Tag Archive 'clean tech'

Aug 10 2010

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Identifying the Culprit

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About a hundred days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, it became clear that the cap on the leaking wellhead would hold.  Millions of barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico by then, but at least we could breathe easy again, knowing that the mess wouldn’t get any bigger.

Various officials have assured us that most of the oil has been burned, collected, or otherwise disbursed, so what the heck. . .  No sense crying over spilled oil, right?

Everyone is tired of hearing about it.  Consequently, the media is slowly relegating this story to the back burners.  Soon it will slip from view altogether.  Everything but the litigation, that is.  And then it’ll be business as usual, until the next big environmental disaster captures the headlines.

Meanwhile, greenies like me traipse off to the woods to escape the madness of civilization.  How do we reach the trailheads?  By car, of course.  My car runs on fossil fuels.  How about yours?  I figure it takes a gallon of gas to reach the nearest trailhead and another to get home.  That’s about 4 or 5 gallons of crude oil.

Short of buying an electric car or living off the grid (neither one of which I can afford), I have little choice.  The socially responsible thing to do would be to carpool, but I’m not that social.  So I’ll either drive to the trailhead or stay home and hike Aldis Hill again.

How many decades have we been on this merry-go-round?  Too many.  And there’s no end in sight.  Oh sure, I could tell you about the many promising clean tech companies I’ve discovered during my research, but since I’ve lost half of my nest-egg investing in them, I probably shouldn’t go there.  Fact is, the much-touted alternatives to fossil fuels aren’t really valued.  Not yet.  I figure it’ll take a few dozen more world-class disasters before they are.  Looks like H. sapiens isn’t as sharp a thinker as he/she used to be.  Or maybe all the political rhetoric is clouding the matter.

We can blame the BP executives for their gross negligence, Transocean for operating the rig, or Haliburton for the nebulous role it played.  We can blame the government in general for their slow and ineffectual response, or blame Obama in particular for endorsing offshore drilling last year.  We can blame those who drive gas guzzlers, the greedy guys on Wall Street who trade in black gold, or OPEC for controlling the global flow of oil, thereby forcing us to desperate measures.  The list goes on.  But Pogo said it best, I think:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

As long as we keep pumping gas into our cars, we are screwed.

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Oct 07 2009

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Forward Thinking

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I recently read an article in Scientific American titled “Squeezing More Oil from the Ground.”   Since Leonardo Maugeri, an Italian oil executive, wrote the piece, I approached it with great skepticism.  But Maugeri convinced me that another hundred year’s worth of oil can be extracted from the earth, using secondary and tertiary recovery methods.  Resourceful fellows, these oil barons.  As global demand increases and the price of oil rises, they’ll simply inject water, gas or thinning agents into the ground to push more oil to the surface.  So we don’t have to give up our gas-guzzling trucks and cars anytime soon.  That is, if global warming isn’t factored into the discussion.

Here in Vermont, we’re trying to decide whether or not to extend the license for our nuclear plant another twenty years, despite the fact that there’s been trouble with the cooling towers.  Those in favor of the extension argue that the cost of decommissioning the plant exceeds the funds allocated, so electric rates would have to go up to cover the difference.  What do you think?  How many things can you find wrong with this picture?

Meanwhile, a local newspaper is running a “green” section in its Sunday edition, celebrating the many different ways that individuals, cooperatives and small businesses are making the world a better place with their eco-conscious activities.  Rarely is there any talk about what large, “clean tech” corporations are doing, thus perpetuating the myth that the world’s environmental problems can only be solved by feel-good, grassroots organizations.

A year ago, the OPEC nations figured out that Westerners won’t grouse about the price of oil if it hovers around $70 a barrel, so now they are managing their supplies accordingly.  As long as the global recession persists, supply will continue outstripping demand.  Are we to assume that things will always be this way?

I could give more examples but this will do.  There is much talk in business circles these days about “forward thinking,” with all eyes towards productivity and profit, yet rarely is there any discussion beyond that.  In non-business circles, utopian dreams take the place of forward thinking, and people cultivate beliefs that business and government aren’t necessary, or that government can fix what business breaks.  Either way, they are sure to be disappointed.

When I step out of the woods, turning my attention away from mud, aching joints and biting flies, and towards what I find in the newspaper, I am amazed by the absurdity of it all.  The one constant in all the misery that humankind creates for itself is an utter lack of insight.  Forward thinking doesn’t really exist  – at least not in any meaningful sense.  So please excuse me for not taking a stand the next time some hot topic is being discussed.  It seems to me that, more often than not, we are having the wrong conversation.

