Monday, December 15, 2008

Aw shucks, it seems it ain't ethanol after all

The Discover "100 Best Science Stories of the Year" issue is out and the #1 story spotlights alternatives to petroleum-powered transportation.

Titled "The Post-Oil Era Begins," the article breaks down the ups and downs of ethanol and other bio-fuels as petroleum substitutes. Unfortunately, the article is not online as of yet, which is rare for the magazine.

Essentially, while ethanol has doubled since 2006, but recent studies have shown that it is "much more costly, both economically and environmentally, than people thought." That, combined with lowering petroleum prices, has made ethanol "significantly less competitive in the energy marketplace." ["The Post-oil era begins." Discover. Jan., 2009. p. 19.]

Another down-side is that most other bio-fuel plants are nowhere near reaching noteworthy production of alternative fuel.

Further, scientists have realized that increased ethanol production could actually increase emissions by up to 100% because farmers would begin using more land that once absorbed carbon. Not only that, ethanol consumes 186 times the amount of water per mile traveled than petroleum.

The seeming solution?

Hybrids and Plug-in Hybrid vehicles. Toyota sold nearly 200,000 of their Prius model last year. The upcoming Chevy Volt is touted to run 40 miles on nothing but electricity before the combustion engine kicks in.

The main hurdle to an EV America is infrastructure. If people are willing to charge their vehicles during off-peak hours at a low rate (which would entail a longer recharge time), no additional electrical plants will be required. However, this means asking Americans to show deference and perhaps suffer some inconvenience. The innovators and early adopters in the field most likely have no problems with such minor trivialities, but what happens when EV becomes the norm?

Do we build more power plants? If so, certainly not coal, and nuclear power still puts a lot of people on edge.

If not, what do we face? A nation-wide black-out and no way to travel in the manner many have grown accustomed?

I think I smell a Road Warrior-esque plot approaching. I can see it now - Snake Pliskenn in: Escape from the Alamo.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rick Perry

The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, recently "accused federal environmental protection officials of 'actively working to do more economic harm' to the state through potential regulation of carbon emissions linked to climate change," according to the Houston Chronicle.

This is because he has his hand in so many energy-producing pockets that he would stand to lose part of his growing personal fortune. He wants companies to worry about their emissions and the government to stay out of it. That way, companies can continue to cut corners and make decisions based on economic want and not the good of all.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I mean it. Never mind the pillaging, raping and shady land deals, this is a day (weekend) to relax and relearn how to like those you proclaim to love.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yet another way to recycle

Many cities have recycling programs for glass, plastic, paper and cardboard. But what about things like batteries, CDs and old shoes?

Yahoo! News recently spotlighted some companies that you can mail your used bric-a-brac to, content that they will be disposed of responsibly.

For example, since 1990, Nike has collected some 22 million used athletic shoes. They are ground up and used to make athletic fields. Pretty cool, huh? I wonder how many trees were cut down to make room for said athletic field.

Any recycling is a good thing, but if this takes off, won't the fuel needed to transport all this one-man's-waste-another's-treasure offset the benefits?

Always a Catch-22 no matter where you look.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"The best emissions strategy is a zero-emissions strategy."

Chevrolet has introduced a new hydrogen fuel cell line of SUVs called the Equinox.

It won the Green Car Journal's Green Car Vision award.

It's not available for purchase to the general public. WTF?

Zero emission other than water vapor. No gas consumption, eliminating a tiny little bit of American dependence on foreign oil.

I got over my conspiracy delusions quite a while ago, but I smell a rat. A rat dangling a carrot in front of a mule it believes is too stupid to know better.

T. Boone Pickens on Meet the Press

Be there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

People suck

Square Patrol, a non-profit safe-ride home organization here in Austin just got screwed.

It was a great idea. You get too drunk to drive, they send a sober soul out on a collapsible scooter who will drive your car home (or wherever it is you're going) with his scooter folded into a neat little package in the trunk. When you are safely at your destination, the agent of Square Patrol simply pulls his scooter out of its temporary storage and ride back to HQ.

Well, some schmucks broke into said HQ and stole all the scooters.

