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Welcome to the party: finally going green

It’s amazing to see green tips and news about climate change in all kinds of publications – even, I’m told, on Fox News – and over the past few months I’ve been dumbfounded to hear financial guys and other establishment types not only talk about the environment but make their own personal interest clear. I’m not talking about speeches, either, but what they say in ordinary conversation. I came home the other day and was telling Tom excitedly about the eminent scholar who’d told me he now thinks the environment is the most important issue. “Welcome to the party,” said Tom wryly. “Help yourself to a beer – it’s a little warm. But so’s the planet, you know.”

These kids aren’t going to let us get away with much. They hold us responsible, and they’re right. But that’s not to say they shouldn’t be glad to see the tide turning, or that they shouldn’t be thinking about their own career (and electronic gear) choices. Here’s a story from the New York Times about the many new university programs in sustainability, many supported by corporations. As we work with the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit, an innovative business school program at Case Western Reserve University, and author and now Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability volume editor Chris Laszlo, I’m more and more convinced that it’s business leaders who play a pivotal role in enabling our society to take a new and sustainable course. Chris has a brand new book on the subject, which I highly recommend: Sustainable Value: How the World’s Leading Businesses Are Doing Well by Doing Good.

One thought on “Welcome to the party: finally going green

  1. Saturday, December 15, 2007

    I wonder how the CEO’s of the oil, coal, gas cartels would respond to the question? “Do you care that your children, grandchildren and, their children will likely live in a world bereft of clean air, drowning coastal cities, vanishing polar geography, shortages in energy, rapacious prices for everything, and the gradual disintegration of economic, social and political order as the outcome of your shortsighted energy policies in this the early years of the 21st century????

    I hesitate to answer for them, given their craven approach to contemporary environmental issues. However, it cannot be but obvious to the most casual observer that the world is faced with an immediate environmental crisis. To date every proposed palliative treats symptoms rather presenting global solutions. Reducing carbon emission over x number of years through credits and bartering is a fools errand. It’s like pushing dust around a large table. Alternative, renewable energy solutions pose environmental, aesthetic, and economic pitfalls that in sum raise the cost of usage to the consumer over and above the inefficiencies of current modalities. Ethanol uses more petroleum to achieve the same results as petroleum. Its only saving grace is that it is cleaner as an output, but raises the price of just about everything as an input. Moreover, many of these agriculturally based modalities are controlled by the fossil fuel freaks who currently toy with the government and the public about their efforts to champion renewable energy.

    In the view of many, there should be clearly defined benchmarks for the development of renewable energy policies, programs and funding mechanisms. National/global polices need to address immediate problems with immediate solutions not extensive research/testing, which is the ploy of the fossil fuel mavens with Universities, the government and other small firms lacking leverage. A major criterion for renewable energy solutions must be the extent to which carbon emissions are reduced. A second criterion is that renewable solutions must be clean and relatively cost efficient given other renewable alternatives. In Wendell Berry’s words: “Effiviency must become the linchpin for security, economy, equity, and environmental quality. The cheapest, fastest, and smartest approach in the near term is energy efficiency. Next we need a distributed energy system based on renewable energy — not coal and nuclear. We do not know yet how to sequester carbon from coal-fired power plants or how to deal with the toxic byproducts of burning coal; nuclear amplifies the danger of terrorism and requires massive subsidies, and we still don’t know what to do with the radioactive waste. Coal and nuclear are problem switching, not problem solving. Behind the scenes, however, well-funded lobbies are pushing hard for them, while the public interest in smarter choices is more diffuse and far less organized.”

    What then must we pursue as an ultimate solution that is renewable, clean and, can be produced and distributed at costs far below current modalities?? For 85 years the answer has been ocean energy.

    In the U.S. the cost of one kilowatt of electricity ranges from .07 cents to .15 cents per kilowatt hour for fossil fuels. For renewable modalities, the costs range from .09 cents to .23 cents per kilowatt hour. These costs can be offset partially by tax subsidies for consumers and producers, reducing costs/kw to that experienced by the fossil fuel freaks. We have been led to believe that fossil fuel prices are the best competitive prices we can expect. Not so!

    In the short-run, energy produced through hydro power is much cheaper. Coulee and similar dams produce electricity at .05 to .07 cents/kw, without subsidies.

    The press is going along with the fossil fuel barons, occasionally printing small stories here and there, but not doing any in depth stories, on what should be jumped on as a very big story the minute they saw it. The company, Ocean Resource Group, with offices in Miami, and New Brunswick, puts the ocean energy technology potential on the line, stating we only need 1% of the available power from ocean currents to light up the world.

    Estimates of the worldwide economically recoverable wave energy resource are in the range of 140 to 750 TeraWh/yr for existing over-topping and wave-capturing technologies that have become fully mature (ETNWG 2003). With projected long-term technical improvements, this could be increased by a factor of 2 to 3 (Thorpe 1999). The fraction of the total wave power that is economically recoverable in U.S. offshore regions has not been estimated, but is significant even if only a small fraction of the 2,100 TWh/yr available is captured.

    The total annual average wave energy off the U.S. coastlines (including Alaska and Hawaii), calculated at a water depth of 60 m has been estimated (Bedard et al. 2005) at 2,100 Terawatt-hours (TWh) (2,100–10 to the twelth).

    (Currently, approximately 11,200 TWh/yr of primary energy is required to meet total U.S. electrical demand.) WEC devices have the greatest potential for applications at islands such as Hawaii because of the combination of the relatively high ratio of available shoreline per unit energy requirement, availability of greater unit wave energies due to trade winds, and the relatively high costs of other local energy sources. Wave energy can be produced and distributed at .04 to .08 cents/kw.

    However, just think if we could harness the ocean in the form of a series of waterfall over-topping dams the size of the Grand Coulee Dam. These mega ocean dams, (where water is either lifted into a catch basin through wave motion and flows into pen stocks, or arrives at a funnel as would a natural waterfall and then into the pen stocks), could eliminate carbon dioxide emission almost overnight.

    Just a little imagination and a great deal of political courage could get us there before we are forced to begin mass production of oxygen and gas masks.

    Ocean waterfalls on the scale of the Grand Coulee Dam would need to be financed by the government, secured by the military, but operated by existing electric power distribution providers. The short-run cost of production and distribution could be offset by temporary subsidies. In the medium term the subsidies could be eliminated (5-8) years after startup.

    The Fossil Fuel Folks will Foam at the mouth, when obscene profits are threatened by 2 cents/kh electricity generated from the clean, renewable ocean. However, the real money in the new order of ocean energy will be in distribution infrastructure. The fossil Fuel Freaks can buy into the electric power grid distribution system at any point from initial transmission to intermittent storage, to final delivery at our toasters. True, margins won’t be obscene, but there will be profits derived from capturing the 76% of American power users who got sucked into the Fossil Fuel Furnace when Henry Ford mass produced the model T and had to switch from steam driven motors to the gasoline driven internal combustion engine.

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