Preparations and Possibilities for the Decline of Fossil Fuels

The Archdruid Report describes an energy future in the middle ground between today’s energy inefficient American lifestyle and the apocalyptic collapse envisioned by the doom sayers. It looks like deep insight combined with common sense to me.

Denial about the implications of our oil addiction will boomerang on us. This kind of realistic guidance is most welcome.

Link: The Archdruid Report: Energy: Preparations and Possibilities

One of the many ironies of our present situation is that today’s energy-squandering lifestyles actually give us more room for maneuver as energy supplies decline. Especially in the United States, we waste so much energy on nonessentials that a large fraction of our energy use can be conserved without severely impacting our lives. Consider the suburbanite who mows his lawn with a gasoline-powered mower, and then hops in a car to drive down to the gym to get the exercise he didn’t get mowing his lawn! From Christmas lights and video games to three-hour commutes and Caribbean vacations, most of the absurd extravagance that characterizes energy use in America and other industrial countries only happens because fossil fuel energy has been so cheap so long.

Mature technologies and proven lifestyle changes already exist that can save half or more of the energy the average American family uses in the course of a year. Nearly all of them were already on the shelf by the late 1970s. At this point it’s simply a matter of putting them to work. Since most of them require modest investment, and prices for many of the materials involved are likely to soar once energy prices shoot up and conservation becomes a matter of economic survival for all but the very rich, getting them in place as soon as possible is essential.

Read the whole essay here: The Archdruid Report: Energy: Preparations and Possibilities

Addicted to the News

Steve Pavlina provides 13 reasons not to watch, read, or listen to the news. I quit listening to talk radio while driving three years ago and I am much more relaxed when I get out of the car. If you want to understand his reasoning, click on the link.

Link: Overcoming News Addiction

  1. News is predominantly negative. 
  2. News is addictive.
  3. News is myopic. 
  4. News is marketing.
  5. News is shallow. 
  6. News is untrustworthy. 
  7. News is thought conditioning. 
  8. News is trivia.
  9. News is redundant.
  10. News is irrelevant.
  11. News isn’t actionable.
  12. News is problem-obsessed.
  13. News is a waste of time.

Who’s In Control?

Dave Pollard describes intentionality: individuals have the potential for self-determination, even though many powerful forces attempt to herd the various groups, tribes, and organizations into the preferred direction. What is required is a sense of ‘purposefulness’ — having an intention. A nice reminder for anyone who feels discouraged.

Link: How to Save the World

…We watch corrupt politicians with enormously powerful and wealthy connections steal elections. We watch horrifically destructive mega-polluters lie and deny in hugely influential media, media that they have bought with their ill-gotten gains. We watch corporate, political and celebrity criminals literally getting away with murder. We watch churches and other social organizations turned into astonishingly effective propaganda arms of devious extremist political groups, in both affluent and struggling nations. We watch psychopathic fear-mongers trump impassioned voices of reason in the war for public opinion. It is easy to get discouraged, to believe that mere intentionality, no matter how impassioned, rational, altruistic and intuitively sensible it may be, is no match for the clout of those that care about nothing, that seek only the soulless acquisition of even more wealth and power, for its own sake.

But then we realize that, in today’s immensely complex world, where the levers of power are increasingly ineffective against multitudinous and asymmetric opponents, and where neither social nor ecological systems can be managed, predicted, analyzed, or even significantly steered, no one is in control. Our world is like a vehicle accelerating ahead on its own momentum and careening wildly from side to side, with no braking or steering mechanism available to the powerful bullies and rich gamblers who still believe themselves to be in the driver’s seat. The rich and powerful are failing in nine out of every ten things they try to do. Their attempts to gain popular support are universally backfiring in the court of public opinion, as the truth comes out despite their machinations to obscure it. Every time they think they have a new ploy or a new technology that will accomplish their goals, its implementation instead creates a dozen new unforeseeable problems that they cannot constrain or even influence, and which takes them even farther from their intended objective.

