Monday, October 30, 2006

Lost Guns?!

I thought we were in Iraq to stop terrorists, not give them guns! A story in today's NY Times reported that the serial numbers of hundreds of thousands of guns paid for by American tax dollars and shipped to Iraq were not recorded. Of 505,093 individual weapons given to the Iraqi government, serial numbers for only 12,128 of them were recorded. These weapons included rocket propelled grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, shotguns, semi-automatic pistols, and sniper rifles. Granted, only 370,000 of them were paid for by U.S. tax payers and only about 15,000 of them are missing, but try telling that to the parents, siblings, spouses, children, and/or friends of the U.S. soldiers gunned down by their own country's weapons. I'd usually make a wry, sardonic comment at this point, but I'll let the facts do the talking for me.
As someone who supported the war at its outset for the explicit reasons of capturing weapons of mass destruction and deposing Sadam Hussein, this blogger has seen the error of his ways in allowing an equivocating, self-righteous, imperialist government take our country anywhere, let alone to war. This election is a prime example; many Democrats are shifting right, trying to appeal to moderate voters and Republicans are running away from the President. How can we expect an honest, concerted effort to reform not only our own government, but the one being propped up in Iraq, if our officials are running to check the latest polls before every speech? I believe that in all things, we reap what we sow, including politics. If our nation's capitol is besieged by money-grubbing, pork-barrelling politicians and lobbyists, what type of government should we expect in Iraq? So before we go picking at the speck of sawdust in Sadam's eye, we should have pulled the plank out of our own. Instead of bombing Baghdad, we should have figured out what we needed to do here at home first. Now, we're caught like Wylie Coyote in trap of our own design and the shadow of the boulder about to smack us is getting bigger...

Wake Up America!

I just read an article in the NY Times about the impending energy crisis and need for greater R&D in alternative energy technologies. According to the article, federally funded research for alterniative energy has declined to $3 billion, down from $7.7 billion in 1979. Why in the hell are we going backward? To put our nation's priorities in perspective, spending on military research is now $75 billion and total defense spending in 2006 reached $439 billion. So, instead of exporting solar panels or windmills, we export guns. I guess the proverb about feeding a man once or teaching a man to fish so he can feed himself left out an option: have others do it and kill them with a U.S.-made submachine gun if they refuse. How can we expect to improve our world if we are still playing the same old game? Time to wake up, America. We need to build railroads, solar panels, ethanol stills, and windmills, not bombs!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Conservation of Biomass

A well known conservationist and entrepenuer, William McDonough, came up with three principles that I think everyone in America and the world should know about.
#1. Waste equals food. If we can eliminate the concept of waste, everything becomes a product that can be consumed, another product to use. By adopting this principle, resources are maximized because the end product can be incorporated back into the system without being refined. Most importantly, this will eliminate pollution and reduce the need for primary resources, allowing nature time to replenish.

#2. Use the current natural income. Nature does not mine capital reserves. Most businesses would suffer by relying only on capital reserves. The same is true for nature. Since the natural world is our ultimate source of income, it does not make sense to abuse resources necessary for the future.

#3. Respect diversity. There are no two places on this earth exactly alike in geography, resources, population, or otherwise. This means that not everyone can reach sustainability in the same way. By allowing people to be innovative in their approach our diversity is maximized to its full potential, which equals respect. For example, the Midwest produces ethanol from corn; in the South, ethanol can be made from leftover cotton residues (stalks, leaves, etc).


As a student of history, I appreciate irony. For instance, our nation's addiction to oil began in the early 1900s when scientests found blending lead with gasoline was less expensive than ethanol, now touted by many (this blogger included) as part of the answer to our current problem. Another irony is that ethanol production is facing the same critical obstacle now that it did back then.
See, most ethanol in the U.S. is made by corn, though some is also made by waste from the beverage and cheese industries as well as sugar beets and sugar cane. These sources, or feedstocks, are starches that are easily broken down into sugars to be fermented but there is a lot of biomass (stalks, leaves, etc) that is not able to be used because it contains cellulosic carbohydrates.
Right now, I don't know much of the science behind this, but from what I've read in numerous scientific reports (works cited below) cellulose is a more complex carbohydrate and requires a different enzyme to catalyze fermentation. This enzyme, from what I understand, can be manufactured, which is where the irony lay: it is the same enzyme that was put on the shelf in the 1920's! Scientists then were trying to find a way to mass produce this enzyme just as scientists are trying to do the same thing today!
The beauty of unlocking cellulosic ethanol is the regenerating supply of feedstocks. Things like paper, paper pulp, paper sludge, municipal waste, forest residue, corn stalks, cotton gin residues, the cane in sugar cane, and dedicated crops like fast growing poplar trees, switch grass, prarie grass, even hemp; the list goes on. There's one company, Arkenol Fuels in Orange County, CA, that estimates as much as 70% of what ends up in landfills is useful to making ethanol! Imagine what would happen if we could harness such a large source of material!
Ethanol and other biofuels are practical, efficient, and clean sources of energy. Our nation’s future health and safety demand that we find alternatives to fossil fuels and the time has come for citizens everywhere to examine what can be done to develop them.