While Congress Dithers, U.S. Military Speeds Transition to Alternative Energy

The most read article at the NY Times online yesterday was The U.S.S. Prius by Thomas Friedman. The thrust of the article centers around two brutal facts – we are fighting wars for oil, and wars consume a lot of oil. One of the tidbits mentioned toward the end of the article is that a gallon of gas costs up to $400 per gallon by the time it reaches the front lines. Moving beyond the economics, getting fuel to the front lines also costs lives. The U.S. military loses one soldier for every 24 fuel convoys it runs in Afghanistan.

Friedman observes “at a time when a fraudulent, anti-science campaign funded largely by Big Oil and Big Coal has blocked Congress from passing any clean energy/climate bill” the U.S. Navy and Marines are spearheading a strategy to make the military much more energy efficient. Friedman adds, “Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by Big Oil and Big Coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can’t buy the solar power that could save lives.

Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, has crafted a strategy to shift from oil to alternative energy, including, solar and biofuels. On Earth Day this year, the Navy flew a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet powered by a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds.

And while congress favors boondogles like corn ethanol, which uses almost as much energy producing it as it yields:

The Navy will use only “third generation” biofuels. That means no ethanol made from corn because it doesn’t have enough energy density. The Navy is only testing fuels like camelina and algae that do not compete with food, that have a total end-to-end carbon footprint cleaner than fossil fuels and that can be grown in ways that will ultimately be cheaper than fossil fuels.

Mabus has also set a goal for the Navy to use alternative energy sources to provide 50 percent of the energy for all its war-fighting ships, planes, vehicles and shore installations by 2020.

About 60% of the oil we consume is imported from foreign nations – many of those nations are petro-dictatorships. As we shift to alternative fuels and energy, we can reduce our dependance on foreign oil.

camelina oil bio-fuel
Camelina Sativa

Though many people are familiar with solar energy, innovations in the field of biofuels are less well known. Most vehicles run on liquid fossil fuels – gasoline and diesel. Biofuels, such as camelina, provide a cleaner greener alternative to fossil fuels. Camelina Sativa is a member of the mustard family, a distant relative to canola. Camelina can grow on land unsuitable for most food crops, especially arid lands. It has yields that are roughly double that of soy. Camelina can be grown in a rotation with wheat crops. Farmers who have followed a wheat-fallow pattern can switch to a wheat-camelina-wheat pattern, and produce up to 100 gallons of camelina oil per acre, while growing up to 15 percent more wheat. And once the oil is pressed from the seed, the leftover “mash” can be used as nutritious livestock feed.

We consume more oil for transportation than anything else. Innovations in transportation fuels will have the most impact on global energy consumption and associated emissions of climate-changing CO2.

US Oil Consumption Transportation
(source:DOE)

Oil production is peaking and will become increasingly expensive. It’s time to support our transition to a cleaner, greener alternative energy.

Peak Oil

The U.S. spends more money on potato chips than energy research and development. To restore US scientific and technical leadership, Congress needs to stop bashing science and taking money from Big Oil, and start investing in our energy future.

Recommended Reading

GOP Rep. Bob Inglis On Climate Change by Jay Kimball

Camelina Oil by Sustainable Oils

Top Business Leaders Deliver Clean Energy Plan by Jay Kimball

German Military Study Warns of Potential Energy Crisis by Jay Kimball

Department of Defense Perspectives on Climate Change and Peak Oil

GOP Rep. Bob Inglis On Climate Change

Watch this video. It’s encouraging to see a Republican politician take a risk, saying climate change is a serious problem and the US needs to become a leader in innovating solutions.

Yesterday morning, at a House subcommittee hearing on climate change, outgoing Republican representative Bob Inglis challenged his Republican colleagues to stop mocking scientists, get busy tackling climate change, and put the US in a leadership position on innovating solutions.

