Saturday, October 20, 2012

We the Climate Ostriches?

Are we Americans ostriches?  Why in these presidential debates nothing has been said about the climate change.  How many of us truly realize that the overwhelming scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is trapping heat in the atmosphere, with potentially catastrophic long-term effects.
Obama and Romney failed to address our increasing  ecological disasters in the debates.  While they have talked about extracting ever-larger quantities of oil, natural gas and coal no discussion has been made of their serious economic and environmental impacts.
Romney did falsely attacked Obama in the first debate on his failure with creating green jobs.  Yes a few did fail, however, most were a huge success . In the second debate, Romney spoke about how the President “has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal.”  Romney declared, if elected, would be all three. Obama countered, “We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years.” “Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.”  Does anyone still remember what happen in the Gulf Oil Spill?
Where is public opinion about our future global ecological challenges?  Yes Obama does cite that his administration has invested in alternative energy technologies, such as wind and solar, however, he fails to talk about lessening greenhouse emissions and thus do not contribute to atmospheric warming.
Romney deludes us with about “North America[n] energy independence.”  This is a myth in since the international energy market sets the price of oil is a global supply and demand. Also experts predict that we heavily rely on foreign energy sources way into the future.  Even if we extract all the oil and natural gas be produced in the United States, Canada and Mexico energy prices will not fall.  Natural price is localized since it harder to transport over long distances.  Also the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — to pump huge quantities of natural gas, and the price is already quite low yet enormous environmental impacts have yet to be fully understood.  Also fracking has been mostly unregulated and subsidized undermining alternative energy markets with providing lots of cheap fracked gas.  Fossil fuels enjoy much greater  corporate welfare.
Both Romney and Obama are pro-coal.   However Obama champions we he calls “clean coal” technology, which is a contradiction terms or more political rhetoric.  The bottom-line is of we wish to lessen carbon emissions; burning coal is the source of the problem.  
So both Obama and Romney say they accept the findings of climate scientists are correct about the warming of the atmosphere.  Yet they both fear talking or addressing this issue because  of public opinion polls.  Like Congress we are cowards to even to show by example to lessen our impacts so to influence big emitters such as China, India and Brazil to do their part.  However, California and other states are taking the lead. Simply this issue of climate change has serious security and future implications.   Not being truthful about the full ramifications of  different energy sources has resulted in robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Using inexpensive fossil fuel now have enormous future costs jeopardizing our next generations.
Unfortunately this presidential campaign reflects Americans unwillingness to address climate change.  Because it is a delicate and tricky subject both Obama and Romney have opted to play it safe and ignore one the most detrimental issues in our lifetime.  Leaders are supposed to lead not just follow public opinion.   It is a pity since our symbol of the eagle is now looking more like an ostrich.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Water, Food and Climate Weirdness

The recent drought shows how our hottest summer on record impacts our food and water.  In the past week this lack of water grew by the size of the State of Alabama and still we have many weeks to go of potential excessive heat.  Not since the 1930’s has half of the continental United States suffered such a widespread and severe drought. The worst-hit area is the Great Plains. 

Food prices will also soar with the excessive heat and all-time high temperature records. More than half of all U.S. counties have been designated disaster zones and numerous cities have implemented water restrictions.  The dryness and heat keep baking things making it difficult for the land to cool down. US Department of Agriculture have made disaster zone designations for an additional 218 counties in 12 states including Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming. Almost three-quarters of the nation's cattle acreage are now in a drought-stricken area, as is about two-thirds of the country's hay acreage, the USDA cited. 

We are rapidly awakening to how water affects all aspects of our life.  How we use our water is not just about our future, but about our survival.  Beyond the billions who do not have clean water, an emerging consciousness recognizes the critical nature of this universal solvent.  Water is not just life; it connects and touches all living things. Less than one percent of the world’s water is presently consumable.  How we share this precious liquid directly relates to peace and prosperity on this earth.

Just a century ago it was common for many to have to carry water.  A woman in a developing country, on the average, must walk 6 kilometers each day to get freshwater.  Water enables life more than a simple flush of the toilet or drink of water.  So why must we better conserve water? Throughout the world both drought and lack of clean water is alarming.  While most Americans take clean water for granted there are many who lack this essential amenity. This is becoming increasingly true for rural Americans who rely heavily on wells, and springs.

 Polluted water is more of a risk to children and the elderly who are more vulnerable.  Each year hundreds of thousands of low-income American households do not have running water in their homes. Already one-third our world population or two billion people live without safe drinking water. With an additional people 2 billion projected to be borne by 2030 water scarcity is a fact of life.   Here and worldwide have experienced droughts and water shortages forcing us to reexamine water use.

