We Could All Use a Second Look

25 08 2009
From: CTV, 2009

From: CTV, 2009

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. “

– From the film Dead Poets Society
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Walking! It’s the New Driving!

11 08 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

A fellow blogger put together a great post on the benefits of walking as well as the unseen costs of driving a car. Here are a few of the things he’s discovered:

  1. 40% of trips made in the United States are 2 miles or less
  2. Even given the above, fewer than 10% of all trips are made by foot or bike
  3. In 2008, Americans consumed 22.5% of the world’s oil production (884 million metric tonnes)
  4. For those of you who like to blame China for being the big polluter, they burned 375 million metric tonnes
  5. If you thought driving vehicles was bad for the environment, consider this. A car produces more waste and air pollution in it’s lifetime before it’s even driven.
  6. Medical expenses due to obesity count for 9.1% of all American medical expenditures.
  7. The risk of death from heart disease could be reduced by 34% by simply walking 2 hours per week

I put these numbers out there for obvious reasons. Do I believe cars are terrible things? Not at all, especially when they’re becoming incredibly more efficient, and we’re finally on the cusp of producing electric vehicles for the masses. I understand that cars are necessary at times, especially given the current urban form of North America – that is sprawl. You can’t really be expected to walk everywhere when there is no infrastructure in place to encourage it. However, I know for a fact that there are still plenty of trips that are incredibly brief and could easily be made on foot. Often our first instinct as 21st century human beings is to hop in the car no matter where we are going. It has been proven though, that this is unhealthy in numerous ways. So, next time you’ve got to go somewhere, consider the actual distance and the actual time required for that trip. Do you really need to drive? Could you benefit from a calming walk and a breath of fresh air?

For more on the social benefits of walking and more stats and numbers: http://svenworld.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/talking-the-walk





Senator Inhofe: Oil and Gas Don’t Pollute

29 07 2009

Wow…I don’t even know what to say about this. Senator Inhofe, of Oklahoma, actually says not only that oil and gas don’t contribute to climate change, but that they don’t pollute at all. That is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard.

Well senator, I guess that gives major oil companys the go ahead to dump their waste water in your backyard? Have you possibly tried to leave your car running in the garage with the door closed? Can you tell me that would have no ill effect on your livelihood? Maybe I can stop by and dump my oil motor oil in your garden? I certainly hope you just fumbled the words and didn’t actually mean what you said.





Sarah Palin Doesn’t Understand Cap-and-Trade

27 07 2009
Sarah Palin wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Washington Post on July 14th this year. It is full of BS and truth stretching, as well as a good old fashioned lack of concrete information. Allow me to retort:

There is no shortage of threats to our economy. America’s unemployment rate recently hit its highest mark in more than 25 years and is expected to continue climbing. Worries are widespread that even when the economy finally rebounds, the recovery won’t bring jobs. Our nation’s debt is unsustainable, and the federal government’s reach into the private sector is unprecedented.

Unfortunately, many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges. So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be:

I am deeply concerned about President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.

Ok Sarah, you say this plan will undermine the economic recovery in the short term. Here’s some news for you, the plan is not to take affect until 2012, if the United States is still in recession over two years from now, I think we have some bigger issues to worry about.

American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy.

Yes, this is true, but is it all encompasing and defining? To put the matter close to home, Alaska’s average retail price for electricity in April 2009 was 14.76 cents/kWh. That one of the highest prices in the United States. The cost of electricity is generally between 10 and 15 pence/kWh in England. That translates to between 16.48 and 24.73 cents/kWh in American dollars. Would you say that England is not prosperous?

Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security. Consequently, many of us in this huge, energy-rich state recognize that the president’s cap-and-trade energy tax would adversely affect every aspect of the U.S. economy.

Every aspect? Thats pretty broad. I bet it would lead to less pollution? Is that an adverse affect Sarah?

There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn’t lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive! Those who understand the issue know we can meet our energy needs and environmental challenges without destroying America’s economy.

All energy on earth comes from the sun in some way or another. The scarcity lies in fossil fuels, which takes millions of years to develop. Sun and wind happen naturally every day of the year. Until the sun implodes, I don’t think you can call that a scarce resource.

