Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sheep "tractor"

Here's the long awaited fully-developed rotational grazing set-up at MOFGA. Eight sheep (four ewes and four lambs) occupy a 328-foot circumference round enclosure made of Premier brand two-wire electric fence. A small shade/rain shelter provides a home base. the shelter is on wheels and can be pulled around. It has a feed trough inside (made from a left-over section of four-inch sewer pipe sawn in half -- everything in this set-up was recycled from a previous use).

The sheep are fed a small amount of local grain daily in their shelter. That and its presence as their friendly rain and sun shade accustoms them to going in and out of the shelter daily. But, the nasty secret is, there's a gate, and so the sheep can be captured using the shelter. And while they're caught, you can move the fence 90% over to a new patch of grass, leaving the shelter on the 10% overlap. No sheepdogs or other high-tech sheep moving systems needed. Sorry, Mr. Haggis.

Just be sure to move the shelter to the right overlap point before trapping your sheep.

Very crafty, Mick. We'll see if it works. I'm sure either we, or the sheep, can find a way to screw it up.

Also pictured is the other grass-mowing system at MOFGA, a guy on a tractor. We expect to phase him out eventually. Not quite though. Experience has shown that some trimming is still needed from time to time even with a sheep-mowing job. But much less mowing overall is needed, about a 90% reduction, much less hours of work total once you've got the system figured out, far less weed-whacking and corner trimming in general, and , and you get meat and wool back.

Why we ever though lawn-mowing was a good idea in the first place, is beyond me.

Biogas digesters

Nothing particularly new -- twenty-five years ago at Findhorn I roomed with a guy who designed these things for a living, albeit then for use in developing nations. What is new is the French town of Lille's use of the methane, suitably cleaned up and pressurized, for transportation.

Do you think that all the number twos from 360 residential students, and a few sheep, might be enough to run our van fleet? Now that would be s... hot!

Digesting the problem

Britain has fallen well behind much of Europe when it comes to utilizing manure from farms and waste from abattoirs and food processors to create gas and electricity. But that could soon change. Terry Slavin reports


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fire up your (chicken) tractors

Today we made one of the two animal shelters we are to make for MOFGA this summer. Here are some shots of the construction process. This chicken tractor is designed to be for show only, ie, to display birds at the fair, so it doesn't need a weasel-proof coop like the one we have at home, just a shelter and some perches.

I was helped by Aaron, who also drove truck, getting out of the office for most of the afternoon. The design is a copy of Sara's nationally famous chicken tractor, which appeared in Organic Gardening magazine as well as the MOFGA newspaper.

The weather here in mid-Maine was an improvement for work like this. The mug cleared right out and the air dried up nicely, after days of high humidity. Unfortunately, I finished getting my firewood in yesterday, so I was done with the last of the really heavy work for a while. Still it was nice to be drier while working in the sun. And we had a nice gardener's summer shower at least at Unity if not in Jackson.

Also pictured are the Womerlippi Farm sheep, using a picnic table as a shelter. This in preparation for tomorrows job: to make a sheep shelter for use at the fairgrounds. This will differ from our picnic table by being on wheels so the college's shepherds can pull it around easily. As you can see, sheep aren't fussy about shade. They use whatever they can find close at hand, even if they have access to formal shelters.

Uncommon common sense.

Regular readers will have noticed that I'm not writing much about renewable energy and energy efficiency this summer. This isn't because I don't have any projects on. I've done a bit of free consulting around the region, and am still measuring the wind at the Mount View site and getting worked up to measure the wind at a new site in Troy, Maine.

But what I write about tends to be what's on my mind, and what's on my mind right now is the stuff I gots to get done at the Womerlippi Farm and Garden Enterprise. Not to mention the rotational grazing project at MOFGA. Today's job will be the sheep shelter and chicken tractor replacement mentioned a couple posts back. Plus the UK media continues to razz on the food crisis. And what I've been noticing are the bugbears that food advocates have, and the backlashes they create.

As an advocate for, and teacher of, small scale local agriculture and horticulture, and because I'm trained as a scientist and policy wonk, I like to help folks keep their motivations sorted out. Too much muddled environmentalism makes for unpopular environmentalism, and if we could all just keep our bugbears at bay we'd get further with the average Joe, who after all is amenable to common sense, but sensibly shies clear of fetishism.