From Think Progress

A ThinkProgress analysis found that 50 percent of the incoming freshman GOP class deny the existence of manmade climate change, while a shocking 86 percent are opposed to any legislation to address climate change that increases government revenue. Meanwhile, all of the Republicans vying to chair the House Energy Committee — which handles climate and energy issues — in the new Congress are climate change deniers. They include Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who infamously apologized to BP shortly after the company’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

Here’s the transcript of Rep. Bob Inglis remarks, to the House subcommittee hearing on climate change

I’m very excited to be here Mr. Chairman, because this is on the record. And it’s a wonderful thing about Congressional hearings — they’re on the record. Kim Beaszley who’s Australia’s ambassador to the United States tells me that when he runs into a climate skeptic, he says to them, “Make sure to say that very publicly, because I want our grandchildren to read what you said and what I said. And so, we’re on the record, and our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, are going to read. And so some are here suggesting to those children that here’s a deal: Your child is sick — this is what Tom Friedman gave me this great analogy yesterday — Your child is sick. 98 doctors say treat him this way. Two say no, this other way is the way to go. I’ll go with the two. You’re taking a big risk with those kids. Because 98 of the doctors say, “Do this thing,” two say, “Do the other.” So, it’s on the record.

And we’re here with important decision to be made. And I would also suggest to my Free Enterprise colleagues — especially conservatives here — whether you think it’s all a bunch of hooey, what we’ve talked about in this committee, the Chinese don’t. And they plan on eating our lunch in this next century. They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that’ll lead the 21st century. So we may just press the pause button here for several years, but China is pressing the fast-forward button. And as a result, if we wake up in several years and we say, “geez, this didn’t work very well for us. The two doctors didn’t turn out to be so right. 98 might have been the ones to listen to.” then what we’ll find is we’re way behind those Chinese folks. ‘Cuz you know, if you got a certain number of geniuses in the population — if you’re one in a million in China, there’s 1300 of you. And you know what?

They plan on leading the future. So whether you — if you’re a free enterprise conservative here — just think: it’s a bunch of hooey, this science is a bunch of hooey. But if you miss the commercial opportunity, you’ve really missed something. And so, I think it’s great to be here on the record. I think it’s great to see the opportunity we’ve got ahead of us. And, I also — since this is sort of a swan song for me and Mr. Barrett I’d encourage scientists who are listening out there to get ready for the hearings that are coming up in the next Congress. Those will be difficult hearings for climate scientists. But, I would encourage you to welcome those as fabulous opportunities to teach.

Recommended Reading

Topic: Climate Change

When Does the Wealth of a Nation Hurt its Wellbeing?

With Bush-era tax cuts about to expire, a lot of attention is being focused on extending tax cuts for the rich – suggesting it will help the economy grow. Frank Rich, in his weekly op-ed piece at the New York Times, deconstructs that idea and examines the issue through the lens of income inequality.

The top 1 percent of American earners now have tax rates half what they were in the 1970s. And they took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s pre-tax income in 2007 — up from less than 9 percent in 1976. During the boom years of 2002 to 2007, that top 1 percent’s pre-tax income increased an extraordinary 10 percent every year. In that same period, the average inflation-adjusted hourly wage went down more than 7 percent and the poverty rate rose.

Top 1% Tax Rate and pre-tax Income Trends
(source: IRS micro data, Piketty and Saez)

The rich have been getting richer as their tax rate has steadily eased. And they are taking the added wealth and using it to influence public policy, to the detriment of the middle class.

“How can hedge-fund managers who are pulling down billions sometimes pay a lower tax rate than do their secretaries?” ask the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley) in their deservedly lauded new book, Winner-Take-All Politics

…Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election.

And as Frank Rich points out, the American Dream is not well. Rather than middle class wage earners moving up the ladder, there are less and less people becoming wealthy, and more and more of the wealthy simply becoming wealthier.

