Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who Killed The Electric Alternatives?

I have a “conspiracy theory” too.

I suspect that the fossil fuel industry has done everything within their power to hold back the development of sustainable energy, energy independence, and conservation. In addition to using a number of other dirty tricks, I suspect that they have manipulated politics and markets to create boom and bust cycles that have repeatedly devastated the alternative energy market.

And I suspect that they are at it again.

We are getting close to the end of this Congress' session. And still there is no extension of the clean energy tax breaks. If this doesn't happen, the demand for wind and solar energy will dry up dramatically. This will mean the loss of up to 115,000 sustainable energy jobs and the collapse of many sustainable energy companies. America doesn't want this. So why is the Senate at it again?

Why would the Senate give the (quite profitable) fossil fuel industry 18 billion dollars in subsidies and deny 1.7 billion dollars in tax incentives to the developing sustainable energy industry? Not because its the right thing to do – by any means.

For decades now, our tax dollars have gone to jack up the (now obscene) profits of the oil and coal industry. While, for some reason, there just hasn't always been enough to help out the development of sustainable industries we critically need in the long run.

Republicans within the Senate have used the filibuster approximately a hundred times this year (an all-time record by far) to bring legislation to a standstill. They have killed every energy bill that has come to the Senate without there ever being a vote... Why? Could it be that some Republican Senators don't want energy legislation? That's what they've achieved. And why are some Senate Republicans only willing to support off shore drilling? This is effectively the deconstruction of environmental laws that protect our coastal waters. That's not an energy policy. That's just giving the oil industry anything it wants.

(If the Republicans really wanted to drop the prices of oil, they would support the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. This act is historically proven to drop oil prices dramatically immediately – not “maybe a little” 10 to 15 years from now.)

Without an energy bill passed this session, which will likely end in October, renewable energy's tax credit will expire at the end of the year. This has also happened in 2003, 2001, and 1999. Previously, when these tax credits expired, wind turbine installations fell as much as 93%! And these lapses have been happening since the 80's.

I am finding it harder and harder to believe that this isn't a conspiracy. These lapses aren't oversights. This isn't laziness. These filibusters aren't even standoffs due to differences of opinion.

Some Republican Senators are blocking everything except offshore drilling for oil.

Face it: Effectively, these Republicans are saying that everything is just fine with our present energy policy. Effectively, these Republicans are saying they don't want sustainable energy. Effectively, these Republicans are responding to their big campaign contributors – big oil corporations, big power companies, big coal corporations, and big domestic car manufacturers. Effectively, these Republicans don't give a damn about us or our future.

Why does this story sound so much like a conspiracy to keep us slaves to the fossil fuel industries? And why hasn't the press covered this? Could it have something to do with all those millions in advertising money the mass media keeps getting from the fossil fuel industry?

Oh, by the way; a new Republican generated federal regulation makes it easier to build coal-fired power plants near national parks – without having to do a thing to clean up their act.

What planet are these Republicans from? Apparently, not this one, because they don't seem to think they'll have to breath our air – or deal with our climate change.

History Repeats - Because We Let It

History is littered with the collapse of civilizations, failed recoveries, and false starts. To ignore this information is to invite more of the same.

For Example:

Europe almost made it out of the Dark Ages before the Renaissance. Historians have noted that During the rein of Charlemagne, France was developing into what could have been an early Renaissance. But this was also the time of the raiders from the North; the Vikings. These raiders looted the developing system, and ruined the possibility of an early exit from the Dark Ages.

The irony is that had the Vikings known what the results of their actions would have been, they probably wouldn't have cared. Looting was far more profitable for them than aiding in the development of Europe.

We saw a somewhat similar situation in the U.S. during the 20th century:

America almost made it out of the Industrial Age during the 1970's. (Yes of course, in some ways it did. But, like Charlemagne's France, so much more could have been achieved.)

In the 20th century, a different kind of raider has looted our country – the corporate raider. These raiders have looted our developing sustainable system, and ruined the possibility of an early exit from the polluting, destructive, and climate changing Industrial Age.

