A Real Alternative to Ethanol? II

August 3, 2007

Ask not what the government can do for you. Ask why it doesn’t.
~Gerhard Kocher

Now, for the second part of what I would suggest as real alternatives to ethanol and other feel good but not efficient solutions to pollutants…


1) Promote the use of smaller cars, tax the Hummer and the nine seats SUV, do something, stop the madness of bigger, gas guzzling transportation.

2) Get Real with Public Transit System. Do not promote it based on good intentions, people won’t wait 45 minutes for the bus, neither will pay big bucks for bad services. Control cost of public transit and maintenance, keep the transit affordable so people will really prefer it over using the car. I had to buy a car because it was taking me two hours each way from home to work, while with the car it took me 35 minutes.

3) Control Suburbia. I do not agree with politic leaders taking about making denser residential areas to reduce the size of the city. For some politics easy street means having everybody living in condos, and then they call it the city of the future. No thank you, if you want your house with a front yard, back yard, side paths and a river close-by, go for it, but stop making suburbia streets looking like a spiderweb. Public transit need straight streets to be viable, and private cars need them for having options when commuting. Suburbia is plagued with thousands of cul-de-sacs that feed over used main roads, that are always in traffic jam because you have one or two options for getting out of the neighbourhood: Can you drive a bus here?


What about his pattern?


Which pattern should we encourage?

4) Stop subsidizing easy solutions, like corn-based ethanol. Promote the use of smaller cars, build efficient roads, spend money in real public traffic needs, not in pleasing greedy unions.

5) Enforce traffic law for automobiles, but also for bicycles and pedestrians. Automobiles running yellow lights and making turns where they can’t create traffic jams, but bicycles running red lights and no making the four-way stop also create traffic jams. Pedestrians abusing the right of way, crossing on already stop-signals create a lot of traffic because the lights are designed to accommodate both pedestrian and automotive traffic; pedestrians abusing the right of way just cause more traffic jams by preventing vehicles’ left and right turns.

All these alternatives are going to affect our lives, but they for sure will create a more green environment where pedestrians, cyclist, and drivers will be better of.


A Real Alternative to Ethanol? I

July 27, 2007

No matter how dark the world becomes, the darkness can never extinguish the light.
~Reza Deghati

I had written two post trying to convince you that corn-based Ethanol will have a huge impact on the way third world people live and eat, and reading some of your comments in this blog and in several forums, I feel compelled to write a final exercise. I had to cut it in two parts because it was quite long, so this is the first part.

I do think that Biofuels may be an alternative to gasoline, but not by using corn-based ethanol, and not by mixing it with gasoline at a 10% ethanol content. Ethanol can come from grass, wood chips, sugar cane, and other non-staple foods; using non corn-based ethanol would not bind food prices to oil’s, and they produce Ethanol with a better energy conversion ratio (Ford Runge and Senauer)

Ethanol is a feel good solution because it allows us to keep our lifestyle. No need to park the Hummer, no need to move closer to work or use the public transit system, no need to carpooling…

The real measures are tougher and harder. It is not enough to save energy, it is necessarily to change our lifestyles. In this first part I present the suggestions for the citizens, and in the second part I will present the suggestions for the government


1) Consume Local Produce. If you live north of parallel 40°, getting all those tropical fruits to your table is burning gasoline and turbosine. Try to discover the local flavours, you do not need to give up your bananas and kiwis, but maybe try the local berries and apples. Buy local tomatoes and potatoes instead of organic, long-hauled products.

2) Park the Car. Enough of driving to the corner store, walk, bike, use public transit if possible. It is not always possible, but if you reduce your car use by merely 10% the effect in traffic and pollution, as well as in your budget, will be noticeable.

3) Recycle, Reuse, Reduce. I know it is wheat grinned, but say not to plastic bag; carry your own bag, c’mon, you know you want people see you carrying that big bag with a photo of Earth and the legend ‘Love it or Leave it’, they sell them in the hippies stores, go get one. If Subway is wrapping your sandwich in more than one layer, stop them and ask them to give you only one, or any, you are going to eat it now anyways.

