Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Energy Paradox with Future Cars

Before I begin to discuss various problems I have encountered with future automobiles, I would just like to state that I am in no way trying to be pessimistic about the future of energy efficiency. I do not believe that we, as a civilized society are incapable of producing alternative energy and resources, I am merely discussing problems that we may face while going green. Considering these issues before we grasp on to an alternative resource may save us from future problems.

One major issue with decreasing our use of oil and lowering our emissions into the atomsphere can be considered in a philosphical manner. It may be somewhat obvious, but it is something to consider with the phrase: we don't know what we had until it is gone. I believe that members of our modern society will not thouroughly understand the importance of energy efficiency until our major resource (oil) is depleting. Although going green is becoming a stylish concept for people, they still continue to drive their SUV's. Convincing an entire society to voluntarily lower the amount of oil they use is much easier said than done. Telling people to stop using the most popular, and most used resource in the world that is technically still available, is going to be extremely difficult.

Enough of my philosphical interpretations. One present problem that was touched upon in our class discussion, is the lack of seriousness for energy efficient cars by automobile companies. Every now and then you will see a commercial or an add for a shiny new energy efficient car that will revolutionize energy efficiency. They even have car shows where companies can display their shiny new creations for everyone to see. But does the public really know if these shiny new cars are truly more efficient? In my opinion, no. These shiny new cars merely give automobile companies the opportunity to appease to the "going green" fad. In the public's eyes these shiny new cars are energy efficient because they look different than our normal cars and they are smaller. Automobile companies that please the public by putting a weird-looking shiny new car on a revolving platform are viewed as "going green". But are these new weird-looking cars lined up at an auto dealership? Do automobile companies make a few new weird-looking cars and label them as energy efficient to please the "going greeners"?

The rush to produce the most energy efficient car seems to be a growing competition between various nations. Being the first to create the latest and greatest energy efficient car will in theory be great from an industrial standpoint. The demand for these new cars will increase as people rush to buy them, which will help the auto industry and create many new jobs in the process. But environmentally, many paradoxes and issues are presented.

For one, this rush to find alternative fuel is actually creating more greenhouse gas emissions, more pollution, more deforestation, and more food shortages. Although companies are attempting to find and create alternative resources, they are adding to the problem. In order to find or create alternative energy, a larger amount of energy is needed to produce it. The idea of biofuels is interesting, but it also creates further problems. In order to match the gasoline fuel consumption, more crops are required. Since the crops need land, deforestation seems to be the answer. Also, since biofuels are food, rather than feeding an entire family for a week, this food fills the soccer-mom's SUV tank.

The "going greeners" hope that we will soon see an entire fleet of energy efficient cars that will ultimately replace our gas-guzzlers. But the energy efficient cars might lead to more production and consumption. This leads to an efficiency paradox presented in 1865 by an economist named William Stanley Jevons who believed that the more efficient you make machines, the more energy they use. This is because the more efficient they are, the better they are, the cheaper they are, leading to a mass purchase of and mass use of them. Realizing that these new energy efficient cars are cheaper to buy and use, that public will use them more leading to an increase in fuel consumption.

Another issue that seems to slip from everyones mind is that although we will soon have much more energy efficient cars, we still need a place to drive them (roads, bridges, and other infrastructure). To build or even maintain these various components, an enormous amount of steel, concrete, asphalt and plastic is needed. Alec Dubro of the Washington Pox reports that concrete production alone generates as much as 10% of all greenhouse gas. Scientific America of August 2009 reports that in 2007, the U.S. produced about 95 million tons of cement by burning fossil fuels and, according to the EPA, is the 3rd largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. The production of asphalt also requires the use of petroleum.