One such bugbear is purism of any kind, whether organic, local, zero-carbon, whatever. The single minded pursuit of any one of these always appears to me to be counter-productive, a bugbear.

So, for instance, the banning of caffeine at the MOFGA Fairgrounds. I've been a card-carrying member of MOFGA for a long time, but why, in this age of high quality, shade-grown, fair-trade, organic coffee, is the dreaded black stuff still banned from the fair? Because someone on the MOFGA board had a bugbear about it, that's why. And to 99% of fair-goers, it seems really silly, and so, as a result, some of them begin to laugh at, and are turned off by, MOFGA's other messages, most of which are quite reasonable.

Likewise GMO foods. I really don't enjoy the prospect of Monsanto "taking over" developing world agriculture by patenting genetic resources. But does that mean that all GMO organisms are bad? Of course not. One of these days we'll patent the GMO organism that cures cancer, or malaria, or that makes carbon-neutral liquid fuel from algae fed on seawater. Blanket opposition to GMO is another bugbear that most ordinary people thankfully, see right through.

Organic food seems to me to be becoming a bugbear these days. When I'm faced with a choice between local Maine produce grown using fertilizers and pesticides, and out-of-state stuff that is squeaky-clean organic, I go for the local every time. Since the recent USDA regulations organic certification is now somewhat captured by industry anyway, at least at the national level. We really should fess up to that and become more circumspect about organic certification.

I'm not even going to talk about carbon neutrality, except to say that it's possible, and it frequently happens, that we become obsessed by this bugbear such that a corporation goes to extreme and expensive lengths to become carbon neutral in one building or one transportation scheme as a "showcase" when the same organization has dozens of other buildings and vehicles that haven't even been considered. A decent across the board percentage reduction, with all the low hanging fruit well-picked, is sign of considered carbon mitigation, not the "one showcase building" syndrome.

All of this purism and faddism contributes to the image that many ordinary people have of environmentalists as strange types with strange agendas, and not much common sense.

One of the great gifts that first British and then American free speech gave to the world is political satire. Purists everywhere are wide open to this lowest, yet funniest, form of political wit. Another is the leveling that occurs when our lords and masters are exposed for the twits they are. How are the mighty fallen, when their bugbears are exposed on Comedy Central or You Tube. And how we vulgar Anglo-Americans love to see 'em fall. There's many a dictator around the world who shudders at the thought of all the satirical endeavors the west has waiting for him, the day he dares to leave the safety of Upper Gondolia.

But when our bugbears allow that same Hogarthian satire, which knows no safety barrier, to be turned against the environmental movement, in this day and age of real environmental worries like climate change or food scarcity, we all lose. A capable, reasoned pragmatism is the best antidote.

I'm really enjoying my morning coffee today. Are you?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Advice on household wind turbines in Maine

Advice distilled from consults on local wind turbine projects, and from our friends at NRG Systems, Inc.:

Most folks think about getting a wind turbine to make "greenbacks" and to be "green." A minority need one becuase they lack grid-based electricity service. But put a turbine in the wrong spot, and you will lose money and waste precious resources: neither greenbacks, nor green! And even an off-grid turbine can be outperformed dollar for dollar by solar panels if it is in the wrong place.

(I'm starting a photo-collection of "turbines in the wrong place," for the edification of our students, who can learn from other's mistakes.)

First decide what it is you are trying to achieve. Be deadpan honest. Are you really worried about energy bills, or do you just want to be "green?" Or is it that you'd like to be free of foreign oil? All are legitimate reasons, and certainly, I can't help you much with figuring out your motives. But it helps me advise you if you've actually figured them out as honestly as you can.

If you just want to be green, and are not at all motivated by saving money, I can't help much there either because there's no analysis to be done. Go buy whatever turbine you like, and good luck to you.

