Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Michio Kaku on Hydrogen Power

At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Shown in Las Vegas, Michio Kaku, Physicist, author, and well TV science  personality, introduced Toyota's newest fuel cell powered car. The fuel it uses is hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen is inexhaustible in supply, non-toxic, and pollution free. When used to power a car, the only exhaust byproduct is water.

I started making videos about renewable energy and hydrogen in the early nineties.  For the last decade,  all of the clean energy thunder has been sucked by a range of battery technologies. There is definitely an important place in our energy future for batteries, but they are not a panacea. 

In 2015, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai will have production fuel cell cars available in showrooms in California.  The big limiting factor on these vehicles is the lack of a fueling infrastructure.  In the US, only Southern California currently has hydrogen available at public fueling stations.  Let's hope the political will with our elected officials is there to rapidly expand the hydrogen fueling infrastructure across the nation. 

I wrote a book called The Hydrogen Age was published in 2007. It is gratifying to see the kind of future I wrote about in that book coming to pass.

Here is Michio Kaku introducing Toyota's first production fuel cell car. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puvy6QxlPso

Monday, January 26, 2015

Vermont High School Kids Shred Fox "news'

So, students of journalism at Mt. Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vermont learned about the standards of ethics in journalism published by the Society of Professional Journalists.

When a story that ridiculed the progressive leanings of Vermonters was broadcast on Fix, I mean Fox, TV 'News' , these high school students dissected the story, looking for journalism ethics.  Guess what? They didn't find any. 

I digress from my referral to the video made by these high school kids for just a moment to comment on what I see as the false equivalence I often hear from intellectually honest conservatives who recognize that the Fox Network is selling a radical right point of view, not practicing journalism.  These caring conservatives often include MSNBC as the intellectual and morally bankrupt mirror image of Fox. 

I pride myself in being at worst, reasonably objective and honest, in the process of informing myself. I watch MSNBC - Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O"Donnell. - most weekday evenings   I reject the suggestion that because what Fox 'News' pushes is dishonest, that what I hear on MSNBC is equally dishonest.  I'm not saying MSNBC is perfect. I'm saying the journalism is honest.  In fact, MSNBC is owned by General Electric and Comcast, two very  powerful corporations. It is my opinion that the corporate mnders have  MSNBC on a short leash. The liberal slant is tolerated in order to attract advertising revenue that is tied  to progressive viewers that have no place else to go.  Subjects that are truly threatening to corporate power and big money do not get airtime.   Case in point: I almost never see stories on MSNBC that spotlight 'Corporate Personhood' and 'Money as Speech'  I like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O'Donnell. I believe they are doing the best they can to tell stories that honest minded progressives want to hear, within limits imposed by their 'owners'.

What I see with the Fox brand is the polar opposite of MSNBC. The kid journalists at Mt. Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vermont, tell the story beautifully in their very impressive video.   These young students give me hope. My message to them is 'be the change you wish for'.

Here is a link to the very impressive video produced by journalism students at Mt. Anthony Union High....   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzYymuslGDw

The Age of Stupid

This is a remarkable film. Well worth the time it takes to watch. Unfortunately, The Age of Stupid appears to have had a very limited audience, probably; made up mostly of people who already have embraced its message. 

Here is the link to the film, The Age of Stupid... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpSdPP9b0pc

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Police Violence

In the past year, a lot of light has been directed at some particularly ugly incidents in which white police officers have killed unarmed African American citizens.  What is really disgusting about this is that in many of these cases - Ferguson, Missouri and Cleveland, Ohio  come to mind -  cops who behaved essentially like thugs in uniform have gotten way with murder.

An unarmed black man named Eric Garner was surrounded by NYPD cops in Staten Island. Suspected of selling cigarettes illegally, he was taken down with a choke hold - a method banned under NYPD rules - - and died as a result from asphyxiation. The corner labeled it murder. The district attorney cleared the officer who killed Eric Garner of wrongdoing. This kind of thing has been happening too often to unarmed black men. 

The vast majority of police officers are honorable people, who take their responsibility to the public very seriously. Most of them go through their entire careers without being part of an 'officer involved shooting'.