Almost makes one hope for a horrifying drunk driving accident to affect one of the mendicants involved.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Waa-HOO! but huh?

This is off topic, but TG Obama won. Now let's see if the Dems can do something.

And California passed a gay marriage ban? What they should really do is ban homosexuals marrying women to hide it. I'm looking at you, captain Scientology.

Blue state with blue balls? Just ain't right.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Air cars

No, they're not flying vehicles, they're powered by compressed air. Developed in Europe and India, ZPM (Zero Pollution Motors) will be bringing the car to states as early as next year. At this point, models are generally 2-seaters, but there is a four seat model in the works. A spokesman for ZPM stated that the car could go near 1000 miles at nearly 100 mph, before refueling. Pretty impressive and although it does require some form of liquid fuel, it can be adapted to run on ethanol or other bio-fuels.

In the city, gas would probably not even be used. The car runs entirely on compressed air under 35 mph and can be refueled in a matter of minutes.

But why do they have to look so stupid? Can't they put that tech in the body of a '69 GTO?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More Sci-Fi becomes reality

Some scientists have realized that the quickest way to cool the earth is to shade it from the sun.

The November issue of Scientific American lays out three of these plans. "A Sunshade for Planet Earth" by Robert Kunzig illustrates the ups and downs of these hypothetical projects.

The first involves the same scenario that quite possibly killed the dinosaurs. Sulfur, Brimstone, the Devil's smoke is the key but may become a culprit. The theory that volcanic activity killed the big lizards gained credence when Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991. The earth's overall temperature went down by one degree that year. Rainfall also dropped because evaporation was retarded by the lack of sunlight. This may help topsoil maintain its humidic integrity, but it also robs the rest of the planet of rainfall and fresh water. It also requires less carbon emissions or the upkeep would be more than it's worth.

The second involves making our clouds' metaphorical silver lining a thing of reality. Huge, satellite-guided ships would troll the oceans, shooting sea water into turbines (fueled by the churning of water and wind - NICE!), shooting vaporized sea water into the air. The sodium would bond to the clouds, making them thicker to block out solar radiation. However, rainfall would drop, brightening of the atmosphere may be unpredictable and the political repercussions are unknown. What happens in the ocean would affect airspace not necessarily belonging to the country involved and could cause problems. And, again, if carbon emissions are not curbed, it may be a moot point.

The third involves launching a cloud of satellite controlled plastic disks out of the atmosphere to deflect harmful sunlight while letting enough through to ensure survival of the flora and fauna that rely on it (i.e., every living thing on the planet). The prototype is a silicon nitride ceramic paid for by the Discovery Channel. Fractions of the width of saran wrap, it is far stronger and channels the good energy in, bad energy out. Set at L1, a Lagrangian point where the sun's gravity is equal to the earth's, the discs would act like a cosmic parasol, letting some energy in and scattering the rest.

All amazing, awesome ideas to cool the planet and keep the polar bears and penguins living in the style to which they are accustomed, but the underlying problem still exists.

Carbon emissions must be restricted, outlawed or replaced altogether. The above are referred to as a "quick fix."

As cool as they are, does that ever really work?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Austin company at fore-front of solar power

Austin-based HelioVolt, a solar collector production and research company has expanded, creating new local jobs in the alternative tech industry. The plant was slated to have a capacity of 20 megawatts.

The company will be manufacturing CIGS (copper indium gallium selenium) solar cells that come in the form of thin sheets.

So HelioVolt is providing jobs and an alternative to dirty coal plants.

The Texas government is in this city. Are the legislators even noticing what's happening in the city in which they work?

Texas coal-powered electrical plants

According to a Daily Texan article, Texas currently has "10 coal plants permitted or awaiting approval," says the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "Three more have been proposed."

At a panel discussion and film screening Thursday night, representatives of the Sierra Club, ReEnergize Texas and Power Vote organizations promoted alternate energy sources. Citing the fact that Texas produces a third of the nation's wind power, the panel lamented the fact that companies prefer staying with "ancient technology" - because the infrastructure is in place, it's cheap and there really isn't a profit in cleaning up carbon emmissions.