4) Live Simple. There is a lot of goods and services that you do not need but you do want. That big plasma TV that you are not really watching, those toys for your kids that are having more fun with the box than with the toy, those battery-operated gadgets. Prefer electronics with rechargeable batteries to ones with disposable ones. Prefer manual can-openers to electrical ones. Cook at home from fresh products, reject frozen meats (a home made cheeseburger is delicious and nutritious)

5) You know better than anybody what can you do, so get informed about your situation. If you are already being provided with hydroelectricity, changing your bulbs may have zero impact on the environment. If your town does not provide recycle for metals, try to reuse them. Baby seat is old or in an accident and need to dispose of it? Take it apart, recycle the plastic bulk, reuse the metal parts if possible, and use the fabric as paddings for something, or make a cat toy with them. Almost all non recyclable goods have some recyclable parts.

6) Stop drinking bottled water. It is just silly to pay from $0.80 to $6.00 for a bottle of stalled water that, many times, comes from the municipal source, meaning, bottled tap water. Municipal tap water get tested many times during the day, your bottled water does once, when is bottled, and then let stall. If the flavor of tap water bothers you, get a filter. If the tap water of your town is not potable, buy purified water from those 20 lt, reusable containers, they are cheaper and they do not pollute. In Canada, 85% of water bottles end up in the land field. Bottled water, unless specified from Spring source, comes from municipal sources -tap water-, so you are paying several times for what you get from your sink. Pepsi’s Acuafina is just filtered tap water, as many others. Read Evian backwards, that is what it means to drink this expensive, unnecesary product.

Tomorrow, what should governments do…

Sustainable Ride

May 3, 2007

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
~Jim Rohn 

 I was finally convinced of the need of reducing pollutants and to make my contribution to reduce traffic, greenhouse gases emissions, and oil-dependency. The grassroots activist decided to walk the talk!

Well, not really, the truth is that I can’t afford the $130 per month I need to pay for a parking space close to my work, so I decided to ride instead of to drive. I need to drop my baby to one of those baby warehouses that we call daycares before coming to work. The daycare and my workplace are in perfect opposite directions, so everyday I drive to the daycare, and then pass in front of my apartment in my way back to work.

I had to re-schedule and wake up half an hour earlier (which is a terrible sin according to my beliefs), drive to the daycare, drive back, and then take Rusty for its first ride.


I wasn’t really looking forward for this, because I had bike all my life as leisure activity, not as a mean for transportation, but as soon as I started pedaling I felt good. I felt the chilled wind in the face, the smell of the spring gardens, and the closeness to the neighbour.

I discovered then that other bikers salute you, that soccer dads say hi when you pass next to them while they are getting the kids ready for school. You can see the joggers, the dog-walkers, and the squirrels trying to steal food. I have the privilege of biking through one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in Toronto, so the streets are calm and clean. When I hit downtown I take a side street full of construction workers and potholes, but I go faster than the line of cars standing just there, waiting for the traffic light. In the corner of Bay and St. Charles there is a group of teenagers promoting biking over riding and they greet me: “Hi you sir! Thank you for riding! You are my hero!” (Actual words, I am not making this up).

Admired by the men! Desired by the women!

Then I look at my watch, coming here today only took me five minutes more that driving. I am not tired, especially because I cannot feel my legs anymore, and over all, I saved $130 bucks of parking. I understand that not everybody can bike to work, but this is just an example on how different facts add together to a result.

The raison de être of this blog is to find out how to use economic theory to promote sustainable ideas. How can we play with capitalist rules to support social welfare, fair trade, and the environment. How to match the economic benefits and the social responsible behavior? I was forced by economic rules of supply and demand to take my bike. Given that is not winter anymore, I am not willing to be fleeced of $130 per month for parking. The environmental impact is clear: less traffic, less pollution, less demand for petrol.  My health will improve, so my waist line (I hope). If enough people do this, you will see an adjust in price of petrol and parking spaces, maybe then increasing the demand, but now that I tried riding it won’t be that easy to take me back to drive for the summer/fall; so the economic law pushes the environmental fact, and it’s all good.

I, of course, will insist from now on that I started biking for the environment’s sake, so do not tell anyone!

