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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.


The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Carbon Offsets – Trees and Gardens – The Other Low-Hanging Fruit

My first article in this series described a new, public-domain innovation -- how charitable foundations could dramatically impact climate change, peak oil and the credit crunch while taking the sale of conventional carbon-offsets and turning them into immense profits. They can do this by picking financially stable cities in areas with a surplus of renewable energy sources and offering them loans at incredibly favorable rates -- 2% interest on loans repaid in the first few years, 0% if repaid in a year to 18 months, and 10% of the loan would be forgiven if repaid within one year. Because of the time horizon on peak oil and climate change, they would also be forgiving 20% of loans repaid within nine months and 30% of loans repaid within six.

This strategy enables immense profits, because unlike normal carbon offsets, you're not buying the renewables or energy efficiencies outright, but loaning governments the money to make the necessary changes, quickly. And if these funds support projects which "pay for themselves" in the grace period that a government has to repay you, then they make these profitable changes using money that is never "on the books" in terms of tying up their their own cash flow.

In effect, for the governments, these changes are free. But only if you choose "low-hanging fruit," improvements of such remarkable value that a mere 12 months, nine months or six months is enough time to repay you for your investment.

Which brings us to our latest harvest of fruit.

The basic reforestation carbon-offset option, on its face, seems obvious – many organizations are involved in planting trees, and it is one of the two most common ways for companies to provide voluntary carbon offsets to their customers. There are, however, many unexplored ways to leverage the impact of reforestation and the resources devoted to such work.

Let us first consider an option for the industrialized world – planting trees where you can use a built-in, local support system to take care of their maintenance beyond that first planting. In this option, you pay for the seedlings themselves, but probably little else.

Version 1: Schools. Here the seedlings may be planted by students learning about agriculture and global warming. Digging holes, shoveling peat moss and laying down mulch are not complicated activities, and neither is watering a plant during droughts and dry spells. Combined with lessons on rainwater harvesting and, in some cases, with a highly efficient underground watering system, you can teach students many critical, if basic, lessons in sustainable horticulture.

Planting a wide variety of fruit- and nut-bearing trees reduces the risk of blights and parasites adapted to the vulnerabilities of one particular species of tree, and also insures a more diverse and interesting crop. These trees would soon produce a little supplementary food for kids’ and teens’ snacking (dwarf trees in particular grow quickly) and, if planted next to the school, provide shade as well (a well-known method for reducing air-conditioning bills). A large enough orchard could, in time, even provide either some funds from the public sale of fruit, as a resource for school fundraisers, or even to accomplish other municipal goals, such as improving the diet of impoverished children or of the poor in general. To the school, removing a bit of carbon from the atmosphere might be considered a secondary benefit of the exercise. (You would, of course, carefully consider questions like growing space and each tree’s resistance to fire when determining where to plant them.)

Finally, in the United States, the average piece of food travels well over a thousand miles from large industrialized farms before reaching the consumer. Producing food practically at the point of consumption not only eliminates the associated carbon emissions, but in this world of ever-rising fuel prices, should make these fruits and nuts more affordable than any alternative being shipped over such vast distances.

Version 2: A foundation could provide trees to community gardens, eco-developments and certain public buildings (libraries, police departments, city halls, hospitals) – again bearing a diverse crop of fruits and nuts. These new owners, in addition to helping plant the seedlings, already have incentives to take care of the trees, which offer them food and shade. They also already have people engaged in taking care of such agricultural work – community garden volunteers, landscapers, environmentalists, gardening fans, etc. This option can be used by any city with the above amenities.

Version 3: Clearly, planting trees does not have to be for just the industrialized world. The Third World is expected to take the brunt of the damage from global warming, at least initially. In practice, that means equatorial regions – especially Africa – are apt to be facing an agricultural collapse. Already today, the rising price of energy, limited water supplies for irrigation and increased demand for bio-fuels has driven up the cost of food considerably.

Widespread and diverse plantings of food-bearing trees – if done early enough – would greatly enhance the survivability of communities hit by serious climate change, by providing a source of food that can endure drought more easily than most crops (thanks to a deeper taproot). If the trees provided by carbon-offset funds were integrated into existing relief and development projects with their own international support, and contacts and/or trained workers on the ground, most of the organizational requirements and overhead would already be taken care of. Which would mean most of the funds invested could be saved for the trees themselves instead of being frittered away on unnecessary overhead.

And this low-tech, locally controlled reserve food source is particularly suited to regions such as Africa, which can not afford the technologies or food shipments still available in much of the world.

Further, an active charitable foundation’s existing work lets you tread lightly in tree-planting projects. If you already have employees doing good work on the ground who have contacts and are familiar with the area, then you can probably integrate a bit of tree planting into your other relief/development efforts. The trees simply become an additional side project, easily scattered throughout a village or neighborhood. Your people will hopefully also take the time to investigate what local, non-invasive species are available for this initiative, so they can acquire a diverse array of cultivars.

