Friday, July 3, 2009

Lovelock's latest global heating book: A Final Warning

I like the "global heating" books by the British physicist James Lovelock; cogent, convincing, and eloquently written. The Revenge of Gaia and now The Vanishing Face of Gaia: The Final Warning.

Global heating is quoted because it is Lovelock's favored term for climate change or global warming. He advocates that adaptation is more important than trying to "defeat" or "beat" global warming.

His more salient points and data analyses tend to stand out in stark relief. For example, we are already close to the point where the feedback effects of excess greenhouse emissions exceed manmade emissions -- methane or carbon dioxide (CO2) released from permafrost in the Arctic regions, the reduced albedo effect of the melting Arctic seas (the frozen white ocean reflects back 80 percent of the sun's heat; the dark exposed ocean only 20 percent); and the dramatic loss of algae from ocean waters.

Algae does not flourish in warming seas and is now diminishing to a large extent, according to Lovelock. Algae seeds clouds with a precursor chemical called dimethyl sulfide. The clouds in turn help reflect the sun's heat back into space.

Therefore, even a giant reduction of our own emissions will have no substantive effect on preventing further warming.

The exhalations of people, their pets, and domesticated animals represent about 23 percent of manmade global-warming emissions, according to the book.

I quibble with him on two major points however. He is strongly opposed to wind turbines, particularly European installations. I favor well-planned wind implementations in the U.S., such as in northern Maine and the Texas and Dakota plains.

Lovelock is heavily in favor of nuclear energy. I believe nuclear must be a part of the new energy mix (with a reduction in the use of fossil fuels). But I confess a strong ambivalence toward nuclear, NIMBY-like; I wouldn't want my children to grow up next to a reactor.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Vermont leads the way on alt-energy incentives

Good ole leading edge Vermont has implemented a Europe-style "feed-in tariff" law that essentially pays renewable-energy generators a sustainable rate for any extra electricity they generate.

Why is this important? The present rate in most states for systems such as wind and solar PV that use "net metering" is woefully, downright insultingly low, in the area of a wholesale price of six cents per kilowatt generated in Massachusetts.

Net metering means that your solar PV or wind system is connected to the electric grid. Any extra electricity you generate beyond what you use causes the electric meter to spin backwards, requiring the electric utility to credit you for those additional kilowatts.

A low wholesale price for alt-energy means that if I had a big solar PV system (instead of one that generates about 250 KwH per month) that generated about 200 extra kilowatt hours per month, then the electric utility would only have to pay me $12 per month for the energy.

Yet I pay them about 18 cents a kilowatt hour for the extra electricity my house uses beyond what we can generate with PV panels!

This is unfair because it provides no financial incentive for thousands of generators to become small satellite utilities, which is just what this country needs to overcome its oil and coal addictions.

Vermont law H. 446 will pay $0.30/kWh for solar PV systems; $0.20/kWh for wind systems of less than 15 kilowatts; and $0.14/kWh for wind generated by the larger wind turbines. The law took effect on May 27, 2009.

Speaking of wind, the first floating wind turbine was launched in Norway. This allows wind farms to be located farther out to sea where the winds can be stronger, and also helps staunch the "not in my backyard" problems that plague some off-shore wind farms.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

U.S. EPA Will Regulate Carbon Dioxide under the Clean Air Act

Let me slip this tidbit in first, before I discuss CO2 (it's good to be back after a bit of a hiatus from this blog!). U.S. gasoline prices have quietly leapt higher, from lows of $1.69 per gallon not too long ago to $2.15 per gallon (using the gas station down the street from me in Massachusetts as a gauge).

Quietly, because no one is really talking about "soaring gas prices" at the moment of a really bad economic downturn. Yet the current price represents a 27 percent increase in just a few months.

Much of the energy talk now revolves around which low-carbon strategies to implement in light of making an attempt to stem global warming.

However, oil is currently at $57 per barrel; any further increases will make it much more difficult for the world to recover from recession.

Speaking of global warming, the U.S. EPA in mid-April declared that it would regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and four other pollutants under the Clean Air Act. This declaration precedes a formal proposal to regulate the greenhouse gases, which include methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. The declaration will be accompanied by the usual quips about human exhalation of CO2 and how it can be controlled!

Here's the detailed EPA description of their decision.

It's a several-months long bureaucratic public process (I used to write about these regulatory issues in a newsletter) before CO2 emissions end up falling under a new final regulation.

However, the Obama administration has now made a complete about-face compared with the Bush presidency in an effort to regulate CO2 emissions and move to a low-carbon economy.

The next stage in this contentious legal arm-wrestling is a proposed "cap-and-trade" system for limiting overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Store Up Those Multivitamins, Including D3

Buy affordable multivitamins and vitamin D3, including for your kids. Neither is very expensive.

Why would I write about vitamins in a blog about energy and the environment?

Because the way modern Americans and others obtain most of their food is based on a complex system that is highly vulnerable to disruptions, such as drought, loss of a key energy supply (e.g., fossil fuels that are used to fertilize farms then transport the grain, fruits, or vegetables), or the loss of financial credit required to buy those inputs (a more recent concern).