The issues and paradoxes I have presented have created even more questions. Should, or will human civilization be forced to abandon the automobile once and for all? Are energy efficient cars truly the answer, or are they merely contributing to the problem? If they are creating more of a problem, should society focus on ways to survive and prosper without the use of cars?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Solar Energy

One of the largest sources of renewable energy sources on Earth is solar energy, unfortunately only a minuscule amount is used. This form of energy has been around for many years and can be used for a number of things. Solar energy can be harnessed for two main things: heat and electricity. Heat energy, also referred to as thermal energy, can be harnessed and converted into thwo things: photovoltaic devices and concentrating solar power plants. Photovoltaic devices or pv devices, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, are mostly seen in calculators. Concentrating solar power plants on the other hand generate electricity by using the heat from solar-thermal collectors to heat a fluid that produces steam which is used to power a generator. Like many things, solar energy does have its drawbacks. First of all it's not consistant meaning that the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the Earth is never constant and second, although it is cheaper in the long run, it's expensive in the short term view and that's something people tend to focus on most of the time.

In my opinion solar energy has been something everyone should take great investment in. Getting solar panels on houses, especially if you live in warm, sunny climates is the best thing to do because your basically gaining from a free resource. A main problem with a lot our resources out there is that no one is really looking at what is going to happen in the long run and that is why many of our resources are running out, well same goes here. With this natural great resource, everyone look as at the price but doesn't look at the fact that in a few years that it will pay for itself and save its owner and the environment much more.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fishing: a Public Resource or a Manageable Resource?

After watching the fishing video I was thinking about the question raised in the discussion about whether marine wildlife is a public resource or a manageable resource for the maximum benefit of the nation. I think that the answer is a little bit of both. I think the main problem with fishing is the commercial industry that uses long lines and huge nets and depletes fish popularizations faster than they can regenerate. I think that this is the part of the industry that needs to be more highly regulated. Today it would be impossible to regulate fishing on an international level. But if we were to start to implement some regulations here and start enforcing them we might start to see changes in the populations of fish around our shores. Eventually it might be possible to implement regulations on an international level. I think that there also needs to be an education process involved for those people who wish to fish commercially. In the video there appeared to be some fishermen who did not think there was a problem with the fishing industry. I believe that if someone wants to go out fishing they should be able to do so, However I think that there needs to be stricter regulations and more enforcement on commercial fishing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some Help for the Fish Farms?

After our discussion yesterday, during which, at one point, we considered more efficient ways to use energy, I began thinking of something else that needs to be made more efficient: fish farms. According to the video on Monday, many fish farms are harmful to the supply of fish in the ocean, which is counter-intuitive. It would seem that raising fish in farms, apart from the ocean, would spare the dwindling oceanic supply. This is untrue, however, because in many farms, the farmed fish must be fed with smaller fish, which must brought in from the ocean. Coincidentally, the video also mentioned that many commercial fishing boats, in search of a specific type of seafood (shrimp, tuna, etc.) bring in enormous quantities of other unwanted fish, which are then thrown out as waste. It just seems to me that it would be worth exploring a way to help solve both of these problems. If there were a way to convince the commercial fisherman to bring their excess "waste" seafood back with them, perhaps we could have a new source of food for the fish farms. Instead of just ending up dumped back into the ocean, the unusable seafood could be chopped up and put to good use as food in farms.

Of course, the fishermen would probably not just take on the excess weight for no good reason, so they would have to receive some kind of incentive. Here, the government may be able to help. As we all know, the government has given out subsidies for much less helpful endeavors. If they were to reward commercial fishermen for recycling their waste fish, they would probably be able to support fish farms with exponentially more food. Most importantly, this could all be done while sparing the smaller fish in the ocean normally gathered to feed the farms.

National Pride, National Unity

Question: Soon we will have a shortage of oil and an increase in demand, how do we rectify this situation?

How do we solve a problem that we don't have yet? This is a tough request to make of anyone, much less a pompous undergrad. I thought it was funny when in class we read a blog post by someone who was alive during the early 20th Century laughing at how foolish we were to be so worried about a world without oil. This is funny because even when we try to face things directly we always tend to diminish the adversity of them. This person obviously feels as though we didn't yet depend on fossil fuels during the early 20th Century and their observation is wrong. The change from oil to no oil; from coal to no coal and so on will be a major change that I don't think we have the foresight t0 predict it. Or that we could even imagine the scope of it. What we do when we get there will be a combination of things. Preparedness, invention and unity strike first as necessities in my mind. Well necessity is the mother of invention so it will remain to be seen what can be done as far as furthering our technology to deal with a drought in oil. In addition being prepared is not something we can do alone, it just won't work. This leaves us with unity.

