We’re hell bent on exploiting mother nature, tomorrow be damned

March 31, 2014

We seem to be hell bent on extracting everything we can from the earth and as fast as we can in the name of energy and jobs and tomorrow be damned.

Now climate change skeptics and anti-environmental movement people or those who are just disinterested will just find that first sentence alarmist or just the rant of a tree hugger.

Well I am an environmentalist of sorts, at least to the extent I prefer that we do the best we can to preserve our environment while maintaining our modern lifestyle the best we can.

But here’s the deal: You know that terrible landslide in Washington state which destroyed so much property and killed so many people and tore apart so many lives, well now I read that despite the fact that locals say no one could have known it would happen, there were earlier reports of an unstable mountainside highly susceptible to a landslide if there were development. But who wants to read such a report, especially if it means eroding property values?

And I read that the area was heavily logged by the clear cut method where you totally denude the once forested land.

Now you can’t just say don’t cut trees down. We need the lumber to build houses and other structures. We need the jobs that such an endeavor produces. But when we get carried away and wind up being not good stewards of the land, bad things happen.

One of the articles I read mentioned the Dust Bowl on the Great Plains in the 1930s that coincided with the Great Depression and noted that droughts were historical on the land — poor farming/cultivation practices led to the devastating dust storms.

And now “fracking” is all the rage in our effort to extract natural gas, never mind what it might do to the land. We need energy and we need jobs.

Canada, once so environmentalist, now has energy blinders on and is going whole hog exploiting the tar sands and lessening its own environmental regulations.

Even President Obama seems to be leaning toward approval of the Keystone Pipeline, which environmentalist have heavy concerns over.

You can get carried away with environmental regulations. I mean I live in timber country where once the main employment was in the timber industry, much of it at saw mills and lumber re-manufacturing. When I was in high school it was said that half the town was employed at one mill and half at the other. I even worked in the industry for a short term after I got out of the army (it’s hard work). And then I think two things happened, foreign competition and the spotted owl. Logging was heavily restricted and I think barred from some old growth timber where the spotted owl supposedly restricted is nesting to. And then some environmentalist detractors said the spotted owls were nesting nicely in new growth timber — I wouldn’t know, just like I never know for sure how dangerous various things are to the environment — but we all know that you have to take good care of the earth to sustain its bounty.

But caution and moderation run headlong into the economics of we must have as much money as we can now and let tomorrow and another generation take care of itself.

Another major problem is that our leaders are more concerned about elections and the big money that powers them, the same big money pushing for energy development at any cost, than what is good for sustaining our earth and what is best for human life. And furthermore the vast public is indifferent, each person only concerned about his or her immediate need for the day.

Here is a link to one of the articles that got me going on this: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/31/opinion/is-canada-tarring-itself.html?hpw&rref=opinion

 

Have a nice day.

 

 

 

 

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The corn for enthanol problem and millions in subsidies for millionaires…

November 13, 2013

Apparently the federal government is still doling out millions of dollars to millionaires via agricultural subsidies, some of whom aren’t even gentleman farmers — have nothing to do with farming, other than to collect their subsidy checks — and just as bad or maybe even worse is a misguided effort to burn cleaner fuel and help corn farmers at the same time. It is causing an environmental crisis and has increased food prices. The latter has to do with the corn-based ethanol mandate for our gasoline.

I’m talking about two different but somewhat related things here.

The subsidy scandal has been around for a long time. I mean at least once a year the story is done. But the lobby that supports the subsidies is strong and misrepresents itself as supporting Ma and Pa down on the farm, lest they lose the farm to the uncertainties of crop prices and weather and the high cost of chemical based, manufactured fertilizer (and gee in the old days it just came out of the end of a cow, as a byproduct, you might say), oh, and the evil banker foreclosing on the unpaid mortgage. But much of the subsidies go to extremely large farming operations and even business operations of individuals who have nothing to do with farming, other than they have investments involving land and other than they have somehow finagled their way into the subsidy bonanza.

