Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pulp Fiction: Costly makework project for consultants

Map of the Willamette River watershedThe projects that transportation planners should be working on are how to use the rail and the river to make autos unnecessary, not how to promote more driving. Image via Wikipedia

As the forecasts for Oregon under a destabilized climate become ever more dire -- and still manage to underestimate the rate of change being observed -- the Boondoggle on the Willamette known as the "Salem River Crossing" project plods on, busily drafting a monumental fictional opus about a project unlikely to ever be funded (thank God).

This particular opus, known as the "Draft Environmental Impact Statement" is intentionally omitting any analysis of peak oil and, even worse, climate change. In other words, the "environmental" analysis is going to ignore the most crucial environmental question of the millennium, as it relies on travel demand models that assume a future like the past and boundless cheap gasoline available for all. Your tax dollars, hardly at work.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friends of Salem Public Library Fall Books (& etc.) Sale

Friends of Salem Public Library Fall Book Sale
Everyone wins when it’s Friends of the Library Book Sale time. Book lovers can load arms and bags with
low-cost reading and all the proceeds go to support special programs and projects at Salem Public Library. Books are sorted by category so readers of all ages and preferences can find what they like best.

The Fall Sale offers two special opportuniti es to enthusiastic book lovers. This is the sale that features “Friends Night,” a members-only preview sale from 5-8 p.m. Thursday, October 15. Shoppers do need to be members to get in, but the Friends make that easy too by selling memberships at the door.

Also, for the 10th year, the Friends will offer Specialty & Collectible books during the Fall Book Sale, available for purchase at marked prices. A Silent Auction and pamphlets will also be available. A few of the treasures offered include:

Accordian Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music by Blair Kilpatrick, 2009 (first ed.)

Long Time Gone by J.A. Jance; a specially published limited and signed first edition from 2005

D-Day with the Screaming Eagles by George Koskimaki, 2002

Imperial Life in the Qing Dynasty: Treasures from the Shenyang Palace Museum, China

Oregon The Way It Was by Edwin D Culp; from Caxton Press, 1989
  • Thursday, October 15 ― 5-8 p.m. Friends Night (Members only. You can join at the door)
  • Friday, October 16 ― 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 17 ― 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 18 ― 1 - 4:30 p.m. ($3 Bag Day!)
LOCATION: In the Anderson Rooms (Lower Level of Salem Public Library, 585 Liberty St. SE) Paperbacks & Children’s Books — 50 cents; Hardbacks — $1; Romance Paperbacks & Audio-Visual Items — 25 cents; Specialty & Collectibles; rare/collectible books and ephemera at marked prices in the Plaza.

New book from a real Oregonian hero: "What's the Worst That Could Happen"

Oregon science teacher and creator of one of the most-watched YouTube videos ever has put together a must-read book for every voter, politician, and government employee . . . a book that doesn't just push a point of view but instead teaches how to approach the problem from Hell. Low-cost and important. Buy it, buy it for your kids' teachers, all your elected officials, etc. and ask them to read it.
From an interview with James Hansen of NASA:

Earth Island Institute: You've been called the father of global warming. What does that means to you and is it actually true?

Of course it's not true, in the sense that global warming goes way back into the 1800s. The first really good discussion was in the 1860s by John Kendall, who was a British physicist. He speculated that the climate changes from glacial to interglacial were related to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and that turned out to be right. We've only in the last several years realized and proven that about half of the temperature change in the glacial to interglacial changes is in fact due to changes of greenhouse gases - mainly carbon dioxide.

EII: One of the places most recently where you've been rather blunt is on the proposed Waxman-Markey climate bill. How would you summarize the problems that you see?

You can summarize the problem and prove that the bill is inadequate in a very simple way. You just look at the geophysical constraints on the problem and you look at how much carbon there is in oil, gas, and coal. And you see that the oil and gas is enough to get us into a dangerous zone for atmospheric carbon dioxide but not so far that we couldn't solve the problem. But if you add coal and put that carbon in the atmosphere, then there is no practical way to solve the problem. So you just have to look at the proposed policy and see if it allows coal to continue to be used and emit the CO2 in the atmosphere.

You've got to cut off the coal source. Not only does [Waxman-Markey] assure that we will continue to run these coal plants that we have but it actually gives approval for additional coal plants. That simple test tells us that this bill is not adequate.

The basic point - the fundamental problem - is that because of government policies, fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy. They are not made to pay for the damages they do to human health and the environment. As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy, they are going to be used. That's why I say you have to address the fundamental problem and that is put a rising price on carbon emissions.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Food for thought: The dealers we use for our addiction

click to enlarge

Oregonian: Pressure mounting to close Boardman

The Gates of Hell (unfinished), Musée Rodin.The new gates prepared for when CO2 hits 425 --- which will be soon if we don't stop mining and burning coal. Image via Wikipedia

Finally. What say you, M. Lee Pelton, PGE Board Member?

A reader sent me a copy of this note that was sent to President Pelton:

Dear Dr. Pelton,
A recent posting to citizenforum, a Salem listserve, revealed your membership on the PGE Board of Directors. The person posted the comments below and I decided to share them with you and ask for your comment.

