How Obama and McCain voted on environmental issues in 2007

How did Barack Obama and John McCain vote on environmental and clean energy issues in 2007?

By Glenn Maltais

According to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Obama did OK, McCain, not so much.

Even though both presidential candidates are rigorously touting their environmental credentials, when it comes to walking the talk, the difference between Barack Obama and John McCain appears to be significant.

The national environmental scorecard, a ranking system that evaluates individual U.S. legislators based on their votes on environmental issues, highlighted 15 key votes last year–all of which senator McCain missed, resulting in a 0% score.

It is not uncommon for Presidential candidates to suffer from absenteeism during hectic election campaigns, or to miss roll call votes while being away from Washington for prolonged periods. Nevertheless, Obama managed to only miss four environmental votes, resulting in a 67% score – not great – but a whole lot better than 0%.

As scored by the LCV, McCain’s lifetime average is 24%, well below Obama’s 86%. Granted, this is not the greatest of comparisons, considering McCain has been in the Senate for a few decades, and Obama, a few years…but still, 24%? Not cool.

Out of the 15 votes where McCain chose to be elsewhere, the one that upset environmental groups the most occurred when an important piece of legislation fell one “yes” vote short of passage. The legislation involved tax incentives for renewable energy (set to expire December 31st, 2008) and repealed unnecessary tax breaks for the oil and gas industries.

Unfortunately, when it comes to what is arguably two the most important issues of our time, energy and the environment, McCain’s “straight talk express” may sound like it’s headed for greener pastures, but it appears to be circling the current administration’s big oil wagons. And, that leaves many environmentalists and those striving to usher in a new [clean, domestic] energy era, seeing red.

Betting on a hot market for syngas

Turning scrap metal and debris into energy may help U.S. ease its reliance on oil

By Robert Gavin Globe Staff / August 25, 2008

NEW BEDFORD – Take a rusting, hulking pile of scrap metal, add a few tons of construction debris, and what do you get?

In the case of Ze-gen Inc., a new source of energy.

Ze-gen, founded four years ago, is using the unappetizing conglomeration to make fuel for power plants.

Borrowing technology from the steel industry, the company turns scrap metal into a 2,800-degree metal bath and injects construction debris deep into the bubbling cauldron. The process produces a clean-burning , or syngas, that can replace natural gas or fuel oil.

Ze-gen has been proving its technology and the quality of syngas over the past year, operating a demonstration plant here that digests about a ton of debris an hour. The company is now considering several sites, primarily in the Northeast, to develop a commercial facility that could eventually process as much as 30 tons an hour and produce enough gas to fuel a plant that could power 20,000 homes.

It expects to begin commercial production at the end of next year.

“We’re solving two problems,” said Bill Davis, Ze-gen’s chief executive. “We’re eliminating wastes that would end up in a landfill and reducing fossil fuels.”

Ze-gen is one of many companies across the nation using gasification technologies to convert plant, wood, and other organic wastes – known as biomass – into syngas. Some like, Ze-gen, are simply making syngas, which has the same chemical components, carbon and hydrogen, as fossil fuels. Others, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff InEnTec LLC, of Bend, Ore., are condensing it into liquid to make ethanol.

InEnTec uses municipal solid waste as feed stock and a technology known as plasma gasification, initially developed at MIT several years ago to destroy hazardous materials. The technology essentially creates an artificial bolt of lightning that vaporizes materials. InEnTec applied the method to solid waste, producing a syngas, then introducing a catalyst to change the gas into liquid, which can be blended with gasoline.

InEnTec and a partner, Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc. of California, recently said they plan to break ground on a $120 million plant near Reno, Nev., by the end of the year, and begin commercial production of ethanol in 2010. The plant will process 90,000 tons of waste annually to produce 10.5 million gallons of ethanol. Including tipping fees (the charge for taking the waste), the company projects making ethanol for about $1 a gallon, said Dan Cohn, a cofounder of InEnTec and senior research scientist at MIT.

“Gasification has a lot of potential because the technology is well established and can process a very wide range of feed stocks,” Cohn said. “It has the greatest potential when you can process waste.”

Gasification, which uses heat to turn solids into gas, is indeed a well-established technology. Before the invention of the electric light, many cities and towns had plants that converted coal to gas for street lamps. With oil and natural gas prices soaring, coal gasification has gained new interest, but is controversial because coal gas produces high amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse emission that contributes to global warming.

Using biomass as a feed stock is considered more environmentally friendly because plants and trees can be regrown to absorb carbon dioxide created by burning syngas. In addition, keeping waste out of landfills reduces an even more potent greenhouse gas, methane, which is released during decomposition.

Reducing solid waste was a key consideration in the founding of Ze-gen. Davis said more than 300 million tons of waste end up in US landfills every year, about 15 percent of it wood waste from construction. Ze-gen’s idea: Tap the waste’s energy potential.

The company’s engineers determined that channel induction furnaces used in the steel industry provided an energy-efficient way to turn construction debris into a high-quality, clean syngas. The electricity used for the furnace offsets about 15 percent of the energy produced by the syngas, Davis said.

The construction debris is first ground up, then injected deep into the molten metal with ceramic cylinders, much like dipping forks into a fondue pot. The intense heat converts the debris to gas. Heavy metals, such as lead from paint, settle to the bottom of the bath while other contaminants are trapped in crust of silica, known as slag, that forms on top.

Ze-gen raised about $8 million from investors to build the demonstration plant at a New Bedford waste-transfer station. The next step is to find industrial partners to put the gas to work. Syngas is difficult and expensive to transport, so Ze-gen’s plan is to build production facilities near users such as power and cogeneration plants at large factories. Cogeneration produces steam as well as electricity.