And we realize, too, that the only person who has influence over our personal ability to Let-Self-Change is us, the lonely, disconnected bag of skin and organs that is the individual. To the extent we let others make our decisions for us, that too is ultimately our choice. And even though our minds are principally in the service of the organisms that comprise our body, and our decisions are mostly made instinctively and subconsciously by them for their benefit, still we have significant influence over what we do.

National Parks in Peril

National Geographic Magazine describes how Paul Hoffman, appointed by the Bush administration, tried to redirect US National Parks to emphasize recreation instead of preservation. Apparently conservative does not mean conservation when applied to wilderness in the Bush administration.

Link: National Parks in Peril @ National Geographic Magazine.

The legislation establishing the National Park Service 90 years ago, the so-called Organic Act, stipulated that the purpose of parks and monuments—indeed, the agency’s core mission—"is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." But over the years there has been much disagreement over which comes first, the resource or the visitor. Not only that, but at what point does resource impairment begin to result from a good time being had by all?

Five years ago the National Park System Advisory Board, a distinguished panel appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, issued a report describing how the Park Service, early on, had discovered that the best way to win public support for the parks was to make sure the visitors derived pleasure from them. However, managing for people (as in the suppression of forest fires) often resulted in bad news for resources (a buildup of forest debris fueling deadlier fires). "It is time," the board declared in Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century, "to re-examine the ‘enjoyment equals support’ equation and to encourage public support of resource protection at a higher level of understanding. In giving priority to visitor services, the Park Service has paid less attention to the resources it is obliged to protect for future generations."

For the most part career professionals in the Park Service found the report much to their liking. But that was not the reaction among political appointees in the Bush Administration. Though Park Service Director Fran Mainella initially supported the report, it later became evident that it was not her agenda, and before long the Department of the Interior, under Secretary Norton, was suggesting the opposite of what the board had concluded: Preservation was trumping recreation; the Clinton Administration had taken the fun out of national parks. Now the stage was set for a clash of values.

In the summer of 2005, Interior was obliged to make public—after it was leaked—a 195-page revision of the Park Service’s basic policy document, essentially altering the way parks were to be managed in the future. The rewrite was the work of Paul Hoffman, at the time Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks, a former executive director of the Cody, Wyoming, chamber of commerce, and congressional aide to Dick Cheney in the 1980s. Among Hoffman’s most radical policy tweaks were calls to open to snowmobiles all national park roads used by motor vehicles in other seasons, as well as a relaxation of restrictions on personal watercraft at some national seashores and lakeshores and on noisy tourist flights over such parks as Great Smoky Mountains and Glacier.

Charging that these revisions would override 90 years of established laws and court rulings, more than a few park superintendents expressed alarm. "I hope the public understands that this is a threat to their heritage," J. T. Reynolds, superintendent at Death Valley National Park, told the Los Angeles Times. Bill Wade, for many years superintendent of Shenandoah National Park but now retired and speaking as chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, called the Hoffman document an "astonishing attempt to hijack" the nation’s parks "and convert them into vastly diminished areas where almost anything goes." And it came as no surprise that the rewrite paid scant attention to the importance of promoting science-based programs in the national parks.

Eat More Chicken?

The EPA and FDA continue to take care of the people who take care of them.

Do the farmers who raise chickens, live on the farm, and drink well water show any effects of arsenic in the ground water? (Here in Georgia, chicken farming is BIG business.)

Link: News

Researchers and advocates are raising new health questions about the pervasive use of an organic arsenic compound, roxarsone, as a growth-promoter in chicken feed. Europe has already banned roxarsone, but the EPA and FDA have all but ignored the problem despite evidence that arsenic is tainting store-bought chickens and perhaps also groundwater near poultry farms.

Link: ScienceLine

…over 70 percent of all broiler chickens grown in the U.S. are fed roxarsone, according to a 2000 article published in the journal Poultry Science. Roxarsone prevents the growth of microscopic intestinal parasites called coccidia that frequently infect livestock, and it provides the added bonus of better growth—i.e., bigger chickens.

Roxarsone doesn’t disappear once chickens eat it. Some is distributed throughout the animal’s tissues, including the breasts, thighs and legs—meat that is later eaten by consumers. The rest is excreted unchanged in poultry waste. Ninety percent of this manure is later converted into fertilizer that can contaminate crops, lakes, rivers, and eventually drinking water.

Little research, however, has investigated the public health consequences of this practice, which was banned in the European Union in 1999. Although several studies have looked at the levels of arsenic present in chicken muscle meat, and some have looked at crop soil contamination, the results have been inconsistent. None have determined how extensively this practice contaminates drinking water.

UVa.’s One-Year Wonder

Wow. When will Google hire him?

Link: U-Va.’s One-Year Wonder – washingtonpost.com

David Banh, an 18-year-old from Annandale, just graduated from the University of Virginia in one year. With a double major.

His college education, almost entirely covered by a patchwork of scholarships, cost him about $200. And he sold back textbooks for more than that. Now he’s starting graduate study at U-Va. with a research grant.

He was helped by the fact that U-Va., as a public school, costs a lot less than most private colleges. And that the university accepted many of his Advanced Placement credits from high school; many of the most selective private schools wouldn’t. As it was, he doubled up on course credits and took more physics over the summer to finish his second major.

Still, "I’ve never seen anything like that before," said Donald Ramirez, professor and associate chairman of mathematics at U-Va.

"He’s one of a kind," said Vicki Doff, his counselor at the competitive magnet Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. "Absolutely amazing kid academically, incredibly persistent, bright, focused and determined. His academic record was second to none. I’ve been here over 20 years, and I’ve never had a student take the course load he did in his years here."

She used to worry he was doing too much. "And he usually proved me wrong."

Banh was born and grew up in Fairfax, the eldest son of parents who came to the United States from Vietnam in the 1980s.

via Steve Pavlina

Royal Society tells Exxon: stop funding climate change denial

The Guardian (UK) describes the letter sent by Britain’s leading scientists to ExxonMobil about efforts to undermine the research that shows that global warming is real. As I wrote in an earlier  post about big tobacco’s denial, this is a familiar scenario — a hugely profitable company trying to protect its profit stream by any means possible.

Britain’s leading scientists have challenged the US oil company ExxonMobil to stop funding groups that attempt to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.

In an unprecedented step, the Royal Society, Britain’s premier scientific academy, has written to the oil giant to demand that the company withdraws support for dozens of groups that have "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence".

The scientists also strongly criticise the company’s public statements on global warming, which they describe as "inaccurate and misleading".

The groups, such as the US Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), whose senior figures have described global warming as a myth, are expected to launch a renewed campaign ahead of a major new climate change report. The CEI responded to the recent release of Al Gore’s climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, with adverts that welcomed increased carbon dioxide pollution. (Link: Royal Society tells Exxon: stop funding climate change denial | EnergyBulletin.net | Peak Oil News Clearinghouse)

Exxon’s behavior is consistently arrogant: they still haven’t paid the fine for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989. In 1994, courts ordered Exxon to pay $5.3 billion in compensatory damages to fishers, Native Americans, and others whose lives and livelihoods were disrupted by the spill. So far, however, Exxon has refused to pay the judgment, stalling by filing appeals while the Alaskans must overcome their financial losses from their own pockets. Even if Exxon is eventually required to pay the fine plus late fees, it will profit financially by holding on to the money and earning interest on it as long as possible. In January 2006, Exxon Mobil Corp. posted record profits of $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter and $36.13 billion for the year — the largest annual reported net income in U.S. history.

Surprisingly, I did find some good news about Exxon: it has contributed to an effort to save the endangered real-life counterparts of Exxon’s animated mascot. Exxon states on its web site that: "Exxon and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit conservation organization, joined forces in 1995 to launch the Save The Tiger Fund. The fund is an international effort to help save Asia’s dwindling populations of tigers in the wild. Exxon has pledged $9 million over eight years to tiger conservation." Interestingly, one of the greatest threats to tiger survival is habitat loss, a problem exacerbated by the biological stresses of global warming. (I like to see Tiger Woods honor his namesake with some financial aid and supportive publicity.)

Siberian Tiger (P. tigris altaica)