The Original Sharing Economy

The sharing economy gets a lot of press these days. Enable people to share something via an app—be it a car, tool, apartment, whatever—and there is likely to be a lot of people speaking breathlessly about how original or transformative this idea is to daily life.

There is something disingenuous about the heaps of praise ladled on the new barons of the sharing economy because the foundations are really quite old fashioned.

No one talks about the public library with breathless enthusiasm, but spend any time in a well-run public library and you will quickly gain an appreciation for how a community can embrace the sharing economy. Outside of a few books I have purchased as reference materials for my disaster bookshelf and a spontaneous airport purchase all of my reading material that comes in physical form comes from the Cedar Rapids Public Library. It’s not convenient for me, as I live on the north side of town many miles from its downtown location, but it has become my de facto source for books and movies the past six months.

It’s not just me either. Every time I visit the library it is being frequented by people who I perceive to be from all walks of life. My estimation is that in this age of “government is bad” thought from the talking heads of television journalism something as quaint as a library run by the government for the good of the community is probably akin to communism. While Joe McCarthy is spinning in his well-deserved grave I will gladly check out books for “free,” as a tax payer I know that some level of my income is redistributed and it does not bother me one bit.

The original sharing economy is broader than just the public library. I own a pickup truck and as any other owner of a pickup truck will tell you, “The day you brought that truck home you became everyone’s best friend.” Why? Because you have the vehicle that almost everyone in your neighborhood needs once or twice a year. Trust me, I have bartered the short use of my truck for everything from the obligatory six pack of beer—it helps to have a neighbor work in the beer distributing business when you want to get something new or unique—to more esoteric items like used kegs—it helps to have a neighbor who rents properties to college students.

The truck is just a tool in my opinion. And if you are the owner of a lot of tools you have been at the center of the original sharing economy since time began. Why does your neighbor need to buy a belt sander to round off the edges of a CrossFit-style jump box when you have the same tool sitting in your tool cabinet? The answer is that he does not need to go to the store. All a person needs to do around my neighborhood is ask.

This all comes back to community, which I feel is the ultimate bulwark against the potential threats of climate change and social upheaval. Community is the center of the original sharing economy and it does not take an app on a phone or a website or a new start-up company to make it happen. It’s about knowing the people around you. Novel concept, huh?

By the way, can I borrow a cup of sugar?

Friday Linkage 9/12/2014

Oh man, did the weather ever turn into fall this week. Night time temperatures dipped to near 40 degrees on Thursday night and we are in for more of the same come the weekend. After a mild summer I am hoping that this is not a harbinger of a harsh winter to come on the heels of last year’s sucker punch of a snow season.

On to the links…

America’s First Cellulosic Biofuel Plant To Use Corn Waste Is Open In Iowa—Is ethanol made from non-food feedstock a viable part of our energy future?   I do not know if anyone has a definitive answer because no large scale plants have come one line to test the commercial feasibility of the process. The opening of a plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa is a first step.

The U.S. Added More New Capacity For Solar Than For Natural Gas In The First Half Of 2014—Remember, each solar panel represents demand destruction. Or, another nail in the coffin of the fossil fuel industry. That’s what I see when someone installs solar…little coal coffins.

Bad News for Obama: Fracking May Be Worse Than Burning Coal—Natural gas, the supplies of which have swelled because of fracking, may not be the clean-ish bridge fuel that we were hoping for just a few years ago. Never mind the groundwater contamination and lifestyle destruction from the actual fracking because the release of other gasses may be worse. Great.

America’s Coal-Fired Divide—People may think it is a rifle that someone will pull from their cold, dead hands but the truth is more likely to be coal.

Why Energy Efficiency Is The Most Important Fuel We Didn’t Know We Had—Energy efficiency is not sexy. It does not make the news. It does not sell books or speeches. It is putting a sweater on during the winter, which is a buzzkill. Sorry Jimmy Carter. But, it is very effective because it is immediate and cheap.

Abandoned California Oil And Gas Field Will Soon Be A Solar Farm—Think about the solar potential of brown field developments. No one wants to live on top of a landfill, so why not put some solar down?

California Encourages West-facing Solar Panels—Not only does putting solar panels on the west facing roof maximize peak use energy, it also opens up a lot more potential roofs for residential solar PV.

