Friday, October 14, 2005

The Secret World of Energy - The Evolution and Use of the World's Energy Systems

Every minute enough of the Sun's energy reaches the Earth's surface to meet the world's energy demands for a whole year. Combine this powerful energy source (the very source of life for our planet) with other readily available energy sources like wind, moving water and heat from within the Earth (geothermal heat), it almost seems incredulous that our human population depends on the burning of fossil fuels to meet nearly all of its energy demands. And this picture doesn't look like it will change very much in the near future.

Why fossil fuels? The fossil fuels we largely depend on today are coal, oil and natural gas. They are called non-renewable energy sources. But if you think about it, that description is actually another way of saying we use them faster than they form. Over 100,000 times faster to be exact! So how did we ever decide this would be the primary energy resource to power human development and progress?

Continued @ Ecology

Letters at 3AM - Things to come: Part 2

Long after we've stopped expecting anything intelligent from Congress, a conservative from Maryland has turned the tables on us all. On March 14, and again on April 20, Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett gave two extraordinary speeches in the House (available on his Web site or from the Congressional Record). Bartlett tried to make his colleagues understand that the United States must change drastically to accommodate the coming scarcity of oil. His speech received scant coverage and prompted no action. Nevertheless, Congressman Bartlett represents a healthy sign: People of all political persuasions are beginning to face reality.

Bartlett summed up the problem and suggested the solution. "Oil companies have admitted that their estimates of the reserves were exaggerated." Demand for oil is outpacing supply and refining capacity. This will cripple our economy's ability to grow. "We have a debt that we cannot service. It will be essentially impossible to service that debt if our economy does not continue to grow." Government itself, then, will be severely hampered. "At $100 or $200 a barrel" other oil sources, like Canadian sand tar, may become economically viable, but that will take an enormous investment (and, a point he did not make, a great deal of time to get up and running, so scarcity in the short term will occur anyway). "We're also running out of topsoil, without which we need oil-derived fertilizer to grow food." "The green revolution" (advances in agribusiness that enable us to feed so large a population) has been "very largely the result of our intensive use of oil." A "transition to sustainability" is a matter of survival, but it "will not happen [by] applying market forces alone." (Yes, this is a Republican speaking.) Bartlett pointed out that "the hydroelectric and nuclear power industries did not arise spontaneously from market forces alone. They were the product of a purposeful partnership of public and private entities focused on the public good. This is what we have to do relative to alternatives." He proposed "a Manhattan-type project focusing on renewables." "The real challenge now is to use conservation and efficiency to reduce our demand for oil so that we have enough oil left to make the investments on alternatives and renewables [that] can take the place of oil."

Continued @ The Austin Chronicle

America's Endangered Forests

Today, the National Forest Protection Alliance - a network of 135 organizations from around the country - released its third biennial report listing twelve of the country's most endangered national forests.

It could easily be argued that every single one of America's 155 national forests face mounting threats to wildlife, clean water and wild places. In part this is due to the Bush Administration's public lands policies, which have clearly titled the playing field to favor their friends and campaign contributors in the resource extraction industry.

However, as any seasoned public lands activist will tell you, another part is due to the U.S. Forest Service itself, which has not only failed to confront a post-WWII legacy of industrial-style resource extraction that scared the land with over 400,000 miles of roads and the near liquidation of our ancient forests, but continues in many places to operate with a frontier mentality that clearly is out of line with 21st Century realities.

"Our national forests face myriad threats from Bush administration policies and Forest Service management," said Jake Kreilick, NFPA's Endangered Forests Project Coordinator and author of the report. "Collectively, the forest profiles in this report illustrate the poor ecological state of the national forest system as a whole, in large part from Forest Service efforts to place private, industrial interests above the long-term interests of the American people who own these forests and the long-term survival of the critters that calls these forests home."

Continued @ CounterPunch

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Car companies tackle hybrid mileage complaints

With consumers complaining that hybrids vehicles don't get the gas mileage advertised on window stickers, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Co. are stepping up efforts to let drivers know why they might not get the desired fuel economy.

Hybrids, which combine a gasoline engine with an electric motor, have become hot sellers because they are touted for their fuel efficiency at a time when gas prices are hovering around $3 a gallon. In September, Toyota's Prius, the top selling hybrid in the U.S., saw sales jump by 90 percent compared with the same period last year. The vehicle sticker pasted on Prius windows at dealerships says the Environmental Protection Agency estimates the car goes 60 miles on a gallon of gas.

But there have been increasing complaints that many cars, and especially hybrids, don't deliver the miles per gallon estimated by the EPA. According to a study by Consumer Reports that tested the mileage of vehicles in real world conditions, hybrids had some of the biggest disparities, with fuel economy averaging 19 miles per gallon below the EPA city estimate. The problem is that the EPA estimates assume that drivers are operating under certain ideal conditions, such as not using air conditioning and accelerating slowly, that can be very unlike what people actually do on the road.

