Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Greasy Rider" hors d'oeuvre

This will probably be the last post this week. I'm off to subject myself to a food coma for Thanksgiving. But here's an hors d'oeuvre of Greasy Rider, for those of you who haven't read the book already.


There's yet another quirk to the Mercedes that I've failed to mention: when it's traveling faster than fifty miles per hour, the heat stops working. I don't know why. It's not an issue around home, because I usually don't take it onto the highway in wintry weather. But it was an issue when we reached I-80 and started to ascend the foothills of the Rockies. Iggy discovered through various experiments that if we turned off the fan altogether and cranked up the thermostat on the dashboard, a trickle of warm air would seep through the vents. Whether this made any real difference in cabin temperature, I'm not sure, but it didn't hurt. The best we could do was slip on as many layers of warm clothes as possible--which meant three or four T-shirts and a sweatshirt--and hope to avoid freezing to our seats.

Snowflakes began to fall somewhere around Laramie, a nearly treeless town lying exposed at seventy-one hundred feet in elevation, but vanished upon hitting the warm ground. To our left, a giant, fully tricked-out Toyota Sequoia, all fift-one hundred pounds and fifteen miles per gallon of it, weaved back and forth in its lane from the sixty-mile-per-hour wind gusts and roared past us like we were riding a tandem bike.

Iggy gazed at the vehicle, which quickly vanished into the snowy haze. "I bet the people in that Sequoia aren't happy people."

"They're rich, unfulfilled, miserable people," I said, nodding.

"But they're warm," Iggy said.

"Yes, they're warm."

"And they don't have to blinkerbate," he said.

"That's true."

"And if they hit bad snow, they shift into four-wheel drive," he said.

"And they've got antilock disc brakes...But they're miserable," I said.

"I wouldn't mind being miserable if I were warm. And had four-wheel drive. And blinkers that worked," he said.

"Now you're sounding like me."


Regarding those pesky pirates: it turns out that the Indian navy didn't sink a pirate mother ship earlier this week. It was really a Thai fishing trawler. The Indian navy didn't realize their mistake because they didn't leave any survivors. Or so they thought. Turns out one of the fishermen lived, and clung to a metal barrel for five days before being rescued at sea.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is suddenly so enraged over piracy that columnist Bret Stephens asks the question, "Why don't we hang pirates anymore?" in his column. Oil, of course, is mentioned only once, in passing. This matter's not about oil. It's about enforcing international law, and protecting the world from sea-bound terrorists. It's never about oil.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Potential benefits to global warming

Some of the potential benefits to global warming: my heating bills will go down here in North Carolina. (It was freezing out this morning. Very unpleasant.) And given that my house is at 2,500 feet in elevation, it could very well become oceanfront property in a decade or two.

Redford is pissed off

He spoke last night on Maddow about how earlier this month the Bushies, under the cover of darkness, opened federally protected lands to oil drilling. (By the way, he's got to be coloring his hair. No one that old is that blond. And if he's doing that, why doesn't he get some of the Botox? The dude needs it.)

Oil tanker pirate update

Kenya is preparing for the possible major oil spill off its coast when forces inevitably raid the Saudi oil supertanker being held by Somali pirates.

Ecological catastrophies, piracy, terrorism fincancing, war--all byproducts of the oil business. Hmmm...I feel like there's some other downside to it that I'm missing. Oh yeah, global warming.

Even so, the New York Times says today that the Economic Meltdown will be deterring countries from breaking their dependence on fossil fuels. If you read the article, though, it shows no real evidence of this.

If ever there was a time for countries to get motivated on starting a new green industrial revolution, it's now.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Greasy Rider column is up and running on Outside magazine web site

Head here for the first weekly installment of the Greasy Rider column on Outside magazine's web site. The first question: "Why do you drive a grease-powered car, and should I do it too?"

To find the witty, action-packed answer to this question, click here.

C-SPAN BookTV video

I should've worn makeup.

Arugula update

I've got a design for my winter garden. I'll build raised beds using 2"X12" boards, and put storm windows atop them.