Cyrus Reed of the Sierra Club stated that only "One-tenth of one percent of profits is dedicated to developing new energy technology," adding "Even the dog food industry spends more of its money on development."

What needs to happen is politicians need to quit worrying about oil industry lobby money and become more involved in ensuring that the climate doesn't get any warmer and that Texas stays as clean as it is.

The by-gone "Don't Mess With Texas" anti-pollution campaign now seems hypocritical when the leaders of the state are allowing dirty coal plants to continue proliferating.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's a dilemma

With oil dipping to around $70 a barrel, gas is becoming more affordable and gives Americans less of an excuse to conserve. I'm not bashing drivers; people have families to support and sometimes public and eco-friendly transportation just isn't an option due to location and/or distance. People can make it to work. This is a good thing.

Another upside of lower gas prices is the extra money in people's pockets, money that can be used to stimulate the sorry market economy in its current state. This is a good thing, as well.

In order to halt the slide, OPEC is planning a million barrel a day reduction to drive prices back up to a more profitable level.

This is a good thing because it will force government and researchers to continue concentrating on alternate fuels and other forms of energy.

Without higher priced oil, it is entirely possible that research into alternatives may slow down.

That would be a bad, bad thing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More on the debate

It's no secret that I'm not a fan, but John McCain seemed a bit out of control to me last night. Repeated attacks on Obama aside, he yelled at Bob Schieffer when he referred to climate change as climate control. Who yells at Bob Schieffer?

Both candidates were very vehement about reducing the our dependence on foreign oil from the Middles East and Venezuela (but "Canadian oil is fine," said McCain).

Obama agreed with McCain that a 10 year reduction plan to eliminate foreign oil imports from "places in the world that are threats to national security (McCain again)."

Unfortunately, both candidates touted domestic oil as the answer.

Sure, McCain brought up nuclear (as he always does) and Obama talked about solar, wind, and geothermal energy as possibly driving the economy "for the next century," but the big oil money seems to still holding quite a bit of sway, both on Capitol Hill and with those striving to conquer it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The third presidential debate

Everything else aside, at least John McCain has a solid idea for America's future energy. Nuclear - and, by God, there will be safe storage and reprocessing, trust him.

There was an argument (debate seems to erudite) about off shore-drilling and ending dependence on foreign oil including Venezualan (congratz, Hugo, you pissed everyone off), but Obama didn't have much to say.

The "solar, wind, geothermal" mantra can't stand for long.

UT makes breakthrough in storage of solar power

Building on the idea that "there's plenty of room at the bottom," UT Austin researchers have come up with a way to store solar and wind generated energy for times when the air is still and the sun isn't shining.

Using graphenes - carbon atoms linked in a honeycomb shape - solar panels and wind generators can channel power and store it on their surface. But in most current tech, these honeycombs are stacked on top of each other, limiting their storage capacity.

By spreading the graphenes out, the surface area is multiplied, thereby increasing the energy storage capacity where it can be used when needed, like a battery. But Nanoscience and Technology Professor Rod Ruoff says that these cells will operate as an "ultracapacitor" which can provide higher amounts of energy over longer periods of time than a regular battery. This makes the idea of long-distance driving in electric cars closer and more feasible, not to mention possibly marking the end of emission-heavy electrical plants.

Easy breathing and lower traffic noise, here we come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"There's plenty of room at the bottom"

The phrase was uttered by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959.

Nanotechnology offers plenty of ways to make alternate energy sources even more efficient. For example, one technology could raise typical solar panel energy conversion rates by over 60%.

For a somewhat more comprehensive look at various ways that this tiny tech can improve alternate energy sources visit NEN: Nano Energy Now.

That is all.

T. Boone Pickens: "A Surprising Environmentalist"

The Republican Party should listen more carefully to one of their own.

T. Boone Pickens, long-time oil baron and author of the entrepreneurial treatise The First Billion is the Hardest has become one of America's leading proponents of alternate energy. He is calling for government vehicles to run on natural gas, replacing natural gas powered electric plants with wind power and encourages off-shore oil drilling to end our dependence on foreign oil once and for all.

