No More Diet Soda

Hot on the heels of nearly banishing beer from my daily routine—I have been giving myself one night a week to enjoy carefully curated beers—I started to wonder about another daily habit that might be quite harmful to my health.

Despite my love of the Sodastream, I fall victim to the convenience and deception of diet soda. It’s so easy to get a twenty ounce bottle from the vending machine at work in the afternoon when I am thirsty and my energy is flagging. A little caffeine and carbonation seem to do wonders to get me through the stretch run most days. Add on top the idea that I am getting a soda fix without the calories and corn syrup guilt of a traditional soda.

With apologies to Lee Corso, not so fast my friends. In our collective desire to consume fewer calories and not make any lifestyle changes—isn’t that what diet soda is really selling—the addition of artificial sweeteners to our diets may be causing more harm than good.

How is that possible? The dangers of artificial sweeteners have been hinted at for years. Most people hew to the conventional wisdom that aspartame—the generic name for trademarks like Nutrasweet—is not good for children. As my daughter so rightly pointed out one day, “If I shouldn’t drink it, why can you?” Good logic, little one, good logic.

The answer, in all likelihood, is that no one should be consuming artificial sweeteners. Why? Because recent studies and anecdotal evidence, which is mounting by the day as more long term studies are published, show that something in these products is confusing our bodies. People who replace sugary sodas with diet sodas do not appear to lose any more weight and, in fact, show signs of glucose intolerance which is a precursor to diabetes. Our bodies do not like to be fooled into thinking we are getting sugar because we are hard wired to seek calories. It’s a survival instinct.

There are a host of other problems associated with artificial sweeteners like migraines that appear to be linked to consumption. Rather than seek some happy median, it just seemed easier to excise the products from my life entirely. Like any change to habit it’s hard not to fall back into routine and slide a few dollar bills into the vending machine to get a late afternoon hit of liquid satisfaction. It all seems worth it when you are trying to avoid lifelong health problems like diabetes. On one hand you can have a diet soda, but you increase your risk of getting a lifelong illness. On the other hand, you can save a few bucks and avoid that chance. The downside risk on this one blows the upside gain out of the water.

Have you gotten rid of artificial sweeteners in your diet?

Friday Linkage 9/26/2014

Where did summer go? I sort of woke up and realized that fall was already here. There is a chill in the night air, football is in full swing, and ski resorts are sending out countdowns to opening day so I guess I should have known the change was afoot. Still, I really was not ready.

On to the links…

Depression era Photos from Your Hometown—A collaboration between the Library of Congress and Yale University has produced a catalog of over 175,000 Depression era photos indexed by county. It’s just a fascinating adventure to troll through old photos of places you know today. Spend a few minutes or an hour today.

Harvest of Change—The Des Moines Register has put together fascinating portrait of the changes afoot in rural America as the current generation of farmers ages out and there is little population to support the next wave.

Wyoming Wind Farm Energy would go to L.A.—Wyoming is in the process of building out two mega wind farm developments. In total, you are looking at approximately $16 BILLION of investment and over 5,100 megawatts of clean energy being pumped into the grid. Damn.

REC Solar Breaks 27 MW Installed Capacity in Hawaii—Hawaii may be the test tube state for renewable energy because its grid is independent of the rest of the nation and costs are high. If only HECO would get out of the way of progress. Fat chance.

Within 10 Years, Every SolarCity System will come with Batteries from Tesla’s Gigafactory—Storage of renewable energy is one of the harbingers of a smart and resilient electricity grid. Tesla and SolarCity appear to be the ones driving toward that future in a coherent and coordinated manner.

Putting Solar Panels On School Roofs Could Dramatically Increase America’s Solar Capacity—So, there are a ton of flat roofs out there with little need for electricity in the sweltering summer months. Let’s get some solar panels out there today.

Kazakhstan Mulls Adding 713 MW of Solar PV Capacity by 2020—Has the world gone solar crazy when Kazakhstan, better known for bad governance and Borat, is developing some serious solar PV? Just asking.

Obama Is Working To Protect An Unknown Tropical Paradise—Marine sanctuaries are amazing things. No one, outside of international fishing interests, argues against the establishment of the zones and the protection of a relatively small portion of the oceans may yield massive returns.

For Polar Bears, a Climate Change Twist—Polar bears are having a hard time sealing because of the lack of sea ice, but snow geese are on the menu now. If only I could get a few polar bears down here in Iowa to consume the Canada geese that crap over everything.

California Adopts new Olive Oil Standards—Given the level of forgery olive oil should really be called snake oil. California is trying to put some rigor and standardization around the labeling to assist consumers and protect the industry from the less scrupulous players.

Behind the Scenes at America’s Largest Contiguous Hop Farm—This is a fun tour of a huge hops farm in northern Idaho. If you are a beer drinker you owe it to yourself to spend a few minutes checking out this amazing operation.

Friday Linkage 9/19/2014

It’s a little light on the links this week. Life has a way of getting in the way of research and blogging on my hobbies. Damn.

On to the links…

Duke Energy Invests Heavily in Solar—Duke Energy is a big player in energy. Now the company is making a $500 million investment in solar. A total of eight projects will deliver 278 megawatts of clean solar power to the grid in North Carolina.

There’s a Place in the World that is Fighting Poverty with Solar Power—Solar power can be big improvement for the lives of people who live in countries with limited or no grid infrastructure.

A New Government Report Shows More Coal Plants Are Retiring Than Previously Thought—There is not a war on coal, per se, because the economic argument for burning coal is a losing proposition. Take a look at the map and see just how much coal generating capacity is going offline.

U.S. Moves to Reduce Global Warming Emissions—This is one of those “boring but important” announcements. The Obama administration may not be able to make any progress through Congress, but at least they can try and make progress other ways.

New Hydrogen Production Method Could Help Store Renewable Energy—The storage of renewable energy is a big deal because of the need for stable power and renewables inherent lumpiness relative to demand peaks. Maybe this is a way to “store” energy for future use.

Jatropha Biofuel Around the World: A 13-country Tour of Development Activity—Jatropha is an interesting feedstock for biofuels because the plant has some attractive qualities compared with more traditional feedstock like corn, soy, or palm oil.

California Drought: Dramatic Before-and-After Photos—If you do not believe in the severity of the drought gripping California spend a few minutes looking at these photos. If you are still not a believer, you are probably a Republican funded by the Koch brothers.

Zoos Weigh Pp the Costs of China’s ‘Pandanomics’—I am going to say it. Pandas suck. These obstinate little vegans are the absolute worst animals at the zoo. At least naked mole rats run around cool habitats. Pandas just sit there munching on bamboo and looking out with disinterested eyes. At least someone is questioning the value of playing into China’s hands when it comes to pandas.

The Truth about the Peer-Reviewed Science Produced by Japan’s Whaling—Regardless of the official numbers, the reality is that Japan’s whaling program has produced little if any scientific knowledge because it is a program designed to kill whales for consumption. It’s like asking the makers of “pink slime” about their scientific research of the sustainability of naturally occurring cow herds. It’s incongruous.

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.