Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Plans that Stink to Hog Heaven

When it comes to Confined Animal Farming Operations (aka. Factory Farming) there are not too many land uses that can rival the ecological, social and resource impacts that these facilities bear upon a community. In spite of that, these facilities have become ever more prevalent as a handful of powerful food conglomerates have brought the promise of improved local economies to poor rural counties across the US. In recent years, many planning departments (including my old one) have had to grapple with this subject.

this in North Dakota:

EDMORE, N.D. - North Dakota is prime ground for growing hogs. "It has lots of agricultural land, lots of grain and lots of open space ," said Kevin Tyndall, a consultant from Canadian hog producer Hytek.

Paul Ivesdal, an Edmore farmer, agrees. "I'd like to see 1 million hogs in our school district," he said. "We could site a hog operation in each township."

That's a lofty goal, considering that Ivesdal has unsuccessfully attempted to get one 21,000-hog operation approved. Viking Feeders LLC, a group of local investors that has Ivesdal as its general manager, is still negotiating with Ramsey County, which wants to impose stricter regulations than the state. Frustrated by a year's delay, Ivesdal said he might move his proposed hog operation a mile north, into Cavalier County. He said Viking Feeders also is considering a switch to a 5,000-sow farrowing operation rather than the 21,000-hog business that finishes the animals and sends them to market.

One million hogs as developmental goal? On a limited aquifer?

At least it makes more sense than this:

FRESNO – California cows parachute into Nevada, after leaving their former pastures and barns “knee deep in crud.”Say, what?That scene is depicted in a tongue-in-cheek marketing film circulated by the state of Nevada to try to attract dairies to move there.“It’s a great environment; not just for cows but all sorts of businesses,” notes Nevada Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt.The short film has been circulating amid farm groups in the nation’s leading dairy state, where milk sales top $5 billion.
As if operating a water intensive land use in a semi-arid region with limited seasonal rainfall makes little environmental sense, operating it in a true desert makes no sense whatsoever.

The real problem with use of factory farming as a developmental tool is the discounting of environmental and social costs of such operations and the lack of consideration given to the resource impacts that such facilities place on their surroundings.

Animals defecate just as we do. One hog alone will produce an average of 17.5 pounds of waste per day. Yet CAFOs are not required to treat their waste to the same level as human sewage. They just have to ensure it stays sequestered on the property until it can be dried and sprayed onto the fields. (Sometimes they fail even at this task). Nor are there any standards when applying the dried wastes back onto the fields. It is one thing to carefully apply treated or composted manure onto a field as needed, it is another thing altogether to apply it wholesale as a disposal option and hope that whatever is growing there will take it up and use it without running off or leaching into the groundwater. As it stands now, run off from the over-application of chemical fertilizers is a known cause of water pollution. Why would it be any different from over-application of dried pig crap? Close concentration of animals likewise creates air pollution as well, particularly from the particulates and volatile organic compounds that originate when so many animals and their wastes are kept in tight quarters.

If someone proposed a land use that resulted in close concentration of one million people in a similarly confined space (and aside from Nazi style concentration camps few such examples even exist) you can be assured that serious provisions would have to be made to handle the inevitable air and water impacts.

Also very much neglected in industrial agriculture as a whole is consideration of social impacts. Factory farming is too often touted as a major investment (in positive terms) for a rural economy. That may be true during construction as well as over the long term for the owner of the operation and affiliated businesses (e.g. dairy equipment vendor). It certainly is not the case for the rest of the region, particularly if meat processing is part of the equation. Like many other menial tasks in this country, meat processing has joined the “race to the bottom” when it comes to pay and working conditions. While butchery has never been a glamorous profession, the jobs in the past were at least were unionized and paid a family wage. Not so any more. Now offering wages barely above minimum wage, meat packers struggle to attract American workers. So these firms have been forced by their own miserable pay scales to turn to immigrants used to even worse conditions to fill these jobs. The arrangement is quite suitable for the packers and CAFO’s; their labor expenditures are relatively low. But people, unlike the pigs or cows, are not warehoused. They drive cars and live in houses and send their kids to schools. In essence, they consume many of the same (limited) resources that we do and in greater amounts than had they remained in their country of origin. They also place additional demands on the community such as the need for free medical care, extra linguistic assistance and increased criminal justice expenditures due to their low level of socio-economic achievement caused by their sub-par employment. Does corporate farming pay for any of this? Nope. That is some “investment” program.

