Promising Energy Bill No Longer So Promising

According to the new York Times, the new energy legislation bill clear the senate on Thursday, but only after the oil and utilities lobbies convinced Republican senators to cut out some of the most important aspects of the bill.

A $13 billion tax increase on oil companies and a requirement that utilities nationwide produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources were left on the floor to secure Republican votes for the package.

The tax measure and the renewable electricity mandate were included in an energy bill that easily passed the House last week. But industry lobbyists focused their attention on Republican members of the Senate and on the White House, which repeatedly threatened to veto the bill if the offending sections were not removed.

The much weaker bill passed the senate 86-8. The bill now returns to the house where it is expected to pass easily. President Bush is reportedly pleased with the bill in it’s current form.

“We made sure that everybody knew our point of view – the White House, the House, the Senate,” said James Ford, director of government affairs at the American Petroleum Institute. “We told our story and told it thoroughly.”

Mr. Ford said that even with the tax provisions removed, the oil industry had concerns about meeting the bill’s requirement that 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels be blended into gasoline by 2022.

Now I personally believe that tax increases can be a powerful motivator to encourage corporations to move in the direction that benefit the public as a whole. In the preamble to the constitution and in article one section 8 it states that our governments job and our reason for levying taxes is to among other things, “promote the general welfare of the people”; not just the people in the oil industry.

That said I understand people opposing new taxes on pretty much anything; even though I don’t necessarily agree with that position I can understand it. But to take away the mandate to require 15 percent of electricity from renewable energy is beyond me. We need to move away from fossil fuels and we need to do so quickly; and the very nature of a large means that they cannot do such a thing unless there is a sound financial or legal incentive to do so.

So, if you disagree with this watering down of the energy bill write your senator a letter letting them know about it. We can’t blame our representatives for only listening to the lobbyist if the lobbyists’ are they only ones they are hearing from.

Planning a Green Vacation

If you’re looking for a vacation that will inspire jealousy and earn eco-cred, perhaps I can help. There’s a wide variety of sustainable tourism options, and you don’t have to damage the world’s beauty to see it in person. Below are a few useful tools and inspirational ideas for planning your next green vacation.

1) Choose green transportation

If you’re like me, a vacation is all about the destination. We choose to take a trip because of the places we want to see and the things we want to do. Transport is often the last thing we think about, but that’s backwards.

In many cases how we get where we’re going is just as important as what we do when we arrive. Airlines, cars, trains, and ships create a lot of pollution. According to this Carbon calculator, a flight across country produces about 10% as much carbon as everything that the average American does in a year.

You can exercise control by choosing a low impact method of travel. It’s easier (and less expensive) to avoid putting carbon in the atmosphere than it is to remove carbon dioxide from the air. For example, if you can replace a jet trip with a train ride, that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 85-96% and can save 20-50% of the cost to travel too! Trains are one of the most efficient means of travel, and they offer quite an amazing experience if you can spare several days to travel. If not, prop planes produce slightly less carbon per mile than jets, and cars produce slightly less than either type of air travel.

When you take a car trip, put some thought into choosing the right car for your needs. Driving a hybrid instead of an SUV can cut your carbon footprint in half, but using a less efficient vehicle (such as a minivan) can also be your best option if it allows you to take one car instead of two. No matter which type of car you take, here are a few things you can do to get the best possible mileage:

  • Accelerate gradually.
  • Let your car brake itself.
  • Drive at the speed limit on highways and freeways.
  • Use cruise control.
  • Use the air conditioner and heater less.
  • Accelerate before hills.
  • Clean out your car.
  • Check your tire pressure.
  • Change your air filter.
  • Get a hybrid car.
  • Green travel isn’t always an option, which is why Carbon Offsets exist. These offsets are a way to undo the damage caused by long-distance travel. With the help of companies that sell carbon offsets, you can balance any harm you do by supporting environmental efforts. Expedia and Travelocity even offer the option to buy carbon offsets at the same time that you book your trip. These C02 offsets are used to fund green initiatives that reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Typical projects include building solar panels, planting trees, and retiring inefficient industrial equipment.

    There are many competing companies that supply carbon offsets, and you can choose the type of development you’d like to fund by finding a supplier that shares your goals. The Tufts Climate Initiative has some in-depth information about how different carbon offset companies invest their money, and their free report includes a comparison of effectiveness and cost.

    2) Find eco-friendly lodging

    A hotel is more than just the place you sleep at night. The accommodations you choose have a major impact on the location where you’re staying. When you take a shower, turn on a light switch, or use any of the hotel’s facilities, the hotel’s environmental policies will affect the sustainability of your vacation.

    Photo courtesy of D.James at Flickr.com.

