Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Market Forces for Change

Or as Lenin is supposed to have said, “When we hang the capitalists, they will have sold us the rope.”

One of the things the right and Libertarians like to push is the free market system, which they don’t really like. They like it as long as they can control the rules making it into a game of Monopoly: where they win.

On the other hand, they run scared when their market share is threatened.

The real problem is that there isn’t really a “free market system” out there.  Governmental decisions can act as market forces even if they aren’t set forth as being economically based. For example, building highways rather than public transportation has effected US society in ways which have been detrimental to its interests (or “Detroit: the city that committed suicide by favouring one industry with a very limited lifespan”).

The reason I tossed gun control in here is if the trend for fewer people to want to own guns keeps up, we will have de facto gun control.  The NRA can loosen up laws all it wants, but that may end up backfiring for it as people begin to realise that there was a reason the NRA blocked the research showing gun ownership was detrimental.

The right can continue to try to use emotion to sway people to vote against their interests, but that cannot go on for very long once people realise they have been had. Once that happens not only will people’s economic decisions change, but so will their voting decisions.

Going, going by Philip Larkin

A good poem about the environment.  It’s over 40 years old, but probably more important to heed now.

Going, going

I thought it would last my time –
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there’d be false alarms

In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
– But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more –
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea
In summer . . .
It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts –
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.

 

Whisky for the Environment

OK, for the most part, the distilling process is pretty much environmentally unfriendly. The spirits industry comes in for a serious beating with Gin, tequila, and rum being the worst for the environment. The problem is that the distillation process requires loads of energy. American bourbons are aged in virgin-oak barrels that are used only once, most of those barrels end up being reused by other liquor makers. And while some of those liquor makers may produce single malts, think of the energy involved in distilling the liquor and transporting it. In terms of distillation, vodka requires more energy and water than most spirits. Now, it seems that the Speyside distilleries byproducts will fuel a local biomass energy plan.

“Waste products from around 16 of the area’s 50 distilleries will be used at the site, including well-known brands such as Glenlivet, Chivas Regal, Macallan, and Famous Grouse,” the Guardian reports. Vast amounts of “draff”, the spent grains used in the distilling process, and pot ale, a residue from the copper stills, are produced by the whisky industry each year and are usually transported off-site. The Rothes project, a joint venture between Helius Energy and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) will burn the draff with woodchips to generate enough electricity to supply 9,000 homes. It will be supplied by Aalborg Energie Technick, a danish engineering company. The pot ale will be made into a concentrated organic fertiliser and an animal feed for use by local farmers.

The £50m Rothes project is the latest bioenergy venture from the Scotch whisky industry, but it is believed to be the first to provide electricity for public use. A bioenergy plant at Scotland’s largest distillery in Fife is close to completion. The project by Diageo will provide 98% of the thermal steam and 80% of the electrical power used at the Cameronbridge distillery. And last year, scientists at Napier University announced they had developed a method of producing biofuel from the by-products of the whisky distilling process which could power cars and even aircraft. The new fuel, they said, could be available at petrol pumps within a few years.

This isn’t just a Scottish happening either, and Maker’s Mark, a whisky with a green reputation is also getting on the Green Energy bandwagon. Maker’s Mark tries to be as environmentally friendly as possible in their production process. “We do many things that are eco-friendly including recycling the majority of our waste, in particular glass, cardboard, paper, plastic, metals, and barrels. Right now we recycle approximately 95% of all our waste. We are looking to go to 0% waste discharge in the next 3 years. Other projects that may not be “unique” include forest stewardship, habitat improvement/sustainability, community outreach, and biodiversity (we do not use any genetically modified grains),” Master Distiller Kevin Smith said in an email to Inhabitat.

It’s good to see that the distilling industry is trying to be more environmentally conscious. It’s even better to see that waste from the distilling process is being used to offset the processes environmentally unfriendly aspects. As I said in a previous post, I strongly suggest when buying distilled spirit products from enviornmentally friendly distillers if you choose to drink spirits. It also might be a good idea to write your fav distiller and ask them what they are doing to cut their carbon footprint?

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Solyndra

Solyndra has become known as a boondoggle in the US. If you haven’t heard, it’s the solar power company that got $500 million in Recovery Act loans from the Department of Energy and then went belly up a couple of weeks ago.

