05.21.07

A Twist in the Allocation of Corn

Posted in Energy, Health, Politics, Resources at 9:27 am by justakim

The Economist explains why high fructose corn syrup is bad for you. Most of this article is about the health effects of high fructose corn syrup and the difference between it and cane and beet sugar. It also explains how the invention of a technique and a corn glut resulted in our switch to corn syrup.

At any rate, it is not just the cost of beef and corn on the cob that will be affected by ethanol production. We use corn byproducts in so many things, both as corn syrup additives, and other uses. If ethanol is the way we’re going, the allocation of corn is going to change.

05.09.07

Water Woes: What California and China have in common

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development, Energy, Health, Politics, Pollution, Resources at 8:21 pm by justakim

California could lose a vast amount of its snowpack due to global warming by the end of the century. The percentage ranges are so wide, that I will leave those to the article.

Right on the heels of this interview, with the knowledge of snowpack being at its lowest point in 20 years, Governor Schwarzenegger requests $5.9 billion in bonds for water related projects including two dams.

Where could you possibly put the dams and have them be effective? We’ve damed all the good places where the geography lends itself to a stable structure and an opportunity for hydropower exploitation. Not too long ago, the project to dam the American River was buried. It is hard to believe that there are any better options.

Meanwhile, China is investing a little shy of $4 billion to reinforce reservoirs and improve drinking water while pondering projects to transfer water from the wet south to the parched north. Investing in current dams is a different story. Dams with high levels of siltation may have a lifespan, depending on how fast they can keep up with the dredging. That could obviously be cut short if the dam fails before dredging becomes an issue. The concern for drinking water is a good sign.

It is of little surprise that there are also complaints about dams in recent news as well. For instance, a group lawsuit vs. PacifiCorp over Klamath dams where just about everyone except the farmers have banded together, addressing toxic algae blooms, recreation, and fishing.

The U.S. Department of the Interior last year recommended removing the dams or building “ladders” for the spawning fish if PacifiCorp wants to keep them.

China has its own problems as they encounter problems while trying to protect the endangered Yangtze alligator. The article makes mention of the Yangtze river dolphin, which had been declared functionally extinct. Few of these unique creatures existed even before the Three Gorges Dam was built. That was merely the nail in the coffin.

It feels like we are stuck in some sort of time warp, returning to the days when it was not widely known that all the good dam spots had been taken and additional dams were often not worth the bother. We need to better allocate the water that we have, rather than pretend that if you build [the dam], [water] will come.

05.04.07

Are the Lights Out? Villainizing the Climate Change Debate

Posted in Climate Change, Economic Development, Energy, Politics at 12:36 pm by justakim

I recently watched The Great Global Warming Swindle courtesy of Google. One of the scenes that really stuck out in my mind was where they went to a clinic with a solar panel. They demonstrated that an alarm would sound if they turned on the CFL bulb and plugged in the refrigerator holding vaccines at the same time. One of the guests called environmentalists ‘anti-human’ while another said to have Africa not to touch their resources is (I assume economic) suicide. Meanwhile Greenpeace was giving out “Climate Criminal” awards in India for selling incandescent light bulbs instead of fluorescent.

Well, I guess they’re even.

Also in India, the UN is subsidizing investment in solar panels. Some solar panel vendors were having trouble selling domestically despite exporting to Germany.

“In 2003, close to 70% of people in India did not have access to electricity,” says Painuly. “Even being connected to the national grid did not ensure power because of frequent power cuts. There might be electricity when you don’t need it and then the power is not there when you do need it.”

While this plan is short-lived, there is hope that this domestic market will be sustained.

[Edit: to add more irony, Patrick Moore, the speaker who called environmentalists anti-human, turned out to be a founding member of Greenpeace.

See, I don’t even like to call it the environmental movement any more, because really it is a political activist movement, and they have become hugely influential at a global level.

Wait wait, when did the environmental movement turn into a political activist movement?]

05.03.07

Water Scarcity

Posted in Politics, Resources at 10:41 pm by justakim

After my last post on the relining of a canal that would cut Mexico and Mexican wetlands off from leaking water, the scarcity of water has been on my mind.

