Archive for November, 2007


After concluding that a Bush administration appointee ‘may have improperly influenced’ several rulings on whether to protect imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service has revised seven decisions on protecting species across the country. The appointee repeatedly overruled recommendations by scientists. Julie MacDonald, former deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks “resigned from the department in May after she was criticized in a report by the inspector general and as she was facing congressional scrutiny”. Click below to read the Washington Post article.

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© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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These comments are my analysis and discussion of an article on various sides of the “corn ethanol story” published by Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post, with farmers telling us they can’t survive without the subsidies. I guess they’ll inherit the earth when the rest of us have no water to drink. The fact that the dust bowl is likely to be re-created doesn’t seem to bother them, so get ready, California, for a big influx of foreigners from the Midwest. Click the “read more” link below to see the article.

The comments on the story, found on the Washington Post website, are most telling, with some decrying “environmentalists who are never happy.” Well, I don’t see a lot to be happy about when tax dollars are being spent to subsidize a senseless and wasteful corn-ethanol program that pollutes and wastes our fresh water while having no impact on our foreign oil dependence. I have documented much about the problems of corn ethanol on this site. I don’t blame the farmers for taking the subsidies: heck, this is America, where socialism is a crime unless it bails out good farmin’ folk (or big business). Using public funds to save lives through health care, or to save the environment through any number of approaches (mass transit, anyone?), is clearly viewed as evil by many. It is, however, our “energy policies” that are flawed- they certainly have nothing to do with energy.

Corn is food, and will never compete successfully as an ethanol producer unless its non-food parts are added to cellulosic ethanol feedstocks in future biomass-to-ethanol plants. Wasting money on corn-ethanol just delays research on sensible biofuels and pollutes the fresh water that is so short in many parts of the US and the world.

Why is it that everyone is up in arms about chemical companies, oil companies, power companies or mining companies that pollute the environment, but polluting is no problem at all if done by those great family farmers whom we all love so much (and their large corporate cousins)?

Of course, as pointed out in one of the comments to the Washington Post story, ethanol contains about half the available energy that gasoline contains, so you have to burn twice as much ethanol as gas to go the same distance at the same speed.

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© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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I couldn’t get digg to link to the specific story on this site for some reason, but anyway there is a wealth of collected stories on environmental issues, from studies on water quality to reports on the Bush administration’s policies. A very valuable site to check out. There doesn’t seem to be any commentary, but the stories are all on target. Some if it will cause you to read and weep, but there is much to act upon: contact your State and Federal representatives and write to your local newspapers. Voice your opinion and help democracy work.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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Millions of tons of toxic e-waste from around the world are finding their way onto streets and alleyways in Chinese villages as peasants eke out a living reclaiming precious metals from electronic equipment. What isn’t reclaimed goes into unregulated dumping grounds. Reported by AP and others, this is the flip-side of recycling: a good idea, poorly executed, is leaving massive heath problems and environmental problems in China. Frankly, this kind of work needs to be done in moderately or highly sophisticated facilities, not in peoples houses or in unregulated, improperly outfitted facilities. Of course, the same exploitation of Western countries occurred for many years, but we are trying to stop it (and have succeeded in many cases).  China would do well to learn from our more unfortunate tales of industrialization.

Who are we to judge? People whose countries have been there, done that, and seen enough (for the most part).  Of course, the Western world could do much better, too, but the situation reported here is just awful. The resulting health damage and eventual environmental cleanup will costs billions. Doing things properly to start with might require some capital investment, but it is necessary.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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Please read the story that my previous post links to on cities that are taking various approaches to sustainability. I applaud these cities on their effort, risk, expenditure and cooperation…

but I’d like to hear what people think about the cities’ actual solutions!

Since I can barely find people who agree on anything regarding alternative fuel, or at best we seem to have warring camps, did these cities choose plans that will help or hurt the environment? How did they know what to do when so few others agree? The best presentation at a City Council meeting may reflect marketing skills rather than content.

So, let’s bring it on in a discussion, pro or con, but civil please. Thanks!

What do you think?

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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“It shouldn’t shock you to hear that I receive a lot of pitches for this blog. (Which is a very good thing for ideas, actually, so keep them coming.) One trend I’ve noticed is that many of what I call the “real” green-tech efforts and experiments are very locally focused….”

by Harry Fuller and Heather Clancy (Posted by Heather Clancy) of zdnet’s “GreenTech Pastures” blog

A nice review of efforts from Canada to Texas to California to Singapore.

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Thanks to Connell83 over on hugg.com for drawing my attention to the Nature Conservancy’s website. Although I have supported them for years, I never looked at the website before.

