Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunamis and Nuclear Power Plants

Natural disasters humble us as a species. They serve as reminders that for all our technological prowess, the natural world packs a far more powerful punch. Less arrogance and more humility is a reasonable response to these kinds of reminders. A good place to start might be to reconsider the siting of nuclear plants in light of potential catastrophes, as argued in this perspective, t r u t h o u t - Russell D. Hoffman | Tsunamis and Nuclear Power Plants.

For a list of relief agencies helping tsunami victims, follow this link.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Fuel-Cell Vehicles Close the Gap

Fuel-cell vehicles will be getting a toehold in the real world and making a small step towards commercialization when dealerships for Zap start doing business sometime in 2005, as described in this article, Wired News: Fuel-Cell Vehicles Close the Gap. Prices clearly will be an obstacle for some years to come, but hydrogen fueling stations are already popping up in places such as Sacramento, California. Definitely a product launch that we want to see...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Costly Effects of Warming

U.S. opponents of the Kyoto protocol invariably speak of the economic costs of implementing measures to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but they're not so vocal about the bottom line costs of extreme weather. As this BBC article points out, the insurance industry is reeling from the effects of the fourth warmest year since tracking began (according to the World Meteorological Organisation). The year 2004 was the most expensive ever for the insurance industry with record payouts for damages incurred from hurricanes, typhoons, and other natural disasters.

Factor in the expense of agricultural losses, health costs, destruction of wildlife, and similar costs and it is clear that the cost of not responding to global warming is the much greater expense.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The View from Tuvalu

Perhaps if we lived in Tuvalu, there would be a heightened sense of urgency over the threat of global warming. A scant three meters above sea level, the capital island of Funafuti suddenly found itself immersed in sea water from the Pacific Ocean. Rising sea levels take on a dramatic reality when they're lapping at your front door.

Despite the vast preponderance of credible scientists convinced that human activities are steadily warming the planet, President Bush and the current administration are still in denial.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Wind Power Wins Big

If you're looking for some bright spots in the overall environmental picture since the U.S. elections this last week (and you may need night-vision goggles to see anything bright through the black results), voters in Colorado demanded that the state include solar and wind power in their energy portfolio. As reported by John Gartner in Alternet, Ammendment 37 requires that Colorado utilities that service 40,000 or more customers turn to renewable energy, targeting a level of 3 percent by 2007 and 10 percent by 2015. The measure gained approval by 52 percent of the voters, which in the currently skewed perspective of the major news media, is a "clear mandate."

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Do It Without Oil

Eliminating oil use can be accomplished within a few decades, according to a new plan released by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). Through modern technologies and intelligent strategies, American businesses can gain a competitive edge and increase profits without the need for additional federal regulations or higher taxes. Partially funded by the Pentagon, Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security provides guidelines for achieving greater energy efficiency and substituting biofuels and natural gas for oil-intensive operations. RMI co-founder Amory Lovins sums up the findings of the study, "Because saving and substituting oil costs less than buying it, our study finds a net savings of $70 billion a year. That acts like a giant tax cut for the nation. It simply makes sense and makes money for all."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Super-Storms on the Rise

Although the mechanisms that spawn violent storms aren't fully understood, one key factor is the temperature of the world's oceans. Global warming has pushed the temperature of large areas of the ocean to around 27 degrees Centigrade or warmer during summer months. James McCarthy, a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University sees this as a catalyst for more and more intense tropical hurricanes and cyclones. Water reaching these temperatures evaporates more readily, priming hurricane and cyclone formation and helping maintain the strength and intensity of newly formed storms. This Inter Press article by Stephen Leahy points out the correlations between climate change and extreme weather and argues that green energy to control global warming may help diminish future risks of severe storms.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

China Commits to Renewable Energy

Anyone pondering the world's energy needs can't help but wonder how China, with strong population growth and increasing industrial development, will deal with the future. In an historic partnership, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) and the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA) have pledged to work together to help shape China's energy future. An encouraging note is that the Chinese Government anticipates achieving 12 percent of its power generation from renewables by 2020 and much of this capacity will be derived from wind. This Greenpeace press release details how new laws and cooperative efforts can help counter energy security and global warming threats.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Costs of Extreme Weather

Those who contend that the economic impact of meeting the Kyoto Accord is too onerous for businesses probably haven't factored the economic costs of extreme weather into their calculations. Drought, flooding, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events around the world, a byproduct of global warming in the estimation of many climate scientists, produce billions of dollars in damage around the world every year. This presentation by Greenpeace, Global Warnings, provides vivid imagery and commentary on the increasing impact of extreme weather.

