Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “energy”

Please, Stop Whining About Spending! – Tom Rossi

The words “tax” and “spend” get thrown around a lot by our beloved politicians – especially by the Republicans. The simpletonistic, cave-man assumption we are all to follow along with is: “Taxes bad, spending bad. Ugh! Atouk zugzug Lana!”

The idea actually is pretty simple – government spending necessitates taxes, and the more taxes, the less money in your pocket. Fair enough, but also myopic.

Everyone, except a handful of fringe lunatics, agrees that some spending is necessary. In general, Democrats believe we have to spend money on some kinds of public health programs and things like that, while Republicans always seem to think we need a more military might.

Right there, something should become obvious – not all spending is created equal. What surprises me is that the anti-spending crowd is opposed to moderate spending now, that would prevent mega-spending becoming necessary later. Now we’re talking about my favorite word: infrastructure.

America’s infrastructure is in a sorry state. That isn’t some nutty, liberal viewpoint, it’s the opinion of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Here’s the report card they gave the U.S. in 2009:

2009 Grades

Aviation D

Bridges C

Dams D

Drinking Water D-

Energy D+

Hazardous Waste D

Inland Waterways D-

Levees D-

Public Parks and Recreation C-

Rail C-

Roads D-

Schools D

Solid Waste C+

Transit D

Wastewater D-

America’s Infrastructure GPA: D
Estimated 5 Year Investment Need: $2.2 Trillion

Why do I always harp about this? Because these elements are the life’s blood of America. The individual pieces of our infrastructure are aging and deteriorating, and it will eventually cost us… big.

Even the most hardcore of bottom-liners have to see that our economy will utterly fail if our water, transportation, flood control, energy, waste, and educational systems and facilities start to falter with increased frequency. And, at this point, we’re not even talking about preventative maintenance. We’re trying to keep up with massive failures.

How do you treat your own home, and your own car? Car owners know that skipping their oil changes at “Jiffy Lube” to save $35 will most likely lead to a ruined engine, at a cost just slightly higher than $35.

Homeowners know that “saving” the expense of fixing a little leak in the roof that appears one day will certainly mean a nightmare, where the entire roof will have to be replaced and the house will probably suffer water damage.

Fixing water pipes or levees before they burst, fixing bridges before they fall into the river, and repairing roads before they completely shut down transportation can save ten times what these repair jobs cost.

And the dollar-cost isn’t anywhere near the whole story. Any of these infrastructure failures causes huge logistical catastrophes, as well. Imagine what it would be like if the bridge or the freeway you take to work was out of commission for 6 months, or if you had to go without running water for as long.

floodCapture

Another big reason to start investing more in our infrastructure is that it would create many, many jobs. We could put Americans to work physically fixing America. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? And it wouldn’t be giving away money for the sake of it, it would be directly improving our country in so many ways.

I’m tired of all the anti-spending ranting. We need more spending, not less. We just need to focus our spending on constructive activities.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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I Want a Space Suit – Roger Ingalls

Like many kids growing up in the 60s and 70s, I wanted to be an astronaut. Perched atop a metal tube filled with mega-amounts of explosives, blasting through space would have been an awesome experience. Putting on high-tech gear and floating around an Apollo capsule like Will Robinson hovering above the Jupiter 2 in Lost in Space was every boy’s dream.

My astronaut wishing days are well behind me but, in the coming years, there will be a terrestrial need for space-like attire. So, at least, I may finally get to dress like an astronaut.

MIT developed BioSuit

A few months ago I wrote a piece called Give Global Warming a Hug. This was written because we need to embrace the fact that a hotter world is here to stay for a long time and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And the “better” will not come until humans are extinct. One of the closing lines in the hug piece was, “We need to spend our intellectual energy creating an economy that allows us to survive and prosper in the chaos of a warmer world.” Climate change will create new markets. One of the products introduced during the Warm World Economy will be a Terrestrial Environmental Suit or TES. Resembling a space suit, it will control temperature, humidity and have many other bells and whistle for comfort and entertainment.

The TES is a product of necessity for two primary reasons; sky-rocketing energy cost and the need for humans to navigate their daily existence in a hotter climate. We will soon be a world of 9,000,000,000 (nine billion) people on an already energy stressed planet. All fuels are expensive now and will exponentially increase in the future. The luxury of having cooled spaces in our cars, homes, stores and offices is energy intensive and will soon be economically unsustainable. There is no need to control the climate inside all these big spaces. We only need to manage the space immediately around our bodies and doing so will save tremendous amounts of energy.

