Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Planting for a grassfed car

Midwestern farmers want government payments when ethanol plants default. Instead, farm supports should look to the future. Instead of just supporting corn ethanol, a highly inefficient use of corn, farmers and politicians should be planning and planting for the next generation of ethanol production.

It’s not from corn. It’s from switchgrass. This native plant grows on marginal lands and requires far less management, water, fertilizer, and energy than corn to produce a more economical, better fuel. The resulting fuel is also cleaner and about three times more cost-effective than corn ethanol, according to a recent Univ. of Minnesota report.

A year ago University of Nebraska-Department of Agriculture researchers reported the superior results of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass instead of corn. Cellulosic ethanol produces 540% more energy than is used for its manufacture, whereas corn ethanol makes scarcely more energy than it uses. Soon afterwards, Senators Nelson (D-NE) and Thune (R-SD) began pushing for funding for farmers to grow switchgrass while local refineries were being built. Recently a study funded by General Motors and Sandia National Labs estimated that cellulosic ethanol could provide about 25% of American auto fuel by 2030.

Moving towards this kind of fuel and manufacture would support farmers in growing corn for food on good lands and switchgrass on poorer soils. Midwestern states, and the rest of the country, would benefit environmentally and economically by moving from corn to cellulosic ethanol, and so would farmers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Global Warming Policy and the Stimulus

What are those shovel-ready projects going to build?  More highways to take up more cars to use up more gas to put us more in debt to oil-producing countries?  

What we really need is more fast, efficient light rail transport.  And more efficient buildings that use less energy.

It's not going to happen unless we make our voices heard locally.  So write to your mayor, your governor, your state representatives.   They are going to use the stimulus to get more votes, and yours is one of them. 

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Wolves, moose, and the real problem

Is Ashley Judd doing any good? Or is she just turning Palin into a wolf-huggers' victim? Is predator control the issue?

Many Alaskans hunt moose and caribou for food. Shooting wolves is supposed to help those folks. But a wildlife biologist in Scientific American says Alaskans might be better off hunting bears. But here's the real rub, according to commenter "AlaskanLady":

Declarations that the program is for the benefit of subsistence hunters are shattered with documentation showing that sport and trophy hunters take up to 73% of prey in areas where aerial wolf hunting has taken place.

So the issue is not wolves, it's wasting petroleum-based fuel on hunting the wrong predator for the benefit of sports hunters.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Sportsmanship doesn't include whining

The governor-as-victim Sarah Palin missed her calling. As a sportscaster, she wouldn't have had to deal with abuse from "anonymous, pathetic bloggers," not to mention the rabid media (who treated her with kid gloves compared to their treatment of Clinton).

A reader writes to the Anchorage Daily News on Palin's Esquire interview:
Palin insults Americans while she jockeys for the Republican nomination in 2012. If she learned everything from sports, no wonder she knows nothing of history, law, science, foreign policy -- the topics that national leaders must know. And these are not topics you can master in four years, especially if you have no intellectual curiosity.

As for the media, television coverage during the campaign tiptoed around her most obvious defects: Ifill allowed her to refuse to anwer debate questions because Ifill was cowed. Bloggers are not cowed. Bloggers, anonymous or not, have a right to their opinions, and in the case of Baby Trig, while assertions he was really Bristol's child are pretty preposterous, there are plenty of questions Palin could have answered: why didn't the Mat-Su hospital post his birth announcement? why did she engage in behavior that risked the baby's life/health on a long flight from Texas?

Palin has been pretty unsporting when it comes to back-stabbing her mentors, misusing public money, and changing her tune when it was convenient. From the days when she challenged critics on her use of $50,000 of the road budget to redecorate her office -- replying in effect, so SUE ME -- she has demonstrated a clear indifference to the standards of ethics and fiscal responsibility that Republicans (especially the evangelical ones) like to claim.
And her flipflop on the Bridge to Nowhere is the prelude to the latest Palin double-speak on the stimulus. A Cato Institute report is keeping tabs on GOP governors:
In the “give me my pork” camp are governors Sarah Palin, Charlie Crist, and Tim Pawlenty. Palin, darling of many “movement” conservatives came all the way to Washington to lobby for the bill.
So after saying said she'd take the money, Palin then announced she was opposed to the bill. Who said you couldn't have your pork and eat it too?
"It’s a long way to 2012, of course, but it looks like Republican voters will have some clear choices."
Surely Cato's author is joking.

Make that UNclear.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

How about some OLD energy technology?

In the current enthusiasm for new technologies, we'd like to raise the flag for just using old ones. Caulk, let's say. Around the windows of every house in the nation. Saves money and the environment.

Or removing unnecessary light bulbs. How about turning off all, or at least most, nighttime lighting in upper floors of office buildings? Cheap and effective.

How about installing electronic thermostats to raise and lower temperatures at scheduled times? And do we really need to light up every house roof during the holiday season? Maybe a Christmas tree and a few electric candles would give our houses that warm, old-fashioned-Christmas look.

Okay, what about bigger efforts? Let's change the subject to cars. According to Congressman John Dingell, Americans love big cars. Personally, I think they're hard to drive, harder still to park, and hardest of all to feed. But let's give the Congressman the benefit of the doubt and assume that you really, really need that big SUV in your driveway.

Back in 2002, MIT’s Technology Review asked the question, “Why Not a 40-MPG SUV?” The technologies already existed to make exactly that. By using control systems that minimize energy losses in the engine, by more efficient electrical components, by improving the power train, cutting weight, and reducing resistance, automotive engineers could have given the public a trendy, popular vehicle that saved gas and thus reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the authors, these technologies (of seven years ago) could move average fuel economy of cars from 27 to 46 mpg, and SUVs from 21 to 40 mpg. It sadly concluded,

“The industry doesn’t lack the technology, it lacks the priority,” . . .

What would these improvements have meant for America? A 30% decrease in greenhouse gases. And two million barrels of oil A DAY! That was 75% of what we imported then from the Middle East.

So let us not wait to start an energy revolution. Let's begin immediately. While we're planning on the next generation of lithium ion batteries, cheaper thin-film photovoltaics, and efficiently produced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, let's take action. We'd do pretty well just adopting yesterday's energy solutions from our businesses and our government.