The End of Ingenuity

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The New York Times ran a lengthy commentary by Thomas Homer-Dixon on November 29. Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Trudeau Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, is the author of “The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization.”

The commentary may be one of the first to appear on the Op Ed page of a major newspaper and speculate about the end of growth.

Two excerpts follow and the full commentary is here.

. . . The debate about limits to growth is coming back with a vengeance. The world’s supply of cheap energy is tightening, and humankind’s enormous output of greenhouse gases is disrupting the earth’s climate. Together, these two constraints could eventually hobble global economic growth and cap the size of the global economy. . . .

. . . we really need to start thinking hard about how our societies — especially those that are already very rich — can maintain their social and political stability, and satisfy the aspirations of their citizens, when we can no longer count on endless economic growth.

DNR ruling on pipeline expected this week

Monday, November 27, 2006

RENEW Wisconsin previously requested preparation of a full ecnomic impact statement (EIS) on the proposed Enbridge pipeline simply because the sand tars of Canada are not likely to support the pipeline for more than a few years.

A story by Andrew Hellpap in the Marshfield New Herald reports that the DNR may decide this week on whether to order an EIS:

State Department of Natural Resources officials are expected to rule early this week on a proposed petroleum pipeline from Superior to Delavan.

Phase one of Enbridge Inc.'s 321-mile pipeline would cross through the northeast corner of Clark County and diagonally from the northwest corner to the southeast corner of Wood County, intersecting lakes, rivers, forests and wetlands on private and public lands.

The public comment period on a series of DNR permits for construction of the pipeline has ended. About 30 individuals and several environmental groups raised questions about the permits and the environmental impact of the pipeline, said Jeff Schimpff, project manager for the DNR Office of Energy in Madison.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Unstoppable biker Hans Noeldner provided a link to some amusing and insightful quotes about bicycles and automobiles, including these:

"The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart."
~Iris Murdoch, writer (1919-1999)

”The automobile has not merely taken over the street, it has dissolved the living tissue of the city. Its appetite for space is absolutely insatiable; moving and parked, it devours urban land, leaving the buildings as mere islands of habitable space in a sea of dangerous and ugly traffic.”
~James Marston Fitch, New York Times, 1 May 1960

”Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf.”
~Lewis Mumford

New WECC offices include solar

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The solar panels above will add electricity to the new Madison offices of the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation (WECC), administrator of Focus on Energy programs.

Along with other panels not shown, the installations have a rated capacity of more than 19 kW, making them collectively one of the largest installations in the state, second only to an installation on the campus of the UW-Green Bay.

Maybe Amtrak's time has arrived

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dave Zweifel speculates on the future of Amtrack in a Capital Times commentary:
"I have always wondered why the Amtrak debate is so emotional and at times acrimonious. It really needn't be, especially now. At a time of high oil prices, growing highway and airport congestion and record rail freight volumes, we should be embracing rail and developing it as quickly and as responsibly as we can.

"We should get beyond the debate of a few hundred million dollars of operating costs and begin to realize (what) the potential rail passenger service has to offer with the right level of investment and a clearly defined federal policy."

That's just a piece of the refreshing testimony that Amtrak's new president, Alex Kummant, gave to the House Railroads Subcommittee shortly after taking over the job in September.

Renewable energy cleans up in mid-term elections

Friday, November 17, 2006

RENEW's executive director Michael Vickerman offers a perspective on November's elections:

The gale-force winds that reshaped the political landscape this November augur well for new initiatives to substitute fossil fuel use with renewable energy.

To a degree unmatched in previous elections, candidates articulated an energy agenda that emphasized greater reliance on bioenergy, wind, solar, and conservation—and won, often by convincing margins. The renewable energy tide swept through not only both chambers of Congress but also many statehouses across the country. Only the Southeastern states seemed to escape its impact.

Read the full commentary here.

Point's Emy J restaurant heats water with the sun

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The lastest issue of the newsletter from the Citizens Energy Cooperative features a story about the hot water installations of one of the coop's members:

Located in the heart of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is a quaint café which serves a variety of coffee drinks, ice creams and sandwiches. Emy J’s coffee shop and wi-fi hot spot is a charming nitch located in the center of the busy college town. Owner Guy Janssen is dedicated to being environmentally responsible and in the spring of 2006 he had over 150 square feet of solar collectors installed on the roof of his restaurant by Solar Mining Company.

