Monday, December 14, 2009

Google Goes Green



In honor of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) taking place this week in Copenhagen, Google, who some are suggesting deserves its own permanent seat on the UN Security Council (with veto power... of course!), has posted the following just above its iconic mid-page search bar:

"New! Explore impact of climate change on Google Earth"

The link leads to an easy-to-access series of 12 videos - with a 5-minute lead-off piece by Al Gore - on a variety of subjects and issues germane to the impact and consequences of Global Climate Change. Videos include a causation primer with Stanford Professor and former NCAR Climatologist Steve Schneider, a piece on climate and health in Africa by IRI (The International Research Institute for Climate and Society); Greenpeace is represented, as is the WWF (World Wildlife Federation) and many more ardent advocates of sane and rational policies for containing and controlling the further unregulated pumping of carbon-based pollutants into the atmosphere.

The final video, produced by Conservation International, introduces the climatic effects of global deforestation - then focuses on projects in Madagascar - where local communities are working intensively to deliver carbon emissions reductions through - among other activities - reducing deforestation and replanting native forests. Here is the final video:


Check it out... Go to Google and click the link... while it lasts.

And a hearty Metro Green salute to Google for the effort and the intention.

UPDATE: As of this afternoon, the folks at Google had removed both the green and white flag draped over their logo and the symbolic global consciousness solidarity link from their main search page. But the videos can still be accessed via the "Google Earth" hyperlink in paragraph 2 above.

If that's too much effort, here it is again: Google Earth

Friday, November 27, 2009

A way to live....


Back to the land.


Perfect for Thanksgiving.
A way to eat,
a way to teach children,
a way to live.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shhhh... Don't tell Shai Agassi: Electric cars are so two-minutes ago...

Meet the GMC hydrogen-powered Hy Wire:



Exhaust product? Water.
I can live with that.

UPDATE:
After posting the above, Metro Green received an email from our favorite Austin, Texas-based genius/expert who responded as follows:
A good healthy dose of skepticism is needed. Before buying into any Detroit or Big US automotive lures, check what the real world leaders are already doing (not claiming).

For instance, check this out: The Honda Clarity is on the road NOW, 10-20 years ahead of GM’s latest 10-20 year mirage.

GM’s Car of the Future? Yep, always 10-20 years in the future, for the last 50 years. My guess is that GM has timed this PR splash to coincide with their request for another 30 or so BILLION of taxpayer money.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Detroit 3 to do anything innovative; if they had anything to offer but yet another concept car, and a bunch of PR the automotive world would look a lot different today.


If you haven't visited the link above, here's a sneak peek:


Reality? I can live with that...even better.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shai Agassi & Better Place: Making Electric Cars Practical

Back in March, Metro Green introduced readers to Shai Agassi and his Better Place; an ambitious concept for electric cars and for developing the support network and infrastructure needed to make them practical alternatives to petroleum-based internal combustion engines.

An innovative master stroke, Agassi proposes overcoming the range limitations of "traditional" battery-powered cars first by redesigning and standardizing the automobile's power plant (e.g. battery packs) then constructing an international - even a global - network of support stations (like the gas/service stations of old) that would be called charging stations but their method would offer a little-or-no-wait process wherein rather than recharge the customer's battery while he/she waits up to 2 to 3 hours, the Better Place service facilities would simply slide out the discharged battery and replace it with one that is fully-recharged. According to Agassi's proforma, if car manufacturers cooperate and actually standardize both the batteries and their housings, the exchange process should take no longer than filling a tank with gas.

Six months later, Mr. Agassi continues to pursue his vision and investors continue to support his projects. Today's Parade Magazine had a small feature about Agassi, Better Place and the future of this particular vision for the transformation from gas to electric:
Making Electric Cars Practical
Shai Agassi is the founder and CEO of Better Place, a company with plans to bring affordable electric cars to the U.S. by 2012.

Q & A by Brooke Lea Foster/Parade Magazine

What does Better Place do?
We’re an energy network for electric cars. We don’t make the cars—we’re working with Renault to do that—but we’ll build a network of stations and charging spots so that people can use them. Think of us as the equivalent of AT&T for electric cars.

Why don’t more people drive electric cars?
It’s a question of the chicken and the egg. Until now, nobody produced these cars, so there was no energy network in place. But if you don’t set up a network, nobody buys the cars. It’s the same with cellphones—no one would buy the phones if there were no networks to support them.

How close are you to setting up a system in the U.S.?
We’re already running pilot programs in Northern California and Hawaii. We plan to build more than 10,000 charging spots in public areas in California and have them operating by 2012.

If Americans switch to electric cars, will we have enough energy to power them?
To drive 30 miles each day—the American average—you need 300 watts. That’s about the equivalent of having your computer or plasma TV turned on all day. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy showed you could power 200 million electric cars without a single change to the grid.

What’s happening in other countries?
Better Place is building charging stations in Denmark, Israel, and Australia. By the end of 2011, the networks will be open for consumers. China is moving very rapidly, investing billions in infrastructure. Once they get going, it will be extremely hard for the U.S. to catch up.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

From Stewart Brand's "We are as Gods, so we may as well get good at it," to...

...we are as Gods, and we HAVE to get good at it!

Legendary environmental activist and progenitor of the Whole Earth Catalog talks about climate change, global energy challenges, nuclear energy and some out-of-this-world resource prospects.

Couldn't figure out the embed code, but the video is HERE.
Below the video is Brand's essay on climate change which begins:

WE ARE AS GODS AND HAVE TO GET GOOD AT IT


About 40 years ago I wore a button that said, "Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?" Then we finally saw the pictures. What did it do for us?