But most importantly, CAFOs perpetuate the energy and resource intensive nature of industrialized agriculture. These facilities consume huge quantities of fossil fuel energy directly or indirectly by their operation. Envision the entire process from feed growing to waste disposal and you can better understand this. A New York study found that 77% of all energy consumed the average NY dairy originated from fossil fuels (and that neglected to consider the fossil fuels embodied in the supplied feed). A cow will use on average 200-400 KW of electricity over the course of a year while your standard large dairy may consume more than one megawatt in the course of one day. In recent years some have begun to recapture some of the methane to power generators, but in most cases they fail to break even on their own electrical demands, let alone generate additional electricity. Other livestock operations may demand less electricity or fuels to run, owing to the absence of milking facilities but are nevertheless, large energy consumers. Factory farms also consume large quantities of water as well, which calls into question the wisdom of their location in dry areas such as Central California, the upper Great Plains or Nevada. Dairy farming in particular is pretty insidious in its water usage where by the water is pulled off out of depleting aquifers and exported out of the area in the form of milk and meat. Furthermore, by reducing the price of meat to the consumer, they encourage increased consumption which consumes ever more resources in turn. This is a no-brainer really.

Once these resources are depleted, then what? Run the whole system on bio-fuels, bio-gas, solar power and thermal depolymerization? That’s pretty doubtful.

Thanks to cheap and abundant fossil fuels, asinine agricultural subsidies and price supports, suspect environmental standards, governmental acquiescence to unfettered immigration to keep labor costs low, extreme concentration by a small number of agri-businesses and the overall inability to consider the costs beyond the next fiscal year we wound up with the factory farm as the model of “modern agriculture.” For the reasons, discussed above, it is a faulty model and one with a questionable future. Quite simply, the pursuit of CAFO’s by strapped jurisdiction makes little sense now and almost none in a world of declining resources.

Yet here we are, approaching crunch time while still moving full speed ahead in pursuit of cheap meat. My former jurisdiction (the nation’s number one dairy county) was hesitant to even consider some form of cow cap, lest that interfere with the ag interests. Review of dairy projects failed to even consider the issue of resource consumption by the proposed operation or cumulatively. No doubt, the same attitude is replicated elsewhere in the US. Too bad the idea stinks as much as one of these:

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mono-Railing for all the Wrong Reasons

Transportation planning is not a field predisposed to radical changes. Planners and engineers routinely propose ideas to solve current and future problems with ideas that have worked in the past. Pragmatism probably plays a big part in this; after all, if you are going to devise a solution that will cost one hundred million dollars or more, you damned well need to make sure it will work. Change, when it does occur is evolutionary in nature.

That said, transportation history is littered with countless radical visions for the future of travel. Some ideas were just ahead of their time. Others were straight out of the world of science fiction. As expected, most were indifferent to the issue of energy.

It is always interesting to watch when “old” visions of transportation are periodically resurrected. It is even more amusing when a science fiction author is the one resurrecting the idea.

Earlier this month Ray Bradbury of Fahrenheit 451 fame
wrote in the LA Times:

SOMETIME IN THE next five years, traffic all across L.A. will freeze.The freeways that were once a fast-moving way to get from one part of the city to another will become part of a slow-moving glacier, edging down the hills to nowhere.


In recent years we've all experienced the beginnings of this. A trip from the Valley into Los Angeles that used to take half an hour — all of a sudden it takes an hour or two or three. Our warning system tells us something must be done before our freeways trap us in the outlying districts, unable to get to our jobs.

