Thursday, July 31, 2008

Harvest the Bounty

Last year, a group of well heeled investors gathered at a private setting to look at the future of energy. I was one of the featured speakers and I gave my vision of a capacitance heavy photonic energy web which is unified with the transportation sector via the large scale adoption of plug in hybrids, electric mass transit, and ultimately, a whole new generation of electrical powered personal transportation devices, be they Segways or back pack scooters, or Dick Tracy levitators.

One of the members of the investment group was very hot on the idea of using algae to produce fuels. I mentioned at the time, that such a biological approach held some promise, and that blue green algae could be cultured in our deserts to produce hydrogen as well as oil.

Now, using our deserts to grow algae is beginning to get the attention of the larger investment community. Here's the story from the Guardian:

'Oil from algae' promises climate friendly fuel
The Guardian
by Alok Jha
Thursday July 31 2008

A liquid fuel made from plants that is chemically identical to crude oil but which does not contribute to climate change when it is burned or, unlike other biofuels, need agricultural land to produce sounds too good to be true. But a company in San Diego claims to have developed exactly that – a sustainable version of oil it calls "green crude".

Sapphire Energy uses single-celled organisms such as algae to produce a chemical mixture from which it is possible to extract fuels for cars or airplanes. When it is burned, the fuel only releases into the air the carbon dioxide absorbed by the algae during its growth, making the whole process carbon neutral.

Major investors are already opening their cheque books: Sapphire has raised a total of $50m (£25m) in venture capital in recent weeks, the highest amount ever for an algae biotech company, including a significant investment from the UK's Wellcome Trust.

Algae are seen by many experts as promising a source of green fuel in the future: ranging from single-celled organisms to large seaweeds, they are the world's most abundant form of plant life and, via photosynthesis, are extremely efficient at using sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air to make organic material such as sugars, proteins and, under the right conditions, oils. clip

Many biotech companies around the world are working on using algae to produce ethanol or biodiesels that could replace traditional transport fuels while avoiding the problems raised by traditional crop-based biofuels, such as displacing food crops. A Sapphire spokesperson said that, with algae, there was no need to use valuable farmland to grow the basic resource. "In fact the process uses non-arable land and non-potable water and delivers 10 to 100 times more energy per acre than cropland biofuels."

Where Sapphire departs from other algae companies is that their aim is not to produce standard biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel. Instead, they take their inspiration from the way crude oil was created in the first place, millions of years ago.

"Way back when, when the algae were responsible for creating the long-chain hydrocarbons like diesels and heavy oils, the biomass just got buried and compressed and formed crude oil," said Steven Skill, a researcher in how algae can be used to make organic chemicals at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and who is familiar with Sapphire's work. "Algae synthesise these long-chain hydrocarbons within the cells."

Sapphire would not reveal details of the type of algae they are using but Skill thinks it is probably using genetically-modified cyanobacteria, which used to be called blue-green algae. These organisms can grow quickly (some blooms can double their mass in just an hour), operate in high temperatures and some strains can even fix nitrogen from the air to make their own fertilisers. "

The story finishes with this quote:

"Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: "We urgently need to find ways of consigning the fossil fuel economy to history. Algae could offer promise, but to get a real grip on what this technology could offer we need far more information at our fingertips. "

I've seen some of the technology for this process in presentations at my utility and I see real difficulties with their current strategies.

Still, newer, more cost effective strategies probably can be developed.

But on the other hand,

why not just move away from fuel altogether?

We have limited resources and limited time.

And a unified photonic energy web with solid state capacitance

is within our reach.

But first we must focus.

then we must act.

then we harvest the bounty.


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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hell on Earth

Just a while ago, I got an email from legislative affairs informing me that the "R"s had once again blocked SB 3335, the crucial legislation that continues the encouragement of the development of our post carbon resources.

It's hard to know just what is running through the minds of those who block the changes we must make in order to deal with the changes we have brought upon ourselves. Sure, the "Rs" have managed to make their party the "party of Wall Street" and the home of the corporate psycho. But in the past, they at least did it with a vague understanding of the fable of the "Golden Goose".

But it seems that these days, the "Rs" have narrowed their constituency to the oil companies and the MIC, and so even "the goose" is getting it too. Here's the story from the AP:

GOP blocks action on tax, renewable energy package
By JIM ABRAMS – 2 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the fourth time this summer Republicans stopped the Senate from taking up wide-ranging legislation that extends tax breaks for teachers, businesses and parents and provides tax credits to an array of renewable energy entrepreneurs.