The government and green technologies

A part of Obama's massive stimulus program that he's going to push in January is to set aside a whole lot of money for the government to create green technologies (to gin up a new "green collar economy" that will usher American industry into the next century). Does that mean he's going to create a "Manhattan Project" for green technologies? I hope not. We're better off providing tax breaks, grants, and incentives for corporations and universities to innovate. That's where all of the exciting stuff is already happening, and these are the people who are going to make the breakthroughs. Let capitalism do its thing, and not get government too involved.

Oil tanker pirates update, part 5

In response to the Saudi oil tanker recently taken hostage, Iran is saying that they're going to start using force against Somali pirates. And ship owners are demanding some sort of UN-backed naval blockade of the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile, the pirates holding the ship are saying they're willing to reduce the ransom. Think they'll get it down to $0?

Greasy Rider group on Facebook

Don't forget to join the Greasy Rider group on Facebook. Type "greasy rider" in the search box and you'll find it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spinal Tap on Global Warming

History's greatest band tackles the world's most perilous issue by reuniting for Live Earth.

Greasy Rider goes Prime

My recent book reading at the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne Vermont will be replayed on C-SPAN2's BookTV this weekend. You can see it at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. (yes, Prime Time) Eastern Time on Saturday, on CSPAN2, or streamed online by clicking here.

Amazon reviews?

If you've read and (hopefully) enjoyed Greasy Rider, feel free to leave a review of your impressions on Amazon. Help get the word out.

Pirate update

No word on any new developments with the oil supertanker taken by Somali pirates. The Indian navy has said they're now going to actively pursue pirate vessels. Middle Eastern countries are meeting to see what they can do. But just when the tide seems to be turning in a positive direction, the UN has threatened to help. Never a good thing.

Solar panels required on malls and big box stores

Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is aiming to require malls and big box stores to put solar panels atop their buildings--forcing them to become more energy efficient, and save money in the long run. (You'd think companies would want to do this on their own, but they don't.) To see how this system can work well, check out the Google chapter in Greasy Rider. Google recently installed solar panels atop its headquarter buildings. The panels supply 30 percent of the electricity for the campus, and will pay for themselves within eight years. In other words, Google will be getting 30 percent of its electricity for free in eight years.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

House cleaning

Henry Waxman has defeated John Dingell (from Michigan it should be noted) as the leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell has been the leading Democrat on this committee since, like, Henry Ford was a boy.

Dingell, though a staunch and important Democrat, was no friend of people who wanted high emissions or fuel efficiency standards. Waxman is.

This is a big deal--and signals where the House is headed. Not that I really know about this stuff.

Hijacked oil tanker update

In yesterday's chapter of the oil tanker pirate drama, we learned that a destroyer in the Indian navy was forced to fire upon a pirate "mother ship" and sink it. Today, we discover that the oil tanker pirates are demanding $25 million in ransom. (The ship is holding more than $100 million in oil.) They're not gonna get a dime, of course. Stay tuned.

US Mindset Changes on Gas Guzzling

Maybe the plummeting price of gas doesn't ruin my chances of ruling the roads in my grease-powered car. This Financial Times article asserts that Americans are still looking for alternatives to fossil fuels. Here's the section of the article I find the most enlightening:
Greg Melville also exemplifies the changing American mindset. He wanted to prove alternative fuels, such as vegetable oil, were feasible and so drove cross-country in a "French-fry car'' - a 1985 Mercedes station wagon powered on oil collected from restaurant waste en route. He lived to write a book about his adventure in Greasy Rider, which motivates others to turn towards alternatives.
Even though petrol prices are down again, Mr Melville expects Americans will continue to find new ways around fossil fuels because many are motivated by fears of climate change, not just loss of income. It is why he hangs out washing to dry, composts vegetable waste and buys local foods, which do not require packaging and fuel to get to his market.
He expects others to follow the energy-saving route. People will not trade in their hybrids to go back to SUVs, he says. "There is a definite shift in mindset that goes beyond the price of gas.''

Midnight Madness

I'm so tired of being angry at these people. But they make it hard to stop...