    There are almost as many different environmental policies as there are different hotels and resorts. Several hotels define their brand based on sustainability, but many others engage in practices with far reaching consequences. Some of the harms that resorts can cause include water pollution, wasted electricity, and loss of native habitat. When golf courses replace mangrove forests, or rooms are chilled to 50 degrees in the tropics, that puts a huge strain on the ecosystem surrounding the hotel. Does it have an eco friendly mattress? Do you want to visit just another slice of suburban America, or are would you rather experience all the charms of your destination?

    One way to choose your hotel is to ask if they take part in the Green Hotel Initiative. This industry program offers best-practices standards and accountability. Also, let hotels know that environmental concerns affect how you spend your money. You can print this guest request card and encourage wherever you stay to adopt more sustainable policies.

    3) Select a green destination

    Your eco-tourism options will vary from city-to-city and country-to-country. National Geographic Traveller’s Center for Sustainable Destinations offers the best review of eco-hotspots that I’ve ever seen, but it has an overwhelming amount of information. If you already have a particular type of trip in mind, you might also find these niche guides useful: ISLAND Magazine publishes a dream list of destinations with their Golden Eagle Awards.

    Photo courtesy of sfclay at Flickr.com.

    Okay, so now that I’ve outlined some things to bear in mind, I’d like to brag a bit about my upcoming vacation. After a long and intensive search, I found a trip that fits my dreams without compromising my ethics or breaking the bank. Even before the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out, I wanted to take an island hopping cruise.Unfortunately, the average cruise is about as sustainable to operate as a waterpark in the desert. Cruise ships burn thousands of gallons of diesel. For example, the Queen Mary 2 is less fuel efficient than a fleet of Hummers.

  • Fuel Consumption: 18.05 tons per hour, or 433 tons per day. This is equal to six of the ship’s swimming pools.
  • The ship’s fuel oil tank capacity of 4,381.4 tonnes is sufficient for 10 days’ sailing at 32.5 knots, equalling 7,800 miles.
  • One gallon of fuel will move the ship 49.5 feet; with the previous steam turbine engines, one gallon of fuel moved the ship 36 feet.
  • While researching mega-cruise ships, I learned that there are certain things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint. You can start by choosing an itinerary with as few stops as possible. That helps because starting and stopping are very energy intensive events. If you’ve ever pushed a heavy object (such as a desk or stalled car), think back to how difficult it was to get it moving from a standstill. Once something is moving, inertia works in your favor to keep it moving. Since cruise ships operate on water, they have to use almost as much energy to stop as they do to start moving. The really big ships can take 5 to 10 miles to slow down!

    The high price of fuel is causing many cruiselines to try innovative new technologies. Fuel saving steps include many proactive ideas such as adding motion sensitive lights, running engines at slower speeds, and plugging into shore power. Some ships are even supplementing their engines with sailing kites.

    Photo courtesy of Willie Waw at Flickr.com.

    In my opinion, all of these ideas are positive developments, but they’re like painting the elephant in the room to match the wallpaper. For a cruise experience that’s carbon neutral (or as close as possible) I had my heart set on a sailing yacht. After researching the different options out there, I booked a week long cruise on the Arabella – the smallest ship with scheduled cruises in the Caribbean.

    The Arabella is a world apart from the usual cruise experience. Unlike the floating palaces operated by Royal Caribbean or Carnival, the Arabella is tiny. With berths for a maximum of 49 people, I expect to meet everyone on board. All of the cabins are on a single deck and there’s a small hot tub instead of 3 or 4 Olympic sized pools. I don’t think I’ll miss the casino, on-board climbing wall, or disco lounge. But, thoughts of sunshine and ocean spray get me through the day!

    Photo courtesy of Gregg M at Flickr.com.

    So, how green is my vacation? I paid a little bit extra to take a more direct flight through Fort Lauderdale (instead of Chicago!) and chose a prop plane for the second half of the trip instead of a small jet. Then, I offset my carbon by investing in a company that builds wind turbines in China. I’m staying on board the ship, which complies with US laws against dumping but I’ll also bring along a GHI guest card and report back in February about how my green dream vacation goes. Is there anything else I can do?

    If you’ve recently taken a green vacation, we’d love to hear about it! Please share some details in the comments section below.

    US reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 percent from 2005 to 2006

    Here’s an interesting statistic that I had not read about previously!

    The editorial section of the Wall Street Journal points out that the United States reduced CO2 emissions by 1.8 percent from 2005 to 2006. And this was at the same time that the economy grew by 2.9 percent.

    Here is their decidedly conservative take on the numbers, along with some interesting stats about Europe compared to the US.

