Saturday, December 29, 2007

Car of the Future

Aptera, of Carlsbad, California, north of San Diego, has developed a car that promises up to 300 miles per gallon. As you can see the car has that Jetsons-style that those who grew up in the sixties was promised as the car of the future.

Pictured here is the prototype Typ-1 e. The vehicle, which seats two comfortably, is all-electric, has a 120-mile-range on a single charge and can reach speeds up to 90 mile per hour.

Charging the vehicle takes up to two hours on standard house current.

The engine is a hybrid diesel/electric.

It uses a hydraulic system to collect energy from the braking system to be reused for acceleration. This is a ‘must-have’ technology for any future car to compete on the open market.

It is built of a strong yet lightweight composite shell on an advanced suspension and drive train components.

It is designed to be stable enough for daily driving with plenty of cargo space behind the seats for groceries.

The sleek, lightweight body makes it aerodynamically feasible to pull off its claims of high mileage.

The lack of side view mirrors (the ability to see behind you is made possible by the use of rear-view cameras) cuts down on drag.

A couple points came up while researching this project car: one, are the drive train components reliable and are they going to be easily replaceable. It would be nice if our car of the future would be easy for any backyard mechanic to work on much as cars of yesteryear were.

Two, it could become an all-wheel drive vehicle for driving in snow. Sure it will require a little more power which would cut down on its range, but with solar panels to keep the batteries charged and the progress being made on developing sturdier better quality batteries this would not be much of a problem.

Tires need to be run-flat types due to lack of spare tire.

As a three-wheeler, a motorcycle. It is not designed to be the primary vehicle for any given family. It can be used as a second vehicle or daily commuter much as a motorcycle. It is a major improvement over crash survivability compared to a motorcycle.

Given Americans preference to ride only one person per vehicle and given the fact that carpool lanes are basically useless because of it, this vehicle makes a lot of sense. Look at the number of motorcycles on the road. They are viable because they are fuel efficient and they cost less than cars.

The more SUV’s we can get off of the road and replaced with vehicles like this the better off we will all be. The sooner we get away from the big three automakers the better off we will all be.

Aptera has two innovative models that are almost production-ready at $30,000 and below: for next year, the all-electric, 120-mile-range Typ-1 e, and, by 2009, the range-extended series gasoline Typ-1 h, which Aptera says will hit 300 mpg. A more conventional third model, called “Project X” or perhaps Typ-2, is now in the design phase, with plans for a four-wheeled chassis and seating up for to five passengers.

This vehicle represents another great example of American ingenuity and willingness to break away from the typical auto manufacturers offerings. As a prototype this vehicle is on the right track by using some ideas that will most likely be standard equipment on future vehicles.

My one greatest fear is that this company would be bought out, by one or all three big-three automakers working collectively, and the project would be shelved.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wave-power gets a boost

Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to buy electricity generated from wave-power farm, Finavera Renewables.

The project hasn’t been approved by the U.S. government yet but finding someone who is willing to buy from the farm is a major step toward making it a reality.

The wave-power farm, scheduled for completion by 2012, will generate electricity from eight specially equipped buoys located off the coast of Northern California and will collectively generate up to two megawatts of power. If all goes as planned and the project is granted the necessary approvals, it could be expanded to produce up to 100 megawatts.

A full-scale buoy from Finavera will be capable of generating 250 kilowatts, enough for 80 homes. The 2-megawatt field will consist of eight devices. The planned 100-megawatt array could be squeezed into a few square miles on the sea.

Another experimental wave generator plant in operation is Pelamis Wave Power operating out of Portugal and Scotland. Pelamis has developed a method of offshore wave energy collection, using a floating tube called "Pelamis". This long, hinged tube (about the size of 5 railway cars) bobs up and down in the waves on hinges that pumps hydraulic fluid which drives generators.

Sea water is more than 800 times denser than air at sea level, which means wave farms or tidal turbines can produce quite a bit of power with only a little equipment and real estate.

