Hope Springs: Can a Fuel Cell Save Us?

It was the morning of the third day of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. As his army maneuvered into place for what history would remember as Pickett’s Charge, General Robert E. Lee turned to his most trusted subordinate, General James Longstreet, and said, “This could be the day.” He could see victory for the besieged Confederacy, just a few hundred yards away, up the deceptively gentle rise of Seminary Ridge, just beyond the bristling blue line of Federal muskets, bayonets and cannon that waited there.

Today, in the 11th hour of the American Republic as it confronts the absolute limits of its supplies of energy from fossil fuels, with no preparations made for the inevitable and catastrophic encounter with those limits, I will say to you that today could be the day. Today, we just might set a new course toward a better future. For someone who has spent several years writing about the inevitability of an impending crash of the industrial age, this stirring of hope is quite unfamiliar. I had better explain. Continue reading

Deforming Health Care: A Banner Year

Note to business-school grads: if they’ve told you you’re too greedy and cruel to be an investment banker or an oil executive, don’t despair; they’re going to love you in the health-insurance industry.

The country’s five largest health-insurance companies increased their combined profits by $4.4 billion dollars in 2009 — the year everyone else was struggling to stay aflloat in the worst recession in memory — according to a study by the reform advocacy group “Health Care for America Now!” Continue reading

Blizzard Strikes US: Drops National IQ 24 inches

Two snowstorms of epic proportions in quick succession this month have triggered mass episodes of brain trauma among the public, and among public figures.

Drivers, of course, are the first to be afflicted. The third consecutive flake of snow divides all drivers (in all but the northernmost tier of states) into two categories: the feckless and the reckless. The feckless feel safer driving at 15 miles per hour, no matter how desperately momentum is needed to get up the next icy rise in the road, and no matter how many dozens of vehicles are stacked up behind them. They obey the legendary advice given the pilot by his mother: just fly low and slow, and you’ll be fine. The reckless, on the other hand, do not lower their speed or alter their driving habits for anything, because, like, why should they? Continue reading

All of Our Aquifers are Leaking

Relentlessly, our industrial society continues to destroy the natural resources essential to its survival, with industrial agriculture leading the way. Perhaps the worst — and least recognized — example, in terms of the accelerating pace and ominous portents of the destruction, is the depletion of water resources by overconsumption. Continue reading

Supreme Court Invalidates Democracy

Pledge allegiance to the corporations of the United States of America, and to the republic which they now own. One nation, indifferent to its citizens, with liberty and justice for the rich.

Anyone who still hoped, against all the evidence, that the American democracy could be saved from strangulation by the pervasive and increasing death-grip of big money, has just been served with a do-not-resuscitate order by the Supreme Court of the United States. No greater perversion of the principles of our Constitution, and of the language we use to talk about it, can be imagined. Continue reading

Oil: Looking a Little Peaked

When our car’s odometer shows us two or three zeros in a row, we tend for a short time to think about its welfare over the long term, not just how much gas is left in the tank. How well have we been maintaining it, what is its life expectancy now, what are the probabilities of major problems? Then, usually, we go back to sticking the key in the ignition and filling the tank.

When changing the calendar shows us a zero in the year’s designation, something similar happens, or should. We tend to review, briefly, the longer-term trends in the country, in our health, in our prospects. Such a review in 2010 brings us face to face with the imminence of a catastrophic global event: peak oil. Continue reading

You Want Fries With That? Ammonia? Bacteria?

Two little-noticed stories during the year-end holiday period demonstrated the ominous, increasing stresses on our industrial food-supply system, and the absence of any rational, let alone effective, measures to safeguard it.

First, a 16-state outbreak of E. Coli contamination in meat, sickened more than 20 people in the Midwest and required the recall of a quarter-million pounds of beef. Continue reading

A Frack Job for Marcellus

It’s not quite the infinite-energy-from-tap-water-via-cold-fusion miracle that industrialists have been assuring us is just around the corner — the sudden scientific panacea that would painlessly and profitably avert our rush toward energy catastrophe. But hydraulic fracturing, invented by Halliburton and beloved of Exxon, is close. Continue reading

Drill, Baby, WAIT!

The company calls itself AltaRock, which translates roughly from the Nordish as “getting high on rocks.” With a $6 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department and $30 million in venture capital (translation: “lottery ticket”), the firm set out to show the world how to turn true geothermal energy — that is, the heat in deep rock — into a major source of alternative, renewable energy. On Friday, it showed the world how to abandon a project and make itself virtually invisible. Continue reading