January 9, 2008 – Volume 11, Issue 12
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Omnivore's Dilemma

Let's focus on food for a change. I'm inspired by Michael Pollan's bestseller book, the Omnivore's Dilemma. It may be impossible to take its 400+ pages and do it justice in a short column. Its loaded with fascinating facts, insights, and first-hand experiences in three principal food chains: industrial, organic, and hunter/gatherer. If I'd used a highlighter, each page would be laced with color. I can't stop thinking about it

The book begins with the question: "What should I have for dinner?" And at the end of it all, and a mentor of mine, Amory Lovins, used to so ironically say, "I'm confused at a higher level." Actually, after delving in I'm ever-more dedicated to eating healthy food, to buying "non bar code" organic, unprocessed, locally-grown food, and supporting farms that once again brings animals and food farming together. Supporting this direction eliminates a huge number of problems associated with our "national eating disorder" and current food system. While food claims only 5% of our income (its lowest level ever), Pollan exhausts the real costs to the environment and economy, and our health.

I'd never thought about the dominance of corn in what we eat, drink, and soon drive. Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak, it feeds the chickens, and the pig, and the turkey, and the lamb, the catfish, the tilapia, and increasingly the salmon. Corn feeds the cows that provide the milk, cheeses, and yogurt. Pollan dissects a chicken nugget: corn-fed chicken, corn-based food starch to bind the chicken, corn flour to create the coating, corn oil for cooking, and even citric acid derived from corn to keep it fresh. Soft drinks are sweetened with corn syrup; grab a beer and you're likely imbibing a fermented form of glucose-refined corn. Of the 45,000 standard food items in supermarkets, a quarter of them contain corn. From coffee whitener to ketchup and candies. Then the non-edible uses of corn: toothpaste to disposable diapers, trash bags and cleansers, waxes, cardboard, and wallboard.

The proliferation of corn is based on the C4 characteristic of the Zea Mays grass. While most plants have a C-3 carbon count, the four carbons in Zea Mays make it highly efficient at pulling CO2 out of the air and converting it to plant material, especially where water is short. C-4 species recruit an extra carbon atom during photosynthesis to limit its loss of water through its stomata. And then you factor in U.S. farm subsidies and major research funding. High-yield hybrids forms of corn can now reap as much as 200 bushels an acres; 20 bushels an acre was common in the 1920s. There's farm policy, including colorful Earl Butz stories.

While beef production was most disturbing (descriptions of "concentrated agriculture feeding operations"), industrial organic was perhaps the most disillusioning part of the book. J.I. Rodale first chose to use the word organic for foods, implying "that nature rather than the machine should supply the proper model for agriculture." Major organic operations supplying the growing demand are far from nature, far from being sustainable. Wait a second; I love Whole Foods! (That makes me part of our "supermarket pastoral" society.) But shipping fruits and vegetables from continent to continent has a significant ecological footprint. Some organic food requires more diesel fuel use on the farm. Some organic milk comes from factory farms, "where thousands of Holsteins that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined in fenced lots." (Weak USDA rules require "access to pasture.")

I'm struck by the parallels between "alternative" agriculture and "alternative energy." As with energy production, sustainable food production is just scratching the surface, a percentage point of the action. Consumers are not aware of and thus are not demanding ecologically sound food production. Distributed and sustainable systems will provide the greatest benefit with the least impact over time, but the economies of scale push society to centralized solutions such mono-cultured factory farms and industrial organic.
"We are in the age of terrorism, and we are out of our minds to build more radioactive nuclear plants in our country."
S. David Freeman.

In his new book, he refers to oil, coal, and nuclear as "the three poisons." Currently president of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, he advocates building a solar-powered monorail system to distribute cargo from the port, pioneering "a 21st-century railroad."

Balinesian Update

Bali was an unpleasant, tough, but successful 13th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the end of the day, the parties were aligned on "the Bali Roadmap." The U.N.'s press release stated that "the 187 countries meeting in Bali agreed to launch negotiation towards a crucial and strengthened international climate change deal."

One reporter noted that it was, "two weeks marked by bitter disagreements and angry accusations," and a last minute compromise. In the final hours, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, said that "we will join" and that "the United States is very committed to this effort." The countries will now meet several times and "negotiate up to 2009 to ensure that a new deal can enter force by 2013 following the expiry of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol."


Held at the Bali International Convention Centre in Bali, Indonesia from December 3 - 14, 2007, more than 11,000 delegates including the U.N. Secretary General and six heads of state, met with observers including intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and the press. One columnist said that there were "media scrums" akin to Hollywood events. Movie stars, excluded from the negotiations, were stumping nearby for social justice. Youth organizations reportedly organized and carried out effective side-events.

Spurred by the recent U.N. finding that if unchecked the world' s average temperature could rise by as much as 6 degrees C by the end of the century, there was also agreement to take action on a number of immediate issues. Among them are stemming deforestation, clean technology transfer, and providing technological know-how to developing countries.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 signed by the President in December fell short in many ways, but was a significant step forward. Some call it nothing short of a "new energy beginning." It does not include a national renewable energy portfolio standard. But it does promote higher fuel economy standards. Cars and light trucks will have to be 40% more efficient by 2020 raising the fleet average to 35 miles per gallon. Light bulbs will be three times as efficient by 2030, phasing out most incandescents by 2014. Federal buildings that are renovated or built in or after 2010 will have to cut their fossil-fuel energy consumption by 55% by 2010, and then by 100% by 2030.

