Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Slowly but surely, reality wins out: Berkeley dumps biofuels

Excel Graph showing the Carbon Intensity of Bi...Note that corn ethanol -- the primary US biofuel -- is among the worst fuels for carbon emissions, not to mention land diversion from growing food, etc. Image via Wikipedia

Many people know that Seattle, WA has stopped buying biofuels made from crops because the science has finally overcome the very aggressive, very well-funded biofuels lobby.

The reality is that crop-based biofuels are MUCH WORSE for the climate than petroleum, and they aggravate world hunger and species extinction, in addition to helping lead to destruction of temperate rain forests all over the world.

But few know that Berkeley, CA, that green Valhalla to the South, has also made the same decision -- no more psuedo-green biofuels! Thanks to an alert activist in Seattle, the word made it up here.

This is good news. Oregon has lost its way on this issue, but seeing the most progressive areas wake up and start rejecting biofuels has got to help get us back on course -- which means eliminating the subsidies and blending mandates and actually implementing a meaningful low-carbon fuel standard (which kills all cropped biofuels).
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Why conserving energy has to be our first, second, and third priorities

Science BargeImage by David Reeves via Flickr

The always-excellent High Country News has a great op-ed by Randy Udall on our energy pickle, which is greatly aggravated by our belief in magic pony solutions (biofuels, hydrogen, etc.) that we expect will suddenly appear and make it so that we don't have to change anything or turn off the 60" plasma TVs.

Renewables: The Final Frontier

Why historian Vaclav Smil thinks there are no easy solutions to our energy problems

. . . When it comes to energy, the scientist who best exemplifies Vulcan logic is Vaclav Smil. The world's foremost energy historian, he began a recent essay with this blunt statement: "Our transition away from fossil fuels will take decades -- if it happens at all."

. . . He does not believe that our cars will soon be powered by fuel cells or pyrolyzed turkey guts, that clean coal can solve the climate problem, or that venture capital will discover an energy analogue to the cellular phone.

Al Gore's proposal to re-power America with renewable energy in a decade is "delusional," Smil writes. "Gore has succumbed to Moore's curse, the belief that performance improvement in energy systems can model that of computer processing power." . . .

Given climate realities, we desperately need a rapid energy transformation, but wishing can't make it so. As a Vulcan might say, what is desirable is not necessarily probable. Change takes time. James Watt's steam engine revolutionized the mining and transportation of coal, but it still took a century for coal to displace wood. Solar photovoltaic cells were invented 55 years ago, and yet today in the U.S. they produce less electricity than Glen Canyon Dam. Eight years after its introduction, the ingenious Prius has yet to become 1 percent of the automotive fleet.

Like it or not, Smil believes we are captive to past investments, to the multi-trillion-dollar energy networks we have already created, and, above all, to the scale of our energy appetites. Only the last of those factors seems amenable to rapid change, and thus his advice to President Obama: "Explain to the nation that Americans, who consume twice as much energy per capita as rich Europeans (and have nothing to show for it), should try to live within some sensible limits, which means using less fuel not more."

. . . We have much larger appetites today. Melanie Moses, a biologist at the University of New Mexico, calculates that a typical North American consumes energy at a rate sufficient to sustain a 66,000-pound primate.

That's a very big ape, and Smil is not the only one asking whether it's realistic to meet his gargantuan appetite with wind and solar, dilute flows of power that today provide less than 1 percent of U.S. energy. Unlike oil shale -- the thermodynamically doomed effort to turn chicken manure into chicken salad -- wind, solar and geothermal have high energy returns and a bright future. Nonetheless, it will take many doublings before they will meet a significant percentage of our needs . . . .

In his personal life, Smil is an avid conservationist, proud of his super-efficient house and frugal Honda. In his recent work, there is a hint of frustration with what he sees as the cannibalization of our host planet. Contemplating our journey to the future, where no man has gone before, he writes, "I am always trying to imagine what would be the verdict of a sapient extraterrestrial informed about the behavior of affluent Earthlings."

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Great gardening site for DIY groceries

Very nice site -- well documented stuff from a "learn by doing" gardener who is trying new things and telling (and showing) you how they work. Not from Cascadia, but it seems very relevant anyway. Photo is the "$50 Greenhouse" (actually more like $150 when you chase every detailed cost down, but still, that's about 1/20th of the cost for an equal-sized store-bought kind.)

Is Salem Audubon looking for you?

If you redistribute this image anywhere else p...Image by Andrew Parodi via Wikipedia

A friend sends:

This is for you to think about regarding anyone you might know who would be interested in working with Audubon in protecting/promoting natural resources. Their director is retiring and they need part-time help in their Reed Opera House office.

The profile for an application is on their website, home page lower right corner.

The fascinating fact is that they have money and are about to build a nature center here in a wonderful spot near downtown. Nothing firm yet, but looks promising.


Salem Audubon Society is an affiliate of the National Audubon Society in Salem, Oregon with approximately 1600 members. Salem Audubon Society provides nature education to school children, offers birding field trips and other member programs, and is involved in environmental advocacy. Salem Audubon has been considering potential sites for building a nature center.


The Executive Director is responsible for the overall administration of Salem Audubon Society in its transition from a traditional birding organization to an organization developing and managing a nature center. This person provides organizational leadership, administers programs, manages finances, and supports the work of the board. This is a currently a half time position, but has the potential to evolve into a full time position.

1. Ability to convey the mission of Salem Audubon Society: Promoting the appreciation of nature and respect for natural places.

2. Demonstrated ability in financial management, including developing and managing a budget.

3. Demonstrated leadership skills and collaborative management style.

4. Bachelor’s degree preferred. Other demonstrated experience will be considered.

TO APPLY: Individuals interested in applying may submit a resume and cover letter to davidlichter@comcast.net.


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Monday, June 29, 2009

Repurposing buildings to a higher end: a shade-free vegetable garden!

