I read in interesting book this week called “Future Scenarios, How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change,” by David Holmgren. The book focuses on the inevitable “energy descent” that the world is facing and outlines four likely scenarios that include the cultural, political, agricultural and economic implications of peak oil and climate change. Holmgren is best known as the co-creator of permaculture. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it is “the integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man.”
The book begins with a discussion of four possible broad energy scenarios that are likely to occur over the next century: techno-explosion, techno-stability, energy decent, and collapse. These scenarios range from continued growth to doom and gloom, and Holmgren writes, “There is a desperate need to recast energy descent as a positive process that can free people from the strictures and dysfunctions of growth economics and consumer culture.” He continues, “This is now apparent to many people around the world and is far more fundamental than a public relations campaign to paint a black sky blue.”
There are other factors that will affect our future in addition to climate change and peak oil and these include critical materials depletion, water depletion, food supply, population pressures, financial instability, psychosocial limits to affluence, and species extinction. Holmgren notes that all of these issues combined need to be considered when predicting possible future scenarios.
Yesterday I reviewed the book Crude World and today I watched the documentary Crudedirected by Joe Berlinger. Ironically, Crude follows the multi-year struggle of 30,000 indigenous and colonial rainforest dwellers of Ecuador as they struggle to hold Chevron accountable for what many environmentalists are saying is the world’s worst case of oil contamination ever. This story was told in one chapter of Crude World, but you don’t really embrace the full effect of the devastation and human struggling until you witness it yourself.
The lawsuit was filed against Texaco but when Chevron merged with Texaco in 2001 they inherited the suit. Originally filed in the United States, the suit was dropped and moved to Ecuador where against all odds, the courts proceeded with the case. The people are led by local lawyer Pablo Fajardo who is being assisted by American lawyer Steven Donzinger. The documentary covers three years of the case and follows the plaintiffs to three continents and begins with the judges orders to visit the contamination sites.
Eventually, the judge orders a third party to come in and test the various contamination sites (which Chevron has claimed to test and found no pollutants that exceed U.S. EPA regulations). When the 4,000 page report is released in 2008, it “recommends compensation for environmental remediation, excess cancer deaths, impacts on indigenous culture, and Texaco’s ‘unjust enrichment’ from its operations.” The monetary cost: $27 billion dollars. Continue reading →
This book takes you on a journey around the world and throws you into the violence that surrounds nations’ quest for oil. It’s not pretty. To reiterate what most people already know, the majority of oil left in the world lies in volatile areas. And not just the Middle East, but areas of Africa and South America. Too many people believe that oil leads to wealth and the revival of a country. However, too often, it leads to corruption by government officials, increased poverty and unrest – not to mention the environmental devastation that occurs.
The sad thing is that despite knowing better (America is all for human rights, right?) our own corporations support these evil regimes. A case in point that Maass discusses is Equatorial Guinea and its corrupt dictatorial President Teodoro Obiang. His reported salary is $60,000 a year (US dollars) but it was recently discovered that he has bank accounts in access of $700 million. The bank accounts reside in the U.S.
So while he’s rolling in the dough, the people of his county are uneducated, underfed and lacking in basic amenities like clean water and electricity. Eventually, the Senate released a report detailing “money laundering and foreign corruption” after being tipped off by journalist Ken Silverstein, and in the report wrote that oil companies operating in the country “may have contributed to corrupt practices in the country.” Naturally, the oil companies denied paying bribes (which is illegal), a few hands were slapped and business as usual resumed. The only true losers were the citizens of Equatorial Guinea. Continue reading →
How many people agree with the statement, “We should not leave the solution to our environmental issues to environmentalists.” Two proponents of this idea are Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenbeger with the Break Through Institute and author of a book by the same name, “Break Through: Why We Can’t Leave Solving the Planet to Environmentalists.”
They write, “In the end, it is the global ecological crisis themselves that have triggered the death of environmentalism. For us to make sense of them, the category of “the environment” – along with the ancient story of humankind’s fall from nature – is no longer useful. The challenge of climate change is so massive, so global, and so complex that it can be overcome only if we look beyond the issue categories of the past and embrace a grand new vision for the future.”
They continue by arguing that before a new vision can be realized we must first ask, “What kind of beings are we? and What can we become?” And this is what they set out to answer; however, along the journey, I lost interest and barely held out long enough to discover the answer to these questions.