Assuming you are on the PGE Board, does that mean you endorse the operation of the Boardman coal plant outlined in the comments? If you disagree with how Boardman is managed, how do you communicate your concerns to the PGE Board?

The letter writer was referring to this:
"While it would be unfair to impute questions about minor corporate operational details to board members, I don't think it's at all unfair to assume that a board member of a major utility --- someone appointed to look out for shareholders' interests --- is on board with fundamental policy questions, absent some evidence to the contrary.

PGE operates the worst polluting plant in Oregon, one pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, mercury, and radioactive materials into the atmosphere annually. PGE collects and spends millions of ratepayer dollars patting itself on the back for its greenwashing efforts while quietly but insistently arguing to the PUC that it must not be made to shut down the plant (the Boardman coal plant). The public is entitled to assume that all PGE board members supports the utility's policies on questions of major public policy direction unless a board member disassociates himself from those policies and campaigns to change them."
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, September 25, 2009

What allowing cars to dominate your city gets you

Derelict factories in DetroitImage by LHOON via Flickr

This. Don't miss the photo spread.

King Midas discovered that you can't eat gold. We need to remember that it's true for pavement too.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

I shutter to think about what happened to spelling

spelling beeImage by sushiesque via Flickr

If you want to feel confident about the educational attainments of your fellow men and women, avoid Craigslist at all costs. Every time I visit, I find one or two new spellings that give me concern for our future. Today's happy coinage: "Shudders" for the objects that some people like to slap on their T-111 to make it look like there are cheap objects slapped on the T-111.

And I've long since lost count of the number of times that Craigslisters have "loose" and "loosing"where lose and losing would be correct. It makes me worry about what a looser I am for caring about such things.

(Obligatory disclaimer: I'm not saying that people who misspell things a lot are all stupid. But I do observe that all stupid people misspell things quite a lot . . . or alot, as it usually appears these days. And why does it matter? Because words are tools. It's not required that you use big, complicated, unusual words . . . but if you can't spell the words you already use, it's like a carpenter who leaves the saw out in the rain to get dull and rusted. Respect for your tools means paying attention to the small differences that distinguish them and using the right tool for the right job. With words, those differences are especially important because they usually say something about the origin of the words, which is a real help to choosing the right one at the right time.)
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Now that the rich have captured the initiative & referendum process, what's left?

Oregonians were early adopters of the initiative and referendum processes, the highlight of the Progressive Era reforms, which were needed to break the stranglehold wealth had on state legislatures in the Gilded Age of the 19th and early 20th Century.

Now that we're suffering the aftershocks from the cataclysmic collapse of the Second Gilded Age, one with excesses that make the famous Robber Barons look like small-time grifters, we find that the same forces have captured the I&R game and turned it into their private preserve. If the bought-and-sold politicians show even the slightest signs of incipient vertebrate status, passing even the mildest of reforms and reducing the gains of the wealthy by something on the order of a rounding error in the third decimal place, they unleash their reserve army of desperately poor people with orders for them to go collect signatures against the interests of themselves and every other Oregonian (including the rich themselves, whose greed blinds them to penalty they pay for living in a two-class country with a hollowed-out place where the middle class used to be).

I'm not ready to do away with the I&R system. Yet. But if this repeal of the recent tiny tax hikes passes then we need to figure out whether there's anything "progressive" left of the progressive's signature reform or whether it's just another way for the corporations to shaft the people of Oregon.

More like this please -- and fast.

Example of w:Straw-bale construction seen in t...Isn't straw bale scary? Mattawa, Wash. public library. Image via Wikipedia

Straw-bale homes. The building code should be revised to make the performance of straw bale homes the standard (not the method, but the attainable performance). Then, if builders don't want to use straw, fine, but they have to build a house as well-insulated and tight as they could have with straw.

Nice straw-bale primer here.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Candorville: How insurance companies work (deadly . . . accurate)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Salem's own climate criminal!

Coal rail cars in Ashtabula, Ohio.The head of the "First University in the West" is on the board of Oregon's most destructive polluter, the one foreclosing any hope for survival for millions of the world's poorest people. Still, it is profitable, so there's that. Image via Wikipedia

Wow -- just checked out the list of PGE boardmembers for the first time and was shocked to find that the boss at Willamette, M. Lee Pelton, sits on it. How serving on the board of a coal-burning utility squares with educating young people for the future is hard to imagine. If we don't stop burning coal pronto the future for Willamette grads is going to be mighty grim indeed.

Do you think Willamette U. lets students loading up with huge debt for their education know that the head of their school is a leader in the fight to destroy their future prospects and to further impoverish and immiserate the world's poorest peoples? Or is this really just another example of how elites are trained today, carefully taught to keep moral concerns out of the way of serving the best-paying corporate masters?

UPDATE: There is ever less room for people to hide from responsibility by claiming "We didn't know." PGE knows what burning coal is doing to the world: radically destabilizing the climate and setting billions up for starvation, disease, pestilence, and war.

Your Chance to Comment on Oregon's Filthiest, Most Dangerous Power

Portland General ElectricThis is the logo of the company that wants to keep burning coal, thereby condemning your children to live in a world of climate chaos, floods, droughts, starvation and disease.

