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 “natural gas”

Kicking The Oil Addiction

As an environmentalist who drives around in a car for 2-3 hours a day, I hold my hand up and admit my hypocrisy. My job requires a car and I can justify why my family lives in one place and I work in another with a big city in between. I have made it my space – audio book, coffee, snacks – between the intensity of work and the push to get the children’s homework finished, I have a little space just for myself.

We have discussed the electric car on this blog a few times and the conspiracy theory that it is big business and oil conglomerates that have kept us pumping oil into our cars instead of cheaper, more sustainable alternatives.

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Eyal Aronoff, co-founder of Fuel Freedom Foundation, fascinates me. An Israeli who is deeply committed to the US, a country that gave him everything, he is spurred by the tragic loss of two family members in the 9/11 attacks. He believes that it is not a question of technology, but politics  and it is a politics that makes the US globally vulnerable, the world choke on pollution, and keeps a small elite rich while the rest of us pay a heavy financial price.

“He finds that the lack of alternative energy sources to fuel our vehicles jeopardizes U.S. national security, bankrupts our economy and forces us to pay more at the pump. Alternative fuels, such as ethanol, methanol, natural gas and electricity, are the immediate solution to ending our nation’s oil dependency.”

“The Fuel Freedom vision seeks to reignite the American dream by encouraging competition and sparking innovation.” For more information, check out http://www.fuelfreedom.org/get-involved to understand more.

I am beginning to wonder whether it is an addiction issue. There are better models of life out there and yet many of us continue to smoke, drink, take drugs etc. Often, perfectly intelligent and functional people, make irrational decisions and build up a wall of excuses to justify it. Like the guy whose 2nd-hand smoke is killing his children and neighbors, our irrational addiction to oil is killing our planet, keeping many of us in poverty, and leading us into the next war.

It is time to kick the habit.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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Grass – Roger Ingalls

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Grass must grow in my blood; it inexplicably and constantly waves through my mind. To be clear, I’m talking grasses and not lawns. The appalling manicured green carpets in front of our houses are a waste of valuable water and the chemical runoff is deadly to a balanced ecosystem. But grass, real grass, is the essence of life.

Rice, corn, wheat, rye and sugar cane are just a few grasses that feed humanity. Oats, prairie, tundra and hay are varieties for the rest of us animals. We should never underestimate the importance of grass; it’s the unsung hero of nature.

In Praise of Grass, published in the Kansas Journal just after the Civil War was written by John James Ingalls, a Senator and founder father of Kansas. Below is one of my favorite paragraphs from that essay. You can plow the grass under but it still geminates in the blood.

Grass is the forgiveness of nature — her constant benediction. Fields trampled with battle, saturated with blood, torn with the ruts of cannon, grow green again with grass, and carnage is forgotten. Streets abandoned by traffic become grass-grown like rural lanes, and are obliterated. Forests decay, harvests perish, flowers vanish, but grass is immortal. Beleaguered by the sullen hosts of winter, it withdraws into the impregnable fortress of its subterranean vitality, and emerges upon the first solicitation of spring. Sown by the winds, by wandering birds, propagated by the subtle horticulture of the elements which are its ministers and servants, it softens the rude outline of the world. Its tenacious fibres hold the earth in its place, and prevent its soluble components from washing into the wasting sea. It invades the solitude of deserts, climbs the inaccessible slopes and forbidding pinnacles of mountains, modifies climates, and determines the history, character, and destiny of nations. Unobtrusive and patient, it has immortal vigor and aggression. Banished from the thoroughfare and the field, it bides its time to return, and when vigilance is relaxed, or the dynasty has perished, it silently resumes the throne from which it has been expelled, but which it never abdicates. It bears no blazonry or bloom to charm the senses with fragrance or splendor, but its homely hue is more enchanting than the lily or the rose. It yields no fruit in earth or air, and yet should its harvest fail for a single year, famine would depopulate the world.

ExxonMobil Says Yes to Global Warming – Roger Ingalls

Denier’s walls are crumbling down. It an astonishing speech, ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson, admitted that the burning of fossil fuel is warming the planet. Like many others, I was totally floored when reading about his revelation. Perhaps he had a moment of weakness or maybe the perpetual lying finally got the better of him. More likely reputation played a role; let’s face it, the silly-science arguments used by fossil-energy companies are making them look stupid and lacking in credibility.

Can you imagine the look on the Koch brothers’ faces when they heard about Mr. Tillerson’s speech? I bet they soiled their pants from moaning so hard.

