Our New Energy Policy: Loyal to Oil

George W. Bush is forever loyal to oil. His solution to every energy supply problem is more oil. For him, this energy crisis is a unprecedented opportunity to allow oil companies to drill in previously off-limit areas. (And our addiction to oil can be swept under the rug — again.)

I fear that the American people may buy into this short-sighted plan to avoid having to change their energy consumption habits (thus continuing to fund terrorist-supporting governments around the world).

Thomas L. Friedman at NYTimes.com describes the Bush energy policy. Excepts below.

Link: Op-Ed Columnist – Mr. Bush, Lead or Leave – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com.

Two years ago, President Bush declared that America was “addicted to oil,” and, by gosh, he was going to do something about it. Well, now he has. Now we have the new Bush energy plan: “Get more addicted to oil.”

Actually, it’s more sophisticated than that: Get Saudi Arabia, our chief oil pusher, to up our dosage for a little while and bring down the oil price just enough so the renewable energy alternatives can’t totally take off. Then try to strong arm Congress into lifting the ban on drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It is hard for me to find the words to express what a massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy this is. But it gets better. The president actually had the gall to set a deadline for this drug deal….

This from a president who for six years resisted any pressure on Detroit to seriously improve mileage standards on its gas guzzlers; this from a president who’s done nothing to encourage conservation; this from a president who has so neutered the Environmental Protection Agency that the head of the E.P.A. today seems to be in a witness-protection program. I bet there aren’t 12 readers of this newspaper who could tell you his name or identify him in a police lineup.

But, most of all, this deadline is from a president who hasn’t lifted a finger to broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year, which could actually impact America’s energy profile right now — unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow — and create good tech jobs to boot.

That bill is H.R. 6049 — “The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008,” which extends for another eight years the investment tax credit for installing solar energy and extends for one year the production tax credit for producing wind power and for three years the credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables.

These critical tax credits for renewables are set to expire at the end of this fiscal year and, if they do, it will mean thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars of investments not made. “Already clean energy projects in the U.S. are being put on hold,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

People forget, wind and solar power are here, they work, they can go on your roof tomorrow. What they need now is a big U.S. market where lots of manufacturers have an incentive to install solar panels and wind turbines — because the more they do, the more these technologies would move down the learning curve, become cheaper and be able to compete directly with coal, oil and nuclear, without subsidies.

That seems to be exactly what the Republican Party is trying to block, since the Senate Republicans — sorry to say, with the help of John McCain — have now managed to defeat the renewal of these tax credits six different times.

Of course, we’re going to need oil for years to come. That being the case, I’d prefer — for geopolitical reasons — that we get as much as possible from domestic wells. But our future is not in oil, and a real president wouldn’t be hectoring Congress about offshore drilling today. He’d be telling the country a much larger truth:

“Oil is poisoning our climate and our geopolitics, and here is how we’re going to break our addiction: We’re going to set a floor price of $4.50 a gallon for gasoline and $100 a barrel for oil. And that floor price is going to trigger massive investments in renewable energy — particularly wind, solar panels and solar thermal. And we’re also going to go on a crash program to dramatically increase energy efficiency, to drive conservation to a whole new level and to build more nuclear power. And I want every Democrat and every Republican to join me in this endeavor.”

That’s what a real president would do. He’d give us a big strategic plan to end our addiction to oil and build a bipartisan coalition to deliver it. He certainly wouldn’t be using his last days in office to threaten Congressional Democrats that if they don’t approve offshore drilling by the Fourth of July recess, they will be blamed for $4-a-gallon gas. That is so lame. That is an energy policy so unworthy of our Independence Day.

Kudzunol: Ethanol made from Kudzu

An energy source from the rural South? Let’s hope it works out better than corn ethanol.

Link: Approval Rating for Kudzu Ethanol Soars as Floods Cancel Corn Crops.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Rowan Sage of the University of Toronto gathered samples of kudzu from different locations in the Southeastern United States at different times of the year to measure the carbohydrate content of the various parts on the plant including leaves, stems, vines and roots.

