It's the Environment, Stupid.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Thank goodness for California

Who hasn't picked up on this story from the NY Times this morning?

The shiny happy state that is California (don't they look overly happy?) has proposed to slash emissions by 25% by 2020. The slashing wouldn't begin until 2012, and the proposal hasn't quite fully passed through all of the necessary republicans, but this is an exceptional move in my opinion for a few reasons.

For one thing, just the fact that state governments are taking responsibility where the white house leaves off should be comforting to Americans nationwide. Another thing that makes this great is that once (when, hopefully not if) this proposal becomes a reality other states will follow suit.

Of course there are businesses and manufacturers that will threaten to leave the state, but the auto industry also said it would fold after CAFE standards were introduced. We're still driving cars, and I seriously doubt California's economy will crumble.

Finally, this proposal is additional evidence that climate change and energy issues are in fact a political hot button - let's just hope all the happiness actually transcends the photo op and translates into cleaning up the air and meeting emission reduction targets.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

SUVs aren't the only gas guzzlers

Yahoo's homepage this morning featured a picture of a SmartCar accompanied by, "Brain vs. brawn. How will Europe's tiny Smart car compete with the SUVs packing U.S. highways?"

Curious, I clicked. The story, "Smart in the City" was about taking the Smart Car for a test drive in Manhattan to see if it would work as a commuter car. I suppose if you've never experienced a Smart Car in person, it gives a little bit of insight as to the tiny car's features. But other than that, I didn't find the driving through a construction zone on 37th street as being all that applicable/comparable to the driving experiences of suburban SUV drivers nationwide.

What I did find interesting though was another article featured in this "Brain vs. brawn" theme of the morning - a Consumer Reports guide to fuel efficient vehicles. It broke down vehicles by type (family sedan, small SUV, sporty cars etc.), and ranked them according to their fuel economy - city, highway and overall mpg.

Scrolling down it wasn't suprising to see that the highest ranked midsized & large SUV, the Honda Pilot EX, had an overall mpg of 19, city mpg of 13, and highway mpg of 27. What was surprising was that the non-SUVs had comparable numbers. Like the highest ranked minivan, the Chevrolet Venture LS, had an overall mpg of 19, city mpg of 12, and highway mpg of 27. The highest ranked compact pickup, Toyota Tacoma TRD, was even worse with overall mpg of 16, city mpg of 12, and highway mpg of 22.

The highest ranked small SUV (Toyota Matrix SR AWD) and wagons/hatchbacks (Pontiac Vibe FWD) were comparable: overall 24, city 17, hwy 33 for the Toyota; and 26 overall, 18 city, 36 hwy for the Pontiac. And nearly all of the sedan categories: family, luxury, upscale, and large (with the exception of the small sedan) were similar, averaging with an overall mpg of 22.

The winners were the small sedans, the top three in that category were the Honday Insight (overall 51, city 36, hwy 66), the Volkswagon Golf GLS TDI (overall 41, city 29, hwy 54), and the Toyota Prius (overall 41, city 30, hwy 49).

So the next time you want to criticize all those gas guzzling SUVs, be sure to expand your finger pointing to include nearly everything else on the road in your fuel inefficient tirade.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hydrogen in Maine

Hydrogren is touted as the thing that will solve all of our energy problems, and that it is just around the corner. Only everything I've read about it says that just isn't happening in the near future - so why do the news stories continue to perpetuate the hydrogen myth?

Case in point being an AP article via ENN about a $250,000 demonstration project in Maine. The featured project creates hydrogen through electrolysis, which is powered by renewables, "The system unveiled at Chewonki uses renewable power -- from solar panels atop the center and purchases of 'green' electricity -- to produce hydrogen from water through a process known as electrolysis." The governor of Maine even signed an execuitve order to promote hydrogen power in the state.

