Monday, May 9, 2011

Weekly Roundup

Weekly roundup of all the articles that have been littering my web browser (Firefox 4, of course) the past week or so....

City Schools to Host Local Produce Markets

Good job, Harry! Our very own Harry Edwards, city resident and organic farmer in the New Holland area, first to step up.

Raspberries, cantaloupes, arugula, artichokes and peppers are coming to the parking lots of city schools this summer.
Farmers will be selling fresh produce in neighborhoods that don't have easy access to it, in a push to promote healthy eating here.
Lancaster city, Lancaster General Health and Lighten Up Lancaster have joined forces on the project.
The project was sparked last year when Washington Elementary School, on South Ann Street, asked a farmer to sell produce to students' families. Neighborhood residents started showing up to buy the fruits and vegetables.
Local health officials saw a need, saying parts of the city are "food deserts," areas devoid of supermarkets and affordable, fresh foods.
Renewables Can Outstrip Demand

While the cost to do this may be $12.3 trillion over 20 years, the cost of not doing anything is tremendously higher. One estimate of the cost to "adapt" (read: "suffer") is over $1.2 quadrillion. Spend now, spend less.

Wind and solar power are among six renewable energy options that have the potential to outstrip total world energy needs and may grow as much as 20-fold over the next four decades, a draft United Nations report said.
Geothermal, biomass, solar, wind, hydropower and electricity from the ocean’s waves and tides could more than meet the global energy needs for power, heating and transport based on 2008 demand, according to the study by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.
In practice, less than 2.5 percent of that potential will be used, the panel said, basing the finding on four scenarios out of 164 examined in the UN’s biggest assessment of alternative energy. A shift to low-carbon energy will require a global investment of as much as $12.3 trillion by 2030, it said.
Wherefore the Cost of Power?

US electricity prices are low by world standards. One reason? We reward people for wasting energy. Elsewhere, the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) increases the more you use. Here it drops. Other nations also tax energy more, and then use the money to implement smart policies, such as increasing efficiency and fostering renewable energy supply. Here? We subsidize the dirtiest fuels at six times the rate of clean energy.

We often talk about electric rates as if the only thing that goes into determining them is the power source.  In some sense, this is right:  If a utility’s power costs go up, and nothing else changes, the price they charge consumers will likely eventually go up.
But, this understanding doesn’t fully appreciate the role of rate design in determining what the rate will be.  When utilities – and utility regulators – design an electricity rate, they make numerous decisions that impact the price that consumers will ultimately pay, regardless of power source.  Ignoring these other decisions can lead to lazy thinking about rate impacts, which can ultimately lead to poor decision making.

The Transition US Daily

A new online paper sponsored by Transition US.

China to Exploit Shale Gas

Ouch. There goes the water supply of over a billion people? I find it pretty interesting that they're estimating 30 years' worth of shale gas in the US alone, as if that somehow means we don't need to think about energy policy for that period of time. 30 years is not that long. And in the meanwhile, of course, we'll have trashed our water supplies, our forests, and the atmosphere. And note the paragraph about exporting US shale gas. Energy independence what?

Global reserves of shale gas.
YUANBA, China, April 20 (Reuters) - China has spent tens of billions of dollars buying into energy resources from Africa to Latin America to slake the unquenched thirst for fuel from its growing industry and burgeoning cities.
But China may have more energy riches under its own soil than policy makers in the world's second-largest economy ever dared imagine.
Just over a year ago, Beijing awakened to a technology revolution that has unlocked massive reserves of gas trapped within shale rock formations in the United States.
Once deemed too costly to extract, shale gas has turned around U.S. dependence on foreign gas imports. Just a few years ago, the United States was building scores of expensive facilities to import liquefied natural gas (LNG), looking at booming long-term demand forecasts and wondering which countries would supply the huge volume of imports it needed.
Instead, the United States is turning import facilities into export terminals, because its shale gas reserves are estimated to be big enough to meet domestic demand for 30 years. This is an American dream that China wants to emulate.
"America's shale gas production alone has exceeded that of total Chinese gas output. That gives us a lot of confidence," said Zhang Dawei, deputy director of the Strategic Research Centre for Oil and Gas in the Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR).
China's confidence has been bolstered by a new report of its estimated reserves of shale gas, which shows them to be, by far, the largest in the world.
The U.S. Energy Information Agency in a report last month estimates China holds 36.1 trillion cubic metres (1,275 trillion cubic feet) of technically recoverable shale gas reserves -- significantly higher than the 24.4 tcm (862 trillion cubic feet) in the United States, which has the second-most.
Industry estimates in China peg shale gas resources slightly lower -- but still huge -- at 26 trillion cubic metres (tcm), although they have yet to give their own forecasts of how much of that is recoverable.
Maryland to Sue Chesapeake Energy for PA Fracking Blowout