The irony here is that these raiders do know what the consequences of their actions are. We are beginning to see these consequences now. Our economy is failing. Our nation is failing. Our environment is failing. Our civilization may even be on the verge of collapse. We could even be heading into another Dark Ages. But, like the Vikings, these raiders don't seem to care. And if they do, there is always another raider to take their place.

Maybe the French could have stopped the Vikings; had they known where to find the raiders, had the will to fight them, and the knowledge of how important it was to stop them. We, on the other hand, know exactly where our corporate pirates are. They are amongst us. And we don't have to fight them. All we have to do is enforce our laws – and reform those which are not fair.

This was beginning to happen during the 1970's. Activists such as Ralph Nader were changing the system for the better for all. President Jimmy Carter was listening, and pointing the way to more enlightened political, economic, and social systems. Someday, historians may compare Jimmy Carter to Charlemagne.

Unfortunately, the massive corporate engine (that is the dominant force in our economy) saw bigger profits in the exploitation of the world.

Moreover, forces within the religious organizations of the Dark Ages feared this enlightenment. Some power hungry religious “leaders” took advantage of their positions of authority (to become even more powerful). They demonized that which was different and called for a stop to change in a changing world. Ironically, they would rather force their customs upon the unwilling than usher in a new era of peace, justice, and prosperity. Ironically, they chose to sell their souls to the systems of exploitation than ally themselves with those for rational change.

In the past eight years, the Republican controlled administration has started another Crusade in the Middle East, directed our nation towards proto-fascism, and driven our economy into the dirt.

Though overall our nation is spiraling downward, there are those who see things differently – because things are quite profitable for them so far. In 1980, the ratio between highest paid and average compensation in a Fortune 500 company was 42 to one. By 2007, the average American CEO makes 364 times the pay of an average worker – which is 885 times the annual income of a full-time minimum wage earner!

If you only keep score with cash, things are going pretty well for those who make the decisions. However, even the “winners” at this game have to see things with a serious case of myopia. No amount of money can replace fresh air – and peace... Yet, ironically, the Industrialists' answers to our problems are more Industrial Age systems – and the militarists' answer to our problems is more aggression.

Our economy is failing because the military/industrial complex has sucked us dry. And now they're trying to convince us that the solution is more Industrial Age “jobs.” Doesn't anyone see the irony in all this?

The Industrial Age has run its course. We have polluted our environment with linear Industrial Age systems. It is time to stop treating our planet as an infinite source of resources and as a bottomless pit for our waste.

We need to rethink our political systems. We need to rethink our economic systems. We need to rethink profit – or the winners among us will just be the last ones to lose.

Friday, August 22, 2008

He Probably Voted For Bush Jr. Both Times

Yesterday, I met the nicest man... with the most dangerous of beliefs.

This man was a retired miner who's views have been shaped by his career, mass media, and his religion. He wasn't out of the ordinary. Which is exactly what makes his perspective so dangerous.

He has a “theory.” (That's right, he calls it a “theory.”) His “theory” boils down to this;

God gave us coal so that we could burn it.”

By that argument, pretty much everything is here for us to exploit. By that argument, it almost sounds like God wanted us to be criminals. By that argument, God gave us women, so it is not only our right, but our duty to rape them... HELL NO!

We must treat everything with respect – if for no other reason than we have to always consider the consequences of our actions.

His “theory” reminds me of what white people thought back when they found all of the dead Indians and deserted villages back when Europeans first came to the Americas. From what I read; many of these white people believed that God had cleared out the Natives so that there would be room for Caucasian expansion.

Of course, we now know that these massive Native deaths from disease were simply an unforeseen consequence of European travel. God did not want to kill all those Native Americans. Europeans just simply didn't understand the consequences of their actions. And maybe they didn't care.

I hate to say this about the man I just met, because he was so nice to us; but “theories” like this are a sign of ignorance, laziness, and greed... Which means he is human. In fact, his view of the world is common – maybe even the majority view.

The truth is that people are willing to believe anything to get what we want – especially if we think we can get it right now, with minimal effort. Callousness and self-deception are just a part of the human condition. We're selfish. Because sometimes being selfish works.