Conservatives have been trying to paint this as a big scandal of some kind, despite the fact that: the company had plenty of private investors too, it’s the only DOE loan that has failed so far, and there’s no real evidence that anyone in the White House did anything worse than push OMB to speed up their decision-making process a bit in 2009.

It’s often claimed that the Solyndra loan guarantee was “rushed through” by the Obama Administration for political reasons. In fact, the Solyndra loan guarantee was a multi-year process that the Bush Administration launched in 2007.

You’d never know from the media coverage that:

  • The Bush team tried to conditionally approve the Solyndra loan just before President Obama took office.
  • The company’s backers included private investors who had diverse political interests.
  • The loan comprises just 1.3% of DOE’s overall loan portfolio. To date, Solyndra is the only loan that’s known to be troubled.

The loan guarantee has been attacked as being political in nature because one of the Solyndra investors, Argonaut Venture Capital, is funded by George Kaiser, a man who donated money to the Obama campaign. What critics don’t mention is that one of the earliest and largest investors, Madrone Capital Partners, is funded by the family that started Wal-Mart, the Waltons and the Waltons have donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates over the years.

Climate Progress is publishing this timeline, verified by Department of Energy officials, that shows how the loan guarantee came together under both administrations to set the record straight. In fact, rather than rushing the loan for Solyndra through, the Obama Administration restructured the original Bush-era deal to further protect the taxpayers’ investment:

 

May 2005: Just as a global silicon shortage begins driving up prices of solar photovoltaics [PV], Solyndra is founded to provide a cost-competitive alternative to silicon-based panels.

July 2005: The Bush Administration signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law, creating the 1703 loan guarantee program.

February 2006 – October 2006: In February, Solyndra raises its first round of venture financing worth $10.6 million from CMEA Capital, Redpoint Ventures, and U.S. Venture Partners. In October, Argonaut Venture Capital, an investment arm of George Kaiser, invests $17 million into Solyndra. Madrone Capital Partners, an investment arm of the Walton family, invests $7 million. Those investments are part of a $78.2 million fund.

December 2006: Solyndra Applies for a Loan Guarantee under the 1703 program.

Late 2007: Loan guarantee program is funded. Solyndra was one of 16 clean-tech companies deemed ready to move forward in the due diligence process. The Bush Administration DOE moves forward to develop a conditional commitment.

October 2008: Then Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet touted reasons for building in Silicon Valley and noted that the “company’s second factory also will be built in Fremont, since a Department of Energy loan guarantee mandates a U.S. location.”

November 2008: Silicon prices remain very high on the spot market, making non-silicon based thin film technologies like Solyndra’s very attractive to investors. Solyndra also benefits from having very low installation costs. The company raises $144 million from ten different venture investors, including the Walton-family run Madrone Capital Partners. This brings total private investment to more than $450 million to date.

January 2009: In an effort to show it has done something to support renewable energy, the Bush Administration tries to take Solyndra before a DOE credit review committee before President Obama is inaugurated. The committee, consisting of career civil servants with financial expertise, remands the loan back to DOE “without prejudice” because it wasn’t ready for conditional commitment.

March 2009: The same credit committee approves the strengthened loan application. The deal passes on to DOE’s credit review board. Career staff (not political appointees) within the DOE issue a conditional commitment setting out terms for a guarantee.

June 2009: As more silicon production facilities come online while demand for PV wavers due to the economic slowdown, silicon prices start to drop. Meanwhile, the Chinese begin rapidly scaling domestic manufacturing and set a path toward dramatic, unforeseen cost reductions in PV. Between June of 2009 and August of 2011, PV prices drop more than 50%.

September 2009: Solyndra raises an additional $219 million. Shortly after, the DOE closes a $535 million loan guarantee after six months of due diligence. This is the first loan guarantee issued under the 1703 program. From application to closing, the process took three years – not the 41 days that is sometimes reported. OMB did raise some concerns in August not about the loan itself but how the loan should be “scored.” OMB testified Wednesday that they were comfortable with the final scoring.