Finally, a fourth option involving trees can be seen in this video.

This permaculture-based desert reclamation – championed by Geoff Lawton – is described here. This technique employs hardy desert trees that produce no fruit, simply because of the benefits these plants brought to the overall project of reclaiming the soil. But the bulk of the trees involved did produce a harvest (in spite of very harsh conditions), and the additional benefit of restoring fertility to a desert landscape can not be underestimated.

Finally, trees are not the only potential source of food that can significantly reduce carbon emissions. As noted earlier, American food travels such immense distances that a school which chose to raise a significant portion of the food provided to their students on campus, either on open school land or in rooftop gardens, could see a reduction in their food budget while producing fresher, more nutritious food, and the organization funding this change could claim a reduction in the school’s "carbon footprint" as well. By the same token, bushes can offer a harvest of berries, even if they hardly provide the carbon sink you have in an orchard full of growing trees.

Other organic alternatives leap to mind, but attempts to create a source of raw materials in combination with a monoculture "crop" such as pine stands or bamboo should be weighed very carefully, especially if your chosen plant is an "invasive species" – something foreign to your local environment. Given the slowdown in construction and manufacturing apt to follow the mortgage crisis and present energy shortfalls, a new source of raw materials may be far less important to your community than affordable food. Your carbon-offset initiatives should be prioritized accordingly, and you should remember, once again, that people buying carbon-offsets will usually be extremely sensitive to environmentally damaging actions and not easily mollified in the face of even a small disaster paid for with their money. Given how many safe offset options are out there, such downsides should loom even larger. Be warned.

Public Relations:
Custom Customer Reports: Whatever you call them, there is an advantage to giving major donors a report (with photographs, video, etc) on one or more major projects accomplished as a result of their donations. Say, 10,000 trees planted in India, a city’s water purification needs dealt with in Indonesia, and seven hospitals taken off the grid using renewable solar and tidal power in San Diego.

These can be useful not just for an individual’s sense of pride, but for purposes of morale and public relations for most for-profit companies as well. Even charities and governments have a vested interest in getting vivid images and reports on all the good their particular offsets are buying.

Plenty of organizations claim to be carbon neutral, but how many can point to major projects undertaken and certified by a respected international charity using their carbon-offset payments? Such images and reports can be shown on company or government websites, included in press releases and otherwise shared with the public. In so doing, they can provide both the purchaser and the seller of offsets with considerable goodwill and free advertising.

This reputation may extend beyond the usual domestic audience. A carbon-offset project credited to a particular company may in fact help an organization that wants to make a good impression on an international customer in that country. It’s a great icebreaker, if nothing else. National governments who are funding major projects to meet carbon-reduction goals may also find substantial diplomatic benefits.

And of course, any particularly enthusiastic, upscale donor/carbon-offset purchasers are a source of further contacts – friends and acquaintances who might be interested in turning their lives and businesses carbon-neutral in such a socially conscious fashion. So giving them something to be particularly enthusiastic about, and something concrete to show to those contacts when it comes up, can only assist you in seeking new funding.

The flip side of this equation is rounding out the articles/segments of both major and minor news providers. Your positive reports on ways in which people of limited means are confronting issues of hunger, water shortages, costly energy (with your organization’s able assistance) can be used to round out the articles of science writers discussing global warming issues, business writers looking at ways to get around the economic crunch of declining fossil fuels and resources depletion, or international reporters discussing dire conditions in this or that region of the world.

Lots of facts and figures coupled with photos helps with newpapers, and a certain amount of key data wedded to video is useful to news networks. All of this public exposure can also be used to collect more contributions, thus expanding the range of the foundation’s good works, and enabling them to become active on an even larger stage (with even more donors).

Naturally, all this PR will create exposure for these offset innovations. The more your organization breaks new ground and draws the public’s attention to your work, the more individuals and organizations will become familiar with solutions they can make use of in their own lives. But if your primary motivation is to create a positive change in the world, you will rest assured that you are doing so, and that many places will still remain which need your help, even if a majority find they can pull this work off without your financing.

Bear in mind, this strategy is not the sole province of present-day sellers of carbon-offsets. Many existing international relief and development organizations would be particularly formidable instruments for this work – or extremely helpful partners. Their inherent competitive edge in these kinds of activities – as explained previously – is considerably greater than that of any for-profit enterprise. And not only do they not require a profit on their humanitarian activities, not only do they have an existing set of projects, contacts, personnel and experience in their relief and development efforts, but their donors will be far more willing to see it make an egregious ‘profit’ than a profit-driven corporation – so long as those excess funds go to other good works, and not to padding salaries or other overhead.