Rooftop FarmNow THIS is enough to make you hum "New York, New York" . . . Image by mkebbe via Flickr

Great stuff here.
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Why Waxman-Markey Should Die

Instrumental temperature record of the last 15...Image via Wikipedia


Rep. Dennis Kucinich - I oppose H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The reason is simple. It won't address the problem. In fact, it might make the problem worse.

It sets targets that are too weak, especially in the short term, and sets about meeting those targets through Enron-style accounting methods. It gives new life to one of the primary sources of the problem that should be on its way out - coal - by giving it record subsidies. And it is rounded out with massive corporate giveaways at taxpayer expense. There is $60 billion for a single technology which may or may not work, but which enables coal power plants to keep warming the planet at least another 20 years.

Worse, the bill locks us into a framework that will fail. Science tells us that immediately is not soon enough to begin repairing the planet. Waiting another decade or more will virtually guarantee catastrophic levels of warming. But the bill does not require any greenhouse gas reductions beyond current levels until 2030.

There are several aspects of the bill that are problematic.

1. Overall targets are too weak. The bill is predicated on a target atmospheric concentration of 450 parts per million, a target that is arguably justified in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but which is already out of date. Recent science suggests 350 parts per million is necessary to help us avoid the worst effects of global warming.

2. The offsets undercut the emission reductions. Offsets allow polluters to keep polluting; they are rife with fraudulent claims of emissions reduction; they create environmental, social, and economic unintended adverse consequences; and they codify and endorse the idea that polluters do not have to make sacrifices to solve the problem.

3. It kicks the can down the road. By requiring the bulk of the emissions to be carried out in the long term and requiring few reductions in the short term, we are not only failing to take the action when it is needed to address rapid global warming, but we are assuming the long term targets will remain intact.

4. EPA's authority to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short- to medium-term is rescinded. It is our best defense against a new generation of coal power plants. There is no room for coal as a major energy source in a future with a stable climate.

5. Nuclear power is given a lifeline instead of phasing it out. Nuclear power is far more expensive, has major safety issues including a near release in my own home state in 2002, and there is still no resolution to the waste problem. A recent study by Dr. Mark Cooper showed that it would cost $1.9 trillion to $4.1 trillion more over the life of 100 new nuclear reactors than to generate the same amount of electricity from energy efficiency and renewables.

6. Dirty coal is given a lifeline instead of phasing it out. Coal-based energy destroys entire mountains, kills and injures workers at higher rates than most other occupations, decimates ecologically sensitive wetlands and streams, creates ponds of ash that are so toxic the Department of Homeland Security will not disclose their locations for fear of their potential to become a terrorist weapon, and fouls the air and water with sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulates, mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and thousands of other toxic compounds that cause asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, and pulmonary and cardiac problems for starters. In contrast, several times more jobs are yielded by renewable energy investments than comparable coal investments.

7. The $60 billion allocated for carbon capture and sequestration is triple the amount of money for basic research and development in the bill. We should be pressuring China, India and Russia to slow and stop their power plants now instead of enabling their perpetuation. We cannot create that pressure while spending unprecedented amounts on a single technology that may or may not work. . .

8. Carbon markets can and will be manipulated using the same Wall Street sleights of hand that brought us the financial crisis.

9. It is regressive. Free allocations doled out with the intent of blunting the effects on those of modest means will pale in comparison to the allocations that go to polluters and special interests. The financial benefits of offsets and unlimited banking also tend to accrue to large corporations. And of course, the trillion dollar carbon derivatives market will help Wall Street investors. Much of the benefits designed to assist consumers are passed through coal companies and other large corporations, on whom we will rely to pass on the savings.
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Cool idea for Bike Parking Parity

Salem, like all cities, needs to stop giving people in cars special privileges and perks.

For starters, we need to establish the basic principle of "parking parity" -- that is, equal parking for bikes and cars. That would mean, for example, that in every street with a row of car parking spaces, one or two of the central spaces would be reserved for bicycles, preferably with a rain cover, like this fascinating design, which combines bike parking, a bus waiting bench, and a certain elegance, an economy of materials, and a rain/wind barrier if the rack is oriented to protect against the prevailing wind direction. There's even a fully enclosed model that is also attractive (below).

Greywater -- a second step towards reviving sustainability instincts in Salem

Cover of "The New Create an Oasis With Gr...Cover via Amazon - but for best sustainability results, try the library, the author, or your locally owned bookseller

Sooner or later Salem will (again) permit households to keep some laying hens. The next step towards allowing, if not encouraging, sustainable behavior might be revising the city codes to permit collection and use of "greywater" (used kitchen sink, dishwasher, and clothes washer water).

Like electricity, greywater is not without hazards. And, like electricity, it's perfectly safe if used intelligently and "in the open." The danger comes when the law forbids (and, therefore, drives underground) valuable, useful activities by presuming that we are all children who must be controlled and protected by eliminating any activity with any risk. (Considering how the hen debate has gone, thank goodness the Salem City Council isn't considering whether to permit electricity here for the first time!)

We need to retrain our elected officials to remind them that we are at least as intelligent as the pioneers and the natives in this place, who had an ethic of not wasting much and of getting as many uses out of each thing as possible. While the brief period of unprecedented affluence that is now drawing to a close has dulled our instincts for acting sustainably/economically around the home, those instincts are still there, waiting to be developed and employed again.

(Of course, budget problems have a way of cutting through red tape. The more greywater that Salem households use on their flower gardens, shrubs and trees, the less has to be chlorinated and delivered to the house and the less that has to be pumped and put through wastewater treatment facilities.)
Greywater reference
Create an Oasis with Greywater

Greywater is the term for all household wastewater except for the toilet and kitchen sink. This is the only comprehensive book I know of on the subject, and in this fifth and expanded edition, Art Ludwig explains how to choose, build, and use a variety of simple greywater systems. There are clear drawings for sending washing machine water into the garden (with or without a drum), for putting diversion vales on bathtubs or showers, for creating "mulch basins," for ultra-simple setups like "Garden Hose Through the Bathroom," and "Dishpan Dump (Bucketing)" -- the latter of which I've been practicing lately to the great benefit of both septic system and compost piles.