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Based on estimates completed by these researchers, kudzu could produce 2.2-3.5 tons of carbohydrate per acre or about 270 gallons per acre of ethanol. Corn will produce approximately 210-310 gallons of ethanol per acre. Sage commented in the article that “kudzu will not completely solve anybody’s energy crisis. but it certainly would be a useful supplement.” The most important factor in using kudzu to make ethanol is the harvesting of the plants in a economical process. The roots which are large can cause a problem with harvesting, but you don’t want to destroy the plant by removing all the roots. To balance the harvesting expense, Sage said, “the kudzu plant requires zero planting, fertilizer or irrigation costs.

Link: Kudzu Gets Kudos as a Potential Biofuel, Discovery News

"There is a conundrum there," said Irwin Forseth of the University of Maryland in College Park. "Unless you’re going to let it come back and devote some land to cultivating it, it wouldn’t form a stable source. You wouldn’t want to put in a stable infrastructure and work out how to extract it from roots to have it go away after three years."

However, if existing corn ethanol manufacturing plants could be used to process kudzu, too, then the approach might be feasible, Forseth said.

Bob Tanner of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., proposed using kudzu for energy in the energy crisis of the 1970s, but he now suggests that the starch, which is used as a gelling product in food in Japan, carries a higher value as a food product.

He advocates using the starch for food and converting the cellulose — the woody, fibrous carbohydrate that gives structure to the stems and leaves — into ethanol once processes under development are commercially available.

The fibers also make fine textiles, Tanner said. "My suggestion is, be creative. Don’t cuss at it. Use it creatively."

Suburban Reality: We spend too much time and money driving

Energy prices are pummeling the American lifestyle, which until recently was labeled as not negotiable by our leaders. These same leaders did not see the need for a viable energy policy.

Link: Life on the fringes of U.S. suburbia becomes untenable with rising gas costs – International Herald Tribune.

As the realization takes hold that rising energy prices are less a momentary blip than a restructuring with lasting consequences, the high cost of fuel is threatening to slow the decades-old migration away from cities, while exacerbating the housing downturn by diminishing the appeal of larger homes set far from urban jobs.

In Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Minneapolis, homes beyond the urban core have been falling in value faster than those within, according to analysis by Moody’s Economy.com.

In Denver, housing prices in the urban core rose steadily from 2003 until late last year compared with previous years, before dipping nearly 5 percent in the past three months of last year, according to Economy.com. But house prices in the suburbs began falling earlier, in the middle of 2006, and then accelerated, dropping by 7 percent the past three months of the year.

Many factors have propelled the unraveling of U.S. real estate, from the mortgage crisis to a staggering excess of home construction, making it hard to pinpoint the impact of any single force. But economists and real estate agents are growing convinced that the rising cost of energy is a primary factor pushing home prices down in the suburbs – particularly in the outer rings.

More than three-fourths of prospective homebuyers are more inclined to live in an urban area because of fuel prices, according to a recent survey of 903 real estate agents with Coldwell Banker, a national brokerage.

Some proclaim the unfolding demise of suburbia.

"Many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s – slums characterized by poverty, crime and decay," said Christopher Leinberger, an urban land use expert, in a recent essay in the Atlantic Monthly.

Most experts do not share such apocalyptic visions, seeing instead a gradual reordering.

Green Community and Solar Homes Honor Gardener

They are rare in the South: green home builders/real estate developers. Hopefully we’ll see more of them in the future. This is a great start!

Here are some excerpts from an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Link: Residences a new definition for green community | ajc.com.

Weatherford Place in Roswell [GA] is not your usual residential community under construction.

For one thing, there are no Dumpsters on the site. There’s no need because nearly all the excess construction waste is put back to use.

From top to bottom, inside and out, Weatherford Place is developing a new definition for a green residential community. It eventually will have eight homes on 1.6 acres of land bordering Crossville Creek.

The three visionaries behind the development call it a "solar community of net-zero energy homes," built to the greenest building standards. They call their home designs EcoCraft: designed and built to nature’s code.

"This is the first of its kind," says Simone du Boise, an architect specializing in environmental design. "There’s not another neighborhood like this."

Each home is designed to a platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) level and the entire development will be platinum LEED —- the first in the United States, according to business partner Dan Downey.

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But it’s the solar power that really sets the development apart.

"Think of each one of these homes as a little power plant," du Boise says. She explains that the solar energy generated immediately gets put on the power grid. Georgia Power credits each home for the power it generates, and du Boise says design specifications show that each home will generate more power than it needs —- which is how they become net-zero energy homes.

