.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Writing Ruminations

Writing is such an internal process. Why not make those private ruminations public? This is how stories take shape and grow.

My Photo
Location: Happy Valley, Oregon, United States

I've been supporting myself as a writer for many years and am watching the changes in the publishing world with fascination. For me, sharing the craft, teaching, is as creatively satisfying as the writing process itself.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bio-Fuel Alternative....ZAP!

As world food shortages continue, thanks in a large part to the diversion of cereal crops for bio-fuel production, lo, a ray of hope glimmers through the murk! Technology Review reports that a novel lithium-ion battery has been developed by A123 Systems, a startup in Watertown, MA--one of a handful of companies working on similar technology. The company's batteries store more than twice as much energy as nickel-metal hydride batteries, the type used in today's hybrid cars, while delivering the bursts of power that will let people feel as if they're actually driving a car rather than a kid's toy. There is hope for an electric car after all, since the real hold-back has been battery technology. Apparently General Motors is testing them for their Volt, an electric car and may have them in mass production in 2010. Boy, I hope. Using food for fuel is...as we are immediately finding out...a serious ethical and humanitarian conundrum. You want to drive or eat? Unfortunately the wealthier populations get to make the choice, and the poorest populations get to suffer the result. This really cannot go on.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Algae Biofuel Anyone?

CSInman commented on my tree rant that algae is less sexy than trees but very efficient at dealing with CO2. So true. Blue-green algae would be one way to terraform Mars, producing oxygen for us folk. Hey, I AM a SF writer after all. But speak of the devil, or algae for that matter, and what did I turn up in the IEEE Spectrum online, but a very cool little project to vertically raise algae for biofuel production. Not only is is a smaller footprint than a soybean field, those soybeans, or rice, or wheat can have their good, arable soil. All you really need for the algae is solar energy, nutrients, and water. Take a look!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Trees Are Coming!

All right, I can’t stand it. Turn on the radio, hoping for a ray of sunshine from the weather guy, maybe duck yet another report of vitriolic Clinton-Obama sparring, and what do I get? A bit about bottled water shipped to the US from Fiji. And you know what? They are planting so many trees that the plastic bottles, shipped 9000 miles or so are carbon negative! Wow, drink up. But wait, now I’m remembering those automobile manufacturers who promise that they’re planting enough trees for every gas guzzling, pollution belching SUV they sell to make their cars carbon neutral, at least for a couple of years (and then you’ll sell it and buy a new carbon neutral model, right?) And what about all those other companies and clubs and schools and suburban SUV owners paying to plant trees and thus become carbon neutral and guilt free. My gosh…I have this image of every square meter of the planet bristling with densely planted forests.

You know, these are great numbers. What do people think ‘planting a tree’ means? That this tree will grow up to a nice, healthy mature specimen and suck up that CO2? Obviously. What really happens? Bet you a bunch of low-pay laborers mostly range over all kinds of terrain with a pack full of 6 inch seedlings or rooted cuttings, chopping ‘em into the clay/sand/mud/ with one stroke of the mattock in their other hand. And then they move on. Because that’s all they’re getting paid to do.

I watched thousands of trees get planted along the Johnson Creek watershed. Made me shake my head as they were planted in dense shade where that species had no chance of survival, in open fields where the blackberries and tamarisk overgrew them long before they got taller than the grass. Deer ate a lot. Beaver ate some. A lot died because it was dry that summer and they were too small to survive without water. A very few have survived. Rough estimate? Maybe one in fifty? Maybe far less than that. What about that logged-over and eroded rainforest or parched savanna a few thousand miles away from the company happily shelling out to buy those ‘carbon credits’. How careful do you think those folk are? Maybe you have people selling ‘forests’ on the carbon market, planting the same 1000 acres over and over again because who really looks? I’d sure like to see a more realistic measure of carbon credit= planted tree. Right now it’s a very easy way to banish the guilt of that carbon footprint. I’m just not sure it’s very realistic.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Change at the Root

This has been a frustratingly wet and cold spring, where I dash outside for a few minutes only to see the sun vanish and rain or snow or hail start to fall once more. But Sunday, I really did get a very nice ray of spring sunshine. Earlier this year, I met a couple of people who belonged to an urban homesteading group that had recently formed. They took a cheesemaking workshop I taught and I asked if I could join the group. I attended the meeting this Sunday and I was thrilled. I have been raising all or nearly all of my food on my small acreage for more than twenty years and I've grown discouraged by the general obliviousness of the average American. Food comes from the store, you buy what you want, who cares where it comes from? That seems to finally be changing. The artisnal food movement, slow food, awareness of carbon and climate impact....all these seem to be coming together to make a lot of people more aware of their connection...or lack of it....to the earth. We are what we eat, and we have given up control of that over the past century. I see some initial steps toward changing that in the growing interest in wild or sustainably grown crops, CSA, and the like. In this group of people I was, as I said, thrilled to find folk who lived in the city and were searching for a way to grow at least a bit of their own food. They were looking for connections -- a bit of unused ground for a garden, connection to a local person who'd raise a meat animal for them, a way to network and share a surplus of apples, or figs, or plums.

You know, this represents a step away from the oblivious consumer mindset that we have gotten ourselves into. Work work work to buy buy buy. It's a vicious circle and one that is, I believe, undermining our economy dangerously. Look at the credit crash. It could get a lot worse. I am doing a lot of thinking about how to establish some kind of network so that, say, elderly folk in their residential homes who are losing control of their yards as they get frail can connect with a young couple who will trade weeding and pruning labor in return for space to put in a small garden. This is a rich opportunity to see some change at the grass roots level. There's hope for us yet, folks!