Environmental Reader by John Hamm


Let's Talk Energy 

New York Times Says: 


Scientists have concluded, that unlike cyclical warming/cooling trends that the earth has transitioned over centuries, recent temperature changes since 1950, are 'off the charts'.  At 90% confidence levels CO2 and other greenhouse gases from human activity are the driving forces.  The US with 5% of the world's population is causing 25% of it, yet is most resistant to joining with the world to stop it.  The Administration's policy, since President Bush's 'State of the Union' address, not only challenges the global scientific community, but still refuses to challenge its energy use with emission limits, targeting efficiency standards and conservation measures.  Corporations like GE, Lehman Brothers, Duke Energy, Caterpillar, PG&E, Dupont, Alcoa, BP are forming alliances, US Climate Action Partnership/USCAP and voicing support for "cap-and-trade" systems, targeting greenhouse gas limits, and accelerated research.  


Hedge funds are turning traditional pollution controls into open commodities markets that trade the right to pollute with credits, that companies have earned by developing or adopting clean technology.  It's hard to understand that one can trade off moral responsibility, that one can buy it…that investment funds can become a market for trading, but that's life in the real world of business and government.  And there's always money for gambling, and certainly if it is legislated in the Clean Air Act of 1990.  The realistic way of gaining compliance with cleaner emissions is to buy it, until you can afford building clean, when you can then trade credits back to others.  The hedge funds broker these financial incentives, which may move industry toward compliance more efficiently.  Using incentives, along with government regulation, is being tested in our lifetime.  The unproven believe is "channeling greed will clean the environment faster than government saying thou shalt reduce pollution" (capitalist vs socialistic approach).  Each trade is cleared through an online system maintained by the EPA. 

Important…in the US this is voluntary and depends on market forces to decide effectiveness, unlike those 36 Kyoto Treaty member countries committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 2012.  The European Union must cut emissions by 8% and created its carbon trading two years ago.  Its market is volatile…the practice still developing.   In Guatemala, one biomass mitigation project planted 50 million trees which earned credits that can be sold to other countries.  In the US, the Chicago Climate Exchange is a voluntary market in which members commit to reducing emissions.  Corporations, universities, local governments, and even farmers can sell credits for keeping carbon buried by not tilling fields after harvest or recycling methane as fuel from animal waste.  The volunteer exchange is setting example to support action in Congress and state legislatures.  Then, some challenge that only mandated emissions cuts, close compliance monitoring and harsh penalties are crucial to a trading program.  Says Natural Resources Defense Council, David Doniger, and former EPA official, "You will never get there with voluntary measures." Now the test.  



Beginning in April higher taxes will be imposed on engines larger than two liters, disposable chopsticks, lumber, luxury items, golf clubs and certain oil products, but not gas.  They do not want to tax gasoline while oil prices are high.  They will lower taxes on some motorcycles.  In recent years with economic boon, car ownership has grown and with manufacturing, so has pollution.  Chopsticks consume 2M cubic meters of timber annually causing clear-cutting of forests near and far.  Plastic reusable chopsticks will not be taxed.  With the popularity of golf, courses have taken the land, villages and farms. 



Japanese homes used less than half the energy of American homes in 2001.  Kiminobu Kimura, 48, architect, has his family of four share the same bath, then…reuses the still warm water for laundry.  They bicycle everywhere.  They use the latest energy-saving technology.  Like most they live in half the space that we do, don't heat unused rooms with central heating.  They wear layers, lower thermostats, and only purchase products with high energy-saving ratings.  It's a combination of lifestyle, energy consciousness, and efficient technology.  

Are they the exception?  Not so really.  Energy conservation is an obsession among government, companies, citizens, everyone.  Its population and economy are 40% of the US, but in 2004 it consumed less than a quarter as much energy.  This stems from an acute insecurity in a resource-poor nation.  The government leads by making energy expensive with user taxes and price controls, paying twice what we buy gasoline for (typical in most other countries).  They use tax revenues to develop renewable energies like solar, wind, and fuel cells and to subsidize consumer purchases of new technology.  Factories have learned to cut energy and sell ideas and new technology to the world.  Mitsubishi Heavy Industries sell electric turbines, steel blast furnaces and industrial machinery well in the US.  