There's a large section on branched drains -- splitting the flow and dispersing greywater to a number of mulch basins in the garden -- using gravity flow, no pumps or electricity. Mistakes made in greywater systems over the years are documented here, along with suggested improvements, and there's a two-page System Selection Chart with a comparison of 18 different systems.

-- Lloyd Kahn

[Complete plans for one of the book's most broadly appealing projects -- a Laundry to Landscape Grey Water System -- are available, free, on the Oasis Design site. -- ES]

The New Create an Oasis with Greywater
Art Ludwig
144 pages

Published by and available from Oasis Design

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Greenwashing Bus to hit Salem July 13

A corporate greenwashing bus is coming to Salem, fueled by biodiesel. In all probability, the bus is fueled from oilseed crops (soy or palm) rather than from reused vegetable oils.

In which case it means that not only does the bus cause more carbon emissions than petroleum diesel, it also contributes to world hunger, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity.

Worth celebrating, eh? NOT.

The City of Seattle recently realized that being environmentally responsible meant NOT buying any "biofuels" made from crops. It's time for Salem to follow in Seattle's footsteps and to do the same.

June Saturday Market Favorites

All the vendors at the Salem Saturday Market (and the Wednesday Market) are worth a look and merit your support. Even if what they're selling isn't to your taste, they are strengthening the fabric of our community by coming and offering their wares directly to us.

Last week I bought a belt at the Saturday Market and, while I was finishing my purchase, I heard one woman who was looking at some of the beautiful handcrafted belts in the stand -- all made by the man selling them, right here in Salem. She said "Aren't these pretty?" and her friend replied "You can get them cheaper at Wal-Mart."

Well, yes, you can. But then you get a belt that certainly did not help a real craftsman live a decent life. Instead, most of the price of a Wal-Mart belt goes to support a corporation that cheats and oppresses its workers, that destroys community businesses for miles around, and that has built a totally unsustainable business model that is entirely dependent on using and wasting copious amounts of cheap energy.

Luckily, we have the Salem Saturday Market offer us an alternative to this kind of (un)thinking. This month, two vendors have really stood out for quality:

First, Matt's Eggs. Matt is apparently the next generation at Polska Farms and he sells wonderful eggs. Yesterday, he sold us a dozen huge, wonderfully flavorful eggs for $4.50. The yolks look like little bright yellow suns they are so intensely colored. Beautiful.

Second, Rose Valley Butter. This is, simply put, the best butter I've ever had -- and that includes four years enjoying some great food while at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where great dairies abound. A pound of their salted organic butter is $6 at the Salem Saturday Market, and cheap at that price. On some homemade wheat bread, Rose Valley butter is out of this world.

Interesting for ex-cons and people who want to help them

One of the most difficult issues we will face in the coming years is how to deal with the aftershocks and unintended pernicious effects of the tremendous "tough on crime" wave that is so expensive and so counterproductive that it can't be maintained, especially after rising energy prices act as a continual "bubble buster" and prevent any of the usual games from working. Salem, home of the state prison, needs to get smart fast on how to reincorporate people leaving prison --- that is, we need to learn how not just to tolerate ex-cons but how to reintegrate them into society as productive, healthy people. We cannot afford any other outcome.

Book Recommendations

See other reviews on Amazon.com

Going Straight: An Ex-convict/Psychologist Tells Why and How (Paperback)

by Paul Fauteck (Author) ISBN-10: 0595155707

Somehow we must do more to rehabilitate offenders, especially now that we are looking at releasing them early. Dr. Fauteck also has an excellent DVD on his website at http://www.going-straight.com/ ... I highly recommend both if you have a friend in need... Jack

Going Straight: An Ex-convict/Psychologist Tells Why and How

5.0 out of 5 stars GOING STRAIGHT, November 30, 2004
GOING STRAIGHT is a comprehensive and exceptional self-help
manual for criminal offenders who want to build a respectable
life after punishment. This book was written by a uniquely
credible and knowledgable author-mentor, whose straight-forward
advice can be of value for both pre-release and post-release

Prisoners, parolees, ex-convicts need a role model, a mentor--
someone who can teach from similar life experiences. Someone
who can help them overcome not only society's dismal image of
offenders, but also their own low expectations and self loathing.

The author, Dr. Paul Fauteck, was an ex-con who, after doing
four years of hard time, eventually became a successful and
highly respected forensic psychologist. In his book, he shows
the offender how to adapt, to network, and succeed in a world
that few criminals hardly know exists.

Unlike some experts, Fauteck doesn't cut offenders any slack or
responsibility for making the most out of the rest of their
lives. His book teaches how to begin building a worthwhile life
day by day with practical coping skills, self awareness, and
lifelong principles. His writing contains both humor and great
insight into the hearts and minds of recovering criminals.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A sustainable wonder: The library

BookMooch illustrationBookmooch has been great -- give away books you're read, get books you want to read. Free, open to all. Image via Wikipedia

It's a tough year when it comes to books -- LOVESalem HQ is just about overrun with books, books, and more books, shelves bowed in the middle, piles on top of shelved books and on top of the shelves themselves.

It's all gotten to be a real weight, so it was time for drastic measures: the New Year's Resolution for 2009 was to only obtain books through trading (like Bookmooch.com, a wonderful sharing system) or buying books with money earned from selling books. Naturally, the necessitates a lot more use of the library -- and what a wonder. I often use Powells.com and even Amazon.com to read reviews to help select books. Tonight's list would cost a bunch if purchased -- all were available in or with the help of the Salem Public Library, which will let me get a look at them and see which ones are really essential to own and which ones would be "read once, take a few notes, and never read again." A timely reminder that the public lending library is one of the sustainable wonders of the world.

All new square foot gardening / Mel Bartholomew.
How to grow more vegetables : and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops than you ever thoug
Four-season harvest : organic vegetables from your home garden all year long / Eliot Coleman ; illus
The vegetable gardener's bible : discover Ed's high-yield W-O-R-D system for all North American gard
Carrots love tomatoes : secrets of companion planting for successful gardening / Louise Riotte.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Car Exhaust -- or Poverty? Can the two be separated?