If you want primarily to save money, and being green is a secondary motive, start with an overall household energy assessment, not a wind assessment. Before you decide to spring for several thousand dollars of turbine, you would like to know if you could save more money by putting the same investment into insulation, windows and doors, new bio-mass or other green fuel heating systems, or new appliances. I recommend the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's Home Energy Saver, an online audit program. Better yet, hire a professional energy auditor. Be sure to pick lower hanging energy fruit before you spring for that wind turbine. These fruit can be surprising "rich." Say you're running an outdated 1970s fridge, at perhaps 800 watts per hour, 24/7. Replacing it with an EPA Energy Star-rated 300WH fridge for $1,000 will save you 24 times 500 watts per day, or 12KWH. That's far more watts per day than you'll get out of a 1KWH turbine for much the same money, since the wind doesn't blow every day! The fridge is a far better investment than the turbine.

So go figure, literally. You probably have some wasteful appliances that will save you more moolah than a fancy new turbine. I recommend the "Kill-a-watt" meter, which you can buy online, to help you measure the energy performance of your plug-in appliances. For wired-in devices, just turn it on and go watch your meter turn to get an idea of energy usage. Read the dial on the meter in watts and kilowatts. Be sure to turn it off when you're done!

Once you have logically eliminated all more cost-efficient energy savings, it's possible you might benefit financially from a wind turbine. How do you figure this out? Well, first you need to know if you have a viable site. In general, you need average wind speeds of more than 10 mph to make reasonable quantities of power from the new generation of turbines, and you would prefer to have even more wind than that to get the best return on your investment. Although some models are advertised as producing power at wind speeds as low as 7mph, there's not much point putting a $15,000 turbine on a 7mph site if a 15mph one is available.

In Maine, these higher average wind speeds are common on ridges and on the coast. Sites open to the southwest, northeast and northwest are best. If you are in a valley, you probably don't have the wind. Even if you do have a good site, you have to get your turbine well above the interference of trees and buildings: "ground clutter," you might call it. I generally recommend quite high towers for woodsy sites.

Looking at the features of your site, and having lived there for a while all help, but you're still guessing. There are two ways to determine scientifically whether your site is viable. One is to put up a wind turbine and see how it does, recording the production data. The other is to put up wind assessment equipment for a year, and record the wind speed and direction data. If you decide you want a small scale turbine, on the order of 1-5 KWH, probably $1,000-$5,000 and you have the money, it may be cheaper to simply put up a turbine and see how well it works than to do a wind assessment first.

If you want a larger turbine, above 5KWH or so, I would recommend collecting a year's data before investing in a turbine. Equipment for measuring the wind is expensive too, but various firms provide the equipment. Other firms erect the assessment towers and collect the data for you.

At Unity College we do wind assessment for community wind projects (not commercial ones) using equipment provided by NRG Systems incorporated, a sponsor of the college and the market share leader and standard-setter. This allows us to train students in the use of the equipment, and more importantly in the science, engineering, economics, policy and math associated with the wind power industry. Current projects include the community wind assessment site at Mount View High School in Waldo County, Maine, and a project to make a household scale wind assessment tower for smaller turbine installations.

Photographed here are students working on the Mount View project.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Definitions of sustainability

One of my projects this academic year was to re-write the wikipedia page on sustainability. This sort of thing is usually a thankless task, because as soon as you've finished, either the wikipedia editors or worse, some fool who knows squat about the topic, re-writes what you write. But the page has stood the test of time, and about 80% of the key text on definitions is still mine, which makes me think I did a decent and interesting job.

Read it here if you're interested.

I went over to MOFGA's fairgrounds today to check on our sheep again. We've had no end of trouble with our fence in this rotational grazing experiment, but we seem to have it sorted now. The ground there before the recent storms was bone dry, so no ground connection would work, and we were trying to use two panels of a short kind of fence with a positive-only system. We cut out that stuff out after the 3rd or 4th escape and are just using the Premier 48-inch built-in ground fence. Sheep are generally happier if they are securely fenced, and so are we.

This tarp-covered chicken tractor was modified as a shelter but the frame proved rotten and it as you can see the structure was troubled a good deal by the storm winds, so we will replace it soon with a purpose built movable sheep shelter and provide MOFGA with a new chicken tractor to replace the bad one, most likely a super-sized version of Sara's field-proven design here.

