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No more Mr. Tough Guy

Thomas L. Friedman, NY Times via True Blue Liberal
I’ve always thought Dick Cheney took national security seriously. I don’t anymore. It seems that Mr. Cheney is so convinced that we have no choice but to be dependent on crude oil, so convinced that conservation is just some silly liberal hobby, that he will never seriously summon the country to kick its oil habit, never summon it to do anything great.

Indeed, he seems determined to be a drag on any serious effort to make America energy-independent. He presents all this as a tough-guy “realist” view of the world. But it’s actually an ignorant and naïve view — one that underestimates what Americans can do, and totally misses how the energy question has overtaken Iraq as the most important issue in U.S. foreign policy. If he persists, Mr. Cheney is going to ensure that the Bush team squanders its last three years — and a lot more years for the country.
(8 February 2006)

G8 Moscow talks focus on energy

Finance chiefs from the world’s leading industrialised countries are meeting in Moscow this weekend with energy security at the top of their agenda. Russia takes its turn at the helm of the “Group of Eight” (G8) with its economic clout at an all-time high.

Its huge gas and oil reserves are powerful assets when world markets are beset by fears over energy supplies. But the G8 nations want to allay fears that Russia is using these resources as political and economic weapons.

As energy importers, most of the G8 members are alarmed by the way oil and gas prices have been sent rocketing by record demand and political instability in places such as Iraq, Iran and Nigeria. They have seen rising fuel prices stoke inflation, pushing up business costs and dampening consumer spending.

And they have noticed that rising energy prices have been good for Russia, which has big reserves of oil and gas.
(11 February 2006)
G-8 ministers discuss energy prices (AP)
Oil and Energy Top G8 Meeting in Moscow (Deutsce Welle)

Biomass fuels from sustainable landuse: a permaculture perspective
David Holmgren, self-published
The permaculture concept lends substantial support to the concept of plants as sources of sustainabile energy. In many ways nature has already optimised the harvesting of solar energy, we just need to develop the most productive land use systems to use that abundance within nature’s limits. However, many of the proposals and projects to produce biomass fuels have had less than ideal environmental consequences.
(November 2003)
We can’t begin to keep up with the many articles about ethanol and biomass that have appeared during the last few days. Instead, we offer this piece by permaculture co-originator David Holmgren. Other articles by David can be downloaded from these two pages on his website: Writings and Collected Writings. -BA

Ethanol, boon to farms, won’t cure oil addiction

John M. Berry, Bloomberg
Ethanol, touted in President George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech as a partial cure for America’s oil addiction, is the product of another pernicious habit: subsidizing farmers.

From the beginning, use of ethanol has been sold as a way to lessen the U.S. dependence on foreign oil, which as Bush said in the Jan. 31 speech, is “often imported from unstable parts of the world.”

In reality, it is a way to boost corn farmers’ income, along with that of the industries that supply farmers with machinery, fertilizer and other goods and services.

Even with today’s high oil prices, ethanol is too costly to produce to compete with gasoline. To make it viable, the federal government provides a subsidy of 51 cents a gallon when it’s mixed with gasoline and sold as motor fuel.

In addition, it takes a lot of energy to grow and transport the corn, the main ingredient of ethanol, and to turn it into a liquid fuel. The latest studies indicate the process consumes about 80 percent as much energy as it produces, though that figure depends on a variety of assumptions such as corn yields and the location of ethanol plants relative to the corn fields.

On the other hand, a lot of the energy consumed is in the form of electricity generated from coal, of which the U.S. has plenty. Another large chunk is from natural gas, which increasingly is in tight supply.
(9 February 2006)
Related: The State of The Union by of Tom Whipple the Falls Creek News-Press.
Corn Growers’ Slater, Paperworkers’ Squires explore ethanol industry growth (EE&E TV)

Who needs more coal?

Amory B. Lovins, Orion via
Coal-fired power plants generate half of U.S. electricity. Yet mountaintop removal, smokestack pollution, and global warming aren’t inevitable; they’re artifacts of using electricity in ways that waste money. Most of the electricity used today, whether in the U.S. or in even more coal-intensive countries like China, can be saved by using it far more efficiently.

Fifteen years ago, the utility industry’s Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and a team of researchers at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), the resource efficiency center I cofounded, came to essentially the same conclusion. In a joint Scientific American article, EPRI found that it would be cheaper to save 39 to 59 percent of all the electricity used in the United States than pay to run coal-fired (or nuclear) power plants and deliver that same power to customers; RMI concluded the number was at least 75 percent. Either way (the differences are largely methodological), running coal-fired power plants, let alone building more, is uneconomic when compared to other widely available, but officially disfavored, ways to do the same tasks. Recent drops of 2 percent per year in the electricity that’s used to make a dollar of U.S. gross domestic product barely scratch the surface of what’s possible—and electricity-saving techniques are getting better and cheaper faster than we’re using resources up.

These dramatic savings come not from privation or discomfort, but from smarter technologies that wring more work from each kilowatt-hour. They deliver the same comfort, light, hot showers, cold beer, and other services with the same or better quality and reliability but use less energy and less money.
(10 February 2006)
Big Gav devotes the first part of his news round-up “The Greenhouse Mafia” to coal, especially the situation in Australia.