Major business groups, usual GOP allies, have implored Congress to act on the tax credits, many which expired at the end of last year or will run out at the end of this year. But for many Republicans, it's a matter or principle and politics: many oppose what they say are new tax increases to pay for parts of the package and nearly all say the Senate's only business now is acting on an energy bill that promotes drilling and other measures to boost domestic oil supply.

The White House, citing new taxes and other objections to the bill, threatened a presidential veto.

The vote Wednesday was 51-43, nine short of the 60 needed to begin floor debate.

"All the Republicans want to do is not pay for anything and we know the House would not accept that," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., anticipating the defeat.

But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said his party sees a "need to dispose of the pending energy bill to help bring down the price of gas at the pump before turning to other matters."

The bill would extend some $18 billion worth of renewable energy tax credits, helping out investors in wind and solar power, clean coal, plug-in electric vehicles and a variety of others.
Last month more than 300 high-tech and manufacturing companies warned Congress that failure to act quickly "will bring investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to a standstill."

Greg Wetstone of the American Wind Energy Association said Tuesday that his industry risks losing $11 billion in investment and 75,000 jobs if the tax credit expires next year."

By most measures, those who are doing this are insane.

They have created their own reality where climate change is not real or a looming threat to the health of the world and the nation. They refuse to listen to one of their own in the house, who has made many thoughtful and well documented presentations on the reality and threat of Peak Oil. Thus, they believe that opening up new federal lands to drilling will actually lower oil prices.

They believe in protecting the unborn, but they seem to have no problem in murdering them once they leave the hospital if they happen to live where our oil is.

They believe only in raw power and in their own lies.

They think that only they are going to heaven

and that everyone else is going to hell.

In the meantime, they are doing a dang good job

of making a Hell on Earth.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Third Wave

In the last week, the utility that I work with has announced two big projects. One is a 100 MW biomass project which despite the headline is not a 2.3 billion dollar plant. The other is a 30 MW PV project. Curiously, the biomass project made the first page above the fold and the solar project announcement was somewhat buried.

Given that the Pv project will be the largest in the United States, one would have thought that it was worth a mention. And, in fairness, I'm sure it will be when the right time comes.

Moving towards a photonic future on a grand scale requires that we, as a global community, devise and develop the most cost efficient methods of converting photons to electrons we can. This third wave of photovoltaic development must be orders of scale faster to produce and less expensive.

One of the likely candidates to lead the pack with their third wave technology is Nanosolar. Here is a piece from the CEO's blog:

Nanosolar Achieves 1GW CIGS Deposition Throughput
June 18, 2008
By Martin Roscheisen, CEO

"Most production tools in the solar industry tend to have a 10-30 megawatt (MW) annual production capacity. How is it possible to have a single tool with gigawatt throughput?

This feat is fundamentally enabled through the proprietary nanoparticle ink we have spent so many years developing. It allows us to deliver efficient solar cells (presently up to more than 14%) that are simply printed.

Printing is a simple, fast, and robust coating process that eliminates the need for expensive high-vacuum chambers and the kinds of high-vacuum based deposition techniques sometimes used in industries where there are a lot more $/sqm available for competitive manufacturing cost.

Our 1GW CIGS coater cost $1.65 million. At the 100 feet-per-minute speed shown in the video, that’s an astonishing two orders of magnitude more capital efficient than a high-vacuum process: a twenty times slower high-vacuum tool would have cost about ten times as much.

Plus if we cared to run it even faster, we could. (The same coating technique works in principle for speeds up to 2000 feet-per-minute too. In fact, it turns out the faster we run, the better the coating!)

And here is another post from the Nanosolar blog:

At Nanosolar, we genuinely believe that meaningful scale for solar will come foremost from utility-scale solar power plants, particularly from municipal solar power plants of 2-10 megawatts (MW) in size. These power plants consist of rows of solar panels mounted onto the ground of free fields at the outskirts of towns and cities, feeding electricity directly into the municipal power grid.

A 2MW municipal solar power plant requires about 10 acres of land to serve a city of 1,000 homes — that’s acreage generally easily available at the outskirts of any city of such size in even the most developed countries. With a solar power plant in each of several hundred cities, a Gigawatt of power is delivered locally to where it is needed, in a digestible size.