So, wal-lah or Viola…expect a climate controlled Terrestrial Environmental Suit in stores near you soon!

Finally, after forty years I’ll get my space suit.

Why Can’t We Get Off Oil?

Last Thursday, Roger Ingalls wrote a post about two ideas, one general and one specific. The specific idea was about using farm subsidies to develop “algaculture” in order to move us toward freedom from foreign oil. Good idea. But the general idea is much more important – that of changing and prioritizing how our government works (including things like agricultural subsidies) to adapt to an evolving set of realities.

As I was reading Roger’s post, I suddenly thought, “Why isn’t this already happening?” The answer is simple: Power.

It’s easy to see that money largely controls politics, but the situation runs deeper than that. Our politics are controlled by cemented-in power structures – not just any money, but the money and power that have been in the same, willing hands long enough to build structures of self-protection.

What this means is that our government is influenced most not by solid logic, but by entities protecting their own interests. This is the reason that big oil and big coal oppose solar and other renewable energy development with such fervor.

A long time ago, I promised Alon (the main author of this blog) that I would explain why oil companies are looking forward with copious amounts of drool to the day when oil is really scarce. Scarcity of a commodity which is “necessary” or at least very difficult to substitute for makes the price go up.

You might think that sure, the price goes up, but there’s less oil to sell, so it sort of evens out. But the oil companies know that, if alternatives aren’t developed, when oil gets scarce they will have the world by the you-know-whats. They will be able to spend much less on producing oil (and gasoline and everything else that comes from it) while charging absolutely incredible prices – prices that will support unimaginable profits.

People often point to the relative inefficiency of alternative energy sources at the present moment. Right now, much more energy is available from a dollar’s worth of fossil fuel than from any renewable source. This is because of the relative inefficiency of present technology in converting solar, or wind, etc. into usable electricity, in addition to the investment needed to make the conversion possible at all.

But it will be unbelievably expensive to build wind turbine towers, for example, when oil costs $500 per barrel. If we don’t do a lot of the “heavy lifting” now, while powering the development of alternatives and the experimentation that must precede it with “cheap” oil, we will soon be at the mercy (or lack thereof) of the oil companies. 

So, is Roger right? I don’t know if even Roger knows just how right Roger is. Algaculture is by no means the complete solution to our energy problems, but what Roger has brought up here is the very future of civilization. Think I’m exaggerating? As of just about today, the world’s population is hitting 7 Billion people, over half of which live in urban settings (82% in the U.S.). Our food supply chains are usually located far from population centers and require huge amounts of energy for transport, not to mention many other aspects of production.

This means that the prices of foods will skyrocket, even while the real earnings of the middle (and lower) class fall. I’m not sure what that world will look like if this trend is realized, but you can bet it won’t be pretty.

It’s not just about the cool prospect of not bowing to Saudi Arabia anymore. No. It’s about the cool prospect that our kids might be able to eat in 50 years. Above all, we need to cut down our ridiculously wasteful energy usage, but we also need to make investments in the energy sources that will still be around when the oil gets scarce.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Denying The Denial in Durban – Neil Goldberg (Guest Blogger)

You would think that when high level delegations from 200 countries, as well as thousands of civic organizations (NGOs), and countless scientists descend on a conference to inform, discuss, propose and negotiate factors widely believed to be a threat to human existence, it would be newsworthy. Thousands of people gathering to build social and intellectual networks so that they can be prepared with proposals for solutions – in policy, funding, infrastructure, technology and programs to deal with the threat.

Such a gathering is in fact going on at this very moment at the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa,   and has been for over a week. The shocker is, I can barely find mention of it anywhere in the MSM (main stream media), let alone screaming from banner leading headlines as I would expect it to be.

After all, whether one agrees that global warming is human caused or not, even most rabid right wingers and deniers are coming around to accept the evidence that the earth is in fact warming up. And to such a degree that it appear almost inevitable that it will cause major disruptions in the world economy and possibly an epochal shift in human culture.

I’ve been looking around for coverage, and finding very little. Certainly no screaming headlines in the vein “LARGEST THREAT TO HUMAN SURVIVAL SINCE NOAH RODE OUT THE FLOOD”. or, “OOPS”.

