16 December 2013

Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy?  Great idea.  But I doubt it will fly in the USA in any significant manner until it’s far too late to deploy technologies in an efficient and cost-effective manner.  U.S. citizens are just too stupid.  They prefer to skate on borrowed time in exchange for a whole lot of pain down the road.  Sit and watch a Wal-mart crowd for 30 minutes.  And think that those people might actually vote!

We’ll have to wait for the equivalent of martial law, and even then, it will probably be too late. 

The media just doesn’t get it.  Witness headlines that try to connect high gasoline prices with a boost in wind farms.  Really?  Since when is electricity a substitute for gasoline, unless you’re among the wealthy elite that can afford an electric car, and even then, the majority of the electricity comes from burning nasty coal.  So much for “green” driving.

Humans manufacture energy for three basic functions:  transportation, electricity, and space heating.  Different energy feedstocks produce a different mix of functional energy forms. 

U.S. Congress and nearly all (if not all) State Legislatures don’t get it.  Congress has it’s balls squeezed by the oil and gas industry.  But that’s only one reason for the absurdly illogical actions (inactions) of Congress.  They’re collective IQ is about that of the shoe-size of Michael Jordan and it seems that the only thing that gets their attention is how the polls say they’ll do in the next election.  Oh, and they love to bicker.  They live to bicker.  National death by bickering. 

State Legislatures are no better and are as equally lame in their lack of concern about the energy future (or the future, period).  Vision, leadership, and the common good are not part of their lexicon.  These values really aren’t part of the voting public’s lexicon either, or we wouldn’t be routinely voting these idiots into office. 

Governance by popular opinion works well if you’ve an educated populace.  Think again about that Wal-mart parking lot.

The American public doesn’t get it.  There is almost zero concern about the future.  All that seems to matter is the monetary price of something right now.  Screw the grandkids.  Chuck them out with all the non-monetary values.  This is Wal-mart’s model and look how well it’s been accepted!  We’re enthusiastically willing to pay through the nose in the longer run, if we can just get something for a few dollars less right now.  Look at most cars, major appliances, or nearly everything else.  We, as Americans, are abysmally wasteful and could not care less.  The piper will extract a serious price. 

Witness the wanton consumerism over Thanksgiving and the shameless greed of Christmas . . . or any other time. 

And we blame the corporations for feeding upon this opportunity?  Why blame the Morlocks for the culturing the Eloi, if the Eloi insist on maintaining gross ignorance.  OK, maybe the corporations could be more responsible.  But that doesn’t sell in the market place as well as crap for cheap.  It wouldn’t work if our society wasn’t so hedonistic.

This is America.  We preserve our right to be stupid beyond belief and sacrifice our children and heritage on the holy altar of immediate gratification.  Not all nations are this way.  There are many examples of a national population saying enough is enough.  We’re going to do the smart thing and work collectively to face the hard issues and come out ahead in the long run.  This is a totally foreign (yes, it’s a pun, too) frame of reference for America.

Renewable energy?  The lowest hanging fruit is using wood chips to heat clusters of larger buildings (e.g. hospitals, municipal buildings, etc.) using distributed heat through a pipeline system.  It’s not a new idea by any means (maybe that’s why it’s seldom on the decision table?) and there are many good examples across the USA.  These distributed energy (DE) systems can be deployed in a couple different ways, but the upshot is that they’re remarkably reliable, efficient, and have a tiny environmental footprint when compared to anything else.  Oh, and did I say they’re cheaper than anything else?  Can’t forget that. 

For the millions of homes and buildings off the natural gas grid, wood pellets are the next cheapest source of heat energy. 

So, why aren’t these systems more common?  Well, it’s not the way we’ve always done it.  The lemming syndrome.  Do you remember that total lack of vision among decision-makers?  To make matters worse, the oil and gas industry doesn’t like this DE and pellet idea.  It could cut into their profits and market dominance.  So, they lean on Congress, that then passes remarkably non-sensical policy, and forces agencies like the EPA to create future-killing rules and regulations. 