Nor are the superrich helping to further the traditional American business culture that inspires and encourages those with big ideas and drive to believe they can climb to the top. Robert Frank, the writer who chronicled the superrich in the book Richistan, recently analyzed the new Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans for The Wall Street Journal and found a “hardening of the plutocracy” and scant mobility. Only 16 of the 400 were newcomers — as opposed to an average of 40 to 50 in recent years — and they tended to be in industries like coal, natural gas, chemicals and casinos rather than forward-looking businesses involving the Green Economy, tech or biotechnology. This is “not exactly the formula for America’s vaunted entrepreneurial wealth machine,” Frank wrote.

Those in the higher reaches aren’t investing in creating new jobs even now, when the full Bush tax cuts remain in effect, so why would extending them change that equation? American companies seem intent on sitting on trillions in cash until the economy reboots. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office ranks the extension of any Bush tax cuts, let alone those to the wealthiest Americans, as the least effective of 11 possible policy options for increasing employment.

The middle class is experiencing the twin stress of falling income and increasing expenses. The most significant household expense is healthcare.

Healthcare, housing, food household expense as a share of GDP
(source: Congressional Budget Office)

Healthcare costs represent a stunning 17% of GDP. Politicians that cut taxes without a plan for how to cover the costs of Medicare are dooming the middle class to a future of just working to pay for out of control medical costs.

With the Income Inequality Gap growing, perhaps we can understand why, during the 2010 midterm election, only 40 percent of voters approved of an extension of all Bush tax cuts.

Measuring Income Inequality: The Gini Index

No society can sustain itself without a healthy middle class. No healthy society ignores it’s poor. As income inequality increases, social stability decreases.

Economists, the US Department of Labor, and analysts at the CIA, track Income Inequality using a metric known as the Gini Index (also known as the Gini Coefficient).

It is one of the essential metrics in the Political Instability Index, which is used to assess the level of threat posed to governments by social unrest. Zimbabwe, Chad and Congo rank most unstable, with Canada, Denmark, and Norway ranking most stable. Notably, the US, once the standard-setter of a stable democracy and middle class, has quickly fallen to an underwhelming rank 110 out of 165 countries.

The Gini Index is proportional to the Income Inequality of a nation. A Gini Index value of 0 indicates equal income for all earners. A Gini Index of 100 means that one person had all the income and nobody else had any.

A lower Gini Index indicates more equitable distribution of wealth in a society, while higher Gini Coefficients mean that wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer people. Societies with high Gini Index tend to be unstable.

The chart below shows the historic trend of the Gini Index for the US, with tax rate and pre-tax income data for the top 1% of US earners in the background. On the right are various countries, with their associated Gini Index. Developed nations that take care of their own tend to have Gini indexes in the twenties and 30s. The US Gini Index is on track to breach 50 by the end of the decade, putting the US in the dubious country club of third world dictatorships and failing nations.

US Gini Index trend, with top 1% tax rate and pre-tax income
(source: US Department of Labor, CIA World Factbook, IRS)

If you are a business leader, ask yourself, “Do I want to be living and building a business in world like that?”  If the answer is NO, think about what public policy you are supporting through your contributions to politicians, associations and the Chamber of Commerce. Are the politicians you are supporting interested in a healthy middle class?

Business paid billions of dollars to politicians in the 2010 election. Paraphrasing W. W. Jacobs in his classic cautionary tale, The Monkey’s Paw, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

the monkeys paw

Recommended Reading

Winner-Take-All Politics by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

Richistan by Robert Frank

The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

The Monkey’s Paw By W.W. Jacobs

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas by Matt Miller

Rethinking the Measure of Growth by Jay Kimball

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz on Sustainability and Growth by Jay Kimball

The Bush Tax Cuts and the Economy by The Congressional Research Service

Iris Parker Pavitt

I was reading an article at Time’s Ecocentric blog called European Energy Companies Funding Climate Skeptic Campaigns in the U.S. I am concerned about climate change and the behind the scenes attempts by big oil to create FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) around global warming.