Go here to send this letter (which you can edit as you wish) to be submitted to PGE as part of its mandatory public comment on its integrated resource plan (the jargon for its long-range planning):
I am writing to comment on PGE’s Integrated Resource Plan and its failure to put an end to pollution from its coal-fired power plant in Boardman, Oregon. PGE's Boardman plant is the dirtiest power plant in the Northwest. Its emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions are polluting 12 national parks and wilderness areas in the Pacific Northwest – as well as the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Air quality studies have shown that up to 50% of the Gorge haze on smoggiest days comes from the Boardman power plant.

The Columbia Gorge is a national scenic treasure that deserves the strong air quality protections. In your vision for the future, please put an end to dirty coal and outdated technologies that are altering the global climate and polluting the Columbia Gorge.

Smarter solutions exist. Rather spending over $500 million to retrofit a dirty coal plant, I am asking that PGE prioritize energy efficiency and renewable energy investments that will reduce our reliance on dirty coal and will clean up air quality in the Columbia River Gorge.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on PGE's Integrated Resource Plan.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Nice piece on Afghaninam (Obama's Vietnam)


Readings on Health Care

Hospital room (Denmark, 2005)Image via Wikipedia

If you want to really understand the sad -- deplorable, actually -- state of health care in Salem, Oregon, and the US, you need more than your own impressions and the messages the corporate media want to feed you. Here are a few of the best things out there:
  1. Dr. Atul Gawande's "The Cost Conundrum" New Yorker article

  2. Dr. Nortin Hadler's "The Last Well Person: How to stay well despite the health care system"

  3. Dr. Jerry Avorn's "Powerful Medicine: The benefits, risks and costs of prescription drugs" and, last but not least

  4. Shannon Brownlee's "Overtreated: Why too much medicine is making us sicker and poorer."
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Well observed

"bicycle friendly"...sometimesA ghost bike, a monument to yet another rider killed by a car. Image by drburtoni via Flickr

The very good "Breakfast on Bikes" blog has a good piece on the unfortunately situated Kroc Center.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The "conservatives" threaten to push America into the abyss of corporate control

Abolish Corporate PersonhoodImage by vj_pdx via Flickr

The Rights of Corporations

That does not mean that corporations should have no rights. It is in society's interest that they are allowed to speak about their products and policies and that they are able to go to court when another company steals their patents. It makes sense that they can be sued, as a person would be, when they pollute or violate labor laws.

The law also gives corporations special legal status: limited liability, special rules for the accumulation of assets and the ability to live forever. These rules put corporations in a privileged position in producing profits and aggregating wealth. Their influence would be overwhelming with the full array of rights that people have.

One of the main areas where corporations' rights have long been limited is politics. Polls suggest that Americans are worried about the influence that corporations already have with elected officials. The drive to give corporations more rights is coming from the court's conservative bloc — a curious position given their often-proclaimed devotion to the text of the Constitution.

The founders of this nation knew just what they were doing when they drew a line between legally created economic entities and living, breathing human beings. The court should stick to that line.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves

Will Farrell and friends stand up for the real victims of the health insurance debate: insurance company executives.

Why the era of economic growth is over

Study that graph. (Y-o-Y . . . "Why, Oh Why" you might pronounce it --means "year over year.")

What the graph should show but doesn't is oil price. According to the conventional economic wisdom, plummeting demand for oil means plummeting prices ... not prices fully at 50% of their all-time peak.

What's going on? Why, oh why, is the world and particularly the US in such a state? Well, it's actually simple to understand, once you know that economic "growth" is simply a shorthand way of saying "measuring, in monetary units, of using more energy and materials." Given that, and given that our economic chefs assumed that there was a limitless energy supply when devising the recipe for everything grown, mined, made, or moved in this country, the consequences of reality seem abrupt and painful: energy is actually quite finite, and the kind of energy we're most dependent on --- cheap oil --- is now starting to decline in availability.

In other words, "demand" is recorded as declining because the powers-that-be cannot bring themselves to admit that the world would be quite happy to use lots more oil, except that it's not there (since only a infinitesimally small amount of oil is stored, demand always equals supply ... the graph above should be labeled "supply rate" rather than demand).

Bottom line, the minimum price needed to keep the oil flows from plunging happens to be above the price that causes economies built on cheap oil to collapse. The only way to square that circle and maintain the conventional wisdom blinders is to pretend that "demand" is down and to ignore that the high prices for oil in a reduced demand market seems to suggest that the law of supply and demand has been repealed. Either way, the catastrophic effects are the same: fewer jobs, more poverty, more hunger, more social unease as the post-peak-oil hangover kicks in.

The result for Salem: we're in the new era where "growth" and big new infrastructure projects -- the third bridge, new elementary schools, to name just a few -- are finished. All public investments from here out need to be aimed at reducing our reliance on fossil energy not increasing it or servicing those parts of our system that were built when we thought the party would last forever. (Hat tip to the Goal One Coalition blog for the graph.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Whoa -- who knew?

iMac 24" vs iMac 17" Series, no.2Image by Dale Gillard via Flickr

Did you know that Salem has a Mac Store in Lancaster Mall?

UPDATE: Well, that was disappointing. The Applecare folks sent me to this Mac store to swap my defective mouse, but the Mac store wouldn't make a swap ... all they would do is ship it to Apple (just like I could) and I would be without a mouse at all while waiting -- at least if I go through Apple they send me the replacement before asking for the other one back. I realize that this store is not an Apple-owned store, but it seems that they ought to be able to use my Applecare case number and accept my return. When I was in the store I decided to buy the Parallels software there to thank them for the service --- guess I'll just buy it online instead, since there was no service other than to tell me to go to Bridgeport.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

It's not (just) the heat, it's the acidity

Just what does it take to wake people up? If only Osama Bin-Ladin was dumping acid into the oceans to acidify them and destroy the base of the food chain and starve billions of people and destroy countless species.

From the always-excellent Desdemona Despair blog:

Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air, the result of burning fossil fuels like oil and coal, mean more carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the ocean, making ocean water more acidic. Because calcium dissolves in acidic water, that poses a threat to corals, plankton and other life forms that use calcium to form a shell or skeleton.

In a book published this year about the oceans, Mitchell tells the story of Colorado-based marine ecologist Joanie Kleypas, who, when she realized the implications of ocean acidification, ran to the bathroom at the scientific conference she was attending and threw up.

"We are changing the chemistry of the global ocean," Mitchell said in an interview.

"Without all those creatures in the ocean living and doing what they're meant to do, we can't survive." …

Photo above is the PGE's Boardman Generating Plant, one of Oregon's two biggest emitters of CO2, mercury, nitrous and sulfur dioxides, along with radioactive materials and other heavy metals. When the oceans acidify, the glaciers are gone, and droughts and floods are starving people across the globe, Oregonians can always take comfort in knowing that we always put PGE's profits before public health or providing future generations with a livable planet.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

On a happier note: Shepherds Grain flour

Severe soil erosion in a wheat field near Wash...This is why no-till agriculture is so vital -- in addition to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, it preserves the soil on which we depend. Image via Wikipedia

Used by better bakeries throughout the Northwest, including Salem's own Cascade Baking Company.

Nearly all of Washington's wheat — 85 to 90 percent — ends up in foreign countries, mostly in Asia. The state produces most of its confectionary wheat, the kind used in pastries, cakes, cookies and crackers. But wheat for bread tends to come from Montana and farther east.

Stone-Buhr now prints an ID code on each bag of flour identifying which Shepherd's Grain farms it came from. Customers can go to a Web site, FindTheFarmer.com, to learn more about the farmers. Some provide bits of history; others have photos, video and descriptions of their farming methods.

All Shepherd's Grain farmers are committed to no-till farming, which means they don't plow to kill weeds and aerate the soil. They plant on top of stubble from the last harvest, saving tractor fuel and giving the topsoil something to hold onto when the rains come.

On farms that have been tilled, Fleming and other farmers have seen rainstorms wash topsoil across roads and neighboring farms, right into the Spokane River nearby.

Making business fun

Few farmers are marketing their flour, according to Tom Mick, CEO of Washington Grain Commission in Spokane.

"It's a lot of work," Mick said. "It takes four or five years to establish your reputation; there's a lot of capital outlay and commitments from farmers to stick with you. There are a lot of risk factors."

Shepherd's Grain oversees the type of wheat each farmer plants and makes sure they are blended properly so the flour consistently meets bakers' specifications.

The company also has a consistent price, set each fall after the farmers calculate their costs. That means customers can count on about the same price for six months to a year, although distributors might vary how much of a cut they take.

The commodities market is less predictable. Demand grew so fast that Shepherd's Grain briefly turned away new customers about two years ago, when the flour market skyrocketed and its product suddenly looked like a deal.

Escalating flour prices contributed to the appeal of Shepherd's Grain, but so did the idea of buying locally, said Ben Davis, co-owner of Grand Central Baking, which got its start in Seattle and now has its headquarters in Portland.

Growing up, he drove wheat trucks and learned a few things about the business that make him appreciate Shepherd's Grain.

For one thing, he knows how rare it is for Washington farmers to grow the kind of wheat that bread bakeries use. Less than a quarter of Washington wheat is the hard red wheat used in bread and bagels; that type is far more plentiful in Montana and North Dakota.

Davis said he also appreciates the innovation that Shepherd's Grain farmers demonstrate by no longer tilling soil, a change that's difficult for some farmers to make.

And he said he likes knowing who grew his wheat.

"It makes doing business fun," he said, "to have lunch in their kitchen and be served apple pie by the guy's wife who sits on the tractor."

(Note that the illustration is NOT what you get in fields growing Shepherd's Grain flour.)
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Important Jeff Rubin: The future is local

Former CIBC Chief Economist predicts end of globalization, promotes local food

Jeff Rubin doesn't fit the typical profile of an interview subject for The Dominion. For more than a decade, he was Chief Economist at CIBC World Markets, one of Canada's largest investment banks. Rubin recently broke ranks with the financial crowd to publish his book, Why Your World is About to get a Whole Lot Smaller. The man once touted as Canada's top economist now predicts the end of globalization because of triple-digit oil prices.