It's very clear that some police forces are much better at managing their lethal capability than others. In the case of local police forces as in Ferguson, Missouri, the problem starts with the police force not being representative of the community. The citizens of Ferguson are predominantly black, while the police force is almost entirely white.

Here are some ideas I've heard that make sense to me. First, police hiring practices need to be scrutinized closely to assure that the process excludes individuals with a history of racism or gender discrimination. Second, the training process must be revised to moderate the 'authoritarianism' that prevails in the policing process.  The us versus them (being the citizenry) mentality of some police officers must be rechanneled to favor restraint over escalation.

Another very big problem is the high level of tolerance in cases where there has been clear misconduct or excessive use of force in the policing process. Police unions seem to be willing to protect one of their own no matter the circumstance. Moreover, making district attorneys, who depend on the police for 'making' the cases they work on,  also responsible for prosecuting police misconduct, is clearly not working. 

In recent years, the police have been 'militarized' to a high degree, with assault weapons, body armor  and massive assault vehicles being gifted by the federal government to large and small police forces across the country.  Applying the 'SWAT Team' mentality to misdemeanor crimes needs to stop.

The police have a tough, high risk job. They are our first responders when violent citizens break the law. They need to be equipped and trained to professionally manage encounters with criminal behavior, to minimize the danger to the public and to themselves. That said, they also need to be accountable for their actions, and not be given a pass when their conduct is clearly out of line.     

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Richest 1% Owns Everything

A report was just released by Oxfam International. It showed that a handful of people have managed to take control of more of the world's privately held wealth than the other 99% of us combined. They have given new definition to the word, greed. The vast majority of people who are not part of that small, self-absorbed cabal of obscene wealth are fed up. - EMPDX


In less than two years, if current trends continued unchecked, the richest 1% percent of people on the planet will own at least half of the world's wealth.

That's the conclusion of a new report from Oxfam International, released Monday, which states that the rate of global inequality is not only morally obscene, but an existential threat to the economies of the world and the very survival of the planet. Alongside climate change, Oxfam says that spiraling disparity between the super-rich and everyone else, is brewing disaster for humanity as a whole.
"Do we really want to live in a world where the one percent own more than the rest of us combined?" asked Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. "The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast."

According to the report—titled Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More (pdf):
Global wealth is becoming increasing concentrated among a small wealthy elite. Data from Credit Suisse shows that since 2010, the richest 1% of adults in the world have been increasing their share of total global wealth . Figure 1 shows that 2010 marks an inflection point in the share of global wealth going to this group. Figure 1 : Share of global wealth of the top 1% and bottom 99% respectively ; Credit Suisse data available 2000 – 2014. In 2014 , the richest 1% of people in the world own ed 48% of global wealth , leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet. 1 Almost all of th at 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016.
The report also shows that even among the ├╝ber-rich there remain divisions, with an outsized majority on the list of the world's wealthiest people hailing from the United States. And it's not an accident. The world's most wealthy, as the Oxfam report documents, spends enormous amounts of their money each year on lobbying efforts designed to defend the assets they have and expand their ability to make even more.

The world's wealthiest, reads the report, "have generated and sustained their vast riches through their interests and activities in a few important economic sectors, including finance and insurance and pharmaceuticals and healthcare. Companies from these sectors spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying to create a policy environment that protects and enhances their interests further. The most prolific lobbying activities in the US are on budget and tax issues; public resources that should be directed to benefit the whole population, rather than reflect the interests of powerful lobbyists."
Released on the eve of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam says that the world's financial and political elite can no longer ignore, and should no longer perpetuate, inequality at this scale.

"Our report is just the latest evidence that inequality has reached shocking extremes, and continues to grow," said Byanyima, who was invited to act as co-chair for this year's Davos summit. "It is time for the global leaders of modern capitalism, in addition to our politicians, to work to change the system to make it more inclusive, more equitable and more sustainable."

She continued, "Extreme inequality isn't just a moral wrong. It undermines economic growth and it threatens the private sector's bottom line.  All those gathering at Davos who want a stable and prosperous world should make tackling inequality a top priority."