Tuesday is build-day for these two projects. The lumber is coming from Peter Baldwin's famous apple-ladder mill and experimental sustainability site, where from time to time Unity students go to seek either employment or ideas. Peter thriftily makes his apple-ladders out of big-toothed aspen, Populus grandidentata, which many loggers cannot tell apart from quaking aspen. Big-tooth aspen has relatively high quality lumber for making apple ladders. Quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides, known as "popple"or "poplar" in Maine, does not. So once Peter has taught his suppliers to tell the difference, they get to sell a log they thought came from a "weed tree" and he gets very inexpensive raw material for apple ladders. I use his reject lumber all the time for projects because it's a) cheap b) strong. c) withstands rot surprisingly well, and d) supremely local. All of which surprises guests to the farm who don't know these are two different trees.

There's also a photo of the kind of graze thats available there, a nice mix of grasses with red and white clover. Quite a bit of bluegrass which is stemmy, but otherwise not bad stuff. A lot of the graze there is dry, though, or was until the storms, and sparse or stemmy.

The last photo is an experimental solar thermal system being built at MOFGA by Jay, a local solar designer and contractor. He plans to make a home-built trickle collector of massive but cost-efficient size on these racks, and connect it to the interior heating for the MOFGA barn. A very interesting experiment, and one you can be sure I'll watch, since it could be cookie cuttered by any decent carpenter, and won't cost a lot. I like that kind of approach.

They bought the company that taught them

As if I needed any proof that Chinese renewable technology is proceeding at a faster pace than hours. From the Grauniad.

Energy in China: 'We call it the Three Gorges of the sky. The dam there taps water, we tap wind'

Wind energy output is trumping targets, and competition between operators is fierce, but coal still reigns supreme


Pylons outside of Urumqi, China

In the vast natural wind tunnel that is Dabancheng, the gales that roar between the snow-capped mountain ridges get so strong that trains have been gusted off railway tracks and lorries overturned.

Such is the ferocity of the elements that police sometimes have to stop the traffic that passes through this arid, six-mile-wide plain on what was once part of the Silk Road. That used to be bad for business in Xinjiang, the most westerly region of China, which formerly depended on the trade route between central Asia and the densely populated cities in the far east.

Today, however, the gales themselves have become big business in Dabancheng. The area is home to one of Asia's biggest wind farms and a pioneer in a Chinese industry that is forecast to lead the world by the end of next year.

Read more....

Monday, July 21, 2008

Urban shepherds and rural escapes

No, not a travel article. Below is an article from the Guardian about the use of sheep to reduce mowing in a British park. And to the left are the pictures of our own college sheep doing much the same thing, albeit in a rural setting at the MOFGA Fairgrounds, along with Sustainability Coordinator and Farm Manager Rob Beranek and summer shepherd Robbie Johnston..

All this talk of mowing lawns with sheep is m-ewe-sic to my ears. One benefit of moving our own sheep to the much drier Fairgrounds is that the mild but chronic hoof-rot they were plagued with this summer has gone. This fall we plan to build a barn with a concrete slab floor to give them drier housing for the winters, which should permanently alleviate the condition.

Unfortunately, we've had some difficulties with escapes at MOFGA. Not enough fence of the correct 48 inch double-wire spec for dry ground use, and so the grass is always greener. But we're learning slowly. Robbie is learning to move them frequently enough, and to build the fence strong each time, to prevent these escapes, and Haggis, our own Womerlippi Farm sheepdog is getting some good open-ground sheep-rounding-up practice not available here at home where the sheep know where to go and the job is easy.

The rise of the urban shepherd

* Karen Dugdale
* The Guardian,
* Monday July 21, 2008

'It's not often you go from your day job to turning a sheep over and inspecting its hooves," says Brigitta Richards. A nursery nurse, Richards is one of a growing number of volunteer shepherds recruited by Brighton and Hove city council as part of an initiative to reintroduce grazing to its urban parks, after an absence of more than 50 years. "It gets me out and about, and you're doing something to protect and conserve the environment as well."

"We've been working on this for about a decade," explains countryside ranger Lisa Rigby. "Having successfully grazed other sites on the outskirts of Brighton, we're now looking to up the ante."