Ten years from now, the U.S. could produce 10 gigawatts of wave power and 3 gigawatts of tidal power, said Roger Bedard, ocean energy program leader for the Electric Power Research Institute and an admitted optimist on the subject. That's enough for 4.3 million homes (assuming 3 kilowatts a home).

Wave energy is transferred to electricity by generators placed on the surface of the ocean in the shape of buoys or tubes. Energy output is determined by wave height, wave speed, wavelength, and water density.

Advantages of wave energy is that there is no fuel needed and no waste produced therefore it is energy free. It is not expensive to operate, and can produce a great deal of energy.

Disadvantages are that it depends on waves, sometimes you get a lot of energy other times none. It needs a suitable site where waves are consistently strong and it must be able to withstand very rough weather.

It won’t answer all of the worlds energy needs but this technology is on the cutting edge of being an important part of the patchwork of energy sources the U.S. will need to power our homes and businesses while addressing the ever looming climate change.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Still waiting for fuel efficient cars

When President Bush signed the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007, which will require automakers to make enormous changes in the way they make cars, he also signaled that car buyers will pay up to 15% more for new cars, according to industry analysts.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. We have been paying steadily more for new cars every year anyway. If we can get vehicles that will get better mileage without polluting our air, where’s the problem? It is a plus for the climate and therefore for us.

The automobile industry will have to embrace new technologies and invest billions in new manufacturing, but this is what we have been asking for. Pressure from the influx of foreign made vehicles and the tide of the American public buying those cars instead of American made ones should have forced them to do this years ago.

"It's a huge investment, absolutely," said Michael Stanton, president and CEO of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers. "The automakers are going to pay for it, but they're going to have to pass some of that cost along to consumers." Again, when have they ever not passed the cost off onto car buyers.

Automakers have fought off efforts to increase the fuel efficiency standard for more than 20 years now, and its about time they face some real facts. Mounting concerns over global warming, rising fuel prices and oil dependence has finally forced them to make some changes. So the industry joined environmentalists and lawmakers to broker a compromise.

When safety devices were forced onto the auto industry they balked at that too. The addition of air bags, traction control and anti-lock brakes forced a change in automobile design and the cost was passed onto the car buying public. We got over it and now wouldn’t buy a car without these features. We’ll get over the inclusion of direct injection, hybrids and turbo diesels too.

The big three automakers, General Motors, Chrysler Group and Ford, said they would meet the standards, what choice do they have?

The industry will go through a major change in engine technology to meet the new standards. Two-thirds of the U.S. fleet will have to change to direct injection. One-third of the total market will be diesel, and half of those will be diesel-electric hybrids. Everyone is pursuing a strategy of smaller engines with direct injection and turbochargers.

They are going to have to start working on these changes right away to make the deadline and the buying public is still waiting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Are America’s Muscle Cars a thing of the past?

General Motors is going to show its new supercharged version of the Corvette at the Detroit auto show next month. The performance car represents a design that will rival the fastest, most expensive exotic cars from Europe.

Sadly, this version of General Motors venerable Corvette, the ZR1, may be the last in a long tradition of Detroit performance cars.

America’s muscle cars have been endangered for many years higher gas prices, demand for stronger federal fuel economy regulations and limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

President Bush signed into law legislation that will bring more fuel-efficient vehicles into auto showrooms and require wider use of ethanol, calling it "a major step" toward energy independence and easing global warming. The legislation, which requires automakers to increase fuel efficiency by 40 percent to an industry average 35 miles per gallon by 2020, is still far behind foreign automakers even at today’s standards.

Interestingly enough, Tadge Juechter GM’s chief engineer, said to sell one of the Chevrolet supercars, GM would need to offset that with cars that get 45 mpg. This could perhaps be a way in which muscle cars could survive. The Corvette is fuel efficient when compared with its competitors. Although fuel economy figures weren't released for the ZR1, the current 505-horsepower Corvette ZO6 gets an estimated 15 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway, according to GM. The ZR1 gets around the same mileage as a Chevrolet pickup truck, and GM won't be getting out of the pickup business because of gas mileage standards.