Monday, September 13, 2004

High-Power Spokespersons

Celebrity activism has a definite impact on bringing the message home: renewable energy works and it is available today. The benefits of green power are being promoted by a diverse range of high-profile personalities, including Dennis Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, Darryl Hannah, Tom Hanks, Cameron Diaz, and others. In the Wired article, Stars Power Move to Green Energy, John Gartner describes how celebrities influence the acceptance of alternative energy by what they drive, how they power their homes, and what they say to the media.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Pondering the Post-Petroleum Future

The transition from an oil-addicted present to a sustainable future either brings to mind visions of apocalyptic struggle for dwindling resources or a harmonious, nature-based world community ushering in a new peaceful phase in world history. Perceptions may make the difference in shaping the future, Jan Lundberg argues persuasively in this open e-Letter. What we know about modern physics and the interconnected reality of the world should be a guiding beacon towards a less-materialistic, more co-operative society.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Putting the Brakes on a Supertanker

More on the Arctic warming situation, this time from the folks at the heart of the issue. The Nunatsiaq News reports on the Arctic Council report, to be released on November 9th, 2004. The chairman of the ACIA, in a preview to the report's release, describes the task that awaits as "putting the brakes on a supertanker."

Friday, September 10, 2004

End of the Inuit Culture

A four-year investigation into the climate change in the Arctic concluded that the traditional Inuit culture will cease to exist because of the depletion of summer sea ice. These same factors, as determined by the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), will drive marine mammals such as polar bears, walrus, and seals toward extinction by the middle of the century. Warming trends in the Arctic and nearby regions, such as Alaska, are leading to melting permafrost, thinning sea ice and other disruptions as climate change accelerates.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Rising Impact of Global Warming

The first indications of the adverse effects of global warming are already apparent throughout Europe, according to the European Environmental Agency. Among the visible effects that are evident and getting worse: increased risk of flash floods, an increase in the number of diseases transmitted by ticks, declining glacial masses, extinction of some plant and bird species, and other equally daunting trends. Wendy Grossman summarizes the predictions in this Wired article, Europe Warned About Warming. With the mainstream media in the U.S. still essentially shrugging off the immediacy of the threat, these European forecasts paint a grim portrait of the future unless we equip ourselve to counteract the trends.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Playing Catch Up

In the span of several decades, the U.S. has gone from being a world leader in environmental practices to lagging behind in several key areas. As this editorial in the Denver Post points out, when it comes to renewable energy, the U.S. is playing catch up to a host of other nations. For example, our total wind energy capacity last year was 464 megawatts, compared to 14,609 megawatts for Germany, 6,202 megawatts for Spain, and 3,110 megawatts for Denmark. Asia and Europe are embracing renewable energy as a practical solution to energy needs, while the U.S. tinkers with energy plans based on fossil fuels and lags behind more enlightened nations. We can do better.

Monday, September 06, 2004

A Fuel-Efficient SUV?

Ford Motor Company took a step towards lowering the overall fuel consumption of their vehicle fleet by releasing the first gasoline-electric hybrid (SUV) from a U.S. manufacturer. The Ford Escape Hybrid SUV offers a 50 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the standard Escape. The compact SUV gets between 35 to 40 miles per gallon in the city, relying on an electric motor under 25 miles per hour to reduce fuel consumption. Now that Ford has figured out the technology, we wish they would apply it to the rest of their vehicles, which, according to the EPA, have the lowest average fleet economy of any of the U.S. auto manufacturers.