Of course, there are often consequences to being selfish. Sometimes there are very harsh consequences. Consider your options well. Remember to ask yourself what you really want. And keep asking yourself. Ultimately; your future, the future of our country, our civilization, and even humanity is at stake.

It doesn't take that much effort to remember that we have options. If you are cold, you don't have to burn coal. You can wear a sweater. You can burn hydrogen. You can build a passive solar heated home. My Native American ancestors even moved in the winter to lower, warmer elevations.

(Of course, we also have options for electrical generation.)

Humans have complex brains that we can use to think about the consequences of our actions and consider alternative actions that suit us better. Most of us didn't stop burning wood because we ran out of wood. The same is true for coal. We simply have neither the right or the duty to burn coal just because it's there.

Coal is not like other minerals. Most other minerals have worked their way up from the depths of the Earth. Coal, on the other hand, was shoved underground from the surface.

There is another “theory,” quite worthy of mention:

Coal may be underground because it's supposed to be there.”

There is a balance of Carbon Dioxide in our atmosphere that supports life, including our own.

No matter whether you believe God set things up the way they are, or life achieved a balance on its own over millions of years; you have to admit that the natural world is very special and it is critical that we keep our environment healthy in order to keep ourselves alive.

My (belated) reply to this person is:

Then you ought to also believe that God gave us this world (in a beautiful natural state) for a reason; and by damaging it, we are damaging God's work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ramblin' 'bout a Revolution

I occasionally hear exasperated American citizens exclaiming that all of our politicians are corrupt... That we ought to vote them all out, and elect a whole new set of people. I don't think these ordinary citizens realize the implications of what they're saying. Replacing everyone in power with somebody new would be tantamount to a revolution. Do they want a revolution? Well... of course, nobody wants the violence. But almost every ordinary citizen would like our government and economic systems to function far better. I guess it depends on what you consider a revolution to be.

If there is a fundamental change in how a government works, that could also be considered a revolution.

Although I am not a historian, I would say there have been three “revolutions” in the past century in the US. Actually, there were two revolutions and one counter-revolution. The revolutions occurred during the Great Depression and during and after the Viet Nam war. The counter revolution started with the election of Ronald Reagan – and continues to this day.

Whatever your opinion of these revolutions, they have been times when a pronounced portion of the population wanted fundamental change. That time has come again.

In most Americans' opinion; our political, economic, and mass information systems are in an advanced stage of dysfunction. And the politicians who do want to fix things have run up against roadblocks at every turn. For many, despair has set in. But, hopelessness won't get us anywhere.

Let's face it. Fixing our systems will require far more effort than going to vote once every few years. Running a democracy requires constant diligence from the people. To fix things, we will have to learn how to become effective citizens. And in case you hadn't noticed, most of us are not effective citizens now. Apathy slowly kills a functional democracy. And with global warming, we are now learning (the hard way) that the cost of apathy is far greater than we ever imagined.

Change is a survival tactic.

We need extraordinary fundamental changes to our systems – now – or our country, and maybe even our civilization will weaken greatly, or even collapse.

Nonetheless, even if you could vote in a whole new set of representatives, it might not make a significant difference – if the candidates aren't significantly different. And they aren't. The election process has been effectively designed to favor the status quo. The two parties exist to keep the two parties in power – not solve problems. And the election process has been effectively designed to weed out those candidates with a conscience.

Consequently, our political system has an inherent inertia that was designed into it to keep those who are rich and powerful in control. Those on top don't want change. This is a critical flaw in our systems. The world is changing, and our systems can't adapt.

Consider the control which big business has over our own American political system:

The industry that makes more money always has more money to contribute to political campaigns than smaller new industries that have better ideas. Consequently, our government systematically functions to maximize big business profits by stifling innovative competition and maximizing prices to consumers. We see examples of this in the efforts (that got nowhere) to do something about speculators (including the oil industry) driving up oil prices. And we also know something is very wrong when we see that, for 30 years, there have essentially been government implemented roadblocks regularly put up to keep alternative energy on the sidelines. (And don't expect the truly clean energy industries to complain much. They might lose what little help they do get.)

