December 10, 2008

Big Three Bailout - Responses

I've had a lot of responses to my previous recommendations regarding how we should be thinking about Detroit.

There have been those who think electric cars will never work.

There are those who think electric cars are a good idea, but batteries aren't the right storage solution.

There are those who think that electric cars and batteries are reasonable solutions, but that we'll run out of lithium long before we run out of oil.

There are those who think hydrogen cars are the answer and there are those who think hydrogen cars are pure lunacy.

I will plan to discuss some of those comments a little later, but for today I encourage you to read Thomas Friedman's op-ed piece While Detroit Slept in today's (Dec 10th) New York Times.

He believes that investing in Detroit's current business model will be just like

"... pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet."

" ... pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes."

His conclusion -

"If we miss the chance to win the race for Car 2.0 because we keep mindlessly bailing out Car 1.0, there will be no one to blame more than Detroit’s new shareholders: we the taxpayers."

He also believes that Shai Agassi's company has the right business model.

"It is Shai Agassi’s electric car network company, called Better Place. Just last week, the company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., announced a partnership with the state of Hawaii to road test its business plan there after already inking similar deals with Israel, Australia, the San Francisco Bay area and, yes, Denmark."

December 7, 2008

Bush Tearing Apart Environmental Standards

Among the Bush administration's final environmental legacies will be a decision to exempt perchlorate, a known toxin found at unsafe levels in the drinking water of millions of Americans, from federal regulation.

The ruling, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in October, was supposed to be formalized on Monday. That deadline passed, but the agency expects to announce its decision by the year's end, before president-elect Barack Obama takes office. It could take years to reverse.

George Bush is working at a breakneck pace to dismantle at least 10 major environmental safeguards protecting America's wildlife, national parks and rivers before he leaves office in January.

With barely 60 days to go until Bush hands over to Barack Obama, his White House is working methodically to weaken or reverse an array of regulations that protect America's wilderness from logging or mining operations, and compel factory farms to clean up dangerous waste.

In the latest such move this week, Bush opened up some 800,000 hectares (2m acres) of land in Rocky Mountain states for the development of oil shale, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. The law goes into effect on January 17, three days before Obama takes office.

The timing is crucial. Most regulations take effect 60 days after publication, and Bush wants the new rules in place before he leaves the White House on January 20. That will make it more difficult for Obama to undo them.

December 6, 2008

Big Three Bailout?

The following is the text of a letter I sent to my US Senators and my Congressman. I encourage you to do the same.

Dear Senator,

I am not in favor of providing a bridge loan to nowhere for the Big Three automakers. Please do not approve a bailout as currently proposed by the Big Three.

If we are going to provide the Big Three with a loan, it should be with the understanding that the Big Three will agree to use the money to build the kind of cars our nation needs to break our dependence on foreign oil.

If you want an example of how we can do that quickly and relatively cheaply, please read this article.

I haven't read anything that gives me more hope for our future in a long time. I went to hear Shai Agassi speak at Harvard University on Thursday night. He has a brilliant plan for solving this current crisis.

With no long term sustainable plan from Detroit, a bailout of $34 billion will be good money after bad and Detroit will be back asking the taxpayers for more before the end of 2009.

With a long term and sustainable plan like Shai Agassi's we can once again be proud of our nation and our auto industry.

Thank you,
Mark Sandeen

November 24, 2008

Severn Suzuki speaking at UN Earth Summit 1992

Severn Suzuki, a twelve year old addresses the Earth Summit in 1992 speaking for children and all future generations.

This is an incredibly powerful declaration of the moral issues driving the importance of creating a sustainable future.

She asks the question – “Are we even on your list of priorities?”

Please ask yourself what is it you are willing to commit, what action are you willing to take to respond to her call?

November 13, 2008

GAO Reports - Deficit Spending Unsustainable

This report from David Walker, Inspector General of the GAO in 2005 explains why our economy is in the shape it is today and what we need to do about it, today.

September 17, 2008

Berekely Approves City Backed Loans for Solar Panels

The New York Times reports that the Berkeley City Council late Tuesday unanimously approved a program to give city-backed loans to property owners who install rooftop solar- power systems. The loans, likely to total up to $22,000 apiece, would be paid off over 20 years as part of the owners’ property-tax bills.

At first, the city seeks to raise $1.5 million for a pilot program for about 50 homes. If it program is successful, the kitty could eventually contain tens of millions of dollars, and hundreds of property owners could be eligible to participate.

The program, said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California at Berkeley and director of the school’s Institute of the Environment, is designed to entice people who might be scared away by the high initial cost of retrofitting homes to incorporate solar power or become more energy efficient.

It allows homeowners “to think about creating clean-energy homes with basically no cost” up front, he added.

Participating homeowners would pay roughly $180 more per month on their property tax bills, though much of that cost could be expected to be recouped in savings on electrical bills.

