Americans Still Want Renewable Energy — and They’re Going to Get It

American Public Support Effort to Reduce Global Warming

James Gaddy knows manure. Chicken manure, to be exact. He’s spent years working with it. That may not sound like much fun to you and me, but Gaddy is on a mission to power the earth — and, in the process, save it.

Specifically, Gaddy has figured out a way to produce ethanol from the bacteria in chicken manure. And it’s cellulosic ethanol, not the corn-based kind that siphons land in Iowa, jacks up the price of food, and results in almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as gasoline. No, this stuff is the real deal. It dramatically reduces greenhouse gases, and it comes from something we were going to throw away anyway.

I used to write about cellulosic ethanol, back when I first starting writing op-ed columns over six years ago. That was before the Great Recession — before we all became obsessed with the economy. People were more concerned about environmental issues then.

The most popular policy I proposed was a Manhattan Project for the 21st century: a national investment in a range of alternative energy technologies that would wean us off foreign oil and dramatically increase the efficiency of our energy use. It would be a public-private partnership. The free market would lead the way, creating and selling the products, but they would be supported by startup capital and loan guarantees from the federal government, the only entity big enough to absorb the upfront costs for a new national infrastructure, as it did in the days of Eisenhower and Roosevelt and even Jefferson.

People loved that idea. They saw it as this generation’s “we choose to go to the moon” moment. When the economy started to weaken in 2007, they liked the idea even more. Now, it wasn’t just investing in the future; it was creating jobs for today.

And it wasn’t just Democrats. The majority of my readers were Republicans, and they thought it was a great way to distance ourselves from Middle Eastern oil producers without a lot of government regulation.

According to a survey released earlier this week, their opinion hasn’t changed. The Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University polled Republicans and independents who vote Republican, and they found that 77 percent think we should use more renewable energy. A majority of them believe this so strongly that they think it’s worth the cost of any government intervention that may be necessary to achieve that goal. In fact, when they read the 2012 Republican Party platform, which doesn’t mention climate change but does celebrate coal and oil, two-thirds of them disagreed with it.

So I think it’s fair to say that Americans of both parties still want a large, Manhattan-style investment in renewable energy. Which brings me back to James Gaddy.

In Vero Beach, Florida, the Swiss company INEOS is building a biorefinery that will use Gaddy’s research to convert waste into eight million gallons of ethanol every year, all the while powering itself and creating electricity for others to use. This project would not have happened without a $50 million grant from the federal government, one of many grants included in the 2009 stimulus that has become so unpopular.

In fact, as investigative reporter Michael Grunwald documents in exhaustive detail in his book The New New Deal, the 2009 stimulus was “the biggest and most transformative energy bill in U.S. history,” funding everything from electric vehicles to high-speed rail, from biorefineries to wind farms, from solar panel manufacturing to home weatherization.

As it turned out, we got our Manhattan Project, and no one noticed. The Obama administration didn’t sell it, the media didn’t report it, and the Republicans in Congress did everything in their power to hide it and discredit it.

It wasn’t enough, but it was a start — and if the George Mason poll is any indication, it won’t be the end. The enemies of progress can stand in our way, but they can’t hold us back.

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This op-ed was published in yesterday’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

From Indestructible to Pervious: A Timeline of Architecture

When humans started creating what we call “architecture”—standing buildings made for a purpose—their motivation was simple. They were not stuck with problems of aesthetics or design. They created structures for their own protection from the elements.

Over time, these spaces came to hold meaning for us, and we desired to make them more permanent. As we began to form societies and changed from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers and eventually expanded to citizens of cities, our architecture became more constructed, invasive. Architecture began to allow mortals to leave an indelible mark upon the earth: the Egyptians and their pyramids, the Greeks and their temples, and the Gothic artists and their cathedrals. There are structures that have lasted thousands of years—and will stand for thousands more.