    It’s the first time since 1990, when the U.N. began counting these things, that the U.S. has reduced emissions without also suffering a recession.

    Critics immediately pointed to the Energy Department’s acknowledgment that the reductions were in part due to higher energy prices and favorable weather. But greater use of lower-carbon energy sources, including natural gas, also played a big role. The U.S. reduction also suggests that letting markets work through higher prices will reduce carbon emissions more than the cap and trade mandates favored by environmental lobbies and most Democrats.

    The EU hasn’t yet released figures for 2006. But from 2000 to 2005, the U.S. outperformed Western Europe. Carbon emissions were up 3.8% in the so-called EU-15 during those years, versus 2.5% in the U.S. Over the same period, there has been virtually no difference between the increase in all greenhouse emissions in the U.S. and EU-15.

    New technology turns carbon dioxide from coal plants into baking soda?

    Flickr photo courtesy of G & A Sattler.

    An Austin, Texas based company called Skyonic has developed a way to capture 90 percent of the CO2 from smokestacks and turn it into baking soda, using energy from the waste heat of a factory. News.com reported about the company.

    The system also removes 97 percent of the heavy metals, as well as most of the sulfur and nitrogen compounds, Jones said.

    Luminant, a utility formerly known as TXU, installed a pilot version of the system at its Big Brown Steam Electric Station in Fairfield, Texas, last year. Skyonic, meanwhile, hopes to install a system that will consume the greenhouse gas output of a large–500 megawatts or so–power plant around 2009. Skyonic is currently designing one of these large systems.

    Because it’s a solid, storing baking soda is simply easier, and it allows greenhouse gas emitters to store a lot of carbon in one place. The stuff piles up: A 500-megawatt power plant will produce approximately 338,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Multiply that weight by 1.9 and you get the number of tons of baking soda that the plant will produce. Still, it can be sold, stored in containers, used for landfill or buried in abandoned mines.

    There’s another benefit to Skyonic’s system, Jones said. Because the system captures metals and acid gases, it can replace the $400 million scrubbers that power plants currently have to install. Skyonic’s system will probably cost about the same amount as a scrubber. Although the capital budget will be equal, power plant owners will get a salable byproduct and avoid carbon taxes, which may be imposed in the future.

    Sounds promising! Let’s hope this one turns into something big.

    Personal Sacrifice and the Environment

    In this day and age it’s disturbing to think that Americans are not willing to make sacrifices in their way of life in order to help the environment.  Unfortunately a recent article in the Wall Street Journal states that:

    A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of 1,007 adults — conducted earlier this year by the organizations of Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Bill McInturff, his Republican counterpart — found that 34% of respondents said global warming was a serious problem and immediate action was necessary, up from 29% last year and 23% in 1999…But apparently, they are willing to make changes only if it doesn’t affect them too much. When the ABC News poll asked if they’d be willing to alter their lifestyle if it meant personal inconvenience, only 45% of respondents said they were very willing to make such a sacrifice. And just 31% said they were doing “a great deal” to reduce their energy consumption.

    To me this means two things:

    One; manufacturers are going to have to take into account when designing and marketing  more environmentally friendly products.   A car that gets great incredible mileage will only be successful if it pretty much drives the same as a regular car, hauls as much as a regular car, and drives as fast as a regular car.  The same goes for smaller products.  Take for example energy saving light bulbs; they function the same as regular light bulbs and people are starting to use them despite a higher price tag.  But getting people to buy an electric lawn mower that requires them to navigate around an extension cord and many people will take a pass.  It seems that price is less of an obstacle than inconvenience. 

    Two; federally mandated improvements will need to be a big part of any kind of plan for environmental improvement.  I know too many people that kind of statement seems counter to the whole idea of smaller government but the article goes on to say:

    Federal policies to combat global warming would draw majority support if they aren’t too costly, according to a survey of 1,491 adults conducted this year by Stanford University

    The people seem to have spoken and they seem to say that they want someone else to do it; the government, as the peoples representative is that someone. 

    While polls say that most people in the US and other countries now believe that human activity causes global warming the US is still behind the rest of the world in coming to that conclusion.  We still have a long way to go.

    Soybean, Corn, Energy and the Enviroment

    We’ve all heard it. Whenever the topic turns to bio-fuels someone pipes in with “you know that ethanol takes more energy to produce that it yields…” Well, not according to the latest science. The University of Minnesota has released an extensive study on the overall energy used to grow, harvest, and process as well as the environmental impact of the fertilizers and pesticides used in the entire lifecycle of bio-fuels. The results show that both soybean based biodiesel and corn based ethanol produce more energy than is required to make them. Soybean took the lead, producing 93 percent more energy than it took in while the ethanol eeked out only a 25 percent gain over the energy used to produce it. Energy that we use to produce it that is. Energy is not truly created but merely changes form. Both the corn and the soy crops are constantly absorbing energy from the sun and in effect we are using them as a means to harness that energy. Solar panels are a more efficient way, but until we get the cost down on solar energy…well, we’ll save that for another day. We’re talking bio-fuels today.