Disruptions in organized traffic flow can crea...Image via Wikipedia

Interesting study here positing a link between a new mother's residence, the amount of traffic-generated pollutants in that area, and premature babies and preeclampsia. Having read only the blurb and not the study, can't say for sure, but they don't seem to have had the ability to separate the effect of poverty (which also leads to a plethora of natal health issues).

Although that's a problem from a scientific point-of-view, it's not much of a practical difference, because there is one thing that is true in every city in America: it's the poor who get to live near the busy roads, thick with autosmog. Bad air quality from car and truck exhaust is something that we carefully protect wealthy neighborhoods from.

Just like with the proposed "Salem River Crossing." The object with this boondoggle is provide an even greater subsidy for driving to the wealthy, mainly white commuters in Polk County and beyond by giving them yet more lane miles ---although at the cost of carving a huge chunk out of several NE Salem neighborhoods and turning them into blast zones for a torrent of cars that will zip through, leaving only pollutants, the occasional hubcap, and the odd maimed pedestrian behind. Nobody in ODOT or any of the local governments give a rip about the people in NE Salem, many of whom are Hispanic -- perfect targets, in other words, for yet another sprawl project built atop the homes of the poor, as is the American way.
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Want to stump a Senator?

It's increasingly hard to stump politicians; when they don't know something, they drop back into campaign buzzword blather and drown the question in a torrent of content-free words. But if you want, you can go see Jeff Merkley and ask him why Congress keeps pumping money into propping up carburbia and highways, as if there's no rush to prepare for a much lower energy future. Dollars to doughnuts says you get some kind of non-responsive blather about biofuels, hybrids/ electric cars, "energy independence," and green jobs.

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley
Salem Town Hall Meeting

Monday, June 29, 2009
7:00- 8:00 P.M.

Chemeketa Community College
Bldg 2, Student Center, Rm 176
4000 Lancaster Dr. NE, Salem

This will be Senator Merkley’s first town hall in Marion County.
Bring your issues, questions, and suggestions.

Please join us! Questions: Call 503-362-8102

More bikey wonderfulness

Union Street Railroad Bridge, Salem, Oregon, U...Image via Wikipedia

Summer's here, and we're seeing more riders out on the roads! Check out some of the bicycling events and news in the Salem area! (h/t to Eric L. for this.)

Friday, June 26th
Breakfast on Bikes – East side of Union Street Railroad Bridge
Between 7am and 9am enjoy free coffee, fruit, and pastries on your bike commute! Thanks to Cascade Baking, the Coffee House Cafe, and LifeSource Natural Foods.
For more information, including summer schedule
Sunday, June 28th
Fairview Circuit Races
Bike racing right here in Salem! For complete details see link.
Wednesday, July 1
The Downtown Vision 2020 Bike & Ped Workgroup meets between noon and 1:30pm in the Pringle Community Hall.
Saturday, July 11
Special Bike Commuter and Safe Bicycling Workshop At the Salem Saturday Market. For more information see link.
Sunday, July 12
Trike and Hand Adaptive Bike Clinic Learn about hand-cycles, tricycles, recumbents! There are great bikes for everybody now, and a diamond-frame two- wheeler isn’t right for you, check out some of the options here.

Here’s a story on a three-wheeler club at a retirement community!
Every Saturday between 9am and 2pm
Salem Saturday Market Valet Bike Parking Ride your bike to the market and leave it with the bike valets while you shop! Friends of Salem Saturday Market hosts secure bike parking. Volunteers are also needed. Contact mikebikesu2 [at] gmail [dot] com
Every Sunday at 1:30pm
Salem Bicycle Club Introductory High Wheeler Rides
Check out Club riding! Every Sunday at 1:30 the Salem Bicycle Club offers "high wheeler" rides of approximately 25 miles and few hills. No rider left behind!
Every Thursday at 6:30pm
Salem Bicycle Club Family Rides
Every Thursday the Salem Bicycle Club offers a short ride of 10-12 miles for families. Bring the kids, the tandem, the tag-along!
Throughout July and August
Second annual Bicycle Count Project! Ring your bell at counters when you see them around the city. We still need volunteers! Help gather the data to inform planning, funding, and assessment. Click this to send an email if you're interested.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sums it up

Peak oil depletion scenarios graph which depic...And these guys are the optimists! These are gross production estimates -- not accounting for increased domestic usage by exporters or the increased energy cost of extracting the tougher-to-get oil. Image via Wikipedia

Jeffrey (Westexas) Brown notes (at about 1:30 p.m. in today's Drumbeat comments):

Peak Oil is like a commercial airliner doing a gradual descent for landing. Peak Exports is more akin to an airliner doing a near vertical dive into the ground.
Meanwhile, let's talk about the new third auto bridge for Salem!

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A try to get Congress to set priorities for transportation

Oregon Transportation Building April 2009The ODOT building: Where billions are committed to making it impossible to get around without a car. Image by OregonDOT via Flickr


As you read this, Congress is working on the new transportation bill, released just two days ago. It's a good start, but as the bill stands today, it leaves out something crucial: Clear national priorities.

There’s no way to be sure billions of dollars in transportation spending will deliver clean, safe and smart transportation without accountability measures built-in.

I just called my member of Congress about the need for real reform. Can you call too?

  1. Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to your representative’s office.

  2. Tell the staff member answering the phone where you're calling from, and that you'd like to urge the representative to support the National Transportation Objectives Act of 2009 (H.R. 2724). You can add:

    • You are a constituent and a supporter of the Transportation for America coalition.

    • You want to make sure the billions spent on transportation help us cut down on emissions, give us real energy security, and provide you with more affordable options for getting from A to B.
Tell Congress that we need reform first, money later.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Your car: Powerful enough to tow the continent southward

Willamette Valley Founders Reserve Pinot NoirEnjoy it while it lasts. Image by pete4ducks via Flickr

Good article from Alan Bates on the change in climate in Tennessee and the repercussions for growing food.