Several large companies have expressed interest, Davis said. He estimates the company could make syngas for about 75 percent of the current price of natural gas on commodities markets, and less than half that of fuel oil. Tipping fees for taking the waste could further lower the cost, he said.

U.S. tycoons Bill Gates and Warren Buffett tour Alberta oilsands

As reported in the Calgary Herald

by Jon Harding

Two of the world’s richest people, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and his friend, American investment magnate Warren Buffett, quietly flew into northeastern Alberta on Monday, where they took in the oilsands, apparently with awe.

Buffett and Gates — No. 1 and 3, respectively, on the world’s richest people list in the March edition of Forbes magazine — were hosted by a group that included Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers at Canadian Natural’s $9.3-billion Horizon oilsands development.

Representatives from CAPP made a presentation to the American power duo, who were pegged by Forbes in the spring as having a collective net worth of a cool $120 billion US and who could be looking for secure places to make resource-related investments now that the U.S. dollar seems to be recovering.

“We were asked to come up and give a general overview on the oilsands and Canada’s role in the world of energy in general, which we did,” said Greg Stringham, CAPP’s vice-president. “They were exercising curiosity, basically saying, ‘Wow, this is neat.’ ”

The two tycoons were hosted by, among others, Canadian Natural vice-chairmen Murray Edwards and company chairman Allan Markin, who are among Canada’s wealthiest people.

According to Forbes’ March list, Buffett, 77, known widely as America’s most beloved investor and whose assets are largely held within his Omaha, Neb.-based insurance firm Berkshire Hathaway, was worth an estimated $62 billion US. Computer wizard Gates, 52, who had been the richest man on the planet for 13 straight years, had a net worth of $58 billion US.

The prestigious group made its way to the Horizon site about 100 kilometres north of oilsands hub Fort McMurray. Horizon will be Alberta’s fourth major oilsands mine when first production begins this fall.

The Horizon project has a landing strip, which has been used by Canadian Natural to shuttle thousands of workers to and from the project during its four-year construction.

Canadian Natural spokesman Rob Larson confirmed the tour involving Gates and Buffett happened, but he said Canadian Natural management would not comment beyond that.

One source said Gates and Buffett, who in recent months said he favours investing in the Canadian oilsands because it offers a secure supply of oil for the United States, visited the booming hub to satisfy “their own curiosity” but also “with investment in mind.”

As of 2006, Buffett was an investor in American oil giant ConocoPhillips, which owns sizable oilsands assets in a partnership with Canada’s largest oil company by market value, EnCana Corp.

Alberta’s Athabasca oilsands are one of few oil basins in the world where production is slated to grow in coming years and the massive play has been the focus of global attention.

While the thick, oil-soaked sands are expensive to process — some observers now say oil prices have to be above $70 to $80 US a barrel to make oilsands economics work — there has been a rush by companies into the sector over the past half-dozen years.

There is presently $125 billion worth of new construction being planned, which when combined with operating expenses add up to a whopping $215 billion over the next five years.

In June, CAPP reduced its estimate for oilsands production about 10 per cent to 4.8 million barrels per day by 2020 from a previous estimate of 5.3 million bpd, due to “constraints” unrelated to oil prices. Today, production stands at a little over one million barrels a day.

Labour availability and inflation around labour and materials such as steel stand to create a lag in previous growth forecasts.

The past few months have been particularly tumultuous for the oilsands industry.

Shares of companies active in the region have been hammered alongside falling oil prices, but are considered to be blue-chip, long-term investments.

The industry has also been under siege from environmental groups and foreign governments, including U.S. mayors, who voiced concerns about the industry’s impact on air quality due to its level of emissions, on water quality in the Athabasca River and about the slow rate of land reclamation by industry players.

Industry stalwarts Suncor Energy Inc. and the Syncrude Canada Ltd. joint venture have been mining oilsands crude for more than 30 years, followed more recently by Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake was not aware of the visit by Gates and Buffett, but the politician had been in Victoria since the start of the week.

She said the profile of one of the world’s largest emerging energy plays continues to grow and visits to the area by high-profile investors, politicians and even royalty have become common.

“It’s astounding to me, frankly, the calibre of these individuals to just seem to arrive quietly in our community,” said Blake.

Buffett told Fortune magazine in 2006 that he would begin giving away 85 per cent of his wealth, with most of it going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organization.

Farmer turns to fruit tree to power tractors

By Rich PhillipsThe jatropha tree contains golf-ball-sized fruit that can be made into biodiesel.
CNN

LABELLE, Florida (CNN) — Bryan Beer, a citrus grower in southwestern Florida, sees himself as a bit of a pioneer. He’s not digging for gold. It’s more like he’s planting for oil.

The jatropha tree contains golf-ball-sized fruit that can be made into biodiesel.

He is planting a jatropha tree, a plant that can produce diesel fuel and could one day power a 747. His plans are a little less ambitious; he just wants to plant enough to run his tractors.

“Any kind of relief or help we can get from a cheaper source of oil could impact the agricultural industry tremendously throughout the country, throughout the world,” said Beer, whose family has been growing citrus for decades.

Jatropha means “doctor food.” It originated in South America, where it was once used for medicinal purposes. There are three seeds within the golf-ball-sized fruit. When pressed, its oil can be used as fuel in any standard diesel engine with zero processing, experts say.

Sound like a pipe dream? It’s not.

It’s being taken very seriously by companies all over the world, including the Chrysler motor company and Air New Zealand. The airline is planning a test flight in November in Auckland in which jatropha biodiesel will be mixed with diesel fuel.

This is what has farmers, scientists and engineers excited.

“It is a superior oil,” said Roy Beckford, an agricultural scientist with the University of Florida.

Air New Zealand says the quality and quantity of the product may be so good that the airline could run the test flight without having to mix the jatropha biofuel with any normal aviation fuel.