This undated page discusses legislation proposed by senators Lieberman and Warner and adaptations supported by the Nature Conservancy aimed at decreasing, minimizing or avoiding a wide variety of environmental problems associated with climate change and other environmental issues. Adaptations by mankind and by nature are discussed.

One interesting adaptation is based on supporting international research to identify forms of coral (and symbiotic algae) that are hardiest to changes in temperature. These hardy forms might serve as the backbone of “adapted” coral reefs.

Many other specific and detailed examples are given of ongoing work being done to prepare for, or avoid, the effects of climate change. I recommend reading through the Nature Conservancy site- it displays a positive attitude to addressing problems that is different from many “doom and gloom” stories associated with the environment.

SELF-TEST. I would pose the following to people who say that global warming isn’t credible:

  • Science does not always predict correctly what will happen in highly complex systems like the global environment. There are scientists who have been predicting environmental disasters related to oil use for decades, but nothing seemed to be happening to the environment until relatively recently (the environment of the whole planet rather than local issues).
  • However, there are also plenty of cases where scientists have not predicted harmful environmental effects, and we have had to learn hard lessons (take the great damage to the salmon population by pesticides). So, scientists can be too sure of themselves in cases of warnings or “all-clear signals”.
  • We simply need to be prepared for problems that might affect our food, water, transport, health, environment and lifestyles before these issues become even more overwhelming. What if thousands of professional scientists who study climate change, and believe it to be happening, are absolutely right? It isn’t a political issue any longer.
  • Even if you find yourself claiming or believing that global warming is a political, not a scientific or “real” issue, how sure can you be? Don’t you think it would be strategically inexcusable to be unprepared to deal with problems of energy use, dependence on foreign oil, damage to the environment and potentially catastrophic climate change? What would you think of leaders who didn’t prepare for the worst (and the best, and cases in between)?

This has probably been said better elsewhere. I’ll write and cite more on the subject.

As I would like to continue stressing, it is more important for people who disagree to discuss these subjects than for people who agree to do so, but the discussions have to involve real listening by all “sides”.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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Large wind energy power project to generate more jobs for Kern County and boost local economy.
Oak Creek Energy is located in Mojave, CA and is a wind energy pioneer, beginning with one of the first wind farms built in California in early 1982.  I felt I needed to include more along the lines of “let’s act, not whine.”

However, there have been environmental concerns about harvesting the desert in one way or another (i.e. solar farms).  This is because under some plans, the Mojave desert will simply disappear and the ecosystem will be destroyed.  So, let’s hope that, when the final details are worked out completely, reasonable approaches have been devised and taken.

NOTE: THIS LINKS TO A PDF. If you are on a slow connection or just don’t want to view the PDF, please don’t click. Thanks to Mark Laymon on DIGG for finding this. Jim

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Brandon Keim reports for Wired on a Corporate Code of Conduct announced by Climos, a climate engineering firm involved in using iron to “seed”, or fertilize, growth of carbon dioxide-fixing plankton in oceans. This code of conduct, while voluntary and non-binding, is a welcome step in an R&D area that reminds one scientist of “the Wild West”. There are links to related articles by Brandon Keim and to other information sources relevant to climate engineering or geoengineering.

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As reported by Timothy Gardner of Reuters, ethanol prices are so low that producers are not making any profit.

U.S. weekly ethanol margins still in the dumps

by Timothy Gardner

NEW YORK, Nov 2 (Reuters) – U.S. ethanol margins ticked a few cents higher this week as producers fetched slightly higher prices for the renewable fuel, but the average producer was still making next to no profit, analysts said Friday.

So, production of ethanol is

  • ruining the food economy
  • polluting the rivers (and streams and Gulf of Mexico and everything else) with agricultural runoff
  • eliminating grasslands
  • using up water in water-poor regions

and the bad news is … nobody is even getting rich off this behavior! Oh, and it is having zero impact on our need for foreign oil. The robber barons of old must be turning over in their graves.

More from Mr. Gardner:

“When gasoline prices are much higher than ethanol prices, some blenders add more ethanol to gasoline than required by law, which eventually boosts prices for the renewable fuel.

But the slighter better ethanol margins were not enough to line the pockets of renewable fuel producers

“When you consider overhead costs, you’re probably below break even,” Ron Oster, an ethanol analyst at Broadpoint Capital, Inc, in Missouri, said in an interview.”

Why such trouble? Because the corn-ethanol business faces problems like

“rising prices for natural gas, used to power most bio-refineries, [that] cut profit margins down to about break even”

Read the whole article for bleak projections of profit, more explanation of high production costs and revelations about the poor efficiency of many ethanol plants.

Why are we subsidizing this industry, and why are we pretending that it is good for the environment?

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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