Archive for May, 2008
The headlines are all the rage about fuel prices, food prices, commodity prices, and whining CEOs. Maybe America’s news services should begin rebroadcasting this classic piece of hemp history so the chemical companies can be reminded they are the ones who paid off congress to get rid of Mother Nature. Watch and learn!
This is a little story about shopping behavior in the age of peak oil.
The other day, my wife decided she wanted to go buy some stuff and I was dragged along kicking and screaming. We bickered about the usual things when it comes to buying “new” stuff – I brought up how we shouldn’t contribute to consumerism, and she countered with the fact that I can’t make the furniture she wants for our raging deck parties this summer. In other words – I lost.
Damn my inability to sustainably self-forge fixtures and furniture from the earth!
So we headed out in a rented FlexFuel truck (saving money at the pump by fueling up with E-85). Our trip started out by heading to the Rebuilding Center, a place in Portland where you can go shopping for all sorts of home goodies that have been reclaimed. This means you can buy pre-owned sinks, windows, doors – you name it.
The unfortunate part about shopping at second-hand stores is that you get whatever is there, in whatever condition it is in, and there is no guarantee of inventory in stock. It’s a mish-mash of potentially useful items, and while you can get lucky and find some gems, some of it looks like it is one-step ahead of a trip to the dump.
So then we went to the store she wanted to visit. It’s this little store you might have heard of called IKEA.
I had never been to an IKEA, and I was amazed at the energy in the orgy of consumerism and Disneyland-like glee from shoppers of every ethnicity. At this store, home ideas are presented to you – not much thinking required!
I imagine whoever steals the IKEA layout and combines it with the Rebuilding Center to showcase reclaimed furniture will have a hit on their hands in the future as the economy continues to tank.
So after I put up a tantrum because I refused to participate in buying new fixtures from IKEA (even though they claim to use sustainable materials for some wood products), we left and headed home after grabbing some mulch from a local provider.
Then we decided to take a little field trip to Portland’s dumping station to get rid of things we couldn’t recycle, but that the city claims to recycle. Excellent, I thought. This could be a win-win.
Ugh. Have you been to your city dump lately? If I were mayor, I would suggest to each person living in the city to take a field trip to the dump, just to witness the ghastly amounts of waste that we generate. When you actually put yourself into the trash, you can feel your stomach turn at the notion of human stupidity.
How wasteful we are – shame on us all. But even if trash magically “goes away” to be placed in a landfill or even recycled, do we really need so much stuff? I am guilty as charged when it comes to materialism, but trying to find ways to change.
My question is – are enough humans willingly asking ourselves these questions, and do we have systems in place to radically alter our behavior before we completely decimate our planet? Will we be able to shop our way out of Peak Oil, even if we don’t buy anything new?
I would love to see the military retrofit our equipment be used for farming rather than securing oil to continue our wasteful lifestyles.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is time to kick farming into high gear and start producing sugary sweet hooch across America. And some entrepreneurs have just released a machine that opens the innovation doors to partially kick peak oil’s butt.
Introducing the Efuel100 Microfueler. Fuel for the very rich so they can still ride in their FlexFuel high-end vehicles.
This this is so rad, I can hardly contain myself. But at the same time, I am not too excited.
I have been working hard to promote David Blume’s work while ignorant journalists have been poo-pooing ethanol. Now, not only has the truth emerged that we can sustainably make alcohol fuel, but this amazing machine has been released to kick the home-brew fuel market into high gear. Sort of.
For a cool $10,000, you can join the ranks of big oil and start making your own fuel without doing any of the hard work like chasing down plans and building your own small scale ethanol still. You can simply buy this fabulous machine and PRESTO! You are on the road again.
The problem is that it is a membrane system, which means there can be no solids in the mash. This means you are limited to a complete liquid feedstock (namely bags of sugar). And if you sink in $10,000 for a fuel machine that makes alcohol fuel at a rate of let’s say $2.00 per gallon and can make about 35 gallons a week, it would take you many years to break even on your fuel investment.
But hey, if oil crashes, at least you can still get from A to B, right? As long as Costco still carries big bags of sugar. The good news is that David Blume is working on a larger scale still that will deliver the convenience of the EFuel100, but it will crank out many more gallons per week for less money using multiple feedstocks (he is looking for investors to help fund his venture).
Not that I believe we should continue as-is with our car culture. Riding a bike now and then feels great! And we must consume MUCH less per-person in America, and make intensely smart decisions. But before all of you Food VS FUEL hotheads go on a tirade, you need to know that alcohol fuel can be made from a hell of a lot more than bags of sugar and corn. Go and read the MANY posts on Lawns to Gardens sharing the truth with you. But let me sum it up:
1. Almost every country can become energy-independent. Anywhere that has sunlight and land can produce alcohol from plants. Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world imports no oil, since half its cars run on alcohol fuel made from sugarcane, grown on 1% of its land.
