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Energy and Food cost linked

June, 2008

Conrad LeBeau

Soaring gas prices have been in the national news every day for the past several months. With the world demand for oil growing and world oil production staying at 85 million barrels per day for the past 3 years, a perfect storm of sorts has emerged - fueled by investment bankers on Wall St who bid into the energy futures markets and drive up prices by the day if not by the hour.

With the US population growing by 100,000 people per month and the world population growing by 6 million per month, a permanent crisis in energy and food shortage and global warming is now upon us. There are a number of factors driving the world wide energy and food crisis.

First a growing middle class in India and China are trading-in their bicycles for cars. Millions of these new cars are like new mouths waiting to be fed their daily ration of gasoline or diesel fuel. The crisis is also driven by using corn and sugar cane to make alcohol to put in cars thus reducing food supplies for dairy animals like beef, poultry and hogs. Putting food into our gas tanks is literally taking it off our tables.

In many oil-producing countries, the price of gasoline is subsidized by the government and is dirt cheap - like 12 cents a gallon in Venezuela or 40 cents in Iran. In Germany, one BMW owner recently threw fuel on his car and lit it on fire to protest $9.00 a gallon gas that is twice the price of gasoline sold in the United States. Where oil is cheap there is no incentive to conserve and reduce consumption. This spring, US consumption of gasoline has declined along with SUV and low mileage vehicles sales.

Bee colonies sudden death

In addition, bee colonies are dying off worldwide at an alarming rate and this will impact food production in negative way resulting in tens of billions of dollars in food loss. Cellular relay phone towers and electronic radio and television broadcasts from satellites could be interfering with the bees navigation system and causing the massive die-offs.

Detroit caught by surprise. Sales of gas guzzlers plummet

Lobbyists from the US auto industry have for the past 25 years or more lobbied Congress successfully against raising the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and SUVs. While Toyota's Corrolla sales have been soaring recently (40 mpg), its low mileage trucks (in the 20's or lower for mpg) have taken a sharp decline. This decline has been shared by FORD, GM and Chrysler and other car makers who are closing or shutting down assembly lines for the poorest selling SUVs, Trucks and gas guzzling cars.

Credit Card Debt and Foreclosures

The US economy is further strained by massive debt and home foreclosures not seen since the early 1980's. Add to this a declining wage base and a middle class that is struggling to stay afloat and we have millions of people in a strained financial condition. Now that is the dilemma of the working middle class while tens of millions of retirees or want to be retirees have now joined those at or near the poverty level in the struggle to make it from paycheck to paycheck.

The federal government cheats social security recipients on COLA

The new retirees or Baby Boomers find that they cannot make end meet on social security income. Few of them have pensions and the people collecting SSI or SSD have taking entitlement cuts in pay for many years. This is because the Cost of Living Index as calculated by the government does not include food and energy.

There are three major reforms to social security that are needed now and political leaders worth their pay and the people must rise up and be heard in Congress if real reform is to happen. The changes that are needed immediatley are:

1. $1000 monthly minimum. Raise the minimum social security payment of anyone 65 years of older who receives social security to $1000 a month. Pay for it out of the current annual 50 billion surplus in Social Security revenue that is collected each year and has been squandered on other pet projects of Congress.

2. Restore Food and Energy to the Cost of Living Index and stop lying to the public about the real rate of inflation.

3. Eliminate the ceiling for taxing personal income subject to social security. With no ceiling, social security will be indefinitely and sufficiently funded.

Barefoot and pregnant - the world population crisis

Leaders of various religions are unwittingly contributing to the world energy and food crisis by continuing to tell their devoted followers to not use birth control methods. Mankind has been fruitful and has multiplied for thousand of years. As the population continues to grow at a rate of 70 plus million people each year, the energy and food resources of the planet continues to shrink and decline. A question that need answering very soon is how many people can this planet support?

We have read in the past about women who have had 30 or more children. This is still happening in some cultures. In many overpopulated nations like India and Africa, children are being born into the world without food, nutrition, clean water or medicine.

Is it ethical to bring children into such misery simply because people can do it? In my opinion, it is unethical for a couple who cannot provide for their own dietary and nutritional needs to bring children into this world to starve to death?

Is it ethical for religions to encourage couples who cannot feed themselves to continue to have children by avoiding all methods of birth control? I doubt it.