And whether some of these subsidy payments may be collected illegally is apparently in question and there does not seem to be a lot of oversight by the government agencies involved. In fact, I just read that rules are being changed in the name of more transparency but in reality some of the subsidies are going to be moved to different programs that do not provide transparency. I know. That does not make sense. I don’t claim to be an expert in all of this. Like Will Rogers, all I know is what I read in the papers, well on the computer. But there is a bad smell from the farm programs and it is not cow manure.

And I’ll just add, something I have mentioned previously, my own congressman comes from a family who has a large farming operation, of which he is part, and it has collected millions of dollars over the years in subsidies. He is a conservative, anti-tax, get the government-out-of-my-business conservative Tea Party Republican. He sees no conflict. I imagine he considers it just good business.

The ethanol mandate was supported heavily by presidential candidate Barack Obama and continues to be supported by President Obama. He needed to woo Midwest corn farmers, particularly the Iowa farmers to influence the Iowa caucuses. Supposedly, replacing part of the gasoline mix with the additive of ethanol makes the fuel burn cleaner. Whether that is true or not, the resulting demand for corn has resulted in more pollution and environmental damage and has caused food prices to skyrocket because corn that would have gone either directly for human food or to humans via livestock feed is being siphoned off into ethanol production, the process of which causes pollution. And what has been noticed now is that farmers have put so many acres into corn, to include virgin ground, that it is becoming an environmental disaster, to include heavy erosion. And such heavy fertilizer use contaminates ground water and water ways and large bodies of water, such as the Gulf of Mexico. Lands that had been put into conservation programs, that carried a government incentive, are now being put into corn because the price of corn has jumped.

Now as to farm subsidies, there may be an argument for them having to do with supporting family farms and maintaining a stable food supply. But they seem to be maintaining rich people and maybe there is a less costly and more efficient method of maintaining food supplies. And stepped up oversight is certainly in order. And if your income is in the millions (or billions), really it is hard to argue that you need help from the government. And if it is only in the millions because of the government, well the government should not be in the farming business and you should not be either.

As for the ethanol thing, well for one thing, as I understand it, it does not improve gas mileage and in fact reduces it. And I have already mentioned the environmental harm and the effect it has on food prices.

I am not at all against our agricultural sector. Much of my life I have worked in connection with it. A lot of family farmers run major operations that look more like corporate endeavors than that iconic picture of Ma and Pa down on the farm somewhere in Iowa, but the farmers I have come into contact with are hard working and multi-talented, being part businessman, farmer, mechanic, construction worker and so on. I don’t begrudge their success. And I suppose if the government is offering a subsidy it in most cases it is simply good business to take advantage. But on the other hand, we all have to realize that it makes no sense and is not fair to the rest of us for our government to subsidize people who can do quite well on their own. And I really have no good feeling about subsidizing corporate farming operations. Businessmen want independence and they should get it.

I’ve provided links to two stories that deal with the subjects I covered:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/24/millionaires-get-farm-pay_n_146189.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57611891/making-corn-based-ethanol-badly-hurting-environment-ap/

P.s.

I forgot to mention that energy independence was used as a selling point for corn-based ethanol production. But as I understand it, what with natural gas and new oil extracting methods we are now energy independent. I mean Hitler did turn to making fuel for his tanks from distilling the alcohol out of potatoes — but that meant everyone had fewer potatoes to eat.


$5 gasoline can be a real boon to conservation and energy resourcefulness; is American-produced natural gas the answer??

March 7, 2011

Maybe the free market or private enterprise really is the way to solve the so-called “energy crisis”.

Right about now a lot of us are wringing our hands about the impending $5 per gallon gasoline (and diesel) that seems surly to return what with all the upheaval in the Middle Eastern oil lands.

So pay the $5, I say, if gasoline is what you need. The real problem will be when you need that gallon of gasoline but cannot get it for $5 or at any cost. And that day could come. But when it does, someone will come up with an alternative to gasoline.

