Archive for May, 2008

News Flash: Gas Prices Will Continue to Rise! Stop Whining and Start Acting!

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability, transportation on May 31, 2008 by theseep

We’re all tired of hearing everyone complain about gas prices. Besides the everyday complainers, we have truckers protesting, middle class families in suburbia going broke driving to work, and now McCain and Hillary are pushing a summertime “gas tax holiday”. Although it is unfortunate that so many people are being effected by the rising prices of fuel, the reality is that our days of cheap, government-subsidized cabon-based fuels are at an end. To put it in perspective, Germany just hit $8/gallon as the already expensive fuel prices throughout Europe continue to increase.
Peter Schwartz, PhD., a local Cal Poly Professor of sustainability calculated that the true cost of a gallon of gas, when you factor in extraction, refining, the environmental impacts, transport, associated human and health impacts, and every other estimatable cost, is around $12/gallon. As we approach this true cost, people will be forced to reconsider how they are utilizing energy resources.

Because we have manipulated the market for so long and fought wars for “energy security”, the U.S. has enjoyed falsely lowered fuel prices for half a century. This cheap gas market allowed the expansion of suburbia, the cheap transport of goods and services, the rise of the unparalleled American car culture, a booming vacation and travel market, and an incredible number of other unsustainable luxurious activities. It has also allowed us to waste an incredible amount of energy and resources because they have been so cheap. We have built grandiose, inefficient stick houses with poor insulation, installed energy-sucking appliances, and we drive down the street in our image-conscious, 12mpg SUVs, all choices based on what many people call the “free market”, but what is in reality a subsidized, racketeered, bastardized version of capitalism. The oil subsidies unto themselves are incredible, with an estimated $17.8 billion in tax subsidies and between $38 billion and $114.6 billion in government program subsidies, according to an article on treehugger.com.

Many conservative economists, would like us to “stay the course”, saying that this “free market” will direct where our money goes, ie: as consumer demand for renewable energy, efficient and electric cars, and sustainable business increases, we will see more of these products available. Although they are correct in basic theory, their entire paradigm of capitalism has been so twisted by political deals, unfair trade agreements, the aforementioned fuel subsidies, and a lack of accountability for the impacts of industrial production, that the basic tenets of the conceptual free market no longer apply. If not for these modifying factors falsely lowering the prices of certain goods and services, opening access to unsustainable development, as well as the effect of psychologically based marketing to sell us wasteful, often toxic products and foods, we would have likely been well on the way to being sustainable 30 years ago with the first energy crisis. If we had been paying European energy prices as we should have been, we would be living efficiently in closer communities, with less waste, public transportation, and more local food production, the very direction that we need to move in immediately if we are to decrease the looming effects of our self-induced climate change.

I recently saw a few minutes of Glenn Beck on a near-sighted, unthoughtful rant on why we should start drilling in Alaska to get us more cheap oil. This is the same lunacy that brings us the gas tax holiday and the “economic stimulus package”, maneuvers that don’t even prolong the inevitable, they don’t even actually help anyone, except that they make some of the more oblivious public feel like something is being done. For us to actually make any progress, each individual must first take responsibility for their energy use and carbon footprint: If you haven’t dumped your SUV yet, do it! Change your lightbulbs, install solar, bike more, compost, start your garden, stop buying things from China and overseas, buy local, organic foods, consume like you give a damn!

We also need to pass sweeping changes in legislation, here are a few examples:

1. Immediate moratorium on new coal-fired or nuclear power plants with required emissions-reducing equipment on all existing plants.

2. Home and industrial efficiency requirements to meet LEED certification on ALL new construction and a program to require and assist in efficiency retrofitting on existing homes and industrial buildings.

3. Increased support for renewable energy research and infrastructure with

4. Standardization in electric vehicle battery and/or charging units to allow for swappable battery packs and the deployment of universal charging stations.

5. Better subsidies for residential solar and electric/plug-in hybrid vehicles with significantly increased fees/taxes on non-industrial/non-farming vehicles getting less than 25mpg (this should quickly increase to 30+mpg)

6. Integrated waste management systems with greywater recycling, green waste reutilization for biomass digestion and composting, extensive recycling programs, and increased tariffs for waste and refuse.