Continued @ Detroit News

Nanotech solar breakthrough will help spur viability of alternative energy

Imagine being able to paint your roof with enough alternative energy to heat and cool your home. What if soldiers in the field could carry an energy source in a roll of plastic wrap in their backpacks?

Those ideas sound like science fiction þu particularly in the wake of the rising costs of fossil fuel.

But both are on the way to becoming reality because of a breakthrough in solar research by a team of scientists from New Mexico State University and Wake Forest University.

Continued @ PhysOrg

Permaculture and Seattle's Energy Descent

Maybe its no coincidence that at a time when gas prices reach $3 a gallon and an American city is flooded with hunger and despair as a result of climate change, that here in Seattle a growing number of people are rallying around the desire to bring the concepts of permaculture home to the city. We need healthy, fair, sustainable examples of how humans can live on the earth, and we need them now. And for many, permaculture is the articulated solution we've known must exist.

"Permaculture" is a somewhat awkward word used to describe a holistic process by which people learn from and design sustainable human settlements and ecosystems. It began as a movement 27 years ago when two Australian ecologists hypothesized that perhaps the efficiency and integrity of living in an ecosystem could be brought back into our modern culture's conversation with the earth and its' resources. We have simply forgotten a lot of basic life skills that are non-harming to the earth's cycles, and it is no wonder that permaculture is now a worldwide tool that millions of people use. Permaculture teaches everything form food preservation to running photovoltaic systems, from creating food "forests" to constructing green buildings, to urban planning. Permaculturists have created sites all over the world, and locally, that demonstrate how to live abundant lives using considerably fewer resources. The results nourish us individually as well as having far-reaching relevance for cultural change as a whole.

Continued @ Eat the State

The Future Needs Futurists

Being a futurist sure sounds like a fun job. Observe the world at large, amass predictions and inspire awe at one's visionary talents.

But is there a future in it?

According to the Association of Professional Futurists, prospects are starting to look quite promising. As companies and government agencies grapple with the seemingly scorching rate of technological innovation and change, more are engaging the services of self-described futurists for advice on how to adapt.

"It used to be there were a few superstars," said Andy Hines, a founder of the 3-year-old association. "What you're starting to see now is a lot of lunch-pail sorts of futurists."

Today, a number of corporations and agencies, including British Telecom, IBM, the FBI and even Hallmark, have futurists on staff. Scores of other firms employ them as consultants.

Continued @ Wired News

Friday, September 09, 2005

Court: 'Dirty bomb' suspect can be held

A federal appeals court Friday sided with the Bush administration and reversed a judge's order that the government either charge or free "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla.

Continued @ Boston Globe

Friday, August 26, 2005

Failing Nature - The Democrats' Environmental Record

George W. Bush's environmental record can be summed up in one simple word: devastating.

Not only has President Bush gutted numerous environmental laws -- including the Clean Air and Water Acts -- he has also set a new precedent by disregarding the world's top scientists and the Pentagon, whose concerns about the rate of global warming grow graver by the day.

As Mark Townsend and Paul Harris reported for the UK Observer in February 2004, "[The Pentagon report] predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water, and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents."

Bush's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even admits that climate change is being exacerbated by American's consumptive culture. "What has changed in the last few hundred years is the additional release of carbon dioxide by human activities," the EPA admits. "Fossil fuels burned to run cars and trucks, heat homes and businesses, and power factories are responsible for about 98% of US carbon dioxide emissions, 24% of methane emissions, and 18% of nitrous oxide emissions. Increased agriculture, deforestation, landfills, industrial production, and mining also contribute a significant share of emissions. In 1997, the United States emitted about one-fifth of total global greenhouse gases."

It was easy for Bush to back out of the Kyoto Protocol when Al Gore and Bill Clinton undermined the agreement in the late 1990s. "Signing the Protocol, while an important step forward, imposes no obligations on the United States. The Protocol becomes binding only with the advice and consent of the US Senate," Gore said at the time. "As we have said before, we will not submit the Protocol for ratification without the meaningful participation of key developing countries in efforts to address climate change." Sadly, Gore stood by his promise.

Continued @ Counterpunch

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tony Snow's evolutionary falsehoods

In his August 12 nationally syndicated column, Fox News host Tony Snow equated evolutionary theory to "intelligent design" (commonly referred to as ID), claiming that "[e]volutionary theory, like ID, isn't verifiable or testable. It's pure hypothesis." Specifically, he falsely asserted that no fossil evidence exists in support of evolutionary theory. In fact, there is significant support for evolutionary theory in the fossil record, just one of many pillars of evidence supporting evolutionary theory.

The theory of evolution maintains that increased complexity among organisms (the development of species) occurs through random genetic mutation and that organisms with characteristics best suited to their environment thrive -- the result of a process known as "natural selection." Conversely, "intelligent design" maintains that life on earth is far too complex to have arisen solely as a function of random genetic mutation and was instead designed by a supernatural "intelligence."