These systems also keep energy dollars local, provide good-paying jobs, contribute to sustainable communities, greatly reduce negative environmental impacts (e.g. less atmospheric carbon – the climate change thing), help provide national energy security, increase the opportunity for better forest management (products, habitat, resilience, etc.), and are cheaper than anything else.  I realize that only the last benefit will resonate with most decision-makers and the American public. 

Legislatures have enacted and funded a plethora of high-tech, high risk, and experimental programs to produce alternative transportation and electricity energy (although even these are fading as the oil/gas/coal lobbies choke-off creativity).  They have virtually ignored the heat component and, in fact, have actually discouraged the cheapest and easiest of all renewable energy applications.  That’s not to say that funding ground-breaking work, for example, in gasoline alternatives is a bad idea.  It’s not.  But failing to support, financially and otherwise, the easiest solutions is nothing short of the high crime of social and economic suicide. 

Good grief.  We deserve our fate.  Too bad that the upcoming generations don’t get to vote.  

16 May 2013

Wood Energy

Wood energy (currently) offers the single greatest potential to sound renewable energy.  More than solar and wind combined.  Furthermore, it can be employed in each of the three ways humans use energy; heat, power, and transportation.  It's sound from the three pillars of sustainability; environment, economics, and socio-cultural.  However, it's the third pillar that present the greatest challenges. No surprise that people just don't get it. 

People don't like cutting trees.  It's absurd, but it's real.

The environmental footprint of wind and solar is greater than that of wood.  But that's another story - filled with misconceptions about wood and narrow reasoning.  And, we need both wind and solar, along with all other renewable energy technologies.  It's not about a competition among renewables.  It's about displacing fossil fuel with any renewable. 

Wood chip systems compete well with the cheapest fossil fuel, natural gas.  Guess which fuel type is most likely to increase in price?  Which one adds carbon to the natural carbon cycle?  Trees grow back, especially when forests are well-managed.  Natural gas and other fossil fuels don't grow back.  Almost ANYTHING is better than consuming fossil fuels.

Worried about bang for the buck in extracting energy from wood?  Compare wood to fossil fuels.  All energy products take energy to produce.  By and large, the conversion in not particularly efficient.  Fossil fuels are among the least efficient, and they are without doubt the most environmentally damaging.  But they're cheap.  So, the almighty dollar wins again.  Yet, this time it's not some huge, amorphous corporate entity.  It's each of our own individual decisions.  Americans refuse to pay a marginal increase for global stability.  As Pogo said back in 1971; "We have the enemy and he is us". 

Worried about subsidies?  Gheez, take a look at the fossil fuel industry!!  You think your gasoline and power aren't already heavily subsidized!  Consider paying your full freight for fossil fuel energy, including damage to the environment.  We've been getting a cheap ride for decades . . . putting the payment to our grandchildren.  Selfish bastards, we are. 

Worried about carbon, CO2, and climate change?  Go with wood.  Yes, wood releases carbon, particulates, and other emissions.  But wood got all that stuff from the natural carbon cycle in the first place, mostly the atmosphere.  So, it's a mathematical wash.  Burning wood simply moves that stuff (e.g. carbon) among the normal, natural carbon pools.  Fossil fuels don't do this.  Their combustion introduces carbon that has been stored for millions of years.  Better to leave it in storage.

Worried about devastating forests?  Don't be stupid.  Wood energy will help keep forests as forests, preferably managed forests.  Temperate deforestation is caused by land use conversion, usually urban sprawl and urban splatter.  Americans have an atrocious land use legacy and current policy.  Again, another story.  In the tropics, deforestation is a significant problem.  But we're talking about temperate forests and energy use.  Completely different animal.  Vibrant wood markets lead to demand, which leads to better management potential, which leads to healthier and more diverse forests. 