Renewable Energy Bonanza in Arizona

According to a report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Arizona could generate thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars for rural development by increasing the state commitment to renewable energy sources. Despite a substantial potential for tapping into solar and wind energy, Arizona currently produces less than one-half of one percent of electricity through renewable sources (other than hydro-electric power). The report determined that adopting the basic tenets of a national renewable electricity standard (RES), requiring 20 percent of electricity be generated by renewable sources by 2020, Arizona could create 3,900 new jobs and attract $1.6 billion in capital investment.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Lessons on Sustainable Living from Outer Space

Spacecraft offer useful guidelines for designing energy-efficient, self-sustaining dwellings that can function well in inhospitable environments. New Scientist describes how technologies designed for space travel are being adapted for use in the hostile climes of Antarctica. Some researchers think these eco-friendly structures may play a useful role in solving future housing problems in European cities. Solar power and a lightweight yet durable carbon-fiber shell are two important components of this design approach.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Options for Green Power

For anyone who wants to seek true energy independence, the options for equipping a new home with solar or wind power, or retrofitting an older home, are varied and growing. But, not everyone can immediately afford to invest several thousand dollars to get off-the-grid (though the prospects for doing this in the near future should become increasingly attractive). In the meantime, many utility companies across the country have begun to offer options to their customers to select renewable energy sources for all or part of their electrical service. For instance, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) in Washington State has added a Green Power option to their services. This option, created in collaboration with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, charges customers an extra $4 a month at the minimum level, which enables PSE to purchase 200 kilowatt hours of energy from local renewable sources. Additional blocks of kilowatt hours can be purchased in 100-unit increments for $2. By PSE calculations, if 100 customers adopt the minimum option of their Green Power Plan, in one year the environmental benefit would be equivalent to planting 70 acres of trees. Not a bad proposition, and this is clearly a way for every electrical customer to support the growth of renewable energy. If your utility company doesn't offer a similar plan, maybe they should.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Brazil Pushes for Renewable Energy

Countries squabbling at the World Summit over resolutions to adopt workable energy targets are considering a proposal presented by Brazil to achieve 10 percent renewable energy sources by 2010. This level of commitment could have an important role in stimulating local economies and cutting pollution around the world. Currently, only 2 percent of the world's energy comes from wind, solar or wave power. An American-based group, the Apollo Alliance, also sees renewable energy as having the potential to create millions of jobs.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Popeye's Favorite Solar Cells

Solar cells made from the spinach leaf? It sounds improbable, but that's exactly what a team of researchers is working on, taking advantage of the ability of plants and photosynthetic bacteria to convert photons to energy. In this article from Technology Review, researchers from MIT, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee have achieved initial 12 percent power-conversion efficiency rates, combining biology and electronics to create photosynthetic molecules. A traditional solar cell, the product of several decades of research, achieves 20 efficiency. This new approach sounds promising.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Competition for the Last Dregs

The last dregs of the dwindling worldwide oil supply look very appealing to a voracious consumer that rivals the U.S. in terms of raw appetite. China, with a population of 1.3 billion, is enjoying strong economic growth and, with that growth, the demand for automobiles within the country, including woefully inefficient SUVs, has skyrocketed. This piece in Newsday provides 1.3 billion reasons why we might want to worry about oil.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Power from the Sea

With wind power growing at record levels around the world (with 8,133 megawatts installed in 2003, according to the American Wind Energy Association and European Wind Energy Association) and solar power for home users becoming much more cost effective, other advances in renewable energy are taking place out of the spotlight. Generating electricity from the sea is not a new idea and past attempts have been riddled by failure, but a host of new efforts are underway, as described in this Wired News article, Seas Seen as Viable Power, by Stephen Leahy. A 486-ton wave turbine is being deployed off the coast of Australia, touted as the "first plant in the world to make wave energy commercially viable." The Department of Energy estimates that wave energy has the potential to produce 2 terawatts of electricity. That ought to keep a few electric toothbrushes humming.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

A Solution to Global Warming

Finally, the Bush administration has somewhat sheepishly admitted that global warming appears to be a byproduct of human activities. It's about time, though this announcement curiously coincides with the start of the Republican National Convention. Could the most anti-environmental administration in a century be trying to paint itself as moderate as they prance on stage in front of the public? I wonder...

Given this official endorsement by the powers that be, we can no longer label global warming as a wild-eyed delusion invented by the liberal media, a plot by godless communists to drive America to bankruptcy, or a free-market opportunity for Wal-Mart to sell more air conditioners. Now that we have almost everybody onboard (except for those quasi-scientific mouthpieces who earn a direct living from fossil-fuel industry handouts), agreeing with what the vast majority of climate scientists have been asserting for years, what do we do about it?