Just when you think the final nail has been placed in this presidential administration's coffin, it rises from the dead for a few last deeds. This time it's in the form of "midnight regulations," which generally take years for the incoming folks to undo (if they can undo them at all). Apparently, the Bushies have relaxed environmental regulations protecting endangered species, by eliminating THE GOVERNMENT'S OWN SCIENTISTS from giving input when the government is constructing a highway, dam, or building in an area where endangered species live.

In a separate matter, the EPA is using the 11th hour to weaken the Clean Air Act so coal-fired power plants and oil refineries near national parks will be able to send significantly more pollutants into the air. Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park here by me are especially supposed to be hurt.

From the Washington Post:
Don Shepherd, an environmental engineer at the National Park Service's air resources division in Denver noted that the agency determined in the 1980s that every one of its parks was "visually impaired," and "nothing really has changed that." Visitors to Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive in the mid-1930s reported seeing the Washington Monument more than 70 miles away; now, on some days, visibility is barely one mile.

Further down:
While limiting pollution in national parks does not have the broad public health implications of federal air-quality rules that govern soot or airborne lead pollution, it has symbolic and ecological importance. The four major pollutants affecting the parks -- sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and mercury -- contribute to degrading once-pristine habitats that Congress sought to preserve for generations when it decided to protect those areas.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Those pirates

You still following the Somali-pirates-capture-Saudi-mega-oil-tanker story? Yesterday, an Indian naval vessel just happened to get into cross paths with what's believed to be the Somalian pirate "mother ship" and sank it. (Think of how much India is hurt if the world's oil supply is threatened.) Funny, there was no word on any Somali pirates from the sinking mother ship being taken into custody or rescued. The chain of events here is just starting.


Today begins the planning for my organic winter garden. I'm going to get the book "Four-Season Harvest," by Eliot Coleman, and build some cold frames. The plan is to grow arugula. Arugula! I've never eaten it, but I plan to start. I'll also grow carrots, green onions, and other salad greens--with help from the kids. Whether you like it or not, you'll be receiving updates on the garden, and pictures.

According to Michael Pollan in Omnivore's Dilemma, organic food travels 1,500 miles on average before reaching your plate. I'm hoping to reduce that number ot 15 feet--and lower my food costs, too.

A word on "clean coal."

Just to be clear: "clean coal" technology doesn't exist. It won't be around for at least the next decade (using optimistic forecasts), if that's even the route we want to follow. Meanwhile wind, solar, and geothermal do exist.

Basically, the use of the phrase "clean coal" is a pander to Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From the elitist in chief

A video speech given to today's Governors Global Climate Summit.
"Any governor who's willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that's willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that's willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America." Pithy.

What a waste

On average, one quarter of every landfill is filled with compostable yard and food waste. Consider not only the incredible amount of space that this stuff takes up, but the energy it takes (and carbon produced) to transport it from your garbage can to the dump. Then think of the money it costs you or your city to take away your trash.

That's why Dr. Wife, MD decided we would compost all plant waste from our kitchen. The photo is of the composting pot we keep by the sink. You'll notice that Dr. Wife, MD is not inlcuded in the picture. That's because she's never seen around it. Somehow she delegated the composting responsibilities to me. (All of her great environmental schemes seem to end up turning into work for me, somehow.) We collect all eggshells and fruit and vegetable scraps, but no meats or dairy, into this pot and then empty it into a composting container in the yard (which I'll show later). We'll use the compost next summer for the organic garden I'm planning to create. (I'm also going to be building a winter garden soon, and I'll be showing pictures of that and providing progress-or lack thereof--reports.)

Weasels do like to burrow

The outgoing presidential administration is reassigning some of its hack political appointees into career civil service positions--especially in the Department of Interior. This act is called "burrowing." In this case, it appears the intent is not only to provide friends plum long-term jobs, but to continue to push their political agenda under the radar after the new administration comes in. (The officials being burrowed have been aggressive partisans during their tenure.) This is scary on so many levels, the least of which being that these people are way less qualified to do the work than the non-partisan experts who rise through the civil service ranks.