    So what about the environmental impact? Growing any crop in a large quantity requires fertilizers, and insecticides. You cannot ignore the impact of the runoff of these chemicals in to streams and rivers. Still, soy based biodiesel produces 41 percent less greenhouse gas emissions (and better by some studies), and ethanol produces around 12 percent less. Soy based Biodiesel requires less fertilizers than corn, so if only more vehicles in the world were diesel based soy would be the clear winner.

    Dedicating all US soy and corn production would create only a small percentage of the currently needed gasoline and diesel supply. Farms that were struggling to sell all they were producing are now having to gear up to plant and produce more. Many consumers are noticing a sharp increase in the cost of everyday food items as demand exceeds supply. This may or may not be a temporary condition as a lot of farm land has gone unused in recent history.

    The truth is that benefits to both ethanol and biodiesel are probably worth the downsides. Even in small quantities, as an additive, they both oxygenate fossil fuels which cause them to burn more completely resulting in reduced emissions. And while at present they cannot come close to the production levels that would be required to replace fossil fuels; the facilities and techniques being used and developed now for ethanol and biodiesel will be put to use for the next generations of bio-fuels.

    Studies done just a few years ago pretty universally slammed bio-fuels as all requiring more fossil fuels to produce than they deliver; it goes to show that technology does not stand still. Throughout history this has always been the case. The first cars, televisions, home computers, and airplanes all started out as less than practical in real world applications.

    An environmentally conscious consumer may not be making a huge impact by driving a biodiesel car, subscribing to a wind power electric company or installing solar panels on the roof. But demand is what drives the market for these things and as more and more people start showing that they are willing to make these choices you can bet there will be someone on the supply side that is listening. You have to crawl before you can run.

    An introduction to Biodiesel

    There is no such thing as a biodiesel conversion. Biodiesel Pump

    I found that phrase scrawled across the wall of the bathroom of a bohemian college coffee house.  It wasn’t hard to track down the person responsible;  A biodiesel awareness group met there every week and I did a bit of asking around.  Like many people when I heard the word “Biodiesel” I thought of those guys I’d seen on TV who drove around picking up used grease from all the fast food restaurants and dumped it into specially modified cars with all kinds of line heaters and special filters and tanks and all manner of mad scientist add-ons.  Apparently I was mistaken, like most people, and it was time for an education.

    The diesel engine was invented in the closing days of the 19th century to replace the steam engine in industrial applications.  They were designed to run of a variety of fuels from coal dust to peanut oil but until recently were primarily run off fossil fuels.  But the combination of rising fuel costs with environmental concerns, political concerns, and the availability of 80’s era diesel powered autos at prices that encourage experimentation has brought about some interesting fuel options.

    The three major alternative fuels for consumer diesel engines are:

    • SVO: Standard vegetable oil. Just what it sounds like, you just run off of straight veggie oil like you use to cook with.

    • WVO: This is what most people incorrectly call biodiesel. Basically you take oil straight from a restaurant and filter it.

    • Biodiesel: This is plant based oil, usually soybean oil, which is processed to be used as a direct replacement for petroleum diesel.



    SVO and WVO require modifications to be made to the vehicle in before it can reliably be used as a replacement for conventional diesel.  WVO has to be carefully filtered and there are contaminates that can escape filtering and can cause some rather severe damage to rather expensive parts.  In addition it tends to solidify so the fuel lines have to be heated to keep it flowing properly.  All in all it requires more dedication to do it right than most people are willing or able to provide.  It wasn’t for me in any case.

    filling

    Biodiesel is a different story entirely.  There only four things to keep in mind when switching your vehicle to biodiesel.

    • Biodiesel is a solvent: When you run your first tank full of biodiesel it will go to work dissolving all of the gunk built up in your fuel tank, your fuel lines, and your injectors over the years. While this is a good thing, for the most part, it means that your fuel filters are going to be catching a whole lot of debris the first few tanks. If you don’t know how to change your own filters, this can run into some labor costs, and even if you do your own maintenance it means carrying around a few tools and spare filters.

    • Rubber Lines: The rubber fuel lines used in old cars are susceptible to the same solvent problems that I mentioned above. Over time when exposed to biodiesel they may break down and begin to leak. You can either replace them all, or just keep an eye out for any seepage for a while. My vintage Mercedes has been running on biodiesel for some time now and has never had a problem with the lines. Other people report problems within a few miles. To be safe, perhaps it is best just to replace all the lines.

