Archive for Health

Pink Slime is Green

I’m getting tired of the knee-jerk reactions to all the pink slime controversy from the environmental establishment. Like this one, which spured this article.

I totally agree that pink slime is gross, but so is digging through your trash for recyclables, toilet-to-tap water recycling. But both are very green.

Likewise, industrial processes like CAFOs and pink slime are not all bad- the good and the bad have to be carefully weighed… we should not dismiss one side just because it is gross.

Grass-fed cows produce more methane per pound of beef than CAFO cattle (because the latter gain weight faster.)

And “pink slime” is a way to use parts of the cow which would otherwise be thrown away. If we use 15% pink slime as a filler in our hamburger, we reduce the environmental impact of that hamburger by approximately 15% (as something which would otherwise be waste, pink slime has no negative environmental impact, except for that caused by processing it, and has some positive impact because it’s not rotting and producing methane in a landfill somewhere.

Pink slime is an environmental innovation. It only started being gross when we started talking about it. So do the planet a favor, and stop worrying about what’s in your burger.

Unless you’re ready to give up the burger altogether.

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How to look for an Energy Efficient Rental (or resale home)

Does it seem totally unfair to you that the young, who are typically much more environmentally aware, are often stuck living in cold, drafty, unhealthy, and expensive to operate rentals, while it’s the old and the wealthy splash out on gigantic mansions with multiple low efficiency furnaces and air conditioners?

It does to me. Well, if you’re one of those green renters, you can do something about it. I’ve put together a checklist to use that can help you sift out the efficient buildings from all the cold, drafty ones.

Since it’s not really about stocks, I sent it over to Jetson Green as a guest post. But if it’s stocks that might benefit from the trend in energy efficient homes you’re looking for, I list several in the intro I wrote for it at Alternative Energy Stocks.

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Corn is For Ethanol, Grass is for Cows

Last year my wife and I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s
Dilemma
, and it changed we eat.  My wife was greatly affected by how animals are mistreated in production farming, while I was attracted by the health
benefits of eating grass fed beef
and other foods grown in the manner to which they are evolutionarily adapted, as well as by the lower degree of harm to the environment.  We haven’t become all-natural, all-organic, all-the-time at the Konrad household, but we’re now much more willing to pay more when we have the opportunity to do so for food which we consider healthier and more environmentally and morally sound.  For a world-class tightwad like myself, being willing to pay more is a considerable step.

In any case, the book also got me thinking more sympathetically about the ethanol industry, because it serves as a relatively benign outlet for the mountain of corn produced by America’s insane farm policies.   I find rising price of corn and other grains is more a cause for celebration than despair, because I see current prices more as a return to sanity rather than a likely cause for starvation.  Even in the third world, low agricultural productivity is (in part) due to a lack of incentive to compete with subsidized first world production, rather than an inability to grow enough food.  The market for corn has been massively distorted by oversupply caused by too many subsidies.  Ethanol represents a new source of practically inexhaustible demand which is restoring balance to a market too long out of kilter.

One practice which the massive flood of cheap grain begat was feeding corn to cattle.  In my AltEnergyStocks
column this week, I look at one way I think the market may be starting to find its equilibrium again.  As corn prices rise, there will be less incentive to fatten cattle in feedlots (or Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operations, CAFOs ad Michael Pollan calls them), and more to feed them grass.  I believe that long before we can perfect the art of using energy crops such as switchgrass to make cellulosic ethanol on a commercial basis, the rising price of corn will make it economic to feed those same energy crops (i.e. grass) directly to cattle, more than doubling the amount of corn currently available to the ethanol industry.

Click here to read the entire column.

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Win-Win Auto Insurance

On Thursday, I attended NREL’s Energy Analysis seminar, which this week featured Todd Littmann of Canada’s Victoria Transport Policy Institute, on Win-Win Transportation Solutions.

As an economist focused on policy, Todd Littman Photo of Todd Littmanhas done a lot fo thinking about what are the costs to society of transport, and what sorts of perverse incentives are there that are making these costs much higher than they would be otherwise.  He has a ton of extremely interesting ideas which will be useful to reduce transportation energy use for little or no cost, by simply removing perverse incentives.  I’m only going to go into a couple that I thought were most surprising or innovative here, so I urge you to read the whole paper on which his talk was based on VTPI.org.

One surprising result for me was that the greatest costs to from driving may not be the costs of gas, pollution, or global warming, but the cost of accidents, which are infrequent, but can be extremely expensive.  Even before adding in additional costs of congestion, wear on roads, etc., you do not need to be concerned at all about global warming to want to reduce vehicle miles traveled.

 And reducing vehicle miles a is far more effective and quick way of reducing transportation energy use (as well as vehicle accidents) than improving vehicle efficiency.

He has many ideas on cost neutral ways to reduce vehicle mileage, from broadly discussed ones such as smart growth, price shifting fuel taxes, and road and congestion pricing, and he does analysis on how cost effective all of these are.