In a commentary published in the Denver Post, Dr. Howard Geller of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project points to renewable forms of energy and overall improvements to energy efficiency as the answer. He also pointedly critiques those who see nuclear power as a viable solution, citing the lack of economic competitiveness, lack of public support, waste disposal issues and safety concerns--basically all of the same arguments that applied when U.S. nuclear power construction was halted 25 years ago. Nuclear power proponents, always ready to rally behind any excuse to re-energize the dead-end technology, have been blathering on about how nuclear power is the only answer, and, by the way, it is clean and safe and will deliver power that is too cheap to meter (or, have they finally given up on the too-cheap-to-meter argument?). Without the subsidy granted by the Price-Anderson Act, which limits plant owner liability in the event of a catastrophic accident (leaving taxpayers to pick up the additional tab), the industry would probably not even exist. A nice summary of the safety issues, produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists, can be found here.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

O is for Oil

It's back to the basics. A large part of our ignorance on energy issues in America comes from the fact that for years it has been so abundant that we rarely need to think about it. In a nicely reasoned article, O is for Oil, Paul Roberts makes a number of key points on our curious misconceptions about energy. As long as we are dependent on oil as a primary energy source, he argues, America as a nation will never have energy security. Well said!

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Going Cold Turkey: Fossil Fuel Addiction

Kurt Vonnegut has a way a skating around the pretense and dodging the artful chimpanzee posturing to get to the pure, beating heart of an idea. Cold Turkey, from In These Times, makes the point as only Vonnegut can.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Don't Let the Beer Go Bad

Businesses trying to keep operations going during California's rolling blackouts in 2000 learned to distrust the mainstream electricity grid. Among those most sensitive to a continuous supply of power, Sierra Nevada Brewing, based in Chico, California, took advantage of incentives offered by the California Public Utilities Commission to install fuel cells. The goal is to achieve an energy-neutral brewing operation, where the company creates as much energy as it consumes.

Even a short interruption in the electrical supply can ruin a batch of beer. And the summer temperatures in the Chico area, which push beyond the century mark for days at a time, make it critical that the power keep flowing along with the suds. Business incentives can help companies like Sierra Nevada Brewing free their operations from a fickle electricity grid. The article from Wired, Business Buys Into Fuel Cells, illustrates some other innovative business uses of renewable energy as well.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Energy Politics at Work

In any open society, if democracy is to be given a reasonable chance to flourish, the machinations of government at every level should be visible to the citizens. Leaders who are obviously beholden to special interests or not representing the expectations of their constituents can be removed from office. Bad policies can be rejected by rejecting the leaders who initiate them. A growing problem, however, particularly in terms of energy policy, is that key decisions are being made behind closed doors in virtual secrecy. And a growing body of evidence is pointing to the fact that energy policies are being crafted to benefit the bottom line of the mainstream energy producers, the petroleum and nuclear industries, to the detriment of any advances in renewable energy systems. The pattern of secrecy that was established by Dick Cheney in creating national energy policy is now apparently being emulated by California's Governor Schwarzenegger as examined in this Common Dreams article, Schwarzenegger Pulls a Cheney. Only by finding out who is pulling the strings behind the scenes do we have any chance to turn the current energy juggernaut around and move toward a future where sustainable energy practices can take hold.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Beware the Fossil Fools

One of the strongest arguments for shifting our energy base away from dependency on fossil fuels is, of course, global warming. Given the overwhelming consensus of the legitimate scientific community (i.e. those scientists not directly or indirectly on the payroll of a company that earns its profits extracting, refining, promoting or distirbuting fossil fuel products) that global warming is a serious risk for human survival, it's a puzzle how so many media pundits and quasi-scientists still blather on about the myth of global warming. Skewering these misinformed, unscientific flaks soundly, this article from The Guardian, Beware the Fossil Fools, doesn't pull any punches.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Little Solar Houses for Everyone

Solar power is too expensive and too impractical for mainstream use in the U.S. Or, is it? Truth be told, there are already numerous examples of the practicality of solar power in both business and home applications. Grist Magazine, a feisty little publication that provides "gloom and doom with a sense of humor", makes it a point to bring attention to promising developments on the alternative energy front. One of their staff writers, Amanda Griscom, highlighted a very apt example in her article, Little Solar Houses for You and Me. A collection of homes in Tennessee being built by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity use rooftop solar panels, insualted walls, windows and floors, energy-efficient lighting and other techniques to reduce the overall energy consumption to less than half that consumed by a conventionally constructed home.