I'm all for R&D and if we can get hydrogen to work despite its (many) faults that would be great, but these dangling-carrot type stories really should come with a warning label, "Hydrogen may be farther away than it appears..."

UPDATE: 8/30/06
Here's another one - Hydrogen vehicles in Brazil... although acknowledging that these vehicles are (at least) 10 years off, the article begins with, "Brazil has joined the industrialised countries in the race for hydrogen power..." but hey, more races mean more R&D....

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pesticides and soda in India

No one else is saying it, so I thought I would. Coke and Pepsi should not take the full blame for pesticides in their soft drinks produced in India. However, they also shouldn’t be excused from helping to remedy the situation.

While the partial ban of the soft drinks in India has been making headlines in the past week, this is not a new issue. The Indian Parliament banned the sale of Coca-Cola in their cafeterias after a report released in January 2004 noted the high levels of pesticides in the soft drink produced and distributed within the country. This was a small victory (and a point of criticism) for The India Resoure Center, a watch group that tracks Coca-Cola’s practices in India.

The India Resource Center has also sounded the alarm over water usage by the cola giant, tracking accounts that document declining water tables, and other water abuse issues in villages where its plants operate. Coca-Cola’s response to these accusations is the release of press statements, detailing how they abide by local laws and regulations, and truck in water for people in local villages.

The whole of India seems to want to rally against the corporation because of the pesticides, but no one seems to want to stand behind a community that might be consuming these pesticides every day in their drinking water – pesticides that might be there with or with out a soft drink plant.

Instead of asking ‘how much pesticides should be allowed in the soft drinks?’ someone should ask how the pesticides are getting into the water supply in the first place. According to a press statement by Coca-cola, the company uses strict measures in testing their soft drinks for pesticides, but it doesn’t say if they monitor pesticide level in the water used to make the soft drinks.

Coca-cola says they do a lot already to ensure groundwater replenishment, and monitoring of waste effluents, but perhaps they should also work with local governments and communities to identify the source of the pesticides and work towards ways of eliminating (or reducing) their use, instead of pouring their money into spinning the PR bottle. And perhaps those calling foul on coca-cola should shift their activism efforts to push for least toxic pest control methods.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Transportation issues at Solar1

I went to check out Saturday's outdoor film at Solar1. The topic was transportation - fitting considering the little solar building at Stuyvesant-Cove Park sits below FDR drive, and beside a gas station on Manhattan's East River.

I arrived late and missed the pre-film transportation discussion but I did catch the documentaries. The first movie, Contested Streets, had great stock footage (and historical narrative) of the arrival of cars in NYC, which displaced the smelly, dirty, problematic horses. And as cars came to rule the streets, more roads and highways were built to unlock the subsequent gridlock. Then transition to our current situation in NYC: congestion. Or, rather, an all out war: pedestrians vs. automobiles vs. bikes vs. buses.

The film attempts to find solutions to this never ending battle by visiting a few global counterparts to see how they've managed in an increasingly auto-dependent world. Copenhagen, Denmark, is ruled mainly by bikes; Paris, France has dedicated bike/bus lanes in its downtown core; London has recently implemented a congestion fee, where drivers coming into the city centre are charged a fee for doing so. This is intended to lessen congestion and increase the usage of public tranport options.

The film was good and got the point across loud and clear. Yet, it didn't really address part of the WHY behind NYC's traffic congestion (and perhaps it was beyond the scope of the film). Part of Manhattan's traffic problems stem from New Jersey, Long Island, and other outlying suburban areas that perhaps aren't as serviceable by public transporation, making the choice to drive cars a seemingly more convenient solution for commuters. NY city officials will need to come up with creative solutions to Manhattan's congestion problems, but there will also need to be a continuation of regional transportation planning, as well as land use/development planning in outlying areas to do more to increase density, and create more walkable communities and other types of actions to address the reliance on the automobile.

The second movie was a short produced by The Center for Urban Pedagogy about the waste stream in New York City. When you wash dishes, or flush the toilet where does that dirty water go? Shot and put together by a group of students, this film should be shown in schools around the city as it makes visible the invisible infrastructure known as our water/sewer system that no one really thinks about (except for the people who happen to live next to one of the treatment centers.)

Luckily the rain held off last night until the movies ended (it didn't start up again until my walk back along 23rd to the subway.)

Despite the rain this afternoon, I still might try to check out Princess Mononoke tonight - the last night of the Solar1 film series featuring a special introduction by Claire Daines. Chris Neidl, Educational and Outreach Coordinator at Solar1, says they'll wait to the absolute last minute to decide whether or not to call it off if rain happens to be a factor. (The show starts at 9).

But rain or not, the folks at Solar1 are gearing up for a great fall season of educational and other events. So be sure to visit for updates on what's in store for the coming months.

Friday, August 25, 2006

From lush lawn to xeriscapes

The mayor of Salt Lake City is leading by example - Rocky Anderson has replaced his green lawn with bark and plants native to the area. The good news is that Mayor Anderson's front 'yard' won't need nearly as much watering, reducing water use in a drought affected city. The bad news is that according to city ordinances, it is against the law.

The New York Times reports that Salt Lake City's mayor wants to change the law, "'I think the zoning ordinance is ridiculous,' Mr. Anderson said. 'It clearly needs to be changed.'" Many cities in the southwest are going the way of the xeriscape - using native plants and vegitation instead of ubiquitous lawn grass.

In fact, cities not in the southwest have been practicing this for a few years, including Seattle. The Seattle Parks Department uses native vegetation in many of their public parks not only as a way to reduce the need for water, but also as a form of integrated pest management.

Substituting plants and groundcover for lawns is a good idea - but as is indicated in the NYTimes article, if you're going to do it, make sure you know and understand how to maintain it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rescued shampoo...

Earlier this month I commented on all the waste generated from the new security measures immediately implemented at airports, which caught many a traveller off guard. Tons and tons of usable goods were dumped at security checkpoints. I thought it would be great if we could get some of those goods to people who could use them, instead of it going to the landfill.

While I'm a little late on the uptake of this article, I just come across it today. The Seattle Times on Aug. 16 reports that folks in Eugene, OR did more than just talk about recovering usable items, they went dumpster diving to retrieve them. "Charley Harvey, assistant executive director of [St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County], dug through trash bags Tuesday and took every bottle of shampoo and shaving cream he could find. The items will be distributed at the organization's First Place Family Center." I'm glad to see some of that stuff was salvaged and put to good use.

Illinois gov talks energy

Chicago is on the forefront of green thanks to Mayor Daly - now Illinois gov Rod Blagojevich is hopping on board with a new energy plan for the state. Part of his $1.2 billion plan includes ethanol plants, biodiesel plants, and some biomass/waste-to-fuel facilities.

The thing that's really great about this though is that Blagojevich is running for re-election in November. This energy plan is part of his campaign. One article mentions that his opponent sees this as a dastardly strategy... "Blagojevich's GOP challenger, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, disparaged the plan. 'Rod Blagojevich has had four years to act on energy, but instead has chosen to wait until campaign season to simply talk about it again,' her campaign said in a statement." I am curious to know what HER plan is.

If energy is an issue in Illinois, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer is making it an issue in Montana, and there are a few congress people making it an issue in Washington state, this should be a fun November to watch as green issues work their way onto the campaign trail. Hopefully a good lead up to the prez elections in 2008...

Via NY Times, AP, Reuters

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Scientific American special issue

I just picked up a copy of the latest special issue of Scientific American. The title: Energy's Future, Beyond Carbon.

I've only just started flipping through it on the subway this morning, but one of the first things that caught my eye was an essay by Jeffrey Sachs about global population control.

The concern over population today has a different tone to it than the debate in the early 1970's. While the concerns about demand on natural resources and strain on food supply still remain, there is an added realization that an increase in the number of people will increase standards of living, thus increasing overall (bad) consumption habits. Sachs sums up the problem well in his essay. "True, rapid population growth is not the main driver today of environmental threats. Pride of place goes to the high and rising rates of resource use per person, rather than to the rise in the sheer number of people. Even if the world's population were to stabilize at today's level of 6.5 billion people, the pressures of rising per capita resource use would continue to mount, as today's poor and middle-income societies increase their resource use to live like the rich countries, while today's rich countries continue their seemingly insatiable quest for still greater consumption levels."

"The continued rapid population growth in many poor countries will markedly exacerbate the environmental stresses. Under current demographic trends, the U.N. forecasts a rise in the world's population to around 9 billion as of 2050, another 2.5 billion people. They will arrive in the poor regions, but aspire to income and consumption levels of the rest of the world. Those 2.5 billion people eventually living at the income standards of today's rich would have an income level more than today's entire world GNP. If the economic aspirations of the newly added population are fulfilled, the environmental pressures would be mind-boggling. If those aspirations are not fulfilled, the political pressures will be similarly mind-boggling. All the better, therefore, to slow population growth while there is still the chance."

Sachs provides a four part strategy in how the U.S. can play a part in assisting lower income countries to reduce fertility rates: "First, promote child survival. When parents have the expectation that their children will survive, they choose to have fewer children, with a net effect of slower population growth. Second, promote girls' education and gender equality. Girls in school marry later, and empowered young women enter the labor force and choose to have fewer children. Third, promote the availability of contraception and family planning, especially for the poor who cannot afford such services on their own. Fourth, raise productivity on the farm. Income-earning mothers use their scarce time in productive employment rather than childrearing."

Sach's proposed strategy is working in different parts of the world, and is part of the global effort of eradicating poverty (which in turn creates an increased level of consumption). However, it will also be important for people to learn about resource management; how to build affordable housing with local materials in ways that fit with local cultures and social networks; for city and country governments to properly maintain physical infrastructures (water, energy etc.) and practice effective waste managment, even provide incentives and policy for good (green) business development and agricultural practices. The list can go on, but Sach's strategy is a good entry point and can be implemented now as one way at lessening the burden we're putting on the planet.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Water problems - not just for poor countries

It is common to hear about water issues in lower income countries. Lack of adequate drinking water, poor water quality, shortages, droughts - all usually associated with "other" countries.

But as a recent World Wildlife Federation report points out, higher income countries aren't immune to these same water problems. Decreased water supply, politicial conflict, contamination and treatment issues are all pressing, very real concerns for many "rich" countries as well.

The report highlights some of the global obligations and ties that "developed" nations have with "developing" nations in regard to water. It also lays out the water issues faced by the U.S., Europe, Australia and makes suggestions on how these and other parts of the world can better use this ever increasingly precious resource/commodity.

Read the report here (PDF).
Via Environmental Finance
also WBCSD

Energy solutions anyone?

China's rising economy and subsequent increased standards of living (or rather, increased consumption) has led to increased energy usage, water shortages and all that goes with it...

Here's a story from the AP via ENN from Thursday.
Heat, Drought Strain China's Power, Water Resources
August 17, 2006 - by Associated Press

"BEIJING — Broiling temperatures and a severe drought have left millions of people short of water and strained power supplies in eastern and southern China, leading to at least two deaths and a blackout in one city, news reports said Thursday.

A blackout was enforced in the eastern city of Hangzhou to protect its power transmission grid after temperatures topped 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), the Xinhua News Agency said.

Power use in China has soared in recent summers as families, shopping malls and hotels crank up newly acquired air conditioners, competing with factories for supplies. Demand in Hangzhou has jumped 23 percent over the same period last year and outstrips supply by 250,000 kilowatts, the agency said.

In the southwestern industrial center of Chongqing, where temperatures reached 44.5 degrees Celsius (112 degrees Fahrenheit), businesses have been ordered to halt work in the afternoon and at night to ease the strain on power supplies, Xinhua said.

Chongqing and parts of neighboring Hunan province also have been hit by a drought this summer, causing drinking water shortages for 7.8 million people, the report said. In the eastern city of Nanjing, a 30-year-old tourist died of heat stroke Monday, the agency said.

It was the second reported heat-related death after a shipyard worker in Shanghai died while working weekend in temperatures of 38.6 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit)."

Connecticut schools suck energy

The New York Times reports that the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic has recently released a study that looked at energy efficiency in Connecticut public schools, concluding that they failed miserably.

"William Leahy, the chief operating officer of the institute, said that about 90 percent of the schools in the state were built at least 25 years ago, when standards for energy efficiency were less stringent. The study analyzed energy bills for 119 of Connecticut’s 1,026 public schools, taking into account the size of the schools and how much of the year they stay open... The report estimated that Connecticut’s public schools spent 35 percent more on energy costs during the last school year than the previous one."

Unfortunately Connecticut isn't the only state with this problem. State, city and county governments are losing money on aging schools all over the country. And even though nearly $20 billion a year is spent on new school construction and renovation, not all schools are being built as energy efficient as possible.

The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) in California is working within that state to ensure that new facilities are built for maximum efficiency and air quality standards. They have done research that shows that High Performance Schools not only save school districts money (it costs 50% less to operate a HPS than a traditionally designed school) but also increase student performance and teacher retention rates.

Even if existing schools are not slated for renovation or new construction, there are low or no-cost measures schools and districts can take. Simple things such as turning lights and computers off in unoccupied rooms, preventive maintenance to stop leaks and moisture that cause mold, using least toxic or non-toxic cleaning chemicals and pesticides, or implementing recycling programs. These actions can also be used as teaching tools in the classroom where students can learn about environmental health and stewardship.

Healthier students, happier teachers, lower operating costs - why aren't more schools being built as high performance schools? Cost shouldn't be an excuse considering school districts pay to operate the schools and anticipate a long lifetime for the buildings, it just seems to make sense.

There are quite a few green school resources online - here's a couple
Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (lists resources)
Collaborative for High Performance Schools
Oregon Green Schools
Wisconsin Green and Healthy Schools Program
Green School Project
Green Schools Initiative

Just saw this on Sustainablog - "Green Guide Names Top Green Schools in the US"

Friday, August 18, 2006

Green film series

If you live in NYC, check out these FREE green film series to wind down the summer....

Solar Powered Film Series at Solar One
Shows start at 9p, at Solar One at Stuyvesant Cove Park in Manhattan.

Friday, August 18 - Darwin's Nightmare
Saturday, August 19 - Soylent Green
Sunday, August 20 - Silent Running
Friday, August 25 - Gimme Shelter
Saturday, August 26 - Contested Streets, with Water Underground
Sunday, August 27 - Princess Mononoke

Okay - so they're not all green films, but they're pretty cool films at a very green venue.
"The Solar-Powered Film Series is the first in New York City to use the power of the sun to construct an outdoor "eco-theater" like no other. Our independent film venue integrates natural and human-made components of our urban environment creating the city's "greenest" motion picture showcase."

Also check out the free Sunday night movies at Habana Outpost in Brooklyn, near the Atlantic/Pacific St. station. Also a very green venue, with "Solar panels and wind power...Local organic produce... Trex tables made from recycled plastic bottles...To-go containers [that] are earth-friendly and biodegradable...Rain water collection..." and more. Shows start at 8p.

August 20, 2006 - Godzilla Vs. Mothra
August 27, 2006 - Cleopatra Jones
September 3, 2006 - Black Orpheus 1959, Brazil
September 10, 2006 - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 1969, Scotland

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Controlling Nature

Just when we think we've got everything under control, nature has a funny way of doing its own thing. Breached levees are just one example. Genetically modified plants are another.