Beckford said countries like China, India and Brazil have planted millions of acres of jatropha, but the United States has yet to make that sort of investment.

“We are way, way behind these people,” he said. “But certainly we have the ability, and we have shown that over and over again that we can beat people on technology and applying that technology.”

Beckford has been experimenting to see how the tree grows best. He says jatropha can be grown in soil that is not suitable for most food crops.

“Even under harsh drought conditions with minimal amount of water or moisture, it will survive,” he said.

Jatropha is being tested in nurseries and farms, primarily in Florida and Hawaii, to see if it can be used as a viable alternative biofuel nationwide. Caribbean nations have used jatropha for years as biofuel and a home-made medicine to treat constipation and inflammation, Beckford said.

He says jatropha would probably never be the main biodiesel crop but should be added into the mix of biodiesel crops. “It think it’s going to be part of the equation.”

Beckford’s research is done on a small patch of land in Fort Myers, Florida, where 176 seedlings were planted last year. Some are fertilized; some are not. Some are exposed to insects, and some plants are scattered around the foundation of an old home.

Beckford showed how the jatropha plant thrived right in the middle of the foundation, within the dirt and rocks.

He and his researchers believe that U.S. technology will aid in the growth of the trees. Currently, each tree yields only about two gallons of oil a year.

“In the next four or five years, I think we’ll increase not only the fruits per jatropha tree, but we’ll also increase the amount of oil in each of those seeds,” Beckford said.

Right now, biodiesel is a growing industry but hasn’t made an appreciable dent on the global dependence on heavy crude oil, from which diesel fuel is processed.

The National Biodiesel Board says that less than 1 percent of the 60 billion gallons of diesel fuel used each year comes from biodiesel, most of it produced from soybeans, animal fats and recycled oil. But, the board says, the 20 million gallons of diesel fuel saved from these alternative fuels was the equivalent of eliminating the emissions from 700,000 cars.

Some consumer groups say it’s unrealistic to think that biofuel will replace oil totally. Experts also say the potential savings here may be offset by higher prices somewhere else as farmers use their more crop land to experiment with alternative fuel crops.

“There are implications to dedicating more and more crop land to fuel production rather than food production,” said Tyson Clocum of the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen. “That comes in the form of tighter supplies for food production, and that leads to higher prices.”

Beer says he’s not looking to abandon his family’s citrus business. LaBelle Grove Management has been around for more than 40 years. He’s currently farming 30 acres of jatropha, compared to 2,500 acres of citrus.

Beer is trying to figure out how he’s going to afford to put diesel in his heavy equipment. He has four tractors that each run on 120 gallons a day.

“We have to have these machines running. If we don’t have these machines running and we don’t have diesel fuel, we don’t produce our crops,” he said.

So, for now, Beer is taking a stab at growing his own fuel. Jatropha won’t be a replacement crop for him, but it may help him fill up his tractor.

“To be a better America, we are going to have to have a secondary source besides oil,” he said.

Tapped Out: The True Cost of Bottled Water

Tapped Out: The True Cost of Bottled Water
by Solvie Karlstrom

From childhood, we’re told to drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Unfortunately more and more Americans drink those eight glasses out of plastic bottles—a convenience that stuffs landfills, clogs waterways and guzzles valuable fossil fuels.

Last year Americans spent nearly $11 billion on over 8 billion gallons of bottled water, and then tossed over 22 billion empty plastic bottles in the trash. In bottle production alone, the more than 70 million bottles of water consumed each day in the U.S. drain 1.5 million barrels of oil over the course of one year.

Banning the Bottle

Though the sale and consumption of bottled water is still on the rise, certain policy makers and activists have taken steps to reduce it. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in June that bars city government from using city money to supply municipal workers with bottled water, and New York City launched an ad campaign this summer encouraging residents and tourists to forego the bottled beverage for the city’s tap, long considered some of the best water in the country. “New York waste and pollution is on a massive scale,” says Michael Saucier of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. “Considering that the average New Yorker consumes nearly 28 gallons of bottled water each year, New York clearly hasn’t been doing enough to encourage residents to drink tap.”

Even restaurateurs are doing their part to keep water bottles out of landfills. Upscale eateries in Boston, New York and San Francisco have taken bottled water off the menu, offering filtered tap instead. At the Italian restaurant Incanto in San Francisco, carafes used to serve filtered tap water are refilled 2,000 times on average before they’re cracked and retired. Owner Mark Pastore explains that leaving bottled water off the menu is “a tiny thing that we can do to be a little more sustainable.”

Avoiding Chemical Intruders

Not only does bottled water contribute to excessive waste, but it costs us a thousand times more than water from our faucet at home, and it is, in fact, no safer or cleaner. “The bottled water industry spends millions of dollars a year to convince us that their product is somehow safer or healthier than tap water, when in fact that’s just not true,” says Victoria Kaplan, senior organizer with Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit that recently launched a Take Back the Tap campaign to get consumers to ditch bottled water. “As much as 40 percent of bottled water started out as the same tap water that we get at home,” she adds. A 1999 Natural Resources Defense Council study found that, with required quarterly testing, tap water may even be of a higher quality than bottled, which is only tested annually.

Water aside, the plastic used in both single-use and reusable bottles can pose more of a contamination threat than the water. A safe plastic if used only once, #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) is the most common resin used in disposable bottles. However, as #1 bottles are reused, which they commonly are, they can leach chemicals such as DEHA, a known carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disrupter. According to the January 2006 Journal of Environmental Monitoring, some PET bottled-water containers were found to leach antimony, an elemental metal that is an eye, skin, and lung irritant at high doses. Also, because the plastic is porous you’ll likely get a swill of harmful bacteria with each gulp if you reuse #1 plastic bottles.