On April 19, a natural gas hydrofracturing well owned by Chesapeake Energy in Bradford County, PA suffered a blowout.  It spewed “thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.” Brad Johnson has the story of the aftermath.
The spill drained into the Susquehanna River watershed, which feeds Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Maryland’s Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler now “plans to sue the company for violating federal anti-pollution laws” including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA), as a press release issued yesterday explains:
On April 19, thousands of gallons of fracking fluids were released from a well owned and operated by Chesapeake Energy into Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which supplies 45% of the fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay. In his letter, Attorney General Gansler notified the company that at the close of the required 90-day notice period, the State intends to file a citizen suit and seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under RCRA for solid or hazardous waste contamination of soils and ground waters, and the surface waters and sediments of Towanda Creek and the Susquehanna River. The State also intends to seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under the CWA for violation of the CWA’s prohibition on unpermitted pollution to waters of the United States.
“Companies cannot expose citizens to dangerous chemicals that pose serious health risks to the environment and to public health,” said Gansler in the press release. “We are using all resources available to hold Chesapeake Energy accountable for its actions.”
Wake Up! The Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever
So says Jeremy Grantham, self-described "die-hard contrarian" and hedge fund manager

Summary of the Summary
The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate, and this has caused a permanent shift in their value.  We all need to adjust our behavior to this new environment. It would help if we did it quickly.
  • Until about 1800, our species had no safety margin and lived, like other animals, up to the limit of the food supply, ebbing and fl owing in population.
  • From about 1800 on the use of hydrocarbons allowed for an explosion in energy use, in food supply, and, through the creation of surpluses, a dramatic increase in wealth and scientifi c progress.
  • Since 1800, the population has surged from 800 million to 7 billion, on its way to an estimated 8 billion, at minimum.
  • The rise in population, the ten-fold increase in wealth in developed countries, and the current explosive growth in developing countries have eaten rapidly into our fi nite resources of hydrocarbons and metals, fertilizer, available land, and water.
  • Now, despite a massive increase in fertilizer use, the growth in crop yields per acre has declined from 3.5% in the 1960s to 1.2% today. There is little productive new land to bring on and, as people get richer, they eat more grain-intensive meat. Because the population continues to grow at over 1%, there is little safety margin.
  • The problems of compounding growth in the face of fi nite resources are not easily understood by optimistic, short-term-oriented, and relatively innumerate humans (especially the political variety).
  • The fact is that no compound growth is sustainable. If we maintain our desperate focus on growth, we will run out of everything and crash. We must substitute qualitative growth for quantitative growth.
  • But Mrs. Market is helping, and right now she is sending us the Mother of all price signals. The prices of all important commodities except oil declined for 100 years until 2002, by an average of 70%. From 2002 until now, this entire decline was erased by a bigger price surge than occurred during World War II.
  • Statistically, most commodities are now so far away from their former downward trend that it makes it very probable that the old trend has changed – that there is in fact a Paradigm Shift – perhaps the most important economic event since the Industrial Revolution.
  • Climate change is associated with weather instability, but the last year was exceptionally bad. Near term it will surely get less bad.
[JR:  Well, it may get less bad, but not "surely." This year is pretty extreme already and 2012 could be as bad or worse than 2010, according to Hansen here.]
  • Excellent long-term investment opportunities in resources and resource efficiency are compromised by the high chance of an improvement in weather next year and by the possibility that China may stumble.
  • From now on, price pressure and shortages of resources will be a permanent feature of our lives. This will increasingly slow down the growth rate of the developed and developing world and put a severe burden on poor countries.
We all need to develop serious resource plans, particularly energy policies. There is little time to waste.

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