My bulb is Burned

April 26, 2007

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.
Maya Angelou

I turn the TV off, changed the incandescent bulbs for fluorescent lights (which I hate) and set the screen saver of my computer to turn off the monitor after being idle for two minutes. Other bloggers are doing similar efforts and I am sure you are at least thinking on one way to reduce your electrical consumption.

Then I though if this would have an impact on the greenhouse gases emissions and started a little research to find out. The TV does not emit greenhouse gas (the cat does sometime, but I won’t do anything about it), so the idea on reducing our electricity consumption to reduce greenhouse gasses emissions is based on the electricity being generated by coal, natural gas, or petroleum. Generating electricity by solar power, hydro plants, wind farms, or nuclear reactors does not emit greenhouse gases.

Another factor: Electricity production on a plant is constant, it does not adjust quickly to consumption patterns, the electricity is generated, it goes to the grid and whatever is not used is returned to the plant and resent again, this is a circuit. Out burns occur only when the consumption surpass the supply, so the grid burn out, but we don’t really stop generating energy because we turn down the TV, we just stop converting that electric energy in radiation (I know am oversimplifying the process).

I am writing all this because it is important to know how we are impacting the greenhouse gases emissions and knowing that turning a bulb off is not an ultimate solution. The convenience of reducing the house’s electricity consumption, besides having a lighter bill, is to delay the construction of more power plants that produce greenhouse gases. There is not immediate gain but there is a long term benefit.

There is another thing, in Canada, we call electricity ‘hydro’ because we generate the most of it using hydroelectric plants, which do not produce greenhouse gases. Less than a third of our electricity come from fossil burnings.

Canadian Generation

This changes in the United States, where coal and petroleum is used to generate 62% of their electricity.

USA Greenhouse Gas

Look at the commercial transportation, look at the industrial consumption. The residential consumption is only a third of the total electrical consumption and a fifth of greenhouse gases emissions. We may try and save all the energy we want, but every time I look at Toronto’s Downtown I see the same:

.Toronto at Night

All those skyscrapers are office buildings, they are empty, they are fully lit. The dark buildings are condominiums, people live there, but they are darker because people tend to turn the lights off when not in use.

So, in order to my effort of having those fluorescent lights instead of my nice lamps having any affect, we also need:

1. Generate more electricity with non-fossil plants

2. Have a conservation program for commercial buildings, I am sure they look nice all lit up, but I am also sure they are a big waste of money

3. Support alternate commercial transportation, like trains instead of trucks

4. Support companies that move towards energy efficient factories. Prefer hydro over coal when we can chose (usually we can’t)

5. Understand the impact of what we do. If the effort is not offset by the result then is better to do something else that will have a better result (like writing letters to the congress people urging them to turn off public buildings after-hours, even if we do so with a 100 KW bulb powered by hydroelectricity)

For the references and photo credits, click on the respective image.

Non-Conformist Conforming II

March 9, 2007


by Wiley Miller

Non-Conformist Conforming

March 6, 2007

Hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies. Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, Corn-Pone stands for Self-Approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is Conformity.
Mark Twain

In Toronto’s “West” Queen Street West there are a handful of stores that appeal to that segment group that I call the New Hippies; people who try to hold liberal values but cannot look beyond their noses and don’t think what those values stand for. “West” Queen Street West has got stores offering merchandise with the “Che” Guevara, Marcos, Mao. The t-shirts you can get have clever quotes. I love to see how many people who call themselves anti-conformist can be targeted as consumers so easily because they conform to trends that are empty at the most. Real radicals aren’t buying t-shirts in trendy Toronto spots, are they?

What bothers me is not how they anti-conform against Gap by conforming with Atticus; is how they delude themselves by thinking they belong to a fighting liberal class that is above all the capitalist pigs, when they can’t look that they are being deceived by the marketing masters they said they hate: People like to eat organic, but in Canada, and many places in Europe and northern USA, organic food needs to be shipped from abroad, especially by plane. The new (rich) hippies buy this organic, expensive, healthy food that burn seven times its own weight in carbon monoxide to get to the store and look from above to the poor chavs that have to buy locally produced, pesticide-plagued food.