The NY Times reported yesterday that "Grass Created in Lab Is Found in the Wild."

"An unapproved type of genetically engineered grass has been found growing in the wild in what scientists say could be the first instance in the United States in which a biotechnology plant has established itself outside a farm."

Of course Monsanto is involved in the development of the round-up resistant grass (as is Scotts Miracle-Gro), designed for golf courses so that weeds can be sprayed without damaging greens and fairways. However, nature has taken its course with this grass, in a Percy Schmeiser-esque fashion.

"Two years ago, scientists at the E.P.A. laboratory in Corvallis, Ore., published a paper showing that pollen from a test plot of the grass had spread as far as 13 miles downwind, much farther than many had expected. That made it likely that genetically engineered grass would be found in the wild, though the scientists did not look for that.

In the new study, scientists sampled 20,400 plants up to three miles from the edge of an 11,000-acre zone surrounding the test plots. They found 9, or 0.04 percent, that were genetically engineered, the farthest being 2.4 miles from the control zone border.

The scientists said some of the plants had been created by seeds that had blown off the test plot and others by hybridization of wild grass with pollen from the genetically engineered grass. All were of the same species of grass being developed by Scotts and Monsanto...

Jim King, a spokesman for Scotts, said the company had already admitted that some grass was growing outside the test plots and that the company was working to eradicate it. In field tests, Mr. King said, a windstorm arose when the grass had been cut and was drying in the field, dispersing seeds."

In trying to conform nature to fit our needs, we might be making that much more uncontrollable.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Pigeons monitor air quality

Pigeons in California will begin to monitor air quality, with a little help from the folks at the University of California, Irvine.

"The birds will carry miniature backpacks equipped with a global positioning system monitor, pollution sensors, and cell phone transmitting equipment that can send the data directly to a blog where it is overlaid on Google maps. Visitors then can roll over the maps and learn about air pollution in the area."

But of course, there are critics in the form of animal rights activists who say this can't be good for the pigeons. They could get injured or too tired.

Despite pigeon fatigue, I'm interested in finding out more about the data recovered about air pollution and the possibilities of widening the scope to include air quality pigeons in cities world wide.

AP via ENN.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Eco-tourism - a sham?

There's an interesting article from Alternet this morning, "There's No Such Thing as Eco-Tourism." While it isn't a scathing commentary on what I considered eco-tourists to be - those travellers who go out in search of the backwoods, eco-friendly, faux-preservation, minimalist vacations - it's more of a scathing commentary on American travellers who think travelling to so-called impoverished nations is an adventure or novelty, made popular by reality television and celebrities a-la Angelina Jolie. Oh, and air travel is bad for the whole global warming thing.

The author comes across as a little (okay, A LOT) bitter, and has chosen never to travel again, effectively taking herself "out of the game." It's worth a read, especially if you've done any travelling to said "third world" countries.

I do agree somewhat with a few of the points she makes, but I don't think we (as Americans) should stop learning about other cultures, and other ways of life. In our globalized economy and increasingly media savvy world, it makes it difficult for us NOT to make an impression or leave our imprint on places we (western society) visit, either personally or via the marketplace. If anything I think Americans should get out in the world MORE - although not to enjoy McDonalds and Starbucks, but to truly experience other societies and cultures without trying to conform or judge them. Besides, how else can we truly see how our footprint extends across the globe until we can actually see it for ourselves?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

NYC Real Estate - Green?

I must admit, I rolled my eyes when I saw the title of the feature story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times Real Estate section, "It's Getting Easier to Be Green."

I've commented many a time about how great it is that mainstream media is covering the whole "green" scene, and I suppose now that it is getting done I shouldn't reallly complain about HOW it is being done. But I will.

First of all, the kermit reference the title evokes is OVERDONE. It was cute for a while, and although it still has an element of truth to it (it is getting easier to be green) this reference is getting old.

The story itself is commendable, even if it does gloss over some of the finer points of green building and LEED. And although it does touch on the consumer appeal and some (negative) realities of living in these buildings, it doesn't do enough to emphasize the benefits on a personal level.

Of course I don't think writers should praise green building unneccessarily since building to green standards is a relatively new thing, and there are technologies that are being experimented with and continuously improved upon. And while the article infers that there is an increasing preference on the part of the apartment hunter to go green if there is a choice between that and its non-green counterpart, there is a strong hint of "buyer beware" about the featured green buildings.

One more thing that annoys me about mainstream green coverage (and explicit in this article) is that green costs more. Yes, it does - about 1-3% more in upfront costs, which are more than made up for in energy and other cost savings over the lifetime of the building. Plus, price points are falling as materials become more widely available and as architects and developers become more experienced in designing green. But it is kind of silly to talk about price in the ONE green article in the Real Estate section, which primarily features multi-million dollar, luxury, non-green "dwellings." You don't see the word affordable much in those articles.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Waste in the name of national security

Not to make light of the situation, but are all of these plastic containers really going to be simply thrown away?

If you haven't heard, there's been a reported thwarted terrorist attack, and now airlines are banning nearly EVERYTHING from carryons - specifically liquids (ie. water, shampoo, lotions).

That adds up to a lot of little plastic bottles that are headed to landfills sooner than expected. I'd love to see some kind of redistribution of the usable items to places like women's and homeless shelters. Or even a collective effort to recycle the sheer number of water bottles that are being tossed, after all they're all being collected in one place - security check points.

Of course the restrictive measures are in the ever popular name of national security - but we mustn't overlook one obvious externality of the situation - tons of additional plastic/waste headed to the landfills, not to mention the additional consumer purchasing that'll go to replacing these items.

Photo from AP via Yahoo.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Get off oil - host a house party

As part of their organizing efforts towards energy independence, Environmental Action is calling on citizens to host house parties to show Addicted to Oil, NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman's recent movie (produced in part by Discovery.)

Similar to the mass, organized home viewings of documentaries such as Outfoxed and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Environmental Action will provide a DVD of the Addicted to Oil and all associated materials in hopes of getting more people across the country to see the video.

If you can host a house party in your neighborhood on Wednesday, August 23 at 6:30pm, contact Environmental Action.

Here's part of the call to action from their latest e-mail:
Hosting a house party is both fun, and important. And this documentary is fantastic. Thomas Friedman, a writer for the New York Times, has done some of the best reporting on America's dependence on oil in the last year, really bringing the issue to the forefront of mainstream media.

Events will kick off at 6:30 - we'll send you a free copy of the DVD, and then make sure you know who's coming to your party.

These parties are an important part of taking this message to the Senate. By building a stronger community, educating ourselves, and taking action we can really make a difference.

And don't worry - hosting is easy. Each party will be a small handful of like-minded activists, we'll get you all the materials you need, and Dan is available to help you at any time.

So if you can help out by hosting, just click the link below:

Addicted to Oil is definitely worth watching, I had the chance to see it at The New School last month. I'm glad Environmental Action is giving more people the opportunity to check it out.

Monday, August 07, 2006

BP shuts down US oil field

Looks like energy infrastructure can be vulnerable. Electricity grids causing blackouts, nuclear facilities being shut down, now it's oil in Alaska as BP has shut down oil fields in Prudhoe Bay to check out some corrosive pipes.

The shut down has caused price spikes and concern among those following the oil markets. Although I don't know that it should be a source of embarrassment for BP, as the NY Times calls it, but rather a smart move considering they're doing a little preventive action (even if it is a little on the late side) to take care of a problem. Sure it'll be inconvenient for a bit, but it might be better than having a few pipelines burst due to lack of proper maintenance.