This experimental project, co-sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), is one step towards a larger goal: the net-zero-energy home. Simply put, the net-zero-energy home will generate as much power as it consumes. This goal is reachable, so the story goes, only if consumer demand increases to the point that the cost of solar panels drops to about a third of what they cost today. To make that happen, we need incentives, public education, research, and perhaps a new administration more interested in investing in the future rather than propping up a dying oil industry.

Need more convincing? The Rocky Mountain Institute, a leader in energy efficiency studies and programs, includes details of more than 200 green building projects from around the world on their Green Developments 2.0 CD-ROM. The technology is out there, along with the answers to a brighter energy future.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Energy Futures in California: Renewable or More of the Same?

Over the years, California has earned a reputation for being quick to act on environmental problems and more progressive on many energy-related issues. Strict automobile emission standards in California prompted massive changes throughout the automotive industry and helped make improved emission controls a priority to relieve some of the air quality problems in major metropolitan areas. The recent energy crisis in the state, however, tainted by the scandal of price manipulation and fraud, has made energy futures a major focus for state government. Landmark legislation championed by Gray Davis before he left office mandates nearly doubling the use of renewable energy resources by 2017. Under Governor Schwartzegger's leadership, despite his professed commitment to renewable energy, the direction of the state's renewable energy futures are in question. What does the new energy governor have in mind?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Perfect Storm That's About to Hit

In good times, when the price of a gallon of gas is closer to one dollar, rather than two, people don't worry much about fuel costs. To those of us old enough to remember the fuel shortages of the late 70's, when the lines at the gas pumps often stretched around the block, there are ominous harbingers on the horizon, as this article by Jeremy Rifkin, The Perfect Storm That's About to Hit, points out. Fuel costs affect so many different aspects of our society (as well as the global economy) that the advancement of alternative fuel sources really needs to go into overdrive before our addiction to oil kills us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

SUV Solutions

It's no secret that Americans love SUVs. Each time I make a trip to the local supermarket in relatively affluent Manchester, Vermont, I find myself immersed in a sea of ponderous, top-heavy, barge-like vehicles (many of them with N.Y. and N.J. plates, bearing ski racks, monstrous tires, and oversized luggage carriers). The question is: do these machines have to be gas guzzlers and do they have to be unsafe? The Union of Concerned Scientists challenges this notion in a dedicated area of their site, SUV Solutions. Better still, they approach the topic without the somber, lab-coat pedantry you might expect, offering Flash cartoons and a decidedly satirical slant to their viewpoint. And, they demonstrate that with technologies we have available today, we can build safe and fuel-efficient SUVs. If you have a few minutes to spend, take their SUV-TV Challenge.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Apollo Alliance : Wind, Biomass, Solar at the Center of Apollo Energy Plan

The outsourcing of jobs in a variety of areas--including the supposedly impregnable high-tech sector where America has led the world in the recent past--presents a formidable obstacle to any significant economic recovery. The manufacturing sector, in particular, continues to lose jobs. According to Ray Perryman, president of the Perryman Group, in this article, Apollo Alliance : Wind, Biomass, Solar at the Center of Apollo Energy Plan, job losses in the manufacturing sector have continued for 41 consecutive months.

