Food for thought

The success of the modern food industry lies in its ability not just to provide us with hitherto unimaginable quantities of food, but to deliver it in good, or at least edible, condition. Most of it doesn’t taste as nice as it might have done straight out of the ground, but since most of us rarely eat really fresh food, we’ve forgotten what it’s supposed to taste like anyway.

Carolyn Steel
Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives

Good news and bad news about Niagara Falls

I read an article a few days ago titled, “American Side of Niagara Falls Will Likely Be Completely Dry Within Three Years”1. That sounds like some bad news! An environmental catastrophe in the great lakes perhaps? The good news is it’s just journalistic sensationalism. The New York State Parks System needs to replace two bridges to Goat Island and two of the three proposed plans require that all the water heading for the American Falls be redirected to the Canadian Falls, leaving the American Falls entirely dry. The plan that doesn’t require stopping the water has already been deemed too expensive and is unlikely to be selected.

You may recall that I posted briefly about how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “dewatered” the American Falls in 1969. They were studying the erosion on the Falls and wanted to determine if all the rock rubble at the base of the falls should be removed. They decided to leave it as it is.

If things go according to plan, sometime in the next three years, the American Falls will again go dry while the bridges are replaced. I’ll be there, camera in hand!


  1. American Side of Niagara Falls Will Likely Be Completely Dry Within Three Years,” Epoch Times, retrieved on 2016-01-24.

Make up your mind!

According to the CBC News article, “Hike water prices to stop waste: expert,”

The former UN climate chief who has advocated putting a price on carbon emissions says water also should carry an appropriate cost.

In a world where supplies of fresh water are shrinking, countries, companies and individuals should be aware of the value of water, Yvo de Boer told a water seminar in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday.

It’s logical and reasonable. There is a problem, however. In 2002, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognized water as a human right. Surely it would be wrong to use market pressure on something they’ve deemed a fundamental human right. Right?

This is yet another reason I think it was ridiculous and ultimately counter-productive for the UN to recognize water as a human right.

Now you’re talking!

According to a Left Lane article, Volvo is planning not only a hybrid car, and not only a plug-in hybrid car, but a diesel plug-in hybrid car. Their schedule calls for this vehicle to be ready for the 2012 model year in Europe.

According to the article,

Volvo confirmed that it expects the vehicle’s total range to be about 1,200 kilometres, or about 745 miles. CO2 emissions would be around just 49 g/km, about half of what is considered to be low today, and Volvo says that fuel economy would average out to around 125 mpg.

Volvo did not say how long the vehicle would take to charge, but the automaker did say that the plug-in hybrid will be capable of about 31 miles on purely electric motivation.

Now this is more like it! I really hope not to be in the market for a car until at least 2015, but 1.9 L/100 km sounds pretty good to me! Perhaps some advances will be made in battery technology that will make a hybrid a more attractive option by that time.

And I hope we’ll have the option of purchasing cars like this in North America. Diesel cars have never caught on here as they have in Europe.

Sales of the diesel version of the VW Jetta are strong in Canada, where nearly half of the Jettas sold run on diesel fuel. With the new clean diesel engine in the 2009 Jetta being emissions-legal in all 50 U.S. states, American diesel sales are climbing. In the first month of U.S. sales, 40% of all Jetta sedan sales were for the diesel version, and 60% of all Jetta Sportwagen sales were for the diesel version. This may not be a representative sample because there was no 2007 diesel Jetta. A temporary surge in demand may be behind these numbers. Time will tell.

I expect diesel powered cars will become more popular in North America. They do currently carry a price premium of a few thousand dollars, but they also are about 30% more fuel efficient than the average gas-powered car. Diesel fuel prices vary in relation to gasoline but they’re usually not very far apart. People with concerns for the environment will appreciate the lower CO2 emissions.

I look forward to a greater variety in auto power-plant options.

Oil

In 1950, the United States could provide for all its own energy needs.

By 1970, it imported a third of the oil it used.

In 1973, the middle eastern oil producers halted shipments of oil entirely because the US started to re-supply Israel during the Yom Kippur war. The price of oil jumped from $3 per barrel to $12. This is astonishing to me both because it’s a four-fold increase that occurred virtually overnight, and also because the current cost is between $40 and $50 and we’re happy because it peaked at $147.27 less than a year ago.

In 1973, the US government unveiled Project Independence, a plan to make the US energy independent. President Nixon, in his State of the Union Address, said the United States would be energy independent by the end of the 1970s.

In 1976, President Carter echoed Nixon’s idea of energy independence, though he pushed the deadline back to 1985.

In the interim, the price of oil dropped steadily. By the time Reagan took over, energy independence fell by the wayside. Reagan removed the solar panels Carter had installed on the White House. By the early 1990s, oil was back down to $10 per barrel and SUVs were all the rage.

Today, the Unites States imports nearly two thirds of the oil it uses. This sends four billion dollars out of the country, daily.

Every day, the world uses 85 million barrels of oil. A barrel is 42 US gallons or 159 litres. That’s a daily use of 3½ billion gallons or 13½ billion litres. Over the course of a year, this volume would cover the Unites States to a depth of 20 cm or 7¾ inches.

Another way to imagine this volume is in the form of a storage tank. The tank is cylindrical, covering a circular area of land 1128 metres (3700 feet) across. This is exactly a million square metres (1 square kilometre). To hold the oil used by the world in a year, the storage tank would need to be 5 kilometres (3 miles) high. This would be a hazard to commercial aircraft!

The problem with crazy numbers like these is they’re hard to imagine. So let’s take something you know. How about the Empire State Building. How does it compare to this big storage tank? Frankly, it doesn’t. As big and impressive as the building is, the Empire State Building’s volume wouldn’t even hold a single day of the world’s consumption of oil. In fact, you’d need to fill it 13 times to equal the world’s daily oil consumption.

No matter what you think of global warming or how much oil there is left, it’s hard to argue that we use a lot of oil to maintain our civilization and way of life.