Of all these advantages, perhaps the most easily overlooked is that of having an existing network of projects and contacts, and plenty of experience on the ground. Because of this capacity, sellers of carbon-offsets may be well-served to work with other charities – even if they have existing relief and development projects of their own. Given the funding levels that could be involved in a successful operation, a foundation may soon find its revenues and demand for new projects to be rapidly outstripping its capacity to find new recipients for its largess. Rather than do things poorly or sloppily, they may find it wiser to do a lot of small projects through credible charities with their own management, employees and internal auditing. This option avoids the overhead of creating dozens of small-scale projects for "nothing but carbon-offsets" and the temptation to do vastly oversized projects for the sake of managerial simplicity.

In the same vein, and out of deference to the value of local consultation, organizations may wish to develop a menu of carbon-offset options for specific beneficiaries/project managers to select from. These would be means of offsetting carbon emissions that would be within their technical and financial means. Obviously, this range of options would be apt to expand as larger contributions came in and the foundation experimented with a wider range of techniques. But by offering a menu, and some explanation of each option, you would get immediate feedback on what was best suited for a locality from professionals already (hopefully) embedded in the existing culture and environment.

I make no claims for any of these concepts, only to tell you they are here and they can now be used by anyone. Thank you for listening.

Ralph Cerchione

Renewing the Earth: Public Domain Inventions for a Sustainable Future Solar desalination, solar steel, reversing global warming, etc.
Future Imperative -- A broad look at human enhancement, from gene therapy to accelerated learning, from neural implants to smart drugs, from posthuman evolution to the wildest flights of human imagination.

Carbon-Offsets that Keep On Giving... Energy and Food – The Low-Hanging Fruit

For those who missed it, my last article described -- a new, public-domain innovation -- how charitable foundations could dramatically impact climate change, peak oil and the credit crunch while taking the sale of conventional carbon-offsets and turning them into immense profits. How? By picking financially stable cities in areas with a surplus of renewable energy sources and offering them loans at incredibly favorable rates -- 2% interest on loans repaid in the first few years, 0% if repaid in a year to 18 months, and 10% of the loan would be forgiven if repaid within one year. Given the time horizon on peak oil and climate change, we also allow for the forgiveness of 20% of loans repaid within nine months and of 30% of loans repaid within six.

How does this give a charity, but not a for-profit corporation, immense "profits"? Because unlike normal carbon offsets, you're not buying the renewables or energy efficiencies outright, but loaning governments the money to make the necessary changes, quickly.

And if you loan these funds to support projects which "pay for themselves" in the grace period that a government has to repay you, then they make these profitable changes using money that is never "on the books" in terms of tying up their their own cash flow. In effect, for the governments, these changes are free. But only if you choose "low-hanging fruit," improvements of such remarkable value that a mere 12 months, nine months or six months is enough time to repay you for your investment.

Your charity, on the other hand, was obligated to take one ton of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere in exchange for a fee (usually $4 to $40). But once your loan has accounted for the tons you have committed to eliminating, you get to keep the 70%, 80% or 90% of the principal when it is paid back to you. In effect, you are being given someone else's money to offer as a loan, and when most of the money is paid back to you, your organization gets to keep that remainder. And only a charitable foundation, plowing its earnings back into its good works, can get away with such egregrious profit margins. Indeed, if you keep putting the money into such loans, helping cities and towns reach the goals of these "low-hanging fruit," you may well become celebrated for your accomplishments, as you use those original carbon-offset funds over and over again.

What are the low-hanging fruit? Well, we will be discussing some of these in later columns, including a simple, inexpensive, scalable, solar-based method for desalinating water, and two renewable-based techniques for moving water (one integral to this desalination system, the other capable of functioning independently and requiring almost no resources whatsoever). These innovations will be useful both in the undeveloped world and in places like California, where the water pumps supplying Los Angeles with water are apparently the biggest energy expenditure in the state. Imagine being able to supply most if not all of that demand with almost no energy expenditure, and using extremely low-cost equipment to do so.

But in the meantime, let’s look at some other options that qualify as this low-hanging fruit. One of the most obvious is to simply paint the roofs white on buildings in cities and towns in most temperate and all equatorial regions. This simple change will dramatically reduce energy spent on air conditioning for those buildings that have that equipment, and make those which do not far more livable. You will be increasing either your energy efficiency or overall productivity either way. Because most asphalt roofs, in particular, are dark and absorb heat, you will also be having a significant impact on global warming by reducing the overall albedo effect (absorption of sunlight) in your cities, not to mention the world. This will help reduce the warming of the planet, without even considering the carbon emissions that will no longer be required as you reduce the need for air conditioning.

Alternatively, the first thing you do when installing a renewable-power system in any home or business is to do an inventory of the location’s energy expenditures. Regardless of whether you are putting solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and/or micro-hydro sources, in order to avoid buying a system two or three times greater than you really need, you have to look over the building to find ways of tightening up your energy use. In particular, you have to look for "energy hogs" and eliminate them.

