Book Review – Demystifying Food From Farm to Fork

This week I read, “Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork,” by Maurice J. Hladik. Many of you may be familiar with Hladik, an agricultural expert who has spoken at events all around the world including Commodity Classic. The goal of the book is to take a look at food production from “farm to fork”.

demystifying-food-from-farm-to-forkAs with many concepts, farm to fork can be defined in many ways. Hladik defines it as, “Pertaining to the human food chain from agricultural production to consumption. In other words, from our readers farm to my table.”

As Hladik takes the reader through the varying stages in between the planting, growing and harvesting of food through manufacturing and eventually to the table, he explained the pros and cons, addressed any surrounding controversies and presented both sides of each argument. For this I was very impressed, as many writers take the view of “it’s my way or no way”.

Hladik also points out certain areas that he says are portrayed in the media as myths. One area he addressed was that of ethanol production and food prices. He writes, “There is a widespread conviction that the use of massive quantities of corn for the production of ethanol, and to a lesser extent soy beans for biodiesel, substantially contributes to hunger throughout the world….In reality, there is enough food in the world to go around, but getting it to all those who need it is a challenge.”

He continues by writing that the world does not need all the corn and other grains that are dedicated to biofuel production, and thus corn might as well be used for this purpose (he also rightly points out that a diet solely of corn does not constitute a balanced diet). In addition, he explains during his examination of “food versus fuel” that because of the increased need for corn for ethanol, along with the fact that growers are harvesting more bushels per acre than ever before, that should the unforeseen happen, the corn can be diverted to other areas – in essence, ethanol production is “money in the bank”.

This book is very well suited to those of us who are not very familiar with agriculture, and gives the reader a good, brief introduction into all the steps it takes to deliver our food to the table.

Book Review – The Year God Forgot Us

Pssst…I have the secret recipe for renewable fuel. Want to know where I found this recipe that will take down big oil? In the novel, “The Year God Forgot Us,” by Dennis Nau. Ok, so I don’t really have some super duper secret renewable fuel recipe, but this week’s book was a fictional look at 1936, during the Great Depression, where the town of Bernadotte, North Dakota believes they have met the man who will revolutionize fuel by stealing a secret recipe developed by the Mormans.

The Year God Forgot Us Book CoverA stranger drives in to town and fills up his tank with water, shakes his truck, and drives off. This leads to town gossip and eventually the driver begins frequenting the local cafe when he comes through town and begins planting the idea of the secret fuel recipe and how the town can “buy” the recipe and become rich. Al, the leader of the pack” says, “The Mormons are the devil. Satan.  Satan with a suit on. That’s the Mormons. They discovered the secret formula of how to turn water into gasoline, the Mormans did.”

Eventually Al unveils the catalyst as wheat flour, a dream for struggling wheat farmers. As the town gets excited about the gasoline venture, Johnny, the proprietor of the cafe says, “A lot of money would stay in this area, wouldn’t do out east to people in Boston and New York. It wouldn’t go west to Los Angeles. The money wouldn’t be parked in banks in Chicago. We grow wheat here. Think of what this would do to the demand for wheat. Why, every farmer in North Dakota would be able to make enough money for a decent living. This would benefit all our neighbors…”

While I’m not going to spill the beans on what happens, the narrative is colorful and I could almost imagine sitting on the bar stool eating breakfast at the cafe and watching and participating as the events unfold. While the book isn’t about “biofuels” per se, it does lay out the foundation for the future fuel as American farmers  – exactly what is happening today as farmers grow energy crops. I would be remiss if I didn’t say the language could be offensive to some, but Nau means no disrespect to Mormans or others. The scam in the book is perpetrated on Americans of all race and creed and the tale is told true to its time  – 1936 during the Great Depression.

Best Books of 2012

Best Books of 2012If your New Year’s resolution to is get a bit smarter about alternative energy and the environment, then start your education with the Best Books of 2012.