Job losses are so certain under this new cap-and-tax plan that it includes a provision accommodating newly unemployed workers from the resulting dried-up energy sector, to the tune of $4.2 billion over eight years. So much for creating jobs.

Take a trip down to Neon, Kentucky and look at how people are living after the coal industry left the area. The lifetime of fossil fuel industries is finite and will eventually leave people without jobs. The lifetime of a renewable energy sector is infinite, therefore, in the long run, there are far more permanent jobs. Oh ya, its cap-and-trade Sarah, not cap-and-tax, you made  a typo there.

In addition to immediately increasing unemployment in the energy sector, even more American jobs will be threatened by the rising cost of doing business under the cap-and-tax plan. For example, the cost of farming will certainly increase, driving down farm incomes while driving up grocery prices. The costs of manufacturing, warehousing and transportation will also increase.

For the second time, 2012 is not immediate. And for the second time, its cap-and-trade. Poor farming practices are already subsidized by the government because we demand cheap terrible food. If subsidies were granted to the poor rather than the farmers, higher food costs would be so big an issue. Buying vegetables from your local stand sure is cheaper than buying them from the grocery store.

The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.

The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet. As the president eloquently puts it, their electricity bills will “necessarily skyrocket.” So much for not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

Even Warren Buffett, an ardent Obama supporter, admitted that under the cap-and-tax scheme, “poor people are going to pay a lot more for electricity.”

This might be a valid point. Though it has been disputed and stated that the poorest families will actually benefit from cap-and-trade. Additionally, rising costs will force an increase in conservation efforts. And if energy costs too much to purchase, part of the cap-costs that corporations pay could go to financing solar panels for the rooves of those who can’t afford to pay for energy. I don’t think this is in the plan though, so Sarah, maybe you could use your influence for something productive like this?

We must move in a new direction. We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil. Just as important, we have more desire and ability to protect the environment than any foreign nation from which we purchase energy today.

Umm…the plan IS to move in a new direction….not the same old direction that you’re proposing.

In Alaska, we are progressing on the largest private-sector energy project in history. Our 3,000-mile natural gas pipeline will transport hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of our clean natural gas to hungry markets across America. We can safely drill for U.S. oil offshore and in a tiny, 2,000-acre corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if ever given the go-ahead by Washington bureaucrats.

Oh those darned Washingotn bureaucrats, trying to protect what little natural environment is left in the world! How dare they take away our black gold! Sarah, there is a reason that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is protected! Once you start drilling in one protected environment, you’ve set the precedent that allows drilling to occur in every wildlife refuge in the country. And who’s to stop you from ploughing through the whole thing? Not to mention the environmental impacts that an oil drilling operation would have on the wider surrounding environment. Take a look at what Texaco did to the Amazon in Ecuador.

Of course, Alaska is not the sole source of American energy. Many states have abundant coal, whose technology is continuously making it into a cleaner energy source. Westerners literally sit on mountains of oil and gas, and every state can consider the possibility of nuclear energy.

Please see my post on the issues surrounding the myth of ‘clean coal’

We have an important choice to make. Do we want to control our energy supply and its environmental impact? Or, do we want to outsource it to China, Russia and Saudi Arabia? Make no mistake: President Obama’s plan will result in the latter.

This is my only gripe with Obama’s plan and I think Sarah Palin might be semi-correct on this one point. However, pretty much everything we consume comes from outside of the continent already anyways. There are bigger problems that pertain to our North American lifestyle than those relating to where our electricity comes from. We continuously greed for the fastest and cheapest of everything, no matter what the external costs to society and the environment. While I could see this cap-and-trade system resulting in the export of even more jobs to foreign countries, I don’t think it is the fault of the plan so much as it is the fault of the North American people as a whole. Make a choice with your wallet and buy what little goods are still made within the continent and we will see those jobs comes back. Only consumers can change the market. Sarah can agree with that.

For so many reasons, we can’t afford to kill responsible domestic energy production or clobber every American consumer with higher prices.

The renewable energy sector is domestic energy production. Buying oil from the middle east is not.