From the article: "Environmental advocates, and some rank-and-file Interior officials said the reassignments represent the Bush administration's effort to leave a lasting imprint on environmental policy.
"What's clear is they could have done this during the eight years they were in office. Why are they doing it now?" said Robert Irvin, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy group. "It's pretty obvious they're trying to leave in place some of their loyal foot soldiers in their efforts to reduce environmental protection."

Further down: "Alex Bastani, a representative at the Labor Department for the American Federation of Government Employees, said it took months for that agency even to acknowledge that two of its Bush appointees, Carrie Snidar and Brad Mantel, had gotten civil service posts.
"They're trying to burrow into these career jobs, and we're very upset," Bastani said. "Everyone should have an opportunity to apply for these positions. And certainly career people who don't have partisan bent and have 10 or 15 years in their respective fields should have a shot at these positions."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review of the day

Greasy Rider is Booklist's review of the day for today, November 17.

Gas prices keep falling. Will Putin be rearin' his head less now?

Gas prices have dropped 60 days in a row, now. In that darn liberal media, I keep seeing comparisons being made to the 80s, when people abruptly stopped caring about fuel economy after the price of unleaded plummeted from the gas-crisis highs of the 70s. (Ah, the 70s, a time when Jimmy Carter went so far as to put solar panels atop the White House, and told people to turn down the heat and start wearing sweaters. When misguided folks thought thought that driving a high mileage car meant they had to give up all sense of taste--as they poured into tiny Pintos and Gremlins, and the ever-popular Le Car). Here's the difference: today's heightened awareness of global warming. Even if gas was 2 cents a gallon, that wouldn't change its environmental impact. So drivers still want to use less of the stuff. People also now realize that the country's biggest security threats get weaker with every drop in gas prices. I mean, you have to admit that it kind of warms the cockles of your heart to see the petro-funded despotic Russian government unraveling a bit (Russian oil has now dropped below $50 a barrel), and even becoming more conciliatory to the West on missile defense.

hypothetically speaking

If you happen to be a geeky writer who spends most of his day sitting in front of a computer screen, and whose only cardiovascular exercise comes through his fingers, by typing on the keyboard, then DON'T accept an invitation to go mountain biking with your wife's co-workers. Hypothetically speaking, of course. Especially if you're hyper-competitive. And if you're riding somewhere in the rugged Pisgah National Forest. And if the aforementioned co-workers are hard core riders. Because if you do, you'll practically need to overdose on Vitamin I (also known as Ibuprofin) the next morning. Not that I know from experience.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Purified urine to be astronauts' drinking water.

I'm all for recycling, but this is a bit much, even for me. Apparently, NASA did blind taste tests, with purified urine and regular drinking water, and the astronauts didn't really know the difference. Dr. Wife, MD, believes there's a real future in a cool, tall drink of sewage. And so, apparently, does Orange County, California.

New Outside magazine online column

I'm slated to be writing a new column on Outside magazine's web page, starting next week. I'll send the link when it's up and running. My job is to give snarky yet informative (and potentially life-changing) answers to environmental questions. They'll be running one question per week. From there, the Cult of Greasy Rider is expected to gain millions of new members, until it becomes a movement, or perhaps a religion--kind of a Scientology for people with grease-filled garages.

Testing peanut oil in the car today

When I was in Vermont, Iggy gave me five gallons of peanut oil that someone had thrown out. It's virgin stuff, supposedly never used, according to Iggy. Maybe it was the sly look on his face when he gave it to me, or the fact that he's getting a little pissed off about friends and acquaintances making references to him in the book all the time--but for some reason, I didn't feel comfortable burning the stuff. It's been sitting in the back of the car. Until today. I just poured it into the tank. It was strangely clumpy, and discolored. Very suspicious. I have to take the kids to an appointment about 30 miles down the highway from the house this afternoon, so I figure I'll test it out then. Wish me luck. And if you don't hear from me ever again, blame Iggy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Insert oil rig here!