Tillerson wasn’t, by any means, apologetic or gracious. He called the public illiterate, the press lazy and indicated that the risk of spills and accidents were worth the reward. The biggest industry challenge, he said, “taking an illiterate public and try to help them understand why we can manage these risks.”

Interestingly, Tillerson appeared to ignore any discussion relating to remedial activities that would curb global warming. I suppose this is not a surprise. Slowing the release of greenhouse gasses would negatively impact ExxonMobil financially since more energy burn means more profits for them. The CEO believes we can manage in a hotter world. “We have spent our entire existence adapting. We’ll adapt,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”

I give Mr. Tillerson credit for stepping up and acknowledging the impact fossil fuels have on the environment but I also find it obscene that these Wall Street-massaged companies go from “denying” straight to “it’s too late, the damage is done so let’s adapt to our new climate”. Again, not a surprise, it’s all about lining pockets with gold but obscenely sinister nonetheless.

As much as I hate to agree with Tillerson, it is too late. Even if we drastically reduced carbon emissions today, temperatures are going to rise and so will sea levels for the next 200 to 300 years. Forget about green or sustainable economies, we need to pursue an adaptive economy that makes today’s disasters tomorrow’s normal.

The Lawn Dilemma – Roger Ingalls

The season has finally turned and California’s dry heat has arrived. The lawn in front of our house has not tasted a deep drink for several weeks and it’s starting to show. Frankly, the grass looks like crap. We are rapidly becoming the scourge of our suburban neighborhood; the lawn cancer of picturesque Yupsterville.

This lawn-thing has me conflicted. Should I waste water and fossil fuels to keep the hood uniform and neighbors happy by maintaining a useless lawn? Or…do I color outside the suburbia sidewalks and transform the yard into an eco-friendly oasis of indigenous plant life along with an edible garden? Basically it comes down to fitting in or doing the right thing.

What is America’s fascination with two-inch tall carpet-like grass? Do we feel so culturally inferior that we must emulate manicured croquet gardens of eighteenth century aristocrats? Let’s get real…Marie Antoinette isn’t going to walk out my front door and say, “let them eat cake.”

There are 76 million home owners in the United States and that distribution of property sets our culture apart from every other civilization. Widespread land ownership should not be taken for granted; it is a historic anomaly. We should set our own lofty examples of how to use and protect it by saying no to home lawns that are environmentally disastrous and a huge resource waste (water, oil for pesticides and natural gas for fertilizer).

Let’s look at this differently. The U.S. lawn and yard market represents close to $30 billion a year. If we spent the same amount on growing edible gardens and returning indigenous plants to our yards, less water would be consumed and our waterways would be less polluted.

More importantly, hunger would be wiped off the planet.

The lawn dilemma has been resolved…let the transformation begin!

Want Water, Get Nuclear – Roger Ingalls

We can debate the dangers and virtues of nuclear power but its proliferation is inevitable. Pro and con arguments are irrelevant. One basic human need makes nuclear power an absolute necessity.

Water is humanity’s lowest common denominator. Without it we die. Drinkable water is precious and in short supply. Only one percent of all water on Earth is potable and accessible. Currently, twenty percent of the world’s population does not have daily access to fresh water. Let me rephrase, “today, November 17, 2011, approximately 1,400,000,000 people will not taste safe water”.

Fast forward 40 years to 2050. The number of people on Earth has increased by 50% and now sits at approximately 11 billion. Since the Earth won’t magically make more potable water, half the world’s population (7 billion) will struggle to survive.

Clearly, something needs to be done. We could just let people die off but that would be an economic disaster because we need an ever-expanding population to fuel our financial system that is based on perpetual growth (crazy as that sounds living on a finite planet).

The only option we have is turning salt water into fresh water. Desalination is an energy intensive process. Today, fossil fuels are already stretched thin and most energy experts say we are in or heading into a peak oil scenario where we are draining cheap oil reserves faster than we can find new ones. Also, oil and natural gas are used to manufacture pesticides and fertilizer (respectively) so they will be in heavy demand for agricultural purposes to feed the new billions.

The only way we can produce an adequate amount of fresh water is by running desalination plants with nuclear power.

Again, the arguments about safety are irrelevant. We need to look at this in terms of future lives saved. Nuclear power will prevent the deaths of billions from starvation and thirst. Forget about saving 30 or 40 people from radiation poisoning over the next 50 years – that’s crazy logic.

Think in terms of benefits. Think a generation or two into the future.

 * The 104 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S. over the past 40 years have not caused a single death while wind energy has already killed 41 in its short existence.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

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