And, you will always find buyers for such a car regardless of emissions standards as long as someone is willing to build them.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

EU forces emissions cap on airlines

EU ministers have agreed to impose carbon emissions quotas on airlines in an attempt to fight climate change.

The Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said a strong signal had to be sent but the United States opposes the idea and has threatened legal action.

Of course they do, the current administration will place business interests above people’s health every time.

The airline industry fears the cost of the carbon trading scheme could force some carriers out of business.

Mr. Dimas, said aviation is responsible for 3% of carbon emissions. Now they need to work on other emitters too.

He said aviation emissions had doubled since 1990 and were predicted to double again by 2020.

The airlines would have to meet their quotas, either by cutting their emissions or by buying energy credits from other industries.

Environment ministers meeting in Brussels agreed that airlines would have to buy 10% of permits upfront at auction in 2012, substantially lower than the proportion suggested by the European Parliament.

They also set the cap on emissions at the average level from 2004-2006.

Underwater ‘wind’ farm

What a great idea! A wind farm on the ocean floor.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) recently established Florida Center of Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology are working on a pilot project that would plant test turbines on the ocean floor about 50 meters underwater. The turbines will be placed in the path of the Gulf Stream, a powerful current that flows through the Florida Straits. That current promises to be a massive source of potential energy to Florida residents and businesses.

I read that this has been attempted before and I am not sure why it wasn’t taken seriously although I imagine there wasn’t as great a need at the time to pursue the experiment.

The mills turn slower than they would on dry land but they would turn constantly and with the proper gearing would produces just as much if not more energy.

The constant motion of the Gulf Stream is very dependable and at more than eight billion gallons per minute it produces more than 30 times the total flow of all the world’s freshwater rivers.

The current is comparable to a 55 mile-per-hour gale which would drive each turbine to produce up to three megawatts of power. Three megawatts of power would supply the energy needs of 500 homes. This has great potential.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Come back Mr. Johnson

California has always been at least one step ahead of the federal government in enacting laws to cut down automobile emissions. Until this week. The Environmental Protection Agency slapped down California’s bid for first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs, refusing the state a waiver that would have allowed those restrictions to take effect.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson told reporters “I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Twelve other states — Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — have adopted the California emissions standards, and the governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they also plan to adopt them. The rules were also under consideration in Iowa.

Mr. Johnson, these states are trying to tell you something that you really need to hear. States and citizens are tired of the federal government kneeling to the oil and automotive industries. We want our cars to stop polluting our air. We want our cars to get better fuel economy. We want emissions to be cut back a lot more drastically than the federal governments’ recent paltry offering in the guise of an energy bill.

These few states have shown they are willing to place our nations health ahead of our nations wealth. Please follow their lead, do not stifle their initiative.

Please, bring the Environmental Protection Agency back to the people. You have strayed from the original path set out for the EPA in 1970 to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment: air, water and land. You are in danger of becoming as big a joke as this White House administration and the Congress that serves it.

We will welcome you back, Mr. Johnson, if you would only shun the reckless, environmentally damaging policies of this administration. Don’t be another lapdog to George W Bush.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Generous or Thoughtless?

Which of these statements are not true?

America is the richest nation in the world. American’s have higher incomes than anyone else in the world. The American lifestyle is more extravagant than anyone else. Americans throw away more useable products, rather than giving them to the needy, than anyone in the world.

Trick question? Hopefully you said they are all true. Because it would indicate that you understand we Americans are extremely wasteful. There is no doubt that America is the wealthiest nation on earth. We consume so much product that that new businesses are sprouting up everyday just to keep up with our demand. And our overflowing landfills can attest to it too.

In general, we Americans are so used to being able to buy anything we want, any time we want, that it has gotten to the point where we don’t really appreciate what we have. This statement tries to take into account those lower income families that live day to day and can only dream of having all the new things that the richer of us take for granted. Americans of all income levels throw away perfectly usable items when they tire of it or when a newer version comes to market. Yes, even the poor amongst us are guilty of this sin.

I call it a sin because it is just that.

