Thursday, March 10, 2011

USA Trade Deficit : OPEC factor. How to reduce it!

Why are these constant and increasing trade deficits "unexpected"?  I am so sick of reading that type of headline, when it is so obvious that we (as a country) are not doing anything to alter our behavior in a way that would actually bring about long-term trade-deficit reductions.

The latest report I read on Bloomberg today was titled: "Trade Deficit in US Widened More Than Forecast in January".  I just laughed when I saw the title with the "more than forecast" (since economists constantly botch this), and as I read the article and encountered words like *unexpected*, it just reinforced my view of the USA and its inability to recognize a systemic risk to our way of life. Money is going out of here that is NEVER coming back, and it is doing so at such an astonishing pace that is is almost unfathomable.  But, we do not change.

I can not help but find myself getting very frustrated at the stupidity of this country racking up insane trade-deficits with China and OPEC (nations).  This latest report shows "The trade gap with China grew to $23.3 billion from $20.7 billion as imports rose and U.S. exports declined. The U.S. shortfall with OPEC nations widened to $9.9 billion as imports increased to the highest level since October 2008."  Well, when it comes to the sound-bite media, we always keep hearing about CHINA and trade deficits, well... what about OIL?

OK, can we please take note of how huge the OIL side of this equation is?  OPEC is like their own mega-country that is sucking a full 1/3 of the total China/Oil trade-deficit total.  This is an incredible sum going to fueling and heating our country.  We really need to do something to ween ourselves off this externally-sourced energy supply and stop the hemorrhaging before it gets worse.  And, it WILL get worse.  We never learn!  Do you remember the 2008 election promises to finally, this time, break our dependence on oil (as our dependence was killing us with $4/gallon++ gasoline back then)... and, here we are, after all those "this time will be different" (which I laughed at back then KNOWING it would not change)... it is still the same!  We are collectively moronic in our behavior.

Why did this become a politicized battle between the "right" and "left" in the USA?  This is a NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE... our security is so at risk (over externally supplied energy) that is should scare the heck out of us, but it sure seems to not matter enough to address it.  If I were the President right now, I would address two issues at once: the budget, and this energy issue (and jobs too).  The "untouchable" military budget needs to be partially-redirected toward National Security in the form of building out an internally-sourced-energy infrastructure that will make us more secure.  If it is the only way to allocate funds to such a massive effort, so be it!  Who else has 1/2-Trillion/year budgets to tap into?

We need to work on updating our power grid and DE-CENTRALIZING our power-generation.  I do NOT mean "clean coal" (which is bull@#$!) or other net-carbon-intensive energy production, but rather a distributed series of solar, wind, biofuels (non-food-competing) and the like, all tied into a smart-grid and using superconducting-wire to save the 50% efficiency loss we suffer currently on the grid.

I keep seeing all sorts of advertisements from OIL companies saying how they are working on biofuels, solar, geothermal, etc. And, who better to work on these things?  They have the distribution abilities for the liquid-fuels and gases - like those that would result if we use solar/wind to create hydrogen for widespread use, or methane captured from bio-production, or bio-diesel, etc.  They have the drilling expertise to do large-scale geothermal wells to tap massive heat-stores deep underground.  They even have the wind/solar (companies like BP have pretty good sized solar-production and wind-farm investments already).  They have the rig-builders for erecting massive off-shore windfarm platforms. What they perhaps need is a darn-good incentive to really make the move to these things: give it to them!  We are draining $120BB/year out of the USA just for oil!  Funnel that into alternatives and the incentivising of alternatives (i.e., massive tax-breaks and credits).

Wake up people... if we refuse to tackle the massive China trade-deficit issue, let's at least target the oil issue. And, perhaps some more GREEN jobs would be available to help the unemployment picture at the same time!??  This country is otherwise to remain totally messed up!  $10 BILLION PER MONTH is going out (on oil), and not coming back. $120BB/year!

Do you realize how much eco-friendly-power-generation capacity, and how many JOBS related to that, we could be had for $120 billion per year? WOW! With solar arrays approaching $1/Watt (heck, lets call it $2/watt for high-estimate)... we could purchase, in ONE YEAR, 60 GIGAWATTS worth of solar capacity just with what we would have spent on oil!! Holy cow! And, wind is cheaper than solar, generally!  Realistically we can not realize that level of watts/dollar, as the issue of supporting infrastructure requirements come into play, but we can sure implement a LOT of capacity.  And, this is capacity that keeps paying us back year-after-year (have you heard the term "renewable"?!)