June 8, 2008

Over 500 miles on a tank... of Hydrogen

Toyota announced announced today that it has developed a fuel cell hybrid vehicle equipped with the newly designed high-performance Toyota FC Stack. The "TOYOTA FCHV-adv" acquired vehicle-type certification from Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) on June 3.

Toyota upped the size of the storage tank from 148 to 156 liters and doubled the storage pressure to 70 MPa (about 10,000 PSI). It also increased fuel efficiency by 25 percent through improved fuel cell performance, enhanced regenerative braking and cutting the amount of energy required to drive the accessory systems. The fuel cell also will operate at temperatures as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

Wired reports that several major automakers are aggressively developing hydrogen vehicles. BMW is putting its Hydrogen 7 in the hands of Hollywood celebrities, General Motors promise to roll out the Equinox Cell Vehicle later this year and Hyundai says it will produce hydrogen cars by 2012.

June 1, 2008

New Data on ANWR

The US Government has just released a report estimating the amount of oil that would be available from drilling in the Alaskan Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The report is interesting from a number of perspectives.

They have cut their estimates of the amount of oil available by more than 50% from the previous estimates they released in 1998.

"Between 2018 and 2030, cumulative additional oil production is 2.6 billion barrels for the mean oil resource case, while the low and high resource cases project a cumulative additional oil production of 1.9 and 4.3 billion barrels, respectively."

The 1998 report projected 5.7 billion barrels of production from ANWR for the mean oil case. The trend suggests that the more we know about ANWR, the more we lower the initial very rosy estimates for the amount of production.

The most recent report includes projections on the impact that ANWR will have on the price of oil.

"The opening of ANWR is projected to have its largest oil price reduction impacts as follows: a reduction in low-sulfur, light crude oil prices of $0.41 per barrel (2006 dollars) in 2026 for the low oil resource case, $0.75 per barrel in 2025 for the mean oil resource case, and $1.44 per barrel in 2027 for the high oil resource case, relative to the reference case."

This means that when ANWR hits peak production in 2026 (if drilling was approved this year) the impact on the price of oil at that time will be less than half of one percent.

Bottom line, you will never notice the difference in the price of oil.

We would be much better off taking the same investment dollars and using them to create new renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and fuel cell technologies.

We would be much better off taking the same investment dollars and finding ways to make our cars more efficient.

The oil from ANWR will be depleted in 30 years. Investments in wind and solar will still be generating energy for many, many years after the last drop of oil in ANWR is gone.

May 31, 2008

Net Oil Exports Falling

A Wall Street Journal article reports that net exports of oil from the top 15 oil producers fell in 2006 and 2007, according to US Government data.

The implications for our future are huge.

There have been many projections made regarding when we will experience peak oil. Those projections usually focus on peak oil production. This data points out the cold hard reality that peak oil availability is what is important for oil importers.

If you are looking for the peak oil availability date for oil importers, that day has already come and gone.

Some would argue that we have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil because of economics.

Some would argue that we have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil for national security.

Some would argue that we have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil to protect the environment.

Some would argue that we have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil for moral reasons.

The cold hard fact is that we have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil because we have no other choice.

"Fresh data from the U.S. Department of Energy show the amount of petroleum products shipped by the world's top oil exporters fell 2.5% last year, despite a 57% increase in prices, a trend that appears to be holding true this year as well.

Demand in the Middle East is a major factor right now, said Adam Robinson, an oil analyst at Lehman Brothers in New York. Mr. Robinson predicts the region will constitute more than 40% of increased demand next year.

Saudi Arabia in particular has become a major energy consumer as the country pushes to put its oil riches to greater use. The kingdom is in the middle of a major investment campaign to become a world player in petrochemicals, aluminum and fertilizers, all of which will require huge amounts of oil and natural gas.

Since 2004, Saudi oil consumption has increased nearly 23%, to 2.3 million barrels a day last year. Jeffrey Brown, a Dallas-based petroleum geologist who studies net export numbers, said that at its current growth rate, Saudi Arabia could be consuming 4.6 million barrels a day by 2020.

That would cut significantly into Saudi exports even as the world looks to its largest oil supplier to help manage rising demand. Saudi Arabia has nearly a quarter of the world's proven reserves and supplies around 12% of the 86 million barrels a day that the world now consumes."

May 25, 2008

Microbes found that eat plastic bags

Now a high school teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster -- in three months, he figures.

Getting ordinary plastic bags to rot away like banana peels would be an environmental dream come true. After all, we produce 500 billion a year worldwide and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. They take up space in landfills, litter our streets and parks, pollute the oceans and kill the animals that eat them.

Daniel Burd's project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.

He found strains one and two together produced a 32 per cent weight loss in his plastic strips. His theory is strain one helps strain two reproduce. Tests to identify the strains found strain two was Sphingomonas bacteria and the helper was Pseudomonas.