"This home will use two-thirds less energy than the typical home," Downey says. "We are using the heat generated from the solar panels to heat the water."

One house, already purchased by an investor, has been built as a model for how the other seven homes will work. Attention was given to every detail: the location of the windows, the wood used, the carpet, the paint, the fixtures (both light and plumbing), the 1,880 gallon cistern placed underground to capture rainwater, and even a manually-operated dumbwaiter to help move groceries, meals, laundry, suitcases and other stuff from floor to floor. The list is endless.

The third visionary behind Weatherford is designer Denise Donahue. She has integrated the project’s themes and philosophy at every level.

For example, there was a "ground blessing" instead of a groundbreaking, held on the summer solstice last summer —- the day with the most light.

The first part of the development was to restore one-third of the land to green space. Workers also stabilized the embankment next to Crossville Creek to prevent runoff of dirt and containments.

Other features include a community gazebo, a back-up generator for the neighborhood in case all the power goes out and a garden overlooking the creek.

Each home will be a living laboratory, equipped with monitors and sensors to track how environmentally friendly these homes will be. Developers are partnering with Georgia Power and Kennesaw State University to collect information for energy management and efficiency studies.

Donahue, du Boise and Downey are nontraditional in another way. Their company is called Cadmus Construction, but it actually is a one-stop shop of architectural design, landscape, construction and development.

"We take ownership of doing everything to ensure the integrity of the project," Donahue says. "We don’t think the world needs another developer or builder or general contractor or even another architect. We think the world needs environmental stewards."

These homes are on the market for about $750,000 each and have 2,500 to 3,900 square feet if a homeowner desires a finished basement. According to Downey, the first home already has been appraised at $1 million.

"We are trying to prove that you can profitably build a state-of-the-art green home and sell it at market price," Downey says.

"We really do believe we can do these homes for the low-income, affordable homes so people don’t have to make a choice of heat or eat," du Boise adds.

"We’d like to start a non-profit organization to do affordable homes," says Donahue, looking to the future.

The project is named after Louis Weatherford, who originally owned the property. He was a gardener/farmer who annually would recycle seeds from vegetables and fruit he grew.

Every homeowner will receive a bag of seeds from Weatherford’s garden to continue the cycle of life. The gazebo is in memory of Weatherford’s late wife, Cora, who had always wanted one. It’s built partly with wood from the barn that used to be on the property.

Donahue says every homeowner automatically will become lifetime members of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (she’s on its board).

Clearly, du Boise, Donahue and Downey have put their hearts and souls into this project. As du Boise said: "Right now, we have put everything we have into this."

Donahue says Weatherford Place is the culmination of their careers.

"When you believe in something, you risk everything," Donahue says. "This is the beginning of a movement. It’s about making something good happen in the world."

For more information, go to www.weatherfordplace.com.

The Temptation of Debt

Many of us have watched friends speculate on homes and land when interest rates were low. We’re glad we resisted the temptation now.

David Brooks describes the problem of indebtedness and the contributing factors in The New York Times. Excerpts below.

Link: The Great Seduction by Debt – NYTimes.com.

The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.

The agents of destruction are many. State governments have played a role. They aggressively hawk their lottery products, which some people call a tax on stupidity…. Aside from the financial toll, the moral toll is comprehensive. Here is the government, the guardian of order, telling people that they don’t have to work to build for the future. They can strike it rich for nothing.

Payday lenders have also played a role. They seductively offer fast cash — at absurd interest rates — to 15 million people every month.

Credit card companies have played a role. Instead of targeting the financially astute, who pay off their debts, they’ve found that they can make money off the young and vulnerable. Fifty-six percent of students in their final year of college carry four or more credit cards.

Congress and the White House have played a role. The nation’s leaders have always had an incentive to shove costs for current promises onto the backs of future generations. It’s only now become respectable to do so.

Wall Street has played a role….what message do the compensation packages that hedge fund managers get send across the country?

The Federal government loves debt. (Associated Press "Stimulus Plan Pushes Deficit to All-Time High.")

The U.S. government says a flood of economic stimulus payments pushed the federal budget deficit to an all-time high of $165.9 billion in May.