While single-use water bottles should never be used more than once, some reusable water bottles simply shouldn’t be used. The debate continues over the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical known to leach out of the #7 polycarbonate plastic used to make a variety of products, including popular Nalgene Lexan water bottles. New studies keep cropping up that don’t bode well for BPA, demonstrating that even extremely low doses of the chemical can be damaging. Recent research has linked the chemical to a variety of disorders, including obesity and breast cancer, and one chilling 2007 study, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, found that BPA exposure can cross generations. Pregnant mice exposed to low levels of BPA led to chromosomal abnormalities, which possibly cause birth defects and miscarriages, in grandchildren.

Yet, in spite of mounting evidence, polycarbonate water bottles don’t seem to be losing popularity. A 2006 Green Guide reader poll found that roughly a third of respondents still preferred the Nalgene Lexan over other reusable bottles. If you’re partial to the brightly colored containers, Nalgene does manufacture safer alternatives made from #2 high density polyethylene (HDPE).

Avoid the perils of plastic altogether with a metal water bottle that can handle a variety of liquids, including acidic fruit juices, and won’t leach chemicals into your beverage. Klean Kanteen’s stainless steel bottle is lightweight, durable, and entirely chemical free. Avoid detergents that contain chlorine when cleaning Klean Kanteens; chlorine can corrode stainless steel. Another attractive alternative to plastic is the aluminum Sigg bottle with a taste-inert, water-based epoxy lining. Independent lab tests commissioned by the company found that the resin leached no detectable quantities of BPA, while other unlined aluminum and polycarbonate bottles subjected to the same conditions did.

Noting that the federal share of funding for water systems has declined from 78 percent in 1973 to 3 percent today, Kaplan urges consumers to “support public policies that promote safe, affordable, public tap water for future generations.” Visit http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/ and take the pledge to take back the tap, promising to choose tap water over bottled whenever possible and to support policies that promote clean public tap water for everybody. And meanwhile, invest in a safe, reusable bottle.

Better Bottles

Kleen Kanteen stainless steel water bottle w/ cap, 27 fluid ounces ($17.95; http://www.kleankanteen.com/)

MLS Stainless Steel Thermos Bottle, 1 liter ($22.16; http://www.mls-group.com/)

Nissan Thermos FBB500 Briefcase Bottle, 1pt ($35; http://www.coffee-makers-espresso-machines.com/)

Sigg resin coated aluminum sport bottle, 25 ounces ($19.99; http://www.mysigg.com/)

Platypus #5 polypropylene 2+collapsible water bottle, 2.4 liters ($9.95; http://www.rei.com/)

Nalgene HDPE Loop-Top Bottle, 16 ounces ($4.53; http://www.nalgene-outdoor.com/)

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A Look Back on the Future of Energy Resources

Today as yesterday, when it comes to energy, we flick a switch, adjust the thermostat, turn the car key and anticipate the result without thought to cause, effect, past or future. It is only in the absence of the energy that enables our way of life that it enters our consciousness – a level of thinking that cannot wait until tomorrow…

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Energy Resources and Our Future

FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 14, 1957

Remarks Prepared by:
Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, U.S. Navy

Chief, Naval Reactors Branch
Division of Reactor Development
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
and Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Ships for Nuclear Propulsion

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I am honored to be here tonight, though it is no easy thing, I assure you, for a layman to face up to an audience of physicians. A single one of you, sitting behind his desk, can be quite formidable.

My speech has no medical connotations. This may be a relief to you after the solid professional fare you have been absorbing. I should like to discuss a matter which will, I hope, be of interest to you as responsible citizens: the significance of energy resources in the shaping of our future.

We live in what historians may some day call the Fossil Fuel Age. Today coal, oil, and natural gas supply 93% of the world’s energy; water power accounts for only 1%; and the labor of men and domestic animals the remaining 6%. This is a startling reversal of corresponding figures for 1850 – only a century ago. Then fossil fuels supplied 5% of the world’s energy, and men and animals 94%. Five sixths of all the coal, oil, and gas consumed since the beginning of the Fossil Fuel Age has been burned up in the last 55 years.

These fuels have been known to man for more than 3,000 years. In parts of China, coal was used for domestic heating and cooking, and natural gas for lighting as early as 1000 B.C. The Babylonians burned asphalt a thousand years earlier. But these early uses were sporadic and of no economic significance. Fossil fuels did not become a major source of energy until machines running on coal, gas, or oil were invented. Wood, for example, was the most important fuel until 1880 when it was replaced by coal; coal, in turn, has only recently been surpassed by oil in this country.

Once in full swing, fossil fuel consumption has accelerated at phenomenal rates. All the fossil fuels used before 1900 would not last five years at today’s rates of consumption.

Nowhere are these rates higher and growing faster than in the United States. Our country, with only 6% of the world’s population, uses one third of the world’s total energy input; this proportion would be even greater except that we use energy more efficiently than other countries. Each American has at his disposal, each year, energy equivalent to that obtainable from eight tons of coal. This is six times the world’s per capita energy consumption. Though not quite so spectacular, corresponding figures for other highly industrialized countries also show above average consumption figures. The United Kingdom, for example, uses more than three times as much energy as the world average.

With high energy consumption goes a high standard of living. Thus the enormous fossil energy which we in this country control feeds machines which make each of us master of an army of mechanical slaves. Man’s muscle power is rated at 35 watts continuously, or one-twentieth horsepower. Machines therefore furnish every American industrial worker with energy equivalent to that of 244 men, while at least 2,000 men push his automobile along the road, and his family is supplied with 33 faithful household helpers. Each locomotive engineer controls energy equivalent to that of 100,000 men; each jet pilot of 700,000 men. Truly, the humblest American enjoys the services of more slaves than were once owned by the richest nobles, and lives better than most ancient kings. In retrospect, and despite wars, revolutions, and disasters, the hundred years just gone by may well seem like a Golden Age.