So I was reading the article, and when I got to the end, I like to read the comments. And there, at comment #2, MeMeMine69 wrote the following:

Are WE not the new neocons when we condemn our kids to a CO2 death, just to get them to turn the lights off more often? Climate change has done to us what Bush did to the neocon’s reputation.

System Change, not Climate Change.

Environmentalism is strong, successful and progressive. Just remove the CO2 mistake from the equation and let’s all just carry on. Why does it seem like we WANT this crisis to happen? I can’t do this anymore.

I’m liberal. I’m progressive and a New Green Denier.

I’m ahead of the curve because this can’t continue without alienating the rest of the voters who don’t believe this “promise of unstoppable warming” to happen to the planet Earth.

My reply:

Hi MeMeMine69.

Most of the kids I know are not afraid, they are energized, and part of the solution. They give me hope.

Think back to the 70s, when it was kids that helped their parents realize the importance and opportunity of recycling.

One of my heros is Iris Parker Pavitt. Iris served as a teen delegate to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, and is a coordinator for FEAST (Farm Education And Sustainability for Teens), and is a member of the Farm to Cafeteria Program, to bring healthy organic foods to school food programs.

Here’s a great interview with Iris:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wtrknd2rqY&feature=related

I am happy to have her in our community, and I assure you, there are kids like Iris all over the world.

Take heart!

Iris is just one of many kids who are engaged, informed, and active in leaving the world better than we found it.

I love these kids – Let’s give them wings!

Measuring A Country’s Health By Its Height

NPR had a fascinating story this morning on how height equals health. Northern Europeans are now the world’s tallest people, led by the Dutch. The average Dutch man is 6 feet tall, while the average American man maxes out at 5-foot-9. What’s going on, and why does height matter?

Heigh of men in industrialized countries
(source: Department of Economics University of Munich)

John Komlos, economist at the University of Munich, in his study Underperformance in affluence: the remarkable relative decline in American heights in the second half of the 20th-century says. “Height is like holding a mirror to society’s well-being.”

Health insurance is an important factor:

Good health care and good nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood are two reasons why the Dutch have grown so tall, Komlos says. In addition, the Dutch guarantee equal access to critical resources like prenatal care. That’s not the case in the United States, where 17 percent of the population has no health insurance.

Highlights from NPR’s report Measuring A Country’s Health By Its Height

Through most of American history, we’ve been the tallest population on the planet. Americans were two inches taller than the Englishmen they fought in the Revolutionary War, thanks to abundant food and a healthy rural life, far from the disease-ridden cities of Europe.

But we’re no longer at the top. Northern Europeans are now the world’s tallest people, led by the Dutch. The average Dutch man is 6 feet tall, while the average American man maxes out at 5-foot-9.

The height of Americans reached a plateau in the 1960s. As a nation,  we have not grown taller but we also have not lost stature. Komlos says groups of people usually don’t lose height unless they’re in the midst of a famine or a war. “It has practically never occurred in peacetime,” he says.

Economists are interested in these biological questions about nations because while height is a reflection of health and nutrition, those factors usually result from economic well-being.

Economic success and height even correlate to some degree on an individual level. Taller people tend to be smarter, and to earn more.

Andreas Schick, a graduate student at Ohio State University in Columbus, is trying to figure out why. He thinks it gets down to the fact that someone who is healthy and well-fed enough to grow tall — or to the individual’s maximum potential genetic height — is also someone who is able to grow a strong, capable brain.

“If you’ve reached your maximum height, that probably means you’ve reached your physical and mental development,” Schick says. “That helps you reach your maximum potential, be that intellectually or socially.”

But the fact that Americans aren’t getting taller means more and more children won’t have the chance to reach their maximum potential, Komlos says.

And that has ramifications for the future. “A population that is not taking care of their children and youth is going to be in difficulties in a generation or two,” he says.

At Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., two miles northwest of the White House, Rana says he sees children in difficulty every day. Many of his young patients suffer health problems from obesity — too many empty calories and fat. Others are not getting enough to eat.