A researcher in Ireland has found Pseudomonas is capable of degrading polystyrene, but as far as Burd and his teacher Mark Menhennet know -- and they've looked -- Burd's research on polyethelene plastic bags is a first.

May 13, 2008

Sustainable Fishing - Not!

How the World's Oceans are Running Out of Fish

Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at York University, predicts that by 2050 we will only be able to meet the fish protein needs of half the world population: all that will be left for the unlucky half may be, as he puts it, 'jellyfish and slime'. Ninety years of industrial-scale exploitation of fish has, he and most scientists agree, led to 'ecological meltdown'. Whole biological food chains have been destroyed.

Roberts has one solution: marine reserves. Protecting up to 40 per cent of the world's oceans in permanent refuges would enable the recovery of fish stocks and help replenish surrounding fisheries. 'The cost, according to a 2004 survey, would be between £7bn and £8.2bn a year, after set-up. But put that against the £17.6bn a year we currently spend on harmful subsidies that encourage overfishing.'

Reserves must not be ruled by politicians, says Roberts. 'The model of industry-political control for regulatory bodies just doesn't work. It's like central banks - put them under politicians' control and they make dangerous, short-term decisions that result in economic instability. Put them under independent control, and they make better-judged, more strategic decisions.'

The Newfoundland cod fishery, for 500 years the world's greatest, was exhausted and closed in 1992, and there's still no evidence of any return of the fish. Once stocks dip below a certain critical level, the scientists believe, they can never recover because the entire eco-system has changed. The question is whether, after 50 years of vacillation and denial, there's any prospect of the politicians acting decisively now. 'It is awful and we are on the road to disaster,' says Tudela. 'But the collapse - in some, not all the situations - is still reversible. And it's worth trying.'

South Korea Village 100% Solar

"Donggwang has achieved what even the most powerful countries in the world are still struggling to accomplish: total energy independence with clean technology.

On the roof of each of the 40 houses in Donggwang lies a large beds of solar panels. Even the small, local elementary school runs on free electric energy from the sun. The photovoltaic panels produce enough energy to power the entire area. Amidst cattle and fields, Donggwang is a state-of-the-art renewable energy village.
When asked whether he is concerned about environmental issues, Mr. Lee replies casually, “Yeah, the environment is a very important issue. The motto is a clean city - clean island. They’re trying to do this solar and then the windmills. My favorite part of living in Jeju is the fresh air. The clean air.”

May 12, 2008

Zero-Emission City planned in Abu Dhabi

"Construction of the new zero-emission city started last week. It will eventually house 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses. The energy efficient buildings and infrastructure will require less energy to start with, and what little energy they do require will be supplied entirely from renewable energy sources. Construction of the new zero-emission city started last week. It will eventually house 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses. The energy efficient buildings and infrastructure will require less energy to start with, and what little energy they do require will be supplied entirely from renewable energy sources. "

But what would one of the world's largest producers of oil want to promote city life that doesn’t require oil? Isn’t that a bit like shooting yourself in the foot? Apparently even the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are willing to admit that oil isn’t a great long-term solution for the world’s growing energy needs.

Abu Dhabi is hoping the project will propel the country to become world leaders in renewable energy.

May 9, 2008

Simple, Cheap Solar Power from MIT

Harnessing sunlight on the cheap
MIT student project aims to develop cost-efficient solar power

A team of students, led by mechanical engineering graduate student Spencer Ahrens, has spent the last few months assembling a prototype for a concentrating solar power system they think could revolutionize the field. It's a 12-foot-square mirrored dish capable of concentrating sunlight by a factor of 1,000, built from simple, inexpensive industrial materials selected for price, durability and ease of assembly rather than for optimum performance.

Rather than aiming for a smooth parabolic surface that would bring the sunlight to a perfect focus, the dish is being made with 10-inch-wide by 12-foot-long strips of relatively low-cost, lightweight bathroom-type mirror glass. The frame is assembled from cheap aluminum tubing, with holes drilled in precise locations using a simple jig for alignment, so that the struts can be assembled into a framework that passively snaps into just the right parabolic curvature.

The control mechanism, which allows the dish to track the sun automatically across the sky, is also remarkably simple--photocells mounted on each side of the dish with opaque baffles, which cast a shadow on the cell when it drifts out of alignment, connect to a simple circuit that turns on small electric motors to push the dish back into the right position.

"The technical challenge here is to make it simple," Ahrens explains.

May 1, 2008

Fuel Efficiency Standards - What is possible?

A friend of mine recently gave an impassioned argument that we could do better, much better than we have been doing with fuel efficiency standards.

Well, here are a couple articles that let you know what is possible for fuel efficiency. As you may remember the US government has recently set a goal of achieving 35 mpg by 2020. The EU requirements for new passenger car fuel efficiency by 2012 are 47 mpg.