Realistically, everyone controlling any sort of an organization, be it a business, a government or a non-profit, should take the above step as soon as they can. Why? Because whether or not you have the resources to add a single renewable power supply, every bit of conservation you undertake as a result of this energy inventory will save you energy and thus money. These extra funds can be turned to acquiring renewable power, but even without those devices, you will have lessened your exposure to energy price spikes and begun conserving critical resources, as well as having done something to slow peak energy and climate change.

A third tactic is to hire (or otherwise motivate) large numbers of people to do work that reduces energy demands and climate change using extremely inexpensive techniques that generate dramatic benefits for their communities. For example, imagine that you hired a small group of people who knew a great deal about gardening and planting orchards, and others familiar with work such as energy audits, renewable installation or simple painting. What if you then hired a large number of part-time high school students and other people willing to work for a modest wage, and then went around planting community gardens and fruit-and-nut-bearing trees, painting roofs, energy auditing buildings and organizations and installing renewable energy sources (such as solar panels, wind turbines or micro-hydro turbines). You could use this method to mobilize quite a few people to make rapid changes that might otherwise take a very long time, while reducing unemployment. You would also be training your employees in many useful skills, and those who were interested could be promoted to full-time status as supervisors teachers (especially if you expanded the program) or else seek employment in other organizations, with some useful training and experience on their resumés. And the work they would be doing could enormously impact the "carbon footprint" of your city or town. (We will discuss the full value of gardening and food-producing trees later in this series, but rest assured, it’s considerable.)

A fourth option is eventually loaning to a broader class of customer, businesses marked by the sustainability of their operations – in particular offering microfinance or microloans to support initiatives that will notably reduce atmospheric carbon. For example, most of the work just described "planting community gardens and fruit-and-nut-bearing trees, painting roofs, energy auditing buildings and organizations and installing renewable energy sources" would be suitable for carbon-offset funding. This can be trickier to support if you have absolutely no experience in this field, and may work best in partnership with credible microfinance operations such as the Grameen Bank.

A fifth possibility is taking certain critical infrastructure "off the grid" even if the cost of installing renewables is not less than the savings returned before the loan is repaid. Normally renewables that offer such dramatic savings are very easy to promote. But there may be circumstances in which the population sees a clear need for the upgrade in and of itself because of past crises.

For example, during the recent Florida blackout, CNN was showing pictures of a city whose transportation grid had almost immediately shut down. Imagine promoting LED stoplights, even solar-powered LED stoplights, in such a city. Not only would your relatively cheap, financed solution be extremely welcome, you could probably tap into other government disaster-relief/preparation funding, and perhaps even local, private contributions. And even if such funds were limited, the local government’s motivation to avoid being immobilized again would make such an offer extremely attractive.

As a further example, during the California wildfires, Reuters and others reported that the city of San Diego was nearly cut off from the rest of the nation's power grid, a situation that would have made the municipality vulnerable to major blackouts. Given that San Diego, as the southernmost city in California and one positioned on the seacoast, has ready access to at least two major sources of alternative power (solar and tidal), the area could easily be an ideal place to initiate the kind of renewable-power-upgrade program described in this series.

On Dedicated Power:
Why build this emergency capacity into your core infrastructure? First, if your grid goes down, then obviously you want the functions most critical for the survival of your city or town to go on unimpeded or at least somewhat effectively. But second, one of the ironies of our present power-distribution network is that it fails to discriminate between users. This seeming democratization of power usage means that blinking neon lights at a local strip mall or a kid’s Playstation receive power at the same priority level as hospital incubators or pumps supplying a municipality with water.

Now while the latter equipment may have backup generators keeping them online in a blackout, the fact remains that in the event of sustained disruptions of power and fuel supplies, they go out right along with more frivolous uses.

To be blunt, we can not save every strip mall, videogame console and giant SUV on Earth from blackouts or fuel shortages, nor should we want to. But as local and national leaders survey the question of how to deploy renewable-energy resources, they should not be paralyzed by the unanswerable question of how to instantly provide unlimited power to every single user in their country, no matter how indiscriminate. Instead, they should focus on the most absolute needs – providing water, food, medical care and other basic necessities in livable quantities to their populations.

Further Notes:
In doing this work, it is important to avoid the appearance of "greenwashing" – making a project, product or business seem environmentally sound when it is not. Remember that your most likely pool of donors will tend to be well-informed about environmental issues, and that you can’t afford to alienate them. They will also be aware of other potential problems, such as bio-fuels that produce no net energy, or planting monoculture orchards instead of encouraging bio-diversity.