Right now, many people who read the book are thinking (or will write me) you didn’t get it. No, I got it. In fact, the answers are philosophical, engaging, well thought out, and have extreme merit. But the truth is, I like to be entertained when I read, even if it’s a nonfiction or business book, and this book felt like I was back in philosophy class in college (and for me that was one and done). Yet the philosophical arguments they lay out adeptly get us thinking into a new thought paradigm. We should no longer think about how the world can work together to solve global warming in the traditional sense of’ ‘environmentalism,’ but we must realize that true results will come when we understand that the solution to the problem lies in the intersection between ecological concern and global prosperity.
This week we’re back to climate change, and the author James Hoggan, lays out the “crusade to deny global warming in “Climate Cover-Up.” For those of you familiar with the online green space, you may have come across the blog DeSmogBlog, which is co-founded by Hoggan. This site is dedicated to “out” those companies, experts and scientists who are (or were) trying to deny global climate change and manipulate the public. It also calls out the supporting characters to the deceit – the mainstream media.
Like companies who have been outed in their campaigns against ethanol, Hoggan outs companies like ExxonMobil who had campaigns against the existence of global climate change. Climate changed seemed to gain worldwide consensus in 2006/07 in part due to the success of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth“. (For Gore fans, he just released his follow-up “Our Choice” last winter.)
Hoggan writes, “…no one seemed to be confused about climate change in 1988. The great scientific bodies of the world were concerned, and the foremost political leaders were engaged. So what happened then and now?” Well, that’s exactly what Hoggan lays out for the reader: a big fat smear campaign against the earth. Continue reading →
I have a new hero and his name is William Kamkwamba – “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.” William begins his story by writing, “A windmill means more than just power, it means freedom.” William was born in Malawi and like many in his country, his family struggled to survive in a country defined by drought and hunger. Unable to pay for school, William, gifted in the sciences, began spending his time in the library where he discovered how to bring electricity to his home with a windmill in the outdated American textbook, Using Energy.
What happened after he found that book is absolutely amazing – William spent months collecting the pieces that he would use to fashion a windmill out of junk. Fueled by ridicule and passion along with the support of his family and two best friends, William succeeded in creating a windmill that brought electricity to his home. Word spread and people began coming from miles and miles away to see “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.”
William understood what most take for granted – that electricity would help the family survive. It would replace the expensive kerosene that his family had to travel nearly seven kilometers to purchase. It would bring light to the darkness and it would allow them to pump water and irrigate the land, not only improving the bushel per acres of their crops, but allow them to plant and harvest two crops a year, helping to eliminate the months of hunger suffered year after year.
But the completion and success of his windmill didn’t fix his families problems right away. Continue reading →
I thought it would be apropos to tie this week’s book review into a common New Year’s resolution -weight loss. Enter “The End of Energy Obesity,” by Peter Tertzakian. While this book has the same theme as most energy books these days, breaking America’s energy addiction, it varied from the most common used parallels and likened our country’s energy addiction to our country’s food addiction. It is an effective analogy.
Tertzakian writes, “Over the last decade, specifically in North America, our energy appetite has soared to such an extent that we are now energy obese.”
Throughout the book, Tertzakian outlines how America became energy obese as well as the way our country can curb its energy appetite as this will need to be done, in part, through a new energy diet that is compelling. He explains that energy sources, both renewable and nonrenewable will need to meet nine energy attributes. The higher the score, the better chance the energy source has of being successfully incorporated into our energy diet. The nine attributes include: versatility, scalability, storability and transportability, deliverability, energy density, power density, constancy, environmental sensitivity, and energy security. Ultimately, Tertzakian feels that renewable energy has limited potential and his winning solution is increasing the use of natural gas.
For the most part, he stays the course with his metapor through the first two parts but he begins to wander off topic in part three as he delves into conservation, dissolving distance and the development of communication technologies. I also disagree with him in the sense that relying on an increase in natural gas is not the best way to go. Natural gas is a limited resource that fluctuates heavily in terms of pricing. An increase in the use of this energy source could cause our energy prices to become even more volitale. Yes, energy prices will increase as we ramp up the integration of alternative energy sources but over the long-term, prices will become more stable than they are now.
Ultimately the book presents some interesting ideas to mull over but if you’re short of time, just focus on the first half of the book. To read this book or any book I review, click here.
My eyes are still a bit fuzzy from all the reading I did last week so last night in honor of all of those snowed in in the Midwest, I watched a documentary – Gas Hole. As the title indicates, this movie is about America’s dependence on oil. Beginning in the 1970s during the first oil crisis to now, it details our country’s attempts to unsuccessfully shed itself of its addiction to foreign oil.
It baffles my mind, as I’m sure it does your mind, that with all our alternatives and technology, we can’t seem to make any headway towards a country not dependent on fossil fuel based energy. “We do not have a national energy policy that fits the 21st century,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California.