An average person can survive months without food, but only days without water.   Increasingly, we are appreciating how we depend on H20.   Just think. Three fourths of our brain consists of this essential compound.  One way to understand the value of water is to observe it in our own bodies. One-half to two-thirds of the human body is water.  An average adult contains roughly 40 quarts of water and loses several quarts of water per day through normal elimination, sweating and breathing.  Water helps rid the body of wastes, metabolize stored fats, and maintain muscle tone.   We must begin to emulate how our bodies and the earth cycle water if we wish to maintain good health and prosperity.  Ironically less than 1% of the world’s water is available to meet our constantly growing human needs.  Ironically, many of us who drink bottled water do not fully realize where it comes from. 

Increased awareness to stimulate water conservation and quality is critical to preserving our quality of life.  At home, how we use this precious resource says it all. We drink less than 1% of our treated water while we use 99% in other ways.  Our public water systems produce more than 180 gallons per day per person, more than seven times the per capita average in the rest of the world and nearly triple Europe's level. By comparison, the World Health Organization says good health require a total daily supply of about 8 gallons of water per person. We flush an average of 27 gallons per person per day of drinking water down our toilets, 17 gallons per day through our laundry and 14 gallons per day in our showers.  Another tremendous use is of this valuable drinking source is watering our lawns. 

60-90% of the world’s consumable water goes to irrigation. By switching to a landscape dominated by bushes and shrubs, as opposed to grass, you can reduce lawn watering by 80 percent. Simply installing a more efficient shower-head and faucet aerators will save about 7800 gallons of water per year in an average household. 

Wasting drinking water magnifies water pollution.  Polluted runoff from agricultural operations, grazing, animal feeding operations, urbanization and other sources have been blamed for much of today’s water quality impairment. Such pollutants include siltation, nutrients, bacteria, oxygen-depleting substances, metals, pesticides, herbicides, toxic chemicals and other habitat altering materials.

As we deplete our water it becomes increasingly unlikely that we can stabilize water tables.  It takes hundreds and hundreds of years for water to cycle back into new drinking water.  Freshwater systems around the world are being degraded by urbanization, runoff, wetland loss, dams, diversions, and overuse, threatening our ability to support human, animal, and plant life.

Will this drought awaken Americans that the well may run dry if we do not engage in vital conservation and water improvement efforts? Food, water and excessive heat due to climate weirdness all prove that without water our very life will be in peril

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Derecho Wake Up Call

Our region got an experience- a thunder storm on steroids moving at violent speed.   It is called a derecho (duh-RAY'-choh), a straight line wind storm that sweeps over a large area at high speed. Working outside for over 40 years I have seen some hot filthy air and weather.  I gather this may have some reason why latter we got slammed by hurricane winds.  Last night I felt like a tornado was coming. 

This storm created havoc in for tens of millions of Americans after its Friday evening June 29th impact. Coming from the Midwest, it produced tornado-like damage packing wind gusts of up to 90 mph. You can go to to see the graphic pictures of the gust front of "arcus cloud of a derecho front. These storms stretched 750 miles from Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean, causing at least 900 reports of wind damage as well as numerous fatalities and injuries.

My experience with the after effects of this storm is that we are so vulnerable with our dependence on a centralized electric grid and fossil fuels. Both back-up air conditioning systems and bare bone electric battery battery storage technology needs to excel. Ironically, the energy that we power our lives may also be an accessory to stimulating these “heat waves.” Is this a wake-up call for us or will we return to our summer sloth? 

Developing decentralized back-up energy systems has major national security ramifications.  Also we may find “cooler” returns on our vital environmental investments. If we continue to bury our heads in the ground maybe we will find out the earth is getting hotter.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Conserving a Private Empire

Steve Coll’s recent book about Exxon Mobil, “Private Empire,” exemplifies the lobbying might of big oil. As so sadly how we may be robbing Peter to pay Paul.  The company’s profits were $21.3 billion first half of last year shows how money talks in DC.  

Such a special interest hires some 20 additional former senators, representatives, legislative aides and others to influence decisions. When a corporation operates in over 200 nations how do you separate it from our own foreign policy? This firm would rank among the top 30 countries if revenue were counted as gross domestic product

Americans’ belief in climate change also was reframed as a hoax by Exxon Mobil executives. This book documents the undemocratic power of wealth determining our future carbon economy.  Also how our environmental leaders are sleep at the wheel.

