Monday October 23rd 2017

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‘Energy’ Archives

Time to get off the bench…

Many of us have been captivated as the largest ecological disaster in our history slowly unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico.  The days pass as man struggles to put the cork back in the bottle and ebb the eruption of oil from the ocean floor.  The images are heartbreaking.

The reality is that fossil fuels have been wiping out life in the Gulf of Mexico for many years.  Our industrial food production system is heavily reliant on fertilizers that are produced from fossil fuels.  Most of the fertilizer used in the Midwest washes off the crops and fields and eventually is deposited in the Mississippi River which empties out into the Gulf of Mexico. (here is a animated explanation)

The nitrogen in the fertilizer spurs the rampant growth of algae in the water which eventually sucks the oxygen out of the water — no oxygen, no life.

The size of the dead zone varies but it can be as large as the state of New Jersey, or about 7,000 square miles.  (more here)

We have simply added a killing zone to the dead zone.

While the anger towards BP is warranted the opportunity presented by this catastrophe will be wasted if yet again we only focus on the symptoms. Or worse, if we simply do nothing.

The use of  coal causes a myriad of health problems and thousands of deaths across the country.  Thousands of US soldiers are continually put in harm’s way to ensure adequate access to oil fields.  Contamination by leaks from oil tankers and oil wells destroy entire ecosystems around the world every year.  The burning of fossils fuels are the driving force behind climate change that threatens to create an unlivable planet.

When do we start acting like adults and acknowledge the simple facts?  When do we start to make changes in our society?  Want a livable planet?  Want a few other life forms to survive with us?  Want to revive the American economy?  Then do the following:

  1. Write/Call your senator (Yes, really): Demand that we put a price on carbon.  Demand that they take action to stop global warming.  The true cost to society of burning coal and oil is not yet reflected in the prices we pay.  Once costs rise for these dirty fuels, industry will rapidly shift to renewable energy.  Renewable energy is LOCAL energy….local jobs, local manufacturing….what’s not to like?

    You can find your senator’s contact information here.

  2. Live a sustainable life style:  Each week look for a new way to reduce the amount of energy you use.  Drive less.  Get an energy audit for your home.  Weatherize your home.  Install some solar power on your roof.  Buying a new appliance?  Do your homework and get the most energy efficient model you can.  Buy less stuff. Avoid plastics.  Re-use.  Recycle.
Life is not a spectator sport.

A fun (but serious) take on Drill, Baby, Drill…

For the cartoon lovers,

Good Deed for the Day: Fight Coal

People often ask me what they can do to create a sustainable society.  It all seems so overwhelming at times.  The issues and forces are so large what can I do as a single person?  Some days I feel that way too, but remember these wise words:

“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can
change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Each week look for a new way to change your life to make the world a bit more sustainable.  Find a way to use a bit less energy.  Buy a bit less stuff.  Talk to a friend and help spread the word about what we can do.  Pick up the phone and call your senator.  Sign a petition.

With email and the internet it is easier than ever to stay connected and learn about issues and spread the word.  I have signed up with a range non-profit organizations that are fighting to make the world a better place.  Many of these organizations send out action alerts on important issues.  They often provide an easy way to send a letter to your elected official or sign a petition that will be used to persuade decision makers.

One of my favorites is Green America.  In their own words:

What Makes Green America Unique
  • We focus on economic strategies—economic action to solve social and environmental problems.
  • We mobilize people in their economic roles—as consumers, investors, workers, business leaders.
  • We empower people to take personal and collective action
  • We work on issues of social justice and environmental responsibility.  We see these issues as completely linked in the quest for a sustainable world.  It’s what we mean when we say “green.”
  • We work to stop abusive practices and to create healthy, just and sustainable practice

Their current action is on sending letters to the shareholders of Southern Company — the company that owns the largest, single most-polluting coal plant in the country.  Please follow this link to send a letter voicing your concern.  Shifting away from the burning of coal should be a national priority as the pollution from this dirty energy source kills thousands every year and the carbon dioxide produced from the combustion of coal is the driving force of global warming.