The movie is ripe with conspiracy theories as told by politicians, celebrities, alternative energy enthusiasts and witnesses. One of the main threads of the film is the invention of the “Oglemobile,” a car that could achieve nearly 100 miles per gallon (mpg) on vapor. The inventor was a man by the name of Tom Ogle who lived in El Paso, Texas. This feat was achieved in 1977. Ultimately he sold the patent, was told he could never produce another vehicle using the technology, and then died shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances.
According to the movie, Shell was behind another of the conspiracies to keep fuel economy technology out of the marketplace. A former shell researcher noted that fuel economy testing began in 1939 with a car that could achieve 40-50 mpg and by 1977 and broken the 1,000 mpg barrier. The narration asks, “What have we been doing while scientists have been getting 1,000 miles per gallon?”
That is a good question. Although this movie is a little slow-moving, for those people who want to know the answer to the posed question, this is a film to be reckoned with.
I’ll leave you with the words of Eshoo, “It’s not enough to say something. We have to do something.”
This morning the Copenhagen Climate Conference kicked off. As I mentioned in earlier posts, the two big issues are the reduction of CO2 and the halting of deforestation. As I noted in other writings, there are Climate Alarmists and Climate Skeptics. Climate Alarmists, which Al Gore would be considered, believe that if we don’t curb global warming now, the earth will face unprecedented consequences. The climate skeptics, as Bjorn Lomborg would be considered, offer the view that the problem has been blown out of proportion or is focused on the wrong culprits. Actually there would be nothing more fun than a Lomborg/Gore debate.
On Friday, I presented a ‘skeptics’ view…today I will present an ‘alarmists’ view. For the third book review, I chose Al Gore’s, “Our Choice A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.” Most people know that Gore helped to put the global warming debate on the map with his first book and movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” These efforts led to a shared Oscar and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Gore will also be playing a major role in Copenhagen over the next two weeks.
Gore begins, “It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. The only missing ingredient is collective will.”
Throughout the book, Gore uses a combination of words, graphics and pictures to demonstrate the climate change debate, detail many of the solutions and offer policy recommendations. There is one area where I think Gore did a great job, and that is explaining what the six categories of global warming pollution are: carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, sulfur hexaflouride, tetrafluoroethane, carbon monoxide, butane and nitrous oxide. To date, the biggest focus has been on carbon dioxide and Gore’s focus throughout the book is no different.
Along those same lines, Gore advocates that the most effective way to curb CO2 is through putting a price on carbon. He writes, “An effective plan for solving the climate crisis must include aggressive remedies for our erroneous reliance on deceptive market signals in carbon-based energy.” Continue reading →
Lomborg writes, “That humanity has caused a substantial rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the past centuries, thereby contributing to global warming, is beyond debate. What is debatable, however, is whether hysteria and headlong spending on extravagant CO2-cutting programs at an unprecedented price is the only possible response.”
He continues, “Such a course is especially debatable in a world where billions of people live in poverty, where millions die of curable diseases, and where these lives could be saved, societies strengthened, and environments improved at a fraction of the cost.”
Has the worldwide frenzy surrounding global warming caused us to lose our common sense? Continue reading →
Yesterday, in the post Countdown to Copenhagen, I mentioned that there are still quite a few scientists around the world who agree that climate change exists, but don’t agree about the cause. To kick off my three views in seven days series, is a review of the book, “The Chilling Stars A New Theory of Climate Change.” The authors are climate physicist Henrik Svensmark and award winning science writer Nigel Calder.
Let me start off by acknowledging that the majority of scientists believe that greenhouse gas emissions, primarily CO2, are causing global climate change. However, here is what Svensmark and Calder say about carbon dioxide. “To correct apparent over-estimates of the effects of carbon dioxide is not to recommend a careless bonfire of the fossil fuels that produce the gas. A commonplace libel is that anyone skeptical about the impending global-warming disaster is probably in the pay of the oil companies.”
They continue, “In fact, there are compelling reasons to economize in the use of fossil fuels, which have nothing to do with the climate–to minimize unhealthy smog, to conserve the planet’s limited stocks of fuel, and to keep energy prices down for the benefit of the poorer nations.”
So if climate change is not driven in part by CO2, as argued by the authors, then what is the primary driver of climate change?
The premise of Svensmark’s climate change theory is that the interplay between clouds, the sun and cosmic rays, have a greater effect on climate than man-made carbon dioxide. For those who don’t remember much of any science from high school or college a cosmic ray is comprised of sub-atomic particles from exploded stars. Continue reading →
Remember that old wives tale told to children that babies come from storks? Here is the addendum to the tale…and everything else comes from oil. When President Bush delivered his now famous quote, “We’re addicted to oil,” I don’t think he quite realized how prolific that was. He obviously meant in the form of gasoline/energy use but petroleum by-products are used to make plastics, fertilizer, pharmaceuticals (like you lotion and makeup) and even your clothes, and author Amanda Little takes you on this journey in her new book, “Power Trip“.