“You would be shocked by how many kids go without food in this town,” he says. “What you have to do is go to clinics like ours and ask people: Did you have a meal today?”

For more on healthcare, see:

Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz on Sustainability and Growth

California’s Prop 23 Morphing into Prop 26

In California’s election, voter support for Prop 23 is waning. That’s good news, but the fight is not over. If you didn’t like Prop 23, you’re really not going to like Prop 26. Out of state Big Oil was backing Prop 23, and, seeing that as a lost cause, they are shifting their support to Prop 26.

Prop 26 is another Big Oil backed initiative. Prop 26 would make it more difficult for state and local government to impose mitigation fees on business activities that cause harm to the environment or public health and safety. For example, fees imposed on tobacco companies to fund health-related programs, on industries for toxic waste cleanup and on alcohol retailers for law enforcement. In other words, when companies do us harm, through increased pollution, health risk, toxic waste, and crime, Prop 26 shifts the cost of those problems to the tax payer, and away from those businesses that caused the problem.

It’s all about AB32

Prop 23 was all about gutting California’s AB32 law, which requires the state to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020.

So what are oil companies worried about? Why are the pumping tens of millions of dollars into Prop 23 and Prop 26 initiatives?

As the chart below shows, California is on the front line in the transition to alternative fuel vehicles. The US consumes more oil for transportation, than anything else. No state is making the transition to alternative fuels faster than California.

Alternative Fuel Vehicles Growth in California
Alternative fuel vehicles as share of all newly registered vehicles. (Source: RL Pike & Co.)

While AB32 is bad news for out of state Big Oil, it’s good news for California’s cleantech industry and general economic and environmental health of the state. It creates new cleantech jobs and positions California to be a global leader in this emerging industry. And it’s good news for the world, which will benefit from California’s cleantech innovations, much the way it did with decades of hi-tech chip, computer and communications innovations that put Silicon Valley on the map.

From the chart below, we can see that Cleantech jobs in the California Bay Area are on a fast growth path. Silicon Valley is becoming Cleantech Valley.

cleantech job growth in California
(source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

As sustainable business thinker Andrew Winston recenlty said:

“One global economy, the clean one, is growing, and the global battle for the new jobs is on. Some countries – such as China, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and many others – are going after these jobs aggressively. The other part of the economy – the dead fuel economy – is not going to be a growth engine (with the important exception of natural gas, which may provide a useful, medium-term bridge to the future).”

Clean economy jobs are growing ten times faster than the statewide average. AB32 is driving that growth as we transition to a clean energy economy.

cleantech jobs
Clean energy puts more people to work, while building the cleantech economy of the future.

AB32 is largely funded by revenue from fees. As AB32 ramps up it will require the implementation and collection of significantly higher fees to fund the implementation and enforcement of the Air Resources Board’s (ARB) scoping plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. If Big Oil succeeds in passing Prop 26, they take the teeth out of AB32 and pass the cost of policing businesses to the tax payers. Voting NO on Prop 23 and Prop 26 keeps big business accountable when they do harm.

Prop 23 Support is Fading

California voters are catching on to the fact that Prop 23 was an initiative promoted and funded by out of state Big Oil companies.
Dan Morain at the Sacramento Bee writes:

Heading into the final two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, the main funders, Texas-based Valero and Tesoro oil companies, seem to have concluded it makes no sense to throw more of their oil-stained millions at the bad idea.
Yes-on-23 strategist Rick Claussen told me last week that there would be no final push unless backers came through with $10 million fast. The week came and went without an infusion.

Why did out of state Big Oil give up on Prop 23? 3p’s article Investors Nervous About Proposition 23 offers us a clue:

Laura Campos, Director of Shareholder Activities at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, said that shareholders are “concerned Tesoro’s support for the highly controversial Proposition 23 could lead to a decrease in shareholder value by damaging the company’s reputation and negatively impacting the business environment in a state where Tesoro has significant operations.”