These are serious ethical questions and unfortunately most of the major religious leaders of the world are silent on these issues or asleep at the switch. In the real world, abstinence alone will not stop sexual activity that leads to an ever increasing population. Clearly, more effective birth control methods need to be taught or offered to the public. Preventing unwanted pregnancies is the most effective way of preventing abortions.

The government should offer as a free medical service "tying the tubes" of men and women who want to prevent a pregnancy. This service should be offered free for all sexually active persons who request it. Furthermore, a cash bonus should be offered for all drug addicts, alcoholics, felons, the disabled and mentally ill who want to be sterilized by this simple surgical procedure. Persons who get pregnant and have addictions or are unemployed are the first to run to the abortion clinics. It is time to put the abortion clinics out of business by more effectively preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Going "Green"

Reducing the carbon footprint by going green is now not just something for tree huggers and environmentalists to champion, it is now the new mantra among the world's energy giants from Exon Mobil to BP "British Petroleium" (now marketed as "Beyond Petroleum"). Exon Mobil is now researching and buying into lithium battery technology. The resulting patents and market control are making lithium batteries so expensive that they will not be cost competitive against gasoline. Look at the outrageous price of the Toyota Prius with its lithium battery as compared to the Toyota Corolla. It is clear that dollar for dollar, the Corolla is a much better buy.

A high gas mileage 4 cylinder car that has an engine of 1.6 liters or smaller is a better buy for the money than the lithium battery hybrid cars. Add stick shift and an overdrive option and you can get 40 MPG on the highway as I do with my older Nissan Sentra (using Shell V-Power).

Where were these Big Oil companies for the past 30 years when the auto industry lobbied Congress against raising the mandatory gas mileage efficiency of all cars, trucks and SUVs? The answer is that the oil companies have been working with the auto industry hand in hand to crush legislation that would increase gas mileage and with their PAC donations to members of Congress, they have succeeded. For decades the auto industry has given lip service to offering the public an electric car when in fact they have done everything possible to stop one from reaching the market.

When GM built 1000 electric cars in response to legislation in California that required a small percentage of their autos to have zero emissions, they had no problem finding buyers in California, except that they didn't sell any, they leased them instead. Meanwhile they joined forces with big oil and successfully lobbied the legislators to repeal the law requiring cars to have zero emissions. When that happened, they rushed to recall all 1000 electric cars and then crushed them to pieces and had them ground up.

Lehmans non-electric catalog

One way to reduce our carbon footprint is to use less electricity and we can start by buying and using no-electric appliances and tools from a hand egg beater to a stainless steel potato masher. The 170 page color catalog from Lehmans is a welcome change from the run of the mill throw-away-stuff you can buy at your local department store, usually made in China or some other foreign country.

Some of the products in Lehmans catalog are made by the local Amish community Most are made in the USA from various sources although a number of high quality products are imported from Germany. Here is sampling of a few items in this catalog.

  • A push type lawn mower that clips rather than chops lawn grass. It uses no gas, is quiet, and totally non polluting and cost about half what most gas powered lawnmowers are priced.
  • A Solar Oven that can reaches 350 degrees F inside and can roast a chicken or even a turkey and about anything else.
  • Hand pumps for wells
  • Portable water filters.
  • Hand tools for cultivating
  • Canning supplies Cast iron wood burning stoves. (some ornate)
  • Cast iron floor grates
  • Wringer Washers and Hand Wringers
  • Exotic kerosene and olive oil lanterns.
  • Cheese, wine and ice cream making supplies

Thousands more unique products including many for historic, cultural or artistic value like the old fashioned rooster on a weather vane. To receive their catalog, call 877-438-5346 or visit their website at lehmans.com

At my home in West Allis, WI, I have 3 cherry trees in my backyard, the sour type used for making pies, I bought a cherry pitter from Lehmans this spring. I have depitted about 20 lbs of cherries and have been pleased with its performance. A push reel-type lawnmower in Lehmans catalog may be my next investment.

Midwest Renewable Energy Association the-mrea.org

Custer, WI. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association Midwest Renewable Energy Assn(www.the-mrea.org), a non-profit organization, holds a national Energy Fair each year around June 21st, the longest day of the year. On Saturday morning, June 21st, I took a round-trip bus tour from Milwaukee to Custer, Wisconsin to attend this year's Energy Fair and visit its 270 exhibitors, listen in on experts who talked about various aspects of the renewable energy and learn what I could about the latest technology alternatives to fossil fuels.