Little traveled the country for two years, starting her journey on the “Cajun Express,” an offshore rig located miles from the coast of Louisiana, and ending her trip back in Louisiana, spending time with Hurricane Katrina victims as they move into their near zero emission homes as part of the Make It Right program. In the middle, she spent a good bit of time visiting companies developing alternative energy sources.
The end of her journey is spent with the leaders of tomorrow, but these are not your typical Generation Xers or a group of kids who feel “entitled” to everything. These are the people who are refining the new environmental justice movement. These are children who are growing up in areas that have shouldered most of the hidden costs of our country’s fossil-fuel based lifestyle, and they’re making change door-to-door, not via the power of Capital Hill lobbyists. Continue reading →
I’m writing this review as I fly on a plane and I’m feeling guilty about the amount of CO2 that is emitted when flying – on average, flying contributes about 10 times as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as a similar journey by train. And no, I didn’t buy carbon offsets for this trip….
The guilt is being fostered by this week’s read, a Green Series, published by Chelsea Green Publishing. I read four in the series, all co-written by Jon Clift and Amanda Cuthbert: Energy; Water; Greening Your Office; and Climate Change. Also in the series: Reduce Reuse Recycle;Composting; and Biking to Work.
I liked how easy the series is to read, many bullets points and quick facts, as well as their, “If you do one thing” pointers and the way they have the, “spend nothing save less,” and spend little, save more.” On the negative side, the books don’t have any real background on the issues, but the authors do have a list of resources at the end of each book.
I’m going to leave you with this thought, since many who are pushing environmental responsibility often go to far as they live further and further off the grid. (Let’s get a grip. It is not in our country’s best interest to revert back to the pioneer days).
“We can take control of the situation and reduce our energy and reduce our consumption. We don’t have to live shivering in an unheated room with no modern appliances; we’re just talking about being more energy efficient – reducing the need for so much power.”
What do salt and oil have in common? In its time, the world was overdependent on the strategic commodity (oil today and salt more than 100 years ago). Our country (nor the world) is “salt dependent” but the world is oil dependent, but not in the way that most people define oil dependence. “That is what energy independence means: that it no longer matters who holds the reserves, that oil becomes much less relevant to global affairs, that it becomes just another commodity,” writes Gal Luft and Anne Korin, in “Turning Oil Into Salt Energy Independence Through Fuel Choice.”
The authors, who co-founded Set America Free Coalition and are also co-directors of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), continue,”Contrary to popular conception, energy independence does not mean autarky – it doesn’t mean walling ourselves off from the global market. Independence means not having to kowtow to the various petrodictators that sit on the bulk of the world’s oil reserves. Independence requires that oil become just not that important any more.”
The meat of the book delves into what energy independence looks like and the strategies that are currently in place, which the authors note are not effective and write that, “America’s energy policy still suffers from institutional paralysis.” They discuss terrorism at length but make a point that most authors fail to make, “Energy independence will not stop terrorism and will probably not prevent rogue regimes from obsessively pursuing nuclear weapons.” (The reason the U.S. is supposedly in a war with Iraq.) Continue reading →
I have written often that the best way for our country to transition to alternative energy is through the community – not through the government. As such, the book, “The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook Community Solutions to a Global Crisis,” by Greg Pahl fits nicely into my thesis.
“Community-supported energy (CSE) is similar to community-supported agriculture (CSA), except that instead of investing in carrots, tomatoes, or chicken, local residents invest in greater energy security and a cleaner environment. Local ownership and control allows the community to create a project that meets its particular needs while addressing its concerns about size, scale, and location.”
Pahl covers all forms of energy from wind to solar to hydro-electric to biomass to biofuels. He even touches on the never-going-to-happen technologies, Thermal depolymerization (TDP), a process that turns virtually any carbon-based waste material like tires, old computers and plastic bottles into energy. The second form is zero point energy. This involves harnessing the universe’s “dark matter” and converting it into energy. Very interesting stuff.
The author definitely has some creds for the topic he chooses and he and his wife have installed various forms of solar energy and wind in several of their Vermont homes. But like the trap that Friedman finds himself stuck in, so is Pahl. Too much technical information bogs the reader down from the need to know info. But aside from that, if you are interested in helping your community create its own energy and economic wealth, then this book is a good place to start.