Archive for November, 2008

Current Issues Facing Obama as President- Part One: Globalization

November 21, 2008

earth-from-apollo171I just finished watching Barack Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview via YouTube; talk about a flaming bag of problems on your White House porch.  Obama is really going to have his hands full (and perhaps his shoes).  He is going to have to deal with a United States in shambles.  We have an economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression, an ongoing energy crisis, several wars (war on drugs, war on terror, war in Iraq, and war in Afghanistan), a healthcare crisis, globalization and free trade, illegal immigration, and an education crisis.

Although this is a lot to have on anyone’s plate, many of these issues have links to each other.  So let’s look at a few of these over the next several days.

 

Globalization, free trade, poison milk, energy and pollution

Globalization and free trade help to improve the standard of living in other countries and brings the world together by sharing economic ties. Every day more and more US jobs move to China, India, and other developing countries.  We import much more than we export and waste so much more than the rest of the world’s countries that we should probably buy another country so we have a place big enough for our giant landfill.  Our filthy wasteful habits set a poor example for the rest of the world.  We are going to have to do better.

 

We need to transition to clean renewable energy sources and help our trading partners to do the same.  We also need to help our trading partners to establish or improve product quality monitoring systems so we can reduce or eliminate dangerous imported goods (like those irresistibly fun lead-painted toys, or that delicious melamine-laced Chinese milk).

 

Many of these job losses are inevitable as the world evolves.  Like most of you, I do not enjoy troubleshooting a problem that I am having with a new product via the telephone to a distant country. I do, however, enjoy the challenge of learning a new language at the same time as much as any other guy. But what happens if I’m the guy that that used to work in the customer service center here in the U.S., and now my job has been outsourced to another country?  I’m going to need another job.  Maybe I’ll go into politics.

 

Therefore, it will be necessary to create retraining programs for our displaced workers (and it needs to begin NOW).  With proper government incentives and funding, new industries can be created to supply clean energy to our growing nation.  Transitional training and educational programs will be required to supply workers for these clean energy industries. With proper planning and foresight, both issues (displaced workers and need for clean energy) can be handled for the benefit of all if these workers are trained and educated to handle and work in the field of clean energy.  But that’s the crux:  will we have the proper planning and foresight, both for the sake of the individual workers and for the future of our country?

 

The simple act of transporting goods from faraway places creates countless tons of unnecessary pollution. A semi-reliable flow of cheap energy has created fragile supply chains that go from your local Wal-Mart all the way back to China.  Our food supplies typically come from 1500 miles away.  My socks might come from 3000 miles away, my computer might come from 8000 miles away, and my technical support call to fix my computer might be answered by a person 7000 miles away.  There are many, many products that can be manufactured and serviced for a lot less money and a lot more efficiently in another country like China or India.  And as these countries grow, so do the amount of jokes that we tell about them. But hey let’s face it, we Americans are a lot easier to poke fun at, being the hypocrites that we are.

 

The explosive growth of economies like those of India and China are generating more and more unregulated pollution and greenhouse gases every day.  Providing incentives to reduce this behavior and clean up the world would be a step in the right direction.  Hopefully the countries that are going through the same transition from agricultural to industrial nations as we did don’t make the same mistakes.  I would hate to see any country squander their resources, pollute their water, and pollute their air like we did.  I hope they can learn from our mistakes and we can teach them what we’ve learned.  It costs a lot more to fix it after it is broken than it does if you’d taken care of it all along andfda-in-china3 not let a break in the first place.

 

In addition to the pollution that the factories create for the improved health and enjoyment of their country’s citizens, the products themselves are often tainted or poisoned.  Rewarding good behavior usually gets better results than punishing bad behavior. In China, however, this has not been the case.  According to the Washington Post, in just four months the FDA rejected about 300 food products only to have the same products be resubmitted two or three times (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/19/AR2007051901273.html).  You have to wonder what they were thinking.  Were they trying to slip them past the FDA when they were on break?  Maybe it was a quality assurance test or perhaps an episode of “Candid Camera”.  In response to incidents such as these, the FDA has established inspection offices in China. And according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the first of these offices opened up in Beijing this month (http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2008pres/11/20081118a.html).

 

With the Republicans’ demands for deregulation and small government being enacted year after year, you have to wonder how this skeleton crew of FDA workers is going to protect us from the billions of products that come from China every year when they can’t even prevent an E. coli breakout in our home country.

 

Heaven help us.

 

JCE

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Recycling Programs; How Should We Handle All Those Little Batteries?

November 17, 2008

trash-batteries

Where are we now? 

