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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ecology: Why It Matters

From the Book of Common Prayer, Prayers of the People, Form IV

Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

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From Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1999, page 4:

The climate debate is a public issue in which the assets at risk are not specific resources, like oil, fish, or timber, but a life-supporting system. One of nature's most critical cycles is the continual exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen among plants and animals. This "recycling service" is provided by nature free of charge. But today carbon dioxide is building up in the atmosphere, due in part to combustion of fossil fuels. In effect, the capacity of the natural system to recycle carbon dioxide has been exceeded, just as overfishing can exceed the capacity of a fishery to replenish stocks. But what is especially important to realize is that there is no known alternative to nature's carbon cycle service.

Besides climate, the changes in the biosphere are widespread. In the past half century, the world has lost a fourth of its topsoil and a third of its forest cover. At present rates of destruction, we will lose 70 percent of the world's coral reefs in our lifetime, host to 25 percent of marine life. In the past three decades, one-third of the planet's resources, its "natural wealth," has been consumed. We are losing freshwater ecosystems at the rate of 6 percent a year, marine ecosystems by 4 percent a year. There is no longer any serious scientific dispute that the decline in every living system in the world is reaching such levels that an increasing number of them are starting to lose often at a pace accelerated by the interactions of their decline, their assured ability to sustain the continuity of the life process.

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These paragraphs are frighteningly convincing and compelling for me. Fortunately, people and companies are taking constructive actions to deal with this ecological situation, and these innovations are finally getting some good publicity, from books such as this one and from widely read periodicals, such as Business Week. As with our "Energy Pledge" last week, we highlight here private sector initiatives, leaving the public policy debate to the politicians. We plan two more articles right away, one on new vehicles and another on business operations and practices. A friend asserted, "But businesses are just doing these things to be efficient!" Precisely. Improving the efficiency of operations and of materials is exactly what we need to do to "use [the earth's] resources rightly . . . to [God's] honor and glory".

Monday, January 22, 2007

An Energy Pledge

Whereas the world uses 978 barrels of oil every second

In 2006, industry estimates of worldwide consumption show 84.5 million barrels of oil per day. There are 86,400 seconds in a day: 24 x 60 x 60. So the world uses 978 barrels of oil every SECOND. That's 41,100 gallons. Every SECOND.

Whereas world oil consumers have largely used up the world's supply of clean, cheap crude oil

Oil reserves are still large, but the supply of "easy oil" is basically gone or dwindling and new wells are in deep seas and land formations in obscure, complicated locations.

Whereas reduced energy usage will help conserve the global climate regardless of whether current climate change conditions are due to human activity or not

The environmental policy debate about government-imposed caps on CO2 emissions or prohibitive energy taxes has hinged on the scientific proof that our use of energy has harmed the environment. But even now, without a clear resolution of that debate, businesses have started to take action themselves and to raise the environmental issue with government. We can work to reduce emissions, which will help the environment. Meantime, the issues here are sometimes very sticky and some policymakers need listen to their own speeches: for example, the President of the European Commission, who is a strong advocate for CO2 caps, actually drives a Volkswagen Touareg, a vehicle that gets only 14 mpg in city driving and 18 on the highway, well below the average for light trucks (see below), giving it one of the EPA's lowest emissions ratings.

Whereas political tensions within and among many countries relate to energy supplies

And some major producers, such as Russia and Venezuela, are in the process of nationalizing their industries. No major producer outside North America has a very stable government or culture.
Whereas expensive energy hurts the poor most of all and retards efforts to strengthen developing nations

This circumstance needs no elaboration and should be especially important to supporters of the MDGs.
Whereas the United States uses almost 25% of the oil used throughout the world

More specifically, in 2006, 20.7 million barrels of oil a day or 24.5%.
Whereas automobiles are by far the largest single sponge of energy resources

US gasoline demand alone was 9.3 million barrels a day last year, 44.5% of US oil demand and 11% of total world oil demand
Whereas fuel usage increases proportionately to vehicle weight

A simple relationship, this can be summarized by fuel economy measures for 2005: the US cars on the road ran at 22.9 miles per gallon, while "light" trucks got 16.2 mpg.
Whereas fuel usage increases exponentially with driving speed

Mileage decreases 10% for every 5 miles per hour above 60 mph. The worst fuel efficiency is among those drivers who use aggressive speeding and abrupt braking, also known as "road rage".

Whereas vehicles are more efficient when they are properly maintained.

With tune-ups, oil changes and other service according to the manufacturers' prescribed timetables

By driving more evenly and modestly more slowly (to say nothing of safely) and keeping up our vehicles according to their designated schedules, we ourselves can make a visible dent in energy consumption and CO2 emissions. This simple result doesn't even involve driving less or trading in our gas guzzler on something else.

Clearly, the job is much bigger than that. More saving can be
achieved by taking more substantive steps. But we can begin, here, today.

Consider it for your Lenten discipline.

Next time, we'll talk about the exciting developments in alternative fuels and hybrids. They are even neater than we had understood. And we'll elaborate on actions by industry and other businesses. For instance, do you know that there is a brand new energy-efficient Wal-Mart store in Kansas City?!