As oil company manipulation of California politics has gained public exposure, shareholders are concerned that voters will vote with their feet, and not shop at gas stations of the Prop 23 proponents.

And this week, as if to help drive the final nail into the Prop 23 coffin, the White House went public with its opposition to Prop 23.

Prop 26 is a Stealth Prop 23 For Big Oil

While out of state Big Oil may be giving in on Prop 23, they are not giving up on taking the teeth out of AB32. They are shifting the fight to Prop 26, which hasn’t been in the public eye much.

If we want to understand who benefits from Prop 26, we need to follow the money. Prop 26 is funded almost exclusively by oil, tobacco and alcohol companies.

Here are the top five contributing industries pushing Prop 26:

Oil & Gas $3,734,500
Pro-Business $3,377,323
Food & Beverage $2,054,500
Alcohol Producers $1,971,843
Tobacco $1,250,000

The biggest individual contributors include:

California Chamber of Commerce $3,337,323
Chevron Corporation $2,500,000
American Beverage Association $1,950,000
Philip Morris USA Inc. * $1,250,000
Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. * $925,000
ConocoPhillips $525,000
Cypress Management Company, Inc. * $500,000
MillerCoors $350,000
Wine Institute * $275,593
Chartwell Partners LLC $250,000
Occidental Petroleum $250,000

Source: California Secretary of State, Campaign Finance Division and Maplight.org

KQED radio recently hosted a debate on Prop 26, between John Dunlap, a proponent of Prop. 26, and Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Association and an opponent of Prop. 26. A commenter on that debate summed it up nicely:

What Mr. Dunlap and the industries supporting Prop 26 are really trying to do is overturn a unanimous (7-0) California Supreme Court decision (the Sinclair case mentioned at the beginning of the show) that said fees can be charged to address public health, environmental or other social problems directly associated with the production or use of a product. These legitimate regulatory fees are not “hidden taxes” as the proponents suggest. What voters really have to decide is, was the Supreme Court correct in saying, essentially, the polluter pays for their pollution. The alternative is that the public pays through poorer health or through their tax dollar (either through higher taxes or shifting tax revenues away from other services like education and law enforcement).

As I mentioned above, AB32 fosters job growth as we transition to a cleantech economy. When Big Oil tries to gut AB32, they hurt the California economy. But more than that, by promoting Prop 26, they are thumbing their nose at the citizens of California and shunning their responsibility for their toxic industry. A paper by the California Alliance for Environmental Justice, “Toxic Twins”, provides examples of Tesoro and Valero – two major Big Oil proponents of Prop 23 – and their toxic corporate behavior in California.

For more on out of state big oil, and a comprehensive list of backers of Prop 23, see Oil Change International’s excellent interactive map for info on who is funding Prop 23.

California Prop 23 money - big oil funding

David and Goliath

I leave you with this inspiring video of Joel Francis, a Senior at Cal State LA. Joel challenges the Goliath of Big Oil – multi-billionaire Charles Koch, of Koch Industries – to a debate. Koch is one of the major contributors to Prop 23, along with a variety of other initiatives and politicians working against a transition to a clean energy economy.

In Joel’s challenge, he says:

“Mr. Koch, I get that you and your corporation don’t want to be part of our clean energy future. That’s your free market choice. But that doesn’t mean you get to wreck its development for everyone else.”

Joel Francis Debate Challenge Prop 23
click link above to see the video

There is an age old attempt going on, of companies indirectly trying to shape the public understanding of key issues.

Let’s make sure we all do our homework.

Time just posted a good article on European Big Oil companies funding climate skeptics, that relates to all this. It’s worth reading.

And with elections across the country in their final days, if you want to see if your representatives are receiving money from big oil, check out http://dirtyenergymoney.org/.

For more on the California’s Prop 23 initiative, see:

Google: Implications of California’s Proposition 23