With Gerald Ford's passing, reflect on differences between federal energy conservation policies of 32 years ago during the 1973 Arab oil embargo with current policy.  Ford was the first president to break our addiction to oil.  He imposed a $3/barrel fee to curb consumption, along with:  creating the petroleum reserves;  phasing out price controls to encourage exploration;  investing in alternative energy research;  assisting state conservation programs;  creating the first compulsory mileage standards.   Since his time and especially since 9/11, there have been no campaigns to conserve.  You don't hear the word in any addresses or policies.  Ford called for zero oil imports by 1985, which conversely registered 5 million barrels/day;  2006 will average14 million.  Had we achieved Ford's proposals, oil would cost $20 not $60/barrel and oil independence might look forthcoming.  


All the technology needed for 100 miles per gallon:  GM unwrapped the Chevrolet Volt, a prototype hybrid-electric (E-Flex), unlike current ones, because it runs mostly on electric supplied by its onboard gasoline charger or 40 miles worth on a home charge (78% of round-trips are 40 miles or less).  Its gas engine never drives the wheels, only charges the battery, when its capacity falls below 30% or above 80%.  It only carries two 6-gallon tanks.  On a 60 mile trip it could achieve 150 mpg; its first 40 miles in electric mode and 20 with gas engine sipping at 50 mpg.  Charging from 30% level would take half-hour while driving and 6.5 hours when plugged.  Production is waiting on suitable battery development for efficient charging and storage and weight reduction.  Skeptics say that their time will come only when gas is above $3/gal (by product cost or tax?), shortages occur, technology is subsidized, or when a breakthrough in energy storage comes.  (It is the right thing to do, whatever the cost or economics for energy independence, conservation, global warming)


Your disposable clothes are a large and worsening source of carbon emissions, and the textile industry is exploring more sustainability.  They are also anxious for you to know that, contrary to your expecting that natural fibers like cotton/wool are more earth friendly than polyesters, synthetics require less hot-water washing, drying and ironing.  While cotton is cheaper and takes less energy to manufacture, and organic growing 'greens' it, over its lifetime a cotton 'T' requires 2x more energy than polyester, which washes in cooler water, hangs dry and needs no ironing.  Furthermore, it's the wearer, who ignores green marketing and environmental responsibility.  They throw away, instead of taking the trouble to 'hand-it-down' or drop at a thrift or consignment store.  They'll recycle cans and bottles, but toss their clothes.  Some retailers have tried 'buy back' and 'leasing'.  A decade ago, Hanna Anderson offered a 20% credit, if customers returned used clothes.  That lasted 2 years.  Fashion consciousness has added to that unsustainable aspect of our 'fast clothing' industry. 


America depends on Mexico as the second-largest oil supplier, after Canada, but production has fallen for two years.  Next ranking oil suppliers are Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Angola, Algeria, Ecuador, Kuwait. 


Political will to support wind energy became law in 1992 (Production Tax Credit) by sheltering earnings.  It was extended a couple times, but will expire by end 2007.  The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) seeks a five year extension, but one can never be sure.  While government supported the boom and its national priority, the tax credit is not permanent so it is still vulnerable to political whim.  

Why?  Legislation is scored by budget impacts, and the longer, the more.  Governmental advantaging of a private industry reaches a point of being unfair to other energy industries.  It wants to help them develop, but now advantage them to out-compete with gas, oil, coal.  Development of major industries on Wall Street has drawn public investment.  Acceptance and public demand is developing to support earnings, along with increases in natural gas, that maintain its competitiveness.  States and private institutions (universities/other) are supporting by requiring electric utilities to supply with a percentage mix of renewables.  In 1999, there were 10 states, now doubled at 21.  So, government support for wind may have delayed development of natural-gas powered plants, and abandoned some, perhaps in the same way that some nuclear power plants were abandoned, never licensed.


