Archive for May, 2009

Remember when you were a kid and you used to get those pinwheels at carnivals? Oh, how nice those colors looked when they spun. You could watch it all day.

But as Americans grow up, we become less fascinated with the spinning. What other reason could be given for rejection by some of wind turbines. Although polls vary as to the percentage, most Americans believe wind and solar power are the two best alternative energy sources going forward. And polls also show 75 percent of Americans wanting use a substantial amount of alternative energy. Why then are we slow to move?

Well, at least on the wind front, it is because most Americans think these turbines are ugly. The furor over Cape Wind in Massachusetts is being played out across the country as residents react with a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) stance. People don’t want them near the ocean or mountains. There are two major reasons.

Some cite ecological effects, which will need to be studied further. The debate rages on about how wind turbines affect birds and the results vary as this article details. Although the pro-wind people cite a study that concludes:

Commercial wind turbines cause the direct deaths of only 0.01% to 0.02% of all of the birds killed by collisions with man-made structures and activities in the U.S.

But others just cite ugliness. They don’t like the look:

Wind turbines

Personally, I don’t mind the look and even think they’re neat. But as we debate this issue, let’s ask a few other things. Do you like the look of $4/gallon gas prices? Do you find major floods and melting ice caps to be good ecologically? Do you like the look of the damage catastrophic hurricanes cause? If we don’t move quickly, this is your alternative. Take it or leave it. Now, do a few turbines seem as bad?

Hope everyone is having a good Memorial Day.  With Matt already covering the big news on the proposed emissions standards, here’s an abbreviated links section.

The New York Times says that energy and climate issues are a major issue for President Obama, with another Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy scheduled for this week.  It also reports that lobbyists for all sorts of energy sources are seeking renewable classification.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post says that Owens Corning is counting on energy efficiency stimulus money to spur business.

The LA Times has these tips for a green Memorial Day cookout.

A proposed wind farm off the Rhode Island coast should be safely out of sight (Providence Journal).

Boeing’s CEO says that his company is fighting climate change (Wall Street Journal op-ed).

Food for thought – the average American meal travels 1,500 miles to get to your plate.

It started out like any regular phone call from a credit card company. Niceties were exchanged, security information was requested and received, and then the woman over the phone inquired to what exactly Lights Out, Green In did? “Well, we promote energy conservation,” I told her, trying to keep it simple.

But nothing’s simple these days. Not when unemployment has hit more than 10 percent in Michigan, the Big Three are on life support, with bankruptcy assured for one major car company and a second company speeding full tilt toward it. It turns out the woman on the other end of the line was able to relate the melting polar ice caps to the absolute frigid economic conditions in Michigan. She used to work for an auto company and her family was full of carworkers. Why, she asked, didn’t they learn 3 decades ago during the last major energy crisis? “They should’ve changed to be more fuel efficient like they do overseas,” she said. And then she inquired of me, “Why didn’t they act then?”

But she didn’t need an answer, she knew already. And an answer wasn’t going to bring back the hundreds of thousands of carworkers who have lost or will lose their jobs. The car companies didn’t have to change to meet demands for more fuel-efficient cars. Nobody else was really offering them – heck, who would buy a Volkswagen even if it got great mileage.

And so, they went on making gas guzzlers and with the addition of minivans and then SUVs, gas guzzlers became popular. It didn’t matter that people were paying $2/gallon for gas and that foreign carmakers were offering cars that were better on fuel. It was all about the now. And then came a rash of major hurricanes threatening oil supply, followed by a huge demand for oil and raging wars in the Middle East and gas went up to $4/gallon and U.S. carmakers were ill-equipped to deal with demand.

Well, just a few years later, the U.S. carmakers are struggling and they’re at the mercy of the U.S. government. Add to that, the Supreme Court has basically given the EPA carte blanche to do whatever it wants to fight global warming and the cost of gas is starting to rise again as the economy recovers and you have the perfect formula for what President Obama announced yesterday.

In his strongest environmental initiative in his first 118 days in office, Obama rolled out new fuel goals for U.S. carmakers. By 2016, all U.S. cars must get 39 MPG and all U.S. trucks must get 30 MPG. Carmakers publicly welcomed these goals with open arms according to the Detroit Free Press and the Wall Street said they fully expect to meet the new goals. Obama supports the idea of giving tax credits to consumers for buying these new vehicles. The L.A. Times answers how all this affects consumers and USA Today opines this could be the end of gas guzzlers such as the Hummer. The tougher standards will also negatively affect flex fuels and the ethanol industry according to the Guardian, but The New York Times says the ethanol industry could already be in trouble. What’s next for fuel-efficiency? Well, California has some more ideas. But one thing is for certain, nobody will look back at the lessons we learned over the past 5 years and ask “Why didn’t they act then?”

The Washington Post has the latest on proposed climate legislation, all 932 pages of it.  This Post column praises the 2010 Honda Insight, and this article points to wastefulness in nuclear cleanup grants.

