With global oil supplies diminishing — having apparently peaked in 2005 — interest in alternative fuels are increasing, as is the awareness of the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels. In the United States, the bulk of the petroleum and non-petroleum fuels are consumed by transportation — cars, trucks, trains, and other vehicles. Until the majority of these vehicles' engines are powered by electricity-based replacements, if ever, we will continue to need vast quantities of liquid fuels.
Of the alternatives to petroleum, ethanol is currently the favorite biofuel. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires an almost five-fold increase in ethanol production in the United States, to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. The bulk of this is currently obtained from corn, which is driving up the prices of corn and feedstock, as well as the foods produced using them. Supporters of ethanol point to the great success achieved in Brazil, which is on track to be completely energy independent, with no oil imports.
However, these advocates usually fail to mention that the sugarcane crops, and the climate that support them, are key components of that success, and not available in North America. Creating ethanol from other plants, such as sweet grass, makes more sense, because they provide greater net energy, which is the energy produced by burning the ethanol minus all of the energy required to produce it. This is an important consideration, because critics of corn-based ethanol point out that it is at best net neutral (i.e., consumes just as much energy as it produces), and possibly even net negative. So why the huge support within the federal government for the least efficient option? The corn growers lobby makes large campaign contributions to key members of Congress.
Illustrating the power of the free market, Coskata, an Illinois-based startup, has developed a superior process that combines gasification and bacterial conversion. Specifically, it first converts organic material into a synthesis gas comprising carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which is pumped into a bioreactor containing bacteria, which produces the ethanol as a waste product. The process yields 99.7 percent pure ethanol. Best of all, it can utilize any organic material, including municipal trash — even Congressional paperwork.
While large-scale production has yet to be tested and implemented, Coskata's approach holds great promise, because it has a high net energy, does not consume corn or other foods, and produces ethanol for less than one dollar per gallon — versus corn-based ethanol at $1.40. This new approach could be a breakthrough, both technical and political.
A growing number of consumers are becoming aware of "fair trade" practices and products, which are based upon the idea that the workers should receive a fair wage for their efforts, and not just a pittance — a worthy principle. Yet when the typical consumers think about apparel and accessories that are environmentally friendly and fair trade, those consumers may envision some lumpy and ill-fitting gray sweater made out of hemp cloth, and thus decide to do as they have always done in the past, and buy their next clothing items from a dime-a-dozen retail or mail-order store that has little or no concern for the social and environmental impact of those decisions. Fortunately, the fair trade clothing industry has advanced beyond its beginnings, although finding truly beautiful and stylish clothing and accessories within that category, can still be quite challenging. Fair Indigo, whose motto is "Style with a Conscience", aims to make available high-quality fair trade clothing and other items, and thereby make it easy for customers to join them in helping workers all over the world receive equitable compensation for their craftsmanship. The company was founded by four individuals in September 2006, in Middleton, Wisconsin. The majority of the initial staff of 15 people had worked together at Lands' End, including Rob Behnke, who discovered that the number of fair trade clothing companies on the Internet, at the time, numbered no more than four! He got the idea after drinking some fair trade coffee for the first time, and realizing the potential of applying that same concept to top-notch stylish clothing. This philosophy is also reflected in the Fair Indigo Foundation, which works to improve educational opportunities in the countries where their products are made. The company donates a portion of their profits, and they encourage their customers to do the same. For beautiful clothing that is the fairest of them all, discover Fair Indigo!
Throughout history, European and Middle Eastern cultures have had a strong preference for coffee, while their Asian counterparts have made tea a long-standing favorite. While coffee is only recently being noted for its significant levels of antioxidants, from a health standpoint, tea is generally recommended over coffee, because of its much higher levels of antioxidants and other nutrients. However, not all teas are equal, in terms of nutritional value, taste, and cost. For tea lovers who want the very best, it can often prove difficult to find premium green and white teas — even in this age of global commerce on the Internet. Jonathan Peizer and his wife offer a convenient solution to this problem, through Greentealovers, the company they founded in Woodmere, New York, in 1993. They became interested in the field as tea aficionados themselves, drinking tea obtained from the largest green tea producer in Japan. When the pair arrived in the United States, they began selling that Japanese company's products, and later augmented it with Chinese tea, green tea blends, organic and white teas, filters, and artisan tea ware. Greentealovers specializes in premium Japanese green tea and Asian white tea, for those individuals seeking teas that meet the highest ethical and environmental standards. Customers are provided with detailed preparation instructions, as well as up-to-date clinical research results on green and white teas. Reflecting this commitment to maximum quality and health benefits, the firm's products are purchased regularly by doctors and health organizations, as well as a noted opera star, a royal family, and the parents of an Internet billionaire. But you don't have to be famous or wealthy to treat yourself to the very best in Asian teas. Visit Greentealovers's Web site, which also features a blog, a newsletter, and a forum.
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