    • Efficiency: Biodiesel contains less energy than petroleum diesel. That means that you will get slightly worse mileage, and also you may notice a slight drop in power. Since a diesel already gets as much as 40 percent better mileage than a gas motor its not that big of an issue, and honestly; If I was looking for performance I wouldn’t be driving a diesel.

    • Availability: This can be a deal killer for many people. Some cities have multiple outlets where biodiesel is readily available. Some have none.

    So checking off the above list, I had no problem with changing filters, lower mileage, loss of performance, or replacing fuel lines.  All that was left was to find the stuff.

    price signA quick Google search revealed only one retailer in my city; and it revealed a different decision to make.  Biodiesel is sold in different blends with petroleum diesel.  When you see B20, that means the fuel contains twenty percent bio, and 80 percent petroleum.  With B100, you get all bio and no petroleum.  In reality, most B100 is really B99.9.  A small percentage of petroleum is blended in because our government in their infinite wisdom gives a tax break for petroleum with bio added, but not for just plain bio.  The end result is adding a tiny amount of petroleum to B100 results in a significant savings to the provider.  Most of the sources I consulted recommended starting out with something like B20; Once your system is all cleaned out and you’ve gone through a few filter changes then you switch over to the pure stuff.

    Depending on the market for biodiesel in your area your first trip to the biodiesel fuel seller may result in a bit of a culture shock.  While many retailers are simply normal fuel stations (you have to get used to not calling them gas stations) with a  biodiesel pump on the island along side the regular gas pumps, the one in my city bore a closer resemblance to something out of a post apocalyptic action thriller.

    DFW Biodiesel

    Above ground tanks were scattered about a lot in a predominately industrial area with fuel trucks parked prominently displaying DFW Biodiesel on their tanks.  A small unoccupied booth sat between two functional but antique looking pumps.  Beside the empty booth a lone terminal stood with a credit card slot and a display.  From this out of place looking island of technology you swipe your card, select which pump you wish to use (B20 or B100), and then by following the faded instruction sheet you fuel your vehicle.  I personally found I didn’t really miss the aisles of soda, candy, and cell phone accessories.  In the entire time I have purchased fuel from them I have yet to see anyone working there, and that is ok with me.  There is a certain do it yourself mentality that comes with using biodiesel; it’s certainly not for everyone…not yet anyway.

    So, why go with biodiesel?  First of all, the environment.  Biodiesel produces 60 percent less carbon dioxide than regular diesel, It’s non toxic , and best of all it is available most places right now.  At some point I sincerely hope to see the day that we are driving primarily electric vehicles using power produced by solar and wind but that’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, and it is not next year.  Your average working person can’t afford a new electric car but many people can afford an older diesel Mercedes or Volkswagen.  Sometimes you have to take what you can get until you can get what you want.

    terminalSecond, biodiesel extends engine life because of its cleaning properties and its superior lubrication properties.  I can tell the difference by the sound my engine makes when I run regular diesel.  It runs much quieter on biodiesel.

    Third, I have to admit there is political element.  To me we have a choice of purchasing fuel from countries with a very questionable human rights history, or purchasing our fuel from our own farmers.  While biodiesel will not replace petroleum in its entirety by any means, every drop of biodiesel we use is that much less we have to import with all the nastiness that goes along with it.  I don’t know how much of a difference it makes in the grand scheme of things, but doing something is better than nothing.

    You will notice that the above does not include saving money.  You won’t save money by switching to biodiesel.  At the present time in my area it is priced a few cents less than regular diesel.  Given the extra distance I have to drive to get it and the decreased economy I’m not saving any money.  Occasionally depending on the price of oil Biodiesel will actually be a few cents more.  Some things are just worth doing because they are the right thing to do.

    Holistic Management Conference

    An interesting educational opportunity is coming up for those interested in land conservation. Holistic Management International is hosting a conference in a couple weeks about healing damaged land with special land management techniques.

    What’s this Holistic Management stuff all about?

    HMI works with people around the world to heal damaged land and increase the productivity of working lands.

    By healing the earth’s desertified lands, and by managing healthy land in concert with natural processes, we can repair our malfunctioning ecosystem while achieving a “triple bottom line” of economic, environmental and social sustainability.

    Holistic Management® has been proven to work, even in drought, for over 23 years.