  

Nowhere, really, but anything is better than nothing. And that’s somewhere, I guess. So the basic question is: why are all of our recycling programs so lame?  And the answer is: because it is another crisis that is not a crisis.  Just like the energy crisis, global warming, and so on. 

 

The fact is that each of these crises provides no immediate pain, pleasure or fear that impacts each one of us directly in our daily lives.  The effects are too gradual or hidden from us for us to notice them or do anything about them.  Because of this, no one will do anything.  For example, gasoline prices had to hit over $4.00 a gallon before people started to drive less and buy smaller more efficient vehicles.  And how does the government deal with these non-crisis events?  They begin a series of public education programs.

 

Here’s an excerpt from the state of Arizona recycling program annual report:

 “The Arizona Recycling Program focuses on public education for the ultimate goal of influencing human behavior to properly reduce and dispose of solid waste, and to encourage the participation of source reduction, reuse, and recycling. Although the basic structure of recycling education is often centered around the hierarchy of reducing, reusing and recycling (3 Rs) solid waste, the program also identifies waste reduction techniques to clarify the 3 Rs.”

 

I don’t know the results of all the studies about how effective public educational programs are, but I know from my observations of my own human behavior that they’re extremely ineffective.  I spend most of my time on computers and the Internet and I see very little about recycling or anything else green (the word green is now used everywhere and means nothing).  Most of the stuff I see in the news on the web sites is either a sensational crisis (a real one that has immediate pain, fear and death involved) or sports and Hollywood.  On a slow news day, I might see something useful or educational.

 

And again, while I am not Einstein, I’ve seen these things before and I know a little about how things work.  From what I’ve seen, education alone does not and will not work.  If I want somebody to do something, I pay them to do it or punish them for not doing it. And it is a lot more rewarding to reward than to punish. 

 

When I was a kid, there was a deposit on bottles, so you would never see a discarded bottle laying anywhere.  And when the cost of aluminum skyrocketed, a day wouldn’t go by when I didn’t see someone walking around gathering up discarded aluminum cans.

 

So now let’s talk about a possible practical application.  There are many things that are not aluminum or plastic, but are really bad if we throw them in the garbage and let them go to the landfills.  One of these things is batteries.  Batteries are full of toxins.

 

I’m going to focus on dry cell batteries because I see so many in the garbage and not in the proper recycling bins at my condominium complex.

 

According to Environment, Health and Safety Online (see http://www.ehso.com/ehshome/batteries.php), Americans purchase nearly three billion of these batteries every year and in my opinion probably toss out about that many every year as well.  The reason I bring this up is because I just saw something on the television news the other night about proper disposal of these batteries.  So I’m putting all of mine in a bag right now and saving them in the basement.  When I have enough (or too many) of them, I will go find a place to get rid of them.  Which highlights another great feature of all these recycling programs: I have to spend time and money to get rid of this stuff.  If I would just happen to throw them in the garbage, it takes no time and cost me no money.  Where’s my incentive?  Save the world?  With most of us becoming poorer every day, I’m sure we’d all be willing to sacrifice a little more.

 

One thing I do know is that my kids never watch TV, but they do go through a lot more of those batteries in their MP3 players, game controllers and countless other wireless and portable devices than I do.  And even though I remind them once in awhile about how they should be handling the batteries differently than regular trash I don’t think they are.  Regardless of how they are handling them now, I think that if there were a small deposit on each and every battery they might think twice about throwing them away and if they did throw them away someone might dig through the trash to retrieve them.

  

Three billion batteries is a lot of batteries and I think this would be a great place to start.  The objective is to keep these nasty poisons out of our landfills so the land from the landfills themselves can be reused eventually and the stuff doesn’t work its way into our groundwater.  What do you think about this idea?  Do you think it would work?

 

JCE

Livinghomes

November 14, 2008

livinghomes-grow_with_you

Today I watched an episode of Wired Science on PBS.  They were talking about this super-green house that was made by a company called Livinghomes.  It was kind of an old episode so the company’s been in business for quite some time now.  It was particularly interesting to me because they incorporated a lot of my ideas into the homes that they build so I must be on the right track. Steve Glenn is the owner and he has put everything green, renewable, and sustainable that you could think of into the houses that he builds. 

He starts out with a modular constructed home that is prefabricated in a factory to reduce onsite construction costs and pollution caused by trucks.  And on the inside of the house they make sure to use nontoxic building materials, substances, paints, coatings and furniture so the house doesn’t have all the poisonous fumes and toxic molds that many of the new tight houses have associated with them.  Hopefully all houses that are built above ground will be built like this soon.