Now of course it would seem more sensible to come up with the alternative before the supply runs out and it all turns into a real crisis, but maybe that is just not how things really get done.

So far in my lifetime (61 years plus), I don’t think any of the spikes in the oil market (oil being of course the raw ingredient for gasoline and diesel fuels), have been the result of actual shortages, instead they have been the result of some kind of situation that could be used as an excuse for claiming a shortage or the result of so-called Arab oil embargoes that purportedly caused shortages thus giving suppliers an excuse to raise the price of gasoline. Yes, I realize that in some cases through the years there may have actually been some temporary disruption and maybe a shortage of sorts in the oil supply, but overall, not so much.

I’ve probably used this little story before, but it once again seems appropriate: During one of those so-called oil shortage crises (was it Desert Storm? — don’t recall for sure), my late wife was working for a fuel distributor. She told me that each morning her boss would call his fellow distributors (other companies) and ask them what they would be charging for gasoline that day, and that is how the wholesale price was set (sounds like price fixing to me). I did not hear about any real disruption in supply but the news of world events made it seem so, and in turn the suppliers apparently took advantage of it.

But of course today, regardless of what the actual availability is, there is pressure on the market, with emerging economic powerhouses, such as China and India, sucking up more and more of the energy supply, so prices are bound to go up — higher demand, higher prices. And when you add a political crisis in the oil lands — Libya most notable at the moment — to the equation, that is going to have an effect.

It would be better for the economy of the United States not to be so dependent or dependent at all on Middle Eastern oil or any foreign source of energy. But so far, apparently, the movers and shakers in the economy have not found it necessary or even prudent to move away from that model, despite calls to do that from various quarters ever since the first Arab oil embargo of the early 70s.

There is much resistance to our government forcing the issue on free enterprise, even though that same free enterprise, and the populace as a whole, will scream bloody murder and for help if the current supply runs out and will blame the government for the situation.

One suggestion has been the so-called drill-baby-drill option in which we totally exploit our own oil resources. To the extent we can do that without totally upsetting our environment — keeping that all-to-recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in mind — there is much sense to that. I personally don’t like the sight of oil platforms off the coast and am not sure whether it is really necessary to drill there. I think aesthetics are a vital part of life, but just as importantly, so is the eco-system, and drilling in sensitive areas poses a grave threat to life on earth. Destroying our planet in an attempt to preserve our way of life does not seem wise to me. But it does seem like there is room for a compromise or a logical risk/benefit assessment here.

Diverting food resources, namely corn, to ethanol (either by taking away animal feed or direct human feed) seems senseless, especially when, as I understand it, ethanol does not improve gasoline mileage or help the environment. But the farm lobbies and their compliant legislators have put the fix in on that one.

And currently in the news, the Obama administration is being pressured by some lawmakers and others and is considering opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ease the pressure on the oil market. It seems to me that such a move would be premature at this time, and obviously it is not a long-term solution for our energy problems, such as they may be.

And what I am trying to say here in all of this is that a little pain at the pump is a sure fire way to promote energy conservation and resourcefulness — remember how gasoline consumption dropped sharply and how everyone was parking and/or selling their gas guzzlers the last time gas hit $5?  I really could have just written that preceding sentence and not the rest — but I like to write.

And that brings me to a point: energy policy or at least the basis for making it should be the purview of actual scientists using objective reasoning, rather than what would be good for say, the corn market, or the natural gas market, or the oil market, or the wind machine producing market. But the powers that be tend to put the kibosh on publicly-funded research as much as possible, favoring biased commercial research (where you pay for the answer you want).