Here are the top five best books I read in 2012.

5. “The Powers That Be,” by Scott L. Montgomery

4. “Eaarth,” by Bill McKibben

3. “Sustainable Transport Fuels,” by David Thorpe

2. “Rooftop Revolution,” by Danny Kennedy

1. “Rebuild the Dream,” by Van Jones

Enjoy your reading!

Book Review – Build the New City!

Here is an idea to take into the new year – build a new city – or a utopia for the future. Author Todd Durant proposes the U.S. “Build The New City!” to solve three major problems: create millions of jobs, preparation for population growth and rising sea levels and national pride.

Build The New City Book CoverSome of our readers may be familiar with South Korea’s Songdo IBD, a $35 billion “smart” city and the largest real-estate development in history. Another similar idea is Tatu City in Kenya. One of the keys to both of these cities is that they are being built with climate change in mind. Durant proposes that the U.S. build a similar city from scratch that incorporates urban living, energy efficiency, renewable energy, public transportation and green spaces.

The New City would be built using the concept of the DurantHybrid for urban transportation and neighborhood planning. The New City will be built upon five principles: 1) federal and state governments absolutely must not be involved in any aspect of the funding; 2) funding of the New City must come entirely from private enterprise and investment; 3) the military should not be involved; 4) issue millions in municipal bonds that will serve to raise money for the building of the city; and 5) the workers who build the New City must be paid well.

Durant acknowledges that he is not a city planner, and the book is big on ideas and light on an actual plan. The idea has merits – the U.S. does need to rethink how it is renovating urban living for the future that may be affected by climate change and diminishing fossil fuels. However, realistically, I can’t foresee a future with a new city but I can see some of Durant’s concepts incorporated into the rebuilding of current cities. Have your own ideas? Share them at

Win a copy of this book. Email me with the name of the book in the subject line and your contact info in the body of the email. The winner will be announced in the January 9th issue of the DomesticFuel newsletter.

Book Review – Green Jujitsu

Can you define sustainability? More than likely, but it is also likely that your definition is different than a colleagues, family member or friend. The green movement touts sustainability but how do you actually integrate the idea of sustainability into your business? To answer this question, I turned to the DoShort, “Green Jujitsu,” written by Gareth Kane.

Green JujitsuThe book focuses on how to help businesses become more sustainable and how to make it stick. The answer? Harness the strengths of your employees rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Kane aptly uses the analogy of the martial art of jujitsu. This concept is focused on using your opponents strength, energy and momentum against them and levering into submission. While Kane doesn’t promote bringing your employees to submission, he does promote the idea of bringing people on board with sustainability initiatives by understanding their strengths and weaknesses.

I often struggle with the way the renewable energy industry promotes itself and have come to believe that the industry is not using the right language and stories to gain public and policy support. In some regard, I feel I’ve found an ally in Kane and his message.

He notes that oftentimes, “The green movement has a well-earned reputation for presenting sustainability as the hair-shirt option….We are bombarded with litanies of how we should be ashamed of ourselves as a species….Hand up who wants a guilt trip? The answer is to make it fun; ditch the hair-shirt and make sustainability sexy.”

In other words, make sustainability attractive, positive and compelling.

While this book hits the mark on guiding a business through the process of engaging employees into sustainability practices that will also help to save money, it is also a good lesson in messaging for the industry.  This book should be read by both sustainability leaders and champions, but also by those who are helping the industry to craft its sustainability messages.  Green Jujitsu is a “art” the industry could, and should get behind.

Book Review – Who Turned Out the Lights?

Should we be entertained when reading about America’s energy crisis? Dare we be regaled by clever cliches, fun word pairings and sarcasm when learning our basic Energy 101 facts? Yes to infinity. And I experienced just these things when reading “Who Turned Out the Lights?” by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson. Reading this book  was a guilty pleasure because I enjoyed the lighthearted book just a bit too much when technically the topic of energy, tends to be, well, a bit dull.