There is, of course, much more to say about the benefits and wisdom of wood energy.  It's not an inexhaustible source, but it's a pretty big piece of the solution, if people could only shed their ignorant prejudices and Sierra Club mantra. 

25 May 2012

Pristine Forests

Ya gotta wonder about those travel and tourist articles about "pristine" forests here and there.  I suspect that those travel writers wouldn't know "pristine" even if it killed them.  Most, if not all, of the forests in these articles have been, in fact, highly disturbed and under active forest management. 

I suppose that when your frame of reference is limited to the concrete jungle of an urban area, or the tailored landscape of suburbia, then anything that's green and unmowed must appear pristine.  The vapid ignorance of this perspective is irksome to those of us that recognize the not-so-subtle differences in wildland landscapes. 

The mere fact of a major highway running through the forest contradicts the pristine notion.  Where ever there is a road, there has been disturbance.  And there are few regions fo the lower 48 that are not riddled with roads. 

What are these travel writers thinking of?  Certainly nothing having to do with science or ecology.  Fantasies, perhaps.

Sure, these forested regions are pretty, but "pretty" is a far cry from pristine.  And, if the writers would move beyond windshield exploration, they'll find all the evidence of disturbance and management they need.  They will also find people living there . . . junk yards, trash, ATV riddled places, and other obvious signs of human use and abuse.

Of course, these travel writers are incapable of understanding the ecological variation and differences in qualities.  Such cognitions are too far beyond the experience city dwellers (and most rural dwellers, too).  Put a lake and few trees together, and these writers have a spasmodic fit of joy. 

Richard Louv only touched the surface of modern disconnect from natural things.  Ignorance kills.  And it's killing our forest lands in any number of ways. 

Instead of looking at our forest lands as playgrounds, how can we help people understand the thrill of managed landscapes?  Or, the fact that such management is essential to our survival as a species? 

To pass judgement of forests as pristine is as insulting as looking at a Holstein and marveling at the beauty of wildlife. 


22 December 2011


I was at the gym the other day and overheard a particularly obnoxious conversation.  Maybe obnoxious is the wrong word; as the conversation illustrates the dynamics of urban myths and ignorant people.  Fortuntately, I could concentrate more on fighting old age decrepitude than listening to the drone of an empty cranium. 

The chat was mostly one-way from a chunky middle-aged woman, whom I'll call the kayak lady, and a polite middle-aged man, whom I'll call John.  I call her the kayak lady as she fancies herself a kayaker.  Instead, I somehow have more vision of a rubber duckie floating in the bathtub, rather than a skilled paddler.  Gotta give her credit for trying.  I just wish she knew the value of quiet, as her voice is one of those that sounds like a red-hot firebrand in the inner ear. 

The conversation was along the lines of a natural healer that removes toxins from the body by soaking your feet in a solution of natural ingredients.  She's been paying this gal for services.  Anyone harken to the dark days of medievil England?  I had to smile, as I thought of someone swishing their feet in an oversize chamber pot filled with the previous evening's contents.  That would be natural, of course. 

The kayak lady explained that her doctor had found some liver spots.  "After about 10 minutes, the water turned brown and I felt so much cleaner!".  Hmmmm.  So many other more likely explanations than having toxins removed from a body through a foot soaking.  Just how bright might this woman be?  Probably close to a black hole of critical thinking.  Poor John is listening intently.  "She uses all natural products."  Rotenone, canine teeth, and heart failure are all natural, too. 

How many suckers swallow this marketing term "natural"?  It means absolutely nothing, just like so many other marketing ploys.  The USA must be filled with near-idjits, as all this marketing actually works!  Billions spent to misrepresent silly things (at best) to acquire many billions more from fools who are happy to be separated from their money.  Yet, the glazed eyes and damaged brains continue to stare at the TV, almost hypnotically. 