And for those of you with a hankering for a sports car that is in production today, here's the prettiest car all electric car I've ever seen and it has incredible numbers. 0 - 60 mph in under 4 seconds. 135 mpg. 2 cents a mile. 220 miles per charge. Did I say it is the prettiest thing you've ever seen? Make sure you click on this one!

Of course if you are going to be environmentally friendly, you better sign up for the Green Power option from your electric utility before you charge your electic vehicle!!

Finally here is a 2 minute video from PBS and RMI. The quote that sticks with me is that barely 1% of the energy in a gallon of gasoline actually moves the driver in a forward direction. 7/8's of the fuel energy never even makes it to the wheels!!!

It would seem that my friend is right. We can do better!

April 29, 2008

Bioremediation and Mushrooms?

Jim Wilson / New York Times
The town of Ft. Bragg, CA is considering what to do about an old mill site which is polluted with dioxins.

"Among several toxic hot spots discovered here were five plots of soil with high levels of dioxin that Georgia-Pacific says were ash piles from 2001-2, when the mill burned wood from Bay Area landfills to create power and sell it to Pacific Gas & Electric."

The traditional solutions for this kind of problem include hauling thousands of truckloads of the contanimated soil to a landfill about 200 miles away, or burying the contaminated soil on site in a plastic-lined, 1.3-acre landfill.

"Alarmed by the ultimatum, residents called in Paul E. Stamets, author of “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.”
Using the mushroom method [of bioremediation], Mr. Stamets said, [the contaminated soil] is put in plots, strewn with straw and left alone with mushroom spawn. The spawn release a fine, threadlike web called mycelium that secretes enzymes “like little Pac-Mans that break down molecular bonds,” Mr. Stamets said. And presto: toxins fall apart. "

"At the April 14 meeting, Georgia-Pacific promised to finance a pilot project. Roger J. Hilarides, who manages cleanups for the company, offered the city at least one 10-cubic-yard bin of dioxin-laced soil and a 5-year lease on the site’s greenhouse and drying sheds for mushroom testing. And the City Council said it would approve the landfill but only if it came with bioremediation experiments. "

Beetles turn forest into CO2 Producer

From a study in Nature - "Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change"
One of the effects of the global temperature rise is that the winter temperatures are no longer cold enough to kill mountain pine beetles in British Columbia. The warmer weather in the summer provides better conditions for the beetle as well. The result is that the mountain pine beetles are killing huge numbers of trees in the British Columbia forests.
Natural Resources Canada

(Red means dead in pine forests.) The dead trees release the carbon that they have captured throughout their lives making the British Columbia forests a net carbon producer until at least 2020. The pine beetle blight is now affecting 32 million acres, at least an order magnitude larger area than any previous recorded infestation. The result will be an average release of 13 million metric tons of CO2 each year between the year 2000 and 2020.

To put this in context, the amount of carbon released from this section of British Columbia is about 75% of all the carbon released from all Canadian forest fires.

As more carbon is released, the earth's temperature rises and allowing the pine beetle to expand into larger areas of the forest. Positive Feedback Loop.

The NY Times wrote about this in an article titled "The Beetle Factor in a Carbon Calculus"

April 5, 2008

Refrigerators - A Buyer's Market

Let me tell you my story about replacing my 21 year old refrigerator about a year ago.

My son's science teacher required every student in the class to conduct an energy audit of their house. I was stunned to find out that our refrigerator was the largest consumer of electricity in our house - by far.

It was consuming about 4,730 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. That’s about the same as leaving 5 - 100 watt light bulbs on all day, every day of the year.

I replaced the refrigerator with a new Energy Star refrigerator.

The new refrigerator uses about 80% less electricity than the old refrigerator. (That's not a typo!)

The first thing I noticed was that my electric bill went down by $40 a month!
Probably more importantly, this translated into a reduction of almost 2 tons of Carbon emissions per year.

(The rule of thumb in New England is 1 lb. of Carbon per kilowatt hour. The rule of thumb can climb as high as 2 lbs. of Carbon per kilowatt hour in other sections of the country where they use more coal fired plants to produce their electricity.)
On top of that, the new refrigerator is far quieter and filters our water.
Talk about a win-win-win! The planet is healthier, my family is healthier, and my finances are healthier.

Why am I mentioning this now? Because it is a good time for you to buy a new refrigerator if you haven't done so already.

It turns out that Energy Star refrigerators made after April 28, 2008 must be yet again another 20% more efficient than the refrigerators sold a year ago. So you can save even more than I did!

When shopping for a new refrigerator, check to see if the one you are considering meets the new standards.

The May 2008 Consumer Reports has an article on selecting refrigerators starting on page 35.
What are you waiting for?

April 3, 2008

Online Bill Paying Saves 24 Square Feet of Forest per Year

Think your family going green won't make a difference?