Another variation on this plan is to allow for a form of earmarking – permitting donors to specify that funds should be used first in a local area of their choice (but in which the organization is already operating or planning to operate) for any credible projects in those areas. After one or two or more cycles through that area, the remaining funds can be moved into other projects as needed. This earmarking should be something the donor checks off on a form (with the above conditions clearly specified). The donor will also write in the name of the county or municipality (or province or country) where they wish for these earmarked funds to be used.

This variant should extremely useful when seeking the donations of people who are deeply committed to the welfare of their community or of a recently beleaguered area (such as New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina).

I make no claims for any of these concepts, only to tell you they are here and they can now be used by anyone. Thank you for listening.

Ralph Cerchione

Renewing the Earth: Public Domain Inventions for a Sustainable Future Solar desalination, solar steel, reversing global warming, etc.
Future Imperative -- A broad look at human enhancement, from gene therapy to accelerated learning, from neural implants to smart drugs, from posthuman evolution to the wildest flights of human imagination.

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How Charities Can Fight Global Warming, Peak Oil and the Credit Crunch and Make Billions...

The following is an innovation – a simple plan by which many charities could earn tremendous "profits" (to be plowed back into their humanitarian efforts) while dramatically reducing the impact of global warming and peak oil, and also easing financing problems faced by many cities and communities worldwide. This system is one of a series of inventions I am putting into the public domain for anyone to use freely, with or without attribution.

This plan may seem on its surface to be nothing more than another conventional way to tap the carbon-offset market to put in a few trees or solar panels somewhere. It is not. Rather, charitable organizations which employ this strategy will be able to earn a profit of 60% to 90% (less some minor expenses) on their carbon-offset investments. Yet this plan is not, for reasons that will become obvious, nearly as well suited for profit-seeking enterprises.

First, a summary of the issues involved. For those not following current events very closely, key warning signs (such as the rapid melting of Arctic summer sea ice, and severe forest fires and droughts linked to climate change) indicate that climate change (aka global warming) is emerging ever-more-rapidly as a dire threat. Meanwhile, global oil production appears to be on the verge of peaking (the highest rate of production we will ever see) if it has not already and much of the world is experiencing shortages of either food or water, even in the United States. Finally, grave issues surrounding the mortgage markets in the U.S. have damaged the global financial system, creating a level of uncertainty in which many creditors are unwilling to lend... even to low-risk customers like cities and towns.

Clearly, most people would like to do something about these issues.

Carbon offsets are one way in which some organizations are trying to help. A conventional carbon offset amounts to a promise from a company or charitable trust to remove or reduce carbon emissions by one ton for so many dollars (prices usually range from $4 to $40 per ton, depending on the entity). They typically try to fulfill this promise by either capturing or eliminating carbon emissions at the source (often installing renewables), by planting trees, or both. Some organizations even have a "carbon calculator" to help customers estimate how much carbon their lifestyle has generated, and hence how much they should feel obligated to pay for. And because most nations’ power grids are interconnected, determining how much carbon is generated on average by each kilowatt of power consumed from the grid is actually fairly easy. Calculating the CO2 released by a gallon of gasoline is even easier (it’s a known quantity). Many businesses and organizations simply use the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to determine what they need to offset. This carbon-offset market is potentially a vast source of funds. As noted in The Financial Times, "The burgeoning regulated market for carbon credits is expected to more than double in size to about $68.2bn by 2010, with the unregulated voluntary sector rising to $4bn in the same period." Present economic circumstances may cut into that latter estimate, but even a fraction represents a huge fundraising opportunity for most foundations, and if the carbon-credit market begins to inject funds into the following system, the impact on global climate and energy will be even more profound.

But unfortunately, as The Financial Times has pointed out, "some organizations have been selling carbon credits that yield few if any environmental benefits." The great irony is that, if done properly, it should be easy to overperform in terms of carbon captured or eliminated, while making far more than just a sliver of "profits" from each contribution – assuming, in the latter case, that you are a charity. And here’s why...

Assume, for the sake of the argument, that you run a small charity which has taken in some carbon-offset contributions. Offer a small loan to a financially stable city in the U.S. with ready access to one or more strong sources of alternative energy (solar, wind, micro-hydro, geothermal, tidal, etc). This loan would pay for an upgrade to a key piece of that city’s crisis-management infrastructure – either a permanent source of renewable energy or an improvement resulting in tremendous energy savings. Obviously, this would cut the "carbon footprint" of that infrastructure, but again, the real benefits are in the details.

First, contributors would know their money was going to a truly essential part of the city in question, a hospital, water treatment plant/pumping station, or a police or fire department. (As opposed to, say, merely padding the profits of a local strip mall.) And you would work with cities to choose projects not only ideal for their environment (solar in sunny climes, micro-hydro beside rivers, and conservation everywhere), but which will also be extremely productive to undertake, so that much of the money invested will be repaid in a very short period of time. (More on such financially hyper-efficient initiatives below.)