ExxonMobil used the argument of lessening poverty in the third world instead of addressing global climate change as the most pressing environmental problems.  Years ago, the ExxonMobil chief said in Beijing. “Addressing these problems will require economic growth, and that will necessitate increasing, not curtailing, the use of fossil fuels.” Coll portrays how in a speech to the Chinese Communist government they show its self-interest at being on top when it comes to annual profits and revenue.

While this Irving, Texas-based oil giant is the one of the most secretive major public corporations in the world, Coll uncovers evidence how ExxonMobil’s dangerously risks with the future of world’s natural resources so to individually profit.

More strike in this book shows how major environmental leaders (e.g. Carol Browner gave no consideration to such an alternative) ignored the opportunity of adopting a favored carbon tax instead for a “cap” and “trade” scheme that was poorly devised.  ExxonMobil cites that cap-and-trade would create a bureaucracy bigger than the IRS.  Here the number one corporation was not brought into some consensus-building compromise on this vital policy.  It is sad the so called “environmental” lobby was out to lunch. 

Also this book tells how former CEO Lee Raymond’s was rewarded with a retirement package of just under $400 million as well as other lucrative packages given to senior managers and executives.

Interesting is how the current CEO  Rex Tillerson revises this company’s position on climate change with showing maybe there is a link between greenhouse gas emissions and raising temperatures when he said, “We know our climate is changing, the average temperature of the earth is rising, and the greenhouse gas emissions are increasing.”  ExxonMobil has done a massive multi-million dollar ad campaign to recruit children to learn science. While ironically this firm has spent similar amount in opposing the findings from 97% of climate scientists about global warming.

Finally Rex Tillerman second assignment as Exxon engineer was working on a drilling technique  recently the rage of Wall Street called hydraulic fracturing or ”fracking”.   Presently, we have an inexpensive, unregulated way to get gas with little understanding of its environmental risks thanks to big oil’s influence.

Gasoline expenses where as little as 2 percent of the American pretax household income in the late 90’s while last summer this has approached 10 percent of household income.   While changing gasoline pricing with impose heavy costs on working- and middle-class homes such apparent economic pains must be balanced with environmental costs if we do not create some type of long term safeguards for our planet.  Who is minding the store?

Interestingly, Standard & Poor’s gave ExxonMobil AAA mark superior to the United States AA meaning our ability to repay lenders is in question.  The greater question who is going to repay future generation’s environmental debt since big oil is quickly cashing in now on what we humans will have to pay latter. 

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Let’s Take Full Inventory of Our Economy

I am always amazed how we talk of economy however pay little attention exactly how we account for stuff. For examples hydraulic frac­tur­ing or "fracking" for natural gas is becoming popular however we still in the dark about its by-products and how they impact our environment. We do understand the price of gas yet we know nothing about their true environmental cost. Few Americans have any idea the value of conservation since we have invested little in profiting from pollution prevention by advocating waste reduction.

Years ago World Resources Materials Flow report (DONALD ROGICH, AMY CASSARA, IDDO WERNICK, MARTA MIRANDA 2008,WRI:ISBN 978-1-56973-682-1 tracked the ebb and flow of how stuff goes through our economy and out into the environment. For example of these 169 materials are toxic substances— such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and others—whose life cycle, reflect the strengths and weaknesses in our national regulatory policies and procedures. Material flows are key indicator of the amount of materials consumed to produce a dollar of GDP.

According this study the U.S. showed more efficient use of fossil fuels, metals and minerals, and renewable resources. However, the trend in per capita consumption of material (a coincident indicator) is increasing, with a rise of some 23 percent over the study period. If the U.S. economy were solidly on a path to sustainability, this indicator would be declining. Meanwhile, total consumption of materials (a lagging indicator) grew 57 percent over the study period, to 6.5 billion metric tons in 2000.

If the United States had been a sustainable economy during this period, we would have avoided the creation of 25 billion tons of waste (and its subsequent disposal into our air and water and onto our land). Certainly in the last few years our economy has not grown and thus we have wasted less. When we become motivated to improved resource management and to shift to environmentally preferable materials a new prosperity will follow. Meeting this challenge will require new approaches and increasingly complex, far-reaching partnerships among government, business, and civil society.

Material flows accounting can provide the common scorecard that all the parties need to facilitate these collaborations and make them successful over the long haul. What is lacking is the political will to conserve. Ironically you would think this be the case since sustainable and efficient economy would be something valued by we, the American people.

The United States needs, and deserves to have, official accounts that capture material flows (and their environmental consequences) as well as they do financial flows. For example if we explore the life cycle of a material like petroleum then we will also see the ramifications of heavy metals and other materials that is hazardous to human health and the environment. Such data on wastes released to the environment in the United States are still largely nonexistent.