Continued @ Media Matters

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Periodic Autonomous Zone

I would guess that the old life way of transhumancy always proved both enjoyable and practical, at least in small scale economies. Twice a year you get up and move, travel, change your life and even your diet -- a taste of nomadic freedom. But always the same two places. One place is typically more heimlich than the other -- the village, the hearth; while the other place is typically wilder than the first, and this one might be called the place of Desire, of Summer. In the tales of Finn Mac Cumal and his Fenian band we nearly always meet them at this wilder end of the spectrum, the greenwood, the landscape of the hunt which reaches "back" in time to a more golden pre-agricultural age, and also "aslant" in time -- to Tir nan Og, the Land of Summer, realm of the Tuatha de Danaan, who are both the Dead and the Fairies.

Continued @ Alamut

The Hiroshima Cover-Up

A story that the U.S. government hoped would never see the light of day has finally been published—60 years after it was spiked by military censors. The discovery of reporter George Weller's first-hand account of conditions in post-nuclear Nagasaki sheds light on one of the great journalistic betrayals of the last century: the cover-up of the effects of the atomic bombing on Japan.

On August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima; three days later, Nagasaki was hit. General Douglas MacArthur promptly declared southern Japan off-limits, barring the press. Over 200,000 people died in the atomic bombings of the cities, but no Western journalist witnessed the aftermath and told the story. Instead, the world's media obediently crowded onto the USS Missouri off the coast of Japan to cover the Japanese surrender.

Continued @ Mother Jones

The al-Dubya Training Manual

This is now the official and frequent response of White House, Pentagon, and State Department spokespersons when confronted with charges of American "abuse" (read: torture) of prisoners, and is being repeated by many supporters of the war scattered around the Internet.

It can thus be noted that White House, Pentagon, and State Department training manuals emphasize the tactic of saying "It is important to note that al Qaeda training manuals emphasize the tactic of making false abuse allegations," when confronted with charges of American torture of prisoners for which the spokespersons have no other defense.

It is equally important to note that these sundry spokespersons never actually offer a precise quotation from any terrorist training manuals, of al Qaeda or not. The one instance I've been able to find of US government officials referring to a specific terrorist training manual in the context of torture, is a referral to the so-called "Manchester Manual", a manual found on the computer of a suspected terrorist in Manchester, England in 2000.{1} In the references to torture, in the portions of the manual that have been made public, there is certainly no clear, unambiguous directive for making false allegations of abuse, much less an emphasis on such. The manual, apparently written in the 1980s, says the following about torture: "Each brother who is subjected to interrogation and torture, should state all that he agreed upon with the commander and not deviate from it." ... "Security personnel in our countries arrest brothers and obtain the needed information through interrogation and torture."

Continued @ Counterpunch

Widespread Ignorance

President Bush has endorsed the pseudo-scientific notion of "intelligent design" (ID) and declared it to be a legitimate alternative to the theory of evolution. This is not surprising, as he has always maintained that "the jury is still out" on the question of evolution.

But the jury is not out -- indeed it was well in before President Bush was even born -- and anyone familiar with modern biology knows that ID is nothing more than a program of political and religious advocacy masquerading as science.

It is for this reason that the scientific community has been divided on just how (or whether) to dignify the spurious claims of ID "theorists" with a response. While understandable, I believe that such scruples are now misplaced. The Trojan Horse has passed the innermost gates of the city, and scary religious imbeciles are now spilling out.

Continued @ Alternet

Permanent TAZs

TAZ-theory tries to concern itself with existing or emerging situations rather than with pure utopianism. All over the world people are leaving or "disappearing" themselves from the Grid of Alienation and seeking ways to restore human contact. An interesting example of this-on the level of "urban folk culture"-can be found in the proliferation of hobby networks and conferences. Recently I discovered the zines of two such groups, Crown Jewels of the Hlgh Wire (devoted to the collection of glass electrical insulators) and a journal on cucurbitology (The Gourd). A vast amount of creativity goes into these obsessions. The various periodic gatherings of fellow-maniacs amount to genuine face-to-face (unmediated) festivals of eccentricity. It's not just the "counter-culture" which seeks its TAZs, its nomad encampments and nights of liberation from the Consensus. Self-organized and autonomous groups are springing up amongst every "class" and "sub-culture". Vast tracts of the Babylonian Empire are now virtually empty, populated only by the spooks of MassMedia, and a few psychotic policemen.

TAZ-theory realizes that THIS IS HAPPENING- we're not talking about "should" or "will be"-we're talking about an already-existing movement. Our use of various thought-experiments, utopian poetics, paranoia criticism, etc., aims at helping to clarify this complex and still largely undocumented movement, to give it some theoretical focus and self-awareness, and to suggest tactics based on coherent integral strategies-to act the midwife or the panegyrist, not the "vanguard"!

Continued @ Hermetic

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Maher Arar Fights to Keep Torture Suit Against U.S. Government Alive

Canadian torture victim Maher Arar is the first person to mount a civil suit challenging the U.S. government policy of extraordinary rendition. Now his attorneys are fighting the Justice Department's motion to dismiss the case. We speak with David Cole, the lead lawyer for Maher Arar.

Continued @ Democracy Now!