As this passage makes clear, Mr. Bradbury is apparently unaware or incapable of understanding that due to Peak Oil, traffic is the least of our concerns.

If anything, the traffic situation five years hence will be better—not worse.

That fact notwithstanding, Mr. Bradbury opines that the solution to LA’s gridlock is a monorail system. Apparently this is not a new idea. Four decades ago he advocated the very same thing.

More than 40 years ago, in 1963, I attended a meeting of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors at which the Alweg Monorail company outlined a plan to construct one or more monorails crossing L.A. north, south, east and west. The company said that if it were allowed to build the system, it would give the monorails to us for free — absolutely gratis. The company would operate the system and collect the fare revenues.

Obviously this never came to pass. In all likelihood, nothing will transpire this time around either. The past year has not been kind to monorail enthusiasts. Seattle’s on-again, off-again love affair with the Monorail is definitely off. In November of last year, voters turned down a proposal to construct what would have been North America’s first (and only) citywide monorail system.

Then to add insult to injury, later that month the only two monorail cars on the city’s existing segment collided with each other on a poorly designed stretch of track wide enough for only one to traverse at a time. The system remains shut to this day for repairs.

Apparently nobody told Ray.

Compared to the heavy elevateds of the past, the monorail is virtually soundless. Anyone who has ridden the Disneyland or Seattle monorails knows how quietly they move.They also have been virtually accident-free. The history of the monorail shows few collisions or fatalities


At this point, I must say that I have no bias towards or against monorails. As it becomes increasingly clear that our petroleum-fueled transportation system is doomed to run out of gas, we most certainly need creativity when devising whatever transportation solution or solutions to turn to next. We cannot keep throwing transportation ideas that may have worked in the past such as bigger roads or new light rail systems, without really considering whether or not it will continue to work in the future.

We also should not resurrect ideas from the past without a proper justification for doing so. Bringing back monorails to reduce traffic created by poor land use decision-making will not solve LA’s perceived future of gridlock. Without fixing the underlying land use patterns and continued demographic growth, any new capacity created by this system will consumed by the growth in population (particularly in those areas not located near the network.)

At the same time, a monorail proposal for LA will do little to insulate or assist the metropolitan area from the coming era of shortages either. Los Angeles’s real problem is that it exists far past the natural carrying capacity of its region. Contrary to what Bradbury may believe, traffic congestion should be the least of the area’s worries. Keeping the lights on, the water flowing and even the population fed is a far greater concern.

This scenario is of course down the line a little bit. Barring a near-term, catastrophic collapse of civilization, changes in how we move ourselves about can and should be made. We honestly do need to overhaul our transportation system. All options must be on the table, whether the idea is considered “mainstream” or not.

What is more important though is that any transportation plan for the future be holistic in nature. Transportation planning is more than technology application; it is also about land use planning and behavior modification as well. Address all three together and you have the makings of a real plan.

Monday, February 13, 2006

One Year of UNplanning

A glance at my Blogger homepage this past week informs me that I have officially been at this for over one year now. Over the past twelve months I have explored a variety of subjects (mostly) related to the role of energy in the planning sector. Some were drawn from personal experience and others from research. My former employer was the subject of a number of these postings. Current events provided subject matter for the rest.

Here is a rundown of the best UNplanning posts of the past year:

Behind the Journal – This was my inaugural post and still a good explanation on why I am blogging. Read the following posting to find out where I came up with the term UNplanning.

A couple posts looked at how common elements in the built environment will fare in the coming energy crunch. Mauled in America took a look inside the future of the shopping mall. MegaChurched explored what could happen to one of those massive one-stop churching facilities in an energy deprived world.

