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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