With significant conservation initiatives and continued development of existing renewable energy technologies, we can negate the need for new coal power plants, we can avoid drilling in the arctic, and we can decrease some of the effects of climate change. I doubt that any of our current legislators have the courage to make many of these changes, so it is up to us, the citizens, to first do our part, then support our leaders in taking the steps needed to protect our society, our people, and our environment.

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What To Do On Your Memorial Day Weekend If You Don’t Want To Pay For Gas: Resurrect the Victory Garden!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 23, 2008 by theseep

Rising fuel prices have you down?
Don’t want to pay the extra cash for a road trip this Memorial Day?
If you’re tired of supporting the huge profits made by oil companies and money going to terrorist regimes when you fill your gas tank, let’s make the choice NOT to travel. Let’s choose to do something productive for ourselves and our families with our time off this holiday.

I’m talking about planting a garden. I’m talking about grabbing your families and friends, have a BBQ with local grassfed steaks, organic veggies, and some Fat Tire ale, pitching in and ripping up your lawn. Yep, that carefully tended, picket-fence lined, weed-free, lush, verdant patch that you’ve carefully nurtured with petroleum derived fertilizers, toxic insecticides, and gallons upon gallons of precious water. Rip it up. Pull it all out and plant a garden to help feed your family and friends. If you have any doubts, pick up a copy of Michael Pollan’s, An Omnivore’s Dilemmaand give it a skim tomorrow morning over coffee. If you don’t have time for that, read his article entitled “Why Bother” in the NY Time’s Green Issue, he cites that 30% of our nation’s produce after WWII was grown in backyard “Victory Gardens”.

Once you’re convinced, start planning out how to best use your lawn space. There are countless ways to organize your new project. If you want to make it easy, build or buy some raised garden beds and fill them with planting mix and compost. Or, throw down some landscaping fabric then cover it with soil like in last month’s Mother Earth News.  Find plants that grow well in your area and spread them out to transform your lawn into an “edible forests” with fruit trees, vegetable plots, an herb garden, and whatever else you can dream up.  Make sure you dig up your sprinklers first, though – you can hook them up to drip irrigation systems to water your new project.   There’s ton’s of info on gardening out there, start googling and then start planting!  You get exercise, family time, you save water over irrigating your lawn, and once it’s established you’ll save money and fossil fuel while providing more nutritious, pesticide free, organic food option for your household.

Biofuels Comparison Study – Conclusion: Properly Planned Biofuel Is A Great Transition Fuel, Poorly Designed Is Superbad.

Posted in biodiesel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability, transportation on May 11, 2008 by theseep

The results of a study by University of Washington and The Nature Conservancy are shown in the chart below, detailing the efficiency and impact of various biofuel production strategies.
Basically it shows what we already know about corn ethanol and soy biodiesel, and other “food-for-fuel” crops – they are extraordinarily inefficient, using large amounts of fossil fuels, water, pesticides, and fertilizer to produce, and directly detracting from food sources. Because of the recent food shortages, these biofuels are getting another look as a potential part of the problem. Unfortunately all biofuels are being vilified by this media hype, and even efficient processes like sugar cane and cellulosic ethanol or waste oil and algae-based biodiesel are getting a bad name as well.

One of our biggest problems is the lack of foresight – the U.S. government has been supporting corn ethanol extensively due to lobbying and special interests even though it is though it actually uses more resources than it produces. If we can put our resources toward developing technologies like cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel, we will have bridging biofuels that will allow us to continue to use existing combustion technology as we reach peak oil. This will be a critical phase for further development of the next generation of renewable energy production and infrastructure.

In 20 years, after peak oil has been reached and fossil fuel prices are ridiculously high, our combustion technology will be mostly obsolete and electric cars powered by next-gen battery technology. Once again, for this to happen smoothly, we need strong and wise leadership that will resist corporate and lobbyist influence and be able to encourage the most efficient and promising technologies.

via treehugger and Seattle Post-Intelligencer