On Monday, seven states that rely on the Colorado River for water submitted a plan for dealing with water in years of drought. The upper basin states would release less water and the lower basin states will draw water form other sources, under a plan of ‘intentionally created surpluses’.

But what does this mean:

Water for agriculture in Southern California could be “banked” in Lake Mead for future use if farm lands are allowed to go fallow.

What’s that, subsidies for not farming until you’ve built up a reserve?

No mention of Mexico was made in this article. I find it unlikely that the involved states will be more considerate in making sure Mexico gets its fair share of the Colorado.

Meanwhile we hear about investors speculating on water claims as water becomes a greater point of contention.

“Governments globally are reaching a point where they’re not able to finance the delivery of cheap water, which is why the private sector is getting more and more interested,” says a venture capitalist.

While some are banking upon water liabilities, others seem unconcerned with the risks. Water reporting seems to be skimpy and lacking standardization, even in water-heavy industries. This seems to be a strong case of moral hazard, trusting in the government to subsidize their water needs under the assumption that water is a necessity rather than the scarce resource it truly is. Even if water is available at a much cheaper rate than it should be, one would think that keeping tabs on how much water you’re using would be useful information. Can water be so cheap, or so secure, that it doesn’t matter how much is used?

The divergence in approaches to water as a resource may outreach our supply.

I am not advocating that water be simply subject to the market. The demand for water is pretty inelastic after some point; we need it to live. But we can’t ignore the fact that there is a limited supply, and some uses for fresh water are more valuable than others. And if we wanted to make our own, it’s going to require investment, and it’s going to cost.

05.02.07

The Informal Economy Protects Trees: Madagascar’s regenerating tropical dry forests

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development, Politics, Resources at 8:51 pm by justakim

New Scientist had this article on Madagascar forest regeneration in which cultural customs has led to the regrowth of forests in Madagascar. Satellite imagery revealed that deforestation had more of an impact in unpopulated areas, areas that were outside of the control of local communities.

While the government owns most of the land, local clans have control over its use, and permission is granted only to members. It is in areas where a local group does not have a claim that deforestation becomes a problem. These include areas that once were controlled by clans that have abandoned their territory because of a drought. The concern is that climate change will cause more migration and the loss of informal property claims, which would allow further deforestation. It would help to have more formal property claims so that ownership will be maintained if this were to occur.

In addition, there are taboo forests where no one is supposed to take anything. The punishment for breaking this rule is a cow, which is pretty expensive. It would be relatively easy to change these unspoken rules into real laws so that the forests can be protected beyond the time the locals live there.

Coincidentally, Greg at CES Blog wrote about the further meaning of my last post on the Wollemi pine and the meshing of natural and social worlds. Well, there is further enmeshment for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to mark my territory with a few cacti.

04.30.07

California vs…

Posted in Health, Politics, Resources at 8:30 am by justakim

California seems to be on a roll. Where’s this handbasket going?

One day after Governor Schwarzenegger threatens the EPA with a lawsuit over car regulations, California filed one against the Department of Energy because their request for a waiver that would allow them to have stricter standards for washing machines were denied. The regulation proposed in 2004 would require washing machines to use no more than 8.5 gallons of water by 2007 and even less by 2010 [1].

The DOE said the proposal didn’t qualify for a waiver because it had to be”economically feasible and technologically justified,” [2] Well, perhaps it would have been feasible in 2004, while the latter part could be argued… particularly in California where water is relatively scarce.

In addition, Califronia also set up tougher restrictions on formaldehyde. They claim that this will reduce incidents of cancer caused by vapors.

And then there.s solar. In this article, a correspondent from The Economist runs into the problem of too much shade from her trees. State rebates and federal tax credits are available that can cover up to half the cost of installation, and they will not raise property taxes (whew). Home builders have to offer solar options in California now. But you still need to have light.

I am somewhat concerned to the extent of which California is trying to set itself apart with restrictions that could possibly not be worth the bother, especially in other parts of the country, where resources may be cheaper and utility curves vastly different. If it costs more to have less formaldehyde in your wood to keep it together with another substance or new technology, how much would the added cost to your housing have bought you in health care?