"The same economics that compelled the mass exodus of manufacturing abroad will compel [the] return [of manufacturing to North America] because distance will cost money," he says between sips of San Pellegrino, as we watch container ships move through Vancouver harbour. This end point isn't far away; Rubin predicts that a barrel of oil will hit US $225 by 2012.

Forecasting the price of oil, or anything for that matter, has long been considered a fool's game. And plenty of respected analysts think the former CIBC guru has gone over the top. But, when it comes to looking into the crystal ball of global capitalism, Rubin has a far better track record than most other pin-striped sages. In 2000, Rubin correctly predicted that oil would top $50 per barrel by 2005. And in 2005 he got it right again, forecasting prices would top $100 per barrel in 2007.

The basis of Rubin's predictions—the peak oil theory—is nothing new. However, according to his analysis of oil markets, humanity is going to hit the wall a lot sooner than previously expected. Rubin spoke with journalist Chris Arsenault at the posh Fairmont Hotel on Vancouver's waterfront, before beginning the US leg of his book tour.

The Dominion: Some analysts estimate that 25 per cent of the world's hydrocarbons are located in the Arctic and will soon be open to exploitation due, ironically, to global warming. Won't this new supply nullify the severity of price rises?

Jeff Rubin: The stuff in the Arctic is a drop in the bucket. You are losing sight of what the Cambridge Energy Research Associates and Exxon don't tell you about. They hold big press conferences to talk about, 'Oh we just discovered the Jack Field—10,000 feet under the hurricane-ravaged waters of the Gulf of Mexico, isn't that fantastic.'

They don't hold press conferences [to announce], 'See this field here? It has been producing for 50 years. It's about to run dry.'

Every year we lose four million barrels a day [of production due to depletion]. Over the next five years, we are going to have to find 20 million barrels a day of new production, just so that we can [continue to] consume what we consume today.
The Canadian tar sands have become a major new source of crude; Canada is now the number one foreign exporter to the US. Won't these massive, unconventional reserves around Fort McMurray offset depletion from older fields in Mexico or Saudi Arabia?

The attractiveness of Fort McMurray is not just what is under the ground; it's where it is [located]. In Fort McMurray, all Exxon has to do is sponsor a minor hockey team and they are 'good corporate citizens.' In most places in the world, they're starting to believe oil and natural gas resources should be owned and operated by the state. The world has already gotten a lot smaller for Exxon. Outside of Canada, the US and a handful of other countries, it is the state companies who control access to hydrocarbon resources.

As far as Fort McMurray, there are 165 billion barrels of oil trapped in those sands. To produce one barrel of synthetic oil, you have to burn 1,400 cubic feet of natural gas, schlep two tons of sand [and] pollute 250 gallons of water. The very prices that will be needed to bring that oil out of the ground are the same prices that will take you off the road. Sure, at $200 a barrel of oil, we can produce four million barrels per day out of Fort McMurray. But, at $200 for a barrel of oil, you are talking seven dollars for a gallon of gasoline.
At what point does the price of oil make export-driven globalization untenable?

The model as we know it peaked in 2007. If we measure globalization by the percentage of world GDP that is an export or an import, 2007 will mark the peak of a past age.

You are going to see less and less container ships. All of those containers are about one thing: a wage ark. Moving your factory from someplace where you pay folks 30 bucks an hour to somewhere where you pay folks 30 bucks a week is great, if it's just about wages.

But what moves those container ships is oil. At $150 to $200 per barrel, the wage ark becomes penny wise and a pound foolish because what you save on a wage bill you more than spend on bunker fuel.
If free markets worked as the economics textbooks say they should, high oil prices would lead companies to invest in green technologies. Why aren't we seeing viable alternatives to petroleum?

It is all a question of time. Higher prices will light the path. And I am sure in 20, 25 years we will have new fuel technologies.

Unfortunately, our rendezvous with triple-digit oil prices isn't in 25 years, it's in 12 months. We have to figure out a way of engineering our economy and our lives to use less energy.

If the market can't create viable alternative energy technologies, what role do governments have in ending fossil-fuel dependency?

I don't believe in government, I believe in the market, I believe in prices. I believe prices will show us what to do. Sure, we need to be more efficient. But the emphasis has to be on conservation, so peak oil doesn't have to equal peak GDP.

Couldn't increased energy efficiency make up for shortfalls in production?

We think that efficiency leads to conservation, but history has shown that is not what happens.

The average engine today is 30 per cent more efficient than the engines produced before the OPEC oil shocks [of the 1970s]. Yet, the average [North American] vehicle consumes just as much gasoline in the course of a year.

Back in the 1970s, we [North Americans] used to drive about 9,000 miles a year; now we drive 12,000. Back in the 1970s, we weren't living in the far-flung suburbs. All those gains in efficiency have led us to, ever more efficiently, consume more and more oil.

How will triple-digit oil prices affect politics?

The US steel workers should be at the forefront, arguing to Obama for a price on carbon emissions. I think you'll find that when unions go through the math, Archie Bunker is going to get into bed with Al Gore.