    More info on the conference:

    HMI is proud to host International Gathering 2007 “From the Ground Up: Practical Solutions
    to Complex Problems”

    Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town
    Albuquerque, New Mexico
    November 1-4 2007

    Sessions and Workshops Cover:
    Soil health
    Animal behavior
    Multi-species grazing
    Partnering with Nature
    Taking sustainability to the next level
    International community development
    Global climate change
    Fire
    Drought
    Sustainable genetics
    Working effectively with groups
    Marketing
    Solar dollars
    Diversifying income
    Carbon sequestration

    Here’s the conference website so you can check it out with more detail.


    Global warming, not the end of the world?

    Daniel Botkin, president of the Center for the Study of the Environment and professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara writes about global warming on today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page.

    You can sum up his position with the first paragraph of his editorial.

    Global warming doesn’t matter except to the extent that it will affect life — ours and that of all living things on Earth. And contrary to the latest news, the evidence that global warming will have serious effects on life is thin. Most evidence suggests the contrary.

    I think that Botkin makes an important point when he says that we can be so focused on global warming that we are ignoring other critically important environmental issues.

    My concern is that we may be moving away from an irrational lack of concern about climate change to an equally irrational panic about it.

    Many of my colleagues ask, “What’s the problem? Hasn’t it been a good thing to raise public concern?” The problem is that in this panic we are going to spend our money unwisely, we will take actions that are counterproductive, and we will fail to do many of those things that will benefit the environment and ourselves.

    For example, right now the clearest threat to many species is habitat destruction. Take the orangutans, for instance, one of those charismatic species that people are often fascinated by and concerned about. They are endangered because of deforestation. In our fear of global warming, it would be sad if we fail to find funds to purchase those forests before they are destroyed, and thus let this species go extinct.

    Click through to read the entire editorial.

    Comments anyone?

    China, the industrial revolution so big that it’s shattering all pollution records

     Photo courtesy of Flickr.


    If you want to read a depressing account of China and the environment, look no further than this long, comprehensive New York Times article about the toll that China’s industrialization is taking.

    There are so many astounding facts that it’s hard to choose what to quote from the story, so I’ll just make a bullet point list of quoted facts from the article.

    Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.

    Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says.

    Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union.

    For air quality, a major culprit is coal, on which China relies for about two-thirds of its energy needs.

    Chinese industry uses 4 to 10 times more water per unit of production than the average in industrialized nations, according to the World Bank.

    Chinese steel makers, on average, use one-fifth more energy per ton than the international average. Cement manufacturers need 45 percent more power, and ethylene producers need 70 percent more than producers elsewhere, the World Bank says.

    Chinese buildings rarely have thermal insulation. They require, on average, twice as much energy to heat and cool as those in similar climates in the United States and Europe, according to the World Bank.

    All these new buildings require China to build power plants, which it has been doing prodigiously. In 2005 alone, China added 66 gigawatts of electricity to its power grid, about as much power as Britain generates in a year. Last year, it added an additional 102 gigawatts, as much as France.

    Book Review: Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert

    fossil-treasures.jpg

    Review of the book Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert, the Last Seven Million Years, edited by George T. Jefferson and Lowell Lindsay

    With all the concern these days about global warming, one only needs to pick up a book of paleontology to see how radically this planet can change in climate and environment through the ages.

    Continue reading “Book Review: Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert”

    Challenges of curbing CO2 output from coal


    Photo by OZinOH, courtesty of Flickr.

    Today’s Wall Street Journal has a front page story about the challenges of curbing CO2 output facing some of the big coal burning electric plants.

    It mentions the American Electric Power Company as the largest single CO2 emitter in the United States.

    Each year the U.S. electricity industry collectively emits 2.5 billion tons of CO2, which plays a starring role in climate change. That’s about a third of the U.S. total.

    Like most other utilities, AEP wasn’t spending much on carbon-dioxide reduction until recently. Utilities were too busy dealing with federal restrictions on nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury. AEP, which produces three-quarters of its electricity from coal-fired plants, has earmarked $4.2 billion between 2004 and 2009 to control these other pollutants.

    Congress has yet to mandate any reductions in CO2, although it’s mulling global-warming legislation. Some proposals seek to reduce emissions by 50% to 80% compared with 1990 levels by 2050. State regulators, awaiting federal action, have generally left it vague whether spending on CO2 cuts could be recouped via rate increases. Rather than focus on the science, Mr. Morris, the CEO, says executives like him now focus on the “political science” of what Congress intends to do.

    In a recent study, the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., found that even if the U.S. power industry boosted nuclear-power production by 60%, doubled wind and solar power, and developed viable carbon-capturing technology, it would still take until 2025 or 2030 to get the industry back to the 1990 emissions level. Although some congressional proposals call for reducing emissions by half or more over the next few decades, the institute concluded “much of the technology needed isn’t available yet.” The institute is independent but receives some funds from the power industry.