Not a single mention in my Yahoo newsfeed, which includes an AP feed (10 stories), NPR (5 stories), USA Today (5 stories), SFGate (5 stories) and The (British) Guardian (8 stories). And when I clicked through to the home pages of each of these venerable media outlets, I found – you guessed it, not a single mention of the conference. Not a single mention of global warming. Not a single tear jerking human interest profile of people struggling and winning against adversity. Not a single hero story. Not a single story about the massive amounts of money to be made on climate change generated business opportunities.

Of course there is room for stories of earth shattering import like “With His Past an Issue, Gingrich Spars and Parries” (NPR), and “Megachurch’s Future Uncertain After Pastor Leaves” (AP) and “Cain Accuser Bialek Say She Feels Vindicated” in the “Nation and World” headlines on USA Today. It’s such a busy newsday that important discussion about the imminent upending of human society just can’t make the cut.

I did a Google search for “Coverage of  climate conference, Durban”. Top item is an Adword (paid advertisement) for “Knowledge.Allianz.com”, the blog site of a major insurance company with extensive coverage on things like “Climate”, “Energy”, Mobility”, “Microfinance”, etc. But not a major journalistic organization.

Second was a piece called “What can Durban Climate Conference Achieve?” from ABC Online (their blog); a piece from Reuters India, one from Environment and Energy Publishing and another from a Canadian blog site called rabble.ca – News For the Rest of Us.

The first major news forum represented in my search is a story from LA Times who are reporting on…oh wait a minute. They’re reporting on what NPR previously reported in a story titled “NPR reports Kyoto Protocol in trouble in Durban”. I guess LA Times didn’t see fit to actually send their own reporter to Durban. What I particularly love about this story is in the opening paragraph, which sort it all:

“You may have noticed that news coverage of the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, has been minimal, at best, and that’s clearly because -– just like in Copenhagen last year -– there has been almost no mention of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was put in place to set reduction targets for important greenhouse gases. Without a big, juicy target, the conference lacks the drama to merit mention on even the eco-blogs.”

So there you have it. Not worth reporting on because nothing is happening there. But I would guess, nothing much is happening there because by now, everybody believes the issue has gone away due to, well, lack of attention in the main stream media.

How DO you spell D-E-N-I-A-L!

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Neil Goldberg developed his political perspective growing up in apartheid South Africa which he left in 1982 when it seemed that democratic change was impossible. He is a designer of a wide array of products, environments and services. This experience has taught him that the limitations of imagination are the only thing standing in the way of just about any problem. Since becoming a father 12 year ago he has become convinced that a loving heart is the ultimate spur to imagination.

A Serious Economic Agenda

I think I was exposed this weekend to the so-called Weekend Chat Shows. I won’t do it again (though I’m most perturbed that the soccer season is over and the NBA is coming to a close). I’m fed up with the way that we, the so-called informed population, allow our politicians and pundits to play out whatever fictional version they advocate to promote their own agendas.

Blaming President Obama for the economic meltdown a month or so after he took office is obnoxious – that many of the public bought it is truly stunning. Even today, when the President is still basking in the public’s praise regarding the assassination of bin Laden, a Republican politician, when asked if this gives Obama the Presidency in 2012, said Obama still has to account for the state of the economy.  As if these Republicans weren’t around for the previous eight years, or for that matter, in power.

I do not believe that the recession is about everyone having a hard time. Houses in Berkeley are selling quickly and financial coaches all agree that there is money to made in a recession. A recession is more about a sharpened distribution of wealth than wealth disappearing from the economy.

Neither do I think it is about Republicans or Democrats. There is a structural problem in our economy that needs and can be addressed quickly. Over the next couple of weeks, I want to focus on some of the following aspects.

1. Education  – a 21st century economy requires a 22nd century education system. It begins with creating a work force that is competitive and highly esteemed. The average teacher in California earns just under $69,000. I don’t believe they work more or less than the rest of us. Their challenges and pressures are simply different.

2. Taxes – Everybody pays their taxes and they are proportional to how much each person earns. There can be some flexibility for differing circumstances, but to allow the rich to pay less taxes proportionately than the poor is absurd. The fact that so many of the working and middle class accept this is unfathomable.

3. Energy – Moving away for an oil-based economy, or at least cutting it drastically has repercussions not only on energy, but also foreign policy. As the head of the multinational oil company said in The Accidental Activist – true change will only come when the public are challenged at the pumps.

We might not hold all the answers, but our worst enemy is apathy. Let the discussion begin…

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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