It is wise to incorporate material flows analysis since these accounts for the goods into and out of the economy. Also this inventory can act as a fire alarm for potential threats to human health and undesirable changes in natural resources. Without such a detailed database on materials use and consumption, we will continue to be in the dark regarding environmental matters.

 It is time our country takes a deeper inventory of what natural resources we have. Establishing a national material accounting system could enable more effective decision making in both the public and private sectors. Once we can best fully capture the physical and chemical changes observed in materials across time and space in our country we will understand why true full cost accounting is vital for our future economy.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 Used Oil Recycling in the US

I first became aware of the problem of improper disposal of motor oil and of the pollution of my local watershed of Little Falls in Bethesda, MD, which runs into one of the drinking water reservoirs of our nation’s capital in 1976. I was outraged.

My father’s 40-year career as a congressional aide to both the U.S. House’s Ways and Means Committee and to the Senate Finance Committee gave me firsthand exposure to the workings of oil tax subsidies. Ironically, we do little to benefit from oil pollution prevention although more people recycle now than vote. Still, we have a long way to go in dealing with oil waste by-products.

Last year the nation’s leading energy expert estimated that the US spent between $49 billion and $100 billion on energy subsidies in 2007. In the late 1970’s, millions of dollars were given to states following on a multi-billion dollar law suit settlement from oil overcharges awarded to the Department of Energy to promote energy conservation measures. And yet, the efforts for promoting petroleum product stewardship have been greatly under-funded by both the private and public sectors, and if funded,the money was poorly allocated and irresponsibly used.

A 1980 Parade Magazine article , “We Can Stop Wasting our Oil,” brought national attention to DIY oil recovery. This article cited a pitiful 5-10% recycling rate, with 85 million DIYers estimated to be throwing away 200 million gallons of used oil. Why do auto batteries have an 85 percent recycling rate and motor oil only a 20-35 percent recycling rate?

Recently Valvoline ads on the Car Talk radio show and at the Daytona 500 promoting their use of 50% recycled oil inspired me to update my past used oil updates.

Currently, the United States consumes 19.6 million barrels of oil per day. Americans use over 7 billion barrels of oil products annually. The USA, which constitutes 4% of the world’s population, uses over 20% of the world’s oil and produces 22% of climate-altering CO2.

We inject one trillion tons of oilfield waste into deep wells in addition to the 3 billion tons of oil and gas wastes we generate yearly through oil and gas exploration and production in the USA. How much waste is contributed by "fracking" by natural gas is hard to determine. The last publicly-generated report to Congress on this subject was made by the Environmental Protection Agency back in 1986. At the back end, we waste 400 million gallons of used oil and discard hundreds of millions of oil filters yearly in the United States.

Total US motor oil sales have been flat for several years now despite these increases. However the economic recession and financial downturn has probably increased this for the DIY portion; there has been little info in trade journals on the DIY portion. DIY decline is estimated at around. 40%, and or Do-it-For-Me changes are at 60%. It is important to recognize that this is based on the volume of oil sold to DIYers, and likely does not represent the number of DIYers. It is not clear whether the DIYers are driving more miles between changes or if their numbers are declining. Oil Filters

The filter industry has claimed a 50% recycling rate for years, however this is questionable. The filter industry has refused to release any of their data for peer review and is actively engaged in lobbying the Federal, state and local governments to not enact any regulations on the disposal of used oil filters. No other used filter study has come even close to a 50% recycling rate. For example, the California recycling program can only reach 7%. There is no data to make any national claim.

One good indicator to track actual oil changes instead of folks who buy motor oil to “top-off’ the engine is to follow oil filter sales. In 1998 there were 450 million light-duty oil filters sold in the United States, while 778 million light-duty filters were purchased in 2002 according to FMC. However the industry wish not to share their most recent numbers.

The API today is the body that reports on our oil and gas waste. Their Model Used Oil Legislation encourages states to tax motor oil sales to fund used oil recycling programs. California, South Carolina and other states that have a tax on motor oil have the best programs. Follow the money and you will find a management and reporting system. Several decades ago, some states ruled that used oil was a hazardous waste. Several of these states, such as California and South Carolina, developed model programs. However product stewardship is lacking.

Used oil recovery will expand once there is greater producer responsibility. End of life manufacturer responsibility and product stewardship is growing in Europe and Canada, and increasingly in the US (for electronics, mercury lighting, batteries, and carpet). The state tax approach, like California's, is antiquated and relies too heavily on the government and taxpayer. We need to see programs where the product producer is responsible for establishing end of life management for their product. Why should they get a free ride to the disposal or even to the recycling facility, when we don't allow them a free ride on the extraction and production side of getting oil?