Here in the verdant Willamette Valley, a food lover's paradise, we are seeing a surge of wineries as we become the "next Napa Valley" -- but think about what that means. In the time since the Napa Valley was a little-known place and then THE chi-chi spot for wine snobs, much of what made Napa Napa has moved north, to be replaced by even hotter consistent weather.

It's like your car was capable of towing the continent southward, bringing Salem into the climate that once prevailed in Napa.

Sounds sweet, right?

Except for one thing -- we've still got a few more decades of warming coming even if all the carbon emissions stop today. It's built in, thanks to the lag time for climate response to greenhouse gas emissions. (And that's presuming that we don't trip one of the natural features that amplify climate instability, like massive permafrost melting or thermal-induced release of the methane hydrates on the sea floor.)

So while it might be nice to grow wine near Salem today we need to recognize that, as we tow North America towards the sweltering Equator with our every gallon of gas burnt, we don't have any good way to stop. We're only going to enjoy this period for a short while before the Skagit Valley becomes "The Next Napa" and Salem wine grapes die off from excessive heat. And what else will we lose? Will we still be able to produce cherries in The Cherry City?

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The "Export Land Model" in English: NET is what matters, not gross

OPEC Crude Oil Production 2002-2006.The most significant graph you're likely to see all year. Image via Wikipedia

A commenter to the prior post mentioned Jeffrey (Westexas) Brown's "Export Land Model," which is a very, very important concept that I think everyone needs to be familiar with.

It's actually quite easy to understand, although I think the terms used are off-putting and confusing.

In a nutshell, the ELM says that, when it comes to oil exports, the only thing that matters is NET exports (the oil that crosses the borders, rather than the oil that comes out of the ground).

As people who live in a valley with no fossil fuels in a state with no fossil fuels in a country that is rapidly exhausting its fossil fuel endowment (particularly of oil), that's pretty easy for us to understand. It's like the old investment ads touting tax-free bonds: "It's not how much you make that counts, it's how much you keep," only here it would be "It's not how much you pump, it's how much you export that counts."

In the imagination of most people, oil exporting countries are lightly populated and use little of their own oil. Reality is quite different: fueled by the wealth garnered from oil, populations are exploding in the oil-producing nations. Moreover, the per-capita oil consumption is climbing as these countries seek to attain the same comforts and conveniences of the rich, oil-importing countries.

In other words, the difference between what they pump and what they use for their own needs (the amount they can export to people like us) keeps shrinking, and it shrinks much faster than new fields can be brought on (in those few countries that still have not already peaked and entered the decline in total production).

Post-Carbon Oregon has a nice post on a related phenomenon with graphics, taken from The Oil Drum, the indispensable site for those who want to understand the major force propelling history right now. Both the declining yield curve (less oil out for each unit of energy/oil invested) and the ELM mean that we are going to be able to access a lot less oil than a straight reserves divided by annual use rates might suggest. As many people have noted over the years, peak oil is a RATE problem.

As for me, I wish the "Export Land Model" (you can Google that and Jeffrey Brown to learn how that obscure name came to be) was better understood, particularly by those in jobs where an absence of leadership has serious consequences (elected officials, planners, etc.).

I think we need a grabby name that explains the concept in the name itself: I propose that, instead of referring to the "export land model," we talk about either the

  • Oil Producers' Export Contraction curve ("the OPEC curve"), or, if you prefer, the
  • Oil Exports' Continuous Decline curve ("the OECD curve")
(where OPEC is, of course, the acronym for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries -- the ones who are exporting a smaller and smaller share of a smaller and smaller total production each year -- and OECD are the initials of the group of rich countries that are going to be hammered by this inexorable process, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.) Both terms make the point that, on the whole, the amount of oil flowing from the first group (exporters) to the second (importers) is going to decline even faster than the decline in the amount coming out of the ground.

And, given the centrality of oil to our lives, this means that a "return to a growth economy" is probably a fantasy from here out. What we can expect significant growth in is in the number of economic charlatans and fakirs who pretend that growth can continue without growing oil imports -- but, like Wily E. Coyote -- these characters can only suspend the laws of physics for a brief moment before they fall to the floor of the canyon far below.
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Monday, June 22, 2009

An interesting experiment

Built by Southern Pacific Railroad in 1918. No...When this station was built in Salem in 1918, we were near "peak trains." Would they have sent you to the State Hospital if you told them that, within a generation, the expensive new building would be a relic? Image via Wikipedia

A commenter over at The Oil Drum writes:
This past Friday I took the day off to take care of accumulated errands. Since I was driving through 8 towns that day I decided – out of curiosity - to stop by their town halls- er, I mean, “municipal offices” and ask what their funding plans were if the economy didn’t recover.

To maintain credibility I will not repeat the answers I heard.... But I will recommend that everyone try this at least once.

Another replied:
Let me guess; none even considered the option that the economy will not recover.
How would Salem fare on this minimal governmental alertness test? I listened to a city official this weekend discuss some rather unpleasant budget projections for the upcoming years, although he referred to "the recovery" in his talk. What are the plans down in City Hall if this IS as recovered as it gets, and it only gets worse from here?

You may not think that likely, and it may or not be desirable that "growth" be only something seen in history. But it's hard to argue that planners who don't consider scenarios other than "the future will be like the past" are anything but a giant waste of money.

Speaking of obtuse "planning," there was a meeting of an "Advisory Committee" connected to the third bridge boondoggle today, ably captained by a young woman from the high-priced global consulting firm CH2M-Hill. Her job, as she explained repeatedly (in not so many words), was to prevent the committee from actually advising about the core issue (whether it makes any sense at all for Salem to blow more than $0.5 billion of borrowed money on a new auto bridge over the Willamette to solve "peak hour congestion" that lasts for no more than one hour and causes the average West Salem commuter to spend a full TWENTY MINUTES commuting in his or her car, alone).