Another example of big bad ideas that keep coming back because big business cares more about profits than people, and the government helps them get away with it; is nuclear power. We all thought we had put this dangerous industry on the shelf. But now, it's back on the table. And why? Not because the nuclear industry is orders of magnitude safer now. No, because there's big money in selling electric power. Still, no one has figured out what to do with all of that nuclear waste. Nonetheless, the nuclear industry sell-outs are willing to tell us anything we want to hear. Hey. “It's all better now.” They've worked out all the glitches... yeah, right.

(However, there is one condition where I would support nuclear power. If the reactors can be designed to run on the nuclear waste that has been accumulating over the past 50 years... That would be great. We could clean up the environment and generate energy too. And apparently, the nuclear industry claims it can be done. But I'm skeptical. I don't think anyone from the nuclear industry is claiming they can presently generate energy without accumulating even more nuclear waste than we already don't know what to do with. Sure, they claim that someday we'll burn nuclear waste. But apparently for now, we'll just have to settle for the same old nuclear technology with a couple bells and whistles. Oh really... I sure hope this nuclear dream technology isn't just another big energy bait-and-switch fantasy (like carbon sequestration) to fool us into accepting the unacceptable.)

Let's face it. We're constantly being lied to – in order to keep huge profits rolling in for established industries. And sadly, bait and switch offers seem to succeed in politics. George Bush promised to do something about global warming back in the 2000 presidential race, and now he's the world's primary impediment to global warming progress. George Bush promised to relieve Americans' tax burden, and now his borrow-and-spend policies have left us with the highest national debt in history. And moreover, the mass media has repeatedly looked the other way when George Bush does wrong.

Why would the mass media look the other way? Why would, for years now, while George Bush is out making mountain bike trails out on his “ranch” (with no cattle), has the press reported it as “clearing brush at his ranch”? Maybe the mass media wants to make him sound more presidential? And why would the mass media want to make George Bush appear more presidential? Of course, because there's something in it for them.


Both our local Ely Times newspaper and the Las Vegas Review Journal are owned by the Stephens Group. The Stevens Group is also partnered with a number of fossil fuel energy and power generation related companies. Could that lead to a conflict of interest in reporting? The Ely Times has published many editorials against action on global warming. I find it extraordinarily hard to believe that this is just a coincidence.

Investors have a term for having your hand in everyone else's pocket. They call it “diversifying your portfolio.” As far as investors are concerned, this is an admirable trait. Which could mean that this trait's consequences are intractable problems. For example; why would anyone with money want real change, when that might upset their investment portfolio?

Those who own the mass media have lots of money. Consequently, we should expect the mass media to support the politics which boost their owners' related profits. Therefore, it is inevitable that the mass media will have a conservative slant. It is predictable that NBC (which is owned by General Electric), would promote nuclear power. And it is capitalistic destiny that CNN would back down on global warming news reports when the coal industry started spending big bucks on a “clean coal” ad campaign.

History reminds us that corrupt communists wanted the government to control the press.

Nowadays, corrupt capitalists want the press to control the government.

Either way, the press has been used to control the people.

As an example; this whole right-wing/left-wing thing is all just a mass media distraction. The simple fact is that most citizens of the U.S. generally agree on how we want our systems to work. We want a fair democratic republic that respects minority opinion. We want a just and functional society. We want peace. And we don't want to see starving people on our streets. The real differences aren't right and left – no, they're up and down. The greedy rich are getting even richer, while the poor and middle class are getting poorer. All the while, the environment inches closer and closer to collapse.

It is time to ask why we should think in terms that are so expedient for the owners and advertisers of mass media.

It is time to think more clearly.

There are those who would frame our society's technological choices as a struggle between the economy and the environment. Yet our struggle has never been, and will never be between the economy and the environment. The economy and the environment go together. In fact, the economy is just a subset of the environment. Think about it; if we destroy our only natural home for the human species, it is bound to detrimentally effect the economy.

We've been taught economics wrong.

It's not about money. Money is only paper.