Canada’s oil sands hold both promise and peril, says this New York Times article.  This Times article traces the evolution of cap-and-trade, while this one says melting glaciers have an unusual effect in Alaska.

Pie in the sky or out-of-this world renewable energy?  The LA Times says a California start-up is trying to harness space-based solar power.  The Times also reports that several industry leaders are getting behind President Obama’s push to limit emissions.  And it has this story about proposed boating regulations in the Everglades.

A proposed desalination plant near San Diego gets the go-ahead (San Diego Union-Tribune).

Massachusetts stands to receive $200 million from the climate change bill (Boston Globe).  Meanwhile, a Mass Audubon Society study says the state is protecting more land than it is developing (Boston Globe).

Ensuring there’s adequate space between the fridge and wall can increase energy efficiency of your refrigerator.

The following is a journal of my energy use and overall consumption for a normal day – May 12, 2009. With a hat tip to the formerly-great sportswriter Bill Simmons, who made this format successful.

9:43 a.m. – Wake up from the light shining through my windows. Having no alarm clock saves my sanity and cuts down on energy use – ah, if only you could all be so lucky as to sleep past 9 every day! I don’t think this would work for my roommate Andrew who got home from work at 5 a.m. and got up to go back to work at 7 a.m. today. Brutal.

9:44 a.m. – Shower (using warm water … sorry my body is too sensitive to use cold water at this early hour), wash my face with anti-acne wash (using lukewarm water … getting closer to being good on energy) and brush my teeth (using cold water … bingo!). All this and I used no overhead light, but I did use the exhaust fan.

10:15 a.m. – After getting dressed I make a few phone calls, make myself oatmeal and a cup of coffee to go in my travel mug, which I have used at least a hundred times.  I saved myself the $2 from Dunkin Donuts and the waste of the styrofoam cup. After I pour my coffee, I make sure to unplug the coffee maker as it was unplugged before I used it. This gets to an easy way to save money – a lot of appliances you leave plugged in are using money even if they’re not operating, i.e. coffee maker, toaster, etc. If you unplug them when you’re not using them, you’ll save money and energy use. The kitchen appliances are easy because they plug into an outlet that is counter level, making it easy to plug and unplug them. When they talk about making houses architecturally green, they should remember to put outlets in convenient places so people can unplug appliances with ease.

10:30 a.m. – Send out a few e-mails, while I have my laptop also playing music (Live’s Secret Samadhi album, if you care to know).

11:10 a.m. – Head to work with my cup of coffee in hand and my coffee filter and grinds in the trash. I tried reusing them once, but the grinds ended up in the coffee, so that experiment didn’t work. Oh – and no lights used at all this morning. LIGHTS OUT!

11:11 a.m. – Make a wish. Actually I added this entry to explain why I drive to work at the Boston Herald. My commute if I took the environmentally-friendly T would cost $9.50 per day ($5.50 to pay; $2 ticket each way) and take 50 minutes. By driving in my Toyota Corolla (35 MPG) it takes 30 minutes and costs $1 per day, about a half gallon of gas to drive 12 miles round trip in the city. Believe me, I would take the T if it was either cheaper or quicker, but since it is none and I have to own a car to even get to a T stop, I feel like I should drive.

11:20 a.m. – Stop at dry cleaners to have two dress shirts cleaned. I usually wash all my shirts with the regular laundry, but since I have two events that I will need to don a suit for, I might as well don a well-kept shirt. I make sure to ask for no starch and to have the shirts folded or boxed – I can’t believe how much waste comes from tossed dry cleaners hangers and those darn plastic covers on the clothes. Who needs all this? And every time? Are people getting attacked by blood-spewing animals on their way out of the laundromat? I am perplexed.

11:50 a.m. – Arrive for work at the Herald early. I will now sit at a desk and read and edit stories for hours on end.

4 p.m. – Having finished the coffee I brought in, I head for some animal crackers to tie me over from the vending machine. I also head to our water cooler and grab one of the mini cups for some water. This is a good time to mention that our water cooler has a steady leak, not even a drip, drip. It’s full on for a minute or so after I finish pouring the water. Where does all the excess water go? Well, how about a big pool of water in the carpet that will soon be a breeding ground for EEE and in a year or so, might be home to the Loch Ness monster. Anyways, wasting water like that seems to be poor conservation.

7:15 p.m. – Get ready to leave work. I have used 9 pieces of paper today (a light day) which I deposit in the recycling bin – who knows if it will actually be recycled. When I was working in maintenance years ago, we always dumped the recycling bin contents in with the regular trash. There was no big recycling dumpster. I was young and stupid. I hope times have changed. I know I’m not as young and hopefully not as stupid.

7:20 p.m. – Head for the T to go to the Celtics playoff game. Aaargh – I just remember I left my computer on. I think I’m the only one in my department who turns my computer off nightly, but in the rush to leave for the game I forgot. That is a big black mark for energy use.

7:25 p.m. – Having bought a new T pass ($20 per paper card – I can never find the reusable plastic ones, they need to make those more available) I jump on the T.

7:49 p.m. – Meet my brother outside the Garden and hand him his paper ticket. (Maybe for season ticketholders they should have a reusable plastic swipe card – it’s all bar codes anyways.)

7:57 p.m. – Before getting to my seat, I buy a beer (comes in a plastic cup) and a sausage and peppers (comes wrapped in aluminum foil.) Mmmm … dinner.

9:20 p.m. – It’s halftime. The Celtics are losing. I buy a second beer and a pretzel (which comes wrapped in paper tissue).  Mmmm … dessert. I wish I could’ve eaten better today.

10:48 p.m. – With the Celtics having won an incredible game (GO GREEN!!!!) I head for the exits unable to find a recycling container for my tissue paper, aluminum foil and two plastic cups. I instead have to throw them in the trash. I board the T reusing my paper pass.

11:20 p.m. – Back at the Herald parking lot, I head for home. Six miles of easy night driving is good for gas mileage.

11:37 p.m. – I get back to my apartment and take our recycling out. It’s about 40 bottles and cans and some cardboard boxes.

11:39 p.m. – In the apartment for the night, I turn on the first light of the day, so I can fetch an ice cream sandwich from the freezer. I go grab our mail.

11:40 p.m. – Sifting through mostly junk mail, I find the envelope with those direct-mail coupons. Is there a bigger waste? I take out the ones for Bill’s Pizza and Mr. Sushi like I do every month and toss all the rest out. Who needs or buys these things advertised? Heck, I’ve never even been to the two restaurants for which I took the coupons. Someday I might try pizza from Bill’s and sushi from Mr.’s. Really, I might.

11:50 p.m. With the Red Sox game on the TV, I turn on my laptop to surf the Web and post this blog. All in all, I did some energy-saving things, but missed on some others. Some were out of comfort (hot showers) and some out of stupidity (not turning off my computer for work). They say realizing where the problem is can be the first step and that’s why I kept this journal. Good look to all of you out there who try the same.

11.  A pilot program for the Mini E electric car is getting underway (LA Times).

10.  China is embracing cleaner coal (NY Times).

9.  The Mighty Mississippi may soon be producing electricity for Louisiana (The Times-Picayune).

8.  LEDs may be the bulbs of the future (NY Times).

7.  This 6th grade class is learning about reducing the carbon footprint (Washington Post).

6.  Big oil companies are getting access to a cleanup fund designed to help the little guy (LA Times).

5.  Polar bears won’t be getting any help from the Endangered Species Act (Washington Post).

4.  A wind turbine in Portsmouth, RI is already paying dividends (Providence Journal).

3.  “The Story of Stuff” is a big hit in schools (NY Times).

2.  An energy company in Texas promises to buy power from customers with solar panels (Dallas Morning News).

1.  Ethanol subsidies may be on the chopping block (LA Times).

Central air-conditioning units are most efficient when placed in a shaded area.

They didn’t do it on Earth Day. They didn’t do it on Arbor Day. They did it on any old day – and that makes it far more than symbolic. From the EPA to Congress to the White House, lawmakers yesterday set into action a series of initiatives to deal with climate change. Let’s take a look at the 3 steps taken:
1. The EPA proposed changes to biofuel regulations. The EPA focused on how many farmers are chopping down forests to create land to grow corn for ethanol. Its proposed regulations will issue severe penalties for any companies that do this. (It ends up being bad for the environment because trees are lost.) The EPA didn’t do as much to quell fears that ethanol production takes too much energy to make, rather the statement focused on how biofuels are moving ahead and ethanol will likely serve as a step that leads to scientists discovering a more efficient fuel. You didn’t expect President Obama to upset the farmers and restrict inefficient ethanol production, did you? Not with Iowa as a swing state in 2012.
2. The House of Representatives OK’d Obama’s cash-for-clunkers plan. The Senate is still balking at the cost, but the plan is to allow consumers to “retire” their old cars and get up to a $4,500 credit if they buy more fuel efficient ones. The details are in the article linked to above, but lawmakers hope not only will it stimulate people to buy cars, but it will also help remove 1 million bad cars from the road for more efficient ones.
3. Obama and lawmakers negotiated on a cap-and-trade bill.

“(It would) cap greenhouse-gas emissions by distributing carbon permits to polluting companies. Maximum emission rates would decline over time under the Waxman-Markey plan, forcing companies to adopt alternative energy sources or cut consumption.”

This is bound to be the most contentious of all climate-change policies. It has created a huge unease among a number of politicians who believe it is bad for business and could be a death-knell for some American industries. One survey says it wouldn’t be as bad as people make it out to be, but a large chunk of lawmakers are against it. With these actions coming shortly after an international climate meeting, the bill could signal the U.S.’s strides in fighting climate change and could lay the groundwork for a similar plan in the Copenhagen summit later this year.