Second, the loan would be low-interest, say, 2% if repaid in the first few years, 0% if repaid in a year to 18 months, and 10% of the loan would be forgiven if repaid within one year. Given the time horizon on both peak oil and climate change, it may be necessary to include two further categories – the forgiveness of 20% of loans repaid within nine months and of 30% of loans repaid within six. (You can adjust these time periods and percentages to whatever the market and circumstances suggest is ideal.) These incentives would encourage cities to repay you as quickly as possible, enabling you to get most or all of the money back in a year (if not less), so you could then recycle the funds in question. Yes, technically that original pool of dollars from the first loan would diminish in time, but how many contributions do you normally get to spend over and over again? And meanwhile, the remaining 70%, 80% or 90% of that loan, less some small expenses, would amount to pure profit for your institution.

Third, if the cities you work with apply for relevant homeland-security or disaster-relief funding as appropriate, you may find loans for major projects are repaid much faster when governments are only borrowing part of the money from your foundation, thus enabling you to accomplish many good deeds quickly, while reclaiming the bulk of your investment each time for new enterprises. For example, a city could easily make the case that in the event of a disaster, it would want to have adequate backup generators at a particular hospital. If a federal grant to this city in, say, Florida were adequate to pay for half the cost of a full solar power system (perhaps with panels from Nanosolar), and your organization’s loan covered the other half, then the city would really only have to pay for half the overall cost (actually only 90%, 80% or 70% of that half (or 45%, 40% or 35% of the full price)).

Fourth, because the city would not be carrying any of the initial cost, by the time it had to repay a significant part of the loan, it would already be seeing a net savings due to the reduction in its power bill. In other words, if you choose a sufficiently cost-effective project, this is a win-win or win-win-win situation for all parties. The federal government (if involved) will have taken concrete action to make the city’s key operations safer, the city will have done likewise and also saved substantial money possibly without having invested a dime to make it happen. You will literally be carrying most or all of the short-term costs of making these long-term savings. The money saved on their energy budget will quickly dwarf the small payments they are making on 90/80/70% of the loan’s principal, even if they do not have any state, federal or other private money supporting a specific project. Freed of the burden of that particular energy bill, with only minimal upkeep on the ruggedized equipment required, the city will quickly make a net profit as a result of cooperating, and have all the more incentive to do so again. And your foundation will have done a good deed, gotten most of its seed money back, and only enhanced its credibility in this field and its experience in managing such partnerships. All of these benefits will simply encourage cities to present practical, well-designed upgrade projects a charity would be willing to fund with offsets and to seek supplementary funding (such as homeland-security support) on their own.

Fifth, traditionally, installing an alternative power source goes hand-in-hand with looking over your home or institution’s energy requirements and seeing what power demands can be most easily met through conservation rather than an ever-larger electrical supply. The functions of looking over buildings for wasteful problems, correcting those problems, and installing the new systems, are all jobs that can not be outsourced. As has been pointed out in The New York Times, these "green-collar jobs" may well be the wave of the future – particularly for disadvantaged youths who have few career or educational opportunities. Not only could an ongoing project of this kind in a greater metropolitan area serve as a valuable training program, but it could in fact be a further source of funds, as organizations with an interest in education, job training, economic development and related matters might choose to support that aspect of this larger design. Furthermore, depending on the quality of the energy auditors you have access to, just paying to have an audit done of major buildings (like hospitals) or city operations (like water treatment and pumping) might prove to be one of the "hyper-efficient projects" mentioned above – the kind of low-cost, high-yield efforts that would quickly pay for itself. Perhaps even before the city had to repay its loan.

Sixth, by first approaching solvent, stable local governments of sizable urban areas in a wealthy nation, you increase the odds of finding reliable partners. Most Western cities rarely declare bankruptcy unless faced with major long-term fiscal problems or disasters on the scale of Katrina. They also tend to have longer-term needs than simply improving their energy efficiency at one or two or a dozen sites. Imagine the number of hospitals, transportation hubs, police departments, water-treatment facilities and so forth that a mayor and city council might consider critical infrastructure in, say, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta or even Charlotte.

What you as an organization want to do is home in on the "low-hanging fruit" – every simple change that offers near-term savings as great as the percentage of the loan the city will be repaying... preferably yielding these savings as quickly as they choose to repay (most of) the loan. This may sound like a tall order, but remember, as fossil fuel prices continue to rise, savings of fuel and electricity will become increasingly valuable. Something that made no sense at $25-a-barrel and that was barely logical at $60-a-barrel may become absolutely essential at $150 or $200-a-barrel. We will be discussing, in later columns, extremely inexpensive public-domain inventions which can easily meet this standard – a high level of savings in exchange for a low level of investment.