Wrong, says a U.S. study released on March 27, 2008 that shows one household ditching paper statements for Web transactions would save 24 square feet of forest a year.

By switching to electronic bills, statements and payments, the average American household would save 6.6 pounds of paper a year, save 0.08 trees, and not produce 171 pounds of greenhouse gases -- the equivalent of driving 169 miles.

The survey, whose results were vetted by the Environmental Protection Agency, said it would also mean avoiding the deforestation of 24 square feet of forest, the release of 63 gallons of wastewater into the environment, and save 4.5 gallons of gasoline used for mailing.

"Individuals who think they are only one person and can't really have an impact should re-evaluate their position. Even small contributions can have a impact when aggregated," said Craig Vaream, a member of the PayItGreen Alliance and JPMorgan Chase.

Solar Thermal - Can it replace coal?

Some people are starting to believe that Solar Thermal technology can supply over 90% of grid power, while reducing carbon emissions. High-efficiency is achieved because solar thermal plants do not need to convert energy to another form in order to store it. The future certainly looks bright for solar thermal technology!

One of the most common arguments against large-scale use of renewable energy is that it cannot produce a steady, reliable stream of energy, day and night. Ausra Inc. does not agree. They believe that solar thermal technology can supply over 90% of grid power, while reducing carbon emissions.

“The U.S. could nearly eliminate our dependence on coal, oil and gas for electricity and transportation, drastically slashing global warming pollution without increasing costs for energy,” said David Mills, chief scientific officer and founder of Ausra.

Time-Lapse Video: Retreating Glacier Valdez, Alaska

This remarkable image sequence captures a series of massive calving events at Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska.

Composed of 436 frames taken between May and September of 2007, it shows the glacier rapidly retreating by about half a mile (1.6 kilometers), a volume loss of some 0.4 cubic miles (1.67 cubic kilometers) of ice or 400 billion gallons (1.5 trillion liters) of water.

The time-lapse was taken as part of the ongoing Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), an ambitious project to capture global warming-induced glacial retreat in the act. Beginning in December 2006, photographer James Balog and his colleagues set up 26 solar-powered cameras at glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, the Alps, and the Rocky Mountains. Each unit will take a photograph every daylight hour until fall 2009.

In 2008, Balog's team began to return to each of the camera sites to collect images. In the end, they will have more than 300,000 images to analyze and stitch together to produce more dramatic videos like this one.

This kind of multiyear effort, says Balog, is necessary to "radically alter public perception of the global warming issue."

March 20, 2008

US Power Plant CO2 Emissions - Fastest Growth in a Decade

Robert W Scherer Power Plant is a coal-fired plant just north of Macon, Georgia.
It emits more carbon dioxide than any other point in the United States.

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 18, 2008
poor progress report on efforts to rein in greenhouse gases:

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from U.S. power plants climbed 2.9 percent in 2007, the biggest single year increase since 1998, according to new analysis by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Now the single largest factor in U.S. climate change pollution, the electric power industry’s carbon dioxide emissions have risen 5.9 percent since 2002 and 11.7 percent since 1997.

“The current debate over global warming policy tends to focus on long-term goals, like how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next fifty years. But while we debate, CO2 emissions from power plants keep rising, making an already dire situation worse. Because CO2 has an atmospheric lifetime of between 50 and 200 years, today’s emissions could cause global warming for up to two centuries to come.”

A Low Carbon Diet Can Help the Economy!

A recent study from Yale University concludes:

"... that even under the most unfavorable assumptions regarding costs, the U.S. economy is predicted to continue growing robustly as carbon emissions are reduced,” said Repetto. “Under favorable assumptions, the economy would grow more rapidly if emissions are reduced through national policy measures than if they are allowed to increase as in the past.”

And they've created a website where you can see that for yourself!

“As Congress prepares to debate new legislation to address the threat of climate change, opponents claim that the costs of adopting the leading proposals would be ruinous to the U.S. economy. The world’s leading economists who have studied the issue say that’s wrong — and you can find out for yourself,” said Robert Repetto, professor in the practice of economics and sustainable development at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies who created the site.

The interactive website,
synthesized thousands of policy analyses in order to identify the seven key assumptions accounting for most of the differences in the model predictions. The site allows visitors to choose which assumptions they feel are most realistic and then view the predictions of the economic models based on the chosen assumptions.

March 19, 2008

Engineers Without Borders Bring Tech to Villages Without Power

An estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide are without electricity, and many of them are forced to light their homes with kerosene. Using one kerosene lamp is like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, says the World Bank, and the lamps present a significant fire risk. That's why many startup companies, such as d.Light, are trying to bring cheaper LED lights to homes, but they still need a solution for producing power locally.

A group of volunteer engineers are finishing the design for a home-brewed wind turbine that will bring electricity to off-the-grid Guatemalan villages by this summer.