January – June 2010: As the price of conventional silicon-based PV continues to fall due to low silicon prices and a glut of solar modules, investors and analysts start questioning Solyndra’s ability to compete in the marketplace. Despite pulling its IPO (as dozens of companies did in 2010), Solyndra raises an additional $175 million from investors.

November 2010: Solyndra closes an older manufacturing facility and concentrates operations at Fab 2, the plant funded by the $535 million loan guarantee. The Fab 2 plant is completed that same month — on time and on budget — employing around 3,000 construction workers during the build-out, just as the DOE projected.

February 2011: Due to a liquidity crisis, investors provide $75 million to help restructure the loan guarantee. The DOE rightly assumed it was better to give Solyndra a fighting chance rather than liquidate the company – which was a going concern – for market value, which would have guaranteed significant losses.

March 2011: Republican Representatives complain that DOE funds are not being spent quickly enough.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI): “despite the Administration’s urgency and haste to pass the bill [the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] … billions of dollars have yet to be spent.”

And House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL): “The whole point of the Democrat’s stimulus bill was to spend billions of dollars … most of the money still hasn’t been spent.”

June 2011: Average selling prices for solar modules drop to $1.50 a watt and continue on a pathway to $1 a watt. Solyndra says it has cut costs by 50%, but analysts worry how the company will compete with the dramatic changes in conventional PV.

August 2011: DOE refuses to restructure the loan a second time.

September 2011: Solyndra closes its manufacturing facility, lays off 1,100 workers and files for bankruptcy. The news is touted as a failure of the Obama Administration and the loan guarantee office. However, as of September 12, the DOE loan programs office closed or issued conditional commitments of $37.8 billion to projects around the country. The $535 million loan is only 1.3% of DOE’s loan portfolio. To date, Solyndra is the only loan that’s known to be troubled.

Meanwhile, after complaining about stimulus funds moving too slowly, Congressmen Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns are now claiming that the Administration was pushing funds out the door too quickly: “In the rush to get stimulus cash out the door, despite repeated claims by the Administration to the contrary, some bets were bad from the beginning.”

What critics fail to mention is that the Solyndra deal is more than three years old, started under the Bush Administration, which tried to conditionally approve the loan right before Obama took office. Rather than “pushing funds out the door too quickly,” the Obama Administration restructured the original loan when it came into office to further protect the taxpayers’ investment.

What actually happened, how it could have been prevented and who’s responsible, are these things are orthogonal to the battle taking place in political circles. That battle has nothing to do with the facts.

For a mix of financial and ideological reasons, U.S. conservative movement activists, operators, and politicos hate clean energy. They don’t believe in climate change, they love fossil fuels and fossil-fuel campaign donations, and they think, or want the U.S. public to think, that clean energy is weak, unreliable, marginal, and dependent on government subsidies. They have been trying to make that case for a long while.

What Solyndra gives them is a symbol, something to use as a stand-in to discredit not just the DOE loan program, but all government support for clean energy and indeed clean energy itself.

Cons understand post-truth politics. They understand that truth is utterly inert in an era when mainstream institutions are viewed with hostility and skepticism, the media is fractured, and there are no shared norms or referees to enforce them. The side that wins is the side that plays to its audience’s existing preconceptions with a simple message repeated over and over and over again in multiple venues.

That’s what is happening now around Solyndra. The right is going after this whole hog, trying to make the name synonymous with clean energy boondoggle. And the left is flailing around, throwing out this fact and that fact with no coherent message. Additionally, the right pretty much has a lock on the US media so that the message that this was yet another Obama and environmentalist failure is repeated over and over.

That works with the Low Information Voters who believe that global warming is a hoax, or in some way a disputed theory. Unfortunately, they are the people who need to be reached with better information rather than fed more of the corporatocratic propaganda.

See also:

Obama, Do Your Job: Protect Us from Pollution

Greenpeace is trying to get 20,000 views of this youtube video in the next couple of hours before the President’s speech.

Please pass it on:

Posted 08/09/2011 by lacithedog in Environment, Environmentalism

24 Hours of Reality

Climate Change Denial Ends 14 September 2011

See also: http://climaterealityproject.org/

How We Know We’re Causing Global Warming in a Single Graphic

From: http://www.skepticalscience.com