Friday, September 26, 2008

Carbon Neutral Flash Mobs

As global warming relentlessly keeps on melting the Arctic’s ever shrinking permanent ice pack, should we be adopting a low carbon lifestyle like starting carbon neutral flash mobs?

By: Ringo Bones

Since the advent of the Internet, e-mails have grown from a simple electronic data analog of good old-fashioned mail to creating one of the latest forms of political expression-of-protest – namely flash mobs. Much maligned for initiating the infamous “Battle of Seattle” – i.e. the anti-globalization, anti-capitalism protests by anarchist and activist against the November 30, 1999 WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle, Washington. Nicknamed “N30”, the protests are mainly concentrated outside the hotels and nearby streets of the Seattle Convention Center was famed for the first ever large-scale use of flash mobs to gather a large number of protestors. Thus causing flash mobs to become a veritable tour de force of political activism in the 21st Century.

Wikipedia defines flash mobs (probably one of their youngest word entries) as a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, do something unusual or notable. And then disperse as if nothing had happened. Flash mobs are usually organized with the help of the Internet or other digital communications networks. Even though the various originators of flash mobs during the second half of the 1990’s had openly expressed that they have no lofty social or political ambitions. Their goal is just to meet in a public place and perform a random, obscure, and generally absurd act just for the sheer “experiential heck” of it. But it doesn’t preclude flash mobs from being used as a positive social force, namely as a peaceful form of political activism.

The flash mob of the Battle of Seattle / N30 happened because of the major sticking point of everyone expressing disdain against unbridled capitalism that best thrives only in an environment of extreme economic disparity is the amount of damage it has continue to bear upon our environment. As a means to being true to “our cause”, it’s only logical to discuss about low-carbon or carbon neutral flash mobs. Especially to show support of the coming Alternatively Fuelled Vehicle Day slated for the 3rd of October 2008.

Even though the mechanics of a typical flash mob is to send large numbers of people to congregate at one particular spot at a certain time using the existing Internet infrastructure as a clarion call is relatively easy nowadays. And may get much easier in the future due to the continuously galloping pace of technological development. But organizing it successfully is another task entirely even though this can be the perfect platform to spread the message that the only form of energy that is truly free is energy conservation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Call for a Global Biofuel Reform

Ever since the skyrocketing food prices of 2008 has lead to several widespread riots in various part of the world, can we still afford to develop biofuels as a more Earth-friendly alternative to crude oil-based fuels?

By: Vanessa Uy

After the governments of the world had been moved by former US vice President Al Gore in his “An Inconvenient Truth”, most of them did make efforts to start their various biofuel programs as a means to mitigate the effects of global warming. Sadly, all of the biofuel programs that they started - are in one way or another - been influenced by powerful agricultural lobbyists with vested interests. Thus the diversion of corn and other grains to fuel the rich man’s car that inevitably sent global food prices straight through the roof. Especially if it takes 22 pounds of corn just to produce a gallon of ethanol. But if we are to tackle the problem of uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions caused by our global crude oil addiction, is abandoning our still fledgling biofuel programs a wise – even a sensible – choice?

What if there is a way to obtain our biofuels from plants or parts of plants that we humans neither classify as food nor eat. For a number of years now, a process exists that enables us to obtain ethanol – similar to what we get from corn under our existing biofuel program – except this time its from inedible parts of plants like wood wastes, left over sugarcane pulp, even from prairie grass. It is called cellulosic ethanol, a process developed by Dr. Lonnie Ingram to extract ethanol or ethyl alcohol from cellulose or the stuff that makes up most of the bulk of the plant besides water.

Normally, yeast cultures used in the production of ethanol from sugar can’t produce ethanol from cellulose. By using a gene-spliced e coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria, Dr. Ingram managed to produce ethanol from any part of a plant that is made of cellulose that are previously just thrown away or burned in a bonfire. The use of specialized e coli bacteria is necessary because “wild” e coli bacteria only turn the sugar components of the cellulose structure into lactic acid. This cellulosic ethanol process has just been recently scaled up to evaluate its economic viability.

If the cellulosic ethanol process works - just imagine - waste pulp from sugarcane processing can now be turned into ethanol instead of just being burned. Biofuelled cars will get their fuel from previously untapped overgrown wild prairie grass instead of crops destined for the dining table. Or the end the need to grow plants that are a source of biofuel – like rapeseed plants - in fields that are primarily used for growing food crops. The proverbial rich man’s car will never again be in competition with his poorer brethren’s daily bread.

But the obstacle of this very promising way of getting our biofuels is politics. If bioethanol-fueled cars get their fuels from wild overgrown prairie grass instead of corn, the corn lobby would be up in arms due to lost sales. And since the corn lobby values more the rich man with his bioethanol-fuelled car than a poor peasant because of the rich man’s buying power and possibly better credit rating, this might lead into an unnecessary civil strife borne of resentment. Let’s just hope that the powers-that-be sees the bigger picture.