In a municipal solar power plant, solar panels are mounted onto rails above the ground so that grass and flowers can continue to flourish in between and below the rows of panels. Care is taken that sufficient amounts of rainwater can drop through between adjoining panels so that the flowers and organisms below are not starved. In fact, in dry regions, the solar panels even benefit the ecosystem by increasing the moisture level in the soil."

This is the kind of attention to the environment that we need around a solar plant. Too many utility folks want to make the field look like a utility plant or a substation.

Hopefully we will see this kind of attention as we begin our project.

And hopefully, the world will begin to develop and deploy

this third wave of solar .

Even as the fourth wave comes.


Monday, July 28, 2008

A Better Place

I don't read Tom Friedman much these days, but this post on the marriage of wind and electric cars is a good one. Here's my edit of it:

Texas to Tel Aviv
The New York Times
Published: July 27, 2008

What would happen if you cross-bred J. R. Ewing of “Dallas” and Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club? You’d get T. Boone Pickens. What would happen if you cross-bred Henry Ford and Yitzhak Rabin? You’d get Shai Agassi.

And what would happen if you put together T. Boone Pickens, the green billionaire Texas oilman now obsessed with wind power, and Shai Agassi, the Jewish Henry Ford now obsessed with making Israel the world’s leader in electric cars?

You’d have the start of an energy revolution. (clip)

Agassi’s plan, backed by Israel’s government, is to create a complete electric car “system” that will work much like a mobile-phone service “system,” only customers sign up for so many monthly miles, instead of minutes. Every subscriber will get a car, a battery and access to a national network of recharging outlets all across Israel — as well as garages that will swap your dead battery for a fresh one whenever needed.

His company, Better Place, and its impressive team would run the smart grid that charges the cars and is also contracting for enough new solar energy from Israeli companies — 2 gigawatts over 10 years — to power the whole fleet. “Israel will have the world’s first virtual oilfield in the Negev Desert,” said Agassi. His first 500 electric cars, built by Renault, will hit Israel’s roads next year.

Agassi is a passionate salesman for his vision. He could sell camels to Saudi Arabia. “Today in Europe, you pay $600 a month for gasoline,” he explained to me. “We have an electric car that will cost you $600 a month” — with all the electric fuel you need and when you don’t want the car any longer, just give it back. No extra charges and no CO2 emissions.

His goal, said Agassi, is to make his electric car “so cheap, so trivial, that you won’t even think of buying a gasoline car.” (clip)

T. Boone Pickens is 80. He’s already made billions in oil. He was involved in some ugly mischief in funding the “Swift-boating” of John Kerry. But now he’s opting for a different legacy: breaking America’s oil habit by pushing for a massive buildup of wind power in the U.S. and converting our abundant natural gas supplies — now being used to make electricity — into transportation fuel to replace foreign oil in our cars, buses and trucks.

Pickens is motivated by American nationalism. Because of all the money we are shipping abroad to pay for our oil addiction, he says, “we are on the verge of losing our superpower status.” His vision is summed up on his Web site: “We import 70 percent of our oil at a cost of $700 billion a year ... I have been an oil man all my life, but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of. If we create a renewable energy network, we can break our addiction to foreign oil.”

Pickens made clear to me over breakfast last week that he was tired of waiting for Washington to produce a serious energy plan. So his company, Mesa Power, is now building the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle, where he’s spent $2 billion buying land and 700 wind turbines from General Electric — the largest single turbine order ever. clip

If only we had a Congress and president who, instead of chasing crazy schemes like offshore drilling and releasing oil from our strategic reserve, just sat down with Boone and Shai and asked one question: “What laws do we need to enact to foster 1,000 more like you?” Then just do it, and get out of the way. "

Perhaps more appropriately,

Until we have a Congress and a President who is willing to recognize that their oil benefactors will continue to suck the monetary marrow out of the bones of the middle classes and from our public coffers,

And, until they inact both a wind fall profits tax and a climate premium (carbon tax), we pretty much know where they stand.

And it's not with us.

To get to our Better Place.

They need to go

some place else.


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Friday, July 25, 2008

Marshall Plan: Iraq, Palestine, Sudan

This morning I took a few minutes to listen to the whole of Barack Obama's address in Berlin. It is a major address (which our media has clipped idiotically) which is one reason I want to share it here, but also it left me with a huge question. How was Europe able to rebuild from the devastation caused during WWII? How was this also facilitated in Japan? Why is Palestine still in rubble, Jerusalem divided? Why such chaos and human suffering in Africa?