And speaking of natural gas — well I did mention it in the previous paragraph — KGO Radio, San Francisco’s Dr. Bill Wattenburg is pushing something he in turn said was suggested by radio land investment expert Bob Brinker, that is making the best use of a resource the U.S. purportedly has an abundance of, natural gas. Brinker suggests a quick and easy way to get the ball rolling without any new taxes or any requirements on business or the public by the government would be for the president to issue an executive order to convert the federal fleet of vehicles to natural gas. They claim that would spur the car companies to produce new vehicles that could run on either gasoline or natural gas and that in turn would make such vehicles widely available to the public at its own choosing.

Personally, I don’t have a clue, but here is a link to a letter they think you should send along to Obama (and I suggest you just skip the biased introduction and read the text of the letter, for what it is worth): http://www.uncoverage.net/2011/02/dr-bill-wattenburgs-solution-to-lower-gasoline-prices-by-2gallon/

 

P.s.

It won’t be pretty, but I’m thinking that in the end the free market will solve or resolve the energy crisis. In general, people will no longer use what they cannot afford and will gravitate toward what works for them and at the same time energy suppliers or would-be energy suppliers will do what they can to meet the demand. I do think the government has a role in funding unbiased and practical research (funded at least in part by existing road and/or energy taxes).


Obama makes his case on oil disaster; I set my own record straight…

May 27, 2010

UPDATE:  It’s on again for the top kill technique of dumping mud and cement down the hole to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, it is now being reported (7:21 p.m. PST). It had been halted for some time due to technical reasons. I don’t plan to keep updating this blog post by the hour, but I was surfing the web and saw the news — if you have not read this post, please do. I have some thoughts on the subject:

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Just watching — still am listening to questions and answers — President Barack Obama’s address to the nation about what he is doing about the BP Gulf oil leak disaster. He presented a pretty good case that the federal government has been in charge and he has been on it from day one and that everything is being done that can be done. And he allowed as how his administration is not perfect and some mistakes were made.

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ADD 1:  I think commentator David Gergen described Obama’s address as a little flat and low keyed. And I have to say it seems that Obama as president tends to be deliberate in his actions and plays the role to some extent as a consensus builder — I’m not sure this works so well in a big time emergency. I’d rather have someone with the attitude (if not the way of thinking) of the late “I’m in charge” Gen. Alexander Haig. Obama the candidate was a little more forceful and single minded.

Obama’s cautiousness and pragmatism may be good for long-range policy making but no so good for immediate action. And despite his claims to the contrary today, it does not seem that the government took full charge from the beginning. But in the end, actions will speak louder than words.

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It’s pretty apparent from just following the news day to day — and what are we? a month and a week or more past the beginning of the disaster? that everyone was caught off guard.

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CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION:  And for anyone who reads this blog regularly, I want to note that I had in a previous blog questioned the legal jurisdiction in the incident and even suggested it was in international waters. More careful checking — which was only a click to Wikipedia away — tells me that it was some 40 miles off shore and in U.S. territorial waters, and clearly the news has indicated from the start that the U.S. assumes jurisdiction. Thank you.

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Obama admitted that there were deep flaws in government environmental and safety oversight, and of course that has been the case long before he took office.

He also said that although he is placing a moratorium on new offshore drilling he still believes the nation has to continue offshore drilling to meet its energy needs, but the disaster points to the fact it needs to work harder on developing alternative energy.

My personal feeling is that offshore drilling should be halted — it’s not worth the environmental risk. But polling shows that feeling is not shared by a majority of the electorate — and maybe they are more practical-minded that I.

It is strange that some on the right who complain about an overbearing government are now calling for bigger and bolder action by the government. It shows how disingenuous they are and what lengths they will go to oppose the middle and the left and Obama.

I’ll blog more on this and other things later today — I hope.


What we do for oil — send soldiers to die and ruin our planet (1,000th Afghan war death reached this week, Gulf oil leak disaster continues)

May 20, 2010

The U.S. addiction to oil has resulted in a gloomy milestone this week — the 1,000th U.S. combat death in Afghanistan.