2. We can reverse global warming. Since alcohol is made from plants, its production takes carbon dioxide out of the air, sequestering it, with the result that it reverses the greenhouse effect (while potentially vastly improving the soil). Recent studies show that in a permaculturally designed mixed-crop alcohol fuel production system, the amount of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere by plants—and then exuded by plant roots into the soil as sugar—can be 13 times what is emitted by processing the crops and burning the alcohol in our cars.
3. We can revitalize the economy instead of suffering through Peak Oil. Oil is running out, and what we replace it with will make a big difference in our environment and economy. Alcohol fuel production and use is clean and environmentally sustainable, and will revitalize families, farms, towns, cities, industries, as well as the environment. A national switch to alcohol fuel would provide many millions of new permanent jobs.
4. No new technological breakthroughs are needed. We can make alcohol fuel out of what we have, where we are. Alcohol fuel can efficiently be made out of many things, from waste products like stale donuts, grass clippings, food processing waste-even ocean kelp. Many crops produce many times more alcohol per acre than corn, using arid, marshy, or even marginal land in addition to farmland. Just our lawn clippings could replace a third of the autofuel we get from the Mideast.
5. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, we can easily use alcohol fuel in the vehicles we already own. Unmodified cars can run on 50% alcohol, and converting to 100% alcohol or flexible fueling (both alcohol and gas) costs only a few hundred dollars. Most auto companies already sell new dual-fuel vehicles.
6. Alcohol is a superior fuel to gasoline! It’s 105 octane, burns much cooler with less vibration, is less flammable in case of accident, is 98% pollution-free, has lower evaporative emissions, and deposits no carbon in the engine or oil, resulting in a tripling of engine life. Specialized alcohol engines can get at least 22% better mileage than gasoline or diesel.
7. It’s not just for gasoline cars. We can also easily use alcohol fuel to power diesel engines, trains, aircraft, small utility engines, generators to make electricity, heaters for our homes—and it can even be used to cook our food.
8. Alcohol has a proud history. Gasoline is a refinery’s toxic waste; alcohol fuel is liquid sunshine. Henry Ford’s early cars were all flex-fuel. It wasn’t until gasoline magnate John D. Rockefeller funded Prohibition that alcohol fuel companies were driven out of business.
9. The byproducts of alcohol production are clean, instead of being oil refinery waste, and are worth more than the alcohol itself. In fact, they can make petrochemical fertilizers and herbicides obsolete. The alcohol production process concentrates and makes more digestible all protein and non-starch nutrients in the crop. It’s so nutritious that when used as animal feed, it produces more meat or milk than the corn it comes from. That’s right, fermentation of corn increases the food supply and lowers the cost of food.
10. Locally produced ethanol supercharges regional economies. Instead of fuel expenditures draining capital away to foreign bank accounts, each gallon of alcohol produces local income that gets recirculated many times. Every dollar of tax credit for alcohol generates up to $6 in new tax revenues from the increased local business.
11. Alcohol production brings many new small-scale business opportunities. There is huge potential for profitable local, integrated, small-scale businesses that produce alcohol and related byproducts, whereas when gas was cheap, alcohol plants had to be huge to make a profit.
12. Scale matters—most of the widely publicized potential problems with ethanol are a function of scale. Once production plants get beyond a certain size and are too far away from the crops that supply them, closing the ecological loop becomes problematic. Smaller-scale operations can more efficiently use a wide variety of crops than huge specialized one-crop plants, and diversification of crops would largely eliminate the problems of monoculture.
13. The byproducts of small-scale alcohol plants can be used in profitable, energy-efficient, and environmentally positive ways. For instance, spent mash (the liquid left over after distillation) contains all the nutrients the next fuel crop needs and can return it back to the soil if the fields are close to the operation. Big-scale plants, because they bring in crops from up to 45 miles away, can’t do this, so they have to evaporate all the water and sell the resulting byproduct as low-price animal feed,which accounts for half the energy used in the plant.
By combining permaculture, smart agriculture and market forces, we can turn Peak Oil on its ugly head and not have to have a collapse. It will be interesting to see how many people actually buy these personal fuel units. In the meantime, get together with your neighbors and start to learn about how you can start making changes to deal with peak oil – whether you buy one of these machines or not!
I had to pick my jaw up from the floor today when I read this story on MSNBC today.
“We were only trading at $86 about three months ago and not a whole lot has changed to move us to where we are now,” said Addison Armstrong, Director of Market Research for Tradition Energy. “There’s no doubt in my mind — and most other people I speak to — we are in a bubble. And it’s going to deflate at some point.”
For example, witness the contradictions of such claims:
“For one thing, there’s no shortage of oil“.
Then they go on to report “There is so little excess production capacity today that the loss of a major supplier could create a shortage of oil.” According to the consensus forecast tracked by Thomson Reuters, oil prices are expected to end this year around $91 a barrel, falling to $90 by the end of next year and $82 by the end of 2010.