Forget about the fact that what we throw away clogs up our landfills, forget about the fact that some things we throw away pollute the environment. Think about the number of still usable items that are thrown out. Things that still have usable life and someone less fortunate might need.

We have become arrogant in our thoughtless ability to throw away useful objects and they have become so cheap and easy to get that instead of recycling or donating we do just throw them away.

I found a very well-written blog posting about how wasteful and thoughtless we have become and want to pass it on. Please take the time to read it here and please consider what we may all do to change the way in which we trash this world.

I can attest to the validity of college students trash. I used to live near a university and at the end of every semester the dumpsters throughout the community where students lived off campus were overflowing with furniture, appliances, clothing, books, etc.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Recycling is up to Everyone

More and more companies are beginning to get on the wagon for recycling.

A San Francisco based company, Method, makers of eco-friendly cleaning and household products, packages its products in 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. They are also attempting to make all products biodegradable.

Herman Miller, Inc, provider of office furniture, has reduced its cardboard and plastic packaging by more than 50% by shipping many of its products in bulk, securely enclosed in reusable blankets.

ConAgra Foodservice is packaging its Wesson Oil to restaurants in a Bag-in-Box container that has replaced its Jug-in-Box container. The 35-pound package uses a more environmentally friendly plastic bag instead of the thicker plastic bottle.

These are just a few examples of how companies are taking recycling more seriously.

Now for the end users. The neighborhood I live in has given every household a blue recycle bin and a list of acceptable recycled products. This is a good effort on the part of the city but some of my neighbors are not participating. I have noticed, while driving through the neighborhood on trash day, cardboard boxes sticking out of the brown garbage bins waiting to be picked up at the curbside while the blue recycle bin still sits next to the house at the top of the driveway, apparently, empty.

Come on people, how much effort does it take to toss a cardboard box into the blue container instead of the brown container? And how much effort does it take to break that box down so you can get more recycled products in that blue container? These are simple actions.

What bothers me is why my city doesn’t enforce recycling. I am sure the trash truck drivers see this nonsense everyday. Why don’t they say something? Evidently, recycling is not truly considered to be a worthwhile effort with enough people.

Companies are doing their part. Sure the cynics say that the new packaging means less cost for the companies and this is the only reason they are doing it, but seriously, it also means less waste in the landfills and fewer raw materials being used. Now come on fellow consumers, let’s do our part and place our recyclables into the recycling bin instead of the trash bin.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It is time to make up with Mother Nature

The latest news from the Bali climate conference is that no real news at all.

The UN chief continues to urge the U.S. to be more skeptical. The final conclusion from the conference this week will include a call for industrialized countries to consider cutting emissions blamed for rising temperature by between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020.

The United State, of course, is refusing to accept such guidelines, thereby continuing to ignore the rapid rate of ice cap melting in the Arctic.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says negotiations with the U.S. will have to be made down the road. This is unacceptable. Scientist have lately discovered that the Arctic ice cap will disappear by the end of 2012. this means that road to negotiation will soon be flooded. We do not have the luxury of time to delay this negotiation.

New technologies are emerging that could slow global warming but it won’t happen in time. Demand for oil must be lessened, low mileage, gas guzzling automobiles ‘must’ become a thing of the past, driving habits need to be severely curtailed, oil companies need to place their profits in alternative energy and stop searching for new oil.

Scientific predictions of rising seas, worsening droughts and famines, and melting ice sheets are real. These predictions are not made lightly. Refusal to heed these warning signs all indicate that the world’s coastlines will drastically change in the very near future.

Deep cuts in emissions cannot be put on the back burner until it is ‘more convenient’ for the U.S. oil companies and their puppet politicians.

“The reality in this business is that once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome and will tend to drive the negotiations in one direction,” said Harlan Watson, a lead U.S. negotiator. This is absolute crap! This mouthpiece for the oil industry is a major stumbling block in moving forward with forcing America to change its environmentally damaging policies. Any negotiator worthy of the title knows that numbers need to be set in order to have something tangible to work with. He is simply stalling at the behest of oil companies and other puppet politicians.

Anyone with a clear, ethical conscience toward protecting our environment can enact environmental legislation without having to be told by the rest of world that we need to do it.