While encountering sheep is nothing out of the ordinary for country dwellers, it may prove more of a shock to city folk taking a stroll. But introducing hardy rare breeds such as herdwicks and southdowns to Wild Park, which is flanked by large council estates...#65279;, this winter may encourage greater flower and insect diversity. The idea is that the sheep's idiosyncratic grazing patterns - some nibble bushes while others prefer chomping coarse terrain - will re-establish different levels of grass (good breeding ground for rare species), gradually replacing the aggressive approach of industrial mowing.

Rigby is keen to highlight the communal benefits. "You can't underestimate the value of livestock, the feelgood factor. A lot of people will go just to see the sheep."

But what about city dog owners? Won't they feel aggrieved at having their daily routines interrupted by the park's new inhabitants? It would seem not. Many of the respondents to a recent advert for watchers, according to Ribgy, are dog owners themselves - in her view ideal candidates because they are out every day.

So what does being a watcher involve? After a one-day introductory course on sheep-related welfare - including how to untangle a ewe from a fence - you sign up to a rota for as many hours as you can spare; no uniform or special equipment required, simply a mobile to ring in your report and a willingness to count sheep.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New book by Paul Erhlich

Human consumption: Flying in the face of logic

Forty years after dropping his Population Bomb into the environment debate, Paul Ehrlich is still railing at man's destructiveness

In 1968, six years after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring - the book regarded as marking the beginning of modern environmental consciousness - a young American entomology professor at Stanford University, California, published The Population Bomb. The tenor of Paul Ehrlich's book echoed the revolutionary sensibility and pervasive anxiety of the time. In it, Ehrlich and his wife, Anne, presented a neo-Malthusian scenario of imminent population explosion and ensuing disaster. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over," the Ehrlichs warned. "In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programmes embarked upon now. At this late date, nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..."


Floating turbines

A British company is poised to construct the world's first floating wind turbine, in a move that could herald a new generation of cheaper, less problematic wind energy.

Blue H, a firm registered in the UK but based in Holland, aims to anchor its prototype device 12 miles off the coast of southern Italy later this month.

The company is one of several racing to build commercial-scale floating wind turbines that sit in deep water far from land. These turbines benefit from more powerful winds and avoid many of the issues that afflict existing wind farms.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Road Not Taken

The preview for Roman Keller and Christina Hamaeur's documentary about the Jimmy Carter solar panels can be seen now on You-Tube. It's very good indeed:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Alladale update

For those of you who followed our scientific fact-finding trip to the Highlands this spring, the plot thickens! Mercurial British millionaire Paul Lister and his plans for the estate are the focus of a six-part BBC Scotland TV series, The Real Monarch of the Glen. Apparently, Paul's somewhat difficult character is one focus of the show, which aired it's first episode the other night.

It comes as no surprise to us that the BBC saw a "star in the making" here. We were all quite amazed and entertained by Mr. Lister's antics when we visited the estate.

But none of this means he isn't right to advocate for some of the things he's advocating for. For one thing, culling deer will help regenerate the Caledonian forest. For another, a cheap efficient way to do this would be by introducing predators.

I'm just not sure he can get them the way he's going about getting them.

Here's the review. Enjoy.

PAUL LISTER’s dream is to re-wild his highland estate with wolves and other animals long since driven from Scotland, but not everyone shares his vision

By Julie Davidson

There is nothing grand about the Laird of Alladale; or, as BBC Scotland prefers to call him, The Real Monarch Of The Glen. He rarely claims the master bedroom in his big house - an opulent corner room which has all the glory of the River Alladale gorge, bright with new birch leaf, outside its windows. When the lodge is full he happily slums it in a small back room with no en suite and an inferior view. "I think I've slept in every bedroom in the house," he says. "There are only two which haven't been refurbished, and I can make plans for them when I'm lying awake at night."

Read more....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weatherizing the winter

I expect Unity College will be providing some of these crews.


Group seeks to hold off winter heating crisis

An energy panel presents ideas -- including insulating every Maine home -- to Gov. Baldacci.