He calls it the PickensPlan and the website offers any visitors a chance to sign a petition or pledge their support.

And although some environmentalists have problems with off-shore oil drilling, such as the Committee Against Oil Exploration (CAOE - pronounced "K-O") due to the possibility of oil spills and the environmental impact inherent in fossil fuels, some of his other ideas are sound, safe and ecologically sensitive.

For example, Pickens recently invested billions in a West Texas wind farm that could conceivably power 1.3 billions homes with almost no emissions of any sort.

Perhaps some of his fellow oil-rich right wingers will finally see the light and follow suit.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tomorrow's energy today Pt. 4: The ITER Project

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is another straight-outta-sci-fi alternate energy sources that have physicists and proponents of nuclear energy salivating, as it has for the last 50 or so years.

The concept is based on fusion, the same process that keeps our sun churning. Hydrogen atoms collide, creating helium and releasing huge amounts of energy. However, the reaction must occur in temperatures in the 100s of millions. At that temperature matter becomes plasma, a miasma of nuclei with a positive charge and negatively-charged electrons.

On the sun, the plasma is made cohesive by gravity.

And although ITER is essentially a miniature sun, it's diminutive size does not produce enough gravity to contain it.

The answer: a giant magnetic container called a tokamak. The one used by ITER will have a diameter of 56 feet and is encased in niobium coils capable of creating enormous magnetic fields and lowering electrical resistance (superconduction). This will heat the the cloud of hydrogen inside while containing it in a ring of plasma well away from the tokamak's inner walls.

The one drawback?

When ITER goes online in 2018, "scientists can then begin working out how to harvest fusion energy for practical use," according to Discover magazine (Seife, Charles. "Free Energy: $15." Discover Oct. 2008: 32.).

Huh? $15 billion and 20 years of work, and no one knows exactly how to make it practical?

But perhaps asking if a small sun is capable of producing energy is a silly question. What is the ultimate source of all life-giving energy in our spatial proximity?

That's right. The Sun.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tomorrow's energy today Pt. 3: The vanadium redox flow battery

Despite it's name, vanadium is not a product of Stark Industries, nor does it fuel any piece of Iron Man's ragingly cool and seemingly low-emission suit. I didn't notice much of a vapor trail, so I'm assuming the metallic muscle man has a relatively low carbon footprint.

[If anyone knows the fuel specs of Iron Man's suit, I would appreciate a head's up. Not finding anything on the web except how much he can lift, how much damage he does in equivalence to pounds of TNT and how fast he flies. No fuel specs.]

While we're in the Zen mode of exploring what things are not, the vanadium redox flow battery is not an invention of Jack Marlowe's Halo Industries, nor will never be used in a cell phone, lap top or even an electric vehicle.

In fact, the vanadium redox flow battery is even more unwieldy than its name.

The battery is enormous, with two tanks of electrolytic liquids that create a charge in a central chamber then flow back to their tank. The energy can be stored and reused almost indefinitely. The problem was that the membrane separating the two liquids would eventually weaken and when the two mix, they were rendered unusable.

The answer was to use vanadium, a soft whitish metal found abundantly and has four state of oxidation. Each state of oxidation has a different energy capacity diluted in liquid. Even when the two states mix, there is no loss because the vanadium can easily flow from one state to another.

The sun goes down at night and wind is as capricious as the mythical wind gods once believed behind it.

With a vanadium redox flow battery, a power plant will not have to rely on natures whims. With this battery at its core, a plant can run almost indefinitely.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Tomorrow's energy today Pt. 2: Ethanol and Austin recycling

The field of ethanol research is a double-edged sword. Though ethanol and other biofuels basically use existing carbon, thereby not releasing anymore into the atmosphere, ethanol made from corn is an energy intensive process that doesn't really save the use of fossil fuels.

But many companies are researching ways to use any organic matter, such as wood chips and compost material to create biofuel. The process now involves breaking down the cellulose in plants that give plant cells hardy walls, converting it to sugar and then to ethanol. Today, a different tact is being researched. Carbon rich materials are pumped with oxygen and burned, making the carbon conversion to biofuel more efficient and cuts down on carbon dioxide and other by-products like slag.