Instead of grappling with that issue --- which must surely be considered central to the question of alternatives --- the group was repeatedly cautioned that they were to consider the new bridge a foregone conclusion and to develop ideas for making it less bad.

In other words, the group, although called an "alternatives" steering committee, is actually only about keeping the weirdo bicycling and transit types busy on a harmless gerbil wheel while the real work of ramming through the new auto bridge gets done. The real work of interest to the highway lobby proceeds apace, without any delay to incorporate any insight that the "alternatives" group might produce. This is normal as the highway lobby, and their servant agency known as ODOT, has zero interest in anything other than pouring concrete.

That is, the whackos who think about bikes and pedestrians and transit are free to debate and discuss ways to improve the boondoggle, so long as they don't question the boondoggle itself (or point out that, by definition, a gigantic new auto span will make the city much more hostile to pedestrians and bicycles everywhere).

Moreover, all discussions were in reference to a "Trip Demand Model" run for the year 2031 --- a model which includes
  • (a) nothing about the price of gasoline;
  • (b) nothing about Peak Oil;
  • (c) nothing about Oregon's supposed greenhouse gas emissions goals;
  • (d) nothing about the last two years first-in-history decline in annual vehicle miled-driven; or
  • (e) the collapse of the US credit markets and auto industry.
to name just a few factors that make the "Trip Demand Model" nothing but an Ouija board where the answers to all the questions are known in advance.

So even as oil starts making its summer sojourn back towards $100/bbl, we've got roomsful of planners who scrupulously avoid any data that might lead to an act of actual planning occurring, because the data isn't in their model (and thus doesn't exist) and they don't update their model or get a better one because then it wouldn't produce the answer desired.

Building a new auto bridge in Salem (or anywhere else in North America) is a lot like ordering a stateroom on the Titanic after hearing about the iceberg collision.

(Timely: Kurt Cobb has a great piece on infrastructure collapse, which is only accelerated by trying to build more than you can maintain. Oregon and Salem already complain about being overwhelmed by a maintenance backlog; apparently, when it comes to roads, when you find yourself in a deep hole, the only solution is to dig yourself in deeper, faster.)
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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Big chunks of great article on the need for Transition

Cover of "The Party's Over: Oil, War and ...Still one of the more accessible introductions ot the topic out there. Cover via Amazon

Cheer Up, It's Going to Get Worse

Transition communities gear up for society's collapse with a shovel and a smile

By Alastair Bland

Three years ago, David Fridley purchased two and a half acres of land in rural Sonoma County. He planted drought-resistant blue Zuni corn, fruit trees and basic vegetables while leaving a full acre of extant forest for firewood collection. Today, Fridley and several friends and family subsist almost entirely off this small plot of land, with the surplus going to public charity.

But Fridley is hardly a homegrown hippie who spends his leisure time gardening. He spent 12 years consulting for the oil industry in Asia. He is now a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute in Sebastopol, where members discuss the problems inherent to fossil-fuel dependency.

Fridley has his doubts about renewable energies, and he has grave doubts about the future of crude oil. In fact, he believes to a certainty that society is literally running out of gas and that, perhaps within years, the trucks will stop rolling into Safeway and the only reliable food available will be that grown in our backyards.

Fridley, like a few other thinkers, activists and pessimists, could talk all night about "peak oil." This catch phrase describes a scenario, perhaps already unfurling, in which the easy days of oil-based society are over, a scenario in which global oil production has peaked and in which every barrel of crude oil drawn from the earth from that point forth is more difficult to extract than the barrel before it. According to peak oil theory, the time is approaching when the effort and cost of extraction will no longer be worth the oil itself, leaving us without the fuel to power our transportation, factories, farms, society and the very essence of our oil-dependent lives. Fridley believes the change will be very unpleasant for many people.

"If you are a typical American and have expectations of increasing income, cheap food, nondiscretionary spending, leisure time and vacations in Hawaii, then the change we expect soon could be what you would consider 'doom,'" he says soberly, "because your life is going to fall apart." . . .

Fridley says too many Americans believe in solutions to all problems, but peak oil is a terrible anomaly among crises, he explains, because there is no solution. Fridley doesn't even see any hope in solar, wind, water and other renewable energy sources. Even nuclear power creates only electricity, while crude oil is the basis for thousands of synthetic products.

"There is nothing that can replace oil and allow us to maintain life at the pace we've been living," he says. "Crude oil is hundreds of millions of years of stored sunlight, and we're using it all up in a few generations. It's like living off of a savings account, whereas solar energy is like working and living off your daily wages."

The sheer cost-efficiency of oil eclipses all supposed alternatives. Removed from the ground and burned, oil makes things move almost miraculously. A tank of gasoline in a sedan holds enough energy to equal approximately five years of one person's rigorous manual labor.

Historically, too, oil has been very easy to get since the world's first well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859; for each barrel's worth of energy invested in the process of accessing crude oil, 30 barrels are produced, says Fridley. By contrast, ethanol is a paltry substitute; each barrel's worth of ethanol invested in ethanol production produces a mere 1.2 barrels of raw product. Other renewables offer similarly poor returns. "The thermodynamics just don't add up," Fridley says. . . .

Fridley does not see peak oil as doomsday, though he predicts that there might be "die-off," just as marine algae bloom and crash periodically. In fact, Fridley views Transition as a process of world improvement. The environment around us has been falling apart for decades due to our excessive lifestyles, he notes. In our oceans and wildlands, doomsday has already arrived with deforestation, water pollution, fisheries collapse, extinction and other plagues. Peak oil presents an urgent cause to rethink and reshape our lives and theworld for the better, he says. . . .

Forever Growth?

Fridley has seen peak oil coming for years. From his small Sonoma farm, he may be prepared to feed himself, but our world's dependence on oil goes far beyond food production. Even electric machines need crude oil byproduct.

"Every single machine in the nation runs on lubrication," Fridley says. "If that lube isn't there, then what?"