The answer has to be intent. The winners wanted Europe to function and people were given jobs to rebuild their own countries. But what the winners want from Africa, from the Middle East is different. These places are seen basically as mines. The Obama speech makes clear that if the world is looking for models of how to heal countries and societies, we have them, we need only to look at Germany.

It's worth thinking about.

Click on the title of the speech to go to the Obama page where you can watch and read the address in Berlin.

"A World That Stands as One"

As Prepared For Delivery
Berlin, Germany
July 24th, 2008

Thank you to the citizens of Berlin and to the people of Germany. Let me thank Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier for welcoming me earlier today. Thank you Mayor Wowereit, the Berlin Senate, the police, and most of all thank you for this welcome.

I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen – a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.

I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city. The journey that led me here is improbable. My mother was born in the heartland of America, but my father grew up herding goats in Kenya. His father – my grandfather – was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.

At the height of the Cold War, my father decided, like so many others in the forgotten corners of the world, that his yearning – his dream – required the freedom and opportunity promised by the West. And so he wrote letter after letter to universities all across America until somebody, somewhere answered his prayer for a better life.

That is why I’m here. And you are here because you too know that yearning. This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. And you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from both of our nations came together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice for that better life.

Ours is a partnership that truly began sixty years ago this summer, on the day when the first American plane touched down at Templehof.

On that day, much of this continent still lay in ruin. The rubble of this city had yet to be built into a wall. The Soviet shadow had swept across Eastern Europe, while in the West, America, Britain, and France took stock of their losses, and pondered how the world might be remade.

This is where the two sides met. And on the twenty-fourth of June, 1948, the Communists chose to blockade the western part of the city. They cut off food and supplies to more than two million Germans in an effort to extinguish the last flame of freedom in Berlin.

The size of our forces was no match for the much larger Soviet Army. And yet retreat would have allowed Communism to march across Europe. Where the last war had ended, another World War could have easily begun. All that stood in the way was Berlin.

And that’s when the airlift began – when the largest and most unlikely rescue in history brought food and hope to the people of this city.

The odds were stacked against success. In the winter, a heavy fog filled the sky above, and many planes were forced to turn back without dropping off the needed supplies. The streets where we stand were filled with hungry families who had no comfort from the cold.

But in the darkest hours, the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up. And on one fall day, hundreds of thousands of Berliners came here, to the Tiergarten, and heard the city’s mayor implore the world not to give up on freedom. “There is only one possibility,” he said. “For us to stand together united until this battle is won…The people of Berlin have spoken. We have done our duty, and we will keep on doing our duty. People of the world: now do your duty…People of the world, look at Berlin!”

People of the world – look at Berlin!

Look at Berlin, where Germans and Americans learned to work together and trust each other less than three years after facing each other on the field of battle.

Look at Berlin, where the determination of a people met the generosity of the Marshall Plan and created a German miracle; where a victory over tyranny gave rise to NATO, the greatest alliance ever formed to defend our common security.

Look at Berlin, where the bullet holes in the buildings and the somber stones and pillars near the Brandenburg Gate insist that we never forget our common humanity.

People of the world – look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.

Sixty years after the airlift, we are called upon again. History has led us to a new crossroad, with new promise and new peril. When you, the German people, tore down that wall – a wall that divided East and West; freedom and tyranny; fear and hope – walls came tumbling down around the world. From Kiev to Cape Town, prison camps were closed, and the doors of democracy were opened. Markets opened too, and the spread of information and technology reduced barriers to opportunity and prosperity. While the 20th century taught us that we share a common destiny, the 21st has revealed a world more intertwined than at any time in human history.

The fall of the Berlin Wall brought new hope. But that very closeness has given rise to new dangers – dangers that cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean.

The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil.

As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.

Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, or secrets from a scientist in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris. The poppies in Afghanistan become the heroin in Berlin. The poverty and violence in Somalia breeds the terror of tomorrow. The genocide in Darfur shames the conscience of us all.

In this new world, such dangerous currents have swept along faster than our efforts to contain them. That is why we cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them. Yet, in the absence of Soviet tanks and a terrible wall, it has become easy to forget this truth. And if we’re honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny.

In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe’s role in our security and our future. Both views miss the truth – that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world; and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe.

Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe. No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more – not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.