So, the plants producing such energy could potentially reduce and possibly replace landfills - organic waste would be shipped to plants (hopefully in non-fossil fuel driven vehicles) to become fuel for the very consumers that created the waste to begin with.

Here in Austin, a new drive is under way to encourage a higher amount of recycling, another way to cut down on land wasted as dumps.

One impediment to recycling, even in the liberal oasis of Texas, was inconvenience. Glass and metal had to be separated from paper and cardboard and it was often a mystery why your recycling bin was emptied by the city last week but not this one. Such sorting systems work in Europe, particularly Germany, but such programs have been in place long enough that it's second nature for Germans to throw glass in one bin, waste in another, paper in another and so on. The bins are colored differently to make it as simple as possible.

In the US, things are going a bit differently. In order to encourage recycling here in central Texas, Austin is introducing single stream recycling. In other words, no more seperation, just throw anything recyclable into one bin.

However, this comes with caveats: No food waste (and all rigid plastic and metal containers must also be free of such), no plastic bags, yard trimmings, or broken or window glass.

However, at, the motto is "Zero Waste" and there is a search engine that will tell anyone how to dispose of anything that doesn't fall under the allowed recyclables.

It's a start and a good one. If even a small portion of central Texans began recycling, waste could be significantly reduced.

Now if we can get some of those biofuel plants close to the city, perhaps the promise of zero waste is not so far-fetched.

A renewable Austin. Smell that fresh air.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tomorrow's energy today Pt. 1: Wind

In 2007, the entire electrical capacity of the US was one trillion watts. Stanford University atmospheric scientists Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson estimated through detailed calculations of current air patterns the potential wind power under optimum conditions would be 72 trillion watts.

This number, however, only takes into account wind blowing at an altitude of 80 meters, approximately the height of most wind turbines.

Bryan Roberts, an engineering professor at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia has come up with a plan to harvest more powerful winds at higher altitudes. A few miles up, a wind generator could produce 250 that amount of power, according to Discover magazine and

Roberts and his team are designing "kites" with rotors that fly like a helicopter to altitudes where the winds are strongest. The rotors then switch to generator mode and send energy back down the tether that also keeps them from just flying away.

The contraption essentially looks like a flat H with rotors at each of the four points of the "kite."

There are a few things that do need to be worked out, however. How will severe weather affect the generators? What if a few of the tethers become entangled. Not to mention the fact that a "no-fly zone" would have to be established to keep airplanes from slicing through the tethers or worse, crashing.

Unfortunately, the idea is so new and revolutionary that no one seems to be biting. The US throws hundreds of millions of dollars to fusion experimentation, but these electricity-generating kites are apparently just too wacky to take seriously.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yesterday's sci-fi is tomorrow's reality

In the October issue of Discover magazine, an entire section is dedicated to alternate energy. The editors write:

"One of the greatest impediments to progress is simple failure of imagination." ("Reinventing the World." Discover October 2008: 19.)

In the kitschy sci-fi classic, Logan's Run, there are ubiquitous advertisements for plastic surgery whenever the protagonist is in public areas. At the time, in the real world, this was unheard of. Plastic surgery was for the stars and the idle rich. Now, commercials for nose jobs, face-lifts and even (gasp!) breast augmentation are as common as those for little magic pills that can make one happy for the measly cost of a greasy stool and sometimes death.

Comic books in many senses are simply sci-fi novels for the ADHD ridden (no offense to any fans of the graphic medium as I am - just making a point).

Back in 2003, when An Inconvenient Truth was merely an inkling of a twinkle in Al Gore's disenfranchised eye, a comic book writer was predicting the future with what some may argue was almost creepily accurate.

No longer content to save the world by beating up one super-baddy at a time, Joe Casey took on one of Wildstorm's (now a subsidiary of DC Comics, which is owned by Time Warner, but we'll let the Bildeberger conspiracy buffs tackle that one) flagship books, WildC.A.T.S., re-vamped it as Wildcats v. 3.0 and created a new breed of superhero.

