A Tale of Two Meetings

US Capitol dome

As night gathers in Washngton, the Capitol dome shines a beacon of total ignorance over the nation. (Photo by David Iliff/wikimedia)

In the past week, two organizations convened in Washington DC to discuss their view of the world. One, comprising some of the world’s most knowledgeable scientists, was the American Association for the Advancement of Science, holding its annual meeting. The other, made up of some of the world’s most powerful politicians, was the US Congress, assembled. They seemed to be discussing two widely separated, and wildly different, planets. 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

Peak Phosphorous: Worse than Peak Oil?

Whether in a farm pond like this, or the Gulf of Mexico, algae blooms stimulated by wasted fertilizer are deadly to marine life. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we're running out of fertilizer.

Here’s the bottom line, obvious to all but the most arithmetically challenged: when you base an entire civilization on the rapid consumption of a limited resource, you guarantee the collapse of that civilization on the day the resource is exhausted. But the ride to that final day is not a smooth one; you also guarantee that chaos will ensue from the time that there is not enough left of the depleted resource to meet all demands. Running completely out of water is a shared disaster, but when there’s enough water for some but not all, choosing the “some” gets ugly, real fast. It has gradually dawned on a growing number of people that this is the bottom line for oil, but it is not yet widely accepted that the same bottom line, with the same potential for destruction, exists for a number of other substances, especially phosphorous. 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

Forecast: Hard Rain Gonna Fall

Food rioters face police in Algeria. This is a weather-related event.

“What are you so worried about?” goes the old comedy routine. “My future.” “What makes you so worried about your future?” “My past.” On this basis alone — what has happened in our world in the past few months — we should be very worried about our future. It does not matter if you are one of the 37 people remaining on the planet who do not “believe” in climate change, evolution or gravity (if you are in that select group, by the way, congratulations on your new Congressional committee chairmanship). If artillery shells are exploding in rapid succession, ever closer, you might want to take cover; we can discuss later whether you believe in high explosives. Continue reading

Reflection: Word Pollution Rots Brains

A word cloud (the more often used, the larger) generated from a speech by Governor Bobby Jindal in 2009. (Photo by Jason-Morrison/Flickr)

While the problems caused by industrial-scale pollution of air, water and land rise inexorably to nostril level, any and all efforts to deal with them are hampered by the deliberate release of toxic words into our language. Like poisons and endocrine-disruptors, toxic words cloud our intentions, weaken our will and muddle our efforts. If we can’t talk clearly about where we want to go and why, we can’t get there. Continue reading

Has the Great Unraveling Begun?

Do the throngs in the streets of Cairo have anything to teach the passers-by in the streets of America? You bet they do. (Photo by Essam Sharaf/Flickr)

Being paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get you. Nor does it mean that you’re ready for it when they do. We who expect the crash of the global industrial system, who believe it has already (in slow motion) begun, need to be alert for the moment when the slow irreparable lean turns into the catastrophic free fall. That is when incomplete preparations for the aftermath become exactly the same as no preparations at all. Has that moment come for us, via Egypt? Continue reading

Ohio Lake “Dying”: Governor Applies Lipstick

Algae scum in the waves of Grand Lake St. Marys, Ohio, last June -- the symptom of a fatal illness. Last week, the governor applied a Band-Aid. (Photo by St. Marys Lake Improvement Association)

The government of the great state of Ohio demonstrated last week, with laser-like precision, exactly why we do not have a chance of avoiding the multiple catastrophes bearing down on our supplies of food, energy and water. In unveiling what was universally described as a “plan” to deal with one of the state’s biggest pollution problems, the governor and his fellow polititicans also demonstrated the new first principle of government: it is far, far better to appear to be doing something than to actually do something. 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

California: Waiting for the Big Wet One

Iowa is getting used to extraordinary floods, such as these in 2008, but "extraordinary" doesn't begin to cover what could happen to California. Soon. (USGS photo)

Imagine the chagrin if, after all these years spent staring at the San Andreas Fault, waiting for the most-predicted, -costly and -deadly natural disaster in US history, Californians should instead be washed away by a flood of Biblical proportions. According to the US Geological Survey (the people who have studied the San Andreas most intensely) it could happen. They calculate that such a flood, not unprecedented in California, could dwarf the damage of even a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, otherwise known as “The Big One.” Continue reading