Whether this Golden Age will continue depends entirely upon our ability to keep energy supplies in balance with the needs of our growing population. Before I go into this question, let me review briefly the role of energy resources in the rise and fall of civilizations.

Possession of surplus energy is, of course, a requisite for any kind of civilization, for if man possesses merely the energy of his own muscles, he must expend all his strength – mental and physical – to obtain the bare necessities of life.

Surplus energy provides the material foundation for civilized living – a comfortable and tasteful home instead of a bare shelter; attractive clothing instead of mere covering to keep warm; appetizing food instead of anything that suffices to appease hunger. It provides the freedom from toil without which there can be no art, music, literature, or learning. There is no need to belabor the point. What lifted man – one of the weaker mammals – above the animal world was that he could devise, with his brain, ways to increase the energy at his disposal, and use the leisure so gained to cultivate his mind and spirit. Where man must rely solely on the energy of his own body, he can sustain only the most meager existence.

Man’s first step on the ladder of civilization dates from his discovery of fire and his domestication of animals. With these energy resources he was able to build a pastoral culture. To move upward to an agricultural civilization he needed more energy. In the past this was found in the labor of dependent members of large patriarchal families, augmented by slaves obtained through purchase or as war booty. There are some backward communities which to this day depend on this type of energy.

Slave labor was necessary for the city-states and the empires of antiquity; they frequently had slave populations larger than their free citizenry. As long as slaves were abundant and no moral censure attached to their ownership, incentives to search for alternative sources of energy were lacking; this may well have been the single most important reason why engineering advanced very little in ancient times.

A reduction of per capita energy consumption has always in the past led to a decline in civilization and a reversion to a more primitive way of life. For example, exhaustion of wood fuel is believed to have been the primary reason for the fall of the Mayan Civilization on this continent and of the decline of once flourishing civilizations in Asia. India and China once had large forests, as did much of the Middle East. Deforestation not only lessened the energy base but had a further disastrous effect: lacking plant cover, soil washed away, and with soil erosion the nutritional base was reduced as well.

Another cause of declining civilization comes with pressure of population on available land. A point is reached where the land can no longer support both the people and their domestic animals. Horses and mules disappear first. Finally even the versatile water buffalo is displaced by man who is two and one half times as efficient an energy converter as are draft animals. It must always be remembered that while domestic animals and agricultural machines increase productivity per man, maximum productivity per acre is achieved only by intensive manual cultivation.

It is a sobering thought that the impoverished people of Asia, who today seldom go to sleep with their hunger completely satisfied, were once far more civilized and lived much better than the people of the West. And not so very long ago, either. It was the stories brought back by Marco Polo of the marvelous civilization in China which turned Europe’s eyes to the riches of the East, and induced adventurous sailors to brave the high seas in their small vessels searching for a direct route to the fabulous Orient. The “wealth of the Indies” is a phrase still used, but whatever wealth may be there it certainly is not evident in the life of the people today.

Asia failed to keep technological pace with the needs of her growing populations and sank into such poverty that in many places man has become again the primary source of energy, since other energy converters have become too expensive. This must be obvious to the most casual observer. What this means is quite simply a reversion to a more primitive stage of civilization with all that it implies for human dignity and happiness.

Anyone who has watched a sweating Chinese farm worker strain at his heavily laden wheelbarrow, creaking along a cobblestone road, or who has flinched as he drives past an endless procession of human beasts of burden moving to market in Java – the slender women bent under mountainous loads heaped on their heads – anyone who has seen statistics translated into flesh and bone, realizes the degradation of man’s stature when his muscle power becomes the only energy source he can afford. Civilization must wither when human beings are so degraded.

Where slavery represented a major source of energy, its abolition had the immediate effect of reducing energy consumption. Thus when this time-honored institution came under moral censure by Christianity, civilization declined until other sources of energy could be found. Slavery is incompatible with Christian belief in the worth of the humblest individual as a child of God. As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire and masters freed their slaves – in obedience to the teaching of the Church – the energy base of Roman civilization crumbled. This, some historians believe, may have been a major factor in the decline of Rome and the temporary reversion to a more primitive way of life during the Dark Ages. Slavery gradually disappeared throughout the Western world, except in its milder form of serfdom. That it was revived a thousand years later merely shows man’s ability to stifle his conscience – at least for a while – when his economic needs are great. Eventually, even the needs of overseas plantation economies did not suffice to keep alive a practice so deeply repugnant to Western man’s deepest convictions.

It may well be that it was unwillingness to depend on slave labor for their energy needs which turned the minds of medieval Europeans to search for alternate sources of energy, thus sparking the Power Revolution of the Middle Ages which, in turn, paved the way for the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. When slavery disappeared in the West, engineering advanced. Men began to harness the power of nature by utilizing water and wind as energy sources. The sailing ship, in particular, which replaced the slave-driven galley of antiquity, was vastly improved by medieval shipbuilders and became the first machine enabling man to control large amounts of inanimate energy.

The next important high-energy converter used by Europeans was gunpowder – an energy source far superior to the muscular strength of the strongest bowman or lancer. With ships that could navigate the high seas and arms that could out-fire any hand weapon, Europe was now powerful enough to preempt for herself the vast empty areas of the Western Hemisphere into which she poured her surplus populations to build new nations of European stock. With these ships and arms she also gained political control over populous areas in Africa and Asia from which she drew the raw materials needed to speed her industrialization, thus complementing her naval and military dominance with economic and commercial supremacy.