    “You have to throw up your hands a little bit because there’s so much that needs to be done,” laments Bruce Braine, vice president of strategic policy analysis at AEP. Curbing emissions requires “completely remaking the electric industry,” says Jim Dooley, senior staff scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

    Red, white blue and GREEN!

    Green Fireworks

    From flickr.

    Remember the Earth this fourth of July with some tips from the Practical Environmentalist on making your long holiday weekend green:

    Prevent fires
    Be smart about setting off fireworks to keep from starting forest fires.  Much of the country is dry and susceptible to damaging blazes.  Read more about it at the Daily Green. 

    Use a gas grill
    From the Longview News-Journal:

    “Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy calculated in 2003 that 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted each Fourth of July, which is the most popular day of the year for cookouts. Gas barbecue pits produce about half as much carbon dioxide as charcoal grills and about a third as much as electric ones…”

    Employ green party trash strategies
    Many of us will be throwing or attending parties and get-togethers.  If you must use disposable dinnerware, make sure it’s recycled, and recycle it when you’re done.  For more info on throwing a “green” party, check out this story at AssociatedContent.com. 

    Earthtoys.com June Ezine is Up!

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    As always, the new edition Earthtoys.com ezine is reason for excitement. The June version features some great info about the world of alternative energy.

    It also has lots of in-depth articles on earth-friendly technologies. For example, this time around there are some interesting articles on Algae.

    “WHY AREN’T ALGAE GETTING THE ATTENTION THEY DESERVE?”

    “MICRO-ALGAE PRODUCES OMEGA-3 BIO-LIPID OIL”

    Are two articles that you can enjoy if you love that green stuff! There’s also some cost comparisons with different photovoltaics, and a guide to practical solar energy for the home if you like the sunshine.

    And as always, you’ll find articles on alternative fuels and transportation.

    Enjoy!


    Power of Wind

    I just got an interesting email from a reader who wrote to tell us about a new website called PowerofWind.com. The website allows people to take action to promote alternative energies like wind power. PowerofWind.com is the creation of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Our reader says,

    “This Web site is designed to motivate visitors to take action on behalf of renewable energy sources like wind. In a few days, the U.S. Senate is going to vote on a step toward combating global warming: the Bingaman renewable energy standard. Powerofwind.com visitors can support renewable energy by writing a letter to their Senator to urge him or her to vote “yes” to the Bingaman amendment.”

    Thanks to Kate for this great tip!


    Wind Power in the News Plus Jay Leno’s Wind (Power)!

    The U.S. seems to me to underuse wind power. Wind power has become a very important source of renewable energy throughout the world. So why doesn’t it “fly” here in the States?

    Popular Mechanics covers the controversy with a list of the three biggest causes of the lack of investment and possible solutions to help us get on board. You can read this story on PopularMechanics.com.

    Popular Mechanics is also working with Tonight Show host Jay Leno, who is going to to install a state-of-the-art turbine on top of his “green garage shop.” That gas guzzling car crazy junkie better do something green!

    You can see more about Jay’s wind power projects on the Popular Mechanics website as well.


    Barbara Kingsolver Talks about Eating Local

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    Today I heard a great interview with author Barbara Kingsolver on the radio program “Living on Earth.” In the interview, Kingsolver discusses the idea of a “paradigm shift” for our eating habits. That paradigm shift is basically eating as local as possible and eating in season. Kingsolver and her family conducted an experiment with eating local for a year to reduce their impact on the environment. Why? Kingsolver says,

    We were led into this project for so many reasons. For me, it’s because I grew up in a rural community among farmers and I’ve always considered the local farming economy to be important and frankly an important part of food security. We are now, as a nation, putting almost as much fossil fuels into our refrigerators as our cars. Every item on average on the American plate has traveled 1500 miles so add up all the items on your plate and you might as well order room service from the moon!

    That’s an incredible amount of fossil fuel, an incredible amount of carbon emissions going into the atmosphere, warming up the globe just to get a grape from Chile, a tomato from Mexico so I can eat a tomato in January.

    So, Kingsolver embarked on this fascinating journey of creating community, eating locally, eating in season, and growing a lot of their own food. The results of their experiment with eating local are the subject of her new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

    The interviewer, Steve Curwood, points out the fact that Kingsolver and family live on a farm and therefore have the opportunity to grow a lot of their own food. But for the rest of us, what do we do? Kingsolver has some great advice. For example, buy at local farmers markets, get a plot at a community garden, etc.

    I personally volunteer at a small organic farm during the growing season and get a big bag of veggies once a week for my efforts. We also have a pot luck dinner at the end of the harvest day, so it’s like a big community party every week.