They make it super easy to allow your voice to be heard.  They write the letter for you, though you can personalize the text if you like, and with a few clicks off it goes.  Being an activist has never been easier!
Here a  few screen shots to give you an idea of what it all looks like:

Find groups that you believe in and let them help you stay informed on key issues.  Use them to expand your impact by letting our elected officials and business hear what we expect from them.  You don’t have to make a contribution to join their action alert lists.  (Of course if you believe in the work they do, by all means make a donation — that is how they survive)

At least once a week, commit to signing a petition.  Sending a letter.  Making at least one phone call.  Ask 5 of your friends to do the same.  Before you know it, we’ve got a movement going here….

“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can
change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Looking for Leaders

Sage words from Thomas Friedman.  Where is the leadership?  Have we forgotten how to be bold?  How big of a disaster do we need before we dare to take action?

Obama and the Oil Spill

President Obama’s handling of the gulf oil spill has been disappointing.

I say that not because I endorse the dishonest conservative critique that the gulf oil spill is somehow Obama’s Katrina and that he is displaying the same kind of incompetence that George W. Bush did after that hurricane. To the contrary, Obama’s team has done a good job coordinating the cleanup so far. The president has been on top of it from the start.

No, the gulf oil spill is not Obama’s Katrina. It’s his 9/11 — and it is disappointing to see him making the same mistake George W. Bush made with his 9/11. Sept. 11, 2001, was one of those rare seismic events that create the possibility to energize the country to do something really important and lasting that is too hard to do in normal times.

President Bush’s greatest failure was not Iraq, Afghanistan or Katrina. It was his failure of imagination after 9/11 to mobilize the country to get behind a really big initiative for nation-building in America. I suggested a $1-a-gallon “Patriot Tax” on gasoline that could have simultaneously reduced our deficit, funded basic science research, diminished our dependence on oil imported from the very countries whose citizens carried out 9/11, strengthened the dollar, stimulated energy efficiency and renewable power and slowed climate change. It was the Texas oilman’s Nixon-to-China moment — and Bush blew it.

Had we done that on the morning of 9/12 — when gasoline averaged $1.66 a gallon — the majority of Americans would have signed on. They wanted to do something to strengthen the country they love. Instead, Bush told a few of us to go to war and the rest of us to go shopping. So today, gasoline costs twice as much at the pump, with most of that increase going to countries hostile to our values, while China is rapidly becoming the world’s leader in wind, solar, electric cars and high-speed rail. Heck of a job.

Sadly, President Obama seems intent on squandering his environmental 9/11 with a Bush-level failure of imagination. So far, the Obama policy is: “Think small and carry a big stick.” He is rightly hammering the oil company executives. But he is offering no big strategy to end our oil addiction. Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman have unveiled their new energy bill, which the president has endorsed but only in a very tepid way. Why tepid? Because Kerry-Lieberman embraces vitally important fees on carbon emissions that the White House is afraid will be exploited by Republicans in the midterm elections. The G.O.P., they fear, will scream carbon “tax” at every Democrat who would support this bill, and Obama, having already asked Democrats to make a hard vote on health care, feels he can’t ask them for another.

I don’t buy it. In the wake of this historic oil spill, the right policy — a bill to help end our addiction to oil — is also the right politics. The people are ahead of their politicians. So is the U.S. military. There are many conservatives who would embrace a carbon tax or gasoline tax if it was offset by a cut in payroll taxes or corporate taxes, so we could foster new jobs and clean air at the same time. If Republicans label Democrats “gas taxers” then Democrats should label them “Conservatives for OPEC” or “Friends of BP.” Shill, baby, shill.

Why is Obama playing defense? Just how much oil has to spill into the gulf, how much wildlife has to die, how many radical mosques need to be built with our gasoline purchases to produce more Times Square bombers, before it becomes politically “safe” for the president to say he is going to end our oil addiction? Indeed, where is “The Obama End to Oil Addiction Act”? Why does everything have to emerge from the House and Senate? What does he want? What is his vision? What are his redlines? I don’t know. But I do know that without a fixed, long-term price on carbon, none of the president’s important investments in clean power research and development will ever scale.

Obama has assembled a great team that could help him make his case — John Holdren, science adviser; Carol Browner, energy adviser; Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner; and Lisa Jackson, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency. But they have been badly underutilized by the White House. I know endangered species that are seen by the public more often than them.

Obama is not just our super-disaster-coordinator. “He is our leader,” noted Tim Shriver, the chairman of Special Olympics. “And being a leader means telling the rest of us what’s our job, what do we need to do to make this a transformative moment.”

Please don’t tell us that our role is just to hate BP or shop in Mississippi or wait for a commission to investigate. We know the problem, and Americans are ready to be enlisted for a solution. Of course we can’t eliminate oil exploration or dependence overnight, but can we finally start? Mr. President, your advisers are wrong: Americans are craving your leadership on this issue. Are you going to channel their good will into something that strengthens our country — “The Obama End to Oil Addiction Act” — or are you going squander your 9/11, too?

When you are in a hole……stop digging

Remember that pithy ditty, what was it again, all yeah, “Drlll baby, Drill”?  Michael Steele, the current head of the Republican National Committee came up the phrase and the party faithful chanted it gleefully at the 2008 Republican National Convention.  It made for good TV and it was kind of catchy.

It is also one of the f*%$# stupidest things I have ever heard in my life. ( I tried to find a more eloquent way to phrase my disdain, but after sitting here for 10 minutes I gave up.)  For any elected official to say such a thing reveals that s/he is unfit for any office of responsibility because s/he is either criminally incompetent or completely corrupted by special interests.

And the fact that any person, government official or just your average American can be so gleefully unaware of how the world works is, well, terrifying.

Why is the expansion of off-shore drilling such a bad idea?  Let us count the ways:

Climate Suicide
Global warming represents a profound threat to the survival of most life forms on the planet.  We need a “Man to the Moon” sense of urgency in stopping the burning of ANY fossil fuels.  ANY law, program, activity, incentive, tax break, or subsidy that promotes the continuation, or worse, the expansion of the use of fossil fuels is insane.  It represents societal suicide.

For me, that is a slam dunk, argument over.  But if you want more:

Energy Independence
Proponents argue that the United States should tap into all domestic reservoirs of oil so we can rely less on foreign oil and reduce the price we pay at the pump.  For this to make sense the US domestic oil supply would have to represent a significant percentage of the world oil supply to have any impact on price.  Here is the reality:

Do you think that little yellow slice is going to change our reality?

Simple Fact:  If you drilled EVERYWHERE in the United States that might have oil (on land, in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and at all off-shore sites) the US, might be able to produce 3% of the worlds oil. 
And remember, this doesn’t happen overnight.  It would take 10-20 years before that oil would come online.

And this oil is sold on the world market, not uniquely in the United States.  So the world market determines the price.

The United States consumes 24% of all the worlds oil.

So, we invest billions, wait 10 to 15 years, to add a sliver to the world’s oil supply.  Saudi Arabia simply shuts off  a tap or two and the world market is now down by whatever amount we just added.  Nothing changed.  Drilling would have no impact on the price of gasoline.

Drilling does nothing to improve our energy independence.  And I would argue that following this path makes us much worse off.  Drilling is a costly and dangerous diversion.  While the rest of the world is racing ahead and creating the energy technology of the future, solar technology, wind technology, battery technology, we are investing our time and money in last century’s technology.  During testimony before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works venture capitalist John Doerr stated: “If you list today’s top 30 companies in solar, wind and advanced batteries, American companies hold only 6 spots. That fact should worry us all.” (Read his full, crisp, powerful testimony here).

Wasting time on more drilling ensures that we will simply trade one energy dependence, oil, for another — solar, wind and battery technology.

Peak Oil
Any oil executive will tell you that the world has already reached peak oil or will do so within a decade.  Every aspect of our society is based on the premise of cheap oil.  Our food production system is incredibly oil intensive.  Our transportation system relies on the private automobile — think about our towns and suburbs where you must use your car to go get a loaf of bread, or take the kids to soccer practice, or get to work. Most of our “cheap” products travel up to 12,000 miles from factories in China and other countries.  The world’s demand for oil is growing exponentially — the day there is not enough oil to meet demand, our deck of cards economy will be devastated.  The financial crisis of 2008 will look like a quaint garden picnic.(Think about what happens to a company when their rate of profit INCREASE is less than expected — their stock price can plummet.  Not a drop in profits, not a loss, but just less growth in profits than expected — chaos!).  A mere drop of 5% in oil supply can cause a global economic meltdown.  More data and details on peak oil can be found here.

Life as we know is about to change forever. The sooner we shift away from relying on oil, the better chance we have of surviving the day of reckoning from peak oil.