I like requiring thought put into solar panels and think if you have trees in the way, you’re better off with them cooling your home than the panels, don’t know about the formaldehyde, and wish the market would make water-efficient washing machines feasible. Would California have a right to tax washing machines that are not of a certain water efficiency, or would they have to sue someone over that too? It would be a tax to compensate for the subsidies on the cost of water…

1. California washing wachines
2. More on the washing machine situation.
3. Califronia vs. formaldehyde.
4. California solar vs.shade.

04.25.07

Clean Air ‘Or Else’

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Politics, Pollution at 8:46 pm by justakim

The climate change debate heats up further as Schwarzenegger threatens EPA with a lawsuit if it does not respond within six months to California’s 2005 request for a Clean Air Act waiver so that it can regulate carbon emissions more aggressively. The EPA says that they were waiting for the recent Supreme Court Ruling earlier this month before tackling the California case. It was a 5-4 decision.

The closeness of the vote makes me uncertain as to the extent of this victory, if the definition of a pollutant lies closely with your political leanings. One would hope that the definition of pollution would not change depending on who the judge is.

Even if the EPA is allowed to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, it will still take time to come into effect. Just because the EPA can regulate it doesn’t mean it will, or at least anytime soon.

But at any rate, the California plan seems surprisingly harsh, even from my perspective. Build cars with a quarter less emissions by the 2009 model year, and cut greenhouse gas emissions statewide by a quarter by 2020? Both goals seem unrealistic. At least let the Automotive X Prize play out first!

On the other hand, of the auto manufacturers who claim these regulations will cause them to go bankrupt, I have to wonder if they include Toyota, Honda, and VW.

04.13.07

Odds and Ends: Diabetes, Tickets, and Immigrants

Posted in Health, Politics, Pollution at 11:16 pm by justakim

An amusing quote I ran across in Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers in the chapter on Malthus and Ricardo:

“Actually, birth control seems to have been practiced by the upper classes all through history, which is one reason why the rich got richer and the poor got children.”

There’s more evidence that there is a link between Diabetes and pollutants. Regardless of their weight, there was a relationship between the levels of some of these chemicals and insulin resistance. This relationship could be for many reasons, but it’s possible stored pollutants cause diabetes.

The farther away you live, the more costly your traffic tickets. Also on the first page of that link is the cost of WoW characters by race.

In California, immigrants increase wages because they don’t compete directly for the same jobs, instead taking on complementary jobs. I think that’s a nice way of saying they’ll do things no one else wants to do. Don’t forget this Onion video about losing jobs to illegal immigrants.

04.12.07

Schwarzenegger’s Environmentalism

Posted in Energy, Politics at 12:38 pm by justakim

It seems that Schwarzenegger is trying to bring environmentalism to the mainstream in America. While I agree with the concept, I am not completely behind some of his ideas… At any rate, here are some of my favorite quotes this morning.

Schwarzenegger will appear on a Pimp My Ride episode on the 22nd in which his muscle car gets retrofitted with a biodiesel-running engine.

“[W]e have to make those cars more environmentally muscular.”

Well, that’s not too bad but… I just can’t help but laugh. I guess an environmentally conscious mind is a great first step nonetheless. We don’t all need Prius Envy.

But this I can totally agree with:

“Like bodybuilders, the environmentalists were thought of as kind of weird fanatics also. You know the kind of serious tree huggers. Environmentalists were no fun. They were like prohibitionists at the fraternity party.”

This is the trait that grates upon me the most, and I fear that I must exhibit some of this myself when I talk or write about environmental matters. Guilt will not make people want to to listen.

“Your political base will melt away as surely as the polar ice caps,” he said. “… You will become a political penguin on a smaller and smaller ice floe that is drifting out to sea. Goodbye, my little friend! That’s what’s going to happen.”

I just can’t help but laugh. I truly believe that this is the way the world is going, it’s just a question of if it will happen soon enough and fast enough.

1. Guiltless Green
2. Make Environment Sexy
3. Pimp My Ride

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