Can America produce more of its own energy through strategic investments that protect the environment, revive our economy and secure our nation?

Please, oh please explain to me how mining for more coal and drilling for more oil is protecting the environment?

Yes, we can. Just not with Barack Obama’s energy cap-and-tax plan.

Wow. That was difficult. To be clear though, I’m not even much of a supporter of the plan proposed by Obama. So many concessions have already been made, so many loopholes, and so many freebies given to big polluters, that the bill has already failed to do what it was meant to do before even beeing enacted. For the most part, the bill is a greenwash effort so that the United States can say they are doing something about climate change. Sarah Palin though, does not have the answers. She’s not remotely close.

 





Environmental Victory Over Alaska Oil

20 07 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

A former Bush Administration initiative was finally overruled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The overturned land trade deal would have allowed drilling for oil and natural gas in the Yukon Flats Natural Wildlife Refuge. The key to this win was strong opposition from local Native American Villages who feared that the economic gains they would receive from such a venture would not outweigh the social and environmental impact of the proposed operation.

It is great to see an example of the environmental review process truly working out and doing what it is intended to do – that is protect the environment. Too often it seems that such review processes are not quite thorough enough, and favour development over the environment.

What is a little bit unnerving though, is that a FINAL decision won’t be made until 2010. So who knows what may change over the next few months? Some good news on this front though, is that Doyon says they are not being set back by this loss at all because they have other lands already, and having seen the opposition over the past few years, were not expecting a win out of this anyways.

The proposed land trade would have seen 207 000 acres of refuge land go to Doyon Ltd, a corporation owned by the Athabascan Indians of interior Alaska. Doyon would have then given 150 000 acres of ‘bird-rich’ non-refuge land back to the refuge, plus the future rights to 56 000 acres. So, I don’t have all the details, but this looks to me like those last 56 000 acres would be the ones that Doyon gives back once they’ve decided that there is not enough oil or gas beneath them to be economically feasible. Additionally, if this decision were not overturned by the Fish and Wildlife Service, it would provide a precedent for drilling in the neighbouring Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Former Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin, was gung ho for this new oil development.

We can safely drill for U.S. oil offshore and in a tiny, 2,000-acre corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if ever given the go-ahead by Washington bureaucrats.

She will be disappointed to learn that this ‘tiny’ piece of protected land will continue to be protected from oil exploration and development.   My favorite part of this story though? Many of the locals own shares of Doyon Ltd, yet they still didn’t want to see development in the refuge.

Article: http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE56G6R120090717?feedType=RSS&feedName=environmentNews&pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0





Exxon Mobil and Texas Sabotage

17 07 2009
From: Treehugger.com, 2009

From: Treehugger.com, 2009

Oil companies certainly are good at giving me stories to write about. I found out that recently (March 2009), Exxon won a trail against Emerald Oil & Gas Company. A trial that it probably should not have won. In the late 1980’s. The oil giant had a falling out with the land owners of 121 of their Texas oil wells. When Exxon requested a cut in the 50% royalty rate that the O’Connor family had imposed since the 1950’s, when Exxon Corp. was known as Humble Oil & Refining Co., the family refused and Exxon decided to pack up and leave. Law requires an oild company to plug the wells upon leaving and report on how those wells were plugged so that if any party sees a future opportunity with the wells, they have the ability to tap into them again. When Emerald Oil & Gas made their attempt to tap into 1/3 of the wells in the early 1990’s, they were met with concrete and explosives, prohibiting them from accessing many of the wells. Exxon has been proven responsible for sabotaging their old wells by filling them with concrete, metal, explosives, and toxic waste, as well as leaving damaged metal casings in the wells.

So, Exxon won the most recent case at the supreme Court in Texas (ruled by Justice Dale Wainwright) on the basis that Emerald Oil filed the case too late. While Emerald argued the the case should have begun when Exxon finally revealed the documents disclosing the method for plugging the wells (a false disclosure), the supreme court ruled that the clock started ticking when Emerald discovered that the wells had been sabotaged, meaning that they were 2 months late filing the case. So this really gets me…the court knows that Exxon has sabotaged the wells, but they toss out the case because it is 2 whole months late. This is absurd.