5 Egregious Eco Crimes Committed by the Koch Brothers—These guys are the gifts that keep on giving. Never mind the eco crimes for a minute. Consider just how much money they have spent to promote their pet causes and the return on that spending. Ouch. Keep the ATM for whacko candidates coming guys.

David Keeps Winning: 10 Recent Victories That Will Give You Hope for the Planet—Does any victory matter is we win a bunch of battles but lose the war to climate change?

China’s Battle Plans in War on Air Pollution under Scrutiny—Is anything the Chinese government says believable? Blue sky days with impenetrable smog is the more likely scenario. Nothing to see here, move along.

Hustle and Flow: Here’s Who Really Controls California’s Water—Marc Reisner nailed California and the West’s water politics in his book Cadillac Desert and the truth remains to this day. Water is power and money in the arid American west.

Obama Outperforms Reagan On Jobs, Growth And Investing—Can we stop the myth making around Ronald Reagan? He raised taxes. Fact. The number of people employed by the government grew under his administration. Fact. He dealt with terrorists and dictators. Fact.

General Mills to buy Annie’s Naturals for $820 million—Big organic just swallowed another player, but considering the size of the acquisition I have to wonder if Annie’s Naturals was really already part of big organic. Hmmm….

Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner—The mythology of the family dinner is strong. It’s not about the dinner, but about the time a family can spend together without distraction. The dinner table is just an agreed upon place and time for the interaction to occur.

How to Become a Food Bank Gardener—There has got to be a way to harness people’s love of growing food and people’s need for healthy, fresh food.

Sorry, Raw Sugar Is No Better for You Than Refined—I remember people pouring packet after packet of Sugar in the Raw into their coffee during graduate school. It was acceptable on some level because it was not white sugar. Too bad it’s all just sugar to our guts.

A Higher Purpose for Hefeweizens

My distaste for hefeweizens is not something I am shy about.  Considering that recently I have decided to cut my beer consumption down to a single night a week or less, I am left with some odd duck beers in the back of the refrigerator.

For some people, this might mean a few cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon gathering dust behind that jar of pickled jalapenos. In my house it means a bomber of Steel Toe Brewing’s Sommer Vice:

Steel Toe Sommer Vice

Sure, it’s a hefeweizen. Why would I waste my limited beer drinking bandwidth on a hefeweizen? The answer is that I would not.

However, I have found a higher calling for these witch’s brews of banana and clove esters:

Sommer Vice Brats

Par boiling brats prior to grilling is a honorable way for a beer to meet its demise.

You Must Read—The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World

Fracking is either America’s economic savior or one step further along the staircase to ecological doom. In truth, it may be both things at the same time or neither depending upon who you ask and when you ask the question.

9781451692280There is no doubt, however, that fracking—the process by which hydraulic pressure is used to create numerous small fractures dispersing from a bore hole—is controversial. What Russell Gold attempts to do in The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World is clarify some of the misconceptions about the industry in general and put a face to a dynamic that seems to dominate the headlines.

First, fracking as a concept is not new. The technology to “frack” a well has existed almost as long as oil and gas men, make no mistake that this is a male dominated industry, have been drilling holes in the ground to extract dino juice. The actual mechanisms have changed dramatically, replacing explosives with high pressure water and sand.

Second, the concerns are legitimate. To get at most shale gas the bore hole needs to pass through the strata of rock that many aquifers reside. To ensure that this underground water is not contaminated by escaping gas the well needs to be “cemented.” If you remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster and a score of other incidents where wells have failed miserably you will understand that this process if riddled with potential errors. In the race to pull gas out of the ground as fast as possible or get wells drilled before lease terms lapsed, frackers have regularly failed to follow the industry’s best practices and regulators have not held their feet to the fire in order to drive better behavior. While some people were getting rich and our homes were cheaper to heat a lot of holes got put into the ground that will impact our environment for generations to come.

Third, the change wrought by the expansion of natural gas supplies in the United States is somewhat uncharted territory. The U.S. was supposed to both consume more natural gas and produce less as the twenty-first century progressed, yet the opposite happened. Efficiency and production shifts away from natural gas flat lined domestic demand while domestic production soared. Between shale gas and unconventional oil the U.S. is producing more fossil fuels than it has in many decades, which is dramatically reshaping the economy in ways that may not be sustainable.