It was a bright windy day and along the way south of Fond Du Lac, I counted 60 large wind turbines, as the bus rolled along. These are part of a wind farm complex. The wind generators looked like the type made by Vestas, a US Wind turbine company. I arrived to observe three smaller working wind turbines onsite. There were hundreds of exhibitors of various energy products and dozens of tents filled with lecturers on renewable energy topics from solar to geothermal to wind power.

I listened to one lecturer from Southwest Wind Energy explain why the vertical axis windmills do not work. The problem with the vertical axis windmills is simple physics. The part moving toward the wind acts like a brake against the part moving away from the wind, causing the loss of half of the potential power of the turbine but it is actually worse than that. Since you only derive power from the side driven by the wind, the side moving toward the wind would have to be totally neutralized to achieve even half of the power output of a horizontal axis wind generator. The actual power loss due to the drag on the part moving into the wind is about 75% which is why vertical axis windmills have never stood the test of time.

I know from personal experience the failings of a vertical axis windmill as I built one in 1978 that turned around but produced little power and no electricity. A year later in 1979, I made a horizontal axis wind turbine from a bicycle rim with 8 short hand made wooden blades I attached the blades to the rim of a bicycle wheel with a built-in bicycle generator. This 4 ft diameter wind turbine spun like the propeller of an airplane and I estimate it had a rotation of over 400 rpms. It would light up a bulb on its tail and in high wind speeds would keep burning out the light bulbs. After about 6 months, the wind turbine was disabled in a strong March wind due to design defects. This was 29 years ago!

This year, I decided it was time to update myself on wind generator developments and the research of the past 3 decades and decide if any were suitable for residential urban application. My goal was to find a small working wind generator and use it for experimentation and research and for starters just possibly take my garage off the grid.

Note: for those who are interested in some quality energy wind and solar products at a company where there are some real people to talk to, go to the altenergystore.

Solar Panels and those pricey silicone wafers

Before going to the MREA fair, I visited a local residential couple who had invested $16,000 in a solar grid-tied electrical system using Kyocera solar panels. A government sponsored program paid 20% of the total cost of the equipment and installation. It was paid through the local utility - WE Energies. The total cost of this installation was $20,000. With $4000 paid through the grant, that left a hefty $16,000 to be paid off with a line of equity line of credit on the home.

After considering what the utility company was paying for buying the solar generated watts, I estimated it would take 15 to 20 years to recover the investment. This is not, I thought, going to cause people to flock in droves to invest in solar energy, at least not here in Wisconsin. Solar energy using photovoltaic (PV) makes more sense in southern cloudless areas like New Mexico and Arizona and of course sunny California. I thought there must be a better way.

Note: It is obvious to me that the silicone based solar panels are simply too expensive to make. One innovative company in california has found a way to print solar panels using a new technology - printing the solar panels. This method does not use silicone. It reduces the cost by 80%. The company is Nanosolar. Unfortunately, Nanosolar is currently only producing their products for energy companies and they have nothing to sell directly to the public.

Meanwhile, the big oil companies are buying up most of the new energy technologies to either use themselves or to shelve for future use when their oil wells dry up. One example is Exon Mobils research and patents in lithium battery technology. Like patented drugs, new patented energy technology is driving up the cost of alternative energy breakthroughs like the lithium battery leaving the buying public to ask: where is the savings?

Sun Ovens

I was very impressed with ovens that concentrated the energy of the sun for cooking. I checked one from sun ovens and another company. Both were large enough to cook a turkey. One oven had a 350 degrees F and another 325 degree F temperature. One unit sold for about $200 and the other for $250. (Note: In the non-electric catalog, I found a solar oven for less than $20.) A thought crossed my mind as I looked at the temperatures in the solar oven. Those temperatures could drive a steam engine that in turn could drive a generator.

The Zenn Electric Car from Canada

I was pleased to see a 100% electric car a the fair. It was a small to midsized automobile. At first glance, it looked like a hybrid car. There also was an electric pickup truck that looked like a Ford F150. The electric car had no internal combustion engine - only batteries. It drives 64 miles between charges. It is suitable for city or urban use. It was a spacious and beautiful auto that comes with air conditioning for just $15,900. Not bad uh! More information can be found at zenncars.com or green autos.com.

Published quarterly. Copyright 2008- to subscribe to this newsletter, write or send a donation to Keep Hope Alive, PO Box 270041 West Allis, WI 53227. Phone 414-231-9817 Note: You can also read this and other past newsletters online at www.keephopealive.org

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