In its noble, never-ending effort to wean the country off of foreign fuel sources, the Bush administration has..."expanded its oil and gas lease program in eastern Utah to include tens of thousands of acres on or near the boundaries of three national parks.
And if we don't do this, according to an oil executive with too many consonants in her name, the terrorists win.

'Kathleen Sgamma, the government affairs director of the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States, said of the new lease proposals, “If you can’t develop oil and natural gas in this part of rural Utah, we might as well concede the United States has lost all interest in energy security.” '
I've always thought something was missing from the background in Canyonlands National Park. I was thinking that it was strip malls. (Nothing reminds you that you're snugly embedded in the middle of the US of frickin' A like a good old fashioned Bed Bath & Beyond.) But actually, it was oil rigs...

The brown clouds of Asia

The bad news regarding the giant brown clouds of pollution blotting out the sun over vast swaths of Asia: reduced crop yields, lung-burning air, three-eyed fish turning up in rivers.
The good news: less chance for skin cancer from harmful UV rays, not as much need to buy sunglasses (thus reducing your environmental impact).

Can green jobs end the economic meltdown?

"Moreover, a new rationale for promoting green investments is beginning to emerge. Many luminaries, from the head of the United Nations Environment Programme to Barack Obama, America’s president-elect, tout the industry as a means both to address global warming and stimulate flagging Western economies. Reports enumerating the economic benefits of state support for clean technology, in the form of industries fostered and jobs created, abound. American lawmakers, at any rate, seem convinced: they slipped an extension of all-important subsidies for renewable energy into the recent bail-out for financial services."


Gas drops below $2.00 a gallon in Asheville

This is starting to piss me off. OPEC and I are the only ones cursing these gas prices right now. it's taking away my ability to be smug about my free fuel supply. At least I can still lord it over people that the ole Mercedes wagon is still immensely better for the environment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Booklist starred review

Booklist, the century-old literary journal published by the American Library Association, just gave Greasy Rider a starred review.

Money quote: "From its punny title, to its unique premise (a man decides to drive from coast to coast in a car powered by used french-fry oil), to its serious message (you, too, can be more environmentally conscious), to its easygoing writing style, this is just a splendid book."

Greasy Rider playlist

I wrote the following essay for Largehearted Boy, a popular music blog that features daily downloads, opinions and news. It also includes a dose of conversation on books and literature, including suggested playlists from authors on recent books they've written. Here's mine. It appears on the site today:

Greasy Rider is the rollicking, white-knuckle, knock-you-over-it’s-so-funny (hey, this is my essay, so I can describe the book any way I want) recollection of a road trip I took with my old college buddy Iggy. We drove across the country in a rusty old diesel Mercedes wagon powered by waste french fry grease we begged, borrowed, and, um…begged from restaurants along the way. It’s also an investigation of other sustainable resources—like wind, solar, geothermal—already at our disposal. The gist is that if two mechanically-challenged goobers like us can get across the country in a car powered by the dregs of deep fat fryers, surely there are other easy-to-access ways to reduce our carbon footprint (and by extension, our dependence on foreign oil, and on fossil fuels in general). It’s the most fun you’ll have reading about global warming. I promise. Don’t believe me? Ask the legendary Neil Peart, of Rush. He reviewed it on his blog—something I randomly stumbled across yesterday, during my hourly ritual of obsessively googling the search terms “greasy rider, book, review, good.” Money quote from the greatest drummer (sorry, Ringo) who ever lived: “So the book is part picaresque road story (always a hit with this reader!) and part serious investigation of energy issues—the way it really is, without the wishful thinking, or simply wrong thinking, that is so often expended on these topics.” I’m not sure what picaresque means, but I’m pretty sure it’s a compliment (though I admit that it startles me to know that a rock star has a much better vocabulary than I do). Peart has written a few road trip books himself, by the way.

