Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Blog Entry for Your Thoughts

From October 10 through October 17 and Beyond

October 17, 2007, 7:00 a.m.: Here's an "add-item" for this blog entry and its comments on this, the big day of the Lecture Committee's efforts:

I'm searching for comments to this blog entry either confirming, or disputing, the following story:

Do you use plastic products? It's hard not to in this economy, even after you've made an effort to cut back: liquid containers, plastic bags from stores, throw-away dishes and cups. Do you make an effort to recycle those you do use? If so, do you have any idea what happens to your contributions to plastic recycling?

One of my sons passed along the assertion that 80% of our "recycled" plastic is actually sent to China and burned -- something that's permissible under China's lax environmental laws, but would be banned here.

If true, it means we're (1) being lied to by those businesses ostensibly "recycling" our plastic as an environmentally-friendly effort, (2) poisoning the Chinese, (3) throwing away what I've assumed is a potential source of (or substitute for) the petroleum that goes into plastic, and (4) contributing to pollution and global warming in the name of "recycling."

My wife, Mary Vasey, went looking. She couldn't find anything on to confirm or refute this story. What she did find elsewhere was a report from the Independent and Guardian on the Web site -- "Transnational Trash," January 26, 2007 -- that is consistent (though not identical) with regard to practices in Great Britain.
Help me out. "Enquiring minds want to know." Do you know what happens to Americans' "recycled plastic"? And, if so, what is your source?

The Lecture Committee Wants Your Thoughts

For the next week we're going to try an experiment here in collaboration with the UI Lecture Committee -- a group of the finest undergraduates you could ever find at any major university.

The Lecture Committee is putting on a great event October 17 and would like to have a bit of pre-event discussion here in this blog in the form of "comments" attached to this blog entry.

Here's their announcement:

The University Lecture Committee, the Brookings Institution and the UI Office of the Vice President for Research, are hosting a forum on October 17th entitled "Energy and National Security: The Role of Biofuels in America's Policy Debate." Focusing on the future of renewable fuels as well as the role that energy plays in American policy, the event will include prominent thinkers of the Brookings Institution and notable professors from Iowa's Universities. The forum is one of the Brookings Institution's Opportunity '08 series ( centering on major political issues in states with early primaries or caucuses.

What: Energy and National Security: The Role of Biofuels in America's Energy Economy.
When: October 17, 2007 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Main Lounge, Iowa Memorial Union, Iowa City, Iowa
More information about the forum and panelists can be found at Questions? Just email them to:

The Lecture Committee continues:

The forum will center on two major topics: energy security and alternative energy sources, with a specific focus on biofuels, and the role that energy plays in America’s domestic and foreign policy. Iowa’s agricultural economy and heavy investments in ethanol have made it the crucible of America’s biofuel experiment, stimulating research and discussion on the many possible impacts of biofuels. Furthermore, Iowans, as residents of an early caucus state, have the unique opportunity to engage politicians and get issues that are important to them on presidential candidates’ national agendas. Ethanol is a national issue in large part because of Iowa.

And energy is a national issue in large part because of our economy’s dependence on it. Access to energy has shaped our domestic economic policies as well as our foreign policy for generations. But it is now that the issue of energy is coming to a head. Americans are recognizing that we can no longer ignore the increasing instability and hostility to American policies in the Middle East, the threat of peak oil, and the rise of demand from China and India. Furthermore, the popular upsurge of concern over worldwide oil dependence recognizes not only the impacts on our own lives, but also on the lives of the generations that will follow us. Climate change, political stability, and prosperity are all inextricably linked with energy.
I am familiar with Brookings from my time in Washington. The Institution continues to house some of the best minds in America regarding economic and public policy issues. The individuals from the Brookings Institution who will be involved in these panels are especially knowledgeable on the subject at hand: David Sandalow, Michael O'Hanlon and William Antholis. Each has a paper on the subject available from Brookings' "Opportunity '08" series (www.opportunity08.orgon ) under the section "Our World," subsections "Climate Change," "Energy," and "Nuclear Proliferation."

This is an opportunity to participate in an event before it occurs.

So scroll to the bottom of this blog entry, click on "Post a Comment," and let the Committee, the Brookings experts, and the world hear from you!

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Anonymous said...

I used to be an undergraduate idealist. Then I got into the working world and got to see politicians up close.

Forget lectures....let them see the rotten system for what it really is.

Anonymous said...

I think that this opportunity will be more than just a lecture, it will an opportunity for students yell, scream or just plain voice what they want with these individuals. Students should take this chance and make what they want with it, whether they are embittered by the poliical system or enthralled with it. Sounds like a great event.

Sharon said...

Some of the panelists for this event are environment scholars, one focuses on climate change. In the rising tide of public outcry about global warming (and it's been a long time coming), the concept of concern for our impact on future generations - labeled sustainability - has become much stronger.

Biofuels can help address climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but the current system of growing annual plants has some serious problems. For example, Iowa has lost half of the organic matter in its soil over the last 150 years, according to Steve Fales of ISU. This is not sustainable in the sense that if we keep growing crops the way we are now, Iowa, one of the most productive regions agriculturally in the world, will not be able to produce nearly as much in just a few generations.

I know that scientists are concerned about this, and looking for solutions: using perennial grasses with root systems that would reduce erosion and even contribute more organics to the soil and require fewer inputs, for example.

But I wonder how much policymakers have considered this, and what role the overall sustainability of growing our fuel will take in policy-making to come. I worry about giving the kind of institutional inertia to ethanol that petroleum was given in the early 1900s that, in part, led to our current economy dependence on it.

Anyone have thoughts on this?

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a member of the Lecture Committee. Incidentally, during a media teleconference yesterday, I found out that one of the panelists from Brookings, David Sandalow, traveled with now Nobel-winner Al Gore, helping with the lectures that would become the basis for "An Inconvenient Truth."

Unknown said...

The world-wide movement toward simpler and smaller living is a hopeful indication that people are letting environmental activism start at home. For more information, visit the website of the Small House Society.

Anonymous said...

Why is this event marketed to look like it's all about Eldean Borg? This doesn't serve the subject well--as a moderator, he's well past the point of being particularly attentive or well informed. But there he is, the only picture on the poster--and a fifteen year-old picture at that