When a low-energy society comes in contact with a high-energy society, the advantage always lies with the latter. The Europeans not only achieved standards of living vastly higher than those of the rest of the world, but they did this while their population was growing at rates far surpassing those of other peoples. In fact, they doubled their share of total world population in the short span of three centuries. From one sixth in 1650, the people of European stock increased to almost one third of total world population by 1950.

Meanwhile much of the rest of the world did not even keep energy sources in balance with population growth. Per capita energy consumption actually diminished in large areas. It is this difference in energy consumption which has resulted in an ever-widening gap between the one-third minority who live in high-energy countries and the two-thirds majority who live in low-energy areas.

These so-called underdeveloped countries are now finding it far more difficult to catch up with the fortunate minority than it was for Europe to initiate transition from low-energy to high-energy consumption. For one thing, their ratio of land to people is much less favorable; for another, they have no outlet for surplus populations to ease the transition since all the empty spaces have already been taken over by people of European stock.

Almost all of today’s low-energy countries have a population density so great that it perpetuates dependence on intensive manual agriculture which alone can yield barely enough food for their people. They do not have enough acreage, per capita, to justify using domestic animals or farm machinery, although better seeds, better soil management, and better hand tools could bring some improvement. A very large part of their working population must nevertheless remain on the land, and this limits the amount of surplus energy that can be produced. Most of these countries must choose between using this small energy surplus to raise their very low standard of living or postpone present rewards for the sake of future gain by investing the surplus in new industries. The choice is difficult because there is no guarantee that today’s denial may not prove to have been in vain. This is so because of the rapidity with which public health measures have reduced mortality rates, resulting in population growth as high or even higher than that of the high-energy nations. Theirs is a bitter choice; it accounts for much of their anti-Western feeling and may well portend a prolonged period of world instability.

How closely energy consumption is related to standards of living may be illustrated by the example of India. Despite intelligent and sustained efforts made since independence, India’s per capita income is still only 20 cents daily; her infant mortality is four times ours; and the life expectance of her people is less than one half that of the industrialized countries of the West. These are ultimate consequences of India’s very low energy consumption: one-fourteenth of world average; one-eightieth of ours.

Ominous, too, is the fact that while world food production increased 9% in the six years from 1945-51, world population increased by 12%. Not only is world population increasing faster than world food production, but unfortunately, increases in food production tend to occur in the already well-fed, high-energy countries rather than in the undernourished, low-energy countries where food is most lacking.

I think no further elaboration is needed to demonstrate the significance of energy resources for our own future.

Our civilization rests upon a technological base which requires enormous quantities of fossil fuels. What assurance do we then have that our energy needs will continue to be supplied by fossil fuels: The answer is – in the long run – none.

The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume.

In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.

Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.

Engineers whose work familiarizes them with energy statistics; far-seeing industrialists who know that energy is the principal factor which must enter into all planning for the future; responsible governments who realize that the well-being of their citizens and the political power of their countries depend on adequate energy supplies – all these have begun to be concerned about energy resources. In this country, especially, many studies have been made in the last few years, seeking to discover accurate information on fossil-fuel reserves and foreseeable fuel needs.

Statistics involving the human factor are, of course, never exact. The size of usable reserves depends on the ability of engineers to improve the efficiency of fuel extraction and use. It also depends on discovery of new methods to obtain energy from inferior resources at costs which can be borne without unduly depressing the standard of living. Estimates of future needs, in turn, rely heavily on population figures which must always allow for a large element of uncertainty, particularly as man reaches a point where he is more and more able to control his own way of life.

Current estimates of fossil fuel reserves vary to an astonishing degree. In part this is because the results differ greatly if cost of extraction is disregarded or if in calculating how long reserves will last, population growth is not taken into consideration; or, equally important, not enough weight is given to increased fuel consumption required to process inferior or substitute metals. We are rapidly approaching the time when exhaustion of better grade metals will force us to turn to poorer grades requiring in most cases greater expenditure of energy per unit of metal.

But the most significant distinction between optimistic and pessimistic fuel reserve statistics is that the optimists generally speak of the immediate future – the next twenty-five years or so – while the pessimists think in terms of a century from now. A century or even two is a short span in the history of a great people. It seems sensible to me to take a long view, even if this involves facing unpleasant facts.

For it is an unpleasant fact that according to our best estimates, total fossil fuel reserves recoverable at not over twice today’s unit cost, are likely to run out at some time between the years 2000 and 2050, if present standards of living and population growth rates are taken into account. Oil and natural gas will disappear first, coal last. There will be coal left in the earth, of course. But it will be so difficult to mine that energy costs would rise to economically intolerable heights, so that it would then become necessary either to discover new energy sources or to lower standards of living drastically
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For more than one hundred years we have stoked ever growing numbers of machines with coal; for fifty years we have pumped gas and oil into our factories, cars, trucks, tractors, ships, planes, and homes without giving a thought to the future. Occasionally the voice of a Cassandra has been raised only to be quickly silenced when a lucky discovery revised estimates of our oil reserves upward, or a new coalfield was found in some remote spot. Fewer such lucky discoveries can be expected in the future, especially in industrialized countries where extensive mapping of resources has been done. Yet the popularizes of scientific news would have us believe that there is no cause for anxiety, that reserves will last thousands of years, and that before they run out science will have produced miracles. Our past history and security have given us the sentimental belief that the things we fear will never really happen – that everything turns out right in the end. But, prudent men will reject these tranquilizers and prefer to face the facts so that they can plan intelligently for the needs of their posterity.

Looking into the future, from the mid-20th Century, we cannot feel overly confident that present high standards of living will of a certainty continue through the next century and beyond. Fossil fuel costs will soon definitely begin to rise as the best and most accessible reserves are exhausted, and more effort will be required to obtain the same energy from remaining reserves. It is likely also that liquid fuel synthesized from coal will be more expensive. Can we feel certain that when economically recoverable fossil fuels are gone science will have learned how to maintain a high standard of living on renewable energy sources?