As you know, every self-respecting road trip must have a soundtrack, and mine was no different—though the sound quality could have been better. The wagon’s stereo system consists of an ancient factory-installed Blaupunkt, which was probably pretty Bitchin’ during the Reagan administration, and three working speakers. Its days of blasting tunes in stereo have also long-since passed. Here’s my playlist of songs—many of which are mentioned in Greasy Rider.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: The Sinister Minister
My wife and I bought our cream-colored 1985 Mercedes 300TD wagon from a young woman an hour south of our Burlington, Vermont home. During our test drive, I hand-cranked open the sun roof, and cranked up the Blaupunkt as I hit the gas pedal and headed down a dirt mountain road. The Sinister Minister crackled through the three working speakers. Perfect. Grooving to the funk-meets-bluegrass sounds of Bela Fleck is the most fun a yuppified Vermont pseudo-hippie can have without a bong nearby.

Willie Nelson: On the Road Again
I had originally planned to read Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” to kick off my road trip with Iggy—but wisely decided to play “On the Road Again” instead. Our connection to the Red-Headed Stranger was just too great, given that he’s such a huge proponent of vegetable oil and biodiesel power.
“Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway.
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world be turnin’ our way
And our way
Is on the road again.”
Now, Iggy and I will never be accused of being best friends, but the words were appropriate enough.

Cindy Lauper: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
To be very, extremely, utterly clear, I’m not recommending this song. But I feel it must be included. We weren’t even 10 miles into the trip before Iggy connected his portable satellite radio to the stereo, and tuned to the 80s station. He told me, “Greg, prepare for a musical education.” Then he turned up the volume to this song. Within less than a second, I had hit the power button and asserted myself as the alpha-DJ for the rest of the trip—though there were some stretches of road when I did cede my power to him. Advice to everyone: if you’re headed on a long drive with a buddy, make sure his or her musical tastes stretch beyond 80s pop. (And don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to tap the steering wheel to “Hungry Like the Wolf” when I’m alone in the car. But in very limited doses.)

Van Morrison: Crazy Love
When Iggy and I were in college, a buddy of ours who had much more luck with the ladies than me (then again, anyone who had any luck with the ladies had much more than me) would play Van Morrison on his cassette deck to signal that he was entertaining someone in his dorm room. So if we were about to knock on his door but heard “Brown Eyed Girl,” or something, playing, we’d know to walk away. On our drive, this song inevitably stirred memories of college. (And I’m talking the original version, from “Moondance,” and not the lame duet with Ray Charles.) Maybe this makes me cliché, but I still really like Van Morrison. Heck, Crazy Love was my wedding song, too.

Men at Work: Land Down Under
Iggy and I were hating each other by this point in the trip. He was given brief control of the stereo, and this song came on, by the greatest two-hit-wonder band Australia has ever produced. If “Land Down Under” can’t cheer you up on a car ride, you’re not alive (or at least you’re not a nearly-old fogie like me, who fondly remembers rockin’ to it in my basement when it played on Friday Night Videos).

Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch: I’ll Fly Away
To me, bluegrass is white man’s soul music. I could listen to hillbillies pickin’ banjos all day. Now that I live in Asheville, North Carolina, I’m surrounded by it (which is very nice). For Iggy, expanding his musical horizon means listening to the early stuff from Yaz. He’s not a fan of bluegrass. I tried easing him into it by playing the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Sadly, he wasn’t swayed. Allison Krauss is awesome on this album, including “I’ll Fly Away.” I also like her gospel stuff on other albums. Her version of “When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart,” is maybe my favorite iPod song right now. Have you heard Elvis sing it, too? Awesome.

Lucinda Williams: Joy

Driving through the flat dusty stretches of the Midwest, I made sure to play Springsteen’s “Nebraska” album, and Lucinda’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” That gravely voice, those angry poetic lyrics, and the ever-present outlaw-countryish slide guitar make her album a classic. My favorite is “Joy” because of its unbridled hate.

Hot Buttered Rum: Well Oiled Machine
The well-traveled, Grateful Dead-inspired folk-bluegrass string band Hot Buttered Rum travels on a bus powered by fry grease, and wrote a song about it.
“But I’m pickin’ and singing,
Slipping and Sliding,
Rolling in this well oiled machine.
My machine, my machine, machine,Riding a well-oiled machine.
Its gears are worn in by years of steady climbing,
Let’s move like a well-oiled machine.”