That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

We know they have fallen before. After centuries of strife, the people of Europe have formed a Union of promise and prosperity. Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace. Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together; in the Balkans, where our Atlantic alliance ended wars and brought savage war criminals to justice; and in South Africa, where the struggle of a courageous people defeated apartheid.

So history reminds us that walls can be torn down. But the task is never easy. True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy; of progress and peace. They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.

That is why America cannot turn inward. That is why Europe cannot turn inward. America has no better partner than Europe. Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It was this spirit that led airlift planes to appear in the sky above our heads, and people to assemble where we stand today. And this is the moment when our nations – and all nations – must summon that spirit anew.

This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it. This threat is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it. If we could create NATO to face down the Soviet Union, we can join in a new and global partnership to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York. If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope.

This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO’s first mission beyond Europe’s borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.

This is the moment when we must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The two superpowers that faced each other across the wall of this city came too close too often to destroying all we have built and all that we love. With that wall gone, we need not stand idly by and watch the further spread of the deadly atom. It is time to secure all loose nuclear materials; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to reduce the arsenals from another era. This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons.

This is the moment when every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday. In this century, we need a strong European Union that deepens the security and prosperity of this continent, while extending a hand abroad. In this century – in this city of all cities – we must reject the Cold War mind-set of the past, and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must, and to seek a partnership that extends across this entire continent.

This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development. But we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few, and not the many. Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet. This is the moment for trade that is free and fair for all.

This is the moment we must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East. My country must stand with yours and with Europe in sending a direct message to Iran that it must abandon its nuclear ambitions. We must support the Lebanese who have marched and bled for democracy, and the Israelis and Palestinians who seek a secure and lasting peace. And despite past differences, this is the moment when the world should support the millions of Iraqis who seek to rebuild their lives, even as we pass responsibility to the Iraqi government and finally bring this war to a close.

This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. Let us resolve that all nations – including my own – will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere. This is the moment to give our children back their future. This is the moment to stand as one.

And this is the moment when we must give hope to those left behind in a globalized world. We must remember that the Cold War born in this city was not a battle for land or treasure. Sixty years ago, the planes that flew over Berlin did not drop bombs; instead they delivered food, and coal, and candy to grateful children. And in that show of solidarity, those pilots won more than a military victory. They won hearts and minds; love and loyalty and trust – not just from the people in this city, but from all those who heard the story of what they did here.

Now the world will watch and remember what we do here – what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time?

Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?

Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don’t look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time.

I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we’ve struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.

But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived – at great cost and great sacrifice – to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us – what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America’s shores – is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.

These are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. These aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of these aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of these aspirations that all free people – everywhere – became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation – our generation – must make our mark on the world.

People of Berlin – and people of the world – the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Weimar America


As Obama speaks before several hundred thousand Germans today, I came across this piece about the Weimar Republic from the Arch Druid Report . You remember the Weimar Republic, towards the end, housewives were bringing buckets and wheelbarrows of money to the grocery store just to buy bread. The author, John Michael Greer, writes of the parallels of that time and today. Here is part of it:

"The politics of peak oil form one of the most explosive and least often understood dimensions of the emerging crisis of industrial civilization. Too often, when questions of politics enter the peak oil discourse, they focus on the belief that the problem of peak oil can be solved by throwing one set of scoundrels out of power so that another set of scoundrels can take their place. This seems hopelessly misguided to me.

To start with, peak oil is not a problem that can be solved. It’s a predicament – a phenomenon hardwired into our species’ most fundamental relationships with physical and ecological reality – and like any other predicament, it cannot be solved; it can only be accepted. It differs in detail, but not in kind, from the collisions with ecological limits that punctuate the historical record as far back as you care to look.

Like every other species, humanity now and then overshoots the limits of its ecological support system. It’s our misfortune to live at a time when this has happened on a much larger scale than usual, due to our species’ recent discovery and reckless exploitation of the Earth’s once-abundant fossil fuel reserves.

Expecting a change of leaders, or even of systems, to make that reality go away is a little like trying to pass a bill in Congress to repeal the law of supply and demand.

Still, leaders and governmental systems make great scapegoats, and just now scapegoats are very much in fashion.

Consider the rogue’s gallery of villains blamed in the media for recent surges in the price of oil: speculators, oil companies, environmentalists, Arab sheiks, Nigerian rebels, and the US government, which – succumbing to a rare fit of common sense – refused to drain the nation’s strategic oil reserve so that vacationers could have cheap gas for their holiday driving." ( clip)

With this setup, the author moves to the German Weimar Republic:

"One factor that made the political situation in Weimar Germany so vulnerable to this sort of self-destructive evasion of crucial realities was the intellectual bankruptcy of the mainstream political parties at the time.