And it is resulting in the continuing threat (or reality) of major ecological disaster due to the accidental underwater oil leak by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico — black sludge has finally reached the sensitive marshlands of Louisiana and it is said to now be in the Loop Current that threatens to send the crude around Florida and up along the East Coast.

When I last blogged about the Gulf oil disaster I called it a slow moving disaster — but it is picking up pace or at least it is taking in much more area now and the dimensions of the disaster or its ultimate ecological effect can only be guessed at this point.

Some of the disbelievers or deniers insist that things are not so bad yet and there does seem to be some disagreement as to the detrimental effects of it all yet — but with millions of gallons of toxic crude spilling into the ocean and washing up onto shore, it can’t be good. It’s threatening sea turtles, I understand, and I’m sure it is threatening or has already killed much sea life, to include the fishery. Even the chemicals used to disperse the oil are toxic.

But anyway, I connect the one thousandth U.S. combat death in Afghanistan and the oil disaster in the Gulf because to me they are symptoms of the same problem.

The U.S. depends upon oil to such a degree that it sends soldiers to fight and die in a place where it has no business — last I heard Osama Bin Laden was in Pakistan and why do we have to send an Army to get one man in what more and more seems to be a hopeless cause?

(While Afghanistan is not a major oil exporter, its neighbors are and that is why we are there — make no mistake about that.)

The only way we could ruin the sanctuary for the Taliban and Al Qaeda there is to send in a huge force (thousands more than are there now) we don’t have, occupy the country and run it ourselves for a long time and that might not work either.

Meanwhile, we risk ruining our planet by drilling for oil in the ocean.

While I doubt our government could have predicted the calamity in the gulf (although stricter oversight and regulations could have helped), there seems to be some question now as to whether it has a handle on things and whether it is letting BP get away with withholding information.

The U.S. government needs to be in charge here (although the oil people have us over a barrel, so to speak, what with their lock on oil technical knowledge) and criminal action should be brought against BP what with evidence coming out that it skipped safety measures to save money (penny wise and pound foolish there).

And having BP drill oil off the U.S. coast is not making the U.S. energy independent — BP is British, not American.

The nation that sent men to the moon ought to be able solve its energy problems here on earth.

While I realize that the U.S. will be dependent upon oil for some time to come, it seems to be stuck in first gear on modernizing its energy system.

Strangely, though, even with this current disaster and all the millions of gallons and/or barrels of wasted oil, it is reported that due to a glut on the market, gasoline prices are expected to continue to decline somewhat.

So there is some good news here.

However, at last report, I have not heard of much progress on plugging the leak.


Gulf oil spill: the cost of being hooked on oil…

May 12, 2010

UPDATE: This post is outdated since the oil spill has continued and much damage has been done, but I think I still have some valid points here. For my latest posts just google Tony Walther’s Weblog.

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Fortunately, I guess, the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, now some three weeks old, seems to be a fairly slow-moving disaster, even though it threatens or already is the worst man-made environmental catastrophe of all time.

At last check I saw no reports that the oil slick(s) had actually reached the mainland (of the U.S.), although the oil has reached various coastal islands.

An Audubon site I read only mentioned a few birds being treated for oil-caused injury, although being it is nesting time, the potential for harm to birds is great.

Fishing, commercial and otherwise, has been shut down in the Gulf, I understand. Commercial fishermen are being hired (bribed?) by BP to help clean up the spill. As I understand it, BP has tried to force them to sign agreements not to sue in return for clean-up jobs — don’t know the status of that but I understand there may have been a court decision nullifying that or at least there is some question as to the validity of such agreements — sure seems like blatant bribery or blackmail to me.

All that aside, it seems to me that we (the U.S.) are so hooked on oil that we are willing to take enormous environmental risks in both transporting oil and drilling in the ocean. The Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska which did irreparable environmental and economic damage did not deter us in our quest for oil at any price. And of course it always help if the folks who are directly affected are way up in Alaska. Even others in Alaska, such as Sarah Palin, couldn’t care less about environmental worries (I think her husband works, or used to work for BP).