We [North America] can produce a ton of steel and emit one-third less CO2 than steel producers in a developing country like China. Right now, that is totally irrelevant. There is no price advantage to [producing with less greenhouse gas emissions], so it doesn't flow to the bottom line and it doesn't affect where steel jobs are. But, if you are one-third more efficient, you want the price of emissions to be as high as possible—the higher the price of emissions, the greater the economic advantage.

By putting a price on carbon emissions and making our trading partners pay the same price, going green is going to bring jobs home instead of sending them away.

Won't those proposed duties, either though a carbon tax or a cap and trade system, come into conflict with World Trade Organization rules?

I would argue that is a market failure. The only reason that those steel plants went to China in the first place is because we didn't put a price on carbon emissions. In an efficient, functioning market we would have allocated resources much differently.

The carbon-spewing industries of the world should not be in the places that have the cheapest labour, but rather in places [with] the cleanest technologies. That's not where these industries are located today.

You don't seem too upset about globalization coming to an end.

I don't think this story has to be as apocalyptic as peak oil is usually displayed. It is apocalyptic if we insist on having the lifestyles we had when oil was cheap and abundant, if we insist on commuting 40 miles back and forth to work in our SUVs and importing steel from China and flatscreen TVs from Korea or Taiwan.

But I'm hopeful. I'm not hopeful because of governments; I'm an economist, I believe in prices.

I understand that there are folk who have already adopted the local paradigm for cultural or ecological reasons. But whether you think that way or not, you are going that way for the very simple fact that you won't be able to afford any other way.

When gas is seven dollars a gallon, no one is going to have to buy my book to know what to do. Folks are going to get off the road because they can't afford to drive. When there is no bus to get on, they will get their politician's attention. Why are we bailing out Detroit when 50 million vehicles are likely to head off the road in the next ten years? We should be investing in public transit, not cars.

It's now widely accepted that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was primarily about oil. Just ask former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. A lot of analysts are predicting a violent scramble for the last remaining resources. Where do you think these conflicts might happen?

Let's understand that when we are talking about hydrocarbons, we aren't just talking about moving cars or powering container ships. We are talking about food. Modern agriculture is really the massive transformation of hydrocarbons into food [through] fertilizer, irrigation and mechanization. If you look at arable land under cultivation, it hasn't grown in the last 10 to 15 years. All the increases in world food production have come from increasing the yield per acre. All of those increases have come about by adding more fertilizer to the land and using more tractors.

The real challenge is: does peak oil equal peak food? If there are going to be wars, I suggest that will be the fault line.

Take countries like Saudi Arabia; they are buying land in Pakistan and Africa to grow food. The countries that rent the land? None of that food is going to their populations. What happens when their population starts to starve and they see their land being used to grow food for people in other countries? Is that a sustainable model?

Are you growing a garden?

[Laughs] No, but where I live [in Toronto], and a lot of places, have artisanal food stalls every weekend. It's organic food, basically grown around [the local area] and it's happening more and more.

At first, [organic local food markets] might be a yuppie thing to do. But soon it's going to be mainstream because that's going be the only kind of food we can afford to eat. That is going to mean changes to our diet. When I was a kid, there were no blueberries and raspberries in January; we are going to have to go back to local diets.

Chris Arsenault holds the Phil Lind Fellowship at the University of British Columbia's Department of History. He is currently writing a history of sabotage and the Alberta oil patch.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Black Crepe for Health Care "Reform"

A retired physician living in Salem says this about our so-called health care reform proposal:

From the Desk of

Mary A. Vorachek, M.D.

The Black Crepe Health Insurance Reform Packages

Wow, America, has the United States Congress got a deal for you. If and when a black crepe health insurance reform package is passed, you can expect to keep going bankrupt while you watch health insurance corporations keep getting richer. It’s not as good a deal as the one that gave all of our money, all of our children’s money and all of our children’s children’s money to the financial criminals on Wall Street. It’s not as good as the deal that gave and keeps on giving unaccountable billions of taxpayer dollars to military-industrial killers and corrupt contractors to destroy Iraq and waste in Afghanistan. But hear this, voters; this is what you can expect from a Congressional black crepe health insurance reform package:

1. You will receive a health insurance mandate. In other words, you will have to buy health insurance from a private health insurance company, like it or not.

2. If you are not so poor as to be unable to afford health insurance but choose not to buy insurance, you will be fined and have to give $1000 to $3500 to the health insurance industry.

3. You can still go bankrupt because health insurance co-payments and deductibles can still suck up all of your savings if you are unlucky or careless enough to get sick but not rich enough to afford to get sick.

4. You can continue reaping (as in Grim Reaper) the benefits of private for-profit health care, which has been shown to be of lesser quality than non-profit health care.

5. Instead of 45,000 excess deaths each year, you can look forward to only 25,000 or fewer excess deaths of people who will still be uninsured.

6. You can keep admiring the ingenuity of health insurance corporations as the administrators keep banking 20 to 30% of your premium dollars, and you may even get to pay tax on your premiums. (Civilized countries with universal healthcare spend less than half the amount of dollars that we spend on administrative costs.)

7. Single Payer is off the table, but a worthless Public Option is a possibility or a Health Cooperative could be in your future. (So far Public Options have failed in five states and Health Cooperatives have been proven to be unable to compete with insurance corporations.)