The U.S. and China, as the top emitters of greenhouse gases, needs to step up now and make the first cuts in emissions, help poorer countries develop in a more environmentally friendly way and provide the technological assistance to do so.

We are all in this together. The U.S. needs to abandon its notion that we are too big to answer to anyone. We answer to Mother Nature and she is not happy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Alliant Energy Corp. - disingenuous environmentalism

Alliant Energy Corp., a utility holding company based in Madison, Wisconsin, “has been quietly nurturing a side business called WindConnect, which offers expertise to help get wind-energy projects built. It is Alliant ’s fastest-growing non-utility business and is their most in-demand of their services.

WindConnect gets involved in measuring wind speeds, designing projects and assessing their environmental impact, along with meeting with land owners, contracting with construction crews and building access roads, said Frank Greb, WindConnect vice president and general manager. “When the business started in 1999, the primary focus was building substations and helping developers connect their wind facilities to the electric grid; therein, the WindConnect name. We have grown way beyond that, ” Greb said.

WindConnect, actually a subsidiary of Alliant’s RMT subsidiary, has been involved in more than 30 wind-power projects around the United States, including projects in New York, California, Washington, New Mexico and Wisconsin - the company claims it has been involved with.

WindConnect earned revenues of $44 million in 2005, $64 million in 2006, and expects to top $150 million this year. Overall, Alliant reported $3.4 billion in total revenue in 2006.

The story isn’t all good. Alliant is currently planning to build a new coal-fired power plant. Ow! Bad news for the environment. I was going to suggest this might be a good company for investing in but this coal power plant just took it off the table. How can they pretend to be for the environment and then build one of the biggest reasons we are in this mess?

This just proves once again that the environment is not a good enough reason for energy companies to pursue any technology. They only respond to market pressures.

The company is publicly traded on the NYSE, stock symbol LNT.

Help Getting Green

How can we help the environment? Most people want to do something but don’t know how to get started. It is tough to break old habits, so if you had some items readily accessible you could get started and maybe pick up some new habits.

To help every individual get started on the green path, a new company that launched in October, Greensender, sells “green” gift boxes that contain a reusable aluminum water bottle (to help you kick the habit of buying bottled water in plastic bottles), a reusable organic cotton grocery bag, and an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), for $39.99. If you want show the world you are taking the first steps toward a greener lifestyle even while not grocery shopping then add $10.00 for the organic cotton T-shirt. The goal is to give everyone easy ways to integrate eco-friendly practices into their lives.

The kit is a little pricey because many supermarkets are now selling reusable bags for as little as a dollar, compact fluorescent lamps aren’t very expensive and neither are aluminum water bottles, but Greensender kicks the value proposition up a notch with its offering of logo-emblazoned versions of their items for corporate uses such as giveaway items at conventions and tradeshows.

Offering a similar green “starter kit” is GoGreenGift, which sells a reusable bag containing a low-flow shower head, a CFL bulb; organic fruit leather, organic coffee and tea, an assortment of herbal body care products; and a copy of the GoGreen EcoGuide. Price: $45, or $63 for the deluxe version.

Also in on the game: Virginia-based Green-kits, which offers several different green starter kits with products focused on cleaning, the kitchen, and baby care. Prices start as low as $10.

Might be a good way to add some green to your Christmas gift-giving.

Personally, I am not at all inclined to pay higher prices for anything just to get a logo that proves I am green. I know I do my part. But, it is way of capitalism to make money off of what people want, and these companies are participating in that goal. If you want to help feed their capitalistic ways, then by all means give them your support. And if you actually use the items faithfully, I congratulate you and you have my undying support. But, if you feel you don’t need the status-like logos and want to show the world you are a grass-roots ‘greener’ then recycle items you have laying around the ole homestead and make your own statement.

None of these items offer anything you haven’t thought of before but maybe just reading this might help give you the idea to get started.

