Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Australia-just another pawn on the barbie?

News from downunder tells us that Australian politicians are ready once again to sell their copious mineral wealth to anyone for anything.; http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=2&ObjectID=10374822 . Of course there is little consideration for the indigenous peoples who use the land (that gets mined) for other reasons. For example;
http://www.whoseland.com/event3/paged.html .

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Warning! All vegetarians might like to move on to the posting above or below this one now - this is for meat eaters only!

For those of us who like our protein in concentrated easy to digest portions - and that's an ever more rapidly growing constituency - crunch time (or was that lunchtime) is here. In the West animal feed technologies and animal husbandry practices mean that for every 2.5 kg of plant proteins we feed to our livestock (we are talking beef here), we get 1kg of high quality protein for human consumption. A lot of what the livestock is eating is made up of proteins and other nutrients that wouldn't available to us if they didn't process it for us first (not without a lot of mechanical or chemical processing, and who wants that?). The amount of vegetable protein verses the resulting meat protein is called the conversion ratio i.e. 2.5:1.

The crunch comes where it almost always does these days and that's from developing nations. As affluence has spread so has meat consumption; however, the typical conversion ratio in developing countries is around 8.5:1! To put this into perspective, if all of us were to eat the same amount of meat as the average person from a developed country but grown at a developing country's conversion rates, nearly third of the Earth's land surface would need to be put over the production animal feed stuffs.

We need to 'grasp the nettle' and come up with an equitable solution that will allow us to 'have our c(ste)ak(e) and eat it'. Maybe GMOs are the way to go (higher yields, more protein), or maybe its technology transfer (show developing countries how to do more with less). Any ideas?

(And for all those NEO-CONS out there - 'leaving it to market forces' is how we got into this mess in the first place).

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Woking is at the frontline

The above public baths in Woking uses a fuel cell CHP system. Woking is working more than anywhere within the UK to reduce its carbon emissions. See http://www.theclimategroup.org/index.php?pid=548 .

Fuel Cell-abration

Pictured above is a laptop powered by hydrogen; one of many applications being designed to fit into the new 'hydrogen economy'. That is at least the hope of many who are looking for the next big sustainable energy market. Many countries and cities are claiming to be leading the pack with investment into the ideas and products needed to make the hydrgen economy a reality. The London Hydrogen Partnership is just one such organisation; http://www.lhp.org.uk/ .

More information on fuel cells at; http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/FuelCellToday/EducationCentre/EducationCentreExternal/EduCentreDisplay/0,1741,PressKitHome,00.html .

Dr Francis “Tom” Bacon developed the first practical working fuel cell that was used in the Apollo space programme. He was concerned about the impact of fossil fuels on the environment and wanted to modify this technology for use as a clean, efficient source of electricity and heat.

Many companies are looking to make the hydrogen economy at reality. One such company is http://www.hydrogenics.com/ . This is the future of energy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Energy Amplification at CERN.

Very interesting energy developments at the CERN research centre in Switzerland. Something known as 'energy amplification' could deal with our growing energy needs as well as the nuclear waste problem;

http://public.web.cern.ch/Public/Content/Chapters/AboutCERN/ResearchUseful/Future/Future-en.html .

Friday, March 10, 2006

Poor in the USA

Poverty lies at the heart of the current debates about globalisation, climate change and other environmental issues. The USA is held up as the prime example of a rich economy, something to which all others can aspire and work towards. Following the US model will reap inevitable rewards. But exactly how rich is the US? Or, to put it another way, just how much poverty exists there?

The statistical methods used to calculate poverty in the US today are based on 40-year-old thresholds that set a poverty line at three times the annual cost of feeding a family of three or more. Many of the key assumptions were derived from Department of Agriculture surveys from the mid-1950s.
The joke is that these thresholds are still in use today. The only significant change has been the introduction of index linking. The official number of Americans in poverty grew slightly in 2004 to 12.7 percent from the 12.5 percent recorded the previous year, representing about 37 million Americans. Since 2000, the number of people living in official poverty has increased by 5.4 million. All this is bad enough, and starkly at odds with the robust, optimistic image of the US
economy projected in George W. Bush’s State of the Union address. However, there is widespread concern over inadequacies in the system.

  • Food doesn’t account for one-third of a family’s budget today, making it an unrealistic cost-of-living measure.
  • The model fails to take into account housing, transportation or health care—which together can amount to more than triple the average cost of food.
  • The model also ignores regional variations, childcare costs and the growth of single-parent families.

There are fears that the Census Bureau is deliberately undercounting the number of poor Americans for political purposes, with significant implications for future budget policy. Alternative ‘realistic’ calculations arrive at real numbers between 18 percent (48 million) and 25 percent, or more than 70 million Americans currently unable to afford the most basic necessities.

With Peak Oil almost upon us, the outlook can only get bleaker for the United States’ forgotten underclass.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I have always been a big fan of the US space programme and its ability to deliver on spectacular missions like the Mars Rovers, Cassini, Galileo Stardust and NEAR to name but a few. Not so high profile have been the earth monitoring satellites that have played a significant if not pivotal roll in alerting us the effects of climate change, ozone depletion, deforestation and natural disasters.

Last year President Bush set out his new vision for NASA; a manned space program based around the permanent return to the moon before 2020, and then on to Mars. These are laudable goals, and in my opinion will certainly bring huge technological, cultural and scientific benefits.

However, NASA’s annual funding has only increased a few percent and by no where near enough to achieve the new vision without other programmes having to suffer.

At a time when we need as much reliable and accurate data from ‘our eyes in the sky’ and the current space-based network is due for replacement almost all of the new programmes are being delayed or cancelled.

Even the Deep Space Climate Observatory has been cancelled, a satellite that would have provided valuable information about how clouds, snow cover, airborne dust and other phenomena affect the balance between the amount of sunlight Earth absorbs and the amount of heat energy it emits. It would have been able to observe the entire sunlit surface of the planet constantly. Such observations could greatly enhance scientists' understanding how much the planet has warmed in recent years and help them predict how much warmer it will get in the future.

Surely the US has the resources and the wisdom and the vision to pursue both types of programme. Or is this just another example of the Bush administration’s lack of ability to grasp the seriousness of the environmental crises that looms just a few years ahead of us for the sake of national prestigue on the cheep.

Didn’t a former President once say something along the lines of “we choose to go to the moon, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” come on Mr Bush do the hard but right thing, give us back our eyes.

Race you to the FINISH.

Photo: http://lijiangsong.blogbus.com/files/1128568470.jpg

An article in a recent hardcopy edition of the IHT http://www.iht.com/ reported an impending deal between Aluminum Corp. ( or Chalco) of China and the Queensland government of Australia to mine a 650 million metric ton Aurukin bauxite deposit. It will be the single largest investment in Australia and secure much needed material used to make aircraft and car bodies.

The Chinese government owns 70% of Chalco and it is companies like this that have been ordered by their government to scour the world for raw materials in order to meet the nation's demand for cars, homes and appliances. The Queensland bauxite deposit could produce enough aluminum for 2.5 million Boeing 747-400 aircraft.

Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP

Bush has just left India, leaving the Indians in no doubt that the US is keen to speed up business and trade between the two countries, even throwing the nuclear question into the wind. This has been read as an attempt to counter-balance the growing Chinese power in the region, even though it is largely the Americans who have courted business dealings with China over the last 20 years.

The race is on to snap up the resources of the world for the big development push of the 21st Century....the race to the finish. Concerns over climate change will not be allowed to get in the way of this orgy of power and struggle for supremacy.