8. You can still look forward to single payer health insurance if you survive to age 65 and are then forced to join Medicare, but your life expectance is two years shorter than people in civilized countries with universal healthcare.

9. Finally, rest assured, Congress will still have its plum health insurance coverage.

Members of Congress are sorry to want so much money to be re-elected so they can continue helping you to help the corporations help themselves. But, look on the bright side, the American economy was boosted by $260 million dollars of health industry lobbying, $20 million dollars were given to Congress for their re-election campaigns, the pharmaceutical industry plans to spend $150 million dollars to promote passage of a black crepe health insurance reform package, and CEOs of health insurance corporations will still be able to make $200,000 a day. You can voice your support for your favorite healthcare reform option by voting below (below this line, not below ground):

Use a black pen or pencil to mark your choice*

O Public Option

O Health Cooperative

O Private health insurance

O None of the above, I want universal Medicare for all from cradle to grave

*You can voice your choice for healthcare reform by contacting one or all of the following—President Obama, your Representative or your Senators. All of these health insurance reform package probabilities can be verified in the interview of Dr. Steffie Woolhandler on September 18, 2009 by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now or by listening to Dr. Woolhandler’s presentation on Alternative Radio of September 16, 2009. Dr. Woolhandler is a professor of medicine at Harvard University and the co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A little Thomas Paine for Constitution Day

"When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy, neither ignorance or 

distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars;

the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive . . .

when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government."

Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1797-91).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nice! Kill-a-Watts coming for checkout @ Salem Public Library

Kill-a-Watt AC Volt MeterIt's often said that you can't manage what you can't measure -- nowhere more true than with electric usage. So, soon you can borrow a Kill-a-Watts meter at the Salem Public Library! Image by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero via Flickr

Very nice -- a LOVESalem informant tells me that the Salem Public Library has ordered a bunch of these to make them available to patrons for use in finding and fixing your power vampires! BZ.

These devices address one of the biggest failings in our infrastructure, the fact that all the metering is designed to make your usage INvisible (and, thus, encourage you to unknowingly use more and waste more). The pirates at the top of PGE ("Please God, Enough!") and the gas company have long had the ability to provide us with real-time usage data right in the home to help us conserve resources and reduce pollution -- but then, that would reduce profits, so they continue merrily hiding the meters back in the weeds and next to the wasp nests, so that you'll continue using more of their products. Another good argument for kicking their butts out and forming a public consolidated gas and electric utility for Salem, one that puts the public good ahead of shareholder profits.

Why care about reducing electric usage? Because, as the PGE-fuel-mix chart shows, PGE's largest source of electricity is coal. That's right, the coal that is destroying the world's climate balance and is going to cause unfathomable suffering across the globe for centuries. PGE talks green but walks black, and fights like crazy to keep on using coal because it's more profitable for them.

UPDATE: A LOVESalem foreign correspondent writes:
Don't forget to put in a plug (heh. Get it? "Plug." heh) for my Blue Line innovations power cost monitor. Srsly, thing is awesome.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This Saturday: Walking Tour of Salem (starts @ Tea Party Bookshop 10 a.m.)

Nice. A guided tour of Salem and a stop at the Salem Saturday Market for lunch and to pick up groceries . . . a good day! Tea Party Bookshop owner Joanne Kohler writes:
One morning, Tyler Burgess walked into the store with her book, Oregon Townscape Walks, and I was instantly charmed. Hand written and illustrated, the book guides you through 22 different townships in the Willamette Valley, pointing out historical facts and walking you past cute houses and other points of interest. What better way to get to know Tyler and her book than by going on one of the walks? Plus, you get a different perspective on our fair city.

The walk is free - meet at the store at 10am on Saturday the 19th, and be sure to pick up a copy of Oregon Townscapes Walks to keep going on your own!

In case you're wondering why we're in this handbasket and where we're going . . .

GREAT book. Clear, down-to-earth explanation of what stopped the musical chairs game of high finance and sensible prescriptions for fixing the problem.

To S-K Schools: An example to follow

It would be nice if, when not busy mindlessly planning to build even more big box schools that will require huge investments in ever-more-costly and polluting buses and fuel to ferry kids about (and ignoring the reality that we are not going to "grow" at anything like the rates projected by planners and the pro-growth industry), S-K Schools could do some good by following this example of bringing fresh local foods into the lunchrooms.

Salem's own "Organic Fresh Fingers" (nice company, name is a little strange though -- they don't actually offer fingers for consumption) would seem to fit the bill . . .

Opposing Corporate Domination of Elections

A corporation is not a person. Bank of America does not come over for dinner; Countrywide isn't a regular at Thanksgiving. Neither has ever been included in "We the People."

But, just last week, in a shocking burst of radical judicial activism, a slim majority on the U.S. Supreme Court showed they are on the cusp of granting corporations the right to spend unlimited money on ads in our elections under the guise that corporations are "citizens" with rights no different than yours and mine. [1]

As the justices consider overturning almost 100 years of precedent, we can't sit idly by and watch them write corporations a blank check to overwhelm our democratic elections with their loud and expensive speech. Justices are often hesitant to overturn long-standing precedent, especially if the public is strongly opposed to change.