On a deeper level, if there is one, what is it about American society that has assigned some ersatz concept of goodness to "natural"?  Nature, naturally, is filled with wonder, beauty, and clever creation.  It's also filled with death, misery, and indifference.  How is it that so many people can only see the anthropomorphically pleasant aspect of nature?  Some might argue that seeing the bright side of things is a healthy attitude.  This is true, for those who cannot.  However, to ignore the complete package, including the "dark" 'side, is equally (if not more) unhealthy.  For wildlife, the fate is premature death. 

By extension, or arguable leap of logic, many resource management practices are dissed because they don't "look natural".  Take the most vicious forest management practice, clearcutting, as an example.  Horrible!  Destructive!  Inconceivable in a civilized society!   


Clearcutting is merely a practice that mimics "natural" catastrophic ecological disturbance for forest types that are "naturally" adapted to catastrophic ecological disturbances.  The difference is that a management regime allows humans to determine the place and time of the disturbance.  Only with management, the downsides of disturbances are minimized and the wood resource is utilized, instead of being converted to carbon dioxide and organic matter.  Of course, carbon dioxide, organic matter, and other products of these wildfires, insect outbreaks, and wind events have ecological benefit.  But mass quantities of them, in one place and at one time, have important negative consequences to humans, and sometimes to ecological balances.  The debacle in many of the mountain forests of the West should be clear examples, but unfortunately, not even these experiences are enough to free the ingrained ignorance of millions who have had their minds disconnected from horse sense. 

These disturbances, naturally, create environmental conditions that favor the regeneration of these forest types.  Without such disturbance, ecological balances go haywire and set the stage for disturbances worse than clearcutting.  It's usually better to work WITH ecological processes than AGAINST them.  Thus, the practice of clearcutting remains an essential tool. 

Now, clearcutting gets a bad name for two reasons; 1) past abuse (and sometimes current) and 2) poor visual quality (lousy measure of ecological health).  See my rant about clearcutting for a fuller explanation.  More important, is how this clearcutting fits into the Madison Avenue generated concept of what is "natural", and then inversely, into what is not natural.  Clearcutting is far more natural than benign neglect.  Any day. 

These American perceptions are entirely "unnatural", to coin a phrase.  These incorrect notions of natural are further advanced and "improved" upon by such despicable organizations as the Sierra Club, which has contributed more ecological damage in this country than the logger barons of a century ago.  Their well-oiled marketing machine has helped turned American care for the environment into a money-making dynamo that serves to fuel itself far more than it fuels conservation.  Even well-meaning and reputable conservation groups, such as The Nature Conservancy, use this marketing money ticket to generate more dollars to pay for their organization and staff people. 

And millions of American buy it.  It's pretty, so therefore it must be good. 

Snake oil sales campaigns are alive and well.  Rampant ignorance still serves as a deep well of dollars. 

For those of us who truly love forests and fields, and work diligently to provide both commondities and environmental benefits, this American of attitude of "natural" is both offensive and discouraging.  Some days, I think maybe it would be better to let these nature lovers sit in the bucket of swill that they unintentionally advocate through ignorance and pollyanna concepts of the natural world.  Only problem with that is that they'll take down the natural world in the process, which is the inevitable outcome that I fear despite the best efforts of natural resource managers across the country.  Mass stupidity is a massive foe. 

The ridiculous kayak lady was only talking about a particular "natural" remedy, most of which are likely to be something less than therapeutically efficacious.  I'm sure she thinks the world is flat, too.  However, she got my mind whirling about the age-old topic of societal values attached to the word "natural" . . . and just how unnatural those values too often are. 

27 October 2011

20 October 2011

Nature Centers

I despise nature centers.  They're UNnatural, filled with politically-correct hyperbole, and espouse philosophy about as far removed from "nature" as you can get.  Bunch of nature fakers . . . or fakirs.  If nature centers, "naturalist" programs, and the usual drivel of environmental education is our hope to re-connect with nature . . . then we're screwed.  

Yet, people fall for this crap all the time.  Teaching people to fall for this crap, what crap to dish out, and how to serve crap has become a role of many university degree programs.  With BS in crap, you can now teach elementary students how to appreciate crap.  And so the crap cycle goes . . .