I believe it would be wise to assume that the principal renewable fuel sources which we can expect to tap before fossil reserves run out will supply only 7 to 15% of future energy needs. The five most important of these renewable sources are wood fuel, farm wastes, wind, water power, and solar heat.

Wood fuel and farm wastes are dubious as substitutes because of growing food requirements to be anticipated. Land is more likely to be used for food production than for tree crops; farm wastes may be more urgently needed to fertilize the soil than to fuel machines.

Wind and water power can furnish only a very small percentage of our energy needs. Moreover, as with solar energy, expensive structures would be required, making use of land and metals which will also be in short supply. Nor would anything we know today justify putting too much reliance on solar energy though it will probably prove feasible for home heating in favorable localities and for cooking in hot countries which lack wood, such as India.

More promising is the outlook for nuclear fuels. These are not, properly speaking, renewable energy sources, at least not in the present state of technology, but their capacity to “breed” and the very high energy output from small quantities of fissionable material, as well as the fact that such materials are relatively abundant, do seem to put nuclear fuels into a separate category from exhaustible fossil fuels. The disposal of radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants is, however, a problem which must be solved before there can be any widespread use of nuclear power.

Another limit in the use of nuclear power is that we do not know today how to employ it otherwise than in large units to produce electricity or to supply heating. Because of its inherent characteristics, nuclear fuel cannot be used directly in small machines, such as cars, trucks, or tractors. It is doubtful that it could in the foreseeable future furnish economical fuel for civilian airplanes or ships, except very large ones. Rather than nuclear locomotives, it might prove advantageous to move trains by electricity produced in nuclear central stations. We are only at the beginning of nuclear technology, so it is difficult to predict what we may expect.

Transportation – the lifeblood of all technically advanced civilizations – seems to be assured, once we have borne the initial high cost of electrifying railroads and replacing buses with streetcars or interurban electric trains. But, unless science can perform the miracle of synthesizing automobile fuel from some energy source as yet unknown or unless trolley wires power electric automobiles on all streets and highways, it will be wise to face up to the possibility of the ultimate disappearance of automobiles, trucks, buses, and tractors. Before all the oil is gone and hydrogenation of coal for synthetic liquid fuels has come to an end, the cost of automotive fuel may have risen to a point where private cars will be too expensive to run and public transportation again becomes a profitable business.

Today the automobile is the most uneconomical user of energy. Its efficiency is 5% compared with 23% for the Diesel-electric railway. It is the most ravenous devourer of fossil fuels, accounting for over half of the total oil consumption in this country. And the oil we use in the United States in one year took nature about 14 million years to create. Curiously, the automobile, which is the greatest single cause of the rapid exhaustion of oil reserves, may eventually be the first fuel consumer to suffer. Reduction in automotive use would necessitate an extraordinarily costly reorganization of the pattern of living in industrialized nations, particularly in the United States. It would seem prudent to bear this in mind in future planning of cities and industrial locations.

Our present known reserves of fissionable materials are many times as large as our net economically recoverable reserves of coal. A point will be reached before this century is over when fossil fuel costs will have risen high enough to make nuclear fuels economically competitive. Before that time comes we shall have to make great efforts to raise our entire body of engineering and scientific knowledge to a higher plateau. We must also induce many more young Americans to become metallurgical and nuclear engineers. Else we shall not have the knowledge or the people to build and run the nuclear power plants which ultimately may have to furnish the major part of our energy needs.

If we start to plan now, we may be able to achieve the requisite level of scientific and engineering knowledge before our fossil fuel reserves give out, but the margin of safety is not large. This is also based on the assumption that atomic war can be avoided and that population growth will not exceed that now calculated by demographic experts.

War, of course, cancels all man’s expectations. Even growing world tension just short of war could have far-reaching effects. In this country it might, on the one hand, lead to greater conservation of domestic fuels, to increased oil imports, and to an acceleration in scientific research which might turn up unexpected new energy sources. On the other hand, the resulting armaments race would deplete metal reserves more rapidly, hastening the day when inferior metals must be utilized with consequent greater expenditure of energy. Underdeveloped nations with fossil fuel deposits might be coerced into withholding them from the free world or may themselves decide to retain them for their own future use. The effect on Europe, which depends on coal and oil imports, would be disastrous and we would have to share our own supplies or lose our allies.

Barring atomic war or unexpected changes in the population curve, we can count on an increase in world population from two and one half billion today to four billion in the year 2000; six to eight billion by 2050. The United States is expected to quadruple its population during the 20th Century � from 75 million in 1900 to 300 million in 2000 – and to reach at least 375 million in 2050. This would almost exactly equal India’s present population which she supports on just a little under half of our land area.

It is an awesome thing to contemplate a graph of world population growth from prehistoric times – tens of thousands of years ago – to the day after tomorrow – let us say the year 2000 A.D. If we visualize the population curve as a road which starts at sea level and rises in proportion as world population increases, we should see it stretching endlessly, almost level, for 99% of the time that man has inhabited the earth. In 6000 B.C., when recorded history begins, the road is running at a height of about 70 feet above sea level, which corresponds to a population of 10 million. Seven thousand years later – in 1000 A.D. – the road has reached an elevation of 1,600 feet; the gradation now becomes steeper, and 600 years later the road is 2,900 feet high. During the short span of the next 400 years � from 1600 to 2000 – it suddenly turns sharply upward at an almost perpendicular inclination and goes straight up to an elevation of 29,000 feet – the height of Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.