Lastly, the story of fracking is one about personalities. No single person dominates the story in The Boom more than Aubrey McClendon, the deposed founder of Chesapeake Energy Corporation. Chesapeake was one of the single biggest proponents of fracking and natural gas from the outset of the boom. Its fortunes were made and lost on the backs on the price of natural gas and the markets, which may or may not have been manipulated by people close to McClendon.

Toward the end of the book there is an interesting side bar about the odd marriage of McClendon and Carl Pope, who at the time of the story was the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Perhaps in exchange for promoting natural gas as a bridge fuel to wean the world off of coal McClendon became one of the Sierra Club’s largest donors. Talk about an odd couple. When Michael Brune took over as executive director the decision was made to cut ties with McClendon at great cost to the Sierra Club’s coffers.

Gold’s book is a breezy, not overly technical, account of how an obscure process to extend the life of oil and gas wells turned out to fundamentally alter the conversation about energy in America. Given how dependent our lifestyle and economy is on hydrocarbons sucked from the ground there can be few stories more central to the history of modern America.

No More Beer

Have you ever had gout? No. Trust me, you never want to have even the slightest hint of having gout.

Why? It’s brutal. My father suffered from gout for the last couple of years of his life and it would immobilize him for days at a time. Other people describe even the slightest sensation of touch near their feet as being unbelievably painful.

When I got the first hints of gout in my big toes I got worried. So worried that I started to figure out what I needed to do in order to avoid having full blown attacks. Guess what? Of all the risk factors related to lifestyle I was only guilty of one—alcohol consumption via beer.

Furthermore, I have a long history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in my family on both my parents’ sides. This makes me especially sensitive to any issue relating to joint health because I know that before too long I will be combating the symptoms of RA. There is no need to hasten that arrival by inviting inflammation of any kind into my body.

The third health consideration is that I am overweight. Not extreme weight loss overweight, but probably carrying a little more than 20 pounds of fat that is extra pressure on my already taxed joints. No matter how much I watch what I eat and exercise I was probably sabotaging my efforts by finishing the night off with a few pints of homebrew from keezer. At about 13 calories per ounce an imperial pint was packing an extra 250 or so calories into every glass I finished. Ugh.

This got me to really assess my lifestyle vis a vis my beer drinking. I love beer. I enjoy the culture of beer. I find satisfaction in trying new beers and seeking out new breweries. I revel in talking about all aspects of beer with like minded folks. However, I like to be able to walk without pain and if the small amount of time I spent with a gout-like episode was any indication I would give up drinking in a heartbeat.

People reorder their lives for all sorts of reasons and I imagine that health is paramount among those reasons. My decision was to make changes before my health degraded to the point where I was dependent upon medication or staring down the barrel of surgery.

Will I still drink a beer now and again? Sure, but it will form a much less significant portion of my life than it has for the past several years. On the bright side, I should be awake early on Sunday mornings to go for bike rides and hikes with my daughter as opposed to shuffling around the house with a hangover.

Anyone know of someone who wants to give a keezer a good home?

Friday Linkage 9/5/2014

Big changes. The reason I have been somewhat radio silent the past couple of weeks is that I have been “reordering” my life. Nothing major like getting divorced or a death in the family—too much of that in recent years for my tastes. Rather, I decided of my own volition to make some adjustments in my approach to life for happiness and health reasons. I will get to the details later.

On to the links…

22.6% Of Homes Use Solar In South Australia—Damn, imagine if sunny states in the U.S. like California, Arizona, or Colorado approached a number like this? One can always dream.

Solar Makers Set for Record 2014 Shipments on Strong Demand—Why do I foresee a near term future where every headline is about a record with regard to solar?

Propane Made with Renewable Process for the First Time—This is kind of cool. Drop in biofuels are sort of the holy grail of the industry.

Communities Going into Power Business to Cut Cost, Carbon Footprint—Local control means that the communities can decide the path forward for their power generation. If left to private power companies it would be dirty coal. All the time.

Shell Submits a Plan for New Exploration of Alaskan Arctic Oil—After a disastrous initial campaign highlighted by the beaching of its massive drilling rig, Shell is back to try and drill in the artic again. Nothing has changed and this will more than likely end in ecological disaster.