Jack Marlowe (nee Spartan) was a former android superhero created in another galaxy who took over his "uncle's" corporation upon the elder's death. Trading spandex for a white three piece suit, Marlowe decided to go about saving the world through commerce. The alien technology involved made it possible.

The first product introduced by the Halo Corporation were simple batteries. The difference: they last forever. No need to mine more ore for the casings or risk acid leaks. Not to mention the exponential savings in land fills and recycling plants.

But batteries were just the beginning. Next came cell phones with superior reception that never tire and computers that run off a Halo power source, eliminating the need for power cords.

But the coup de grace was discovered accidentally. While test driving a Halo sponsored Nascar (sporting a Halo battery, natch!), the driver realized he'd driven over 100 miles on an empty gas tank. Production of low-cost, non-petroleum dependent cars went into effect immediately.

Although science fiction is in no way a barometer for what's to come (I still ain't buying artificial gravity, Roddenberry), the imagination that the editors of Discover insist is a necessity is certainly in some of these individual's writings.

There are no retired superheroes masquerading as businessmen, nor is there (to my knowledge) any alien tech involved in some of the new technologies and thoughts I will be discussing for the next week or so.

Until then, live long and prosper. "Ride in style...Straight into the future."
Copyright 2005 Wildstorm Comics

Monday, September 29, 2008



Congress rejected the bailout.

Of course it's important, but guess what the news is going to be about for the next few weeks, if not years.

The debate

Yeah, it's been a couple of days since the debate, but everyone seems only to be concerned with the economy.

Fair enough. The plight of the nation's middle class increases daily; the nebulous business practices of quasi-legal government-investment partnerships led many to buy houses that they really could not afford. Now it's coming back to bite them in the behind.

Foreign policy was much discussed as well but the true reason behind our Middle Eastern aggression was left unmentioned: our dependence on OPEC countries.

Though Obama brought up wind, solar and and bio-diesel early in the debate, he was met with derision from McCain who simply spouted the same sources. The republican candidate then insisted that Obama was anti-nuke power when, in fact, the democrat is not against using nuclear energy, he is just concerned with waste removal and storage.

It doesn't take a sci-fi geek to know that nuclear waste is about as welcome as a weeping boil on the forehead and to undertake the construction of such plants requires careful planning for the future.

The energy from nuclear plants itself is very clean - most of the emissions from such energy consist primarily of steam. However, when the radioactive material used to create this energy is expended, the leftovers still have enough residual radiation to keep a small city glowing (NOT lit) and growing multi-limbed children and pets.

France gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear power.

The US gets about 20% (according to Wikipedia, the only site I could find with a solid number).

Although the US economy is certainly an immediate concern, our future on a healthy planet requires forward thinking in the energy market.

Obama seems disturbed by the state of the environment and genuinely willing to do something about it. McCain, I'm not so sure.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Another green victory in Austin

On Thursday, September 25th, the Austin City Council passed a few resolutions that prove why this fair city, a liberal oasis in a desert of rednecks, deserves its spot on the Top 50 Greenest cities in America. According to Country Home magazine, we are number 33. Popular Science ranks us at 10.

Aside from having one of the cleaner electrical plants (but that's not saying a lot) in the state, Austin's public transportation, its green-conscious citizens and one of the more effective municipal recycling programs around, the city is now installing photovoltaic cells (i.e., solar panels) on certain schools and offering cash incentives to green building.

In a rundown of the council meeting Thursday night, the Austin American-Statesman listed the resolutions passed.

The top 2:

The city council "agreed to give a $51,216 rebate to the Long Center for the Performing Arts for installing high-efficiency lighting, chillers and cooling towers."

And it "agreed to use $100,000 in state grants to buy and install solar photovoltaic systems in six Austin schools."

This is wonderful and groovy and should be applauded. However, though it may be a start, is it enough?

How about more money for all the schools? Why not turn every section of available rooftops at the University of Texas into solar collectors? Initial cost aside, in the long run it would reduce dependence on the power plants and cut down on the emissions that accompany the production of electricity the "old-fashioned" way.