It wasn’t long after the installation on Emy J’s that Guy purchased another renewable energy system, this time for his home. In September of 2006 the Janssen’s had a 320 square foot panel ground mounted at the site of their new home in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The collector which they purchased from the Citizens Energy Cooperative of Wisconsin will be used for both domestic hot water and space heating. The home system that he purchased will be, “heating the hot water and home through the radiant floor system,” said Guy.

More and more often customers of the Citizens Energy Cooperative are choosing, just like Guy did, to have a larger system installed on their home for space heating as well as their domestic hot water needs. The Janssen’s house has a radiant floor system, which is an ideal application for solar hot water. Hot water runs through the system in the floor to heat the house, in conjunction with a solar application– the energy is free from the sun!

If you are interested in receiving more information on the Citizens Energy Cooperative, our products and services or setting up a site assessment, please contact Ashley at 800-504-7331 and take the first step to becoming a satisfied customer like Guy!

Coal plant faces stiff opposition

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An article by Carl Jaeger in The Badger Herald reports on hearings about the UW coal-burning heat and power plant:

The permit for the Charter Street coal plant is up for renewal, and University of Wisconsin students are taking the opportunity to spread environmental awareness.

UW Students in the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group are taking advantage of this opportunity to increase student knowledge about the plant itself and about alternative energy sources. The coal permit determines how much pollution can be emitted into the atmosphere by a particular plant. . . .

WISPIRG, an environmental grassroots organization, said the coal-powered plant uses “dirty technology” and non-renewable fuel sources, which the group calls “outdated,” in a press release.

“We have a very dirty plant on Dayton and Charter,” Lauren Crane, a WISPIRG media intern, told The Badger Herald.

The coal-burning plant on the UW campus is the second worst sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide polluter in Dane County, according to the WISPIRG website. The site also said the UW plant pollutes area lakes and causes global warming pollution.

AG wins suit on appliance efficiency standards

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Fond du Lac Reporter and other newspapers around the country carried the following story:

MADISON — The federal Department of Energy (DOE) will start setting new standards to sharply increase the energy efficiency of many domestic appliances under an agreement reached with several state attorney generals.

Appliances impacted include home ranges, ovens, air conditioners and dishwashers. This action settles a federal lawsuit against DOE brought by New York and a coalition of 14 other states, including Wisconsin, the City of New York and three public interest groups, according to a press release from Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.

Read the full story.

Subsidies for fossil fuels vs. wind

Monday, November 13, 2006

From a fact sheet published by the American Wind Energy Associaiton (AWEA):

U.S. subsidies for oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, and hydro power totaled approximately $500 billion from 1950 to 1977 (in 2004 dollars). In the last century, this investment created an abundance of affordable domestic energy, powering strong economic growth. It also contributed to a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

Today’s rising energy demands – and volatile prices – reveal a need for a more diverse energy supply.

RENEW questions new Wisconsin crude oil pipeline

Friday, November 10, 2006

RENEW Wisconsin requested preparation of a full environmental impact statement (EIS) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the proposal and application of Enbridge Energy, Limited Partners to construct two parallel 321-mile long pipelines through Wisconsin to carry crude petroleum from Alberta tar sands to refineries south of Chicago.

Enbridge Energy must receive numerous permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the pipeline would cross dozens of streams and wetlands.

RENEW Wisconsin submitted comments to the Corps and raised several concerns about the need for the pipeline: 1) How much petroleum can be extracted from the tar sands; 2) how much natural gas will be available for the extraction process; 3) how much the refined petroleum will help U.S. gasoline supplies compared to ethanol production; and 4) how much of the refined product will even reach Wisconsin.

In the end, RENEW said:

Enbridge Energy makes several unsubstantiated and questionable assertions in its application and related materials, and those assertions needs examination from all points of view to be certain they reflect various scenarios for the proposed project.

RENEW Wisconsin requests the opportunity to supply further documentation and testimony on the issues discussed above as part of the preparation of the EIS.

Read the complete letter.

ATC backs study request on Tuesday's ballot

Monday, November 06, 2006

With all the election hoopla, don’t forget the referendum on a study of transmission lines in Dane County. This comes from a story by Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

American Transmission Co. has taken out full-page ads in today's Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times urging a "yes" vote on Tuesday's Dane County referendum on power lines.

The referendum asks county voters whether a new, independent study should be conducted to see if the county truly needs more high-power transmission lines.

It's not that the public utility company in charge of most of those towering lines in Wisconsin thinks the outcome will change. Mark Williamson, ATC's vice president for major projects, called the referendum question "stupid" in a telephone interview Friday. He said it's a moot issue because the state Public Service Commission will conduct a study before deciding whether the lines can be built.