For a majority in America the end of oil is the end of society. Our government is not prepared to handle a country overflowing with people and direct them in their discourse in any way, shape or form without the technologies we have in place currently. To put it blatantly the laws that hold our society in check will cease to exist. It will remain to be seen how long until the law of the fittest will once again pervade as people who want more will be able to take more. Maybe this is pessimism but I don't see law holding up long in a land where we can't enforce it. Why, because we live in an environment where "the self" is valued above all. Capitalism has many nice benefits but a glaring negative is its ability to separate a group into individuals.

We see this happening right now with Health Care Reform. We have our Representatives coming out of debate decrying the bill because they feel that the American public in general doesn't want to pay for others to receive health care if these others cannot afford it themselves. They're reinforcing the notion that as Americans we should take care of ourselves and let the less fortunate suffer; because if these people could possibly have a lower standard of living in our fine country of prosperity then it must be their own fault. What happens when we all become less fortunate? Will this attitude still pervade our nation? What could happen as a result of this?

As I said before our country is overflowing with people. As the supply of food in markets will diminish our major cities will no longer be able support such populations as we currently have. Millions of people will find themselves migrating away from these overcrowded areas with hopes of finding a better life elsewhere. Many rural homes may attempt to live a life of self sustenance which will be equally as difficult as most farmers use synthetic fertilizer to supply their food with nitrogen to grow. For those farmers prepared to farm without any modern assistance they better make sure to stock up on ammo now as some migrating urbanites may see their farm as welcoming as the families that currently reside there. We'll have to pardon the police response here, as they're attempting to learn how to ride a horse without breaking their necks.

Is this the worst case, doomsday scenario? I believe I may be exaggerating some. Yet, our country will certainly be bleeding out of multiple wounds at once. Consider the following:

Oil + America's Major Industries = America's Economy

Oil Shortages + Decreasing Consumer Confidence = Economic Depression (we've seen this one first hand)

So, what have we discovered? The solution to our oil dependency will not be a quick fix that will easily alleviate all of our woes. This once again brings us back to unity. In our current system we’ve isolated ourselves from a majority of the world and even our own countrymen. We can easily proclaim ourselves to be our #1 priority and we’ve let this distract us from what those in power are doing, in the name of America of course. (A good read is Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins but this is another cause for another time) We’ve bastardized our local communities and shunned the global community. Is it really any wonder that when a leader comes along that truly inspires us to be better than we’ve shown so far that we would pack our problems right onto his shoulders and watch him carry the burden alone while we sit here and do nothing and say nothing to help him? Not really. We’re worried about our “self”. Be it our family, our pets or our car we care more about what’s ours than about anything else.

Maybe it’s time we remedied that. I suggest each and every one of you to go and actually read what the Health Care Reform will do for us.
This is not a perfect plan in my opinion, but every plan has its faults. The key to this plan is that it is a significant change in the right direction. For the sake of our National Community and our own integrity I pray that you agree that this is necessary and understand that this will go a long way towards establishing a Nation that is unified. A Nation that is ready to deal with any adversity. If we can get enough support for this perhaps we can even have a rally and truly voice our opinions together in a constructive way. Just think…if we can do this then maybe we can obtain the organization we would need to let our voices be heard with a truly major issue; when it comes to the end of oil.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


On Wednesday September 15 in class while discussing energy we briefly mentioned the idea of hydropower and that made me realize that I didn’t really know much about the subject so I decided to do some research about it. After looking up the topic online I learned that hydropower is basically harnessing energy from water for irrigation purposes and machine uses like windmills, sawmills and textile machines. Hydropower has been around for hundreds of years in countries like China, India, Rome and Britain and to this day continues to be growing.
In today’s world hydropower is mainly used to generate electricity and large dams are being built to harness this energy. Hydropower is an optimal way to gain energy in that in doing so no carbon dioxide is being emitted harming the environment. In addition it’s a low cost way to store energy and much cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels. In my opinion hydropower is an amazing way to gain energy. Its good for the enviorment, seems safe and gains energy needed. We should definitly look more and invest deeper into it.