AES, a power company in 26 countries, is entering the $28 billion carbon-trading market with $1 billion to invest in wind and biomass.  Wind industry will triple by 2015 and serve to mitigate carbon emissions.  China's wind energy target will be increased to 30GW by 2020, increasing by 50%.  Germany, the wind power leader, already produces 17GW.  




Installing clean coal technology where coal is the indigenous fuel promises to improve coal's environmental impact.  On Nov 30, 2006 The Treasury Department awarded nearly $1 billion  in tax credits to offset costs of nearly $10 billion in private investment to build nine advanced coal projects.  The Energy Department also awarded $235 million to match $300 million by a private utility to build coal gasification in Florida.  With another $650 million in tax credits this year leveraging billions more in private dollars, we should produce more than a dozen commercial scale coal projects holding the promise of lower carbon dioxide.  This builds on the $2.2 billion the President dedicated to clean coal research that culminates with the Energy Department's FutureGen initiative, a $1 billion international partnership to build and operate the world's first coal-fueled near-zero emissions power plant by 2012.  




Thirty years after it was founded by President Jimmy Carter, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is like the 'maytag man'....equipped and waiting, but nowhere to go and unbudgeted to perform. Renewable energy supplies only 6% of our energy needs, much of that coming from hydropower. Renewables might account for 7% by 2030, while coal energy will go from 23 to 26%. Denmark gets 22% of its electrical energy from wind alone...we get .5%. Without better fuel efficiency, primarily vehicle, our energy use does not appear sustainable. Without it making economic sense and without government's compelling will to do the right thing, the lab is not on the same crash program as have other government labs who developed the atomic bomb, B2 bomber and the means of going to the moon. Its $200m budget gets sliced among some solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cells, efficient building, and infrastructure, but is dwarfed by the $1b that Royal Dutch Shell is investing in clean energy. 


At MIT a 20 megawatt campus power plant is using blue green algae to fight global warming.  They are eating 40% of the carbon dioxide and 86% of the nitrogen oxides from the plant's emissions, turning them into harmless oxygen and nitrogen.  Each day an algae crop is harvested that could be dried and converted to solid fuel or processed into biodiesel or ethanol, transforming pollution into a moneymaker.  

The idea came 10 years ago from the International Space Station project.  Power plants generate 40% of CO2 and 25% of nitrogen oxide emissions.  Other solutions include burying and ocean dumping, both expensive with unknown risks.  Not only does this algae method treat the discharges, but creates alternative fuel.   


Sierra Club says:


Generates half the electricity and half our total energy needs as oil (41%).  It's emissions are dirty and it's extraction is destructive (long wall, strip, mountain-top removal) and costs energy.  It causes 36% of carbon dioxide as in greenhouse gas/global warming, but technology and policy can remedy some.  Technology can reduce emissions…policy (tax) can factor in true environmental and health costs.  Energy taxes provide financial incentives to reduce impact.  Norway and Sweden did it in 1991 and Europe is tendering it now.  Even our large Duke Energy announced that it supports "mandatory federal action" on carbon tax.  It's logical that we want to use coal.  There's so much of it and we're subsidizing better ways to get it, including sacrificing wilderness and delaying carbon sequestering policy and practice.  Read more

Nuclear energy? Like other energy sources, it's heavily subsidized.  We'd better subsidize alternative fuels and renewable resources and the industries/jobs that develop.  We'd learn that the real fuel of the future is creativity.  And like any policy, it takes political will, which most often is dictated by economics and taxes, instead of being the "right thing to do"...virtue, values, quality of life...  Read more


Are 20% of household utility costs.   Today's models use ¼ the energy of a 1972 model.  Appliance efficiency standards save $2-3 for every dollar increase in purchase price.  Good example are lamp fluorescents that cost 8x more, but save $8 and 100 pounds of carbon/yr and last 8x longer than incandescent, but consumers are still unwilling to make the investment for immediate purchase savings.  Energy savings is an investment.  Read more