The case is not yet dead though. According to Bloomberg, Jerry Patterson, the commissioner of the land office that oversees oil leases that help fund Texas schools, has asked the Texas Railroad Commission to conduct hearings into the matter. Exxon could be fined for not accurately describing what was used to plug the wells, thereby making it far more difficult for Emerald to access the wells than they would have been lead to believe.

“Under Railroad Commission rules, Exxon Mobil could face fines of $10,000 a day per well, Patterson said in the statement, which he plans to release on July 20. He said those penalties could add up to more than $1 billion on wells the company abandoned in 1991 after a disagreement over royalties with the owners, the O’Connor family, a Texas oil dynasty.”

Exxon’s response:

“The allegations paint a false and misleading picture of Exxon Mobil’s involvement in the O’Connor oil and gas leases… The area in which the wells are located has a water table very close to the surface. It was critical that Exxon protect the groundwater by plugging the wells solidly and thoroughly.”

I’m SURE Exxon must have been putting explosives in their wells to protect the groundwater. I bet if they blew up their oil tankers in our harbours it would be a great benefit to our health too. Maybe, we can substitute oil for water as a healthy alternative beverage even? Give it up Exxon. As it turns out, $1 billion in fines is about 2% of the company’s total net income last year. They reportedly have about $25 billion in cash and cash equivalents just tucked away in reserve. I don’t know why they fight these things and drag them out so long. If they just paid the costs right away, the process wouldn’t drag on so long and maybe they wouldn’t have such negative PR.

 The Railroad Commission hasn’t yet decided whether or not they will fine the oil company. the three commissioners that would hold hearings are to meet on July 21st. Once again, I hope Exxon gets what it deserves.

Bloomberg Article: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601130&sid=apaHKiMnL4Qk

Austin American Statesman Article: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/03/28/0328exxon.html





Algae to Energy: Update

14 07 2009
From: Huffington Post, 2009

From: Huffington Post, 2009

This is in addition to my post from June 30, 2009: Reuters News service as well as the New York Times, both stated today that Exxon, the largest western oil company, the same Exxon that has touted renewable energy as not economically feasible, the same Exxon that has supported evidence that denies human induced climate change, The same Exxon that called biofuels ‘moonshine’, may be coming over to the renewable side. We could see Exxon invest over $600 million in the production of fuels from algae. This investment would partner Exxon Mobil with biotech company, Synthetic Genomics. We shant get too hasty though, Emil Jacobs, Exxon’s vice president for Research and Development says we won’t see mass production of this fuel for another five or ten years. One question we may be prone to overlook, is why only $600 million? I know this sounds like a big number, but Exxon’s profits for 2008 were in the area of $45.22 billion. You’ve got to imagine that a larger investment might be able to push this techonolgy to mass markets in a shorter time frame. Yet, we still have to give some praise. If anyone should be investing in renewables, it’s the oil giants. They’ve got the money and power to do the research. Also, it follows that the oil giants will wean themselves off of oil ever-so-slowly once they start investing heavily in renewables.

More about this technology though. The Obama administration is looking for biofuels to make up 36 billion gallons of fuels per year by 2022. Corn-based biofuel only gets 250 gallons per acre each year and has been heavily criticized for doing more harm than good. Algae-based biofuel is able to produce 2000 gallons per acre each year. Still, this sure is a lot of land. A litte bit of math puts it at 18 million acres of land. There are options though. Algae can be farmed in areas unsuitable for crops. Also, it very well may be possible to farm it in sea water, though I can only imagine the possible negative effects of this.

So, with that all said, I don’t know if the winds are finally changing or Exxon just wants to control the future market, but this is news indeed for the renewable energy world. Lets just hope they don’t find a way to destroy the entire algae population or any coral reefs while they do it.

Reuters article: http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE56D0O120090714?feedType=RSS&feedName=environmentNews

New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/14/business/energy-environment/14fuel.html?pagewanted=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

My original post: https://iaminformed.wordpress.com/2009/06/30/algae-to-energy/