The late 19th century saw the emergence of a political consensus across the then-industrial world that united all mainstream parties behind the principles of free trade, governmental noninterference in economic affairs, and imperial expansion into the Third World.

Finding substantive differences between Liberals and Conservatives in Britain, Democrats and Republicans in America, and equivalent parties in other countries around the turn of the last century was a task best pursued with a magnifying glass.

It took decades of crisis, culminating in the economic debacle of the Great Depression, to break the grip of that consensus on the political imagination of the industrial world.

We are in a similar situation in America today. (and the world?)

If anything, contemporary political thought is far more impoverished than it was in 1908, when the radical fringes of society swarmed with alternative theories of political economy.

Since the collapse of classical conservatism in the 1960s, and the implosion of the New Left in the 1970s, political debate in the American mainstream has focused on finding the best means to achieve a set of ends that few voices question at all, while a great deal of debate outside the mainstream has abandoned political theory for a secular demonology in which everything wrong with the world – including the effects of the Earth’s ecological limits, of course – is the fault of some malevolent elite or other." more

The author finishes with these words:

"it’s time to take a hard look at some of our most basic assumptions, and replace scapegoat logic with a reasoned discussion about where we are headed and what other options our society might want to consider."

If are to avoid a Weimar America,

We must must do more than review our basic assumptions,

We must exorcise ourselves of them.

For those who do not learn from history,

are bound to repeat it.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Last Laugh

First prize: Coat Star, by Mikhail Zlatovsky, Russia.

Climate Change is clearly no laughing matter. But communicating the seriousness of it requires every tool in our communication tool box.

The Ken Sprague Fund has organized a competition that gave artists from around the world an opportunity to try their hand at using humor to get the climate change message through the dense gray matter of our bicameral minds. Around 150 artists from more than 50 countries submitted entries.
The winner is above, but here are some others that I personally like:

Jakali Nokandeh, Iran

Valentin Druzkinin, Russia

Branko Ilic, Croatia

Indifference, Igor Kondenko, Ukraine

Check the rest of them out here.
We all need to laugh.
at ourselves, our culture, our incompetence.
Even if it is our last.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Change That Too

Here is more evidence that a major swing is beginning to occur in the minds and hearts of many. The story comes from the New Economics Foundation:

The global economy is facing a ‘triple crunch’: a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices underpinned by encroaching peak oil. It is increasingly clear that these three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression, with potentially devastating consequences.

As in past times of crises, disparate groups have come together to propose a new solution to an epochal challenge. The Green New Deal Group, drawing inspiration from the tone of President Roosevelt’s comprehensive response to the Great Depression, propose a modernised version, a ‘Green New Deal’ designed to power a renewables revolution, create thousands of green-collar jobs and rein in the distorting power of the finance sector while making more low-cost capital available for pressing priorities.

Seventy-five years ago, Roosevelt’s courageous programme was implemented in an unprecedented ‘100-days of lawmaking’. And, as the Green New Deal Group launch their proposals, new analysis suggests that from the end of July 2008 there is only 100 months, or less, to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before we hit a potential point of no return.

This is the moment when the likelihood of irreversible changes in the climate becomes unacceptably high.

The most serious global crisis since the Great Depression calls for serious reform the like of which has not, yet, been considered by politicians. This entails re-regulating finance and taxation plus a huge transformational programme aimed at substantially reducing the use of fossil fuels and, in the process, tackling the unemployment and decline in demand caused by the credit crunch.

It involves policies and new funding mechanisms that will reduce emissions and allow us to cope better with the coming energy shortages caused by peak oil."

This Green New Deal calls for:

Massive investment in renewable energy and wider environmental transformation,

The creation of thousands of new green collar jobs,

and making low-cost capital available to fund the green economic shift.

It also includes breaking up the banks and a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies to create an oil legacy fund.

Until just a few days ago, we weren't thinking like that in this country. But it's certainly encouraging to know that the vision and courage that led this country and the world in the last century still survives in namesake for what we need to do in this new century.

If we are to survive and ultimately prosper in the landscape that lays before us, we truly must change-not just away from carbon, but away from the abuses of plutocracy, and the worship of superior organized violence.

And the ones who lead us, perhaps like Roosevelt,

might someday find their images on our money,

and on our monuments.