Eating Garbage = Better Consumption of Resources?

I watched a show on the Discovery channel recently about the weirdest things that humans eat and they described a society of people called "freegans" who for the most part do not agree with the amount of resources that are wasted in our world so they gather the majority of their food and possessions by rummaging through garbage dumpsters. I decided to do a little research on "freeganism" and found that these "freegans" forage through mainly supermarket and restaurant dumpsters keeping the edible foods and anything that can be recycled and reused. There are a few reasons why people embrace "freeganism" including environmental reasons, religious reasons, and political consciousness. Personally I think that this is a very radical solution to issue of resource consumption and eating food obtained from garbage dumpsters is just plain unsanitary no matter how thoroughly you clean it. Any thoughts?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dairy Farmer's Serving us a Steaming Cowpie

It’s hard to shock people anymore when it comes to how horrifically their food is prepared, produced or served. Whether it’s a movie like Super Size Me, a network news special “Behind the Scenes” report or a friend informing you that industrialized farming is the equivalent of taking a fine juicy steak dumping it in a dirty fish tank and then cleaning it off with the foulest of chemicals and household cleaners. Most of us have heard it all before and our usual response is “well it hasn’t harmed me yet, now let’s eat”. Well it’s unfortunate to say that bad food isn’t the only detriment of industrial farms. An article in the New York Times entitled “Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells” talks about another casualty of engineering agriculture, clean water.

In class we discussed the runoff of synthetic manure into waterways which brings a toxic amount of nitrogen into these ecosystems. Reporter Charles Duhigg found more “au naturale” runoff polluting the heart of America’s cheese land. Farmers in Wisconsin raise herds of dairy cows by the thousands. These farms use the copious amounts of manure these cows create to fertilize their grain fields which will in turn feed the cows. While this seems like a useful and responsible use of the cows wastes Duhigg explains how when the manure that these cows produce is laid across the land it is done in excess. Wisconsin’s grain fields are literally brimming with manure. This mostly liquid waste can be easily runoff by moving water like rain or the spring thaw which will then move it into lakes, streams and the well water of many residents that border these farms making them sick and contaminating their wells for months afterwards. (Duhigg, 2009)

Not long ago I read a book of Non-Fiction called A Civil Action by author Jonathan Harr. The book tells the startling tale of the town of Woburn, MA. In the 1970’s Woburn had two large factories that were very likely dumping a chemical degreasing solvent called TCE on their properties. This chemical leeched through the soil it was dumped on and into the ground water and through subterranean waterways found its way into two of the town’s wells. The effect of this chemical was startling. Numerous cases of Leukemia sprang up at such an astounding rate it was like people in the town suddenly swapped their daily granola bars with glowing bars of uranium. The wells were eventually shut off permanently but the case brought against the two large corporations behind the factories featured an abundance of plaintiffs. I don’t want to spoil the story but the trial was never seen to a true fruition. Not that it could’ve brought back the lives of those lost but to this day no one was ever held accountable for the turmoil of the people of Woburn. (Harr, 1995)

The same can be said for the case against these Wisconsin farmers. It remains to be seen if any of these farms can be made to pay for the mess they and their cows have made. The irony of this is the comparison of a farm to a factory. Industrialized agriculture has transformed our dairy farms into dairy factories. The pollution of smog is replaced by the pollution of bovine flatulence (I’m not joking, look it up) and sludge is replaced by the cow’s rotten, liquid manure. Now, in a factory producing keyboards maybe most people wouldn’t have a problem with some toxic substances being swept up in the factories daily processing. In a dairy farm however we should probably hold a bit more prudence not to defecate where we eat.

Photo courtesy of Damon Winter-The New York Times

Duhigg, C (2009, September 18). Health ills abound as farm runoff fouls wells. The New York Times, pp. A1.

