In "Center points: Urban lifestyle gains foothold in growing list of suburbs," a Chicago Tribune journalist describes the beginnings of a new phenomenon that could have a bigger impact than better CAFE standards, carbon taxes, or cap-and-trade of emissions, in my humble opinion: walkable town centers. If people could actually walk from their residence to a store, train station, or even work, perhaps the constant rise in miles driven in automobiles would start to come down: At opposite ends of the generational spectrum, Baby Boomers and buyers in their 20s are getting credit for supporting the emergence of suburban centers where people live close to restaurants, stores, theaters and even boutique hotels and spas. The key is to find housing that is an integral part of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Michigan. In an effort to keep expanding the flow of oil, companies such as BP have been trying to extract oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, which is like trying to drink coffee after you've dumped it into sand. The process is so energy-intensive that there is talk of putting the world's largest nuclear power plant on top of the tar sands in order to heat them up enough to use them, and lakes of toxic water have been created there. And where will that goop go to get processed? BP has decided that it would like to process much of it on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, at its huge refinery, and they have been given a waiver by Indiana and the U.S. EPA to expand their pollution dumping, according to the Chicago Tribune: The massive BP oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., is planning to dump significantly more ammonia and industrial sludge into Lake Michigan, running counter to years of efforts to clean up the Great Lakes. Indiana regulators exempted BP from state environmental laws to clear the way for a $3.8 billion expansion that will allow the company to refine heavier Canadian crude oil. They justified the move in part by noting the project will create 80 new jobs. Under BP's new state water permit, the refinery -- already one of the largest polluters along the Great Lakes -- can release 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more sludge into Lake Michigan each day. Ammonia promotes algae blooms that can kill fish, while sludge is full of concentrated heavy metals.
Poor African countries have been selling their fishing rights to richer countries for years, and now they can neither catch enough fish for their populations nor protect their fisheries from collapsing. In today's Wall Street Journal (behind a subscriber wall), the grim state of affairs is laid out: Wealthy countries subsidize their commercial fishermen to the tune of about $30 billion a year. Their goal is to keep their fishermen on the water. China, for example, provides $2 billion a year in fuel subsidies; the European Union and its member nations provide more than $7 billion of subsidies a year. Such policies boost the number of working boats, increase the global catch, and drive down fish prices. That makes it more difficult for fishermen in poor nations like Mauritania, who get no subsidies, to compete. The end result: African waters are losing fish stock rapidly, with ramifications both to the economies of Africa's coastal nations and to the world's ocean ecology. Over the past three decades, the amount of fish in West African waters has declined by up to 50 percent, according to Daniel Pauly, a researcher at the University of British Columbia.
Manufacturing can be a source of pollution, and the iconic image of manufacturing is the smokestack hurling smoke into the atmosphere. But in order to create a sustainable economy, we're going to have to manufacture the necessary windmills, solar energy systems, trains, and electric vehicles. We have a negative demonstration of the necessity of manufacturing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, in an article entitled "Alternative Energy Hurt By a Windmill Shortage" (attention web surfers: the Wall Street Journal is free all day today!): The race to build new sources of alternative energy from the wind is running into a formidable obstacle: not enough windmills. In recent years, improved technology has made it possible to build bigger, more efficient windmills. That, combined with surging political support for renewable energy, has driven up demand. Now, makers can't keep up -- mostly because they can't get the parts they need fast enough. It turns out that mostly European utilities have locked up the consumption of most of the wind turbine builders in the world, so if in particular a small U.S. utility wants to expand its wind power base, it has one alternative: sell itself to a European utility. The wind turbine manufacturing capacity in the U.S. is so small that much of our wind turbine industry could soon be mostly European:
The Chicago Tribune has an article in today's paper entitled "MPG bill could cost UAW jobs; Workers fear SUV plant's fate sealed," although the article itself isn't as shrill as the title suggests. At first glance, the article looks like the classic "those environmentalists are going to take away your jobs" piece, but the author presents data for the other side, that is, that the problems of the auto industry are the problems of the managers of the auto industry: Higher fuel standards would affect all automakers but would hit the domestics harder because they sell a greater percentage of trucks than foreign rivals. Trucks account for 56 percent of GM's sales, two-thirds of Ford's and three-fourths of the Chrysler Group's. Youch! Who's fault is it that they bet the farm on SUVs? The car companies could have analyzed the data on peaking oil, foreign imports of oil, even global warming. Because of their short-term outlook, made much worse by Wall Street's emphasis on the next quarter, not the next quarter of a century, they refused to go down a path that should have been obvious by the end of the 1970s.
I regularly receive a letter from Ted Glick, the coordinator of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council, who recently was arrested for hanging a banner on the NOAA building to protest their mishandling of climate information. He has joined with others in calling for a fast on September 4th: We are calling on thousands of Americans to voluntarily give up food for one day on September 4th, 2007. Other participants will fast even longer beginning on that date, some for weeks. Our appeal to you is to consider joining us in this climate initiative called, "So Others Might Eat: The Climate Emergency Fast." ... What will we be calling for? Three things: no new coal or coal-to-liquid plants; freeze greenhouse gas emissions and move quickly to reduce them; and a down payment of $25 billion for energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy. Ken Ward has recently posted here about the efficacy of protest. The problem as I see it is that in the past, direct action and protest have had very clear achievable goals, whereas in the case of global warming, we know we want drastically reduced carbon emission, but the devil is in the details.
If you think that the current governmental and corporate interest in ethanol has something to do with global warming, think again. It is dawning on the U.S. government that (1) most of the remaining supplies of oil are in unfriendly hands, and (2) that there isn't enough oil remaining to feed a constantly growing global demand. With oil production plateauing, governments can turn to three main strategies to maintain fuel supplies: (1) consume what's left of the planet by growing huge amounts of biofuels; (2) fry what's left of the atmosphere by converting coal to oil or exploiting dirty, expensive tars and oil sands; or (3) conquer the planet to forcably take whatever oil is left. Michael T. Klare brings this problem right to the door of the U.S. military in his new article, "The Pentagon v. Peak Oil: How Wars of the Future May Be Fought Just to Run the Machines That Fight Them."
Maybe some of you are not going to believe this, but a trend seems to be developing wherein some progressives seem to think that the issue of global warming is grabbing the "spotlight." For instance, in "Why is peak oil politically incorrect?" Ugo Bardi compares the number of online searches that global warming receives versus peak oil, using Google's admittedly new "Trends" system. The number of searches for global warming is rising rapidly, while peak oil lists along. But as an editor comments at the end of the article,"But if you think that's all very depressing -- do the comparison with 'Paris Hilton' and then cry." Exactly. If the civil rights movement had enjoyed the "publicity" and public passion that global warming currently does, we'd still have segregated bathrooms in the South. Which brings us to the second, admittedly amorphous problem, best exemplified currently by that fascinating phenomenon, left-wing climate deniers. David F. Noble, a historian of technology (his book Forces of Production is a classic), does a good job in " The Corporate Climate Coup" of showing the history of how large corporations are trying to use the global warming issue for marketing purposes, but somehow global warming activists seem to have accumulated some collective guilt as a result -- am I missing some billboards or something?
In the article "A Perennial Search for Perfect Wheat" in yesterday's New York Times science section, writer Jim Robbins highlights one of the slow-moving global disasters of our age: the destruction of the world's soils. This in turn is part of a wider problem: global ecosystem destruction, including depleted oceans, cleared forests, and overgrazed grasslands. As for erosion, Robbins writes: