About ten years ago, my son walked over to Longfellow Middle School, where he was a student, to participate in a Saturday morning school garden work party. I came home with a 5-gallon black plastic pot with a small lavatera plant growing in it. I had no idea that it would become the centerpiece of my garden.
Every spring it explodes with dozens and dozens of magenta flowers, and it blooms for months.
And it could not be easier to grow.
Here it is a week ago -- May 18.
The lavatera, a.k.a. tree mallow, grew to its current size in about two years, and I prune it back several times a year. Not with any special care. I just go in with the clippers and clip, and now and then lop or saw off a branch.
It fulfills my definition of an easy plant in that I hardly put any energy into helping it grow, other than a little water in the heat of the summer. The only work it involves is cutting it back.
The first bloom showed up on April 6 -- most years, I don't see a bloom until the beginning of May, but we had an exceptionally warm spring, followed by a late season rain boomlet.
I've been told that it doesn't live more than four or five years, but this plant is going strong a decade after I brought it home.
It's true that it gets leggy and you can see in the lower right corner of the image above the woody branches, some of which I've cut back or have died. But cutting it back only seems to encourage it.
Here it is at dusk, from the backside, on May 21.
One interesting development this year that makes me wonder if maybe the plant won't last much longer is that six or seven seedlings have taken root nearby -- I don't think that's happened before, or if it did, I didn't notice and they died off.
This year, I am paying attention, and now that the rains have stopped, I'm watering some of them, and have transplanted a couple of others, which popped up in inconvenient places like in between two paving stones, into pots.
Maybe this will be the last year for this wonderful plants, and we'll let the next generation carry the torch.
[Another easy plant I wrote about a couple weeks ago: raspberries.]
This post is co-written by Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, and Lyndsay Moseley, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.
Recently the Sierra Club, along with a coalition of more than 100 organizations signed a letter calling on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to move quickly to develop strong regulations for the handling and disposal of coal combustion waste to prevent a repeat event like the December 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash disaster in Kingston, Tenn.
This disaster demonstrated first hand how the coal industry has enjoyed a giant loophole for far too long. Under this loophole, they get to store billions of gallons of highly hazardous waste in a less responsible manner than household waste has to be treated.
Our letter outlined 12 key principles including the phase-out of wet storage facilities all together. The coal ash storage sites like the one that breached in Kingston are a tremendous threat, as demonstrated in an extensive EPA report unveiled by the Environmental Integrity Project: "An EPA risk assessment documents excess cancer risks of up to 1 in 50 for residents living near unlined ash ponds."
This week, we received a response from Administrator Jackson that outlines some of the steps EPA has already begun to take regarding coal combustion waste, including a survey of structural integrity of existing impoundments. Jackson reiterated her intent that EPA is committed to developing regulations by the end of the year, and indicated that she will consider our input in developing those regulations.
Jackson's response is encouraging, but we will need to continue to provide positive pressure to encourage EPA to develop strong regulations that will adequately protect human health and the environment. Many of the key decisions about the regulation will be made in the coming months, and we will continue to meet with EPA officials as well as key members of Congress to enlist their support in encouraging the development strong regulations.
To add insult to injury, the coal ash waste cleaned up from the Harriman site is being sent to low income communities in Georgia and Alabama.Low income communities and people of color too often bear the burden of hazardous waste and polluting industrial plants. EPA needs to stop this practice immediately.Environmental organizations and citizens alike must remain vigilant during these cleanup processes and hold the companies and government accountable for the disposal and storage of hazardous waste like coal ash. The Sierra Club will not stop pushing until this giant loophole is closed and the coal industry has to manage its waste responsibly.
(In some late-breaking great news - Ohio State University President Gordon Gee has bowed to pressure from Sierra Club and many other groups who'd sent him a letter asking him to resign from the board of coal company Massey Energy. Citizens are paying attention and holding people accountable - read more at http://www.ohiocitizen.org/campaigns/coal/gee.html. You can also see the letter that we sent to Dr. Gee here.)
Also on the show: Richard Wiese talks about his new book, Born to Explore: How to Be a Backyard Adventurer. And San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar talks about a new plan to build the largest municipal solar power project in the U.S.
( From ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA 's Local Action Blog. By Eli Yewdall, ICLEI Program Associate.)
During discussions on climate protection in the Southeast, it's not uncommon to hear a claim that the region simply doesn’t have the renewable energy resources that other parts of the country do.
But green local governments in the Southeast know there's no shortage of sunshine in the Southeast -- not to mention biomass, landfill gas, and onshore wind -- and they've got the installations to prove it:
Now, a new set of reports estimate just how much potential there is in the Southeast for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Local Clean Power finds that well-tested renewable energy sources such as biomass, solar, landfill gas, and onshore wind could meet 30% of projected energy needs in the region within fifteen years. This is even without considering sources such as offshore wind that have a larger potential but may take longer to develop. State by state, the renewable generation that could be developed by 2020-2025 ranges from 20% of 2006 usage for Florida to 113% for Mississippi. And doing so would bring net cost savings for consumers.
Power of Efficiency finds that energy efficiency has the potential to avoid 20% of projected demand by 2025. These efficiency improvements to homes, commercial buildings, and industry would cost less than any source of new generation, and would create thousands of jobs across the region.
The Southeast, in fact, has plenty of potential to replace carbon-intensive energy sources with clean renewable ones in the near future, and local governments are leading the way.
Just this morning, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that only he, as Secretary, could approve any U.S. Forest Service projects that might be inconsistent with the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. While the job of placing a firm legal foundation underneath the wild-forest protections that the Clinton administration first promulgated in 2001 remains incomplete, Vilsack's order makes it clear that the Obama administration doesn't intend to let business as usual at the Forest Service threaten our remaining pristine public forests.
In announcing Sonia Sotomayor this week as his first Supreme Court Justice nominee, President Obama chose a judge with -- almost certainly -- the best environmental credentials of anyone nominated to the Supreme Court in the modern environmental era. (William O. Douglas being the strongest environmental voice on the Supreme Court in history.)
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
Will the Waxman-Markey climate bill in the House actually survive? The debate among bloggers is on fire. To get a sense of the debate, start with this blogger.
Let me reiterate -- Waxman-Markey is a highly imperfect bill that will be totally inadequate in isolation and without further improvements. It would be better to pass a better bill. Here's the thing -- there is not a sufficient majority in Congress for a better bill. That seems clear. And at least part of the problem is that the GOP, which still has near-veto power over legislation, is largely home to individuals who think that warming isn't real, or isn't the result of human activity, or is most appropriately addressed by drilling for oil.
For more on how the Waxman bill actually works, click here.
Speaking of politics, how green is Obama's pick to the Supreme Court?
During the first quarter of 2009, more bicycles were sold in the US than cars and trucks. While the Great Recession is hurting bike sales, they didn't fall as fast as automobiles. Around 2.6 million bicycle purchases were made, compared to ~2.5 million cars and trucks that left our nation's lots.
Did you buy a bike this past year? Post a picture of it here.
Here's a video by the folks at Oxfam, which asks countries to send representatives to Copenhagen when international negotiations pick up again later this year. Their action is here. And there are plenty of actions on Crossroads that you can take. You can even post your own.
NYT's Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin visited Ohio University recently to ask journalism and science students about the fate of communications and environmental issues. What is it going to look like in 2015? Said one student:
Whether through social network sites or through the publication of their own magazine, more and more people will get their information from those invested in and directly working on the issues. This has the potential to destabilize any centralized distribution of information and instead develop a stronger web of distribution, where each locality is linked to a larger system. For me, this becomes interesting in relationship to discussions about post-national resistance; if groups can utilize the democratization of public space via the internet (and other technologies), will we be able to conceive of a global understanding of issues where those dealing with mountaintop removal in Appalachia can link some of the same power issues at work there to issues outside the United States?
Missoula, Montana -- Citing the impacts that global warming will have on the endangered Canada lynx, four conservation groups have filed a legal challenge in Federal District Court in Missoula against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) challenging the agency’s selection of designated lynx habitat. The Sierra Club, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council and the Center for Native Ecosystems argue that the land area that FWS intends to designate as critical habitat for the lynx is not sufficient to protect the wild cat, making this the first such challenge to rely on concerns over global warming’s impacts to habitat.
More after the jump...
(photo credit: Tanya Shenk, CO Division of Wildlife)
Boy, it wasn't that long ago that VW was teaming with Toshiba to make drive systems for EVs. Now, VW is teaming with China's BYD (Build Your Dreams) to "explore the possibility of collaborating in the field of electric vehicles and batteries."
These kinds of collaborations between battery and car companies are getting commonplace.
Volkswagen also said in the statement that it has shown an electric car prototype to BYD, which could possibly indicate that the German carmaker would either build or buy an inexpensive assembly plant in China to build the electric car, which could be later showcased in this year's motor show in Frankfurt.
Add to this the tier one supplier, Canadian company, Magna that has developed a full EV based on the Ford Focus platform and is offering to build it for any other platform of similar size. Everyone's cutting deals to get in on the action. China is clearly gunning for the lead, and with BYD leading the way, they'll be hard to stop.
There are always new groups, actions, and sustainable recipes on Climate Crossroads.
A new action for you: Thank the Administration for Clean Cars. On May 19th, Obama announced a huge piece of his Big Picture plan to fight climate change, the first national automobile standards for global warming emissions, which will dramatically reduce global warming pollution from our vehicles, slash our dependence on oil and make us more energy independent. Show your support by sending a thank-you message.
Does your mode of transportation clutter? Here's an image that'll put it in perspective.
Bicycle - 90 sq. m for 71 people to park their bikes.
Car - 1000 sq. m for 72 people to park their care (avg. occupancy of 1.2 people per car).
Bus - 30 sq m for the bus.
(A hat tip for Sullivan's blog.)
Are you looking for some heavy weekend reading?
Pick up a New Yorker for this article about the impending sixth mass extinction of the planet’s history. Once you’re done with that, take a look at The Economist -- which writes about the rainforest of Guyana that is now being treated like a stock portfolio. And finally, there’s a new, comprehensive MIT study that doubles previous warming temperature projections for the 22nd century.
The EPA global warming endangerment hearing yesterday in Seattle was a success. Compass had great coverage, along with a Twitter feed. For more on the hearing, visit the Big Picture's blog. An estimated 2,000 people showed. This shot was taken by Dan Ritzman.
For more photos from Seattle, click here.
Next up for The Big Picture campaign: house parties on June 2.
Let's look a little closer at its strengths (and weaknesses).
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
With Obama's announcement that he wants better gas-mileage standards, this edition of the Blogosphere Soup will look at cars. On Tuesday, Obama's team said it wanteded CAFE standards at 42 mpg by 2016. The folks at the Auto Alliance are happy.
The alliance supports the proposal because it will allow automakers to work toward one set of regulations. The next big hurdle will be getting everyone to agree on a common standard for calculating the mileage of plug-in hybrid and extended range electric vehicles. The fuel consumption of those vehicles is highly dependent on the duty cycle including how often they are charged and how far they are driven past battery depletion. But that's tomorrow's fight.
This WashPost blogger says that "as California goes, so goes the nation."
The backstory here is that the automakers sued California over the state's uniquely stringent carbon dioxide and fuel efficiency regulations. One of their arguments was that there should be a single national standard -- states can't force automakers to produce 50 different kinds of cars. And now there will be a single national standard. The automakers won! Sort of! The problem, for the automakers, is that the single national standard will be California's standard. It's like a kid complaining to the principal that his teacher is harder than all the others only to have the principal rule that all the other teachers must become equally demanding. Oops.
Kevin Drum, blogging for Mother Jones, is ecstatic. Green Inc. thinks the new standards will gradually lessen gas use in general. And Green Inc. says the gas and oil industry are showing signs that gas demand has peaked in the U.S. Maybe so, but The Bellows blog argues that efficiency will increase driving instead of promoting behavioral changes in people.
[I]f we assume that oil prices will rise again with economic recovery, an exogenous increase in vehicle efficiencies will lead to more driving than would have otherwise taken place. This will also do nothing to motivate people to buy more efficient cars, at least up until 2016, when folks buying new cars will be “motivated” to go efficient since all vehicles will need to meet the new standards.
At the 2:40 mark:
I'm creating [CO2] as I talk to you. It's in your Coca-Cola, your Dr. Pepper, and your Perrier water. It's necessary for human life. It's odorless, colorless, tasteless, doesn't cause cancer, doesn't cause asthma.
Remember just a few short months ago, we were demanding that "green strings" be attached to the billions we were about to give GM and Chrysler? Now this:
"The goal is to ensure that cars and trucks sold in America will be nearly 40 percent cleaner and more efficient by 2016."
Why is this happening now?
Because the government is providing loans to help U.S. automakers survive, the Obama administration is in the driver's seat to make these demands of automobile manufacturers.
Fourteen states — including California — and the District of Columbia have been bucking for higher standards. And the Supreme Court has ruled that under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency must take steps to curtail greenhouse gases. Increasing efficiency with a stick works, but it's not as elegant as a carrot. While I love that CAFE standards are rising, the most effective method of increasing efficiency and reducing pollution is to make the dirty energy cost what it costs society.
In the spirit (or lacking spirit) of last week's Bike to Work Day, George Will, the popular WashPost op-ed writer -- who constantly gets his global warming facts wrong -- focused his recent column on the nauseating idea of biking to work, something endorsed by transportation secretary Ray LaHood.
[LaHood] says he has joined a "transformational" administration: "I think we can change people's behavior." Government "promoted driving" by building the Interstate Highway System—"you talk about changing behavior." He says, "People are getting out of their cars, they are biking to work." [...]
Does LaHood really think Americans were not avid drivers before a government highway program "promoted" driving? Does he think 0.01 percent of Americans will ever regularly bike to work?
Well George, your numbers are a bit off.
Will claims to find it unbelievable that as many as 0.01 percent of Americans would ever bike to work regularly. But rather than tossing off ridicule, he might have looked up the Census Bureau’s statistics on commuting patterns and seen that right now 0.4 percent of commuters normally get to work on bicycles. Now that’s a small percentage. But it’s forty times larger than a percentage that Will deems unrealistically utopian.
And if you're a part of that .4 percent -- or considering it -- join the bicycle group here on Crossroads.
My wife and I think our local farmers market -- the Alemany Farmers Market -- is the best one around. A neighbor who’s head chef at a local restaurant swears by the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in downtown San Francisco. A hiking buddy who lives down the coast a ways says the Santa Cruz Community Farmers Market is tops. And friends in my childhood hometown in Vermont wouldn’t trade the Norwich Farmers Market for any other.
Well, now you can vote for your favorite farmers market. The American Farmland Trust, a national organization working with communities and individuals to protect the land, plan for agriculture, and keep the land healthy, has just announced its “America’s Favorite Farmers Markets” contest, a nationwide challenge to see which of America’s 4,685 farmers markets can rally the most support from its customers.
Starting on June 1, shoppers can vote to support their favorite farmers market. Farmers market managers can register to join the contest here. Results will be announced during Farmers Market Week August 2 – 8, 2009.
The goal of the contest is to promote the connection between fresh local food and the local farms and farmland that supply it. “Farmers markets are one of the best ways for consumers to support local farms and farmers,” says Julia Freedgood, Managing Director for American Farmland Trust’s Growing Local Initiative. “Farmers markets also support public health and economic development opportunities in our communities.”
The 2007 U.S. Agricultural Census reports a 49 percent growth in sales from farms directly to consumers since 2002—representing $1.2 billon that stayed in local communities. But at the same time, more than one million acres of farmland are developed each year—mostly around cities where demand for local food is the greatest.
“We need to make the connection,” says Freedgood. “There’s no local food without local farms and farmland. This contest is a way for consumers to show the pride people take in their local farmers’ market, and by extension the local farmers and communities that support them."
At the end of the contest, one large, medium, and small farmers market will win the title of “America’s Favorite Farmers Market” for 2009. The reward will be a shipment of No Farms No Food tote bags for the winning market managers to distribute to the shoppers that made it happen.
The Big Picture campaign was in full force in Arlington yesterday for the EPA hearings on CO2 regulation. The campaign will be in Seattle on Thursday for another hearing. And Big Picture house parties will take place on June 2. Do you want to host or attend a party? Here is a house party tool kit and here is a discussion forum.
Hey, The Big Picture has a group on Crossroads -- 122 strong! Join it. You can find more pictures there.
For continual coverage of the EPA hearings, check out Compass.
Pierce and Keely Brosnan (both centered) showed their support.
Here, the Sierra Club's Virginia Cramer and Mark Kresowik prepare the day's signs. And they're sporting shirts (below). Right on!
Photo credits after the jump.... (more)
(From ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA's Local Action Blog.)
Three months after its initial launch, the Chicago Green Office Challenge looks like a strategic hit for the City of Chicago. The program, created by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA and the City, and rolled out in February, now has upwards of 150 downtown building tenants enrolled, and more than 50 building managers.
If you’ve never heard of the Challenge, the concept is simple: Tenants and building managers compete to gain recognition from the mayor and media by improving their operations’ energy efficiency and sustainability (and save money in the process). The winners won’t only be those with the highest scores, but will also be those who have improved the most. And the City wins big as well, because the Challenge, conducted year after year, will help Chicago reach its emission reduction goals (39 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions come from commercial buildings).
Below are a few progress-report lessons for anybody interested in office-greening programs, gleaned after my conversation with Amy Malick, ICLEI’s Midwest Regional Director and an architect of the Challenge:
Before the Challenge started, office tenants and building managers were already hungry to learn how to be green, says Malick:
”The Green Office Challenge does for Chicago’s office workers what ICLEI does on a larger scale for entire local governments--it’s a technical assistance program. Just like local governments that join ICLEI, these tenants and building managers are genuinely ready to take steps to go green, they just don’t know what those steps are, so we have to show them.”
The take-home is that countless office workers and building managers in communities across the country are eager to go green, but they need guidance from their local government or a community organization; they need a step-by-step program.
It’s one thing to tell (or lecture) people about what they can do to improve their buildings’ energy efficiency, and quite another to rate their current performance with a scorecard, lay out a points system for how they can improve, and entice them with awards and recognition if they meet their goals. Thus far in the Challenge, friendly competition is getting office tenants excited and motivated: Property managers are holding building-wide contests, office workers are imploring their managers to get on board.
City staffers polled Chicago companies before creating the Challenge, and the consistent feedback was that people crave publicity: If they excel at the Challenge, they want Mayor Richard Daley and the media to recognize their organization as green. The lesson here: For an office greening program to succeed with slashing emissions and energy use, it should also help companies brand themselves as environmental leaders.
The first Challenge workshop grouped building managers with tenants to train them on how to achieve their goals. But it turned out that there wasn’t enough overlap to group them together: Tenants commented that lot of the information for building managers—how to create building-wide green teams, how to use ENERGY STAR tools—didn’t apply to them, and vice versa. Greening an office and greening a building are distinct challenges, so subsequent trainings have been targeted to the appropriate audience. On the other hand, it is important for both “sides” to understand the whole picture, so participating property managers and office tenants are challenged to engage each other over the course of the year.
The Green Office Challenge team is preparing a webinar—watch for an announcement soon on the ICLEI USA website—to explain how the Challenge works and what ingredients make it successful. The plan is for Chicago’s groundbreaking initiative to be replicated by local governments across the country. It may be coming soon to your town.
Climate Crossroads is now offering free music downloads. Every now and again we'll feature eco-musicians and their songs. This week we give you Minus Ted's "Article of Faith." Minus Ted formed in New York City in 1993. Below is a video of the group from a few years ago.
Are you a friend of the environment? Have you recorded a song that you'd like to see posted here? Send us an mp3. We might post it! We plan on posting several free downloads a month.
File this under the "really awesome, but not happening soon" category.
A Manhattan Beach start-up called Solaren Corp. seeks to launch an array of giant solar power collectors into orbit 23,000 miles above Fresno and beam the energy to Earth. PG&E has signed a contract to buy the power -- if Solaren can make the technology work.
The proposal is a potential energy game-changer, supporters say. But, critics dismiss it as pie in the sky.
The scheme highlights a growing dispute as utilities struggle to meet ambitious requirements for energy from renewable sources: Should electricity come from big, bold projects such as huge desert fields of sunlight-reflecting mirrors or should it come from smaller, close-to-the-user efforts such as rooftop solar panels? Should big power companies handle electron delivery or do-it-yourselfers?
Solaren won't discuss the details or costs of its plan, other than to give a ballpark price tag at more than $2 billion, to generate enough electricity for 150,000 homes across much of Northern and Central California. It has asked utility regulators to keep the information confidential, for now.
But executives say that by 2016 they can put together the technology to harness energy that constantly bathes Earth from 93 million miles away.
For more on the idea, here is a space-based power feasibility report (pdf).
Got a green event in your area? Post it on Crossroads. Here are some of the events this week on the Crossroads calendar:
Tues., 7:30 p.m.,Crowne Plaza Hotel, 901 North Fairfax St., Alexandria, Va
Virginia’s lead researcher on ocean renewable energy, George Hagerman, will give a public presentation on what commercial development of offshore wind power can mean for those of us who live and work in northern Virginia. This event will be hosted by the North Old Town Independent Citizens Civic Association (NOTICe), on May 19, 2009, at 7:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 901 North Fairfax, Alexandria, VA, 22314. It is free and open to the general public. With funding support from the state, the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC) has studied the engineering feasibility, cost, and economic development potential of Virginia’s offshore wind resource. These studies indicate that multi-megawatt wind turbines placed beyond sight of Virginia’s beaches could provide more than enough energy to meet 25% of the state’s electricity needs by 2025, creating thousands of new jobs throughout the state, with a cost of energy less than that from a new coal-fired generating plant. George Hagerman is a Senior Research Associate at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington and VCERC Director of Research.
Wed., 6:30 p.m., UC Berkeley Extension SOMA Art and Design Center, San Francisco
Learn about UC Berkeley Extension’s groundbreaking programs that prepare you to become a leader in designing "green" building spaces and communities that conserve resources and support health. For more information on this event, click here.
--And the EPA is collecting comments this week concerning CO2 regulation. To take action, check out The Big Picture.
Like most of the rest of the DC enviro set, I spent Tuesday morning waiting with baited breath for details of the compromise around the Waxman-Markey clean energy and climate bill to come over the transom. But then midway through the morning the blogs and newswires were suddenly atwitter with what appeared to be some major Obama environmental scandal. And I do mean a-Twitter, the latest obsession for Hollywood and Hollywood for Ugly People (D.C.) denizens alike.
Dow Jones, ABC News, and the Associated Press all went up with sensational items describing "a White House document" (specifically a memo from the Office of Management & Budget) that warned of dire economic consequences for millions of small businesses and others if EPA is allowed to proceed with its landmark "endangerment determination." It sounded oddly reminiscent of the many objections raised by the Bush administration and right-wing anti-regulatory groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--but more on that later. In any case, the scandal-hungry DC press corps took the GOP's bait and ran with it and the breaking news ripped across the internet.... (more)
But since Better Place went to the trouble of building this thing, how well does it work?
If you watch the video, it shows a Nissan sport utility vehicle driving into a small facility where a mechanized device unlatches the battery pack and replaces it with a fully charged one. The whole operation takes slightly over a minute, two minutes if you count driving into and out of the facility. Presumedly, payment is automated, so you never need to get out of the car, well, unless you gotta pee.
That sure compares well with filling up a gas tank, but I still wonder about its feasibility.
But while Congress was mired in a debate about the past vs. the future, the Sierra Club's first Climate Recovery Symposium featured the rest of America eagerly analyzing the urgency -- the opportunity -- and the means, of doing it much, much faster.
We had giants in the field of biology like Donald Kennedy and Tom Lovejoy -- chair and co-chair of the Club's Climate Recovery Partnership, which sponsored the Symposium -- again laying out the impact of unchecked climate deterioration on the ecosystems on which human beings depend. Dr. John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix, laid out his vision for how to creatively combine solar and wind power to make renewable electricity truly "dispatchable," and a group of a half dozen venture capitalists in the audience grilled him intently on the technical arcana of the idea. (They concluded it made sense.) Kleiner Perkins partner John Gage, GridPoint CEO Peter Corsell, Bluewater Wind's Peter Mandelstam, and Sunpower CTO Tom Dinwoodie debated how best to combine entrepreneurship, grass-roots advocacy, and public-private partnerships to rush clean, low-carbon energy sources to market. Lovejoy and John Moussouris of the VenEarth Group showed how by restoring ecosystems we can actually reduce the CO2 overload in the atmosphere and truly restore the climate -- Moussouris pointed out that just using biomass to create a small quantity of charcoal -- less than an inch -- to mix with every acre of the world's farmlands would actually reduce atmospheric CO2 by 100 ppm -- restoring it to preindustrial concentrations.
No, we didn't ignore the politics. We heard from the Obama administration (EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson). Speakers as diverse as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode warned that unless the American people and the Obama administration demand that Congress break with the energy sources of the past, the green economic recovery and the hope of a healthy climate may be strangled in the cradle.
But we spent most of our time learning how much fun this could be -- maybe Congress should have a similar session!
Here's Lisa P. from the EPA, talking with Jon S. on Comedy C.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
|Lisa P. Jackson|
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
The scientists at RealClimate.org write about the "tragedy of climate commons." It's a great read. Here's a snippet:
In 1896 Svante Arrhenius painstakingly calculated, by hand, that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase the global average temperature 5-6°C. Last year, NASA's chief climatologist, James Hansen, and his colleagues reached the same conclusion , although their methods and assumptions were both far more complex. Back in Arrhenius' time CO2 levels were beneath 300 parts per million, today's they're around 387 ppm.
Bad luck is also blamed for the reality that oil and gas reserves are just a tad bit too small to see us through to the point where clean and renewable sources of energy become affordable. This also ignores essential history.
In 1948, M. King Hubbert used statistics and plain old common sense to point out that we can only keeping increasing the rate at which we extract oil from the ground for so long. At some point -- a point that can be anticipated with a fair degree of accuracy -- that rate will peak, and then decline. The growing consensus is that we're very close to that peak right now, if we haven't already passed it by.
It's not like the precarious spot we find ourselves in now should come as a surprise to anyone. If we had started getting serious about breaking our addiction to fossil fuels half a century ago, photovoltaics would be cheap as dirt by now.
Elsewhere in blog land...
Imagine a group of 100 fisherman faced with declining stocks and worried about the sustainability of their resource and their livelihoods. One of them works out that the total sustainable catch is about 20% of what everyone is catching now (with some uncertainty of course) but that if current trends of increasing catches (about 2% a year) continue the resource would be depleted in short order. Faced with that prospect, the fishermen gather to decide what to do. The problem is made more complicated because some groups of fishermen are much more efficient than the others. The top 5 catchers, catch 20% of the fish, and the top 20 catch almost 75% of the fish. Meanwhile the least efficient 50 catch only 10% of the fish and barely subsist. Clearly, fairness demands that the top catchers lead the way in moving towards a more sustainable future.
The top 5 do start discussing how to manage the transition. They realise that the continued growth in catches - driven by improved technology and increasing effort - is not sustainable, and make a plan to reduce their catch by 80% over a number of years. But there is opposition - manufacturers of fishing boats, tackle and fish processing plants are worried that this would imply less sales for them in the short term. Strangely, they don't seem worried that a complete collapse of the fishery would mean no sales at all - preferring to think that the science can't possibly be correct and that everything will be fine. These manufacturers set up a number of organisations to advocate against any decreases in catch sizes - with catchy names like the Fisherfolk for Sound Science, and Friends of Fish. They then hire people who own an Excel spreadsheet program do "science" for them - and why not? They live after all in a free society.
The weekend before last it rained on Friday and part of Saturday, so I was able to pull almost very weed I put my hands on without tools.
Weeding may not be huge fun, but there's no thinking involved. I wasn't linear about it, because so what? The weeds got pulled, mostly, thank you.
Planting requires some planning. Or so they say.I came home from Mother's Day weekend with Z and her family with a car full of manure. My third annual pilgrimage bringing home compost.
It didn't smell at all. It was manure. After sitting in a pile outside the stables in the Santa Cruz Mountains, it was almost all broken down into rich compost.
Recipe: Pile up the hay and manure from the stables. Wait.
Clarification: I didn't just shovel the manure into my car. I used bags.If I 'd been pulled over, I would have said that I was carrying ten sacks of horse feed. Which was sort of true. The cycle of life and all that.
Sunday evening, a little before dark, I carried the bags, one at a time, clutched to my chest, to the back, and dumped them directly into the garden. Seven of the ten.
Tuesday, I raked them out and planted broccoli, tomatoes, basil, and chard.
And took some photos.
First, the path. I started this flagstone path at least five years ago, in the center. But this is the first spring that the path has been finished on both ends, with spurs.
Those magenta flowers are lavatera or tree mallow -- an easy plant if there ever was one. And below is the garden bed at the end of the path -- you can see the newly planted tomatoes and basil, and that dark brown color is the manure compost. Good stuff.
And here are some piles of the manure fresh from the bag. Some experts say you should dig it into the soil. I leave it on top, as a mulch of sorts. But I will rake it out so it's more even.
The rain was more than a week ago, but there are still plenty of mushrooms growing all over the yard, mostly in the areas covered with wood chips. I'm tempted to research these mushrooms and find out what kind they are so I could take them into the kitchen and sauté them with some eggs, but that sounds like too much work.
Oh, and look, there's the first raspberry of the season. Too hard (and too blurry) to eat yet, but maybe tomorrow.
(You can read more about raspberries here in my last post.)
This blog post is co-written by Mary Anne Hitt, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.
This week, friends of big oil and coal fired one of their first shots across the bow of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s power to set limits on global warming pollution. The frenzy that followed in Washington and in the media should serve as a wake up call to anyone who has not yet weighed in to support EPA’s proposed finding that global warming pollution endangers public health and welfare.
By pulling one line out of an obscure government document and circulating it out of context, Republicans in Congress tried to make the case that they had found a “smoking gun” revealing that the Obama White House predicts economic collapse should the EPA regulate global warming pollution. The White House quickly issued a statement making it clear they had said no such thing, in a statement with the fitting title “Clearing the Air.” A hat tip to David Roberts at Grist for unraveling how this non-story became national news.
Fortunately, you now have the chance to weigh in and counter the fear mongering by demonstrating that Americans want strong action on global warming.
Monday marks the first of two public hearings on EPA’s draft endangerment finding issued in mid-April, a historic finding by the agency that global warming pollution endangers public health and welfare. The endangerment finding is a comprehensive science based review of expected threats that our nation faces from global warming, including more severe heat waves, disease epidemics, water shortages, and crop failures.
We need to turn these hearings into a powerful demonstration that our country's future will not be set by the coal industry and their allies.
The hearings will be held in Seattle, Washington on May 21 and Arlington, Virginia on May 18. If you live in those areas, there is still time to sign up for both hearings - you can do so on our Big Picture website. The response has been great so far: our organizers tell us that although both hearings now are filled to capacity during the day and they only have evening spots left, EPA officials have said they will remain until every last commenter is heard.
If you don’t live in those cities, don’t worry - there’s still a great chance for you to organize for clean energy options and against coal.
First, we’ll have many of our folks inside both these hearings ready to Twitter and blog about what’s going on. If you’re on Twitter, follow the hashtag #nocoal to see the updates from all our attendees.
Secondly, as part of our Big Picture campaign - climate change leaders across the country will be hosting parties on June 2nd so that everyone can be a part of the Big Picture solution, no matter where you live.
Join us as we watch videos from the EPA hearings, hear more about the Big Picture campaign on a conference call with Sierra Club leaders, and discuss the issues and actions that you the volunteers believe will make the greatest impact in bringing about a clean energy future.
We’re looking for Big Picture House Party hosts right now, so check out the Big Picture website to learn more.
Finally, if you have not yet sent in your written comments to the EPA, please do so right now. The coal industry is working hard to prevent the change we need, but together we can help build a clean energy economy for the U.S.
This morning we got word of a deal on a weaker version of the Waxman bill, formally known as the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act. Here's a good example of how polluters' money waters down action.
In a moment of candor, ACES co-sponsor Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the chair of the subcommittee in question, explained that fellow Democrats acting as representatives for climate polluters were holding up the bill....Members of Markey’s energy and environment subcommittee with strong ties to those sectors include Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA: $50,942 from steel), Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN: $113,033 from auto), Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT: $177,946 from coal), and Rep. Gene Green (D-TX: $330,613 from oil). The trade publication E&E News has identified 13 members of the 34-member subcommittee as swing votes. These “maybe” officials have received an average of $678,570 in lifetime contributions from those sectors, as opposed to $149,397 for the nine “yes” votes.
The average energy committee member opposed or wavering on the green economy legislation has received six times as much lifetime climate polluter cash as the average supporter.
(images via The Wonk Room)
Here are a couple of BU students showing us how easy it is to eat locally and think globally. If you're looking for sustainable recipes, click here.
Are you a student? Get involved with the Sierra Student Coalition.
From the Sierra Club press office:
Sierra Club Statement on House Clean Energy Bill
Washington, D.C.--The House Energy and Commerce Committee has reportedly reached agreement on a compromise version of the American Clean Energy & Security Act, a comprehensive clean energy and climate plan. With the full committee markup set to begin this later week, the Sierra Club offered the following comments.
Statement of Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director
"Chairmen Waxman and Markey have done heroic work in reaching agreement on the Energy and Commerce Committee around a comprehensive clean energy and climate plan, a critically important milestone that has faced seemingly insuperable obstacles. Their leadership has been truly remarkable. But it is clear that Big Oil, Big Coal and other polluters are still holding out for a Congressional bailout. They will continue to try to riddle this legislation with loopholes, water it down, and load it up with hundreds of billions of dollars in giveaways. They don't want it to deliver a recovery fueled by the clean energy jobs that America needs.
"These polluters are trying to strangle the clean energy economy in its cradle, steal the benefits of the clean energy future from the American people, and keep us addicted to oil and dirty coal. As this bill moves through the many remaining steps in the legislative process, we will work to strengthen this bill, so that it meets President Obama's challenge to Congress and the American people. Only a bill which accomplishes these three things can really jumpstart the green recovery, build the clean energy future, and end our addiction to oil and coal:
- Dramatically ramp up America's transition to cleaner, cheaper energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal
- Slash energy waste in order to cut emissions quickly and cheaply, while saving consumers money on their energy bills
- Close the carbon pollution loophole and make polluters pay for the carbon pollution they emit
# # #
The AP is reporting that the deal scales back the initial proposal.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., announced Tuesday evening the outlines of a deal that they said would ensure the legislation will please both environmental and industry groups and have the support of moderate Democrats on the House Energy Committee.
To do so, they have lowered targets for renewable energy, will require a smaller reduction by 2020 in the emissions blamed for global warming, and will give away valuable permits to release pollution to electricity distribution companies and auto manufacturers.
"We have resolved a good number of the issues," said Waxman, who chairs the panel and has set a Memorial Day deadline for it to clear the committee. "I believe we will have the votes for passage of this bill next week."
The bill — the American Clean Energy and Security Act — would place a limit on heat-trapping gases for the first time and reduce fossil fuel use by boosting energy efficiency and requiring more electricity to be produced from renewable sources.
While these goals are endorsed by President Barack Obama, the legislation faced opposition from fellow Democrats in coal, oil and industrial states, jeopardizing its chances of making it out of committee.
More coverage here.
In the House, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman is having an extraordinarily difficult time getting a strong renewable standard out of his committee -- even as he is being forced to water down the initially ambitious goals he set for his climate bill. At this point, no one on Capitol Hill is moving legislation that would achieve President Obama's goal of doubling renewable-energy generation. No one is moving legislation that meets the president's goals of 100 percent auction of carbon permits, either. Indeed, Waxman is considering giving more than half of the permits away to the industries that are major carbon polluters -- not because he wants to, but because otherwise he can't move a bill at all.
What's going on here?
Route 66 has a lot of history associated with it -- especially the Dust Bowl years chronicled by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, but this trip also provided many opportunities to reflect on America's current transportation and energy issues.
Let's set aside that our trip started during a record April heat wave in Southern California that saw 100-degree temperatures. We don't want to confuse weather and climate change, after all. Still... we weren't expecting Mohave-desert temperatures while still in Beverly Hills!
Right from Route 66, you can see many different ways of generating power. In California, it's hard to miss the giant solar installation in the Mohave desert. Near Joseph City, AZ, we rode right past the Cholla coal-fired power plant (pictured below). Even more sobering was the sight a few hours later of a long train of coal cars piled high with fuel for that same plant (Route 66 and the railroad run in tandem through most of the Southwest). Then, in New Mexico, it's windmills dotting the distant mesas and even towering over the Community College in Tucumcari. That last turbine is being used to train future wind-turbine technicians (as well as power the college).
Tucumcari, like Winslow, AZ, and Barstow, CA, also has a grand old passenger-rail terminal -- reminders of a time when passenger rail was still a thriving industry. When you compare an old Harvey House railroad hotel such as the newly restored La Posada with the offerings off the Interstate, it's hard not to mourn what was lost when we turned our back on passenger rail. Sixty years ago, you could take a train from Tucumcari to Amarillo, TX, for a day's shopping. These days, the Interstate is your only option.
In case you haven't noticed, The Big Picture is getting big.
The Big Picture -- a new Sierra Club campaign in support of EPA greenhouse gas regulations -- has its own group on Crossroads, which is now up to 108 members. The group's blog is alive and well and the campaign has its own discussion forum.
It's crunch time! The EPA and the new administration are considering taking action on global warming. You can bet that Big Coal and Oil will push back. So there are several things you can do.
If you live in the Arlington, Va or Seattle areas, you can go to the EPA public hearing on May 18 and May 21, respectively. Carpool organizing is taking place at the Crossroads forum. If you don't live in those areas, you can submit your own comment to the EPA. The goal is to submit as many comments as possible. There have already been 30,000 comments collected. But it doesn't hurt to add more! Go here to do it.
Join now and get involved.
Listen closely... that sound you hear is the banging of the final nail in the fuel cell coffin. Sweet music to our ears, my friend.
Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy, has determined that this technology is not practical in the near term. This vindicates Joe Romm and Alec Brooks who years ago made very strong cases against the use of fuel cells to power vehicles. I read Alec Brooks' paper (pdf) when I first got involved with EVs years ago and was immediately convinced that technology would never work for personal vehicles.
When Bush said in one of his State of the Union speeches, “the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.”, I realized that since battery electric vehicles existed in the 1890's, a child born before the Civil War could have driven an EV. Bush's Energy Dept. then went on to waste a couple billion of our tax dollars on this boondoggle.
To make things worse, California was suckered into spending millions on its vaunted Hydrogen Highway. Terry Tamminen, an otherwise respectable environmentalist, is guilty of being the person most responsible in convincing Gov. Schwarzenegger to go down this H2 highway. The waste of tax dollars was bad enough, but worse was the wasting of nearly a decade of valuable time when we should have been improving the battery electrics that were already viable.
Lastly, this is a particularly good quote from this NYT article:
"The Obama administration will also drop spending for research on the exploration of oil and gas deposits because the industry itself has ample resources for that," Dr. Chu said.
Amen to that!
Got a green event in your area? Post it on Crossroads. Here are some of the events this week on the Crossroads calendar:
Friday, 9:30 a.m.,116th Street & Riverside Drive, New York.
Join our volunteer birdwatcher for a spring birdwalk through the Riverside Park Bird Sanctuary. Please bring binoculars if you have them. Weather permitting.
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.,400 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA.Join us at the elegant Monterey Plaza Hotel as four of our celebrated chefs race the clock to create tasty (and sustainable) seafood dishes while Sam Choy and Alton Brown offer lively commentary. This year’s challenge features Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Nate Appleman, Paul Rogalski and Xavier Deshayes. Frank Stitt, Alton Brown and Sam Choy will be the judges as the chefs compete for honors in one of four fun categories. You’ll enjoy fine wine and abundant hors d’oeuvres, and take home a set of plunger-style measuring cups from the signature line of Alton Brown Gear.
--And Thursday is Bike to Work Day.
Duke Energy, which has a history of at least acknowledging the CO2 problem, has split with the National Association of Manufacturers because of irreconcilable differences over the global warming threat:
Duke Energy Corp., the owner of utilities in the U.S. Southeast and Midwest, won’t renew its membership in the National Association of Manufacturers partly because of differences over climate policy.
“We are not renewing our membership in the NAM because in tough times, we want to invest in associations that are pulling in the same direction we are,” Duke Chief Executive Officer Jim Rogers said last month in an interview. The association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republicans “ought to roll up their sleeves and get to work on a climate bill, but quite frankly, I don’t see them changing.”
Polar bears have it rough. From the Sierra Club press office today:
Interior Department to Keep Bush Polar Bear Rule
Sierra Club Urges Administration to Reconsider
Washington, D.C. - Today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Obama administration will not withdraw a special rule limiting protection for polar bears. The polar bear 4(d) rule was issued in the waning days of the Bush administration and would limit the protections afforded to the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.
Earlier this year, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill that gave the administration the opportunity to withdraw two controversial endangered species act regulations. The deadline for action was listed as May 10.
Statement of Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope
It's a mistake that the Obama administration did not take advantage of the opportunity to provide full protection to the polar bear. The polar bear's sea ice habitat is melting beneath its feet. If we fail to act, scientists say America's polar bears could disappear by mid-century.
If polar bears are going to survive global warming, they will need far greater protections than what the law currently offers. The Bush administration enacted this special rule in an effort to delay action in the face of overwhelming evidence that global warming poses a very real and immediate threat to polar bears.
We are committed to working with the Obama administration to increase protections for the polar bear. We urge the administration to reconsider its decision. Polar bears are in imminent danger, and we need bold, decisive action to save them.
What do you think of this news? Join this White House group on Crossroads and share your thoughts.
(pic via "The Simpsons" on hulu.)
Update: Grist thinks it could be "smart climate politics."
Today’s news could be read as further proof the president prefers to tackle climate change through a comprehensive plan—with approval from Congress—rather than through a series of regulatory maneuvers.
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
This is actually a pretty general problem in Washington. It's easy to show how "doing something" costs money. "Doing something" needs to be written into legislation. It needs to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. It needs to be explained to the public. But, in general, there's no one who is specifically responsible for explaining how much "doing nothing" would cost. And no one ever has to vote to pass a "do nothing" bill. So they don't pay for the consequences of inaction, even as reformers bear responsibility for the outcome of reform. That makes "doing nothing" a relatively safe play because you never have to argue in favor of nothing. You only have to argue against something.
But if we're going to be honest about the economics here, then you have to assess not only the costs of doing something, but also of doing nothing.
This just in from some of the creative minds at the Sierra Club:
The West Virginia Coal Association just published on its website some cell phone ringtones touting the greatness of coal. We thought those ringtones worked better with video, because there is nothing great about coal...
Just like the blog title states, this week we saw both sides of the fight for clean energy. I’ll start with the bad news – which comes straight from Kansas. (And stay with me til the bottom of the post, when I’ll share something both laughable and shocking)
This week new Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson offered a deal to Sunflower Electric Kansas, the company that had been lobbying for their coal-fired power plants for well over a year now - and which former Kansas Gov. and now Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius had repeatedly blocked.
Gov. Parkinson is allowing Sunflower to build one of these coal plants – saying concessions were made for both sides. According to our Kansas chapter, with this settlement Governor Parkinson offered to Sunflower Electric, Kansas has given up its place as a national leader on clean energy.
Stephanie Cole, our chapter leader in Kansas, said that under former Gov. Sebelius, Kansas was well-positioned to make contributions to slow global warming. This agreement is a significant set back. The concessions made to the coal industry will greatly outweigh any so-called benefits for the state. For instance, the carbon "offsets" cited in the agreement are generally questionable, unenforceable, and won't result in a reduction in global warming pollution.
The new coal plant actually increases Kansas' contributions to global warming (PDF). While the country is moving away from polluting fossil fuels, Kansas has opened the door for outdated, dirty technology other states are rejecting. The agreement appears to invite Sunflower Electric to build another coal plant in two years. This is not a compromise, but a giveaway to the coal industry Kansans have stood up against.
As such, the fight will continue in the sunflower state.
But I will at least end this post with the good clean energy news. On May 1, LS Power suspended plans for its planned Midland, Michigan, coal-fired power plant.
According to our Michigan chapter, LS Power had resisted complying with the environmental regulations needed to get a coal plant approved in Michigan, in particular meeting standards for mercury emissions. This unwillingness to meet public health and environmental standards was blamed, but one major factor in the demise of this proposal was the decision by its partner Dynegy to drop this project and others in January 2009 after a successful campaign by Sierra Club to point out the financial foolishness of investing in coal plants.
Congratulations to the citizens of Michigan and to our chapter there, which works so hard to bring clean energy to the state.
Last week, I got word that BMW was holding an event for the lessees of their Mini E. It was held two nights ago at the Science Center next to the University of Southern California, a really stellar venue when you consider the product they would be showing. I arrived at the same time as Stefano Paris, Plug In America's documentarian, and as we walked from the parking lot, we went past an SR71 Blackbird on display to get to the party. This sleek, titanium marvel can travel at mach 3.2 orders of magnitude faster than the 95 mph Mini E, a truly awesome feat of engineering. It got us in the mood to see some equally exciting engineering, this time a combination of AC Propulsion's drive system packed into the tight confines of the German engineered Mini.
There were lots of folks I knew in attendance, all of them excited that delivery was finally close. There have been delays, something we advocates of plug-ins have grown to expect. But these were happy folks, there was no mistaking it.
I got to meet Nathalie Bauters, the communications director for the Mini E program in the U.S. and she assured me the delay was only due to getting final UL approval for the plug they are using for charging. The cars have been waiting in a parking lot in Oxnard for weeks. BMW wants to make sure all of their customers have an approved and permitted charging station installed in the customers garage before delivery. This is exactly what happened when we got our Toyota RAV EV six years ago. No charger, no car.
So, it appears most, if not all of the cars will be delivered in June. These Minis, combined with the 400-500 Tesla Roadsters that will be on the road by end of June, effectively doubles the number of production highway capable EVs in the U.S. The Teslas will continue delivering at a rate of 100 per month while the Mini E customers will be the only ones in the country with these cars until the year long test phase is over and BMW cranks up the production of more.
The difference with how Nissan is approaching the EV is interesting. While BMW is taking a careful look at how its customers will be driving the cars and how they charge them, trying to see if there are any issues to deal with before committing to large numbers of EVs, Nissan is racing to get thousands on the road as fast as possible. They seem very comfortable that their car is going to be bulletproof right out of the gate. I heard today that they expect to have 5,000 Nissan EVs for sale by the end of 2010. It is expected they will expand production quickly to the tens of thousands in 2011.
We are privileged to have front row seats to observe this quickly evolving transportation technology. When you look back 20 years from now, when virtually every vehicle sold has a plug on it, you'll remember these pioneer companies as being well ahead of the curve. Tesla will be a common brand, with several well received models in all price ranges, and there will be a few proud owners of the original Apteras zipping along the freeways among all manner of new plug-in cars, trucks and even SUVs. The gas burners of today will be mostly gone, replaced with cleaner and quieter cars.
There were two more inside the building that drew crowds like this. My good friend, Jeff U'ren, who came loaded with questions for the BMW folks and came away satisfied with the answers. The one question about whether the lessees can take the $7,500 tax credit is still to be determined. More on that later...
We continue to enjoy Peter Sinclair's weekly YouTube series that dismantles the various theories that climate-change deniers often spew out.
That is the question.
Climate policies thus have a strong element of risk management: Depending on the costs of doing so, society may find it economically sensible to invest in reducing the risk of the most severe possible impacts from climate change even if their likelihood is relatively remote. In particular, the potential for unexpectedly severe and even catastrophic outcomes, even if unlikely, would justify more stringent policies than would result from simply balancing the costs of reducing emissions against the benefits associated with the expected or most likely resulting degree of warming.
Bike to Work Day is next Thursday. Join the Bicycle group on Crossroads if you haven't already. Go there and post a photo of your bike!
For people who eat and breathe bicycling, there are several great bike blogs out there that I'd recommend. You might like this guy over in L.A. The Bike Snob in New York maintains a good site. Have you heard of Bikerowave? Here's Copenhagen. And this person rides around in Amsterdam.
Don't have a bike and want to get started? Try a garage sale. And here's info on bike sharing programs.
Today from the USGS e-newsletter:
Climate change is seriously impacting Antarctica’s ice, and the Wordie Ice Shelf and the northern part of the Larsen Ice Shelf have completely disappeared. An area more than three times the size of Rhode Island (more than 8,500 km2) has broken off the central Larsen Ice Shelf since 1986. Moreover, the Jones, Müller, George VI, and Wilkins Ice Shelves have retreated substantially. These floating ice shelves are especially sensitive to climate change, so their rapid retreat may be a forecast for losses of the land-based ice on the Antarctic continent if warming continues. This could result in sea-level rise, threatening low-lying coastal communities and islands.
And what's going on closer to home?
Climate change is increasing the mobility of sand dunes in the southwest, posing threats to roadways, infrastructure, human health, cultural practices of the Navajo Nation, and much more. Vegetation on dunes serves as stabilizers, but as the climate warms and precipitation decreases, there is less vegetation growth.
Margaret Hiza, USGS scientist, talks more about it here.
(From ICLEI's local action blog.)
In its recent list of 25 Best Walking Cities, Prevention magazine ranks San Francisco as the best place to lace up your Hush Puppies, rather than start your engine. Their main reason? It's 12 City agencies that address walking, biking, and transit issues in various ways, from parking standards and bike lanes to closing streets to cars and constructing better sidewalks. The end result is a city (despite some steep hills) that you can navigate on a low-carbon diet easily, without four wheels.
Prevention's list reminded me of Walk Score's 2008 list of America's Most Walkable Neighborhoods, which also put San Francisco on top and lists the three most walkable neighborhoods in each city. Walk Score's methodology appears to be a bit more scientific than Prevention's, but just for kicks, take a look at this side-by-side comparison:
|Prevention's 25 Best Walking Cities
||Walk Score's America's Most Walkable Neighborhoods
|1. San Francisco
3. New York
6. Washington D.C.
13. San Diego
14. Los Angeles
18. Santa Ana
19. San Jose
22. New Orleans
|1. San Francisco
2. New York
7. Washington D.C.
8. Long Beach
9. Los Angeles
16. San Diego
17. San Jose
18. Las Vegas
Peabody Coal just launched a huge attack on wind energy. In an ad in Roll Call aimed at Congress, the coal producer makes the claim that coal-fired power plants, even when equipped with as-yet unproven and therefore uncosted capture-and-sequestration technology, will be 15-50 percent cheaper than wind, 28 percent cheaper than natural gas, and 15 percent cheaper than nuclear. These are absurd figures. A recent California PUC study estimated that wind would cost 9 cents per kilowatt hour delivered; coal, with capture and storage, would cost 17 cents; combined cycle natural gas power would cost 9.4 cents; geothermal, 10 cents; concentrating solar, 12 cents; and nuclear, 15 cents. A wide variety of other analyses have also shown that coal, if you have to capture its carbon, simply doesn't compete -- except maybe with nuclear.
Check out the Tesla on Letterman. Watch his concerns that the electric car will "magnetize my nuts." For more on this clip and Tesla photos, click here.
(This is not an expert opinion. Just mine. To make it expert, I would have to look it up, and sort through all the chaff on the web, and then how could I call myself lazy in good conscience?)
The winter before last, maybe 15, 16 months ago, my friend Alex -- she's a real, non-lazy gardener -- gave me a dozen or so skinny little sticks, with wiggly little black taproot wagging like a puppy's tail.
No one really knows what the political implications of global warming will be decades from now. The possiblities are wide-ranging. Slate recently explored one scenario that'll raise your eyebrows:
Add this to your list of climate nightmare scenarios: In 2040, facing rising seas, the Qatari government starts polluting the stratosphere in order to cool the planet, precipitating an international crisis and possibly upsetting monsoon patterns.
Freelance atmospheric modification may sound far-fetched, but the potboiler concept was on the agenda last week at an invitation-only, international workshop in Lisbon, Portugal. The private event was the first global powwow designed to explore the political aspects of geoengineering, or the deliberate manipulation of the climate. About 30 scientists and bureaucrats, representing 14 nations, mulled over the implications of global climate control in a wood-paneled conference room. The setting was the verdant grounds of an arts-and-science foundation started half a century ago by Armenian oil baron Calouste Gulbenkian.
The idea that we might solve our climate woes through planet hacking had its political coming-out earlier this month, when White House science adviser John Holdren said geoengineering research has "got to be looked at" by scientists. The work to which he was referring has quietly emerged over the last two years in a steady stream of meetings, a small but increasing number of papers, and substantial ongoing efforts by major science societies. The Lisbon meeting marked the introduction of what had once been the domain of fringe science to the international foreign-policy wonkocracy.
Look at what they're doing in North Hempstead, NY. This video won the Cool Cities video contest. Congratulations!
Got a green event in your area? Post it on Crossroads. Here are some of the events this week on the calendar:
--San Francisco Green Drinks
Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. 111 Minna Gallery, San Francisco.
SF Green Drinks, the Bay Area’s monthly green, social phenomenon is moving to 111 Minna Gallery and to the first Tuesday of the month starting May 5th. To break in our new digs, we are hosting Green Drinko De Mayo, a spring celebration to welcome change and growth in our community. Sponsors Green Wala and Triple Pundit will kick off the fan fare by providing the first 100 Green Drinkers with a tasty draught beverage. Then at 7:30pm, popular Bay Area DJs Jay Austin Gregory and COR will infuse the evening with dance music.
--Michigan Green Expo
Friday, 6 p.m., at the Lansing Center, 333 E. Michigan Avenue, MI.
Michigan Green Expo was created to take a stand for responsible living; to give you all the tools you need to preserve our precious natural and human resources for future generations. At the expo, you will be inspired to make positive lifestyle changes that will be easy, affordable, and simple to implement into your daily life. These three days will offer you a comprehensive blend of green products, services, and educational resources along with tons of fun in one central location. This event will change your life for sure. Please don’t take this lightly; this is a matter of survival for everyone on the planet and the most urgent threat facing humanity today. Bring your family and friends and let's make change!
-Author E.O. Wilson - Biodiversity & Our Future
Sunday, 4 p.m., Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA.
This Mother’s Day, E.O. Wilson will deliver a plea for a new human ethic based on a wiser, more careful stewardship of our vanishing natural world while sharing his optimism that we still have an opportunity to save the living things and wild places that sustain us. Hosted by Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University and editor-in-chief of Science. Emceed by KQED Forum Host Michael Krasny. Event proceeds will benefit Canopy’s tree planting and education programs in local schools.
(Graphic from the Atlantic.)
This article from yesterday's NY Times special section called, "Business of Green", describes how our electricity has been sold for the past many decades and how it will be sold in the future. Since most people reading this will be early adopters of cars that run on kilowatt hours instead of gasoline, this is important.
The first “dumb” thing to go may be flat pricing. Today, a kilowatt-hour of electricity, enough to burn a 100-watt bulb for 10 hours, costs the same to most customers at all times, whether it is a sweltering summer afternoon or a balmy spring night. But the cost to the utility swings wildly, and the company may have to spend much more money to supply extra energy at peak times than during slack periods.
Time of use pricing (TOU) is very popular among those who buy solar systems since the cost of peak energy (noon to 9 pm for some utilities, 10 am to 6 pm for others) is much higher than off peak energy. Those peak times tend to coincide with the peak output of the solar system, so if you are generating more than the house is using, you can "sell" back to the utility at the higher rate. As I sit here in my home office, my 3 kW solar system is generating more than my house is using and Southern California Edison (SCE) is crediting me at over 30 cents per kWh for the excess energy. At night, when the sun is down, I buy those credits back, but at a much lower rate, around 10 cents kWh. That is when I charge my EV or use other heavy electrical loads.
As the people interviewed for this article attest, this incentive works very well for shifting loads from peak times to off peak times.
One thing the article did not discuss was tiered rates. In Los Angeles, the municipal utility, LADWP, charges a low flat rate no matter how many kWh you buy. In SCE territory here in Santa Monica, we pay according to how many kWh we use. The utility gives us about 300 kWh at a low price, then there are 4 more tiers of kWh at an every increasing price. The top 3 tiers are very expensive, which provides a great incentive to cut back on waste. This is also an very good incentive to go solar since the solar is paid off with the more expensive energy first.
A combination of TOU pricing and tiered rates are necessary to reduce waste and shift electric loads to off peak times.
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
Intriguing. I'm not sure the "drill, baby drill" crowd would actually accept this deal (Republicans seem intent on scuttling any climate bill). But it might help woo recalcitrant Dems, and if so, I wouldn't be shocked if the environmental side came around. As energy experts reminded us last fall, more offshore drilling won't boost supply by all that much—there's just not enough oil out there. But that also means it won't increase U.S. carbon emissions much, either, so it's a small price to pay for an economy-wide cap on global-warming pollution. (In fact, once you had a cap, it wouldn't really matter how much oil and gas was produced—the cap should ensure the same limit on overall emissions whether oil was plentiful or scarce.)
On the other hand, the idea of delaying the onset of cap-and-trade past 2012 seems like a stickier point for people trying to prevent drastic climate change.
In your opinion, would a compromise of this sort be palatable?
Meanwhile, Congress has been busy with climate-changin' debatin', although lately the news has been overtaken by swine flu coverage. But this blogger has a rundown on the recent crazy talk from the far right of the political spectrum. And some astute commentary:
The world some of these politicians live in is as bizarre and twisted as anything I have ever seen in a cartoon. It’s incredible to me that such know-nothings are actually able to control the laws and policies of this nation. Happily though, they do eventually come up for re-election. Maybe then we can breathe easy again.
What was really interesting was Ms. Clinton’s argument about the economics of tackling climate change. Basically, she said that curbing greenhouse-gas emissions is more than just compatible with economic growth—it is a necessary condition for sustained growth, above all for the developing world.
That’s a key point because the need for decades more of heady growth is the main reason China (and India) object to curbs on their greenhouse-gas emissions.