After the U.S. engineers finish the design, local workers in the town of Quetzaltenango will manufacture the small-scale turbine. It will produce 10-15 watts of electricity, enough to charge a 12-volt battery that can power simple devices like LED lights.

The engineering team had to make their design simple enough that it could be assembled from cheap and widely available components. As a result, their plans call for building the turbine out of hard plastic (or canvas) bolted on to a steel-tube structure. The rotor, which creates mechanical energy from the movement of the blades, runs into an alternator (actually a cheap DC motor running in reverse), which converts the mechanical energy into electricity.

[The] goal is not just to bring cheap wind-powered generators to Guatemalan villages, but also to build self-sustaining businesses that are well integrated with the local economy.

March 17, 2008

UN says that Glaciers are Melting Faster

Glaciers Melting Faster

ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) -- Glaciers are shrinking at record rates and many could disappear within decades, the U.N. Environment Program said Sunday.

Scientists measuring the health of almost 30 glaciers around the world found that ice loss reached record levels in 2006, the U.N. agency said.

UNEP warned that further ice loss could have dramatic consequences particularly in India, whose rivers are fed by Himalayan glaciers.

Haeberli said glaciers lost an average of about a foot of ice a year between 1980 and 1999. But since the turn of the millennium the average loss has increased to about 20 inches.

March 8, 2008

Diet for a Small Planet

I've been reading about the links between hunger and the health of our planet from Lester Brown's new book.
Plan B 3.0 Mobilizing to Save Civilization

The Himalayan glaciers that feed the rivers that irrigate the rice fields of China and the wheat fields of India are disappearing at a rate of 7% a year. - "Global Outlook for Ice and Snow" UN Environment Program Nairobi 2007

Crop withering heat waves have lowered grain harvests in recent years. Record high temperatures in 2002 and 2003 reduced the world grain output 90 million tons or 5% below actual grain consumption.

In 7 of the last 8 years, world grain production has fallen short of consumption. Worldwide carryover stocks are at their lowest level in 34 years. We are eating into our grain reserves.

Worldwide grain production peaked at 342 kilograms per capita in 1984, dropping to 302 kilograms per capita in 2006.

When oil prices rose above $60 a barrel, corn based distillation of ethanol became enormously profitable. The United States is now the largest producer of Ethanol, eclipsing Brazil in 2005.

81 million tons of the 2007 US corn harvest was used to create ethanol. This is 20% of US corn production. It generated less than 4% of US automotive fuel.

The grain required to fill one 25 gallon tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year.

The 2 billion poorest people in the world use 60% of their income to buy food.

As the share of US corn production dedicated to ethanol increases, it is driving up food prices around the world. In September 2007, the price of corn was nearly double what it was 2 years before. Wheat prices have also doubled and soybean prices have gone up by more than 50%.

Four years ago a study by Runge and Senauer of UMinn projected the number of hungy people decreasing to 625 milllion in 2025. An update of those projections, based on the massive diversion of grain to ethanol production, shows the number of hungry and mal-nourished people rising to 1.2 billion by 2025.

The competition between the owners of the world's 860 million automobiles and the 2 billion poorest people in the world is uncharted territory for humanity.

Although there are no alternatives to food for people, there are alternatives to using ethanol for vehicles. For example, the 4% of automotive fuel supplied using ethanol could be replaced several times over by increased fuel efficiency standards. And at a cost much lower than we are spending on ethanol.

February 16, 2008

EcoMoms - Saving the Earth starting at Home

This is an interesting article from the NY Times.

Is the to-do list of preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a "locovore," eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school a bit overwhelming?

The EcoMom Alliance is here to help!

Their theme - Sustain Your Home, Sustain Your Planet, Sustain Your Self

Women have been instrumental in the environmental movement from the start, including their involvement in campaigns a century ago to save the Palisades along the Hudson River and sequoias in California and, more recently, Lois Gibbs's fight against toxic waste at Love Canal.
In public opinion surveys, women express significantly higher levels of environmental concern than men, said Riley Dunlap, a professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University.

Lately "local lifestyle activism," much of it driven by women, has been on the rise and is likely to continue, Dr. Dunlap said.

Members of the EcoMom Alliance "are fighting a values battle," said Tim Kasser, the author of "The High Price of Materialism." "They are ...trying to figure out how to create a life more oriented toward intrinsic values."

February 15, 2008

Top Challenges of the 21st Century

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) today announced the grand challenges for engineering in the 21st century. A diverse committee of experts from around the world, convened at the request of the U.S. National Science Foundation, revealed 14 challenges that, if met, would improve how we live.

The final choices fall into four themes that are essential for humanity to flourish -- sustainability, health, reducing vulnerability, and joy of living. The committee did not attempt to include every important challenge, nor did it endorse particular approaches to meeting those selected. Rather than focusing on predictions or gee-whiz gadgets, the goal was to identify what needs to be done to help people and the planet thrive.