Indoor Composting Made Simple

Composting is generally thought of as something done outdoors, using lots of dirt and worms to turn organic garbage into rich mulch, but now it’s something you can do in the kitchen - without the worms. San Francisco-based NatureMill has developed an indoor composter that doesn’t use worms, and also doesn’t smell or attract flies.
NatureMill’s indoor composting units are built small enough to fit in standard-sized kitchen cabinets and can can process up to 120 pounds of organic waste per month, using just 10 watts of energy - about 50 cents a month.
How does it work? Well, you plug it in, turn it on and toss the compostable stuff in. The composting process takes place in a sealed inner chamber. Air is drawn into the chamber by a small fan, and a mixbar and heater keep the process moving along at the correct temperature. A red light indicates when the compost is ready and needs to be emptied - the company says that’s about once every two weeks.
Prices start at $299. NatureMill says the unit can handle up to 5 lbs of food and paper waste per day, and generates no odors. And, says NatureMill, unlike backyard compost piles, the NatureMill indoor composter can handle meat, fish, chicken, dairy, because of the unit’s guaranteed high compost temperatures thanks to its insulated chamber and internal

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Oil industry still dictating climate policy

The UN-backed meeting in Bali, Indonesia this week to combat global warming, will not sway the U.S. to play along. This is no great surprise. Dr. Harlan L. Watson, Senior Climate Negotiator and head of the US delegation, said neither a recent U.S. Senate committee move to limit greenhouse gas emissions or the decision by Australia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol would influence their stance.

Environmentalists are unhappy with Dr. Harlan Watson’s unwillingness to bend to international pressure and commit the U.S. to deep greenhouse gas emissions cuts. He acts more as a spokesman for touting the Bush administration’s record on climate change, which clearly favors the oil industry. He says there is no reason the United States and other countries that oppose mandatory carbon dioxide limits should have to talk about what should be done once the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to cut global greenhouse gases by 7 percent by 2012, expires.

Bush picked Watson in 2001 for the lead negotiator’s job because of Watson’s popularity and close alliance with the oil industry. This appointment has nothing to do with combating global warming in any meaningful way. In fact his appointment was a clear signal that the Bush administration would not do anything that would jeopardize oil industry profit.

Watson claims the U.S. is hoping to come up with their own set of figures on cuts when a meeting of 17 nations that are major emitters of greenhouse gases, organized by U.S. President George Bush, takes place next year. You can bet these 17 nations are all oil producers and therefore nothing constructive will come up concerning cleaning up the air we all breathe.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Hybridization vs. Genetic Modification

In a sense genetic engineering and hybridization both accomplish the same thing - they both result in new genetic types. The difference is in how they accomplish this.

Hybrids come from seeds that are developed by cross-pollinating specific parental types so that the next generation will be a very uniform crop with hybrid vigor.

Hybrid vigor is typically observed in outcrossing species (grasses and grains for example) when two very different inbred lines are cross pollinated.

The hybrid gets half of its genes from each parent.

Genetic engineering usually refers to biotechnological methods that can be used to insert a very small piece of genetic material (DNA) so that the resulting plants can be nearly identical to the parent, except for the gene or genes that were inserted.

Nowadays, some hybrids may have genes that are artificially inserted, using high tech biotechnology methods. But, generally speaking, hybrids are not genetically engineered, that is, not using high-tech or biotechnology.

In some sense though, plant breeders have been genetically engineering crops for hundreds of years, because they have been using traditional hybridization (cross pollination) techniques to obtain new (recombinant) types.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Global climate concerns to be addressed in Bali

Creating a new global climate pact will be the subject of a massive UN-backed meeting in Bali, Indonesia, Dec 3 to Dec 14, 2007. 15,000 government officials and environmentalists from 190 nations will meet to discuss the next generation environmental protocol to replace the current 1997 Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.

The Kyoto Protocol, a world-wide measure to combat the rising global warming threat, was weakened due to several developing nations, including China and India, being exempted from the measure. It was further weakened because the U.S. never signed on. The U.S. is expected to once again balk at proposed key provisions under the expected treaty such as mandatory emissions cuts and targets for limiting the rise in global temperatures. It seems economics will continue to overshadow environmental concerns.