The solution being touted by the Apollo Alliance is a program to create millions of new jobs through a vigorous expansion of renewable energy technologies, including innovation and growth in the solar, biomass, and wind energy fields. Instead of looking backwards towards dangerous and polluting fossil-fuel and nuclear energy approches, the Apollo Energy Plan (named after John F. Kennedy's Apollo Mission that led to a landing on the moon) focuses on the next generation of hybrid automobiles, more efficient building technologies, streamlined mass transportation, and a advances in all forms of renewable power. This alliance brings together labor unions and environmental groups in a unified effort to research and design practical and non-polluting energy technologies--an effort that includes some very major players.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Fuel-Cell Microbes' Double Duty: Treat Water, Make Energy

Wastewater treatment consumes an enormous amount of energy. Why not put bacteria to work to offset the energy requirements? This novel idea--a single-chambered microbial fuel cell--is being prototyped through a grant from the National Science Foundation. In this press release, NSF - OLPA - PR 04-021: Fuel-Cell Microbes' Double Duty: Treat Water, Make Energy - , a strong case is made for an approach that could greatly reduce the $25 billion a year that it costs to treat about 33 billions gallons of domestic wastewater in the United States.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Hydrogen Economy: A Bad Idea?

In this article, A Hydrogen Economy Is a Bad Idea, David Morris argues that looking towards a hydrogen economy is probably a bad idea. The question of where the hydrogen comes from is a key concern. The petroleum and nuclear power industries would love to play a key role in the game--creating hydrogen by means of the same greenhouse-gas producing and toxic-waste producing methods they've been using for years.

Generating, storing, transporting and distributing the hydrogen to energize fuel cells may create more problems and inefficiencies than it solves, Morris reasons, and if the centralized distribution models that we've used for years for fuel are applied to the problem, that may be the case.

Alternatively, a decentralized means of generating hydrogen might sidestep the significant obstacles in producing hydrogen for powering homes and vehicles. A company in New York, Plug Power Fuel-Cell Systems manufactures residential units that burn natural gas or use other forms of energy to produce electricity, heat, pure water, and hydrogen. One of the partners in this effort is Honda and as they are set to rollout the hydrogen-powered Honda FCX during 2004, the potential for fueling these vehicles from a home-based system seems promising. If I'm reading the specs correctly, it also looks as though the fuel cell systems from Plug Power can be coupled with solar and wind power systems, which could alleviate many of the concerns that David Morris expresses in his article. More on this development as I investigate further.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

State Incentives for Renewable Energy

While the federal government may not be doing much to make renewable energy more attractive to the average citizen, many states have initiated their own programs to help offset the costs of installing solar energy panels, purchasing a gas-electric hybrid vehicle, or erecting a wind turbine. These incentives sometimes come in the form of state tax credits or as rebates. California alone provided $2.6 million in tax credits in 2001 to residents who installed solar power systems. As an example of the potential savings, a solar project tagged at $24,000 is eligible for a rebate of $10,730--representing close to a 50 percent reduction in costs.

How does your state rate? If you're wondering what incentives are available to you, consult the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) for an easy-to-use, up-to-date list of programs.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Solar energy's cloudy past

Solar energy, like many technologies (DVD, hybrid vehicles), showed promise years before it gained widespread acceptance. In the case of solar energy, it has taken about 50 years for manufacturing processes and supporting technology to demonstrate the practicality of this infinitely renewable energy source. Trouble is that at the moment other nations (Germany and Japan) are leapfrogging the U.S., capitalizing on the benefits of solar power while Amercans puzzle over an energy policy (enacted by the present short-sighted administration) that leans heavily toward coal and petroleum. This historical perspective on the slow, steady advances in solar energy, Solar energy's cloudy past / Advocates say 50-year-old industry is finally in a position to heat up, shows that it's really here--if only we recognize it.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Scientists Advance Hydrogen Tech

Imagine compact fuel cells that can be readily installed in your basement, offering a neat replacement for that furnace sucking up fuel oil like a drunken monkey swilling cheap vodka. Then imagine that one of the prime obstacles to clean fuel cell development--the generation of hydrogen without reliance on fossil fuels--can be overcome by using corn-based ethanol, giving farmers in the Midwest a potential source of new revenues. Research advances discussed in this article, Scientists Advance Hydrogen Tech point to a renewable model for hydrogen-based fuel cells that might lead the way to cleaner motoring and home heating.