So, right now, before they get too far down the wrong path, please write a letter to the editor of your local paper. And ask three friends to write letters as well. Click here to see a sample letter.

If the justices decide to tear down decades of established law, Senators from Maine to California will begin to look more like Senators from ExxonMobil and Citicorp. In 2008, ExxonMobil's Political Action Committee solicited employees for donations to a campaign war chest on behalf of federal candidates. The PAC raised less than $1 million in voluntary individual contributions.

During this same election cycle, ExxonMobil's corporate profits were $85 billion, more than 8,000 times as much!

Now imagine if ExxonMobil's CEO could freely write checks from the corporate treasury account to run advertisements for or against candidates. If they only spent 1% -- $850 million -- this would have been FIVE TIMES what all corporate PACs in America raised to spend on congressional campaigns in 2008.

We have already joined with our coalition partners and filed a brief in the Citizen's United case arguing against such a radical restructuring of our political process. [2]

Now you can help by writing a letter to your local paper.

Click below if you'd like help writing a letter to the editor of your local paper. Make it known that the oil and gas industry, the insurance industry, and Wall Street firms are not people and that saying so mocks our democracy.

[See also here.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Facepalm of the day

Ultimate facepalmImage by Potoman via Flickr

Advice to Statesman-Journal: Consider hiring copyeditors. Or reporters who know how to use The Google or the Wikipedia thingie:
The display at the library includes copies of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution Week dates reportedly [????] recognize the signing of the U.S. Constitution 222 years ago.
As Casey Stengel is said to have said, "You could look it up."
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Word: Waiting for Rosemary's Baby

Cover of 1967 1st Edition Hard CoverAn apt metaphor for the kind of spawn we'll be facing if we keep this denial up much longer. Image via Wikipedia

Waiting for "conclusive proof" that human activity is permanently [a]ffecting the environment before acting is like waiting to see the baby come out before you'll agree with your wife that she's pregnant and take her to the hospital. I mean, she could just be gaining weight, right?
- Ecohuman (PDX-area blogger/commenter)

Update: Earth's oceans (the acidifying pools of water upon which all life depends) reach their hottest temperatures ever. Which means they will be able to maintain less CO2 in solution, by the way. And so it goes . . .
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Forget 9/11, the real attack on America will be remembered as 9-9-9

KennedyOne of the execrable five who betrayed their oaths and all Americans to deliver the White House to George W Bush, precipitating the Cheney Misadministration and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Currently appears poised to turn elections into outright corporate auctions. Image via Wikipedia

As in Sept. 9, 2009, the day the Supreme Court heard more argument on whether the legal fictions of property known as corporations have a right to buy politicians outright, instead of having to tiptoe -- okay, waltz -- around the few and mainly toothless election laws we do have.

Note especially Justice (5th Vote for the Judicial Coup that installed GW Bush) Kennedy's fawning admiration for corporations . . . disgusting.

Read it and weep for the vast chasm between the justice and the rule of law and for the future of the country once known non-ironically as the Land of the Free.

UPDATE: Another great TomDispatch on the hugec -- nay, tidal -- river of corporate money flowing into Washington to defeat any public interests and to preserve corporate rule.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Word: Open letter to Amtrak

Schematic map of Amtrak routesA nation of 300 million in a vast country served by "a railroad system that would make Bulgaria ashamed." Image via Wikipedia

An American conservative living in Ireland recounts a recent (mis)adventure on Amtrak:
Rail worked for us for decades, and today Third-World peasants can count on transportation freedoms that most Americans cannot. Public debate about Amtrak tends to focus on whether you will ever turn a profit, but we don’t ask when our asphalt will turn a profit, or our sewers, or our bridges -- they are infrastructure, necessary for an advanced society to function. Every surge in the price of fuel, every dire warning about the climate's transformation, every new plunge in the economy makes Americans’ constant driving more difficult and rails more necessary.
UPDATE: Great piece on why, despite the abundant and fast-mounting tidal wave of evidence that the age of automobility -- carburbia -- is over, our elected "leaders" and the opinion elites cling to the fantasy that it can be sustained:

September 25, 2009
Guest Speaker: David Withnell

The Auto Industry and the Great Recession:
How are we rolling in Salem?

What has it been like to be an auto dealer in today’s economic crisis? Our speaker, David Withnell, President of Withnell Motor Company, will give us a local perspective on doing business in an era of high fuel prices, foreign competition, bailouts, “cash for clunkers”, and rapidly evolving automotive technology.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, September 14, 2009

A must-read by Flannery, author of "The Weather Makers"

Flannery's bestseller, The Weather Makers, cal...Image via Wikipedia

Flannery wrote one of the top three books on climate change, "The Weather Makers." This excerpt from his latest work warns that "we're between a tipping point and the point of no return."

UPDATE: a nice piece helping to explain why, even as we test the living shift out of students, we're seeing more and more who are unable to reason and who are therefore prone to thinking that fears of runaway climate change are part of some sort of liberal conspiracy.

UPDATE 2: For anyone who thinks fears of runaway climate chaos are simply fantasies driven by computer models. Watch.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]