Black is white. Up is down. There is plenty of oil – go back to sleep, children! Meanwhile, the smarter humans are growing food gardens at home, setting up community gardens, getting to know their neighbors, and learning about making their own fuel.
Are you a smarter human?
The launch of Grand Theft Auto 4 just made over $500 million is sales. So what does that mean for us as a country? It means that our youth are so wrapped up in virtual violence and non-reality, that as peak oil has begun to kick us in the teeth, millions of video game zombies are tuned out of our very real problems.
Last year, I wrote a satirical post (To All The Geeks, Gamers, and Non-Attention Payers) about kids having to get ready to eat one another as human society collapses. I’m no longer interested in using humor to break through.
What are we supposed to think when so many people are hot to press button combinations on a joystick to bitch slap hookers and shoot cops? Sure, it may all be in “Good Fun”, but the premise of such actions is much different than zapping asteroids or saving a princess.
If gamers today want to play a more “realistic game” they are getting one served up to them in the form of gas prices, food prices, layoffs, and war. And if they think they are immune to the effects, they might want to take their heads out of the X-Box for a few minutes and pay attention.
We are now in the most challenging time in our history as modern society begins to collapse. While we still have active social systems and a sense of order in America, the end of cheap oil and no fast alternatives means these video games could be training people for what is truly coming.
I hate to think that we could face such mayhem, where anyone and everyone could be a target of humans gone wild. Hell, people are already selling manhole covers for scrap metal. In times of desperation, if we do not keep our integrity and dignity as human beings, people who play these types of games might just snap and not be able to decipher between what is real and what is not.
When food and shelter become unaffordable or unavailable as they are elsewhere in the world, how will we maintain order? By telling people to stay home and play Grand Theft Auto? By locking everyone up in those minty-fresh FEMA camps?
Why not actively pursue that target market with enough time to waste on video games and recruit them to help the elderly with converting their lawns into food gardens or running errands? Or would they rather switch weapons with a quick flick of their thumb and simply shoot, beat, or flame throw them?
If the answer does not fall in the first category, we are in deep shit.
Attention all Ethanol haters: You really don’t know what you are talking about. All the manufactured hysteria blaming ethanol for high food prices is getting out of hand, and people need to wake up to reality. Blame the oil companies, folks – not farmers.
I usually don’t agree with George Bush, but listen to the truth he let slip out at a news conference when a reporter asked him the following question:
Reporter: The World Bank says about 85 percent of the increase in corn price since 2002 is due to biofuel — increased demand for biofuels. And your Secretary of State said that — indicated yesterday that she thought that might be part of the problem. Do you agree with that? And what can the United States do — what more can the United States do to help make food more affordable around the world?
“THE PRESIDENT: Actually, I have a little different take: I thought it was
85 percent of the world’s food prices are caused by weather, increased demand and energy prices — just the cost of growing product — and that 15 percent has been caused by ethanol, the arrival of ethanol.
“By the way, the high price of gasoline is going to spur more investment in ethanol as an alternative to gasoline. And the truth of the matter is it’s in our national interests that our farmers grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us.
“One thing I think that would be — I know would be very creative policy is if we — is if we would buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also as a way to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting. It’s a proposal I put forth that Congress hasn’t responded to yet, and I sincerely hope they do”
That sounds a whole lot like the message local food movements have been crying out for years, doesn’t it? George Bush, for once, is right. To keep blaming corn for high food prices is the height of ignorance. Sure, there are correlations, but to place all the blame on it simply shows there are many uneducated people out there. Take a look at this price index and decide for yourself what is the REAL reason for food prices skyrocketing:
So, let me REPEAT: Oil is the cause of food prices, and we can make fuel from things OTHER THAN CORN. Therefore, it’s not ETHANOL’s fault, rather the existing agricultural system in place supporting the WAY WE SUPPORT ETHANOL. Get it yet?
Corn gets you about 200 gallons of ethanol per acre. Here are some lovely examples of different feedstocks we can use:
Cattails – 2,500 gallons per acre (12.5 X more than corn)
Sorghum – 3,500 gallons per acre (17.5 X more than corn)
Fodder beats – 940 gallons per acre (4.7 X more than corn)
There are about 30 more feedstocks, from fruit to 70 million acres of weeds (mesquite) that we can make fuel from. And before you get all worked up over the food VS fuel argument, anyone can look at world crop production and see that we produce around twice the calories we need to feed everyone. What we have is a money shortage, since food is a commodity and not a right: Whoever can pay for it gets to buy it.
So it’s policies that need to change, folks. If you are angry enough, maybe it’s time to turn off the TV and video games and get involved a lot more. You can start by making sure you get involved by educating your politicians (Send them a copy of this book), supporting your local farmers, finding alternative transportation other than driving everywhere, and planting food at home.
This way we can start acting like grown ups and fix our problems instead of letting lobbyists and corporations continue to screw things up even more.
BONUS: Listen to Burt Bacharach & The Posies’ “What The World Needs Now” for 20 extra Karma points