Back in October 2011 I participated in Project Green Challenge, a transformational eco-lifestyle and leadership competition for students. (You can even watch my embarrassing video highlighting the experience). The extensive daily challenges I was faced with, from carrying all the trash I generated around with me and assessing the ingredients in my cleaning products to bringing e-cycling boxes to dorms and lobbying for reusable to-go containers in dining halls, cemented into my consciousness the realities of nearly every global environmental issue. Therefore, it was upsetting when I was invited out to California as a finalist for the competition and realized that the ecological footprint of that single roundtrip flight Read More >
Next week, the full Senate will vote on a potentially disastrous appointment to the President’s cabinet: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Not only does AG Pruitt have a history of antagonism toward laws designed to protect natural resources—like air and water—from pollution, but he also has expressed a desire to disempower the very agency he’s been nominated to lead. There is every reason to believe that he would pull back on strategies designed to mitigate climate change, and that he would do the same with rules intended to protect the public’s health and environment. Read More >
Q & A with Francis Thicke
A couple weeks ago, Francis Thicke, PhD, visited the Center for a Livable Future, taking a short break from his 80-cow, grass-based, organic dairy near Fairfield, Iowa. Thicke is a man of many talents. In addition to farming, he’s a soil scientist who’s served time in Washington with the USDA. (He also ran for Iowa State Secretary of Agriculture.) A consummate tinkerer, Thicke shared photos of ingenious inventions that can power agriculture and “keep the wealth on the farm.” He drives a lithium ion battery–powered Prius himself, getting “about 80 to 100 miles per gallons if going slow, and 50 to 60 on the highway, depending on how heavy my foot is.”
How can farms become more resilient? Self-sufficient? Energy-efficient? The answer to all these questions is “ecological agriculture.” Check out these clips for highlights from the energy conversation, the scary soil conversation, and bit of cheer about the power that we, the consumers, wield. Read More >
While it is widely agreed that world leaders did not accomplish much at the recent Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, there are plenty of activists, academics and eco-entrepreneurs who continue to take the summit’s issues and challenges very seriously – and not just when one of these global conferences is nigh. To be sure, what matters Read More >
In a true sense of the words, Winona LaDuke is a force of nature.
An environmentalist, farmer, activist, writer, and advocate for native communities and ways of life, she is an Anishinaabe force to be reckoned with. As the Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year (1997), Ralph Nader’s vice presidential running mate on the 1996 and 2000 Green Party tickets, and recipient of the International Slow Food Award, her contributions have been widely recognized. But in January she was honored by an unlikely party—the Tucson United School District board, which became infamous for banning Mexican-American studies. Her response to the ban: “Recently, I had the distinction of becoming one of a select list of authors banned by the Tucson United School District. Now this is no small feat.” She went on to name the essay that had been specifically banned, and then wrote, “Interestingly enough, if I were going to ban one of my essays from a public school, this would probably not be the one.”
A few days ago, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Ms. LaDuke and ask which of her books is more ban-worthy. Read More >
In a talk at the Bloomberg School last week, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R–MD) asked the audience: “I’m not a perfect fit for the Republican mold, am I?”
The talk was about peak oil, a concept that he’s been stumping in Congress for over a decade. A modern-day Cassandra, he’s been “on the floor” in Congress to talk about peak oil and world energy supply 53 times. “I was on the lunatic fringe 10 years ago,” he said, suggesting that the concept is now gaining more ground.
“Peak oil is here,” he said several times during the talk. “We’ve reached the peak and fell off.”
From among many charts and statistics, Rep. Bartlett pointed several times to crude oil production as the indicator of peak oil. Today, he said, we produce half the oil we did in the 1970s. For the last five years, we’ve been “stuck” at 84 million barrels of crude oil a day worldwide. Although about half of the estimated oil in the earth has been pumped, supply is not the problem, he said; discovery, development, and production are the problems because we have taken the low-handing fruit. “We are running out of the ability to pump it fast enough,” he said. The U.S., with 4.5% of global population, uses 25% of the world’s crude oil produced. Read More >
For the eleventh entry in our series “Corn-Fed Cars: On the Road with Ethanol,” we asked biofuels expert Donna Perla, MPH, senior advisor with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, for her thoughts on the future of the biofuels industry.
Patti Truant: What’s new in the world of biofuels right now? What do you think are the greatest opportunities and challenges right now in moving toward a more bio-based economy?
Donna Perla: I think there are several. One is that the industry has really evolved. Certainly it started with corn ethanol, but there still is this push for cellulosic ethanol. Read More >
This is the tenth blogpost in the series, “Corn-Fed Cars: On the Road with Ethanol.”
Biofuels, particularly corn-based ethanol, offered the promise of large financial returns to both the farmer and to the rural community. Have these promises been realized? And how have the small-scale farmers fared against the land barons?
Locally sourced biofuels offer potential financial benefits:
- Increase in corn (and other starch grain) prices and oil seed prices, resulting from increased demand
- Opportunity for investment in infrastructure through stock options or cooperatives
- Greater employment opportunities for rural community
Potential drawbacks include Read More >
Innovations in biofuels are becoming more important than ever. We can expect a perfect storm of predicaments that make this even more true. Recent predictions are that gasoline prices will continue to rise steadily, perhaps reaching $5 per gallon by mid-summer. Corn prices also are projected to be at record highs. Projections of a major drought in the Midwest promises to raise corn prices even higher, perhaps to the point where corn ethanol production will be curtailed for lack of a profit in spite of the high gasoline prices. And of course, fossil fuels can last only so long, even if new discoveries are temporarily delaying the more drastic effects of peak oil and gas. Read More >
This is the eighth blogpost in the series, “Corn-Fed Cars: On the Road with Ethanol.”
Cellulose-based ethanol may be a bust. Ethanol produced from switchgrass is proving very different. Much will depend on innovations in ethanol production from corn stover and corn cobs.
In the race to find new sources of energy, ethanol and biodiesel got the upper hand. These biofuels are easily produced—ethanol from corn grain, and biodiesel from soybean oil—and a combination of subsidies, import controls, and legislation further pushed ethanol to the front.* Read More >