This post is brought to you by Curt Rosengren ~ Passion Catalyst TM "Love your work. Change your world."
Here's something to give you pause. Just about everything you eat is dripping with oil. Not literally, of course, but you might be surprised at just how much fossil fuel it takes to process and deliver that food to your table.
Here's an article from a year ago that offers a great perspective. In a nutshell...
According to researchers at the
University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an average of more
than 7 calories of fossil fuel is burned up for every calorie of energy we get
from our food. This means that in eating my 400-calorie breakfast, I will, in
effect, have consumed 2,800 calories of fossil fuel energy. (Some researchers
claim the ratio is as high as 10 to 1.)
But this is only an average. My cup of coffee gives me just a few calories
of energy, but to process 1 pound of coffee requires more than 8,000 calories
of fossil-fuel energy -- the equivalent energy found in nearly a quart of
crude oil, 30 cubic feet of natural gas or about 2 1/2 pounds of coal.
So how do you gauge how much oil went into your food?
First check out how far it traveled. The farther it went, the more oil it
required. Next, gauge how much processing went into the food. A fresh apple is
not processed, but Kellogg's Apple Jacks cereal requires enormous amounts of
energy to process. The more processed the food, the more oil it requires. Then
consider how much packaging is wrapped around your food. Buy fresh vegetables
instead of canned, and buy bulk beans, grains, and flour if you want to reduce
How much is it costing you to leave that lightbulb on all night? What does it cost to run that vacuum cleaner, or fill that bathtub every day? Any time we can take something out of the abstract and make it specific and concrete, it helps make it more real. If you happen to be in the US, this energy cost calculator is a great tool to give you a sense of what you're actually spending to operate the individual electric devices in your home.
It stands to reason that the more the renewable energy market expands, and the more money and investment goes into it, the more career opportunities there will be. Here's a piece on ScienceCareers.org outlining some of the sustainable energy career trends.
Want to know how much energy that washer and dryer uses? Or that large refrigerator? How about that coffee maker?
Check out the energy calculator. It lets you plug in some numbers (e.g., how many, and how many hours of use?) and estimates the number of kilowatt hours used over the course of a year and how much that useage costs.
Take a car race from a century ago, add a dose of adventure, a dollop of history and a healthy serving of future fuel perspective, and what do you get? The Great Race 2008.
In 1908, six cars started an around-the-world race from New York to Paris. Three finished, and the American car won.
Rally Partners Inc. is planning to celebrate that event in 2008 with another New York-to-Paris race, and is offering a purse totaling $1 million.
Organizers this time hope to sign up 40 teams - 20 driving vintage automobiles and 20 driving vehicles with the latest in "green" technologies.
"Much like the 'Greatest Auto Race' proved the combustion engine a practical solution for motor travel, the Great Race 2008 will test and prove automotive propulsion technologies that will transport the world's citizens in the 21st century," said Bill Ewing, chief executive officer of Rally.
Here's a good MSNBC article giving an overview of the alternative energy situation in the US.
As usual, part of it focuses on the fact that we're decades from weaning ourselves off oil. Here's a quote that puts it in perspective...
“Frankly, even if we had the technology right now to supplant the
current energy system with something new and sustainable that was cheap
and wonderful it would still take us several decades to do it because
its such a big enterprise,” said Richard Smalley, a Nobel-prize winning
physicist at Rice University in Houston. “But we don’t even remotely
have that right now. And even if we get really intent about this we'd
be lucky to get those breakthroughs with the next 10 to 20 years.”
Just because something is tagged as "alternative energy" doesn't mean it's an inherently good option. So says Andrew Kantor in USA Today. He takes some pot shots at both ethanol and electric cars.
But there are a bunch of problems with ethanol. First, it doesn't have as much energy as gasoline, which means it takes about 1.5 gallons of ethanol to get you as far as one gallon of gas.
Ethanol also requires a lot to produce it — 26 pounds of corn to get a gallon, in fact. And growing corn requires lots of water and fertilizer and pesticide, not to mention the energy required to distill it into ethanol.
And by-products of that distillation include (according to the EPA) acetic acid, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and methanol, all of which are pumped into the air. Yum.
It boils down to this: Ethanol sounds good, but the energy required to produce it, and the pollutants it generates, mean it's arguably worse for the environment than gasoline, especially considering the cleanliness of today's engines.
And electric cars...
Aside from the few folks who have their roofs covered with solar cells, we get our electricity from generators. Generators are fueled by something — usually a hydrocarbon (coal, oil, diesel) but also by heat generated in nuclear power plants. (There are a few wind farms and geothermal plants as well, but by far we get electricity by burning something.)
In other words, those "zero-emissions" cars are likely coal-burning cars. It's just the coal is burned somewhere else so it looks clean.
He's got some interesting points. If we're going to make intelligent decisions about energy alternatives in the future, it's vital that we talk about the downsides of the options as well, not the warm fuzzy parts that make us feel good.