Thursday, March 24, 2011

Late Night Motie News Linkspam

While Detroit makes for a great locale to watch collapse and people's efforts to prevent, reverse, or survive it at point blank range, places all around the nation and world are facing the same issues to a greater or lesser extent, therefore this linkspam. While I doubt I can ever compete with either The Automatic Earth or The Oil Drum, two collapse-related sites that put out great collections of news links every day, I can at least share with you the news stories I've found each day on the subject.

Discovery News: High Gas Prices May Turn Suburbs Into Slums
The provocative conclusion of an Australian study suggests that the 'burbs are doomed.
Mon Mar 21, 2011 02:38 PM ET
Content provided by John Voelker, GreenCarReports

A study conducted by the Planning Institute of Australia suggests that the suburbs are too far away from the places where we work and play. As gas prices rise, people will move out of the suburbs and closer to urban centers.
Suburbs will be the slums of the future--this is one of the major theses of James H. Kunstler. Should this come true, it will be a very unpleasant surprise to the people who currently live in the McMansions of outer suburbia.

The other part of the prediction, that people are moving closer to public transportation, is already starting to come true.

Marketplace on American Public Media: Home buyers are moving closer to public transit
Even though a nice house out in the suburbs with a white picket fence is the prototypical American dream, a lot of home buyers are voting with their feet and choosing to live within walking distance of public transit.
This makes me glad that I did my part to help out Los Angeles with light rail; the last two years I lived in L.A., I worked on the construction of the first leg of the city's subway system.

And now, something near and dear to my heart--food. First, a bridge between urban design and food availability from Michigan State University:

Mapping food deserts

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Maps are great for showing where things are. They're also good for showing where things aren't.

Two Michigan State University professors have developed interactive maps that offer a visual perspective of urban food deserts. By using GIS (geographic information systems) technology, they are showing, rather than simply telling, how urban residents are losing access to fresh produce and balanced nutrition.

Phil Howard, assistant professor of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies, and Kirk Goldsberry, assistant professor of geography, conducted their research in Lansing. They found that many supermarkets have closed their stores that serve urban areas and have moved to the suburbs. They also showed that Michigan's state capital is a model for what's happening to food environments around the country.

"The change in food environments is recurring all over the nation," said Howard, whose research is supported by MSU's AgBioResearch. "The best selection of produce and the lowest prices have moved to the suburbs. So if you want lettuce in Lansing, or in most U.S. cities, you're going to have to drive to get it."
This is going to have to change if people will be moving to be less car dependent.

MSN Money: What will food cost in 4 years?

Big-time inflation is headed for the grocery aisles, and whatever your diet, you'll feel the hit. Compare the prices of common foods today with what they're likely to cost in 2015.
The average annual inflation is 4-5%, with meats and dairy on the high side at 7-8% and fresh fruits and vegetables on the low side at 3%. As someone who remembers the inflationary 1970s, I normally wouldn't be impressed. Back then, an inflation rate of 5% was considered normal. The difference was that salaries also increased at about the rate of inflation. That won't happen this time. Instead, most people will experience inflation of food and energy, but stagnation or deflation of almost everything else from housing and clothing to services and labor. That's a combination that will really suck.

Speaking of food prices, here is a press release from Purdue University explaining what is behind the coming rise in prices:

Trio of factors pushing food prices higher, economist says
March 11, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Grain shortages, Middle East turmoil and extreme weather in critical crop-producing regions have combined to send retail food prices higher this year, said a Purdue University agricultural economist. Prices could climb further if commodities markets continue their upward march.

American consumers can expect to spend about 4 percent more for food this year than in 2010, said Corinne Alexander. Beef, pork and poultry products likely will see even greater price hikes, she said.

U.S. food price inflation reached 7.5 percent in September 2008 before falling 10.5 percent by November 2009. It's been moving back up ever since.