By the way, I wish I could say that Rush made the list, but as big of a fan as I am, we didn’t really listen to the band on the trip. Sorry about that Mr. Peart. And thanks again for the plug.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Culture of life

Catholic Bishops Urged to Challenge Obama. I find it fascinating how different people define the "culture of life." To me, it evokes images of finding cures to chronic and fatal diseases, ending and avoiding war, fighting the spread of AIDs through sensible methods, aiding the orphaned, and--of course--protecting all of creation from ecological destruction. Apparently, I'm on the wrong side of nearly all of these issues. Looks like I need some educating on what real values are.

Larry David, radical environmentalist

History repeating itself

Not to hammer the point too much, but I wrote yesterday that we'll need to alter our lifestyles if we plan to halt climate change. In Greasy Rider, I talk to a professor at Dartmouth about this. He mentions that we, as a country, have made sacrifices before for the common good--the most prominent example being World War II. has put together a collection of posters from the frugal movement of that time, intended to aid the war effort. The themes aren't much different from what are being discussed now. When clearly presented with the problems facing the country, Americans at that time quickly mobilized for the effort.

Monday, November 10, 2008

B.S. One

Al Gore's new double-decker, 100-foot houseboat, known as Bio-Solar One. (Note the Jet-Ski on back.)
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has a new houseboat. It's powered by solar panels on the roof and biodiesel in the tank. (By the way, is that biodiesel from a waste product like grease, or from virgin vegetable oil?) I respect all that Brother Al has done for the environment. But his lifestyle is completely unsustainable for the average person, even with solar panels on his houseboat and 10,000 square-foot mansion in Nashville. I know the word "sacrifice" is an ugly one in today's language, but some alerations to our Super Sized Lifestyles have to be made for the sake of our kids and grandkids. And if our leaders don't set the example, how are we expected to follow? (One conservative commentator recently said, "I'll start acting like there's a climate crisis when Al Gore does." Sadly, he's right.) This is a small point I try to drive home (hopefully in an easy-handed and fun way) in Greasy Rider. Sadly, my criticism of Brother Al probably rules out any invitations for me to Leo DeCaprio's house, or a chance to eat at the cafeteria lunch table every day with the cool kids of the environmental world.


Chain retailers and restaurants are waking up to the big bucks they can save by building eco-friendly outlets:

“You get energy savings, and you can tell customers you are greener. That’s a win-win,” said Neil Z. Stern, a retail consultant for McMillanDoolittle in Chicago.
While customers may like the idea of green buildings, Mr. Stern said he was skeptical that it would lure them into stores. “Ultimately, the reason you do it is it’s a better way to run your business,” he said.
Subway unveiled its first “eco-store” last year in Florida and has opened four more.
Target, Office Depot and Staples have opened green stores, and Best Buy has announced plans to do the same.
A few chains are even further along. Recently,
Kohl’s opened 45 stores that were built using recycled materials, water-saving plumbing fixtures and on-site recycling. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has taken the most successful techniques from prototype stores and incorporated them into all new stores, and it continues to experiment with “high-efficiency” stores that save 20 to 45 percent in energy costs when compared with more traditional stores. "

Friday, November 7, 2008

A fungus among us

This could be huge. A Patagonian fungus has been discovered that actually breathes biodiesel.

It "shares so many of the characteristics of conventional biofuels, that it has the potential to be pumped directly into fuel tanks without prior treatment or processing."

The Wii, part 2

I've received e-mails from horrified readers asking me if I've really gotten my kids a Wii. To clarify: no I haven't. One of our neighbors owns one, and we let our kids spend most of their waking hours over there. An even better setup for us.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Better than Oprah's book club

Though Greasy Rider may never make Oprah's Book Club, it's on something better: Bubba's Book Club--compiled by Rush lead singer and legendary drummer Neil Peart. He reviews the book here. This may be the greatest day of my life (just don't tell Dr. Wife, MD, I said that). Any guy who was a teenager in the 80s--and whose concert t-shirt collection was even more valuable to him than his hidden stash of, um, adult periodicals--can relate. It didn't get any better than popping the cassette into the Walkman and cranking up "Tom Sawyer."