Furthermore, as you develop experience in this field and as conventional energy costs become even more prohibitive, you will be able to expand your range of operations to include cities and towns with slightly less access to plentiful renewable power, to businesses and non-profits engaged in work critical to their communities’ survival (such as organic farms producing affordable food for local consumption) and ultimately to somewhat less stable cities and towns around the world. You will still want most of your loans to be as secure as reasonably possible, but once you are established in this work you will have the flexibility to take a few risks where success would yield great benefits.

A note on the advantages of being a relief organization in the voluntary carbon-offset field:

1. A genuine non-profit obviously has no need for profit, only for sufficient revenues to handle overhead and the talent to make the best use of available funds. Hence, if a charitable trust that invests the great majority of its contributions into actual relief work (as opposed to overhead and fundraising) begins to make enormous "profits" from their work, there is no backlash against them. So long as those excess funds are devoted to good works, whether global-warming/peak-oil related or otherwise, donors will merely be pleased to see that their funds are being stretched so far and used so well. In other words, a 60% or 70% profit margin that gets diverted as far afield as children’s vaccinations will be far more accepted than a corporate profit of 20% that goes to the CEO’s annual bonus and the investors’ bottom line.

Giving an "unfair advantage," ironically, to the institutions traditionally least interested in competing for profitability.

2. Well-known and respected non-profits have greater credibility than a for-profit enterprise. The simple fact that many established charities are known for doing good works in sustainability and disaster relief, have verifiable track records to that effect and have no ulterior motive in terms of reaping huge profits from an initiative, both carbon-offset customers, typical contributors and other organizations are apt to take their pronouncements and initiatives much more seriously than if they were seen as yet more "money-grubbing corporations."

3. International charities already have ready access to the relief infrastructure, contacts and personal experience that other, less practiced organizations would have to develop on their own. All of which means that they could step right into carbon-offset reforestation or emissions reduction without missing a beat, simply by adding the work to existing efforts.

The above options are just a couple of ways in which purchases of carbon offsets could provide a dramatic new influx of funds into a charity. These funds could then be leveraged to raise their profile by performing far more good works than anyone could normally ever manage.

Now you may ask: "What if some government gets in the act, and takes over this kind of work, pushing us out of the business?" Simple, you smile, step back, and appreciate the fact that you’ve helped stimulate real progress, but that someone with far greater resources is stepping in now, thus completing the mission of upgrading critical infrastructure in the country or region in question. If anything, this is a result you will want to encourage. Rest assured, there’s plenty more to be done. Until the entire planet has been reached by these kinds of services, there will not only be more "markets" to open in other places, but there will be plenty of "low-hanging fruit" to be exploited, unfortunately, for some time to come. And once that fruit is gone, higher conventional energy costs will have brought an even larger harvest into easy reach.

I make no claims for any of these concepts, only to tell you they are here and they can now be used by anyone. Thank you for listening.

Ralph Cerchione

Renewing the Earth: Public Domain Inventions for a Sustainable Future Solar desalination, solar steel, reversing global warming, etc.

'Keep Our Fuel Mix Diverse' -- A Look at U.S. Energy Sources, State by State

Just run your cursor over this map, and see what mix of power sources each U.S. state uses, broken by their percentages. Who knew Vermont only used fossil fuels for 0.1% of its energy, or that it used such an enormous amount of nuclear power?

An interesting glimpse into the stresses each of these places will face in the next few years in the face of oil production 'peaking,' coal and natural gas running increasingly short, and some rivers partially drying up from global warming. And an even more interesting glimpse if you happen to live in one of them.

Renewing the Earth: Public Domain Inventions for a Sustainable Future Solar desalination, solar steel, reversing global warming, and other useful innovations.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Vast Cracks Appear in Arctic Ice

And so the BBC reports:

Dramatic evidence of the break-up of the Arctic ice-cap has emerged from research during an expedition by the Canadian military.

Scientists travelling with the troops found major new fractures during an assessment of the state of giant ice shelves in Canada's far north.

The team found a network of cracks that stretched for more than 10 miles (16km) on Ward Hunt, the area's largest shelf.

Dr. Derek Mueller of Trent University explains:
"It means the ice shelf is disintegrating, the pieces are pinned together like a jigsaw but could float away..."

Another expedition member, Dr. Luke Copland of the University of Ottawa, notes:

"We're seeing very dramatic changes; from the retreat of the glaciers, to the melting of the sea ice.

"We had 23% less (sea ice) last year than we've ever had, and what's happening to the ice shelves is part of that picture."

The cracks in this particular ice shelf have to be looked at in light of that larger picture -- yet another step in the overall meltdown of our polar regions. Even as this piece of the Arctic icecap has begun to break apart with little notice, so could something more significant, like Greenland's vast reserve of frozen freshwater. Which gives us all the more reason to solve our climate crisis, before our coastal lands and cities end up under that unexpected deluge.