BP-Arco is still "best" for gas, along with Sunoco, even though all companies have varying records of polluting air and water, destroying wilderness, poisoning indigenous people's land, promoting denial of global warming (Exxon), exploiting workers, and even collaborating with oppressive governments.  They even do good things, supporting conservation groups and developing alternative energies.  BP hopes for revenues of $1 billion from solar power by 2008.  Gasoline is not that expensive.  Considering improved fuel-efficiency, the cost per mile is the same as it was between the 60's and 80's.  Read more


Converting to FFV (flexible fuel vehicles) cars using ethanol costs about $100, but they're still guzzlers, except they use domestic fuel.  "Yes" to reducing fossil to reduce foreign dependence.  "Yes" to subsidizing renewables that reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  But "No" to ignoring better fuel efficiency and conservation to reduce use.   Replacing just 1/8 of our gasoline consumption with ethanol would require our entire corn crop, where only 20% goes to ethanol production.  Ethanol burns cleaner, but its production is energy intensive and cuts greenhouse gas emissions by only 13% over gasoline.  It has less energy giving fewer miles per gallon.  

"and the best thing is, when gas hits 8 bucks a gallon, you can put it up on blocks & the whole family can live in it"

Using switchgrass and plant waste doesn't require pesticides; uses less energy to distill.  Corn prices already rose 81% this year, a 10 year high, and Monsanto has enjoyed substantial herbicide/pesticide/seed sales.  E85/ethanol is available at only 0.5% (918/170,000) of gas stations distributed unevenly among states.   

The issue keeps coming back to better fuel efficiency and conservation (tax overuse), despite the drive to develop domestic fuels.  Also, using corn for fuel will compete with use for food and increase prices of livestock, meat, poultry and dairy…another reason to use non-food plant waste and switchgrass.  Read more

Think globally, act locally: 


In Pennsylvania renewables promise rural commerce, even protecting the family farm with good cash crops, jobs, and better land value.  Like other states (22), PA has adopted a '25x25' objective (25% of energy from renewables by 2025), which includes developing other renewables:  methane recovery from animals, food waste and household garbage; wind, solar, and geothermal.  Governor Rendell wants 18% of the state's energy to come from clean technologies by 2020.  Corn is part of the mix (currently 1.3 million acres).  Farmers can see good times ahead economically and as cornerstones for a new patriotism…always the historic symbols serving basic needs of our country.  But again these developments should be part of a patriotic concern for conservation to protect our resources…farms and the land.  Read more

Also in PA, Beaver County: Economy Borough  got one of 15 small wind turbines through the Pa Energy Development Authority, supporting the state as the leading wind energy producer in the east. Manufactured in Arizona the 35 foot demonstrator tower costs $10,000 and generates enough power for one home.  It should save $7200/yr and last 20 years.  Wind turbines are esthetically pleasing, quiet and efficient at 12 mph winds.  Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County also got one.  Read more

(PG 3/9/07)

Earthjustice is leading 27 groups to call upon the EPA to control coal waste, saying that EPA has not made an effort to protect the public for over seven years.  EPA claims that coal ash is not hazardous, despite toxic arsenic, mercury, chromium, cadmium, lead, selenium and boron.  Pennsylvania produces over 9.5m tons of fly ash yearly, filling land and lagoons, many without liners or leaching controls to protect groundwater, floodplains, wetlands and streams.  40% of coal ash finds use in wallboard, cement, and filling abandoned mine sites.  The Earthjustice group wants more EPA monitoring, investigation, and abatement.  Eight of 150 new power plants, that are planned, are in PA. 

Uncle Sam wants YOU to reduce your carbon footprint


Nowadays, we are looking over our shoulders 
at our carbon global-warming footprints. 

Calculate my carbon footprint  

Vacuum your fridge's condenser coils, wash with cold water, travel less, drink tap water, turn off appliances and lights, buy energy saving machines, eat less, avoid harsh cleaning products, pesticides, and chemical use, recycle and reduce consumption … it saves you pounds to tons of CO2.  You can count CO2 pounds like calories to reduce.  Reducing calories even reduces pounds of CO2.  Also, become more intense about recycling.  Recycle one aluminum can and save three hours worth of electricity used by your TV.


© ChartiersGreenway.net 
19 Mar 2009
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