Lastly, how about fining developers that don't make their new buildings energy efficient. It's more expensive to do so in some cases, and those that do should be rewarded. But the condos built as cheaply and as quickly as possible should have to pay for not respecting the land around the spot they just dug up.

The Austonian condos going up downtown have doggie toilets for chrissake. How about some solar panels and maybe a couple wind generators?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Drink it, it's got rocket fuel!

In an AP story released today, the Evironmental Protection Agency has decided that a little bit of rocket fuel in our drinking water is ok.

Three paragraphs into the story it says, "The ingredient, perchlorate, has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states at levels high enough to interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental health risks, according to some scientists."

Now, that does not necessarily mean that those scientists are correct. However, the Bush administration is notorious for quashing things that makes it look bad, is bad for the businesses backing it or more probably both.

Back in 2006 when An Inconvenient Truth brought much more attention and information to the public at large. By the end of the year, scientists by the dozen were accusing the Bush administration of repression of well, "loaded words." Words like "Kyoto" (as in the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce emissions that the US never ratified), "global warming" and climate change were not to be used under any circumstances.

The reason: scientists are not supposed to talk about policy.

But it's gone further, with congressional committees being blocked access to NASA climate scientists and even getting up Howard Dean's blood pressure. On CNN's Situation Room in late 2006, he accused the Bush administration of "bullying" scientists to ix-nay on the imate-clay ange-chay.

So when it comes to light that "The Pentagon could face liability if EPA set a national drinking water standard that forced water agencies around the country to undertake costly clean-up efforts," I think only fair that some eyebrows are raised in suspicion.

And keep in mind that this is the same Bush administration EPA that said that fallout from the 9-11 bombings was safe for clean-up workers to breathe. Now, they are sick and dying.

With experts in the field saying that the perchlorate-infested water many are ingesting is a potential health hazard, the Bush administration has once again shown a callous disregard for the health of its constituents.

There enough enough things in this world making us sick. Does the water we drink have to join the ranks of our menaces?

Monday, September 22, 2008


It's everywhere. Advertisements for huge, ridiculous vehicles that look like they should (and were actually designed to) have a gun turret on top espousing their virtuous 19 MPG and comparing it to another abomination with similar pitiful specs.

OK, I will digress.

Before I go on, a confession: I do not drive. I use public transportation, my bicycle and whichever foolish friend of mine lets my drunken ass in their car (ain't ya glad I don't drive?). I recycle even when it's not really convenient but I smoke and I'm only frequently conscious of where the butt goes.

I have done nothing but bewail the state of new car salesmanship. BOOooooOORRrring. I promised info on positive technology and a brighter, dare I say, cooler future. Oh, and funny or some facsimile thereof.

Let's think tiny.

New horizons, but not for us

I really don't like to pick on domestic companies that stimulate the American economy, but lately none seem to come to mind. The only economy these companies care about is their own. Case in point, Ford Motors.

According to an article published by BusinessWeek last Friday and now gracing the the Yahoo! homepage, Ford Motors - responsible for some of the most reprehensible gas guzzlers on the market - have come up with a 65 MPG car. It's called the Fiesta ECOnetic and it runs on clean diesel. 65 MPG!

The drawback?

It won't be sold in America.

However, Ford is not entirely to blame. Yes, the engines for the ECOnetic are built in Great Britain under higher labor costs and and a pound that still trumps the dollar in global eonomic strength. Under such conditions, the ECOnetic would wind up costing a consumer almost $2,ooo more than Toyota Prius hybrid. Which is much hipper, just ask Ethan Hawke.

This is where the American Attitude comes in: Americans do not believe in such a thing as "clean diesel." Diesel is that smelly stuff that big trucks run on and makes bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic a hand of Texas Hold 'em with carbon monoxide poisoning, right?

Not anymore.

Researchers have developed a method of "combining clean diesel fuel, advanced engines and effective exhaust-control technology," according to the Diesel Technology Forum. Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have been making clean diesel vehicles for years, according to the BusinessWeek article, but only 3% of U.S. cars run on it (65 MPG!).