The book was a “guided tour” through the country’s energy crisis.  Beginning with reasons why the U.S. needs to get its act together, the book chronicles the country’s failed attempts at energy security and diversity, discussed three flawed ideas that could get the country off track, and laid out 10 facts all people should know about energy. Did you know that one out of four Americans can’t name a fossil fuel? Yikes.

The tour then takes you through a discussion of various types of energy and alternative energy sources. While this section was good, the book was published in 2009 so some of the information was outdated so reader, digest this will a sprinkle of salt. For example, in the section about ethanol (a biofuel that surprisingly the authors don’t hate) they mentioned subsidies and the tariff on Brazilian ethanol (neither of which still exist).

However, there was one element of this section that really stood out. Many argue that the low hanging solution is to improve fuel economy and some go so far to declare that this has been accomplished. While on the outside, yes, this is correct, on the inside, it is not actually the case. As Bittle and Johnson aptly point out, when fuel economy gets better, people drive more. So at the end of the day, actual fuel consumption doesn’t actually go down, it remains virtually the same.

There were other areas this book addressed, and explained well, that other books have not. Continue reading

DoShort Review – Sustainable Transport Fuels

What do you do when you’ve got a frustrating case of insomnia? You read books about energy. Okay, maybe not something you would do but it always keeps me good and entertained. Last night I read the DoShort, “Sustainable Transport Fuels Business Brief,” by David Thorpe in less than two hours. That is part of the sell – learn about a topic in 90 minutes or less. This is a brillant concept lads.

So what did I learn? I got a briefing on research, development and deployment of sustainable fuels around the world. The DoShort kicked off with a brief overview of the history of transportation fuels, relevant legislation, and the role of emissions reduction in determining the sustainable viability of a future fuel.

Next were a series of briefs on various types of fuels beginning with biofuels. The discussion included current technologies and technologies to watch, feedstocks, infrastructure, partnerships, pros and cons and opportunities and challenges. This same type of format was used in the brief sections about electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles, fuel cells, and a fuel I’d never heard of called hydrazine hydrate. There is even a concept car developed by Daihatsu. Who knew?

Much of the brief was focused on biofuels, since today they are the primary source of alternative fuels for the transportation sector (when specifically discussing fleets, the leading fuel is propane autogas). Here was an interesting tidbit I picked up: according to the IEA Bioenergy Implementing Agreement there are at least 67 local, regional or global initiatives to develop sustainability criteria and standards for biofuels.  (And if you’ve been reading this blog for the past six years you notice that biofuels, and currently the Renewable Fuels Standard, are constantly under attack). The most significant initiatives are: The Global Bioenergy Partnership, The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, International Organization for Standardization, and the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification System.

While I have encyclopedic volumes of energy info stuck in my head, I got most of it reading many good, but dense books that took hours. What I’ve also known is that most people don’t have the time, nor interest, in reading all of these books. That’s why I do it for you and why I now consider these DoShorts such a winner – the reader of “Sustainable Transport Fuels Business Brief ” can sit down at a meeting and can impress the boss with a working knowledge of transportation fuels, in 90 minutes or less.

Book Review – Winning the Energy Wars

This week I read “Winning the Energy Wars,” by R. Paul Williamson. I often find myself surprised that after reading and reviewing more than 100 energy and environmental books, that I would find one with a new and unique angle. But I did. The premise is one you often find in an energy book – the United States energy “strategy” is not working. The twist comes into play when Williamson gives us an educational lesson about the different types of energy – he used a favorite business tactic of mine – the SWAT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).

Strengths – When providing additional information Williamson uses a “product code”. Use your phone to click on the code to get and additional information not contained in the book. After giving a brief history of U.S. energy policy, he lays out a Sustainable Energy Plan (USA-SEP) and outlines and goes into depth about the “six major benefits of for an energy-wise US to adopt and implement the USA-SEP.” I also found that his website supporting the ideas in the book has some good follow-up resources.