"We're returning to a period of food price inflation after coming off a period where we saw food price deflation," Alexander said. "We don't expect this to be a long-term, permanent higher food price period. We'll see these higher food prices until we rebuild global stocks of the primary crops."
This report sounds more optimistic than I am about prices. It also doesn't take into account converting corn into ethanol, which is a big energy loser. Fortunately, it may be less of a loser if ethanol comes from cellulose in the stalks and leaves instead of the grain, as cellulosic ethanol requires less fertilizer than grain ethanol.

Michigan State University: Overfertilizing corn undermines ethanol

EAST LANSING, Mich. - When growing corn crops for ethanol, more means less.

A team of researchers from Michigan State University and Rice University shows how farmers can save money on fertilizer while they improve their production of feedstock for ethanol and alleviate damage to the environment. The results are featured in the current issue of American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The research has implications for an industry that has grown dramatically in recent years to satisfy America's need for energy while trying to cut the nation's reliance on fossil fuels, according to Sieglinde Snapp, a crop and soil scientist at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station.
The team discovered that corn grain, one source of ethanol, and the stalks and leaves, the source of cellulosic ethanol, respond differently to nitrogen fertilization. The researchers found that liberal use of nitrogen fertilizer to maximize grain yields from corn crops results in only marginally more usable cellulose from leaves and stems. And when the grain is used for food and the cellulose is processed for biofuel, pumping up the rate of nitrogen fertilization actually makes it more difficult to extract ethanol from corn leaves and stems.
What about other forms of "Crazy Eddie" alternative energy, such as solar?

Purdue University: Ultrafast laser 'scribing' technique to cut cost, hike efficiency of solar cells
March 8, 2011 Print Version

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers are developing a technology that aims to help make solar cells more affordable and efficient by using a new manufacturing method that employs an ultrafast pulsing laser.

The innovation may help to overcome two major obstacles that hinder widespread adoption of solar cells: the need to reduce manufacturing costs and increase the efficiency of converting sunlight into an electric current, said Yung Shin, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of Purdue University's Center for Laser-Based Manufacturing.

Critical to both are tiny "microchannels" needed to interconnect a series of solar panels into an array capable of generating useable amounts of power, he said. Conventional "scribing" methods, which create the channels mechanically with a stylus, are slow and expensive and produce imperfect channels, impeding solar cells' performance.
I told you I love food. That gives me an idea about how to compete with other blogs that have great news link features--specialize in something else. The Oil Drum specializes in energy news, and The Automatic Earth concentrates on economic news. I don't know of any blog that features news links about food. Do any of you?

While you consider that question, I leave you all with these two articles from the University of Michigan about the psychology of climate change.

University of Michigan: Reframing climate change: It's as much cultural as scientific
March 14, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—While debate on climate change often strikes a caustic tone, the real impediment to meaningful dialogue is that the two sides often talk past each other in what amounts to a "logic schism," says a University of Michigan researcher.

"In a logic schism, a contest emerges in which opposing sides are debating different issues, seeking only information that supports their position and disconfirms their opponents' arguments," said Andy Hoffman, the Holcim (U.S.) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at U-M's Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment. "Each side views the other with suspicion, even demonizing the other, leading to a strong resistance to any form of engagement, much less negotiation and concession."

In a new study in this month's issue of the journal Organization & Environment, Hoffman provides a descriptive analysis of the cultural and social landscape of the climate change debate in the United States, examining the presence of ideological and cultural influences on both the definition of the problem and consideration of solutions.
This is a follow up to last week's It's all in a name: 'Global warming' versus 'climate change' from the University of Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-Many Americans are skeptical about whether the world's weather is changing, but apparently the degree of skepticism varies systematically depending on what that change is called.

According to a University of Michigan study published in the forthcoming issue of Public Opinion Quarterly, more people believe in "climate change" than in "global warming."

"Wording matters," said Jonathon Schuldt, the lead author of the article about the study and a doctoral candidate in the U-M Department of Psychology.
If we "Crazy Eddies" want to save civilization, we'll have to learn how to reach the normal people. If we don't, we're doomed.

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