In the 8,000 years from the beginning of history to the year 2000 A.D. world population will have grown from 10 million to 4 billion, with 90% of that growth taking place during the last 5% of that period, in 400 years. It took the first 3,000 years of recorded history to accomplish the first doubling of population, 100 years for the last doubling, but the next doubling will require only 50 years. Calculations give us the astonishing estimate that one out of every 20 human beings born into this world is alive today.

The rapidity of population growth has not given us enough time to readjust our thinking. Not much more than a century ago, our country, the very spot on which I now stand was a wilderness in which a pioneer could find complete freedom from men and from government. If things became too crowded – if he saw his neighbor’s chimney smoke – he could, and often did, pack up and move west. We began life in 1776 as a nation of less than four million people – spread over a vast continent – with seemingly inexhaustible riches of nature all about. We conserved what was scarce – human labor – and squandered what seemed abundant – natural resources – and we are still doing the same today.

Much of the wilderness which nurtured what is most dynamic in the American character has now been buried under cities, factories and suburban developments where each picture window looks out on nothing more inspiring than the neighbor’s back yard with the smoke of his fire in the wire basket clearly visible.

Life in crowded communities cannot be the same as life on the frontier. We are no longer free, as was the pioneer – to work for our own immediate needs regardless of the future. We are no longer as independent of men and of government as were Americans two or three generations ago. An ever larger share of what we earn must go to solve problems caused by crowded living – bigger governments; bigger city, state, and federal budgets to pay for more public services. Merely to supply us with enough water and to carry away our waste products becomes more difficult and expansive daily. More laws and law enforcement agencies are needed to regulate human relations in urban industrial communities and on crowded highways than in the America of Thomas Jefferson.

Certainly no one likes taxes, but we must become reconciled to larger taxes in the larger America of tomorrow.

I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendents – those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age. Our greatest responsibility, as parents and as citizens, is to give America’s youngsters the best possible education. We need the best teachers and enough of them to prepare our young people for a future immeasurably more complex than the present, and calling for ever larger numbers of competent and highly trained men and women. This means that we must not delay building more schools, colleges, and playgrounds. It means that we must reconcile ourselves to continuing higher taxes to build up and maintain at decent salaries a greatly enlarged corps of much better trained teachers, even at the cost of denying ourselves such momentary pleasures as buying a bigger new car, or a TV set, or household gadget. We should find – I believe – that these small self-denials would be far more than offset by the benefits they would buy for tomorrow’s America. We might even – if we wanted – give a break to these youngsters by cutting fuel and metal consumption a little here and there so as to provide a safer margin for the necessary adjustments which eventually must be made in a world without fossil fuels.

One final thought I should like to leave with you. High-energy consumption has always been a prerequisite of political power. The tendency is for political power to be concentrated in an ever-smaller number of countries. Ultimately, the nation which control – the largest energy resources will become dominant. If we give thought to the problem of energy resources, if we act wisely and in time to conserve what we have and prepare well for necessary future changes, we shall insure this dominant position for our own country.

Grass is greener in biofuel future

By Jessica Daly Stephen Long amid Miscanthus stalks found to outperform other biofuel sources.
as published via CNN

LONDON, England (CNN) — Researchers in the United States are buoyed by the results of a study which has determined that a giant grass could help the country to meet its steep biofuel targets.

Stephen Long amid Miscanthus stalks found to outperform other biofuel sources.

After successful long-term trials in Europe, a three-year field study of Miscanthus x giganteus by the University of Illinois has revealed that it outperforms traditional biofuel sources, producing more than twice the ethanol per acre than corn or switchgrass, using a quarter of the space.

Crop sciences professor and study leader Dr. Stephen Long told CNN that while there probably isn’t one magic bullet to fix our climate woes, Miscanthus — also known as elephant grass — promises to be one of five or six options that could help the U.S. to reach its target of replacing 30 percent of gasoline use with biofuels by 2030.

“I think it’s important in the biofuels debate that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The idea we use the sun’s energy to grow plants and then make fuels from those plants is essentially a good one,” Dr. Long said.

“It’s been tainted by the fact that the easy way to do it is to just use food crops, but society needs to realize there are big opportunities beyond food crops and beyond the use of crop land.”

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Miscanthus, for instance, is able to grow on land too marginal for crop production, so it doesn’t have to compete with land for food crops. It also doesn’t require major input or fertilization after planting and once established will yield for around 15 years.

Yet even with the success of these trials in the U.S. and the earlier European ones, it could be years before the full potential of Miscanthus is realized.

This is due in part to the fact that it’s much more complex to make cellulosic ethanol — ethanol made from non-food plants — than it is to turn simple food starches found in corn or wheat into ethanol.

In the United Kingdom, Miscanthus is recognized by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as an energy crop and it’s currently being used to co-fire the Drax power station in England’s Yorkshire.

Even still, Dr. Geraint Evans from the UK’s National Non-Food Crops Centre said rather than plants like Miscanthus, wheat grain will be used to meet the UK target of replacing five percent of fuel with renewable sources by 2010.

“Miscanthus has the potential to be more efficient, producing between 4,000 and 7,000 liters of fuel per hectare, whereas ethanol made from wheat grain makes about 1900 liters per hectare.”

“Wheat grain-derived ethanol is what we can do today with the technology we have available today. The technology to use Miscanthus is not yet commercially available,” Dr. Evans told CNN.

In addition to the technical hitch, Dr. Evans said a further downside is that even though Miscanthus is a low maintenance crop, it can be costly to plant compared to wheat or rapeseed canola and the first yield wouldn’t occur for at least three years.

In an effort to overcome some of the challenges, Dr. Long now intends to turn his attention to experimenting with the wild Miscanthus used in the U.S. trial.

And if the sort of improvements made to corn in the last 50 years are any indication, Miscanthus could be well be used to fuel the future in a matter of years.