Discussions will range from deforestation and the wiping out of species to the economic destruction caused by natural disasters. A major concern is that poorer countries are replacing their forests with crops such as soy and sugar to take advantage of the emerging agrifuel industry, which is only worsening the climate threat.

Forests are necessary to help combat rising levels of carbon dioxide and if they are replaced by a product that has been shown to be an impractical solution, then it is no solution at all. We are only trading one problem for a host of others, one being that we will need to generate more synthetic fertilizer to increase production of crops that will not meet half of the U.S. fuel requirements by 2025, let alone an entire planet. The current method of composting farm waste back into feeding the soil to produce more crop would be interrupted by using that compost for ethanol production and this depletion of soil fertility would have a devastating effect on future farming. Converting food crop into fuel for automobiles is morally wrong in the face of more than 16,000 children dieing from hunger every day.

This round of talks may have more of a world consensus and more of a sense of urgency to meet the problem head on than the 1997 talks did but since one of the biggest generators of greenhouse gases isn’t willing to heed constructive solutions then other countries will feel little pressure to show their support. These smaller countries will feel more inclined to pursue a short term profit through agrifuel production which will destroy future abilities to produce more biofuels.

World leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd have all made climate change a top priority.

President Bush has recently signaled willingness by the U.S. in favor of mandatory limits on global warming pollution by citing a final Energy Department report showing U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide declined by 1.5% last year.

This is a very small move in the right but it shows signs of hope that the world can come up with a more meaningful and immediate solution to our shared, looming climate threat.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Fuel economy vs. Ego and the American Politician

U.S. Auto manufactures, and the oil industry, get another break while the American consumer continues to be given the brainless choice between lower mile per gallon American made cars or higher mile per gallon foreign made cars.

Democratic leaders have deemed it prudent to not force American auto makers to give us vehicles that can actually compete in the world market for better fuel economy. Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, is being pressured by American auto manufacturers in his home state to minimize the impact of an energy bill likely to be sent before President Bush before Christmas. The new legislation lets the auto manufacturers off the hook to produce what Americans really need. Fuel efficient vehicles. Dingell (in his selfish bid to keep himself in office through that uniquely, and unbalanced, American institution called lobbying) has once again softened the impact of the legislation on auto manufacturers, and bowed down to their wishes leaving Americans with no option but to send our hard earned dollars into the bank accounts of foreign interests because foreign made cars outshine Americas products.

American built new cars are averaging 27.4 mpg in the city and 33.2 mpg on the highway, while Japanese new cars average 46.2 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. This equates to 68% better gas mileage in the city and 48% better gas mileage on the highway for Japanese cars. Where is the incentive for Americans to buy American made cars?

The best that our elected officials could come up with is that U.S. automakers would be required to meet an industry wide average of 35 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks, including SUVs, by 2020. This is the first increase by Congress in car fuel efficiency in 32 years, and it is lacking in any serious answer to our nations fuel economy. They are being given 13 years to build a vehicle that will still use more fuel than foreign cars are right now.

This is very indicative of where our politicians true allegiance lies. Not in giving Americans a better product to help slow down one of the causes of global warming, not in giving us products that would help ease the strain on our nations fuel supply, but to keep oil company and auto manufacturer lobbyists in their pockets so they can stay in office.

Politicians have been convinced that putting pressure on American auto manufacturers to redesign their product to meet foreign standards will force an economic hardship on them. To my way of thinking, if we could compete with foreign interests on a more level playing field we would keep more money here in the U.S. and create more jobs from the increased production. I’m sure there are many reticent Americans buying foreign cars who would really rather buy American. But, as in all things, money talks louder than loyalty. As far as the oil industry goes, they have had a far better ride from profits of oil sales than they deserve for far too long now.

America needs to get serious about hybrids and fuel economy and clean air and alternative energy. The only way this change of thinking is going to come about is if the federal government takes the initiative, because consumers only seem to care about feeding their ego by driving a bigger monster-sized truck or a more cavernous SUV than the next guy.