Human Imperfection
Stubbornly, even maniacally i would argue many still believe that we can create perfect technology.  That we can control all the risks associated with our increasingly complex world.  Get over ourselves.  The BP oil spill may not be contained for 3 months.  It may represent the greatest ecological disaster seen in modern history.

It only takes one mistake to wipe out years of perfection. 

Drill, baby, Drill, is the rant of an drug oil-addict –delirious and disconnected from reality as any heroin addict.

Given these facts, how could a rational person support expanding drilling for oil?

Think, Baby, Think!  (Now that is a ditty with a future.)

This Story Will Put Wind in Your Sails

Creating a sustainable society will require many things. At the broadest level it will require us to stop doing those things that are killing us, and begin doing those things that will allow us to prosper for generation after generation. The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming and we need to shift away from these technologies urgently. What does that mean?

Means never building another coal plant starting today.

Means telling your elected officials to end the dozens of tax breaks and incentives still offered to the oil industry. Why are tax payers subsidizing the wealthiest corporations in the world?

Means stop driving cars. Means bringing public transportation to towns and cities all across the country. Means changing zoning laws so we can integrate our communities so we can walk or bike to school, to work, to the store, or wherever we need to go.

Means investing in renewable energy. Tax incentives for people like you and me to add solar panels to our homes. Tax breaks to encourage investors to expand the wind energy industry

A sustainable society will be powered on solar and wind and some geothermal.Sound crazy? Did you know that if we built a solar farm in Nevada that was 100 miles by 100 miles it would create enough electricity to power the entire country? You math types will think wow, but that is 10,000 square miles, that is huge. It is big, but it would only cover about 10% of the surface area of Nevada (really big desert out there). Now, no one is seriously proposing such a massive farm but it does give you a sense of perspective. Actually, if we tapped into all the solar potential found in our country, we could produce 7X all the amount of electricity we use now. Same for wind power. If we tapped into all the reasonable sites, we could produce another 7X all the power we currently use.

All those farms would be in the United States, creating American jobs. One windmill turbine has 6,000 parts. All those parts could be made in America….think of how many manufacturing jobs that would create. At the moment most of those parts are made elsewhere. Why?

I have only scratched the tip of a huge energy iceberg of options that are out there. And what are we doing as a country about this. Virtually nothing. Big oil has too much power and keeps our leaders in grid lock.

We need to transform our entire energy infrastructure. We need to change our lives and the demands we place on the planet. We need imagination and ingenuity. Our country has a wealth of both, but at the moment much of it seems to be wildly misplaced in developing credit default swaps and other soul and earth destroying ventures.

Check out the article below. It is about the potential offered by wind energy, well only in the smallest of ways. But more importantly it is a story about what we can achieve when we dare to dream and see our world in a different way. About what can happen when we simply get on with it, not aware that what we are attempting is impossible. It is one of the most inspirational stories I have read in a long time. A great way to start the weekend…

William Kamkwamba up one of his windmills
William Kamkwamba educated himself in his local library

By Jude Sheerin
BBC News

The extraordinary true story of a Malawian teenager who transformed his village by building electric windmills out of junk is the subject of a new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
Self-taught William Kamkwamba has been feted by climate change campaigners like Al Gore and business leaders the world over.
His against-all-odds achievements are all the more remarkable considering he was forced to quit school aged 14 because his family could no longer afford the $80-a-year (£50) fees.
When he returned to his parents’ small plot of farmland in the central Malawian village of Masitala, his future seemed limited.
But this was not another tale of African potential thwarted by poverty.
Defence against hunger
The teenager had a dream of bringing electricity and running water to his village.

William Kamkwamba and one of his windmills
Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy – people thought I was smoking marijuana
William Kamkwamba

And he was not prepared to wait for politicians or aid groups to do it for him.
The need for action was even greater in 2002 following one of Malawi’s worst droughts, which killed thousands of people and left his family on the brink of starvation.
Unable to attend school, he kept up his education by using a local library.
Fascinated by science, his life changed one day when he picked up a tattered textbook and saw a picture of a windmill.
Mr Kamkwamba told the BBC News website: “I was very interested when I saw the windmill could make electricity and pump water.
“I thought: ‘That could be a defence against hunger. Maybe I should build one for myself’.”
When not helping his family farm maize, he plugged away at his prototype, working by the light of a paraffin lamp in the evenings.
But his ingenious project met blank looks in his community of about 200 people.
“Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy,” he recalls. “They had never seen a windmill before.”
Neighbours were further perplexed at the youngster spending so much time scouring rubbish tips.