Sources we've used here include the Federal Highway Administration, the US Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Agency, the International Energy Agency and a private consulting service called Energy Intelligence. An especially helpful website is The information about the vehicle owned by the EC President comes from the Wall Street Journal of January 20-21, 2007, page 1.

That book we keep mentioning with the catchy title, A Thousand Barrels a Second, is by Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist of ARC Financial Corporation, a private investment firm that specializes in energy. It was published in 2006 by McGraw-Hill. Mr. Tertzakian bemoans the fact that new technologies will take too long to become commercially viable. While this is true, we rather see the "tank" as "half full" and note the rapid progress that is already being made.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Not a Pretty Picture

"Sure, it's pretty", you argue. "It's a spectacular image!" Well, yes. This is a photograph made by NASA in 2001, titled "Flat Earth at Night". It's an intriguing time-lapse (or other special satellite-based technique). We pulled it right off NASA's website. But we saw it first as part of the coverpages of a book called The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery, an Australian scientist and conservationist.

The object here is to see how much energy is being used up on Earth on any given night. This is not good, we're learning, and the stakes are higher than we had understood. The easiest way to "get the picture" is to read the subtitle of this book: "How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth."

We'll be talking about this situation in more detail over the next several weeks. In a few days, we'll start with energy consumption. We've already mentioned the title of a book about that: A Thousand Barrels a Second. Importantly, we're optimistic, and besides laying out the problems, we'll spend considerable space here on solutions. Do stay tuned.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bethlehem Revisited

A thoughtful reader writes to pose some pointed questions about our description of the present difficult economic conditions in Bethlehem, which we wrote about December 18: Haven't those people contributed to their own hardship? Don't the Israelis have a right to protect themselves against suicide bombers? And so on.

We will not respond specifically to these questions here. They weren't the point of our article. But we won't ignore them either.

We wrote about Bethlehem because we are genuinely distraught by the paradox the Middle East situation presents. Everyone shares in the violence. And it was ever thus, back at least to the time of Moses and Joshua and despite the birth and life there of the Prince of Peace. After reading more about it in these recent weeks, I found it hard on Christmas Eve to sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem". I would switch the emphasis: "Oh! Little Town of Bethlehem, how sorrowfully we see thee lie . . . ."

So we located some people and institutions that are endeavoring to do good: schools to bring the right kind of education about peace and justice, a library to spread wholesome knowledge, a health service to treat illness. These are ways to help the future there be better and more hope-filled. They deserve our support, regardless of what political views we hold.

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Next on our "List" is energy and environmentalism. A quick preview is encapsulated in the title of one of our main sources: "A Thousand Barrels a Second". Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gerald Ford

Mother Crafton and I exchanged e-mails during last week as we learned of Gerald Ford's passing. We described to each other tears we had shed in 1974, she when Nixon resigned, I when Ford took office. "It is thunderous when the mighty fall, no matter who they are," she wrote about Nixon. I remember sitting in an office among colleagues, watching on a tiny TV with tears rolling down my cheeks as Ford recited the oath. Indeed, as he said that day, "the U.S. Constitution works".

In these recent days, I learned several new things about Mr. Ford which raised my interest in and my esteem for him. A statement from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori the day after he died described what active Episcopalians the Fords are. If you watched Tuesday's Burial Office at the National Cathedral, you saw his parish priest from Palm Desert, the Rev. Robert Certain, give the homily and pronounce the Commendation. The actual burial Wednesday was from Grace Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Jerry and Betty were married in 1948. He was a particular supporter, Bishop Katharine told us, of Episcopal Relief and Development, and as Fr. Certain explained Tuesday, Ford stayed in touch with Church affairs, just last summer urging Fr. Certain to assist with maintaining unity among Episcopalians in the midst of our current strife.

I learned, too, that one of the pieces of legislation enacted during Ford's Presidency was the law permitting women to attend the Service Academies. It was a particularly honorable moment, then, this past Saturday when the first women graduates in the Class of 1980 were able to salute him at the World War II Memorial. A feminist gesture he made in 1976, this goes along with Betty's remarkable public disclosures about her own life and health issues that lifted up women everywhere. We probably wouldn't call Mr. and Mrs. Ford "feminists", but their actions portrayed it plainly.

In his eulogy Tuesday, Henry Kissinger told us of other Ford achievements that are little remembered but still significant: "In his presidency, the International Energy Agency was established, which still [maintains] cooperation among oil-consuming nations. Gerald Ford was one of the founders of the continuing annual economic summit among the industrial democracies." The years Ford was Vice President and President were the time of the OPEC oil embargo and first massive energy price hike. Inflation developed worldwide on a scale previously unknown; there was economic upheaval across the globe. So Gerald Ford worked to bring world leaders and oil consumers together to face this new world-changing shock.

I thought the National Cathedral service was simple and beautifully elegant in that simplicity: the clergy in cassock and surplice, Mr. Ford's own children reading the Lessons, "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" sung as the Psalm. News services called this "elaborate". Perhaps, and certainly the several services and ceremonies were involved and intricate. But the words and music in the cathedral were familiar, comfortable and comforting, the kind of funeral any of us might hope to have. Indeed, whether we are pew-sitters in suburban California, vestry members in downtown Brooklyn or Presidents of the United States, the priest will face the casket at the conclusion and recite these tender phrases,
Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

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