By TUX TURKEL, Staff Writer July 9, 2008 [Portland Press Herald]

Neighborhood teams would fan out this summer to winterize 5,000 homes in Maine, and every community would designate a "warming shelter" for residents facing a heating crisis.

All of Maine's 477,000 single-family homes would be insulated and air-sealed during the next decade, at a cost of $3 billion.

These are among the preliminary recommendations of a 90-member task force set up to prepare the state for an energy emergency this winter, and to help break Maine's heavy dependence on imported oil -- over time. The group, called the Pre-Emergency Energy Task Force, presented a draft of its initial suggestions this week to Gov. John Baldacci.

A copy of the 16-page draft was obtained Tuesday by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Final recommendations are due July 15, and Baldacci will then decide which ideas seem most practical, based on available money and resources. The state will be looking to the federal government for additional aid, such as low-income energy assistance, although most specific funding sources have yet to be determined.

The governor also has raised the possibility of calling a special session of the Legislature, which could modify laws or direct money to advance some of the recommendations.

"We understand that we have a very serious situation developing," said David Farmer, the governor's spokesman.

Farmer and those involved in the effort stress that state government alone can't solve the pending crisis. That's why the task force is trying to marshal the combined efforts of local agencies, businesses, volunteer groups and individuals to begin a process that will take many years and cost billions of dollars.

John Kerry, the state's energy director and chair of the task force, uses oversized analogies, such as the Apollo moon program, to describe the scale of what Maine must accomplish.

"It sounds like a grand vision, but you have to have one," he said. "The time for planning is over. We need action. That's the governor's message."

The need for action is apparent to anyone who drives a car or heats a building with oil. Average gasoline prices in Maine set a record Monday, $4.13 a gallon. The price of heating oil -- normally low in summer -- hit a new statewide average high of $4.71 a gallon. Some dealers have crossed the $5 a gallon mark, a price that seemed unimaginable last winter.

Maine is nearly 100 percent dependent on petroleum for transportation and 80 percent for home heat. Families and businesses are spending roughly $8 billion a year on petroleum, Kerry's office estimates, with most of the money going out of the country. Against this economic backdrop, Baldacci and lawmakers will be under pressure to quickly get some of the task force's suggestions in place.

The group represents a broad cross section of Maine's political, business and advocacy communities. Members include utilities, environmental groups, charities and banks. Their recommendations are broken down by subject, including transportation, housing and finance.

For instance: The task force highlighted a need to keep the state's elderly and most vulnerable residents warm in their homes. A first step would be to mobilize local teams to seal air leaks and perform basic efficiency measures for eligible homeowners.

Civic groups and faith-based organizations would lead the way, using state-provided "warm kits" that include weatherstripping, compact fluorescent light bulbs and other basic efficiency products. This effort would build upon the state's existing Keep Me Warm program, with the aim of reaching 5,000 households before winter. The cost of 5,000 kits is $300,000. Money could come from the federal program for low-income energy assistance.

Looking ahead to cold weather, charitable groups would be asked to work with local and county officials to help address acute needs of isolated elderly and poor residents. The primary goal is to keep people warm in their homes, the draft report says, but temporary "warming shelters" at unspecified locations in each town should be set up to make sure people have heat and food in a crisis.

Longer term, the state would set a goal of cutting residential energy consumption by 18 percent to 30 percent. At today's prices, cutting consumption by 18 percent could save the state's economy $1.7 billion over 10 years, the draft report estimates.

The report also calculates what it would take to weatherize 477,000 homes over 10 years. The job would require 500 crews and cost $3 billion, with money coming from bonds and below-market-rate loans.

An average house could save $712 a year, assuming oil costs $4.60 a gallon. A challenge, aside from funding the program, would be finding enough energy auditors and insulation contractors to do the work.

The task force also suggests expanding the state's GO Maine van pool and ride-sharing programs, buying more buses and extending passenger rail service. Employers would be encouraged to consider four-day work weeks and telecommuting.