In theory, the world freezes up. A person may first digest this concept as an abstract, distant nebula, like climate change, extinctions, water pollution and other newspaper headlines. However, when the reality of peak oil hits—when it hits a person so that his or her personal life is deeply affected—it hits hard.

"It's hard to internalize," says Miller, who has seen many people react in many ways to being told that the world in which they have grown so comfortable is about to end. "One tendency is for people to believe that there is a solution, that technology will fix it or that the powers that be will fix it."

But technology and the powers that be run on oil. Santa Rosa author Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute, described peak oil in his much lauded 2003 book aptly titled The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, and indeed, most experts on the matter now agree that the party is over. Transitionists are readying for the new era with open arms while struggling to convince others of the severity of the matter.

In Santa Cruz, several city figures, including councilman Don Lane and the city's climate action coordinator Ross Clark, have stepped up and proven themselves allies of the Transition movement, attending multiple community meetings. San Francisco, too, has acknowledged peak oil, and a city-appointed task force recently submitted to the supervisors a 120-page report detailing the city's vulnerabilities to the crisis.

Savinar has been trying for years to invite government participation in peak oil preparation. In 2005, he sent a letter of warning to each member of the Santa Rosa City Council, advising that they begin aggressively readying the community for peak oil and its aftermath. The letter was articulate and "lawyerly," he says, and included a copy of Heinberg's Party's Over in each package, yet not one councilperson

"And I guarantee that if I was a car manufacturer and I scribbled out a letter with crayons, they would have answered me," he says with a short laugh.

Fridley also believes assistance will not come from the world's leaders. Transition can only be a grass-roots revolution. He points out that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was previously the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where Fridley has done much of his thinking about peak oil and Transition.

"[Chu] was my boss," Fridley says. "He knows all about peak oil, but he can't talk about it. If the government announced that peak oil was threatening our economy, Wall Street would crash. He just can't say anything about it."

Thus, world leaders would like to have the populace believe that this oil-age feeding frenzy will continue forever, that the economy will continue to expand and grow. At the 2008 G-8 Summit on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, for example, our leaders declared a resolution to resume economic growth. Fridley says such a goal is impossible, yet no one wants to face the fact.

"Ask scientists if something can grow forever exponentially, and they'll say, 'No.' Then ask how our economy can keep on growing, and they'll say, 'Well, it has to.'"

Elsewhere, many politicians and leaders have been reluctant to address peak oil, and full governmental leadership may never arrive. Levy believes that politicians locally and nationally will be even more reluctant to discuss peak oil than they've been to address climate change.

"Transition is probably going to grow from the ground up before the government comes onboard," he predicts.

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Change SF to Salem O and it's the same story

Dad with a chicken in his lapImage by Alex Mahan via Flickr

A little slowly dawning recognition but mainly deep denial that our way of living (and certainly our caloric abundance) depends entirely on abundant cheap energy . . . the kind that is not going to be around much more.

Report says peak oil could cause food shortages in S.F.

In May, an obscure city advisory group released the results of a 15-month study of San Francisco's vulnerabilities to peak oil, a scenario that assumes the global supply of oil will run thin in the near future and that the world could go the way of Mad Max. Produced by the now-disbanded Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force, seven volunteers appointed in part by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi in late 2007, the 120-page report warns that San Francisco [and Salem too] is looking at a grim future if public policymakers and city residents don't start preparing for the post-oil apocalypse right away.

Jason Mark, a local author and urban farmer who sat on the task force, says serious food shortages could be a reality. He recommended in the report that residents be allowed to graze goats in their yards, keep more than four chickens per property, and raise and eat their own rabbits and hogs as supplemental protein sources. He says these tactics — currently prohibited by the health department — would help alleviate pressure on outlying Bay Area farmlands while building agricultural self-sufficiency within the limits of San Francisco. He would also like public golf courses to be converted into productive urban farmland and have the city plant fruit and nut trees along sidewalks.

The lengthy report further warns that if San Francisco [--or Salem]'s leaders don't take peak oil seriously, we can expect "violent fluctuations in energy prices," extreme gentrification, and poverty. But Supervisor Sean Elsbernd believes the city has more important problems to address. He points to the deficit, which he predicts will hit $1 billion in two years: "And they're worried about farming chickens in backyards and planting nut farms? We've got enough nuts in this city already." He calls it "ridiculous" to ask the Board of Supervisors to tackle such global issues as peak oil. [And who does he expect to tackle local preparedness if not local governments?]

Mirkarimi, though, believes this is one matter that must be addressed at city level. "This conversation has to take place soon, but we can't compel the federal or state governments to do anything," the Green Party member says.

Oil supplies, the task force's report states, are fated for "an inexorable decline," and natural gas supplies will careen into an "unstoppable descent." If we don't brace ourselves now, it warns, adjusting to life in San Francisco [-- or Salem] after the energy crash will be "enormously difficult, painful, and expensive. There is no time to lose." . . .

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Powering the Future

Correlation between Population Growth and Emis...Image by mattlemmon via Flickr

This is a short version of a talk that Dr. Lewis has been giving for some time. Worth your time.

For an older, fuller version, find the talk here.

See also "Out of Gas" by Dr. David Goodstein, Provost at CalTech.
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Like to watch things circle the drain?

Cherriots bus at Salem's Courthouse Square Tra...Better take your bike with you, because the buses will stop so early (7 p.m.) that you're likely to be stranded otherwise. Image via Wikipedia

If you can ignore the infuriating passive voice ("service reduction is needed," "a system redesign is being proposed"), you can notice that there's still a few days left to weigh in on the service amputations that will render our already anemic bus system even scrawnier and less able to support the community.
For the Salem-Keizer Transit Board Meeting of June 25, 2009 Agenda Item #F.4

You can contact all the Transit Board Members use board@cherriots.org

An overall service reduction is needed by September 2009 in order for the cost of service provided by the Salem Area Mass Transit District to be covered by annual revenues received and to stay within budget. As a result a system redesign is being proposed to not only address the budget issue also long-term ongoing issues with inefficiencies in the current system

Salem Area Mass Transit District
Bus Routes Redesign – Information for our Customers

The following information is for use with customers who have questions about the bus system redesign or specific questions about their routes.