Food and agriculture was a frequent subject for me to write on. Part of this came from being a planner in an agricultural county and part of this came from my interest on how the food I eat gets to my plate. Our Agricultural Future, Protecting the Food Supply, Passport Cuisine, and That Food Problem all looked at the real hard issue of keeping the Human Race fed over the next several decades. I even took the time to examine an agricultural proposal with little or no chance of success in a low energy world, the Vertical Farm.

Sometimes I would comment on the absurd nature of what gets built today. While I don’t fancy myself as the next J.H Kunstler, some examples of idiotic planning and development need to be ridiculed. The increasing prevalence of the RV Garage and the Suburban High-rise are a good examples of this. Mindless road construction is another. Other times I take on whole urban areas such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans or some of California’s massive New Town developments. I even picked apart some of those so-called Eco-sensitive communities in my Greenwashing post.

Other times I would suggest solutions for the future. Like ruralization. Or a plan that could be crafted for use during an energy emergency (given the reluctance of many agencies to plan ahead or even consider energy in the first place). Some ideas were broad in scope covering an entire region or a particular town. Others were more modest in scope, such as my proposal to retrofit a Wal-Mart into post-peak urban farm, advice for communities not to forget the details, suggestions on how renters could save energy or how we could all just think smaller.

A few posts got me some serious recognition from others out there interested in the future of our world as it pertains to energy. Natural Gas[p], a Conversation with an Energy Insider is one of my favorites and one of my most linked to postings. So was the infamous Conversation with Denial, also known as "how my planning director canceled the energy crisis". Honorable mentions also go to my Peak Oil inspired review of children’s movies and my take on the important events of 2006.

Finally, some posts looked at the planning process itself and the issues most pressing along those lines, such as the importance of transportation. Others contemplated included massive infrastructure plans with no future, Governors without a clue and Oregon’s examination of its own planning process.

What a year it has been. There have been a lot of good posts made and your suggestions, comments and ideas have been most helpful and appreciated, blogspam not withstanding. Sometimes maintaining this Journal has been an enjoyable and enlightening task. Other times it has been a royal pain. Once or twice I thought I would just chuck this blogging altogether and move onto something else. But I didn’t.

Thanks for reading and here’s to another year of (not too) eventful blogging!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The State of the State (of Energy)

State of the State addresses, much like their federal counterpart are full of lofty goals and optimistic language while remaining ever short on useful specifics. Some speeches adopted overarching themes while others read like a shopping list. Visionary or idiotic (depending on your point of view) author Thomas Friedman provided the vision for not one but two State of the State Addresses this year. Both Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Mark Sanford of South Carolina succumbed to the vision of tomorrow painted by Friedman’s The World Is Flat (piece of) work.

Most addresses contained similar topics deemed most import to each state’s particular electorate. In 2006, the most commonly mentioned item actually had to do with the Iraq Conflict. Virtually every governor that made a speech this year, spoke to the honor, bravery or sacrifice of that state’s soldiers or reservists. After that, the usual hot-button topics of education (always the crowd pleaser), health care, crime and transportation were frequently discussed. Parochial issues relevant only to that particular state were never far behind either. This year, for a change, energy was back on the minds of state politicians as well. 23 of the 45 governors (annual addresses are not required in every state) making State of the State speeches in 2006 referenced energy in one form or another. Even those states not included in this State of the State coverage did posses some links to energy policy articulated recently by their respective governors.

This of course is not surprising given 2005’s dramatic price surges. How each governor addressed the issue differed slightly from state to state. The Unplanning Journal reviewed all of the archived transcripts available at the time of writing (Oregon, Connecticut and Louisiana speeches were still pending) and tried to draw some conclusions.

So after last week’s energy fiasco during the President’s State of the Union speech, the question begs itself: did our governors do any better?

The simple answer would have to be no.

While no governor utilized the President Bush “Addicted to Oil” line and only one (Delaware Governor Minner fixated on price gouging by the oil majors) made a really incoherent proposal in seeking to address the energy issue none really “got it” either.

No one acknowledged the issue of Peak Oil or the fact that North American natural gas supplies have slipped into decline. (Not a big surprise really).