The Treasury Department reported Wednesday that the May deficit was more than double the imbalance in May 2007.

That reflects some $48 billion in payments as part of the government’s $168 billion effort to give the economy a jump-start and keep the country from falling into recession.

The Future of Science in a Post-Petroleum World

John Michael Greer discusses how science survives the collapse of petroleum-based industrial institutions and overcomes antagonism from religious groups in the future. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: Saving Science.

…Such writers as Theodore Roszak and Lewis Mumford have pointed out that the practical benefits of science must be weighed in the balance against the dehumanizing effects of scientific reductionism and the horrific results of technology run amok in the service of greed and the lust for power. Others have argued that scientific thinking, with its cult of objectivity and its rejection of human values, is fundamentally antihuman and antilife, and the gifts it has given us are analogous to the gewgaws Mephistopheles brought to Faust at the price of the latter’s soul.

These arguments make a strong case against the intellectual idolatry that treats science as a surrogate religion or a key to ultimate truth. I’m not convinced, though, that they make a case against the practice of science on the much more modest basis to which it is better suited, and on which it was carried on until quite recently: that of a set of very effective mental tools for making sense of material reality. As the age of cheap abundant energy comes to an end, and the reach of our sciences and technologies scales back to fit the realities of life in a world of strict ecological limits, the overblown fantasies that encouraged people to make science carry the burden of their cravings for transcendence are, I think, likely to give way sooner rather than later.

At the same time, the survival of the scientific method will be crucial to the task of creating sustainable societies in the future ahead of us. That process will be very hard to pursue without the touchstone of quantitative measurement and experimental verification. Thus I suggest that preserving the scientific method as a living tradition belongs tolerably high on the priority list as the Long Descent begins around us.

How could this be done? With today’s institutionalized science unlikely to survive, at least two options present themselves. The first is that other social forms better suited to withstand the rigors of an age of decline might choose adopt the practice of scientific research.

… It takes very little in the way of hardware to identify pollinators visiting a backyard garden, or to track turbidity and erosion along the banks of a local stream; it takes very little more to turn the knowledge gained in these ways to the work of ecological healing – providing nesting boxes for orchard mason bees, seeding erosion-controlling plants, and many other small steps with potentially huge consequences. A grasp of scientific method will be crucial in this work, and if it proves valuable to the survival of human communities and the ecosystems in which they live – as I am convinced it will – the method will be handed down to the future.

… religious tradition, or for that matter any nonreligious one with enough passion and commitment to survive the coming troubles, could make a similar choice, adopting some branch of science useful to its work. It’s a tried and true method – trace the survival of Greek logic by way of Christian and Muslim religious traditions, or the parallel survival of Indian logic in Hinduism and Buddhism, and you’ll find a similar process at work.

Why Are We Helping Saudi Arabia Build Nukes?

Congressman Edward J. Markey, in an opinion published in the Wall Street Journal, asks why we are arming an oil and sun rich Islamic country with nuclear energy. Does Saudi Arabia really need nuclear energy? How does Israel feel about this? Are we trading nuclear secrets for an increase in oil production? Will this come back to bite us?

Link: Why Is Bush Helping Saudi Arabia Build Nukes? – WSJ.com.

Last month, while the American people were becoming the personal ATMs of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Saudi Arabia signing away an even more valuable gift: nuclear technology. In a ceremony little-noticed in this country, Ms. Rice volunteered the U.S. to assist Saudi Arabia in developing nuclear reactors, training nuclear engineers, and constructing nuclear infrastructure. While oil breaks records at $130 per barrel or more, the American consumer is footing the bill for Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions.

Saudi Arabia has poured money into developing its vast reserves of natural gas for domestic electricity production. It continues to invest in a national gas transportation pipeline and stepped-up exploration, building a solid foundation for domestic energy production that could meet its electricity needs for many decades. Nuclear energy, on the other hand, would require enormous investments in new infrastructure by a country with zero expertise in this complex technology.

Have Ms. Rice, Mr. Bush or Saudi leaders looked skyward? The Saudi desert is under almost constant sunshine. If Mr. Bush wanted to help his friends in Riyadh diversify their energy portfolio, he should have offered solar panels, not nuclear plants.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in nuclear technology can only be explained by the dangerous politics of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, a champion and kingpin of the Sunni Arab world, is deeply threatened by the rise of Shiite-ruled Iran.