Questions & Answers

When will the final decision on the bus routes redesign be made?

  • No decision has been made yet.

  • The Board of Directors will make a final decision at their Thursday, June 25 meeting (6:30 PM, Senator Hearing Room, Courthouse Square, 555 Court Street NE.)

  • Everyone is welcome to come to this meeting

  • No formal public testimony on the bus routes redesign will be taken at this meeting.

  • The meeting can also be watched on CCTV Channel 21 or by video streaming on their website at www.cctvsalem.org at 6:30 PM
Where can I get more information?
  • The Board agenda packet with information about the bus routes redesign will be available on our website by Friday, June 19: www.cherriots.org.

  • Maps showing bus routes redesign scenarios can be seen on our website: www.cherriots.org. Go to the Current Updates section to view a redesign presentation.
How can I talk with Cherriots staff or board members about the bus routes redesign process?

Appointments to talk or meet with staff can be made. A representative from the Transportation Development Division will contact customers to make appointments. (Get the caller/visitors contact information.)
  • Name: ________________________________________

  • Phone number and/or email address: ___________________
  • Best time to call them back: _________________________
Customers can email Board or staff directly with their opinions, questions or concerns: Staff email: skt@cherriots.org
Board of Directors email: board@cherriots.org

How will I be informed of the new bus system routes?

The Salem Area Mass Transit District Board will make a decision about the bus system redesign on June 25. Information will be:
  • Posted on our website www.cherriots.org
  • Available on the buses and at bus stops
  • Mailed to customers
  • Available at the Transit Mall Customer Service Center
Important Upcoming Dates for the Bus Routes Redesign to be aware of:
  • June 19 -- Board meeting agenda packet with information about bus routes redesign options available on our website: www.cherriots.org.
  • June 25 -- Board picks a bus routes scenario.
  • July–August Information distributed to public about new routes.
  • September 4 Last day of bus service on existing routes.
  • September 8 First day of new bus service with new routes and frequencies.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Yes, appears so: Threat to Minto Ag acreage pulled from June 22 agenda?

2nd Update: Transportation and Parks Director Mark Becktel sends:
This is to let you and your folks know that the staff report to Council has been pulled and will not go before the Council tonight (Monday 6/22/09). We have requested additional time from the USDA/NRCS to work through some issues regarding the conservation easement, both related to issues your group brought up and concerns our legal department has with the easement language itself.

I will let you know when the staff report is scheduled to go before the Council in the future.
ORIGINAL: It's not clear why or how it happened, but the agenda for Monday night's City Council meeting (June 22) has chickens (action in the consent agenda to refer it over to the planning commission, as was decided some three weeks ago on May 26) but nothing about the proposed easement-for-cash trade that would lock up precious farm land on Minto Island.

Note that there already a Master Plan for Minto that calls for continuation of agriculture. (Oddly, not available on the city website.) More than that, there's also a City of Salem Parks Master Plan, which proposed more trails on the island, trails that this easement deal would prohibit.

So it may be that there's good news, and the city staff has realized that you can't just junk the master plans created with lots of citizen participation just because the feds wave some freshly-printed borrowed money at you.

Updates posted here as soon as available. Meanwhile, the map above is Figure 4 from the City of Salem Parks Master Plan. Note the proposed "primary" trails on Minto that have yet to be developed -- and could never be if we accept this "stimulus."

Garden and Other Transition Assets Tour -- can we come by your place?

Soil Born Farm: Organically GrownGood big label and a sign with information about the crops -- nice! Image by Annie&John via Flickr

WANTED: You to show off your garden [or other sustainability assets]!

Transition Salem is planning a series of self-guided bicycle tour maps to highlight local food gardens and sustainable living assets. Many of Salem's bicyclers share our interests in gardening and healthy living, and are active participants in our community. The tour will be free of charge to all bicyclers. Transition Salem is in the initial stages of planning how the tour will unfold, so suggestions are welcome.

We anticipate having several bike routes, allowing riders to chose different difficulty level for the ride. We would still like to plan routes which will allow riders to see as many of our gardens as can be seen, and speak with garden owners when possible. This will be be a great opportunity to cross pollinate ideas, skills, and possibly even resources.

What do I need in order to display my garden as part of the tour?
  • Provide your address [and any information you have about best biking routes to it]
  • Is your garden viewable to people driving by and viewing from the street, or do you need to be present to guide people?
  • What days would you be available to talk about your garden? (At this point this is of less importance, as we haven't narrowed down the time frame further than July – September. We are intending that the tour be ongoing for a number of weekends, or perhaps even weekdays, so we're not thinking that someone would have to be there at all times.)
  • Give us a quick description of your garden, or list items of interest in your garden. Perhaps list the gardening techniques you are using (for example: square foot gardening, permaculture, biointensive, raised beds, gray water irrigation, etc.)
  • Anything else of interest. [We're thinking of features that will be assets during the Transition period we're entering: For example, your chicken coop, solar panels, solar hot water heater, rainwater harvesting systems, solar or manually powered water well, passive solar design features on your house, your greenhouse, your container gardens, etc.]
It would also be helpful if you could label the plants in your garden, and in any other way provide visual clues to items of interest. As a bonus, it may also be helpful if a few people could:
  • Provide water/liquid to bicyclers
  • Provide printed material on other events, gardening tips, and items of community interest.
And last of all, be prepared to meet lots of interesting new people, and perhaps a few of your neighbors you haven't had a chance to talk with before!

If you want to know more, to help plan the tour, or to offer your place as a stop along the way, shoot us an email.

Transition Salem will begin developing a new webpage at transitionsalem.org, but until then, go here for to learn more about us.

If you know of someone else who might be interested in displaying their garden or other features of interest, or if you have ideas of how I can contact other gardeners please let us know.

Happy Growing!

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