Harr, J (1995). A civil action. New York: Random House.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

America's Irresponsible Media

Since watching the video in class last week detailing the end of suburbia, one thing in particular stuck with me. How can the media seriously be ignoring this coming crisis? I understand that newspapers, as with all media outlets, are businesses, and going to press with these concerns couldn't possibly help them in that regard. That being said, don't they have some sort of journalistic responsibility to uphold? It seems to me that they owe it to the American public to shed light on the desperate circumstances we find ourselves in, thanks to our reliance on fossil fuels that will someday be nonexistent. Surely the best way to solve this massive problem is not to ignore it, and that is exactly what our country's newspapers and other media outlets seem to be doing. If America is to maintain our position as a world leader, we're going to have to work together to find new ways to conserve energy and reduce our oil dependency. How can we work together if the media is purposely brushing the issue under the rug?

Just as an anecdote, the other day I was watching TV when a commercial for BMW came on. The ad showed a band-new car showing off its power and handling. Then a man came on and said "American's have always been known for finding new ways to be responsible", and he then proceeded to pitch the idea of Americans buying their new BMW (a German car company not typically associated with fuel efficiency) as a responsible purchase in terms of environmental-friendliness. I found the commercial pretty hilarious; Americans, who create more pollution than any other world citizens have always been known for being responsible? Really? Needless to say, we're going to have to get responsible, and fast, or we're going to face dire consequences.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Shock and Awe Tactics?

I’ve had trouble digesting many things brought up in this class (Biology: People and Resources in Ecological Perspective). As long as I’ve lived I’ve been a skeptical person. Videos and literature such as “The End of Suburbia” and The Party’s Over have no problem convincing me that Big Oil and Corporate America’s influence on our government shape the world we live in today. In fact, they could’ve saved their breath in that regard. I have accepted my rather insignificant ability to guide decisions in this country a long time ago. Someone “important” or influential and as “American as apple pie” will always come along and sway the masses. After which they’ll follow this individual in every motion, every decision; and every matter of opinion that they’ve ever held dear is now up for grabs. Now, I am not trying to discourage free thinking, some fresh perspective is about as welcome to me as a delicious shot of dark, rich espresso. However, if the creators of these videos and books think that I’m going to change my entire way of life because of fear at what they’re proposing will happen; well then, they can join John McCain, Dick Cheney, terrorists, editorialists and the exhaustive list of others who use fear and ignorance to further their own agendas.

That being said, this material is disturbing. Who could sit back and watch “The Story of Stuff” and not feel like a jerk for just being an American? This video raises many valid and provable points. The cost of the very keyboard I’m typing on, that I got a “steal” on at Wal-Mart, was very likely produced by the labor of individuals with little or no rights. They paid most of the price that I wasn’t willing to for this keyboard with their long hours and little pay. Yet, here I sit typing up my blog post because I had a need for this keyboard and I had to buy one of them, why not the cheapest? Is Logitech a more or less shameful choice compared to HP or Microsoft? Can we trust any maker of “stuff” to have a conscience that extends beyond their PR-hyped charity? But I’m getting off track. Perhaps the people who produce my keyboard make nothing, but it’s a job and its money and their glad to have it and the more we make a fuss about how horrible their situation is the more likely the company that’s employing them will uproot and relocate taking their jobs along with it. Remember, free thinking also includes not immediately dismissing another person’s quality of life just because it isn’t the same as our cushy American or European lifestyles.

“Stuff’s” main issue wasn’t the poor foreign workers anyway, it centered on our easy-going American way of life and our ridiculous notion that we can continue our wasteful practices indefinitely in the name of consumerism. The first chapter of The Party’s Over highlighted numerous points in world history where populations have relied upon an energy source, expanded use of it, exploited it until it was exhausted and then suffered as a result. How could we have taken such abundant quantities of energy and squandered them? The author, Richard Heinberg, called these practices “Social Leveraging Strategies”, which is a nice way of saying that if a group of people outgrows its supply of energy then it immediately looks for another source of energy and takes it by any means necessary. He went on to discuss how even early, prehistoric man used these strategies to increase their energy capturing, which in turn eased their lives in many ways (or at least eased the lives of some in the population). It was however, never enough, increased energy increased populations and technologies which in turn increased energy consumption and the eventual exhaustion of another energy source. (Heinberg, 2005)
Heinberg also mentions an ecosystem which has transcended this destructive power-hungry cycle. A population that has reached a “Climax Phase” has become communal with the ecosystem that carries it. The species that contributes to the ecosystem may also reap the benefits of that ecosystem and energy will flow through the system abundantly without ever being hoarded or wasted. (Heinberg, 2005) This point, unfortunately, brings us to our dilemma.