On second thought,

Maybe we can change that too.


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Monday, July 21, 2008

Nothing Less Will Do

Here is a response to the challenge to change the way we make electricity that is as good as you can hope for. It's from CSM:

"T Boone Pickens and Al Gore have proposed bold plans to radically reduce America's addiction to fossil fuels. These two gadflies just might provide enough bite to provoke the next president to swifter action.

Mr. Pickens argues that using wind power for electricity and powering vehicles with domestic natural gas can replace more than one-third of our foreign oil imports within 10 years. If nothing is done, the conservative Texas oilman says, the US will send $10 trillion out of the country in the next decade, "the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind," he says.

Building wind-powered generators in the heartland of America and new transmission lines would cost $1.2 trillion but it would make America the "Saudi Arabia" of wind power, he says.
Mr. Gore wants the US to commit to producing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and other clean sources – also in 10 years. His plan would cost $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion in public and private investment.

But the Democrat and former vice president argues that the money will be well spent in reducing the unknown future costs of oil.

His plan relies on a vast expansion of solar, wind, and geothermal power. Nuclear generation stays at present levels. "Clean coal" would be included if the industry brings carbon-capture technology on line.

Gore would tax fuels that emit carbon dioxide, which is much more likely to reduce carbon emissions than the much talked-about "cap and trade" system. He would pair it with a deep tax cut to offset the effects on consumers. "We should tax what we burn, not what we earn," Gore says, calling this "the single most important policy change we can make."

Both Pickens and Gore recognize that partisan politics must give way in the face of this pressing need, and both hope to enlist a wide array of Americans to help them hoist the issue to the top of the fall political campaign.

Gore's plan quickly attracted fire from skeptics, who argue it is too aggressive and not possible in such a short time frame. Yet the presidential candidates are not disputing Gore's goal.

Republican hopeful John McCain has pledged to wean the US off foreign oil within 17 years. And Democratic candidate Barack Obama would reduce US oil consumption by 35 percent by 2030.
So the debate now is not whether there is a need to drastically reduce the burning of fossil fuels, which is given.

It's about the speed and means of change,

The questions are "Which way?" and "How fast?"

Those who hammer the Gore plan ought to recall Moore's Law, in which computing power on a chip has doubled every two years. Progress in solving a problem can move ahead exponentially. Or what about Wikipedia, an invaluable destination for knowledge, with more than 2 million articles in its English version?

It didn't exist just seven years ago.

Pickens and Gore express America's can-do spirit. Granted, they don't have to pass legislation and face entrenched special interests that benefit from the status quo. That extra burden must be recognized and carried by the next president.

Nothing less will do.

Leaders think beyond what looks possible now. Poking holes in these plans can provide a vital vetting and a reality check. But the foot-draggers must step to the rear. "

My back of the napkin figure for the Gore plan is just north of 3.2 Trillion.

And if we convert our transportation fleet to plug in hybrids, electric scooters, and whatever new personal transportation device that comes up, as well as invest in extensive mass transit, we truly might be able to stop the flow of money to other lands.

But in the fullness of the issue, we must stop dividing ourselves.

Sure, it fans our nationalistic spirit to talk of energy independence, but the problems we face are global. And if we are to avoid a global world war which will cost us tens of trillions of dollars, we must devise and implement a global solution.

Good job Al, and good for you T-Boone.

But this isn't a USA moon shot.

This must become a Global Marshall Plan

to rebuild our world.

Nothing less will do.


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Sunday, July 20, 2008

If we are Dead

When I get back to work tomorrow, (at the electric utility) I can imagine what folks will say about Al Gore's challenge to achieve 100 renewables in 10 years. "Impossible" will be the standard response. "Rates will double". But as I told folks this morning at brunch, "it really doesn't matter much if we lose 3% in the GNP if we are dead".

And those of us in the electric utility business need to be prepared for a major sea change in the political environment, an albedo flip.

Here's an oldie from last summer that captures the essence of it:

We have all been programmed to believe that there are only two economic systems.

One, is the evil, freedom hating system of Marx that believes that the rule of capital in the society is tantamount to plutocracy and therefore a recipe for inequity and injustice. (We are now being reprogrammed to fear the evil, freedom hating religious mullahs)

The other is the dog eat dog world of capitalism mediated by governments and institutions. As we watch the big dogs attack an attack on one of their prime profit centers, the outrageous barbaric system of medical care that rules the world's largest economy, it is important to remember that in truth, a blend of capitalism and cooperation is clearly in everyone's best interest.