Renewing the Earth: Public Domain Inventions for a Sustainable Future Solar desalination, solar steel, reversing climate change, etc.

Home Heating with Windpower -- Public Domain 'Invention'

Note: Originally Posted on Another Forum

Given the cost of heating homes in many colder climates, quite a few homeowners could use a cheap, renewable source of warmth to get them through the winter.

So, take a small wind turbine like the ones once used (and occasionally still used) in the Midwest to pump water from wells. Use a belt to transfer momentum from the turbine down into your house, possibly using a pipe of some kind as a shaft to shelter said belt and the route it takes into your house from the elements. If you need this shaft to rotate in order to provide freedom of movement to the mini-windmill above, put another pipe inside the first, secured with spinning rotor rings at each end.

At the bottom of this shaft you'll have two things. One, a copper disc driven by the belt that will spin in tandem with your wind turbine. Two, a 'U'-shaped bar magnet. You set the bar magnet up so that it can be locked in place when needed, and unlocked and removed (or simply flipped back if you have it on some kind of a hinge) when it is unneeded, the apparatus is overheating or your automatic thermostat is regulating the temperature.

The first electromagnetic generator, the Faraday disc, used exactly this setup to produce electrical current.

The downside, owing to the fact that the current tended to immediately redistribute to the area of the disc away from the magnet, was that it generated very little usable power, and the movement of electricity in the disc created a lot of heat due to resistance.

In your case, you would not be tapping the current, but rather employing the excess heat generated by all of that current impelled within the disc to supplement your normal heating methods. Obviously, you would have to be very careful not to burn or shock anyone or set anything on fire with this setup. You may want to put some kind of a fire-resistant cage, mesh or grill around it to keep debris and curious onlookers back. An electrically insulated barrier may also prove wise, depending on the charge generated (possibly some shatterproof glass would be useful, but it all depends on how much electricity your system can generate at top speed). Of course, magnets will lose their magnetic properties when heated past specific temperatures, but this point is pretty high for most magnetic materials, and will reverse again once they cool.

This technique may not heat your entire house, but depending on wind strength and consistency, may provide a very substantial degree of warmth for whatever room you have it installed in. Without knowing anything about the windspeeds you will be experiencing, I can make no estimates regarding how effective this system would be in your particular house. If you are curious, however, I would suggest getting a device that can measure windspeed above your residence (you may be able to get one on loan from your local university). If local wind conditions seem promising, you might then set up your heater temporarily outside, just to see how much heat it can produce before cutting a hole in your roof to install it. Remember, of course, that the heat will disperse much faster in the open while the wind is blowing.

But if you then find your wind-thermal system to be worthwhile, you may choose to have it installed professionally. In that case, good luck.

And, of course, if the above all seems too complicated, use a waterwheel or water turbine to provide the motive power... assuming you're living next to a substantial source of water power, or could divert one for a micro-hydro project.


To clarify, since there seems to be some confusion about this invention...

Ultimately what you have here is a U-shaped bar magnet, a rotating disc of copper, and something to turn that disc. Your source of motive power can be wind, micro-hydro or a couple of teenagers working out on a stationary bike (easily rigged up from an old bicycle as needed).

But the point of the system is that someone with very limited resources could find a way to make that disc turn and then only requires a few parts that are relatively easily bought or salvaged (despite recent increases in the price of copper). Why is this important?

Because with fossil fuel prices skyrocketing in the face of peak oil and other economic issues, there are a lot of people who will not be able to afford heating oil this year, and who can not burn enough wood to stay warm in their houses. I have put this 'invention' into public domain because it could make a great difference in some people's lives -- perhaps even save a few. If you do not see it as being the most elegant technical solution possible, in many respects, you are correct. It is only elegant insofar as it is a cheap means for the relatively poor but capable to survive a difficult winter without heating oil.

A further note:
Yes, there are other ways to transfer power into your house besides a belt -- that is just a common method a lot of people have experience with. I am not even sure if the classic water-pump windmill uses a belt.

But having said that, a vertical axial wind turbine could easily spin a rod that descends into your home through a much narrower hole. So long as you waterproof said hole and avoid frictional overheating, that should work out just as well for you... assuming you can rig up a simple vertical axial turbine.

But again, to repeat, all of this is easily within the capacity of a capable handyman with a few parts and scraps. My apologies to any who felt this necessarily replaced their much more advanced generators, and their 12,000-mile supply lines back to China.

I am hereby placing the above technique into public domain for anyone who would like to use it.

I make no claims regarding the above concept, only to tell you it is here and can now be used by anyone. Thank you for listening.

Ralph Cerchione

Renewing the Earth: Public Domain Inventions for a Sustainable Future Solar desalination, solar steel, etc.