What really got me to sit up and pay attention was an I dea I had heard no where else, which was all the more interesting because he feels it is the most cost effective (in fact, cost-negative: it pays more than it costs) method of reducing vehicle use: Pay-As-You-Drive pricing.  The idea is simple: instead of paying vehicle registration and auto insurance based on how long we have the car, we should pay based on how far we drive it.  

Since the safest place for out vehicle is in our garage (including theft and hail damage) this makes more economic sense than the current monthly payments for auto insurance, and since the costs we place on the transport system also increase the more we drive, it also makes sense for vehicle registration fees.   Because rich people with fancy cars not only tend to drive more than the poor, but because their registration fees are also already higher than those for inexpensive cars, this may even make the fees more progressive than they currently are, but some fine-tuning may be needed.

Since this is a purely regulatory reform, costs of implementation are minimal, consisting of only an annual odometer audit after the system is set up; an audit which could easily be combined with other scheduled service to minimize the cost.

According to his numbers, pay as you drive insurance and registration would average about 21 cents a mile for most people (about twice the cost of gasoline,) which I can easily see as enough to make most people think harder about how to maximize how efficiently they drive, or even consider public transport where it is an option… most public transport would become much more cost effective for people, without adding to their financial burden.

You might worry that people with long commutes and no public transportation might be unduly burdened by this shift, but we need to remember that they already pay more for auto insurance, because these are questions the auto insurance company asks.  The big difference is that there would be an increased marginal cost of driving, and it is the marginal cost of an activity that has the greatest effect on behavior, not the average or total cost.

The Vattenfall Institute recently found that the cost of stabilizing the United States’s share of CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm by 2030 would actually be negative, and it’s innovative solutions like those coming out of VTPI that let us get paid to cut emissions.

What are we waiting for?

Links: Victoria Transport Planning Institute: www.vtpi.org

Win-Win Transportation Solutions

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This Paper Bugs Bugs

I follow several forestry products companies because I beleive that investing in these companies is one of the safest ways to invest incellulosic ethanol: you’re investing in the feedstock, not the technology, so you do not need to pick the winning technology in a developing field (always a risky proposition.)  We are starting to see the advantages of owning the feedstock over the means of processing today with corn ethanol.  (also see VentureBeat; thanks for the link, Gav)

The forestry/paper I follow are the ones who are the most devoted to getting their forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (which I see as a good proxy for environmental responsibility in forestry. )  I’ve written about this before in Peak Oil Review.

One of the companies I follow, Domtar has just launched an antimicrobial office paper.   A great gift for the germ-phobe writer in your life.  Or, more practically, for use in hospitals.   I thought it was worth blogging, even if it’s a bit off topic.  Anything that can reduce hospital infections is a wonderful idea, since microbes in hospitals are often immune to antibiotics.

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Off topic agian – back on Spinach and E-Coli

There’s an excellent article by Michael Pollan, author of the Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma in the NY Times Magazine from last weekend.   It ties in nicely to my thoughts on Spinach and E-Coli from a couple weeks ago. 

 Unfortunately, it does not have a lot to do with investing or alternative energy, so feel free to stop reading now, if that’s why you’re on my blog. 

If you’re worried about the industrialization of our food supply, and don’t want to get more worried, you probably should find another blog to read as well.   Here are the main points I got out of it:

1) Industrialized farming is the root cause of the health problems we’ve been having with our veggies.

2) But the likely proposed solution is not less industrialized farming, but more.

 3) The problem has to do with the industrial mindset of the regulators. 

4) Yikes!

Read the Veggetable-Industrial Complex article.  If you can figure out something to do about it, leave a comment.

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Cows, Spinach, and E-coli

This is a little off topic, but I was really affected by this op-ed piece from the New York Times.

The E-Coli that has put us all off spinach for the last couple weeks apparently comes from cow manure of grain-fed cows.  The solution, Nina Planck effectively argues, lies in the hands of stockyards, not spinach growers, and the blame and remedies should be their responsibility.

 If cattle are fedon grass for one week, this dangerous form of e-coli dies back 1000 fold.  This would make their meat much safer, and longer periods on grass, or perhaps alternating cycles on grass and fattening grain might be enough to make us safer safer eating our leafy greens.  It also might save the Salinas Valley growers, who are getting a bad reputation because of their cattle yard neighbors’ inability to control their sewage.

This a case of what economists call externailities.  The cattle yards do not bear the cost of escaping manure laden with acid-loving e-coli.  The spinach farmers do pay the cost, but they cannot dictate that the cattlemen control their own pollution.  That’s the FDA’s job, which it is clearly falling down on.  (To get back on-topic for a moment, another example of an externality is CO2: emitters don’t pay the price, so we all do in the form of global warming.)

The fact that spinach farmers pay the price for slightly cheaper beef, while we (through the FDA) pay subsidies of holding ponds that aren’t doing the trick (we should be building anaerobic digesters anyway) is what really bothers me.

I’m not a person who believes we should all go back to nature, but we have to acknowledge that when we take animals and force them to our ends, there will be unforeseen consequences, and simply trying to control things by engineering will always fail some of the time; it is best to reduce the risks (in this case, by keeping cattle from eating grain all the time), as a supplement to the engineering of holding ponds (or digesters.)

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