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Dec 05 2008

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Going Green

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Everyone is going green these days.  I can’t figure out whether this is good or bad.  The optimist in me wants to believe that we’ve finally reached the tipping point in ecological awareness – that being green, once marginalized, is now going mainstream.  But I worry that it might just be a passing fad, no more profound than red handbags or thin ties.

Are we ready to trade our gas-guzzling trucks for hybrid cars?  After building millions of energy-sucking McMansions, is the average homeowner ready do downsize to a smaller, more energy-efficient dwelling?  Forgive me for being skeptical, but this is America for chrissakes.  Moderation is a dirty word here.

But green is clean.  Green is oh, so modern.  Green is the new organic.  When being all natural was countercultural, only young rebels and social dropouts were interested in it.  But now green appeals to everyone who has greenbacks to spend or a credit card to plop down.  Green is the kind of buzzword that makes advertisers orgasmic.  Its marketing possibilities are endless, and no aspect of the economy will go untouched.  Green can pick up where high-tech left off.  Better than that, green can be a new religion.  And every consumer is a potential convert.

In a culture such as ours, where consumerism is two-thirds of the economy, it’s foolish to talk about socioeconomic change without taking spending habits into consideration.  The Thoreauvian ideal of the simple life is fine in theory, but it doesn’t drive the Dow.  If we are serious about retooling our civilization, thus making it more environmentally sustainable for our children and grandchildren, then the greening of consumer behavior is absolutely necessary.  Still, I’m a bit leery about it.  Can we really spend our way to salvation?

Truth is, I’m a lousy consumer so my opinion doesn’t count when it comes to these matters.  Much to my wife’s dismay, I wear shirts with frayed collars, pants with holes in them, and shoes coming apart at the seams.  Most of my backpacking gear is repaired and/or outdated, and I scour the bargain tables of bookstores on a regular basis.  I’ve completely worn out a half dozen rusty cars.  The economy would unravel and civilization would collapse altogether if the average consumer suddenly behaved the way I do, so ignore my grumbling.  Get out there, open you pocketbook and go green!  All nature is counting on you.

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Sep 02 2008

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Thinking Big about Clean Energy

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A few months back, after taking a long hard look at retirement with my wife, Judy, I started investing in the stock market. I’m addressing this matter woefully late in life, I realize, but better late than never. At any rate, I looked around for places to put the meager sum I’d scraped together and soon found myself researching alternative energy companies.

I focused on “clean tech” companies for two obvious reasons: first because the recent jump in the price of oil means this sector will soon be on the fast track, and secondly because renewable energy is a good thing – something the world desperately needs. A book called Green Investing, written by Jack Uldrich, turned out to be a great place to start.

Come to find out, there are companies all over the world, both private and public, working hard to provide us with wind, solar, tidal, geothermal power and more. We’ve come a long way from the days when renewable energy was some pie-in-the-sky notion entertained only by hippies and other social outcasts. On the business television channel CNBC, as well as in investment periodicals, there is much talk about Big Solar, as if it might someday rival Big Oil. I take this as a good omen – a sure sign that renewable energy’s day has finally come.

Now I know what all you Greenies out there are thinking. I use words like “business” and “big” in the same sentence and you write me off as yet another nature lover gone over to the enemy. You still believe that anything associated with Corporate America is patently evil and that good things come only from people organizing at the grassroots level – from people who work the earth with their own two hands and those who support them. But the world needs power and lots of it. If big corporations don’t provide clean energy on a grand scale, who will?

Back in the 70s, I read Schumacher’s book on appropriate technology, Small Is Beautiful, and was greatly moved by it. But socioeconomic forces are moving towards globalization faster now than they ever have – towards the very big and very integrated. To think we can reverse these forces is sheer folly. The best we can do is to channelize them. And if we do so correctly then maybe, just maybe, we can prevent this beautiful planet of ours from burning up. So I’m all for Big Solar and whatever else it takes to quit fossil fuels once and for all.

At long last, we have a real chance to change the way we live. The trick is to look beyond old-fashioned, short-term, parochial solutions and embrace innovations that work on a grand scale. So think big about clean energy, I say. Only then can we reverse global warming and tap the clean, inexpensive, long-lasting sources of power necessary to make us all happier and more prosperous. The future can be very green if we want it to be.

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