Diablo Canyon facility as too 'remote and highly speculative' to warrant consideration under NEPA." MFP attorney Diane Curran pointed out in arguments before the court that 140 spent fuel storage casks are to be located on an exposed hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean where they are vulnerable to airborne attack. "The effects of a terrorist attack on the steel casks could be devastating," she warned. "Our expert study found that if only two casks were breached, an area more than half the size of the State of Connecticut could be rendered uninhabitable."
Using Conservation to Avoid Construction
Energy: Wiser on the West Coast
By Christopher Palmeri
Fri Jun 2, 8:08 AM ET
. . .
The crisis branded the nation's most populated state as a energy-industry basket case. "What's the difference between California and the Titanic?" recently convicted former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling once joked. "The Titanic went down with the lights on."
. . . The better story, though, lies on the demand side of the equation, or what the state's fitness-focused governor might call portion control. Since California began aggressively pursuing energy efficiency in the mid-1970s, the state's per-capita electricity usage has remained flat at around 6,500 kilowatt-hours per person. In the rest of the country, consumption has risen from 8,000 to 12,000 kilowatt-hours in the same time frame. In terms of carbon emissions, that's the equivalent of keeping 12 million cars off the road.
Utilities On Board.
How does California do it? Here's one way: The state requires that fluorescent bulbs be used in new construction or major remodels in many rooms of the house. Fluorescent lights are more than four times more efficient than incandescents, so if you're remodeling a kitchen, laundry, or bathroom in the Golden State, you have no choice. The standards are part of a massive set of statewide building codes called Title 24 that was passed in 1978. They get toughened every couple of years or so, and consumers get used to them. "They kind of accept it and move on," says Santa Monica architect Aleks Istanbullu.
California has also succeeded by getting utilities involved in conservation. The state's big electric distributors shell out hundreds of millions of dollars every year in rebates to consumers who install more energy-efficient air conditioners, refrigerators, and heating systems. The rebates, budgeted at $2 billion between now and 2008, are intended to save $5 billion in power purchases. "Before we invest in traditional pipes and wires, we have to implement these programs," says Anne Shen Smith, senior vice-president for customer relations at San Diego Gas & Electric. "It's the equivalent of avoiding three new power plants."
Utilities are also required to get more of their power from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. In 2002, California instituted one of the most extensive renewable programs in the country, requiring 20% of power from such sources by 2010, up from 10% today. The utilities are also being allowed to earn their regulated rate of return on new "smart meters" that collect customer-usage information in real time, allowing the energy providers to recommend ways for them to cut costs. "California's unique," says Greg Ander, chief architect for Southern California Edison. "Utilities have gotten very aggressive since the meltdown."
. . . The state has other initiatives in the works. California Energy Commissioner Arthur H. Rosenfeld, who has been called the father of energy conservation in the state, says his office is now working on regulations that would require all new roofs in the state to be white, because they absorb less heat and cut air-conditioning bills. "The pharaohs and the Greeks have known this for 5,000 years," he says. Regulations presently call for flat roofs to be white. The state is working with roofing manufacturers who have created pigments that mimic the energy-saving nature of white so that the regulations can be extended to sloped roofs and tiles by 2008.
Sacrificing real national security in the name of National Security?
• The UPI reported that the US Government has ordered work stopped on more than a dozen wind farms because of concerns that the spinning blades might interfere with military radars. (Peak Oil Review, 6/5/06)
Government blocks wind farm plans
WASHINGTON, May 31 (UPI) -- The U.S. government has ordered work stopped on more than a dozen wind farms, saying the giant turbines might interfere with military radar.
But supporters of wind power say the reason for the actions is political and has little to do with national security, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.
In one instance, critics say, a group of wealthy vacationers believe a proposed wind farm off the Cape Cod, Mass., coast would spoil the view of the ocean from their summer homes.
The attempt to stop the planting of 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound has led to a moratorium on new wind farms across Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, the Tribune reported.
Federal officials have refused to say how many stop-work orders have been issued, but developers told the newspaper at least 15 projects have been shut down by the government so far this year.
The list of halted wind power projects includes one near Bloomington, Ill., scheduled to begin this summer and start operations next year. That wind farm would be the nation's largest source of wind energy, generating enough power for 120,000 Chicago-area homes.