Here is a partial summary of Steve’s house from the show:

The living homes demonstration house is 2480 square foot in size.  It is 80% more efficient than a conventional structure of similar size.

It costs $390 per square foot to build, some 25% less than typical high and construction in the neighborhood (in California).  This is the first home to receive the platinum LEED standard set by the nonprofit United States Green Building Council.

Solar panels on the roof provide 80 to 85% of the energy needed for the house.  A Solar hot water heating system is also mounted on the roof.  This provides all the hot water necessary for the house including items such as the shower and washing machine.  In addition, this system also provides all the energy needed for the radiant heating system embedded in the floor of each room.

A water recycling system and a rainwater collection system provides irrigation water to a rooftop garden.

 

 

Explain renewable energy to me again

November 11, 2008

atoms3_renew

OK, I thought I knew what alternative energy was and I thought I knew what renewable energy was, but now I am a bit confused.  Now I see renewable energy mentioned everywhere and the term alternative energy gone by the wayside, extinct like the dodo.  Even our government is teaching our kids what the term renewable should really mean to us.  See their website here:

http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/energyfacts/sources/renewable/renewable.html

(and I’m sorry but this thing looks like some sort of menacing atomic weapon to me–and what is that weird cricket alien looking thing in the middle all about?)

Not really sure if a meteor struck the earth or if all the dictionaries on the planet have been rewritten, but now I’m seeing solar and wind power talked about in the same sentence as a renewable energy almost everywhere.  This is where I’m a bit confused.  To me, renewable means something that you can renew.  As far as I know the sun rises every day and the wind blows every day somewhere.  I think of renewable as something that is grown or made, used and then you grow and/or make some more (thus the renewing part of renewable) as you need it.  Maybe the rain has to renew the water behind a dam or something like that but that’s not even a good usage of the phrase.

I know I’m not the smartest guy in the world so I suppose there could be somebody out in space growing the sun and there could be somebody on earth blowing the wind around  (I do know a lot wind bags out there so it is possible).

Anyway, I consider geothermal, solar, wind, and a lot of other kinds of power to be alternative forms of energy as opposed to traditional or conventional energy sources.  So if you could help me out here I would appreciate it.  I really don’t mind and bracing new words or phrases but I like to do so when they make sense.  Does this make sense to you?

Opinion: Obama is the Clear Energy Winner

November 3, 2008

Senator John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s mantra is “drill, baby, drill.” This is inarguably short-sighted, foolish AND more irrelevant as oil prices fall.

 

It would take the oil companies 10 years to put the entire infrastructure into place to extract that oil that McCain is talking about.  The United States consumes the most oil of any country and contributes the most pollution.  Now that oil prices are falling consumers seem to be going right back to their old habits as pickup trucks and SUV sales are climbing.

 

When I look at Obama’s plan, I see a clear long-term vision that will put us in the winner’s circle as a nation.  His energy policies will reduce our dependency on foreign oil (see my posts on both of the candidates’ policies).

 

The housing crisis was the last blow that triggered the financial meltdown.  But the rising energy costs were the first blow that knocked us down because the energy costs drastically reduced our discretionary spending. 

 

Obama’s energy policy is much clearer than McCain’s.  The Obama energy plan provides the clearest vision by explaining how he would support alternative energy, renewable energy, solar energy, and wind energy.  The energy crisis will not be resolved without sacrifice and energy conservation.  Barack Obama deals more intelligently with oil and coal.

 

When I look at the energy policy of the McCain campaign, I see the energy policies of the Bush administration.  President Bush and John McCain have the Iraq war as part of their energy policy.  Oil is king.  Deregulation (part of the Bush Doctrine) is also part of the McCain doctrine. This is what caused the energy crisis and subsequent housing meltdown in the first place.  If elected, the McCain legacy will morph right into Bush’s energy legacy.

 

But when it comes to energy policies and Obama and McCain (or Obama vs. McCain), the McCain/Palin camp just doesn’t get it. Obama/Biden does.

 

Don’t get me wrong: I like some of John McCain’s energy policies.  But overall they are inferior to Obama’s.  McCain’s campaign has not convinced me that they will fix the current problems and get us out of this mess.

 

When you vote, consider the fact that the economy will improve over time.  Global warming, left unchecked, will destroy our future and most likely plunge our country into another economic (perhaps permanent) crisis.  That is why, in the 2008 presidential election, I support Barack Obama.

 

JCE

Note: All comments that do not pertain to the candidates’ energy policies will not be posted.