No one discussed or contemplated the long term implications of even continued price increases in the cost of energy.

Not one made the connection that a decline in available energy was not only inevitable, but imminent. Many did at least acknowledge the importance of energy to the economy however.

And finally, not a single governor grasped the concept that unlimited growth (be it economic, transportation-wise or even population) is not possible without an unlimited amount of natural resources to support it.

What the governors did propose generally focused on the following issues.

On the energy production side we had proposals for new:

  • Ethanol/Biodiesel facilities – Twelve state governors cited specific projects or programs to increase biofuel production. Even those governors not speaking this year had ethanol links up such as North Dakota’s.
  • Power plant construction – Mentioned directly by just one governor, several others alluded to the need for increased power plant construction.
  • Oil, gas and coal production – Three energy rich states and an energy poor one called for the stepping up of fossil fuel production.
  • Alternative Energy – The catch all category for increased wind, water and solar power generation was also popular with six governors.

On consumption side there were calls for:

  • Home heating subsidies – While mentioned by just six governors directly (mostly northern ones) it is an issue for all but the warmest states. Most calls were for increased state funding of LIHEAP or other assistance programs.
  • More overall energy efficiency – Discussed or alluded to by a number of governors, most took the form of better building standards.
  • More energy efficient vehicles – Discussed by four governors, alluded to by others.
  • Technology innovation – Echoing Bush’s theme, six governors asked for increased funds to spur innovation to find a technological solution to any energy shortfall we might face.

Let’s examine some of these ideas in-depth.


Ethanol and Biodiesel production was the hands-down winner in popularity, having been mentioned by almost half of the governors that spoke on energy matters. As expected, the Corn Belt governors all touted their states’ contribution to ethanol…

“Three new ethanol plants were permitted last year and two more are in the process. Once these projects are completed, South Dakota will be ranked fourth in the nation in ethanol production with over 600 million gallons of ethanol being produced every year.” Gov. Mike Round, South Dakota.

…or its virtues.

“Ethanol is clean, it’s renewable, it’s less expensive, it helps Wisconsin farmers, and it reduces the demand for foreign oil. Let’s pass this bill, because America ought to be more dependent on the Midwest, and not the Mideast.” Gov.
Jim Doyle, Wisconsin

Never mind the questions on whether or not corn-based ethanol actually consumes more energy than it produces.

Non Corn-belt states advocated other crops or plant matter, such as Gov. Pataki (and President Bush’s) call for switch grass-based ethanol or Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia interest in utilizing peanut shells. Although Louisiana’s address is not scheduled until the end of March, any ethanol proposal from Gov. Blanco’s office would probably echo that of Gov. Lingle’s of Hawaii in utilizing sugar as the primary feedstock.

The fact that so many states are seeking to increase production of liquid fuel replacements to gasoline and petro-diesel indicates a growing consensus that the increasing costs of oil and the growing dependency on foreign producers is not a good thing. Unfortunately none of the proposals sought to reduce vehicular travel or increased efficiency. Most aimed to replace some of their respective state’s petroleum consumption. All would inevitably require large subsidies to work and raise the question of scalability. It’s fine and dandy to replace 5% or even 10% of a particular state’s liquid fuel needs. It is another thing altogether to try and fuel 90 to 95% of the existing vehicular fleet.

Plant Construction.

Only one state governor, Mike Rounds from South Dakota discussed power plant construction specifically (the Big Stone plant). On the other hand, several governors did allude to the need to build more “clean coal” fired power plants. With the increase in natural gas prices, no governor has called for new gas plants, though the Pennsylvanian governor sought an increase in land fill gas fired generation. Interestingly enough, Gov. Carcieri of Rhode Island mentioned the need to increase LNG supplies for his state, something no other governor discussed. No governor discussed the radioactive subject of new nuclear power plant construction.