Via The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and The New York Times (and there's a bunch of other places that caught on to this story, just google it.)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Swedish nuclear facilities shut-down

Sweden has been on track to reduce their reliance on oil by vamping up their renewable sources, but perhaps not enough to make up for the power lost due to the (temporary) emergency shutdown of several of the country's nuclear facilities.

A power failure last week is reported to have caused problems with back-up generators at one plant, causing a near meltdown situation. Although disaster was averted, it caused a scare, and Greenpeace called for the shut-down of their facilities. According to the Greenpeace website, four of the country's 10 plants have since been shut-down for investigation.

"The problems with Swedish nuclear plants come hot on the heels of problems with nuclear power plants in Europe due to the hot dry summer. Two nuclear plants in Germany recently had to reduce output due to the lack of sufficient water for cooling in rivers. If the drought continues many nuclear plants that rely on rivers for cooling water will have to reduce output or shut down.

Luckily Sweden plans to phase out its nuclear power plants in the coming years. Unfortunately a small minority of other European countries like France, Finland and the UK seem determined to rely on dangerous, dirty and expensive nuclear power that can fail dangerously during a power cut and be shut down by droughts."

Although nuclear will be part of our future energy solution, we must not forget that these power producing facilities themselves require water and energy to operate successfully - two things that have come under pressure during this summer's recent heat wave.

Via TreeHugger and Scoop, Independent News.

Friday, August 04, 2006

GM unveils green plant

The AP reports (via ENN) that General Motors has unveiled its new plant - and it's green. It's make with recylced materials, harvests rainwater, and will save an estimated $1 million a year in energy costs.

If GM gets the operation/building side of things, what's holding them back on making more fuel efficient vehicles already?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Enviro Street Theater Saturday

Environmental Action is taking their message to the streets of NYC this weekend in protest of GW's initiative to sell off national forests. They're holding a Mock Auction in Union Square where they'll be 'selling' off forests, and other national treasures such as the Liberty Bell and Mount Rushmore.

Here's the details for those in NYC:
Union Square, 14th St, South Plaza
Saturday, August 5, 1-3 pm
By train: N, Q, R, W, 4, 5, 6, L

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Power drain

It never ceases to amaze me that we're shocked by our collective actions: "Electrical Use Hits New Highs in Much of U.S." says the NY Times. Well, no kidding. What'd you expect was going to happen - a decrease in power usage?

"Experts say demand is rising faster than the ability to meet it, which over the long run could pose the risk of both local and regional failures... Power demand has climbed much faster than predicted across the country since 2004, raising concerns about whether efforts to build new plants and transmission lines, and encourage conservation, will satisfy the nation’s appetite for electricity."

It's not like we haven't seen this coming. Now we're faced with the problem again of having to scramble for remedies, instead of preparing for future calamaties. Will we never learn?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"Name That Television Show"

NYC based Green Ground Zero must rename their TV show and thought they could use a little help.

Beginning today through Aug 22, they're accepting name submissions at The winner will receive a Voltaic solar backpack from 3r living. Good luck!

Power down or go without

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NY Gov. Pataki have called on city and state agencies to reduce power consumption during the anticipated heat wave over the next few days - opting out of mandating private companies to follow suit.

However, according to an article in today's NY Times some larger power users are being rewarded for power they don't use during peak demand times. "It is an arrangement that seems to benefit everybody, said David Lawrence, who oversees demand response programs for New York Independent System Operator, even though far from every eligible company in the state takes advantage. 'Getting businesses interested and recognizing that it’s economically feasible is probably the biggest barrier,' he said. 'It’s tough to change that mentality.' Con Edison has its own program to enlist its largest customers to cut back when demand is at its highest. During a heat wave like the one this week, even a real estate firm can become a source of the city’s power."

On a residential level, NY city officials have "urged residents to stay out of the sun, drink lots of fluids and avoid strenuous activities" - they've also waived all admission fees to beaches today and tomorrow.