Solar and wind advocates were dismayed that the bill stripped out an early version's tax package. It would have extended tax benefits for solar installations for eight years for businesses, and six years for homeowners, doubling the allowable incentive for homes. (Now advocates will try to insert the tax package in other legislation.) On the supply side, "big oil" was spared the loss of massive tax breaks. The act supports bio-fuel developments - a seven-fold increase in ethanol production by 2022 -- and controversial loan guarantees to spur nuclear power.

Pizza Fusion: Saving the World, One Slice at a Time!

Pizza Fusion has opened Florida's first LEED-certified restaurant. The pizza maker serves up an organic menu of pizza, sandwiches, wraps, beer and wine, as well as vegan, gluten-free, and lactose-free options. The company has over 60 LEED-certified restaurants across the United States. The Palm Beach Gardens restaurant will be followed by three additional locations including Aspen, Colorado.

Pizza Fusion uses a heat recovery system that takes advantage of its pizza ovens to eliminate conventional water heating and space heating. It also features bamboo flooring, 30% recaptured industrial concrete, countertops made from recycled detergent bottles, insulation made from old blue jeans, and furniture made from reclaimed wood.

Member Feedback

On Deaths per Megawatt:

Excellent issue. I have been talking about TRUE COST for years and am glad to see Ecomotion touching on the subject- it's core.

Foerd Ames
Ocean Wave Energy Company, Bristol, Rhode Island

On the feed-in tariff issue:

Well at least you got the CPUC's attention. They seem to miss the point that it is not only the amount of the incentive, but also its SIMPLICITY that makes the German feed-in so successful.

Dr. Mark Shiralau
Aloha Systems, Irvine, California

When we took Commissioner Geesman from the CEC to Germany in our last solar delegation, he got up in front of the crowd at the conference opening event and said "I believe California needs a feed-in tariff, similar to what you have here in Germany" or something to that effect. He also told us to quote him on that.

Nicholas Wagner,German American Chamber, San Francisco, California

Nicely balanced, restrained response to Mr. Gallagher.

I have a couple of comments re net metering and the comparison to Germany. While this is a big issue, let me highlight two key points ignored by the proponents of 'feed-in tariffs" who compare us to Germany.

The issue is not just the "level" of subsidy for solar, but also who pays for it. Paying for things through utility rates is using the most regressive form of taxation. We should first exhaust other tax incentives and subsidies from general taxes before hoisting all costs onto utility rates. Berkeley's proposal to fund up-front costs with repayment through property taxes is more equitable. Indeed, Europe's solar installations got jump started through financing of installation costs even prior to net metering.

In the same vein, while Germany provides very high rates (though declining) for feed-in solar, the rest of their tax structure and social safety net is entirely different from ours. I won't mind talking about financing solar through utility rates when we get a tax system that funds universal health care, free schooling for all ages, two year paid maternity leave, etc. etc. It is absolutely ridiculous to look at one element - a feed-in tariff - and argue that it is equitable to apply it to the United States.

Marcel Hawiger
The Utility Reform Network, San Francisco, California

Meanwhile, a card and sentiment from Germany:

Merry Christmas and a Successful New Year for a feed-in tariff in California!

Dr. Eike Weber
Fraunhofer Institut, Frieberg, Germany

And on the Patriots going green…
Can we assume the games will be played in the dark if the wind is not blowing - or is this just wind indulgences?

Rick Phelps
High Sierra Energy Initiative, Mammoth Lakes, California

My Next Car! By UCI Intern Jessica Wolfert

Behold! The future is near with the fuel cell vehicles (FCV) of tomorrow on the prowl. Like electric vehicles, FCVs are powered by electricity. However, instead of using a battery that stores electricity from an external source, fuel cell vehicles are responsible for producing and storing their own electricity.

According to www.fueleconomy.gov, FCVs benefits include: no greenhouse gases, increased energy efficiency, and a quieter ride. These cars display a 57/58 city/highway mpg.

Are we ready for a hydro hungry infrastructure? The president awarded a $289 million budget towards the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative that employs research and design segments of the U.S. Department of Energy. So, there are steps being taken.

The market question on my mind is, how will the public welcome this innovative technology? Perhaps a familiar face will ease the public into taking another green move.

So, who has been a constant player in FCV planning? Why, Honda Motors, Inc. Honda has taken the initiative to bring FCVs to life, planning to introduce their Honda FCX in 2009. (One FCX has already been leased to the Spallino family in Redondo Beach for a two year duration that started in 2005.) Honda has played an active role in developing eco-friendly technology by pioneering gas intake and emissions reductions. Think that's just an opinion? Check it out for yourself at http://corporate.honda.com/environment/.

Perhaps I'm just a zealot intern who doubles as a freelance marketer for Honda. Maybe, I'm just a kid who genuinely cares about preservation. What I am certain about is that I love my Honda for loving my world.