More Fossil Fuels

No, they are not dead. Not by a long shot. The three governors from energy rich states called for increased oil, natural gas and coal production. Gov. Rendell cited [in a separate, energy related press release] the increased oil and natural gas drilling in Western Pennsylvania and along with Joe Manchin of West Virginia, called for the increased production of coal. (Incidentally, both governors have also called for stronger mine safety protections as well – updated link). Presumably the other coal-rich states of Wyoming and Montana are also in agreement with these ideas. Gov. Rendell also mentioned a new plant about to go online that will convert tons of coal waste into “clean” diesel fuel. Gov. Pataki of New York also reiterated the need for clean coal production.

Then there is Alaska.

This state, which still possesses far more oil than it could reasonably consume internally is still pushing ANWR production. (Given the world status of petroleum production, they will get it eventually …) Additionally, they are making long term plans to finance part of the planned gas line from the Arctic gas fields to Canada and the Lower 48. Assuming the pipeline is constructed, the state would be financially set even after the oil production winds down. Interestingly enough for those of us living in the Lower 48, Gov. Murkowski is also planning this,

[A public relations campaign] “educating the Lower 48 about Alaska’s role in national energy policy

We would also propose having an experienced Alaska communications organization as part of the national effort. We would of course look to our major newspapers, T.V., and radio outlets for their professional guidance. “

Alternative Energy

Although this sector—wind, water and solar powered generation—actually has the best chance at being sustainable over the long term (as long as the sun is shining anyway), only a limited amount of resources are being directed here by the various state governments. While alternative electrical generation will not solve the issue of transportation fuels, it would contribute significantly to the overall energy picture.

Home heating subsidies

To be brutally honest, this program actually encourages wasteful energy usage and does nothing to reduce overall energy consumption. Without the subsidies, fewer people would consume less heating oil, gas or electricity during the winter months. The subsidies allow those consumers that would not ordinarily be able to afford to heat their homes in the winter to participate in the fuel market, driving up the prices. Plus their houses tend to be less efficient and as a result, consume more fuel trying to heat.

This is not to say your poor Aunt Mimi living on social security ought to freeze to death in the winter. Heating assistance is a great social program. It is a lousy energy program. As prices go up, state and federal energy policies and funds really should be directed into making those homes more efficient, and not just for the very poor either. Why continue to pay a huge bill year after year when a one-time investment to improve the unit’s efficiency could lower household bills (and overall consumption)? Make this program affordable to mid-low income residents and free for the poor or destitute. Do that on a national scale and some serious energy savings could be arrived at.

This line of thinking is seemingly lost on most governors. Not one proposed a specific low income energy efficiency renovation program. Instead, most governors called for increased funds to pay the increased monthly heating bills. The leader in home energy retrofitting, the federal government is looking to scale back their current modernization program in response to budget cuts. Aunt Mimi better buy a few more blankets.

In a related note, Georgia saw fit to suspend its sales tax on natural gas and gasoline purchases to soften the price impacts on “average Georgians.” While certainly appreciated by most lower income households, it hardly amounts to more than a one-time band aid in response to rising prices.

Energy Efficiency Programs

Perhaps the vaguest theme from the various State of the State address was the call for increased energy efficiency. No governor focused on any particular program, though a few alluded to increasing the efficiency standards for home construction and major appliances. While efficiency programs were seemingly ignored by the politicians, most states do have existing appliance replacement programs, home energy standards and various tax credits or incentives for a number of energy efficiency measures.

Vehicular Efficiency Improvements

As expected, a number of governors had difficulty separating the very different issues of transportation energy efficiency and overall energy efficiency. When it comes to transportation, fewer efficiency options exist. Never the less, four governors saw to it to point out the need for more fuel efficient cars. Approaches to this goal took one of two tacks, more incentives or better technology.

Governor Napolitano proposed the most novel incentive for increased efficiency.