This is where it becomes the Ouroborus swallowing its own tail. Because only 3% of drivers have vehicles that run on diesel, rare is the filling station that carries it (as far as I know there are two in Austin). If one cannot find the fuel, why would one purchase the vehicle that runs on it (65 MPG!)? And so no one bothers to create a demand for the fuel and the scarcity of it remains in place. Misperceived air pollution aside, people are not buying diesel vehicles because there is no place to get diesel and there is no place to get diesel because there are no vehicles that require it.

Perhaps an ad campaign that actually showed people that Ford cared would create a demand for the ECOnetic in the states (65 MPG!). Hell, it wouldn't hurt Volkswagen to promote the technology either. We as Americans are consumers and we prefer a plethora of choices (just look at the insane amount of fast food franchises that have essentially the same menus), and the more that are out there, the happier we seem to be.

Although when it comes to environment vs. fast food*, I'm afraid fast food gets the vast majority a vast majority of the time.

*And by fast food, I refer to anything convenient, easy and probably bad in the long run.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday morning TV

Falling asleep with the TV on Friday night often leads to waking up to infomercials Saturday morning.

Today, one of these interminable commercials disguised as informative television was for a chain of car dealerships here in Texas that deal almost exclusively with American vehicles. This morning they were hawking Ford cars and trucks.

With some segment of the population becoming more eco-aware, many manufacturers and dealerships tout high gas mileage as a selling point.

Ford, you have a ways to go.

The smooth-talking, spiffy-suited salesman pointed out that the Ford line of Focus sedans get a whopping 28 miles to the gallon (according to Kelly Blue Book, they actually get 22-24 MPG city and 35 MPG highway). Kellys rates the Honda Civic at 40 city/45 hwy.

After the parade of boxy but roundish passenger cars came the SUVs. Now, Kellys rates the Escape at 34 MPG city. Not bad for one of these large, usually unnecessary vehicles. However, that number drops to 30-31 hwy. It almost seems like one would be better off towing your Focus through the city where the Escape gets better mileage then using the smaller car for out of town travel. But then, the weight of the car would reduce the mileage of the truck, and then what do you do with the truck? Silly, no?

And to drive a final nail into our environment's coffin, one can purchase a brand new Ford F-150 for no money down and only $399 a month. So, with the dealership's apparently very liberal credit policy, almost anyone can own a behemoth work truck that gets an abysmal 13/17 MPG.

Of course, all of these vehicles have practical function in most cases, but does anyone really need a 3.5 ton work truck for tooling around town?

Well, do you?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gas prices and our motivation

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the national average price of gas was around $3.85 as of September 15th. While that may be slightly higher (about 15 cents) than two weeks ago, it is down by 50-70 cents in some places. The $130/barrel summer we just experienced took its toll on many a motorist.

Everyday the news contained a shocked motorist complaining about the prices and how they have to pay them anyway because, after all, they got kids ta feed. As a result, more stories surfaced about alternate transportation and fuel sources.

Perhaps it is the pending election and Ike certainly garnered much media attention, but the stories about hopeful technology for the future seem to have gone the way of stories about high gas prices. They are still there in print media; The Daily Texan ran a front page piece about a new library at Loyola University with sustainable climate control on Tuesday. Blinds automatically bock out heat-causing UV rays while an automated system maintains precise temperature control, thus minimizing waste and environmental impact.

But are these stories featured on on ADD stricken broadcast media?

And are people as willing to look for different means of transportation now that the price of gas is more "managable"? Well, if a certain professor is any indication, the answer is no.

Ahhh, how quickly they forget.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Welcome to A Cooler World

The world is hot. And not in a good way.

Ecologically fragile species are dying out, glaciers are shrinking and experts predict that there is the possibility that within a decade arctic ice may be non-existent during the summer.

This blog will explore the implications of climate change and new technologies designed to minimize it.

But this is not a blog for the doom and gloom crowd out there. There will be some humorous asides to take the seriousness out of the preaching that invariably comes with such subject matter.

As an introduction, here is a link to a column I wrote last year.

Yes, it's "An Ode to Molly Ivins" but the content addresses the current administration's blatant and purposeful ignorance of man's effects on the planet.