Whatever recommendations emerge, the state plans to create a public education and outreach program supported by an Internet site. It will be part of the recently consolidated energy assistance information at

Greenpeace shaming video

I thought this new video from UK Greenpeace that is doing the rounds on the Internet was interesting, provides a follow-up on yesterday's post about shaming, and is even diagnostic of cultural differences between the UK and US senses of "humour" as well as differences in ordinary people's understandings of the climate change issue in both countries. In the video, an office worker is hazed and shamed by his coworkers because he drives an SUV to work.

In the UK, where comedy and hazing at other people's expense is much commonplace and even more brutal than in this country, and where ordinary people are now very concerned about climate change, Greenpeace could expect to succeed with a video like this.

In the US, I would expect this video would just cause resentment and a backlash.

I showed it to Aimee, and she said that the first few minutes were incomprehensible to her because the hazing that was going on was so subtle. After that she got the idea, but it still didn't translate that well.

Two countries forever "separated by a common language."

What I thought was really funny was not the video, but the comments, which were just riddled with confusion and indignity first on the part of Americans, and then from Brits in response.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shame as green policy

From The Independent

California to shame the owners of gas-guzzlers

By Guy Adams in Los Angeles
Wednesday, 9 July 2008

As if sky-rocketing petrol prices weren't already hurting them enough, the drivers of America's fleet of Hummers, monster trucks, and gas-guzzling SUVs are about to suffer sustained public humiliation, courtesy of the green lobby.

The state of California has announced plans for all new vehicles to carry "global warming" stickers next to their number plate, giving car owners – and their fellow motorists – an instant assessment of their carbon footprint.

Under the scheme, which became law this week, a "global warming score" and "smog score" of between one and 10 will appear on green information labels. The higher each score, the more environmentally friendly the car.

In the short term, authorities hope to help consumers choose vehicles with low carbon footprints. In the longer term, it is designed to turn SUV driving into a social taboo on a par with smoking cigarettes. "This label will arm consumers with the information they need to choose a vehicle that saves gas, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps fight smog all at once," said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board. "Consumer choice is an especially powerful tool in our fight against climate change."

Green stickers are expected to start appearing later this month. New York has its own version of the labelling scheme due to take effect in 2010.

Whether the stickers work or not, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's commitment to reduce vehicle emissions by 30 per cent in the next eight years is already being helped by petrol prices that have broken $4.50 (£2.25) a gallon – a 400 per cent increase in the past five years – leading to an unprecedented drop in road use, and a collapse in the market for bigger cars.

Right-wing commentators, who call the most popular hybrid vehicle the "Toyota Pious", have branded the scheme as illiberal. They say it will add more bureaucracy to the state's already bloated vehicle licensing authority.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Deal is struck to save Plum Creek lands in MT

Some of these places were at a similar stage to the Moosehead Lake project right here in Maine. Now they will never be developed.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Structural or cyclical?

The following article from Polly Ghazi of the Guardian seems a bit vapid in its portrayal of new trends in the US economy: gas prices, commuting, housing, and car buying preferences.

But the fundamental question is not at all vapid. Are recent trends permanent? Or just part of a business cycle? CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler really want to know, as do most major investors.

Based on my none too expert 15 years or so of fiddling with oil data and simple oil depletion models, I tend to think that they are permanent, and reflect the long term decline of oil reserves as we pass "Hubbert's Peak," which is a 40-year decline the way I read the reserve data and the prognosis for new supply. (Which would include Iraq.)

But during this 40 years there will be fluctuations around the mean of the downward trend that seem cyclical at the time they occur, on timescales of a few months to a few years. These will be due to the basic systems math of oil depletion: high price causes conservation, a delaying feedback, albeit linear in function; while economic growth causes exponential decline, an accelerating feedback, exponential in function.

To get an idea of these short term cyclical trends superimposed on a long term downward trend, just look at the oil production data. You can easily see the cycles in the time series. The only difference is, until last year, the long term production trend was up, despite the cycles. This line will now, very slowly, start to turn south on us.

If this is too much theory for you, you can just read the article now.


Gas guzzlers and 'ghostburbs'

High oil prices are having a dramatic effect in the US, with public transport riding high and SUV production falling. Now, energy policy has moved to centre-stage in the coming presidential election. Polly Ghazi reports

* Polly Ghazi
* The Guardian,
* Wednesday July 2, 2008