What now?

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

The Wii

I've concluded that the Wii is humankind's greatest creation. I haven't had to read to, or play with, my kids in 27 days. (But who's counting?) All they want to do is stand in front of the TV during their free time. My daughter and son are 6 and 4, respectively, and I feel like my work as a parent is practically complete! Thank you Nintendo.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama gets it on sustainability...partly

From today:

"The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, "I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f---ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

The point made at the end of Greasy Rider is that the greatest change will come from collective efforts, not necessarily from individual ones.

From the book:
"So what can we do? More important than driving a veggie car or screwing in a few compact fluorescent bulbs is to kick the country's collective butt in the right direction...Change toward a sustainable, secure future will only come through a nationwide effort--and the resources are already at our disposal."

Consider that two-thirds of our electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. Or that we produce 25 percent of the world's carbon emissions. We need Big Picture solutions to solve these problems on a mass scale. He's right on this part. Not to get too preachy, but what he doesn't get is that we do have to begin making small sacrifices in our daily lives. Reducing our waste, water consumption, gas consumption, and energy consumption are all vital, though miniscule, components for leading us to greater sustainability--and curbing global warming. We can't keep living the same supersized lives that we have for the past two decades.

Now what?

We've got our first hybrid-driving president. What happens now? Well, it was encouraging that he mentioned energy as a top priority last night.
--Here's an article with the title, Under Obama, Dark Days Seen Ahead For Fossil Fuels. We can only hope.
--Then there's this one, which is maybe even more interesting: Obama’s Energy Czar: Could It Still Be Schwarzenegger? The governator does drive a grease-powered car, after all.

Bookpage review

Bookpage is a publication distributed at a bunch of libraries and bookstores around the country. In the November issue they review Greasy Rider.

Money quote: "Like every great tale about every great quest, Greasy Rider isn't really the story it pretends to be. What our heroes learn along the journey is far more important than whether they get to California, entertaining though that may be (and, incidentally, it is). At a time when greenhouse gases, global warming, declining petroleum reserves, high gas prices and the size of our individual and collective carbon footprints are the subject of cocktail chatter and election-year rhetoric, Melville deftly taps into America's can-do zeitgeist . . . perhaps the greenest, most renewable energy source of all. "

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The China Syndrome: not in my back yard!

I got an e-mail yesterday from someone asking me what I thought about nuclear power. He said that wind and solar can only amount to a "tiny fraction of the energy needed to keep the economy going" and that we should consider nuclear power. Being a good journalist, I made stuff up about the dangers of nuclear power in my response, while trying to sound like I had all sorts of facts and figures at my disposal. Now for what I'm not making up: I saw the "China Syndrome" when I was, like, seven years old and it scared the crap out of me. In fact, I think I'm still scarred by it. I also saw "The Day After," which, granted, was about nuclear war and not nuclear power, but all nuclear's created equal, right? Now, I'm no scientist, but Hollywood has been telling me for a very long time to stay away from that stuff, so I can't help but listen. Movies are always right.

By the way, it's not true that solar and wind can only provide a "tiny fraction" of the energy we need. Take the example of Colorado. They recently set a standard that the electric utilities have to generate 20 percent of their power from renewables by the year 2020. Xcel, the big power company there is set to reach that mark five years early. In fact, the company announced yesterday that they're being overwhelmed with competitive project proposals from wind farm and solar developers. Last time I checked, this rapid transformation to renewables didn't hurt the Colorado economy at all. In fact, it has created jobs. What's on the verge of wrecking the economy in Colorado has been the long era of banking deregulation. (And let's just say that pro-environment folks weren't exactly the ones behind that brilliant policy.)


I'm voting this morning. Blog entries later today. The lines are expected to be long here in North Carolina, so I could be there a while. Hmmm...who to choose? Obama or Palin?