As a result, the hauling of food great distances could simply halt (how fast do you think anyone would warn you of *that*?), or be tremendously delayed.

I always keep lots of vitamins around because chances are you can always find something to provide calories on short notice, but it's not likely to be very nutritious, which presents the threat, especially for the young ones, of nutritional deficiencies over time. For example, my basal metabolic rate, the amount of calories I *would* burn just loafing around in bed all day (without hiking long distances or walking, for example), is about 1650 calories. I could always find 1500 or so calories in the form of rice, peanut butter, bread, crackers, in an emergency (lurching for the Velveta, so to speak), but I wouldn't want to have to live on simple or sugary carbs for a very long time.

I would want to give my family members and myself a multivitamin and a healthy dose of vitamin D3 each day with the food.
There is some conjecture, further, that vitamin D3 can be used as an antibiotic in a pinch.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Support Your Local (And Regional) CSA

If you can afford it, invest in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

A CSA gives you a share of a farm or farm cooperative's fruits, vegetables, and/or meats usually during a growing season such as June through October in the northeastern U.S. In fact, even if you feel like you cannot afford it, co-invest in a CSA with a neighbor.

Here's how it works: you send them a single payment in early Spring (say $450 for a full share, the equivalent of less than one month of bad electricity bills here during the winter:), and thereby agree to share the farm's bounty and possible risk of failure, by drought say.

They do not have to repay you in the event they lose their crop to a killer drought or flood; however, you get a weekly pile of veggies or meats from the local farm(s), plus your's and others' investment helps ensure that a local farm survives (along with other advantages, such as having a person-to-person relationship with a food grower, and not having to rely on labels and faceless companies of questionable credibility to determine whether antibiotics are used, or whether cows, chickens or Elk for that matter are grass-fed).

In case you haven't noticed, you and your family need food to survive; you do not want to have to rely on the equivalent of 3,000-mile cesar salads, or grapes from Chile (however tasty they are), for your sustenance. A bad oil-related energy crisis could easily knock out or greatly stress food production and long-distance transportation in the U.S. The supermarkets' shelves in many places would be picked clean in a matter of days.

I have invested in two CSAs, one local CSA for veggies and fruits, and another in Vermont for grass-fed meats and eggs. I have a chest-sized freezer in the basement where I plan to store a lot of the bounteous local produce and protein. I'll let you know how it goes with my CSA shares. I will also re-plant my Summer garden; it provides about 10 percent or less of my calories.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is the U.S.'s Third Largest Oil Exporter Teetering on the Edge?

Mexico's oil production is plunging. "Pemex extracted 772,000 barrels a day from Cantarell [in January 2009], the world’s third-largest [oil] field, a decline of 38 percent from a year earlier" (yikes!), according to the Bloomberg article, whose link I found at this blog.

Why should U.S. citizens care (the plunging rule of law on the U.S. border with Mexico is probably a more heightened near-term concern)?

Because Mexico is the United State's third largest exporter, behind Canada and Saudi Arabia. In December 2008, the U.S. imported 1.126 million barrels per day from Mexico, nearly 10 percent of all of its imported crude oil, according to the EIA.

To put that number into perspective, even Iraq exported only about half that oil amount to the U.S. during the same period.

Fueling cars and trucks, the transportation of much of our food, for instance, is about 97 percent dependent on crude oil.

The U.S. is dangerously dependent on foreign countries for this crucial energy source; two-thirds of all of our oil comes from other countries.

The top five exporters (including Venezuela and Nigeria, along with the previously mentioned three) dominate U.S. imports. "The top five exporting countries accounted for 59 percent of United States crude oil imports in December while the top ten sources accounted for approximately 87 percent of all U.S. crude oil imports," according to the Energy Information Agency. It's not like we can just grab more oil from another source who is willing to make up for Mexico's probable and eventual exit from the scene as a big U.S. exporter.

Mexico's need for its own dwindling oil supply will probably exceed its need for the revenue it can raise by selling its oil, particularly at the present low price per barrel of about $42. Experts call this condition "peak exports" (when important supplying countries are forced to consume their own crude oil rather than sell it). Despite the fact that the world is currently awash in relatively cheap oil, this is a problem the U.S. is likely to confront in the months and years ahead.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Renewable Energy Content In the Stimulus Law

President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law on February 17. The law includes about $60 billion worth of investments in energy efficiency measures and renewable-energy technology, out of $787 billion in total allocations.

Here is a detailed article describing the "clean technology" funding in the bill, including $5 billion towards the Weatherization Assistance Program, as well as $4.5 billion for activities to modernize the nation's electrical grid.

The Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) provides this summation of much of the law's "green" funding:

  • $6 billion for clean and safe water
  • $4.5 billion for greening federal buildings
  • $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy Research and Development
  • A multi-year extension of the renewable production tax credit
  • $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewables, transmission and leading edge biofuels
  • $2 billion for advanced batteries
  • $9.3 billion for intercity rail, including high-speed rail 
  • $27.5  billion for highways (this large pot of money is not exclusively for highways, and states and cities must use this flexibility to invest in fuel-efficient public transportation)

Apparently, $50 billion for loan guarantees involving liquid-coal and nuclear energy has been removed from the bill, according to the NRDC.