With a slightly reformed view of our world, we can see the possibility of other systems and hybrids of our current system which might well allow for more freedom, more justice, and less control of our world by those whose pursuit of capital overpowers our own pursuits of peace and tranquility.

To meet the challenges that lay ahead, we will need to craft a new economic system of cooperation that creates a new breed of institution. These new institutions will be based on democratic principles. Many of them will be small, like your food coop today, but others may grow and thrive to the point that they become powerful multinational cooperations.

And what are these challenges?

Here is part of a new George Monbiot post in the Guardian.

"Reading a scientific paper on the train this weekend, I found, to my amazement, that my hands were shaking. This has never happened to me before, but nor have I ever read anything like it. Published by a team led by James Hansen at NASA, it suggests that the grim reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could be absurdly optimistic.

The IPCC predicts that sea levels could rise by as much as 59 centimeters this century. Hansen's paper argues that the slow melting of ice sheets the panel expects doesn't fit the data.

The geological record suggests that ice at the poles does not melt in a gradual and linear fashion, but flips suddenly from one state to another. When temperatures increased to 2-3 degrees Celsius above today's level 3.5 million years ago, sea levels rose not by 59 cm but by 25 meters.

The ice responded immediately to changes in temperature.

We now have a pretty good idea of why ice sheets collapse. The buttresses that prevent them from sliding into the sea break up; meltwater trickles down to their base, causing them suddenly to slip; and pools of water form on the surface, making the ice darker so that it absorbs more heat. These processes are already taking place in Greenland and West Antarctica.

Rather than taking thousands of years to melt, as the IPCC predicts, Hansen and his team find it "implausible" that the expected warming before 2100 "would permit a West Antarctic ice sheet of present size to survive even for a century."

As well as drowning most of the world's centers of population, a sudden disintegration could lead to much higher rises in global temperature, because less ice means less heat reflected back into space.

The new paper suggests that the temperature could therefore be twice as sensitive to rising greenhouse gases than the IPCC assumes. "Civilization developed," Hansen writes, "during a period of unusual climate stability, the Holocene, now almost 12,000 years in duration.

That period is about to end.

I looked up from the paper, almost expecting to see crowds stampeding through the streets. I saw people chatting outside a riverside pub. The other passengers on the train snoozed over their newspapers or played on their mobile phones. Unaware of the causes of our good fortune, blissfully detached from their likely termination, we drift into catastrophe. Or we are led there."

Or, we are trapped in our own institutional and mental prisons.

Monbiot goes on to say:

"If Hansen is correct, to avert the meltdown that brings the Holocene to an end, we require a response on this scale: a sort of political "albedo flip."

But it must be more than just a political albedo flip.

We must re-examine everything, especially our little mantras.

"Letting the market work" really means stealing from our children.

"National Security" means global insecurity.

"A strong National defense" is a blank check for the M.I.C.

"Full Employment" means total subjugation.

"Secure Borders" might someday turn into your own prison wall.

The mind forms that were victorious in the war of the two systems must be synthesized into a new vision for humanity. Humanity can meet the challenges of climate change and resource depletion, but only if we throw away these ancient forms:

Our technologies of fire, our democracies of separation,
our economics of capital, our worship of organized violence.

If we do not flip our own albedo,

the earth's albedo will do it for us."


folks need to understand that we are not facing a choice

between a 3% decline in GNP and the GNP status quo.

We are facing a choice, a crossroads,

between being alive,

and being dead.

"There is no cure for birth or death save to enjoy the interval."—George Santayana


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Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Crossroads

Diego Rivera "Hombre en el Cruce del Caminos"

he big event as Netroots Nation today was the appearance of Al Gore.

Indeed we are at the crossroads.

The Diego Rivera piece is worth a closer look,

so click on the picture and see it full screen.


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Thursday, July 17, 2008

100 in 10

I went by the Netroots Nation meeting today. It seemed like a reasonable, well intentioned group to me. Towards the evening, they gathered to listen to Howard Dean. They are streaming the keynotes.

Meanwhile, earlier today, Al Gore was being totally unreasonable.

And way right on.

On the same day, the Texas PUC has decided to build enough transmission to support 18,000 MW of wind.

And with T Boone taking off with his own energy plan,

Hope is more than in the air.

It's taking root.


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