“Today, I propose that we cut Arizona’s vehicle license
tax and, as an added incentive, we cut it in a way that rewards drivers who
choose to conserve gasoline. The better gas mileage your car or truck gets, the
bigger the cut in the license fee. If a vehicle gets maximum mileage per gallon,
then let’s get rid of the license tax altogether.”

No discussion on what the maximum mileage actually comes out to.

A more proactive stance might have been to penalize (via licensing fees) those vehicles that get worse mileage.

The call for better technology came from both the governors of Georgia (next section) and Michigan.

Governor Granholm (of Michigan) addressed the issue directly. Sort of.

“The Great Lakes States will be the alternative energy
epicenter of America. Since we are the home of the automobile, it is our proud,
patriotic duty to be the state that ends our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

Our universities are already leaping into the alternative energy
field. At Michigan State University, President Lou Anna Simon is positioning our
state (and her Spartans) to lead the world in the new “bio-economy” – developing
energy and other products from our agricultural sector. Kettering
University in Flint, MAREC in Muskegon, and Next Energy at Wayne State all are
leading in the development of alternative energies. If you went to the auto
show, and I hope you did, you might have seen the national championship solar
car developed by University of Michigan students; it tops out at 80

Once again we have a good example of distinct research programs in separate fields masquerading as a comprehensive energy plan. There is a huge step between a team of engineering students producing an ultra-light solar car and mass production of vehicles at a General Motors plant.

By contrast, the Governor of Kentucky, Ernie Fletcher kept it simple. He just mentioned his state’s role in producing hybrids.


This brings us to the final category, technological innovation. Much like the President, calling for increased technological innovation, several governors championed stepped up research in their own State of the State addresses.

Perhaps the most vociferous in his call for increased research was Gov. Perdue of Georgia.

“You see, in the 21st century global economy we have only
two options. Georgia can lead or Georgia can be left behind.

I want to guarantee you this – as long as I’m your Governor, Georgia is going to

To lead, we must innovate. That means, we must become a State of Innovation.
That means making innovation our competitive advantage in every area of our economy – in our existing industries, in our homegrown small businesses and in the growth industries of the future, such as life sciences and nano-manufacturing.

These are the industries that will cure cancer … improve our food safety and supply … and provide new sources of energy to power our lives and propel our state’s economy forward. “

Unlike other governors, Mr. Perdue offered some details on funding.

“To ensure Georgia’s energy future, I am budgeting $2 million to seed research on developing alternative fuels, such as expanding our BioRefinery program at the University of Georgia.”

While two million certainly sounds impressive, it is less than % 0.001 of the state’s 2004 budget (the last one I could find online). In all likelihood, it is less than the amount of gasoline taxes that the governor suspended during last summer’s hurricane season.

Governor Sanford of South Carolina was less specific in his call to innovate but not in his justification in doing so:

“The State of our State is that we are a state in transition. Thomas Friedman wrote the book, The World is Flat, and his premise is that the world has changed in ways unimaginable to my father, and even to me or you, over the last few years. In this new found “flat world,” for the first time in world history a kid in Hampton County is directly competing with a kid in Shanghai, New Delhi or Dublin.

Now, with globalization and the Internet, you can stay right there and export whatever your brain has to offer to the rest of the world.”

Basically, when it comes to producing ideas we either need to innovate or die.

Unfortunately, none of the governors (or the president for that matter) grasped the concept that technology does not equal energy. No amount of brain power will be sufficient to move that Yukon Denali down the highway. Nor will technology necessarily yield us a solution either. While there certainly plenty of opportunities still out to harness new sources of energy or utilize energy existing sources more efficiently, none address the core issue of continued growth in a finite system. Even if by some miracle, some energy research team out there masters cold fusion, zero point energy or whatever, we will still have new limitations foisted upon us by nature unless we stop growing.

At the end of the day, understanding the natural limits to growth is the most important thing to remember. It is not an appealing message or even an easily understood one. As a consequence, not one governor brought this issue up. Instead we were left with the empty rhetoric of Tom Friedman, techno-optimists and the Ethanol lobby.

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