Our energy wasting ways have been a practice ingrained in humans since time unknown. How can we ever expect to supply ourselves with sustainable energy that will support life in any manner? How can we find a way to offer basic life needs (food, water, shelter) to everyone on Earth and contain ourselves within our own “Climax Phase”? How can we take a world of divided, selfish nations and transform it into a united global community? These are questions which these sources have not answered, at least not yet. But will their answers be as empty and preposterous as the promises of the politicians and the corporate executives that they ridicule? As one expert in “The End of Suburbia” noted he himself is an author as dependant on this system of take and take as anyone else. Will I be forced to separate needed truths from their agenda, or will I be served up a hot, mouth-watering slice of humble pie? My skepticism and I await their reply.

(1) Heinberg, RH (2005). The party's over: oil, war and the fate of industrial societies. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

End of Suburbia

This video made me realize how much our society relies on cheap oil as a natural resource. Considering we are at the 'peak' of our supply with high gas prices (though they haven't been so bad lately), it is definitely about time we find another source for our energy. Politicians have used this 'energy crisis' to boost their campaign, saying they will find us an alternate resource, yet election after election we have yet to solve the problem. I think it is a good idea to go back to traditional ways of living like growing produce locally and using mass transportation rather than huge subsidies and millions of cars on the road. Wal-Mart is one reason why local markets and retailers have closed down. We need to stop heading in the direction of giant super-store corporations and return to small businesses so that future entrepreneurs have a chance to spread the wealth. New Urbanism seems like the best possibility for our society until we find a new and fruitful natural resource we can depend on.
Water, being a very abundant resource, is a possible replacement for fossil fuels. If scientists could find a way to power our cities with hydroelectricity, we may very well save the planet as well as humankind.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The end of suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream

After watching " The end of suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream" I became quite surprised as to how infatuated America is with the use of oil as an energy source. I became even more shocked when the idea of relying on hydroelectricity was shot down. Personally, if I was in the position of some of the people that were interviewed I would look into developing a method that would more effectively utilize or maximize the amount of energy that can be obtained from hydroelectricity; considering hydroelectricity is a renewable energy source and produces no direct waste.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How to get fat without really trying

Response to in class video
How to get fat without really trying

In the video ABC’s news reporter Peter Jennings investigates the connection between the federal government’s agricultural policies and the food industry growing irresponsibly in terms of the kinds of behaviors and practices they engage in and how when put together both the government and the food industry have played large roles (whether knowingly or not) in the dramatic increase of obesity in this country. In essence Peter Jennings states that the federal government agricultural policies have helped promote and in some cases even encourage many of the bad behaviors and practices exhibited by the food industry. One of the arguments he’s gives in support of this clam is the disproportion in federal agricultural subsidies and how more and more subsidies are going to foods Americans should be eating less of like sweets and meats (indirectly through the constant subsidies of corn which is used to make artificial sweeteners and to feed the cattle that are used in meat production), while fewer subsidies go to foods we should be eating more of like fruits and vegetables (which only receive a total of 1% of these subsides).

As a whole I really enjoyed the video and was very surprised to how much I did not know when it came to the Federal Gov. and their agricultural policies. In the end I found myself agreeing 100% with Peter Jennings and realizing for myself that the government should acknowledge the connection between their agricultural policies and the growing obesity epidemic in this country and take responsibly for the effects of their actions and attempt to reverse the disproportion in agricultural subsidies. By doing so I believe that we would at least start to see a change in the many of the irresponsible trends displayed by the food industry. For example part of the reason why many food companies continue to use corn based artificial sweeteners over their real natural sugar counterparts is because it is a lot cheaper to do so due to the disproportion in subsidies. Thus once there is more balance there will be less incentive to continue under current trends which after watching this video we can all agree is taking us down a path of increasing obesity.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Be Brave - Post!

Is there really nothing to say?