Let us put our drilling-crews to work boring some mega-geothermal projects; let's get those rig-builders building off-shore platforms for large-scale wind-turbines (these oil guys are VERY experienced at building large platforms in water of all depths!), let's get some of our unemployed people back to work by connecting an up-to-date power-infrastructure, building and erecting solar/wind systems, and implementing biofuels facilities.  Now!

Are we otherwise trying to prove that we are a culture that has lost all sense of reality and reason, and show that we can live in denial forever?  From what I constantly see in action, I would swear this to be the case.  Collectively we stand by and watch our standard of living erode as we all whine about it, but yet we also continually vote for politicians that will not stand up and do anything substantial to change our ways.  I am an American, and I want to live in an America that wants to show it has the vision and drive to right itself and do so in a manner worthy of world recognition.  We have the talent.  Let's put that talent to work freeing ourselves of this foreign-energy addiction and constant money-suck that is jeopardizing our way of life.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Stevia : Health AND Economic Benefits

For any of you that like to avoid sugar, you may know what Stevia is: a particular herb/shrub genus of which one species, Stevia rebaudiana, is grown for its sweet leaves that makes for a great sweetener and sugar substitute.  As a sweetener, it is as much as 300x sweeter than sugar and has a negligible effect on blood sugar (blood glucose).  And, the sweetness lasts longer (from my experience).

So, as I sat here drinking a Zevia (brand) ginger root beer, I could not help thinking that perhaps stevia is part of the answer to how we (humans) can raise crops for ethanol/biofuels while also improving our health and lowering healthcare costs.  My thinking is this: as a society, we suffer at large from what is being described as a near-epidemic prevalence of diabetes (elevated blood glucose) and overweight individuals.... and, at the same time we are planting more and more cropland with crops intended to yield ethanol (from their sugars)... so, what if we address both issues at once.

How?  Stevia produces an incredible amount of sweetness with little volume (that 300x-sweeter-than-sugar fact comes into play here).  Can we perhaps raise enough Stevia to sweeten all our beverages on a small portion of the cropland that otherwise would have raised corn or sugar-cane to produce the sugar we currently use?  I do not know yields-per-acre (for stevia), but I find the thought intriguing.  Maybe we could raise enough sweetener-equivalent stevia (vs. sugar) on only 5% of the land that sugar-crops would take?  If so, that would leave 95% of the remainder for the pursuit of sugars for ethanol production.   The entire idea here has to do with preventing what is becoming a major concern: biofuels competing for food-sources and food-raising-acreage.

Next, if we were all to move to consuming stevia (instead of sugar) in our drinks, maybe as a nation/world we could suddenly see a huge downward shift in our average blood-sugar levels and our weights... this would in turn reduce blood pressure... and, both of these factors would lead to much lower health-care costs and complications from diabetes and obesity.

I see this as a win-win-win: better health, cheaper health care, more fuel-source acreage and perhaps cheaper fuels.


A little history lesson on Stevia...
And, please do not say stevia is somehow toxic or such... there is no proof of anything like that.  In fact, the ONLY thing that kept stevia from being main-stream here in the USA was the likes of Pepsi and Coca-Cola (which, you may be interested to know how these two mega-firms now control the two largest brands of Stevia-based sweeteners, "Truvia" and "PureVia" respectively, both of which use rebaudioside A derived from the Stevia plant.). In fact, coincidentally, Stevia was only approved as a food additive AFTER these firms came up with their own products and stevia marketing... prior to that, magically the government (FDA) stood up to protect us from stevia (i.e., protected some artificial-sweetener producers and highly-dependent-companies from competition by the likes of stevia).  

Now that Coke and Pepsi, coupled with Cargill/Merisant respectively, essentially now own the market for Stevia, the FDA's position, beginning in 2009 in the United States, is that it considers "Rebiana (rebaudioside A) to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)".  Gee, thanks for that corporate-protection, FDA!  All those years of chemicals like Nutrasweet were surely doing wonders for our health while stevia remained banned as a food-additive to protect "us" (yeah, sure.) 

Well, whatever... maybe it will lead us all to stevia as an option where otherwise we would never see it enjoy widespread use.  And, maybe this will somehow help our health, energy, and economic issues as a side-effect.