Al Gore
William Kamkwamba’s achievements with wind energy show what one person, with an inspired idea, can do to tackle the crisis we face
Al Gore

“People thought I was smoking marijuana,” he said. “So I told them I was only making something for juju [magic].’ Then they said: ‘Ah, I see.'”
Mr Kamkwamba, who is now 22 years old, knocked together a turbine from spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade and an old shock absorber, and fashioned blades from plastic pipes, flattened by being held over a fire.
“I got a few electric shocks climbing that [windmill],” says Mr Kamkwamba, ruefully recalling his months of painstaking work.
The finished product – a 5-m (16-ft) tall blue-gum-tree wood tower, swaying in the breeze over Masitala – seemed little more than a quixotic tinkerer’s folly.
But his neighbours’ mirth turned to amazement when Mr Kamkwamba scrambled up the windmill and hooked a car light bulb to the turbine.
As the blades began to spin in the breeze, the bulb flickered to life and a crowd of astonished onlookers went wild.
Soon the whiz kid’s 12-watt wonder was pumping power into his family’s mud brick compound.
‘Electric wind’
Out went the paraffin lanterns and in came light bulbs and a circuit breaker, made from nails and magnets off an old stereo speaker, and a light switch cobbled together from bicycle spokes and flip-flop rubber.
Before long, locals were queuing up to charge their mobile phones.

2002: Drought strikes; he leaves school; builds 5m windmill
2006: Daily Times writes article on him; he builds a 12m windmill
2007: Brings solar power to his village and installs solar pump
Mid-2008: Builds Green Machine windmill, pumping well water
Sep 2008: Attends inaugural African Leadership Academy class
Mid-2009: Builds replica of original 5m windmill

Mr Kamkwamba’s story was sent hurtling through the blogosphere when a reporter from the Daily Times newspaper in Blantyre wrote an article about him in November 2006.
Meanwhile, he installed a solar-powered mechanical pump, donated by well-wishers, above a borehole, adding water storage tanks and bringing the first potable water source to the entire region around his village.
He upgraded his original windmill to 48-volts and anchored it in concrete after its wooden base was chewed away by termites.
Then he built a new windmill, dubbed the Green Machine, which turned a water pump to irrigate his family’s field.
Before long, visitors were traipsing from miles around to gawp at the boy prodigy’s magetsi a mphepo – “electric wind”.
As the fame of his renewable energy projects grew, he was invited in mid-2007 to the prestigious Technology Entertainment Design conference in Arusha, Tanzania.
Cheetah generation
He recalls his excitement using a computer for the first time at the event.
“I had never seen the internet, it was amazing,” he says. “I Googled about windmills and found so much information.”
Onstage, the native Chichewa speaker recounted his story in halting English, moving hard-bitten venture capitalists and receiving a standing ovation.

Bryan Mealer (left) with William Kamkwamba
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (left) spent a year writing the book

A glowing front-page portrait of him followed in the Wall Street Journal.
He is now on a scholarship at the elite African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mr Kamkwamba – who has been flown to conferences around the globe to recount his life-story – has the world at his feet, but is determined to return home after his studies.
The home-grown hero aims to finish bringing power, not just to the rest of his village, but to all Malawians, only 2% of whom have electricity.
“I want to help my country and apply the knowledge I’ve learned,” he says. “I feel there’s lots of work to be done.”
Former Associated Press news agency reporter Bryan Mealer had been reporting on conflict across Africa for five years when he heard Mr Kamkwamba’s story.
The incredible tale was the kind of positive story Mealer, from New York, had long hoped to cover.
The author spent a year with Mr Kamkwamba writing The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which has just been published in the US.
Mealer says Mr Kamkwamba represents Africa’s new “cheetah generation”, young people, energetic and technology-hungry, who are taking control of their own destiny.
“Spending a year with William writing this book reminded me why I fell in love with Africa in the first place,” says Mr Mealer, 34.
“It’s the kind of tale that resonates with every human being and reminds us of our own potential.”
Can it be long before the film rights to the triumph-over-adversity story are snapped up, and William Kamkwamba, the boy who dared to dream, finds himself on the big screen?

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