The End of Cheap Oil, The Future of Food

Friday, November 03, 2006

• Oil is a finite resource and world supplies will peak soon.
• Fuel prices will go sky high.
• Trucking food to our supermarkets will not be affordable.
• How will we produce enough food locally to feed ourselves?
• How many farms will we need?
• How will farmers, as well as the rest of us, adjust to the lack of fuel, pesticides and fertilizers?

The West Waubesa Preservation Coalition presents:
The End of Cheap Oil and the Future of Food
Sat., Nov. 11, 10 - 5
Promega BTC Auditorium
5445 E. Cheryl Pkwy.
Fitchburg, 53711
Featuring showings of:

“The End of Suburbia”
(an edited version of the video about Peak Oil and its consequences for America)

“The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”
(a video on Cuba’s response to the “Peak Oil” situation brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 and the end of cheap Soviet oil)

“The New Intervale”
(a documentary on the amazing 700-acre piece of land housing 12 organic farms, a farm incubator, a youth project, composting business and more in Burlington,

“Our Vision for the Northeast Neighborhood”
WWPC’s slide show on our alternative to a massive development just south of the Beltline on the western edge of Fitchburg.

Lots of Q&A, brainstorming and discussion about how to meet the challenge in Dane County.

Cool door prizes and displays from our co-sponsors!

Co-sponsors: Renew Wisconsin/Madison Peak Oil Group, Sustain Dane, Blue Moon Farm

Please download a flyer to circulate or post far and wide.

Draining Canada First

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch
November 2, 2006, Vol. 5, Number 8
Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin

Sating America’s prodigious energy appetite depends on the continued availability of Canadian energy sources. About 25% of the crude oil and 80% of the natural gas imported into the United States come from our very accommodating neighbor to the north. More than half of the fuel pumped out of Canadian wells heads south to keep us Yankees warm and happily tooling about on our highways.

Even though the Canadian economy is no less dependent on hydrocarbon energy than ours, Canada has been drilling as many wells as necessary to keep the high-maintenance American economy humming. If this pedal-to-the-metal production policy were applied to a non-strategic product like, say, maple syrup, few people would care about the consequences. But there is nothing on the horizon to replace the nonrenewable high-density energy sources that Canada so generously sends our way.

This begs the question: how long can Canada go on behaving like America’s most compliant energy colony?

Not very long, according to David Hughes, a petroleum geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada. Speaking before the World Peak Oil Conference held in Boston last week, Hughes painted a remarkably pessimistic picture of Canada’s energy future, especially regarding natural gas.

Continue reading on RENEW Wisconsin's blog.

Declaration of Dependence

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for the people to abandon civic spaces in which daily social and commercial Intercourse have, throughout history, bound neighbour with neighbour, customer with merchant, tradesman with client, manufactory with location, and citizen with community; and to indiscriminately pursue unfettered Motion and Isolation in the separate Vehicles to which their incomes entitle them; an unquestioning obeisance to the demands of motorized Movement requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all Motorists are created more equal than non-motorists; that they are endowed by Our Lord Economic Growth with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are the Right to drive wherever, whenever, and as much as they desire; and to do so in whatever size and type motor Vehicle shall please them; and that, moreover, they are entitled to as much Energy and motoring Infrastructure as shall prove needful for these purposes. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among oil Companies, motor vehicle Manufacturers, the highway Lobby, and the land development Cabal, deriving their just Powers from Consumers as evidenced by their vehicle purchases, fuel consumption, and selection of residences that make Driving a “necessity”. That whenever any Form of historic municipal arrangement impedes the right to drive and park without limitation, it is the duty of departments of Transportation, acting on behalf of Motorists, to alter or to demolish it, and institute a new Master Plan, laying its foundation on an expansive Network of limited-access Highways, Streets wide enough for two ladder-type fire Trucks to pass with parked vehicles on both sides, turn Lanes, access Roads, drive Aisles, and abundant off-street Parking, as to the Motorists shall seem most likely to effect their Motoring Ease.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that city and village Designs long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that Motorists were sometimes disposed to suffer, while evils were yet sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Delays to which they had become accustomed. But when traffic Bottlenecks persist into the 21st Century, and insufficient free Parking near the front door of their every Destination continues to impede not merely the Motorist but Progress itself, it is the Motorists’ right, indeed it is his duty, to condemn and pave over such confined Spaces, and to provide, moreover, abundant Capacity for future traffic Growth.

This message is brought to you as a public service by Hans Noeldner, 608-444-6190. Although I am a trustee for the Village of Oregon, the views herein are my own.