It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here
For the first four months of 2006 Chinese imports were up 17 percent over 2005 and averaged 3.0 million b/d. Car sales in China surged by 20 percent during the first 4 months of the year helping to increase the demand for gasoline by 20 percent. Some 5.7 million motor vehicles were sold in China during 2005 bringing the country's fleet to about 30 million. The Chinese forecast that some 9.6 million will be sold each year by 2010 and that if this trend were to continue, China would have 140 million motor vehicles on the road by 2020. (Peak Oil Review, 6/5/06.)
Saudi trying to conceal its peak?
Signs of a New Twist
In Global Oil Story?
By JOSEPH SCHUMAN
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE
. . .
Where the oil story took an unfamiliar turn this weekend was Venezuela. After OPEC member states rejected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's proposal to formally cut output, as expected, Saudi Arabia's oil minister admitted the world's largest petroleum exporter has already done so. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ali Naimi attributed the decline in output to a drop in demand -- and he pointedly denied the kingdom was trying to boost prices by limiting supply. "At $70 a barrel?" he asked. Global oil stocks are full, he said, and many refiners -- which turn Saudi crude into the gasoline and jet fuel still so in demand -- have closed their facilities for routine annual maintenance. The implication of his remarks, the Journal says, is that Saudi Arabia will fully open its taps again when the demand for more oil is there. The Journal also cites OPEC officials saying others have encountered problems selling oil, including Iran and the United Arab Emirates. . . .
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Two must-see presentations (free, streaming video)
Back to the Future
[This has to happen everywhere. Long-haul trucking is an unsustainable waste that we never really could afford except that we acted like oil was infinite.]
* Produce trains will speed delivery, cut fuel costs
BY ERIC ANDERSON
ALBANY TIMES UNION
June 1, 2006
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Buildings large enough to drive a freight train through and refrigerated cars tracked and monitored by satellite are the key components in a plan to move fresh produce quickly from the West Coast to Rotterdam, N.Y.
A Long Island-based produce distributor is nearing completion of two new warehouses, one in Wallula, Wash., and the other in Rotterdam Industrial Park. They will serve as end points on the 3,000-mile route of the weekly 55-car produce express trains.
Until now, the fastest freight trains took up to nine days to go from coast to coast. But Ampco Distribution Services Management LLC of Riverhead, N.Y., has an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad and CSX Transportation to cut the trip to five days. That's comparable to truck.
But the two trains -- each of which will carry as much produce as 200 tractor-trailer trucks -- also will use less fuel, giving them an advantage that grows as the price of diesel fuel rises.
If all goes well, the first train will roll in late September.
When Ampco began its planning, diesel fuel cost $1.50 a gallon, said spokesman Paul Esposito. Today, it's twice that. Switching to rail will save 84,000 gallons of fuel a week, or more than 4.3 million a year. With the doubling of fuel prices, the $6.4 million in annual savings grows to $12.8 million.
The trains are expected to cut fuel consumption by about two-thirds, according to figures from Esposito. . . .
The 200,000-square-foot climate-controlled building is under construction next to a $15-million Golub Corp. frozen-foods warehouse that was completed in December. The new produce distribution center will employ as many as 300 people when in full operation.
A similar warehouse is nearing completion in Wallula, in Walla Walla County.
Both warehouses are large enough so the trains can be loaded and unloaded inside, under climate-controlled conditions.
"The train only stops for crew changes," Esposito said. Satellites will track the shipments and even the conditions inside each car so customers can monitor their inventory.
Spoilage has been an issue if a train is delayed or if refrigeration equipment fails.
"A boxcar-load of asparagus is a high-dollar perishable," said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis. "Any damage to that the railroad would have to pay for. Until the advent of today's more dependable refrigerator units, the railroads would allow that business to go to truck."
Esposito said his company will have a guaranteed supply of cars, locomotives and crews to keep the trains running on time.
Union Pacific's current Express Lane service for perishable items now takes up to eight days to move shipments from California to New York City.
Ampco's Esposito expects the savings on energy will make the produce more price-competitive and attract supermarket chains looking to cut costs. . . .