It is simple math. The numbers don’t lie, people. We cannot collectively afford to feed these super-sized vehicles. The owners of these gas slurping automobiles are guilty of sucking down more than their fair share of fuel. The argument goes that they get better gas mileage than they used to, which is true, but, they don’t get good enough mileage.

Sucking up copious amounts of fuel for the right to drive an oversized truck that is never used for what it is built for is patently ridiculous and is stealing fuel from those of us who are trying to conserve. Trust me when I say that your ego is not more important than keeping gas prices down and fuel supply levels up.

Simple logical dictates that if you keep up the demand for fuel then the oil companies will keep fuel prices up. If you suck the wells dry then we will be riding bicycles and walking. This would at least address the problem of obesity in Americans.

Turning CO2 into Baking Soda.

A company called Skyonic, based in Austin, Texas, recently announced it has been testing a system (called Skymine) to collect carbon dioxide created by factory processes to make food-grade baking soda. Using exhaust heat, generated from factories processing, to power the system makes it an economically viable system that can be custom built to any smokestack. The resulting baking soda can then be marketed for home or industrial use. Or it can be buried harmlessly in landfills or abandoned mines.

The process of filtering out carbon dioxide is called carbon sequestration and uses algae to collect the carbon dioxide. It is a very simple and ingenious system using items found anywhere in the world.

The inventor of Skymine, Joe Jones, has been working on the idea in his garage and was able to patent it in 2005. Since then he has field tested the system at a coal-burning power plant in Texas. Skyonic is currently performing pilot-scale demonstration plant work at Luminant’s Big Brown Steam Electric Station in Fairfield, Texas, under real-world conditions.

Testing the system will work out any bugs in order to make it viable for large scale use, but the process is very promising as an alternative to other carbon sequestration methods.

It’s not that we need baking soda, but we don’t need carbon dioxide. This system has the potential to go world-wide.

Kudos to Joe Jones in helping find a workable solution to the global warming threat.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Conspicuous consumption on a massive scale

I just started this blog and right away I was given this gift. I had to read this declaration of foolishness several times to make sure it wasn’t a hoax.

Some moron real-estate developer in Mesa Arizona is trying to recreate his younger years living in Virginia Beach, Virginia by diverting 100 million gallons of groundwater per year into a 125-acre water park complete with 12 foot waves and class 4 rapids, in a desert! And he came up with this brilliant idea just when the world is facing global warming and this country is experiencing an unprecedented drought in the southeast as well as in the very desert where this monument to human greed is to be built.

"It's about delivering a sport that's not typically available in an urban environment," said Richard Mladick, a Mesa real-estate developer who persuaded business leaders in suburban Mesa to support the proposal called the Waveyard.

No, Mr. Mladick, it’s about the irresponsible use of a limited resource for financial gain while your fellow Americans are praying to God for relief due to the lack of the very resource you long to frolic in.

"I couldn't imagine raising my kids in an environment where they wouldn't have the opportunity to grow up being passionate about the same sports that I grew up being passionate about," he said.

You live in a desert, sir. If you want your children to be passionate about going to the beach then go to the beach! Turning back millions of years of desert environment for the sake of your pleasure and financial gain, not to mention the misuse of one of our most valued commodities, is nothing short of criminal. Your unmitigated ego needs to be checked before you create an ecological disaster that will be felt for centuries.

And the sanity of those you talked into buying into this flawed ‘Eden’ should have their heads examined.

Of course, the real reason this idea has overtaken any semblance of reason is so his backers can make money off of the restaurants, shopping district, spa and hotel and conference center.

This project will force a deeper problem for neighboring Phoenix who is struggling to replenish its vast aquifer.

Arizona has been in a drought for a decade, and rivers that feed Phoenix and surrounding communities experienced near-record low measurements this year. The water lost to evaporation and spillage will require 60 to 100 million gallons of water per year. Water that will not go to replenishing that aquifer.

Once again mans greed has overshadowed common sense. This type of project is the very reason man’s ability as caretakers of this planet is called into question.

Arizona’s many golf courses is another colossal waste of water. But that’s another topic for another day.