Make solar energy affordable
Provide energy from fusion
Develop carbon sequestration methods
Manage the nitrogen cycle
Provide access to clean water
Restore and improve urban infrastructure
Advance health informatics
Engineer better medicines
Reverse-engineer the brain
Prevent nuclear terror
Secure cyberspace
Enhance virtual reality
Advance personalized learning
Engineer the tools for scientific discovery

The panel, some of the most accomplished engineers and scientists of their generation, was established in 2006 and met several times to discuss and develop the list of challenges. Through an interactive Web site, the effort received worldwide input from prominent engineers and scientists, as well as from the general public, over a one-year period. The panel's conclusions were reviewed by more than 50 subject-matter experts.

"We chose engineering challenges that we feel can, through creativity and commitment, be realistically met, most of them early in this century," said committee chair and former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. "Some can be, and should be, achieved as soon as possible."

The committee decided not to rank the challenges. NAE is offering the public an opportunity to vote on which one they think is most important and to provide comments at the project Web site -- <>.

The Grand Challenges site features a five-minute video overview of the project along with committee member interview excerpts. A podcast of the news conference announcing the challenges will also be available on the site starting next week.

"Meeting these challenges would be 'game changing,'" said NAE president Charles M. Vest. "Success with any one of them could dramatically improve life for everyone."

"Tremendous advances in quality of life have come from improved technology in areas such as farming and manufacturing," added Larry Page, co-founder of Google and a committee member. "If we focus our effort on the grand challenges of our age, we can hugely improve the future."

WILLIAM PERRY (COMMITTEE CHAIR), former secretary of defense, U.S. Department of Defense, and Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor and professor of engineering, Stanford University
ALEC BROERS, chairman, Science and Technology Select Committee, United Kingdom House of Lords
FAROUK EL-BAZ, research professor and director, Center for Remote Sensing, Boston University
WESLEY HARRIS, department head and Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
BERNADINE HEALY, former director, U.S. National Institutes of Health, and health editor and columnist, U.S. News & World Report
W. DANIEL HILLIS, chairman and co-founder, Applied Minds Inc.
CALESTOUS JUMA, professor of the practice of international development, Harvard University
DEAN KAMEN, founder and president, DEKA Research and Development Corp.
RAYMOND KURZWEIL, chairman and chief executive officer, Kurzweil Technologies Inc.
ROBERT LANGER, Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
JAIME LERNER, architect and urban planner, Instituto Jaime Lerner
BINDU LOHANI, director general and chief compliance officer, Asian Development Bank
JANE LUBCHENCO, Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology and Distinguished Professor of Zoology, Oregon State University
MARIO MOL├ŹNA, Nobel laureate and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, University of California, San Diego
LARRY PAGE, co-founder and president of products, Google Inc.
ROBERT SOCOLOW, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Princeton University Environmental Institute
J. CRAIG VENTER, president, The J. Craig Venter Institute
JACKIE YING, executive director, Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology
The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.


Solar Power Calculator

I found an interesting Solar Power Calculator on the web.

It provides a way for you to enter your location, your energy usage, and calculates the cost of a solar system, including all the State and Federal tax incentives!

Make sure that you update your electricity usage based on your current cost per kilowatt-hour.

The default value in the web form is 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. This was the national average for electricity a couple years ago and electricity rates have been rising rapidly in the last couple years.

Another parameter you might want to change is the expected percentage rate that electricity will increase each year.

The default number in the form is 3%.

In Massachusetts we've been averaging 10% over the last 10 years....

Kiribati: Vast Marine Reserve Created

The tiny island nation of Kiribati, the former Gilbert Islands, declared the world’s largest marine protected area, a 164,200-square-mile ocean wilderness that includes pristine reefs and eight coral atolls teeming with fish and birds. The zone, about halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, will conserve one of Earth’s last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems.

February 14, 2008

Lake Mead Dry by 2021?

Lake Mead Could Be Dry by 2021
Analysis of current and scheduled use and human-induced climate change sparks urgent warning from researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

There is a 50 percent chance Lake Mead, a key source of water for millions of people in the southwestern United States, will be dry by 2021 if climate changes as expected and future water usage is not curtailed, according to a pair of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

"When Will Lake Mead Go Dry?"

February 1, 2008

"Clean" Coal project Canceled

The Federal Government's Clean Coal initiative has been canceled due to "surprising" increases in the cost of the program. Initial estimates were that the pilot program would cost about $1B. The Energy Department's current estimates are for the FutureGen project to cost $1.8B and many fear that the costs would have gone much higher.

Let your elected officials know that "Clean Coal" is an oxymoron and that the FutureGen money could be better spent to accelerate solar and other renewable energy sources which have a much higher ROI.