Does Antarctic Sea Ice Growth Negate Climate Change? Scientists Say No—When are people, in general, and climate deniers, in specific, going to realize that it is global climate change brought about by a globally warmer climate. Some places will get wetter while others get drier. Some places will get colder while others get warmer. The dominant theme however is that the climate is going to get weird.

Seeing Discolored Lawns, California Businesses Apply Dab of Green—No matter what happens to the climate at least the invisible hand of the market has figured out a way for you to have a nice green lawn in the worst drought.

Why Coal Is (Still) Worse Than Fracking and Cow Burps—This is an interesting take on the compounds responsible for climate change. Read it and let me know what you think.

Sweden Now Recycles a Staggering 99 Percent of its Garbage—Damn. Regardless of how the Swedes got to this point, it is impressive.

Inside the Rainbow Factory Where Crayola Crayons Are Made—Factory tours are cool. Crayola Crayon factory tours are even cooler.

Friday Linkage 8/29/2014

There are few good things to say about having your refrigerator stop working and losing a lot of food. If I look on the bright side I got to really clean the inside, disposed of some junk food that no one in my house needed to eat, and now have the opportunity to really think about what gets put back in. On second thought, maybe this should be a yearly thing.

On to the links…

As Americans Pig Out, Bacon sees Sizzling Price Hikes—Supply and demand baby! It’s good to see that people have let go of their fat phobia and are embracing the tasty meat. Granted, a lot of people go too far in their bacon love. It can be sort of disturbing.

Why Are We So Fat? The Multimillion-Dollar Scientific Quest to Find Out—This issue seems to boggle scientists and there is a lot of contradictory information that exists. All of it appears to have been conducted in the best interests of science, but it has confused the issue mightily.

Norway Whale Catch Reaches Highest Number since 1993—This was a total WTF moment for me when I read the article. Japan gets a whole boatload, pun sort of intended, regarding its whaling program but Norway is out there killing just as many whales. That’s right, Norway, which is usually thought of as being a fairly progressive and with it country. WTF.

Renewable Energy Capacity Grows at Fastest Ever Pace—The International Energy Agency estimates that 22% of the world’s power comes from renewables, including hydropower. Greater than $250 billion, yep that’s a billion, was invested worldwide in 2013. As good as this news seems this pace of introduction will not be enough to meet climate goals. Boo!

Renewable Energy Accounts for 100 Percent of New US Electrical Generating Capacity in July—Of all the new electrical generating capability brought on line in July all of it, let me repeat all of it, was generated via renewable sources.

Soon, Europe Might Not Need Any New Power Plants—At its core the economic argument for small scale generation will be feasible without government subsidies and have a payback of approximately 6 years, which means that demand destruction will take off to such a degree that large centralized power plants will be an endangered species. Dig it.

Hawaii’s Largest Utility Announces Plan To Triple Rooftop Solar By 2030—I am always a little hesitant to believe anything HECO says because they tend to seem to be incompetent when it comes to renewables. Here’s to hoping.

Lawmakers, Homeowners Fight Rules Saying Solar Is Too Ugly To Install—Homeowners Associations (HOAs) blow my mind. People will talk about freedom and property rights all day long, but willingly submit to the whims of neighbors with nothing better to do on a beautiful day save for figuring out who is in violation of some silly rules. I am sorry sir, but those plants are not on the approved list.

New Bill Could Make Residential Solar In California A Lot Cheaper—It used to be the panel costs that drove the price of a solar PV system. Now, as the price of solar panels continues its downward trend, the balance of systems costs are stubbornly high. Some lawmakers are trying to rectify this issue with streamlined permitting.

How A New Group Is Helping Nonprofits In West Virginia Get Solar Panels For Just $1—This is a great story about a community coming together and making solar happen.

Weed Blaster shows Promise as Alternative to Herbicides—When RoundUp finally fails in its ability to control superweeds like pigweed then it will be time for another solution. Here is something that does not depend on the chemical regime of the past to save us from weeds.

Moving Back Home Together: Rarest Native Animals Find Haven on Tribal Lands—Through neglect and downright abandonment, tribal lands have been saved from a lot of the ravages of modern development including the plow. Now, these lands are a bright spot in the effort to reintroduce species of animals long gone from the landscape.

Powerful Photos of the World Feeling the Impact of Climate Change—Global climate change as a result of human behavior is real and its effects are visible today. Climate deniers may line their pockets with Koch money to slow down effective mitigation, but it will not help when the waters rise.