Weaknesses – To prove a point about the extravagant and monumental use of energy around the globe, Williamson wrote out all energy equivalents. For example, 98,000,000,000,000 Btu or 28,720,978,623 MWh. This is a bit hard to quantify when your eyes are glazing over the digits because you can’t truly comprehend the number.  The book had some factual errors and a lot of grammatical errors. For me, this diminishes the credibility of the author.

Opportunities – Williamson proposes a new way to evaluate possible energy sources, aka solutions: EF=R/D (energy future equals resources divided by demand). This is a good way to think through some of the “unintended” consequences or benefits of possible energy actions.

Threats – What will happen if the U.S. does not have the fortitude to tackle the problem and the courage to stick with the solution? As Williamson rightly points out, it takes each of us and together, we can make change.

Win a copy of this book. Send me an email with the subject line “Winning the Energy Wars” and include your contact information in the body of the email.

Book Review – Clean Energy Nation

This week I read Clean Energy Nation by Congressman Jerry McNerny and Martin Cheek. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I found myself likening the book to the classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Subconsciously I think it was because one of the recurring themes in Brave New World, first published in 1932, is the Fordship’s desire, after Our Ford ‘s first T-Model,” for its citizens to “consume manufactured articles as well as transport.” Ironically, a portion of Huxley’s predictions came true – globally, people have been conditioned to consume both manufactured items and transportation. It is expected that by 2020 or so, there will be two billion cars on the road.

Clean Energy Nation is like most other energy books and begins with a history lesson about energy with special attention paid to the use and development of fossil fuels. In the words of the New World controller, “…you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s: History is bunk. History,” he repeated slowly, ‘is bunk’.” While history is not bunk, as a global population we seem to think that it is, and it bears saying that recurrent energy history lessons are much needed.

The next section of the book delves into America’s energy issues and covers all the usual suspects including national security, environment, economy, agriculture, public health, education, and good government. (Or in the case of the U.S., bad government. Since 1973, the U.S. Department of Energy has missed 34 deadlines to set mandatory energy standards.). Finally, the book gets into a discussion about America’s energy future.

The discussion about the “crossroads” of America was very motivational. Continue reading

Book Review – Rebuild the Dream

This week I read Rebuild the Dream, by Van Jones, which ironically turned out to be a great book to read with the presidential election just three weeks away. Personally, I believe this country is in an economic mess and I wonder at the so called leaders in Washington who threw up their hands and left early without making several key policy decisions that have such an economic impact. But I realize these leaders are in DC because we the people put them there. In an age of instant entertainment TV, Americans seem to no longer go to the polls and vote on import issues like economy and foreign policy and rather vote on social issues. It has been this way, as far as I can tell, since President Regan was in office.

What, I’m sure you are wondering, does my diatribe have to do with Rebuild the Dream? A lot. Van Jones hits the mark in the book about the economic struggles this country is having and offers suggestions on turning things around. And it starts at the grassroots level with people just like you and I.

Jones’s true calling is working with the private sector and policy leaders to spread the benefits of green job opportunities into struggling communities. Many of the green job opportunities he refers to include educating youth and adults about things such as solar panel installation and installing wind turbines. Many will recall that for a short time, Jones worked as part of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy (he did not work directly with President Obama). Quite frankly, I think his work has and will continue, to have greater impact in the private sector because this is where true change evolves and succeeds as his book aptly demonstrates.

But what the book really focuses on are the main insights Jones has gleaned from reviewing the past years of political struggle in the U.S. (2003-2011).  He focuses on three areas in the first part of the book: the political movements around Barack Obama in 2007-2008; the Tea Party movement in 2009-2010; and the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent movements. (I am part of the 99 percent and more than likely you too are part of the 99 percent.) Continue reading