The Japan Syndrome: All Radiation, No Light

Entrance to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, now entombed in concrete. Today's Fukushima disaster is not another Chernobyl, but could they together point us to a better way? (Photo by Timm Suess/Flickr)

A plume of radioactive blather has spread around the world from the Japanese nuclear meltdowns, stripped of information and logic (presumably by pre-radiation), seriously affecting the thought processes of millions. The reporting and punditry stimulated by the chaotic failure of the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power complex is far more notable for what it does not include that for what it does. And the most astonishing absence of all is the lack of a mention of any rational remedy for the awful risks we have to take to satisfy our insatiable appetite for cheap electricity. I’ll suggest a remedy momentarily, but first a couple of observations about the verbal emissions. And omissions. Continue reading

Fuel Cell Offers to Save World: World Says No Thanks

Each Bloom box shown provides 100 kw cheap, clean energy for CalTech. Other clients include eBay, Google and Coke.

One year ago, the venerable televison news program 60 Minutes broke a blockbuster story that (as The Daily Impact observed at the time — Hope Springs: Can a Fuel Cell Save Us?) made even energy pessimists feel a pang of hope. (Okay, 60 Minutes didn’t exactly break the story, but they did introduce it for the first time to a mass audience.) Bloom Energy of Sunnyvale, California had brought to market a reliable, efficient, clean and relatively cheap fuel cell that was scalable from a coffee-can-sized power source for a home to a greyhound-bus-sized industrial plant. Continue reading

WikiPeak Oil: Now Do You Believe It?

"Got oil?" "Not so much any more. You?"

M. King Hubbert started predicting the inevitable arrival of peak oil in 1950. In the ensuing 60 years, a steadily growing band of geologists, other scientists, and people who grasp the essentials of arithmetic have been warning strenously that peak oil is both inevitable and imminent. If they are right, its arrival will have consequences for the world that will rank somewhere between catastrophic and apocalyptic; yet, in the developed countries (and by developed, we mean oil-dependent) virtually no one in a position to do anything about it mentions the prospect, let alone taking it seriously. Now, powerful confirmation of peak oil has turned up in WikiLeaks. It’s where we learned, for example, that Prince Charles is not as well respected as Queen Elizabeth. So now do you believe? Continue reading

Natural Gas Getting Fracked Over

In a scene from the Academy-Award nominated documentary GasLand, a Pennsylvania resident ignites the water flowing from his kitchen tap, a trick he could not perform before natural-gas fracking came to a field near his.

It has been a terrible month for the natural gas industry. From another well blowout in Pennsylvania to an emerging water war in Texas, from a new study by the EPA that scrapes some of the greenwash off the image of “natural” gas to an Academy Award nomination for an anti-fracking documentary. it’s been a total snafo (“situation-normal-all-fracked- over”). Continue reading

EPA Burns Big Coal, Defends Mountain Top

This view of a former mountaintop in Pike County, Kentucky, which is now lying in nearby valleys, shows what's left when the coal is gone. (Photo by iLoveMountains.org/Flickr)

In a singular act of courage and principle — the likes of which we will probably not see again while the Know-Nothings rule in Washington — the US Environmental Protection Agency last week acted decisively and dramatically to crimp the coal-mining method known as mountaintop removal. The EPA yanked the permit of an Arch Coal Company sudsidiary to devastate a mountain ridge in central southwest West Virginia.

The action was remarkable for several reasons: Continue reading

Iran, etc: When the Gas Bills Come Due

Iran Protest

What Ahmadinejad dreams, now that he cannot afford to buy the acquiesence of his people with 38-cent gasoline, as he could when the Green Revolution wilted a year ago,

Governments that buy the affection of their people, like people who submit to extortion, find that the deal is not sustainable because the demand for money just keeps going up while the supply dwindles. This is the lesson being learned right now by every state government in America, and that will be driven home shortly to the federal government: you cannot buy people off — in this case by refusing to tax them — forever. For one thing, the cost prevents you from doing the things that government is supposed to do. And for another, the cost just keeps on going up until it breaks you. For a crystal clear illustration of where this road leads, consider the plight of Iran. (For the audio version click here: 0106 Iran etc: When the Gas Bills Come Due) Continue reading

Peak Oil: Is Today the Day?

Gas lines in Louisiana in 2005. Are they coming soon, to stay? (Photo by Jaseman/Flickr)

What if it were today? What if today were the day that the realization dawned somewhere and spread virus-like across the web and the world: peak oil is here, it’s real, and it’s not going away? How many things would we wish, on the evening of that first day, that we had done before it came? Continue reading

China: World Leader in Self Destruction

air pollution over Suzhou, China

The Chinese may not be able to keep the lights on over a wide section of the country, but they sure can snuff out the sun. This air is over Suzhou, in Jiangsu Province, in 2008. (Photo by orangeandmilk/Flickr)

There is something in our nature that draws comfort from the knowledge that there are people like us who are much worse off. It’s not a pretty attribute, but it’s there, especially when the people are a lot like us, and are worse off for the same reasons that make us fear our own future. So let us take a moment’s respite from our knowledge of the impending consequences of squandering our natural resources, as we contemplate the same fate, bearing down on our supposed enemies. Even faster. (Admit it. You feel better already. Happy Holidays.) Continue reading

New York Bans Fracking for Natural Gas

That's a natural gas fracking well. You'd be well advised not to drink the water. (Photo by Daniel Foster/Flickr)

The contrast could not have been clearer. A lame-duck state governor who has little chance of holding public office again puts the safety of his people above the profits of the oil and gas industry; while the increasingly lame Obama administration waffles.

On Saturday, Governor David Paterson of New York — who did not run for a second term in the 2010 election — ordered a stop to all drilling for natural gas that involves hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Continue reading

Nano, Nano: World-Beater Car Turns into a Dust-Eater.

The Tata Nano: When does affordable become too cheap? (Photo by Anugrah Adams/Wikimedia)

When India’s Tata Motors announced its plans to sell a car, the Nano, for under $3,000 to the rising millions of the Third World, there were in general two negative reactions. One was to giggle at the funny names, but that stopped when Tata bought the flagship auto companies of the British Empire, Jaguar and Land Rover. The other was to assume that the Nano would hasten the destruction of the industrial world by bringing to the masses of Asia the benefits of American society they crave so much: smog, gridlock, petroleum addiction and car payments. Turns out that was wrong, too, but not in a good way. Continue reading