It's not necessarily about jobs. Those who work in sweat shops have jobs.

And it's not necessarily about growth. For the earth is a finite size, and cannot grow.

Improved economic thinking should be about wealth – true wealth.

And true wealth is that which keeps you healthy and happy.

Clean air and water are some of the necessities to keep us all healthy and happy.

A just society keeps us healthy and happy.

Political systems that can respond to change can keep us healthy and happy.

Corporations that do the right things keep us healthy and happy.

And healthy forests keep us healthy and happy.

Think about it. The act of making paper for money from forests is only practical if you can use that paper money to buy time out in the forest.

Our goals are misdirected.

What we need is a revolution of good ideas.

Surprisingly, most of those good ideas have already been thought up. It is only the inertia of our political system that has kept these good ideas from being implemented. Hilary Clinton said during the presidential campaign that “Washington is the place good ideas go to die.” Unfortunately, she didn't map out how to fix that problem. But I think we all know that it will take substantial fundamental changes in how Washington works. Our politicians cannot change Washington on their own. They will need millions of us pushing for real change. It will take a peaceful revolution - which, of course, will require peace.

For a couple of decades now, wise people have been trying to tell us there is a better way. The time has come when we can no longer ignore them.

Check out work by:

Paul HawkinBlessed Unrest

Amory LovinsRocky Mountain Institute

L. Hunter LovinsNatural Capitalism

Jeremy RifkinThe Hydrogen Economy

Thursday, August 07, 2008

And Now... The Hydrogen Economy

Great news; it just got a whole lot easier and cheaper to make hydrogen from water and convert that hydrogen to electricity with a fuel cell.

Technology Review has reported that “Researchers have made a major advance in inorganic chemistry that could lead to a cheap way to store energy from the sun. In so doing, they have solved one of the key problems in making solar energy a dominant source of electricity.” ... “Daniel Nocera, a professor of chemistry at MIT, has developed a catalyst ... which is easy and cheap to make, (that) could be used to generate vast amounts of hydrogen using sunlight to power the reactions. The hydrogen can then be burned or run through a fuel cell to generate electricity whenever it's needed, including when the sun isn't shining.”

Other scientists are raving about this discovery. One even goes so far as to say that for solar power; “this is probably the most important single discovery of the century."

On top of that, Gizmag has reported that Australian scientists have discovered a much cheaper way to build a fuel cell, utilizing a polymer cathode (instead of platinum).

It looks like the hydrogen economy has finally arrived... if we welcome it.

There is potential here to live totally off the grid. Which must scare the hell out of the fossil fuel industry. You know they will do everything they can to suppress this technology.

For thirty years now, the fossil fuel industry has sucked up billions and billions of dollars in subsidies in the U.S., while politically starving sustainable energy generation. With trillions of dollars at stake, that is not about to change.

The Wall Street Journal has reported; “Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a vote on legislation to rein in speculation in the energy markets, instead calling for energy votes that would expand domestic petroleum production and more nuclear power development.” Where's the help for sustainable energy? Nowhere.

There is even a good chance sustainable energy generation might lose what tax breaks they do have. Talk about pulling the rug out from under the best ideas just when they're needed the most. This isn't an accident. And it's been happening ever since Ronald Reagan was elected on the premise of reducing big government. (Of course, he didn't tell us he wanted to get rid of the best parts of government – like alternative energy development.)

You might have expected someone in the mass media to have reported on the suppression of alternative energy sometime in the past 30 years. But no, they've been too busy making millions every time some company from the fossil fuel industry ran an ad campaign to green-wash their image of greedy corporatocracy. And as long as the money keeps pouring in, the mass media has no intentions of telling the whole truth about the influence of the fossil fuel industry. The whole truth is that many have known for decades that our economy and our environment are in big trouble - as a result of these irresponsible corporations' control over our government, our media, and our minds.

When it comes to the Kyoto Treaty on global warming, George Bush has used China's polluting ways as an excuse to ignore sustainable energy generation. But even China has decided to invest in renewables. The BBC has reported; “China's rapid investment in low carbon technologies has catapulted the nation up the global renewable energy rankings, a report shows ... (they are) second only to Germany.” So, has George Bush changed his mind now? Of course not, he's an oil man. China was only an excuse.