We have some cyclist that really believe they are above all drivers because their bikes don’t pollute and they ride even at -20 degrees; then they cut the line, run the red light, run over pedestrians, and ride on the sidewalk at expense of other people. Just so you can see them and follow their ecological friendly example.

My favourite example though is the t-shirt I saw in the aforementioned Queen Street at the Black Market Store, they sell a t-shirt that has got a bike, and below the legend “NO IRAQI WAS BOMBARDED TO FUEL THIS VEHICLE”, what a delight! All the rest of us, who have to drive, bunch of murderers, if only we get the message! The tiny fact that the t-shirt was manufactured in Bangladesh, infamously known by its sweatshops and child labour, is just unimportant. As long as they can buy the shirt at $14.95 plus taxes to deliver their message, the kid that was paid $1 a day should be happy.


I received some comments about how wrong I was for attacking the Black Market Store, and the Black Market Staff wrote to me that they never, ever sold the t-shirt that I mentioned. I think is quite clear that I am not attacking the Black Market store. They sell military outfits next to old rock concert t-shirts so I don’t consider it to be a new hippie store because they don’t have the pretension of being an activist store. I went anyways to double check where the t-shirts are made in, and found out that all new t-shirts are manufactured either in Canada or Mexico, countries with well established clothing manufactures and a very clean record on sweatshops (Mexican salaries could be higher, but the conditions are appropriate). They also sell used t-shirts at $15 dlls each, and they come from countries as diverse as USA, France, Guatemala, and yes, Bangladesh. I understand that they do not have control where the used t-shirt are made in, so they cannot really be sure that they never sold a used t-shirt as the one that my friend and I saw.

Talking with Perspective

February 28, 2007

The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with.
Eleanor Holmes Norton

One thing that prevents me to join some organizations such as Greenpeace, J4MW, et cetera, is the radicalization of a great number of its members. In the other hand, the organizations perceived as all the evil that exist on Earth, are usually opened to its critics’ positions. Shell, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund always welcome its most critics’ point of view.

Let’s take an example, In Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum is regarded as a rendezvous of the rich and powerful, but the voices opposed to globalization are always heard; they even have got special events, like the Open Forum. In contrast, the World Social Forum, the anti-globalization counterpart of Davos, is completely close to anybody who wants to speak in favour of globalization.

When in the small village of Atenco, in Mexico, riots and violent anti-governments manifestation turned into criminal acts, J4MW supported unconditionally the criminals that led the demonstration, closing the doors to any voice that support the legal status and the government position. In similar ways, radicals at Greenpeace make even grassroots activist to draw themselves out of this organization.

In the sustainable movement, David Suzuki once declared that ‘anyone who owns a SUV can’t care about the environment’; but he has being more moderate since then, and he is regarded as one of the greatest authorities concerning the environment. In the Fair Trade movement, any research that indicates that fair trade is not sustainable in the long term, because it keeps people in poverty, is usually received with a lynch spirit by the grassroots activist.

The left is plagued by people who likes the social ideas, but don’t have the willing to research how well these ideas apply or how realistic they are. In many cases, people joining social movements do so in order to oppose globalization, pollution, free trade, but just for the sake of oppose them. How somebody can seriously support Chiapas’s egomaniac Marcos? After 12 years of ‘war’ the area he controls is even poorer than before, his solutions are completely unviable, his openness to dialogue inexistent, but a lot of leftist still support him. I for once abandoned his line after two years of policy inconsistency and bad poetry that characterize the Sub-Commandant.

The ideas that these organizations embrace are usually the ones that I will support: anti poverty movements, global warming awareness, justice for migrant workers, and human treatment to animals. Is the lack of pluralism and self-critic what drives me and, I am sure, most moderate leftist away from them. Some organizations are no more that umbrellas for all kind of socialist movements, that oppose in general all what comes from the capital’s owners, the multinationals, and the USA, but can’t come up to particular solutions. Compare such organizations full of wannabe hippies against real, humanitarian movements like Medecins Sans Frontiers, the World Wide Foundation, and Amnesty International. These are real, grassroots activists, really busy trying to make this a better world, with little time to criticise everything they are against to.

In the meantime, this is an organization that can count with my absolute support and blessing:

Running of the Nudes