The two countries watch each other warily over the waters of the Persian Gulf, buying arms and waging war by proxy in Lebanon and Iraq. An Iranian nuclear weapon would radically alter the region’s balance of power, and could prove to be the match that lights the tinderbox. By signing this agreement with the U.S., Saudi Arabia is warning Iran that two can play the nuclear game.

In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "[Iran is] already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. No one can figure why they need nuclear, as well, to generate energy." Mr. Cheney got it right about Iran. But a potential Saudi nuclear program is just as suspicious. For a country with so much oil, gas and solar potential, importing expensive and dangerous nuclear power makes no economic sense.

The Bush administration argues that Saudi Arabia can not be compared to Iran, because Riyadh said it won’t develop uranium enrichment or spent-fuel reprocessing, the two most dangerous nuclear technologies. At a recent hearing before my Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman shrugged off concerns about potential Saudi misuse of nuclear assistance for a weapons program, saying simply: "I presume that the president has a good deal of confidence in the King and in the leadership of Saudi Arabia."

That’s not good enough. We would do well to remember that it was the U.S. who provided the original nuclear assistance to Iran under the Atoms for Peace program, before Iran’s monarch was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Such an uprising in Saudi Arabia today could be at least as damaging to U.S. security.

We’ve long known that America’s addiction to oil pays for the spread of extremism. If this Bush nuclear deal moves forward, Saudi Arabia’s petrodollars could flow to the dangerous expansion of nuclear technologies in the most volatile region of the world.

While the scorching Saudi Arabian sun heats sand dunes instead of powering photovoltaic panels, millions of Americans will fork over $4 a gallon without realizing that their gas tank is fueling a nascent nuclear arms race.

PS: Atanu Dey  has an explanation:

All indications are that one of these days the US will have to take action against Iran for their ambition to develop nukes. In the meanwhile, the US is putting the next country — Saudi Arabia — in the pipeline for the same old routine: sell them technology, and then go invade them and take over the oil fields under the pretext that they have WMD.

It’s quite impressive. I am not only impressed by the American strategy but also impressed by the foolishness of the countries that fall for it.

Link: Iraq now, Iran next, Saudi Arabia for later

Did Cheap, Abundant Energy Encourage Overpopulation?

Richard Heinberg presents an ecological view of energy and popluation at Global Public Media. Most of us don’t want to acknowledge this view of reality, so denial will be a common response.

The key question is: What is the human population carrying capacity of the earth without cheap, abundant energy?

Link: How Do You Like the Collapse So Far? | Global Public Media.

Everyone knows things are going wrong. But if you understand ecology, you know this in a way that others don’t. It’s not just that the current crop of world leaders is idiotic. It’s not just a matter of a few policies having gone awry. We’ve been on a perilous track since the dawn of agriculture, capturing more and more biosphere services for the benefit of just one species. Fossil fuels recently gave our kind an enormous economic and technological boost—but at the same time enabled us to go much further out on an ecological limb. No one knows the long-term carrying capacity of planet Earth for humans, absent cheap fossil fuels, but it’s likely a lot fewer than seven billion.

To be sure, some of us are better able to handle the information than others. Many fragile psyches come unhinged without constant doses of hope and assurance. And so for their sake we need continuing positive messages—about a project to make a village sustainable, or about a new coal power plant halted by protest. Some will cling to these encouraging news bits, believing that the tide has turned and we’ll be fine after all. But as time goes on, collapse becomes undeniable. Limits to growth cease to be forecasts; instead, we see daily proof that we’re hitting the wall. As this happens, those who can handle the information spend more of their time managing the fraying emotions of those around them who can’t.

As the Great Unraveling proceeds, there may in fact be only one occupation worthy of our attention: that of identifying the qualities that make our species worth saving, and then celebrating and exemplifying those qualities. If we concentrate on doing that, perhaps we win no matter what. Outwardly, it will probably look a lot like what many of us are already doing: working to save a species, an ecosystem, a human community; to make a village sustainable, or to halt a new coal power plant.

Taking in traumatic information and transmuting it into life-affirming action may turn out to be the most advanced and meaningful spiritual practice of our time.