Contained in the paper is a seven-point plan of specific proposals which Oxfam says must be added to the agenda of all world leaders:
  1. Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals
  2. Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
  3. Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards    capital and wealth
  4. Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
  5. Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
  6. Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
  7. Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.
On her role as co-chair at the WEF summit this week, Byanyima told the Guardian she was surprised to be invited, because Oxfam represents a "critical voice" to most of the others who attend. "We go there to challenge these powerful elites," she said. "It is an act of courage to invite me."

However, part of the message contained in the report is that economic inequality of this magnitude is not just threat to the poor and disadvantaged but also to those who have traditionally benefited from the model of pro-growth capitalism. As growing amounts of research have shown—most prominently in the work of French economist Thomas Piketty—the nearly unprecedented levels of inequality is hurting modern capitalism even on its own terms.

But just as these levels of inequality are the result of government policies that have benefited the rich, Oxfam believes that a change in such governing structures is the key to reversing the trend.
As Byanyima told the Guardian, "Extreme inequality is not just an accident or a natural rule of economics. It is the result of policies and with different policies it can be reduced. I am optimistic that there will be change."


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Nature of Sustainability

Over the years, I have tried to be a student of good planetary stewardship.  The ultimate prize is a humanity that functions in harmony with nature. This is what comes when what we take from the biosphere balances out with what we give back to it.  

In the U.S. and in other economically advantaged countries, People mostly take for granted their supply of fresh water, the ready availability of inexpensive food, cheap energy to heat our homes and power our transport options, and esthetically pleasing and healthy living environments.  Up until recently, we have also been accustomed to living with minimal risk of extreme, destructive weather.

These days, the natural systems and resources that we count on for stability in our lives are rapidly disappearing.  If the Earth was a bank with a fixed amount of equity assets, healthy living would equate to getting along on just the interest generated by that equity. In fact, our consumption goes way beyond that. We are drawing deeply into the Earth’s resource equity, and putting economic stability and our lives at ever greater risk because of it.   

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can live in balance with our planet’s ability to provide. We can, but it requires making some hard and some not-so-hard choices on a local, national, and a civilization scale.   

We are using up our fresh water. We are sucking the life out of our oceans. We are stripping our living landscapes bare. We are on a truly reckless path with the only home we have.

Energy is a very big sore spot on Planet Earth. The human consumption of fossil hydrocarbons like coal and oil has put our atmosphere in a perilous state.  Climate change is driven by human lifestyle habits; not just the burning of dirty forms of energy, but also our ever expanding appetite for animal flesh.  These days, the sun, and the wind are inexhaustible in supply.  Moreover, both small and massive scale technologies are now available to convert these clean and natural forms of energy into heat and electricity at costs that are competitive or even cheaper than the dirty energy we’ve depended on since the beginnings of the industrial age.   

There is also a personal lifestyle decision that could dramatically reduce the 80 million tons of methane produced annually by the livestock animals we consume.  The answer is simple:  eat less beef, pork, and poultry. The less, the better.   Keep in mind that methane is twenty times more potent as a greenhouse pollutant than carbon dioxide.  Even a small cut in a person’s animal protein consumption, if widely adopted, could really make a difference. It’s an easy and also a healthy way to move to the right side of history.

Sooner or later, humans will get to the right side of history. We will learn to live in harmony with nature. We  have the technology to take us there.  This much is clear: the longer we put off a transition to a life-affirming path, the bigger the mess we leave for future generations.

If we are going to build a future worthy of our species, a sustainable future, living in harmony with the gifts of nature, we the people must step up and be the change we wish for.    

Saturday, January 17, 2015

American Exceptionalism

It's amazing to me that so many Americans continue to buy into the myth that because of our citizenship, we are better than everybody else.  This is not a new idea. When white Europeans began immigrating to the American continent,  they carried with them a religious construct known as manifest destiny. In essence, they believed they were superior in every way to the indigenous peoples that have populated this continent for thousands of years.  They used this cultural and religious meme to justify the forced displacement of native Americans from the land they had traditionally occupied. Millions of Indians suffered and died in the process.

This ugly sense of superiority is still a part of the American brand. We are constantly sold the idea that Americans are exceptional compared to the rest of the world. Too many of us, way too many, buy into this self-absorbed perception. The reality: if we are exceptional, it must be based on the amount of arrogance and self-delusion that we harbor compared to the rest of the world.