This current and continuing spill or out-of-control underwater gusher may have much more far-reaching environmental and economic effects.

A couple of years ago when gasoline and diesel prices hit the roof folks were seriously talking about alternatives, everything from bicycling to work to running vehicles on discarded vegetable oil. Many shippers who were hooked on trucking were turning to or seriously thinking about exploring their options in rail transport (which is per mile much more energy efficient, although not practical for point to point shipments, or at least for pickup and final delivery except for customers along their tracks). Even though fuel is still costly, a drop in price from the all-time highs has quieted that fervor for alternatives somewhat.

I guess the point is that it takes extremes in price or accidents to get us to really seriously look to or go to alternatives.

Neither the private sector nor government seems able to come up with alternatives while we can still get by with the status quo.

But we all know in our hearts that sooner or later (and it may well be sooner) we will have to find alternatives for our energy. It would seem to me a good time for a moon shot program by our government, much like the space program (hence the term moon shot).

It would have to be handled differently. It would have to be carried out by various players in the private sector working off of incentives from the federal government. I realize that to some extent this is already being done in various so-called green energy projects. But it seems to me that we need a larger effort and a more central focus from the government based on real science and not special interests, such as the gas or coal lobby (not that those two forms of energy do not have their place).

And time will tell, but it seems to me this current disaster in the gulf should be dire enough to convince thinking people everywhere that ruining our planet is not worth preserving the status quo in energy. But of course I also hope it is not as bad as all that.

P.s.

If nothing else, the current BP spill proves that our government must step up its environmental oversight (President Obama is supposedly working on that now). Records show that BP successfully lobbied against environmental controls and failed to use all available technology to prevent disaster. And now BP and its subcontractors are blaming each other for the spill  — no one is willing to take responsibility, but it should be obvious that since its BP’s project it is BP’s responsibility 100 percent, and it is the government’s responsibility 100 percent to demand the highest standards in environmental protections.


Drill baby drill as long as it does not affect me, some may think…

April 30, 2010

So the first oil-soaked bird has been spotted in the on-going Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. Already the pungent odor of oil permeates the air of New Orleans — as if the hapless city needs more problems after Katrina and the Great Recession.

The whole fishery of the Gulf Coast, plus the valuable wetlands that both contribute to the ecosystem upon which all living things, including man, depend, as well as serve as a backstop against hurricanes, as well as the beaches and perhaps the shipping of the Mississippi River and Gulf area may be in grave danger.

I know one should not exaggerate or jump to conclusions, but when do we as a society draw the line and realize that as much as we need energy in the form of oil, we don’t want to destroy our nest called Earth in the process? I also realize that over time a lot of these environmental mishaps, both man caused and nature caused, heal themselves. But is it all worth the cost and will we eventually reach the point of no return? Have we almost done that now?

I imagine this has silenced the drill baby drill folks for the time — but I’m sure they’ll come up with some excuse as to why we have to despoil the Earth and ruin other peoples’ livelihoods (Louisiana fisherman for example, and Alaskan fisherman some time ago from the Exxon Valdez).

Yes BP will certainly have to pay for this one, but really we are all paying the price, and I for one think the price is too high.

There are safer ways to get oil, and we need to move towards other sources of energy anyway, but will never do it until something forces us to, but by the time we get there, it could be too late.

And when you drive your gas guzzler as your God-given right and enjoy nature do you still think to yourself: drill baby drill — just somewhere else where it does not affect me?

But the economic effects and the environmental effects of such disasters have dire implications for us all whether we realize it or not.

And while my non record of church attendance may make me the wrong person to ask this question, I nonetheless ask: Does God want us to treat what he created this way?

P.s.

I know that accidents happen and I assume that BP went to great lengths to prevent this very thing, but the point may be that it is nearly impossible to prevent such disasters in offshore drilling. And again, is it really worth the price? I think not.