Is John McCain any better? He claims to be. But so did George Bush, back when he was running for president in 2000.

Back in June, John McCain changed his position on offshore drilling for oil. He now wants to ignore all environmental concerns and drill it all. Not long after his change of heart, John McCain received some big checks from oil executives. This ain't no coincidence!

Barrack Obama has recently published and ad remarking about John McCain's ties to the fossil fuel industry. Click here to see it.

For more information on John McCain's ties to lobbyists. Click here.

So, now for the bad news. The technology to ween ourselves off of expensive, polluting, and climate changing fossil fuels has arrived. But our own government has been influenced into fighting the development of these technological advances almost every step of the way. Follow the money...

What this will mean is that we will continue to pay price gouging prices for fossil fuels, our economy and environment will suffer possibly unrecoverable blows, and other countries industries will further leapfrog ahead of us – if we allow this happen.

But... If we insist our elected leaders support renewable energy - really insist on real action, maybe they will listen. So far, Republicans are just paying us lip service. And the mass media won't report this. Stop watching. When mass media revenues start to drop, we'll see a far more objective mass media. Until then, they'll keep telling us lies.

The American people have the power to make change for the better, if we use our power. There are hundreds of millions of us. We're angry. We want renewable, sustainable energy. And we want it now!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Witnessing Glacial Melting

I had to go look. I had to see for myself just how bad it really is. I wanted to personally experience the effects of global warming on the Arctic. I went to Alaska. I visited some of the glaciers there. And, without a doubt, the problem is very serious.

The world has already changed, right before our eyes. And it continues to change even more.

In the area I visited, 98 percent of the glaciers have shrunk... Yes, 2 percent have grown. But this is because of global warming too. A warmer ocean has led to more evaporation, and therefore more snowfall in some areas.

Of the glaciers I visited, all of them have melted significantly. The main glacier we went to see, Northwestern glacier, was a mere shadow of it's former self. One hundred years ago, it had stretched for miles into the ocean. Now, it barely reached a few feet into the water – and that ice was melting fast. In fact, I left my video recorder on continuously while we were there, because ice was almost continuously calving while we were watching.

(The photo shows glaciers in the distance. All of the water in the picture was covered by hundreds of feet of ice a century ago. The video I took is of an ice fall, a form of glacier calving that is falling down the side of the mountain for thousands of feet. This is what happens when a tidal glacier starts melting up the mountain. This is ice melting off of land. This is what sea level change looks like. This is what coastal flooding looks like. It's not a question of when the seas will rise any more. It's now a question of how much.)

As our boat was first entering the bay, you could see where the glacier had once ended a hundred years ago. The pile of rocks known as it's terminal moraine was underwater, but it reached high enough stop ocean swell. From that point, you couldn't even see the glacier. From that point, it was still almost a half an hour's travel to reach where the glacier ends now.

A hundred years ago, this glacier stretched for over a mile across the bay. It was 400 feet high. And it flowed for over 7 miles out into the ocean. Now, that is all gone. Gone!

Our ship captain pointed out to us that during the 15 years he had been coming out to visit this glacier, he had seen it shrink significantly. I too, felt as if I were witnessing it shrinking before my eyes. The experience was overwhelming.

The truth is so self evident that we are in big trouble that it seems hard to believe that there is any controversy. The Earth's environment is changing. That may be a good thing 2 percent of the time. But, 98 percent of the time the results will be horrific for humanity.

Shrinking glaciers are a sign.

If we ignore the signs, we will have to bear the brunt of the consequences.

The time to act responsibly was 30 years ago.

We won't be getting out of this unscathed.

The balance of life on Earth has already suffered.

People have already died (from extreme weather due to global warming).

The situation is now beginning to become desperate.

For some, it's already too late.

There's even a possibility that it's already too late for our civilization.

The longer we wait – the longer it's business as usual, the worse the consequences will likely be. And this is happening in our lifetime.