Some would disclaim recycling and re-refining of used oil. They claim it is more energy intensive than using virgin feedstock. This only takes recycling out of context. We attribute depletion benefit and other forms of corporate welfare to make oil cheap; recycling is unattractive under the current market conditions because the whole system is designed to facilitate resource extraction.

DIYers though have declined from 60 percent to less than 40 percent. Also in the last 30 years, our energy consumption and population has increased by 40% and vehicle miles driven have increased by 150% . Current economic factors, the need for national filter sales and other factors can give us better feedback of where used motor consumer recovery is at.

In the past six years, the number of motor oil recycling listings included in's Recycling Directory, the largest recycling directory in the U.S., has tripled to 36,000[1]. These community–based locations include auto parts stores, service stations or local government agencies that collect used motor oil. Go to or call 1-800-CLEANUP.

Good public education/outreach and convenient collection locations (ideally curbside collection) are the two key facets to getting consumer participation. Yet, without funding public awareness and a management program these recovery efforts will not properly grow.

Used oil does not only originate from the crankcase drainings of cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, lawn mowers, boats, and planes, but from all types of machinery and industrial applications as well, which may make contamination more likely. Re-refining represents the best attempt to return used oil to its original state.

The draining, recycling, and reusing of used oil filters, bottles and antifreeze also requires increased private, public and government support. Every motor vehicle administration in the U.S. could, at a minimum, promote such recovery.

Increased awareness is essential to stimulate greater support in extending oil changes beyond every 3,000 miles (when applicable), using synthetic oils, utilizing reusable oil filters, oil bottle recovery and used oil and antifreeze recycling. We should follow Valvoline’s lead in purchasing re-refined or recycled motor oils. Further, private/public cooperative efforts may prevent used oil pollution, save energy, and create new forms of commerce. The future will show how used oil can be used again and again.

Ironically as oil supply decreases current interest in addressing this pollution is at an all-time low point both in national awareness and measurement. Two friends of mine, with whom I helped build a used oil recycling plant, later revolutionized golf cleats by founding a company called Softspikes. How can we put so much energy into banning metal golf spikes, while all over the world still dump automotive by-products that menace our drinking water?

Americans still remain in the dark about the present improper disposal of motor oil and other auto by-products. Used oil is not being properly managed, and public health and the environment are being impacted.

How we choose to address the challenge to engage millions of DIY consumers in not just the disposal of oil but hundreds of other toxic products will have significant ramifications. If we can get the golf world to change their type of shoes, then there is hope that we can convince Americans to change their behavior and recycle their automotive by-products.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Deal with a Full Deck for the Best Effect

Recently I did myself a favor. I followed through on a dream. I brought back an old creation. I created Ray CycleTM in 1981 while I was working for the D.C. Energy Office. Working to recycle paper and used oil, I created this educational character for my peace of mind. Later, I traded in my tights and ecology flag cap for a new costume when I got Ray's name trademarked, sharing it with the State of Connecticut. I became a court jester campaigning on April Fools Day at the US Capitol steps, proclaiming, "You are not dealing with a full deck when you throw the joker out!" Comics change their lives to abate tragedy.

Over the past 30 years conserving energy and resources has given many lessons in folly and much wisdom. Many of us still tragically deny with "out of sight, out of mind" or "wasted” mentality. The impacts are multi-dimensional. Just look at our alarming overweight youth or our multi-trillion deficit as a few examples. Any form of waste, denial or neglect threatens our very well being. Yes, more people recycle than vote in the U.S., but our marketplace still subsidizes "ending" over "mending." Americans must redefine our consumerism with a new meaning of conservatism or remain foolish.

Yankee ingenuity will stimulate true economy. Just as George Washington was this nation’s first dedicated composters, re-creating sustainable economic growth comes full circle. Not only does transforming waste will be an investment in our world's prosperity everyone profits from pollution prevention.

Lessening how we pollute our minds must also be addressed if humans wish to excel. As we reframe our attitude to appreciate greater thrift we better our world. Embracing more frugal ways of thinking benefits all of us since such a mind-set counters destructive human sloppiness.

I challenge you to explore this experience. As we show greater respect for people, places and things, we better ourselves and the world. When you save the joker you deal with a full deck. This has a beneficial widening effect. The words "heart" and "earth" have the same five letters. How we go forth can best honor this two inter-connected words. Reframing our present situation with heart and we can also care for the earth, our greater self. The fool now becomes a wizard by show the magic of our a conserving mind-set.

Making my dreams into reality is my greatest gift to myself. See for yourself-
RE Raps aka Ray Cycle

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ray Cycle Raps