Higher Costs Cited as U.S. Shuts Down Coal Project

January 30, 2008

Green Business has a long way to go

Although corporations like Apple, Google and Wal-Mart tout their green virtures on a daily basis, a new report from Greener Media, an environmental-media and business consulting company, found that the results of corporate "greening" efforts have been mixed at best.

The State of Green Business Report 2008 gives a bracingly candid interpretation of businesses' green and greenwashing efforts, noting that only eight of 20 indicators showed progress in 2007. Two of the 20 indicators, e-waste and carbon intensity, actually got worse..

E-Waste - Mountains of unwanted electronics with toxic components

January 28, 2008

Wind Powered Container Ships

Of all the CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere today, 4% comes from ships. That's more than the aviation industry, primarily because 90% of global trade is done by sea.

MS Beluga SkySails believes it has a solution. It has set sail on a mission to turn the oceans green.

Once the ship has reached the open sea, it reveals its brand new weapon in the fight against global warming: a kite.

Cargo Ship Powered by Kite Video

January 26, 2008

Earth Scientists Express Rising Concern about Global Warming

The map shows areas in 2007 that were warmer (reds) and colder (blues) than the mean annual temperature from 1951-1980. (Credit: NASA/GISS)

The American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest organization representing earth and space scientists, put out a fresh statement on the causes and consequences of recent climate change and possible responses. The union’s statement is firmer and has more policy prescriptions than the one from 2003.

"Warming greater than 2°C above 19th century levels is projected to be disruptive, reducing global agricultural productivity, causing widespread loss of biodiversity... If this 2°C warming is to be avoided, then our net annual emissions of CO2 must be reduced by more than 50 percent within this century."

January 25, 2008

Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, without Corn

Coskata, which is backed by General Motors and other investors, uses bacteria to convert almost any organic material, from corn husks (but not the corn itself) to municipal trash, into ethanol. "It's not five years away, it's not 10 years away. It's affordable, and it's now," said Wes Bolsen, the company's vice president of business development.

Coskata uses existing gasification technology to convert almost any organic material into synthesis gas, which is a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Rather than fermenting that gas or using thermo-chemical catalysts to produce ethanol, Coskata pumps it into a reactor containing bacteria that consume the gas and excrete ethanol. Richard Tobey, Coskata's vice president of engineering, says the process yields 99.7 percent pure ethanol.

May Wu, an environmental scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, says Coskata's ethanol produces 84 percent less greenhouse gas than fossil fuel even after accounting for the energy needed to produce and transport the feedstock. It also generates 7.7 times more energy than is required to produce it. Corn ethanol typically generates 1.3 times more energy than is used producing it.

Ethanol for $1 a Gallon without Corn

January 22, 2008

Tell Congress we want a Green stimulus package!

As Congress works to craft an Economic Stimulus Package, it is time for us to send a clear message to our elected officials: Go Green and Go Equal in the stimulus!

Every dollar invested in a Green stimulus package can help our economy today by reducing the need for imported oil. Investing in renewable energy stimulus package will be like the gift that keeps on giving for the next 20 or 30 years.

By clicking the link above, you'll be able to sign an electronic petition to Congress organized by the One Sky organization.

One Sky. One Climate. One World. One Chance.

January 4, 2008

Green is Profitable

The Boston Globe reports that building green homes is profitable.

"Contrary to a longstanding perception among developers that building green homes is not financially feasible, Carter Scott, [President, Transformations, Inc.], says the subdivision is proof that developers can be environmentally sensitive - and make a profit."

"Transformations introduced a number of environmental features in the five-home subdivision in Tyngsborough. Included in each house are solar panels for electricity, a system that extracts heat from the ground in winter, and rain gardens that naturally recharge water into the soil.

The development garnered the company the 2005 Energy Star Custom Builder of the Year Award from the US Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization that supports sustainable building practices."

"We actually made more money off it," Scott said. "It can come back to you in different ways."

Another developer, Donald Sienkiewicz, " is taking up the cause of the green movement and building 22 ecologically sensitive homes in Wilton, N.H. The homes, now going through the permitting process, will be super insulated, have solar electrical panels, and will feature large south-facing windows, which helps heat the buildings in winter, he said."

Sienkiewcz is convinced that ecologically sensitive housing commands higher prices as they are not only good for the environment, but also substantially cheaper to heat.

Stanford Scientist Links Rising CO2 Emissions and Increased Mortality Options

The study, "On the causal link between carbon dioxide and air pollution mortality", by Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, shows that as many as 20,000 air-pollution related deaths may occur worldwide each year with each 1 degree Celsius increase.

"A coupled climate-air pollution model was used to show by cause and
effect that increases in fossil-fuel CO2 increase U.S. surface ozone, carcinogens, and particulate matter, thereby increasing death, asthma, hospitalization, and cancer rates."