    I also think that you don’t have to go 100% local to make a difference either. You can grow a small plot of tomatoes, or herbs, or buy at a local farmer’s market and not give up the occassional non-local goodie like coffee or imported cheese.

    Want to learn more about Kingsolver’s project? You can read a transcript or download the audio of the interview at the Living on Earth website.

    You can also find out how to grow some of your own food and purchase produce more locally at the Urban Gardening Help website.


    The Daily Green is Up

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    Ok, check it out. The Daily Green – “The consumer’s guide to the green revolution” is Hearst Magazines’ contribution to the world of Green Living. They just launched the beta version on Earth Day.

    It looks like a pretty cool website so far. These are their highlights for the beta launch:

    Exclusive Op-Ed from Presidential Candidate John Edwards – Encouraging Americans to take action now to stem the effects of climate change, Mr. Edwards outlines his environmental platform noting, “It is time for all of us to prove that patriotism is about more than supporting a war; it is about supporting the future.”

    Robert Redford’s “The Heat is On” Video Short Debut – Urging the 2008 presidential candidates to make global warming a top priority, Redford’s video is part of the larger “The Heat is On” campaign by the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

    Weird Weather Watch – This user-generated photoblog of climate change gives backyard environmentalists and camera phone climatologists a chance to share their wildest weather observations.

    New Green Cuisine – The site is loaded with recipes developed by The Daily Green’s food editor as well as collected from various Hearst magazines, cookbooks and users, all based on healthy, organic, pesticide-free, or locally-grown ingredients.

    The only feature that I found to be flawed is the Weird Weather Watch. Weird weather is interesting but not really compelling evidence of global warming or climate change. Occasional weird weather can be considered pretty normal and anomalous weather phenomena is something that has been going for thousands of years. Photo documentation over say 50-100 years of a melting glacier might serve as evidence, but not necessarily a few snap shots over a year or two. Some of the photos are interesting though, so it’s worth checking out. They are arranged in different catagories such as “Worth Preserving” and “Signs of the Times” (as in signs and billboards) so it’s not all about freaky weather as the name implies.

    Other than that, the Daily Green is looking pretty good. I look forward especially to more of their eco-friendly tips.


    What are your Earth Day Plans?

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    Today is your day to contribute your ideas to our readers!

    We want to know the things that you’re doing this Earth Day to help improve the environment. Leave a comment below this post to tell us your Earth Day plans or any unique eco-friendly tips you may have. If you’re looking for an Earth Day event in your area, check out this website.

    If you’d like, you can review our list of practical environmental solutions for some ideas on what to do, or check out our environmental resources page.

    I plan on spending the day in the garden, and then heading over to a local Earth Day celebration here in New Mexico, where I’ll buy some organic veggies and check out alternative transportation booths.


    Recent Wind Power News

    Today I wanted to mention a couple quick notes about some interesting developments in wind power. First, Katherine Ellison of Salon.com recently wrote an article about Peter Mandelstam, the founder of Bluewater Wind, and a proposed offshore wind farm in the state of Delaware. If the project is approved, it would become the largest wind energy project of its kind in the U.S.

    Ellison says:

    The tireless founder of Bluewater Wind, a wind energy developer, Mandelstam has been right before, having built a wind farm in Montana that provides power to more than 45,000 homes. And Delaware is no Cape Cod, where an offshore wind plan has stalled amid bitter controversy for the past six years. Polls show that offshore wind is overwhelmingly popular in this state, graded F for air pollution by the American Lung Association, whose coastal residents aren’t griping about their ocean views being ruined.

    One a global note, EDP, Portugal ‘s largest industrial company, recently purchased U.S.-based Horizon Wind Energy for $2.2 billion. Here’s some info about the transaction:

    Today, EDP – Energias de Portugal, S.A. (“EDP”) signed an agreement to acquire 100% of the share capital of Horizon Wind Energy LLC (“Horizon”), a leading developer, owner and operator of wind power generation in the United States, from The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.

    The transaction values the equity of Horizon at USD 2.15 billion. Horizon’s net financial debt as of December 31, 2006 was USD 180 million. The total cash consideration to be paid at the closing of the transaction will be adjusted for capital expenditures, which are currently estimated to amount to an additional USD 600 million.

    The acquisition will be funded by debt raised at EDP and proceeds from a tax equity partner, which are both fully underwritten.

    The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including certain federal and state regulatory approvals and clearance. The transaction is targeted to close by the end of the 2nd quarter 2007.

    You can read a complete report about the transaction at the Horizon Wind Energy Website.

    Any news to share with us about wind energy? Please leave a comment! Hate wind energy? Leave a comment!