I don’t want this post to simply be a history lesson. But to understand where architecture is going and what it needs to do, we have to see what it has done.   Continue reading “From Indestructible to Pervious: A Timeline of Architecture”

Earth Aid and the New Green Wave

In the past, I’ve talked about green trends in architecture and design. I’m usually very cautious about new hip and popular “green” programs or products. There are flaws in a number of programs and materials out there, who are simply riding the “green wave” to more profits while not necessarily upping the ante when it comes to lessening our carbon footprint.

A new program called Earth Aid, however, seems to be a well-planned, well-designed, and well-thought-out program that is simple and easy-to-use, and encourages people to make an impact.   Continue reading “Earth Aid and the New Green Wave”

Repeat After Me: “Energy Reform”

Yesterday, we celebrated health care reform, and we talked about the bigger picture, in which I said we must take up the next challenge.

Today, you can check out my column explaining what that next challenge should be. (Yes, I’m back at the Hazleton Standard-Speaker, but only once a month.)

The challenge is energy reform. We need to be clearer about the words we use for this debate. When we talk about cap-and-trade or climate change, it tends to scare people away. It sounds big and complicated, and it gives the false impression that global warming is the only motivation for such legislation. But as my column explains, climate change is only half the problem. We also need to raise the price of carbon because of the economic and national security drawbacks of our dependence on foreign oil. And just like health care, the energy market has negative externalities that the government can reduce. Hence, energy reform.

If you follow the links in our “What to Read” series, none of the column should surprise you. If, on the other hand, you get most of your news from the mainstream media, it probably comes as a bit of cognitive dissonance. (That’s what I aim for. If I didn’t teach you something new, there wouldn’t be much point to writing my op-ed, would there?)   Continue reading “Repeat After Me: “Energy Reform””

Cheap Gasoline? It’s a Reality!

After hitting a peak of over $4.10/gallon last summer, US gasoline prices have fallen to about $2.50/gallon in July. That’s still really expensive, right? Well maybe it isn’t. Maybe even at $4/gallon gas is actually really cheap. Sounds like an unimaginable thesis, but it’s the truth.

Gasoline Prices

I like to follow the stuff that peak oil guru Matt Simmons publishes on his website and one of his main thesis is that energy (particularly oil) is way too cheap. He has a slide in one of his presentations where he supplies the following pricing statistics.

Real Value of Liquids

I also did a few other calculations, which are quite astonishing:

  • An average bottle of wine at a nice restaurant, $202/gallon
  • A beer at a ball game, $68/gallon
  • An average Starbucks drink, $28/gallon

Now obviously you aren’t buying a gallon of Vicks NyQuil at any given time, but there are a lot of people who drink a gallon of beer on a Friday night (that’s about 10 bottles), or consume a gallon of Starbucks coffee over a week (that’s about one grande drink a day). The question then is, how much utility do you get from that Starbucks drink every morning or a few beers at the ball game versus driving in your car?

Well, let’s look at what a gallon can do for you in your car. A gallon of gas in an average subcompact, assuming a mix of city and highway driving, can take you about 30 miles (18 km), or about on a 45 minute drive (driving at an average of 40mi/h (64km/h)). By any standards, that’s a long ways to go for only $2.50. For comparison sake, go through the list below and decide what’s giving you more utility, 45 minutes in the car or approximately:

  • 1/3 of a gallon of water (three bottles)
  • 1/3 of a gallon of Coke (three cans)
  • 1/5 of a gallon of Budweiser (two bottles)
  • 1/10 of a gallon of a Starbucks drink (a tall beverage)
  • 1/20 of a gallon of beer at a ball game (half a cup)
  • 1/100 of a gallon of wine at a nice restaurant (a drop)

Maybe $4 a gallon isn’t that expensive when you look at it from a comparative perspective. Maybe energy really is way too cheap.

If this post intrigued you, I would suggest you read some of Matt Simmons’s presentations on his website or watch one of the interviews on YouTube.