Clean energy part of `Green Wave'

Environmental technologies make economic sense, so much so that the Treasurer of the State of California has announced plans to invest pension money as part of a `Green Wave' initiative. With $1.5 billion of the state's pension money being invested in environmentally screened funds and financing to develop clean technologies, Angelides hopes to not only profit from positive growth in this sector, but also help generate job growth. The economic advantages of taking an ecocentric energy path are becoming clear to a widening circle of investors and financial professionals.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Oil and Democracy Don't Mix

Many reasons exist for reducing the stranglehold that oil addiction has on our society. In the frenzied quest for the next fix, social justice issues and support for genuine democracy take a back seat to keeping the flow of petroleum moving, as this article, Oil and Democracy Don't Mix, points out. This situation doesn't promise to get any better until we collectively go through an extensive detox, embrace renewable sources of power and end the century-long power struggle to dominate access to a dwindling resource.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

How the Cookie Crumbles: A TrueMajority Perspective

If alternative energy is such a great idea, why aren't we seeing more practical applications in the everyday world? TrueMajority offers a vividly clear perspective on where our federal budget efforts are directed. This animated piece, starring Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen, reduces the complexities of the federal budget to stacks of cookies--each cookie representing 10 billion dollars [US]. The graphic reality of the situation is enough to make any thoughtful person choke on their cookies and milk. The Pentagon budget appears as a big stack of 40 cookies ($400 billion dollars a year). The entire budget for researching and developing alternative energy technologies is 1/4 of a cookie. Education and other essential social programs are similarly dwarfed by Pentagon expenditures. The rational for maintaining this gargantuan military infrastructure certainly doesn't look very credible when compared to the expenditures of other nations. Both Russia and China combined equal only 12 cookies and the terrorist threat in the world is represented by less than a cookie. Perhaps it's time we thought seriously about taking a few cookies off the bloated military budget stack and putting them into something beneficial: alternative energy development, education, and other worthwhile programs.

Friday, January 09, 2004

U.S. Climate Policy Bigger Threat to World Than Terrorism

Why worry about changing our energy habits? One good reason is the threat posed by global climate change, as discussed in this article. The chief scientific advisor in the UK Government, Sir David King, sees climate change as a much more serious threat than terrorism. The potential extinction of millions of species and the threat of drought, hunger, flooding, and rampant malaria for much of the world's population represents a genuine risk much more tangible than the colorized terror alerts endlessly waved in our faces.

Beyond the shadow

"Between the conception and the creation," T.S. Eliot wrote, "Between emotion and the response falls the shadow." Years ago, while still in college, I dreamed of living in a solar-powered geodesic dome somewhere in a northern California redwood forest. A creative writing instructor mocked that vision (which I had expressed through a character in one of my short stories) and mainstream America saw solar and wind power as a pipe dream from granola-munching, pot-smoking hippies, as eager to dismiss the possibilities as they were to jump into their heavy-metal 16 mpg American road machines and take their turn in a gas line. The nascent alternative energy movement was nonetheless taking root, suggesting another energy path that didn't have risky megalithic nuclear reactors at its heart. The Nuclear Power Initiative in California made it clear that not everyone thought it wise to depend on fuel that could destroy half a state in the case of an accident or that would generate wastes that would have to be guarded for tens of thousands of years--longer than the span of any known civilization.

Thirty years later, the technologies that make alternative energy the only realistic future possibility have come of age, but their adoption has been slowed by the massive worldwide infrastructure that refuses to abandon a future tied to dwindling supplies of petroleum-based fuel. Wars are already being fought over oil. How much worse will it get in 20 or 30 years when serious scarcities drive the developed nations into even more frantic quests to suck the last few dregs of oil from the earth?

We don't need more oil; we need a new direction. This blog offers steps and guideposts to other energy paths that any of us can follow. The "Think globally, act locally" credo of the environmental movement makes much sense. We can equip our homes with solar or wind power and charge utility companies for surplus energy (through Intertie connections) put back into the grid. We can choose efficient devices that save energy, change our transportation habits, critically examine our lives, and move away from gluttonous energy use and the indiscriminate wasting of resources, moving toward a more frugal, more mindful existence that recognizes and reverses the destructiveness of the prevailing path.

So, this is step one... As I take more steps in this direction, I invite you along for the journey and I hope maybe there is something useful in this vision that you can share, as well. The emphasis will be on practical, realistic, accessible approaches--either things that you can do tomorrow with tools and technologies already available, or examples that demonstrate how others have taken other energy paths, the road less travelled that Robert Frost talked about. Put on your hiking boots and join the journey.