People need to understand that nature is filled with resources that we need to survive.  To ignore this fact is suicide.  The trick is to manage and conserve these resources.  That means things like clearcutting, burning, and shooting deer.  Some dreamy pantheistic or Gaian mantra will not work.  These cloud-sitting pseudo-religious ideas are parasitic on human welfare.   

Erudite nature lovers sipping double lattes in L.L. Bean fleeces, Keene sandals, and Smartwool socks divorce themselves from the solution.   Maybe it will make some people "feel" better, or "engaged", but success in our future has little to do with feelings of engagement and locally-produced white wine.  Even Ned Ludd made more sense than this.  Popular and pretty have little to do with ecological integrity and everything to do with fantasy and cultural separation from nature.  It's anthropomorphic arrogance. 

Now, certainly nature can inspire and motivate.  Nature is marvelous in this way.  But inspiration is found through the soul with an eye that can see.  It cannot be found in a typical nature center program for dummies. 

Certainly, there is a huge need for environmental education.  But the lukewarm pansy messages of most nature centers are part of the problem, not the vision.  Programs are based on what will collect dollars from eco-suckers, rather than addressing the need for shape-shifting some reality.  It's a ruthless business, marketed under the guise of "green", pandering to the ignorant yens of Thoreau wannabes (thorough mini-minds).  "Painting Fall Flowers with Mosquito Juice" or "Finding Your Buttcrack in the Forest" will not engage citizens in a pragmatic way that leads to natural resource sustainability.  It will get in the way. 

Current environmental education is producing environment idiots equivalent in naiveté to the Eloi of H.G. Wells. 

The world of responsibly using and managing natural resources can be exciting (and remarkably rewarding), but it's not particularly glamorous in the fickle public eye.  If you want to "get back to nature", spend a week in the forest with nothing but the hairs on your body.  You'll brutally learn how important natural resource extraction can be, and how important efficient economy of scale must be when talking about billions of humans.  Visit a small village in the Sahel and this will make much more sense.

That quaint little organic farmlet with five acres of independence, complete with manicured daisies and a "country fresh" sign in the front yard, is a selfish luxury available only to the economically privileged neo-hippie.  It's a pathetically delusional practice of sustainability.  Multiply that land use and productivity by a factor to include all 300+ million Americans, let alone the billions across the planet, and you rapidly run out of land. 

Google "nature center" and begin to look through the programs they offer.  "Nature" programs take an innate human desire to connect with something of the Earth and turn it into a pale Hollywood echo that scores high only on box office returns.  Ka-ching for the nature center.  There's very little fare about how human beings will survive only through the sustainable manipulation of their environment.  Perversely, the people and professions that are involved with a sustainable future are typically vilified (a suicide syndrome). 

But at the local nature center, you can learn about how to photograph a dew droplet on a deer turd. 

17 October 2011

Grandstanding Politicians

"Light travels faster than sound.  This is why politicians appear bright until you hear them speak."

Obsenators and Reprehensibles. 

Well the pork boys are out spending more time and money to garner votes, while doing nothing to solve problems.  Four Congressional Representatives and a small cadre of state mini-minds are buffooning over forestry issues at a large panel conference at a local community college.  An extravagant display, complete with verbal fireworks and politically-correct dancing girls.  They sit on panels talking about timber supply, transportation, and how lousy the Forest Service is.  While all of these issues are legitimate, and action certainly ought to be taken, the topics have been studied ad nauseum and recommendations never followed through.  If these political hacks were genuinely interested in making positive change, they would be directing their staffs to comb through all the groundwork done over the past couple decades and devine a strategy to resolve the problems.  Instead, they appear to prefer the media limelight, posturing and blustering about how bad this thing is or inefficient that agency has become.  They are good examples of what they advocate against.  I think that's what straight-thinkers call hypocrisy?  I can think of worse descriptors.