The shift that has happened in 40 years which mainly has to do with climate change. Forty years ago, I could say in the Whole Earth Catalog, "we are as gods, we might as well get good at it". Photographs of earth from space had that god-like perspective.

What I'm saying now is we are as gods and have to get good at it. Necessity comes from climate change, potentially disastrous for civilization. The planet will be okay, life will be okay. We will lose vast quantities of species, probably lose the rain forests if the climate keeps heating up. So it's a global issue, a global phenomenon. It doesn't happen in just one area. The planetary perspective now is not just aesthetic. It's not just perspective. It's actually a world-sized problem that will take world sized solutions that involves forms of governance we don't have yet. It involves technologies we are just glimpsing. It involves what ecologists call ecosystem engineering. Beavers do it, earthworms do it. They don't usually do it at a planetary scale. We have to do it at a planetary scale. A lot of sentiments and aesthetics of the environmental movement stand in the way of that.

By all means, read the rest... I trust you'll find his take on nuclear energy as surprising as I did. For a more complete profile, visit this link at Edge.org.

For a brief bio of Stewart Brand, visit this page at The Third Culture.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Mood is Electric...


You may recall, in August Metro Green reported on the promise of the new 230 mpg gas/electric hybrid by GM called the Volt. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that, "Electric is the big buzz at the 63rd Frankfurt Auto Show this week, and nearly every major automaker has at least one on display."

Read the article here.

If anything were to be a harbinger...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"The Next 25 Years"

Not exactly breaking Metro Green news, but this fascinating conversation between Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman and Rocky Mountain Institute's Amory Lovins 2 years ago (8/07) is an extraordinary look at what the future may hold and how to approach - and support - the kinds of changes necessary for a sustainable global community.

An intensely thought-provoking 19 minutes of video:



If you find this as interesting as I did, you might browse the RMI video catalog. For more on this ground-breaking scientific think-tank cum research facility, visit the Rocky Mountain Institute online.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant."(h/t)



World leaders pay tribute...

The Telegraph reminds us of the divides EMK was able, in part, to bridge and of the disparate forces he was able to unify.

Good night, sweet prince,
and flights of angels
sing thee to thy rest.

UPDATE: At 8:59 (PST) this evening the following note from President Obama (info@barackobama.com) hit my inbox:
Terry -- Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy. For nearly five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity; in families that know new opportunity; in children who know education's promise; and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including me. In the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth and good cheer.

He battled passionately on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintained warm friendships across party lines. And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy. I personally valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've benefited as President from his encouragement and wisdom. His fight gave us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye.

The outpouring of love, gratitude and fond memories to which we've all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. For America, he was a defender of a dream. For his family, he was a guardian. Our hearts and prayers go out to them today -- to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family. Today, our country mourns. We say goodbye to a friend and a true leader who challenged us all to live out our noblest values.

And we give thanks for his memory, which inspires us still.

Sincerely,
President Barack Obama
A touching and appropriate tribute.

A very stirring Kennedy retrospective from The Boston Globe (published in 2003 - marking EMK's 70th birthday) by Charles S. Pierce: Kennedy Unbound. (h/t)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So, go on then, Professor... (or, "Torturing the data until it finally confesses")

More from Ian Plimer/Interviewed:

So go on then, Professor: What makes you sure that you’re right and all those scientists out there saying the opposite are wrong? ‘I’m a geologist. We geologists have always recognised that climate changes over time. Where we differ from a lot of people pushing AGW is in our understanding of scale. They’re only interested in the last 150 years. Our time frame is 4,567 million years. So what they’re doing is the equivalent of trying to extrapolate the plot of Casablanca from one tiny bit of the love scene. And you can’t. It doesn’t work.’

What Heaven And Earth sets out to do is restore a sense of scientific perspective to a debate which has been hijacked by ‘politicians, environmental activists and opportunists’. It points out, for example, that polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time; that extinctions of life are normal; that climate changes are cyclical and random; that the CO2 in the atmosphere — to which human activity contributes the tiniest fraction — is only 0.001 per cent of the total CO2 held in the oceans, surface rocks, air, soils and life; that CO2 is not a pollutant but a plant food; that the earth’s warmer periods — such as when the Romans grew grapes and citrus trees as far north as Hadrian’s Wall — were times of wealth and plenty.

All this is scientific fact — which is more than you can say for any of the computer models turning out doomsday scenarios about inexorably rising temperatures, sinking islands and collapsing ice shelves. Plimer doesn’t trust them because they seem to have little if any basis in observed reality.

‘I’m a natural scientist. I’m out there every day, buried up to my neck in sh**, collecting raw data. And that’s why I’m so sceptical of these models, which have nothing to do with science or empiricism but are about torturing the data till it finally confesses. None of them predicted this current period we’re in of global cooling. There is no problem with global warming. It stopped in 1998. The last two years of global cooling have erased nearly 30 years of temperature increase.’

This from the above caught me: "polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time;" Is there significance and meaning to that statistic? Clearly, Plimer is attempting to minimize (with geological perspective) the drama of the current glacial-polar-ice-melt phenomenon to which we are bearing witness.

Since I promised to share the fruits of my exploration with Metro Green readers, I must here say that, frankly, something comforted me about the notion that for 80% of the geologic time since our nascent planet heaved into existence, we didn't even have polar ice caps. So how big of a deal could the current "crisis" really be?

Not so fast there, Copernicus... Before you put your feet up on the Barca-lounger's foot rest and crank down the AC, how comforting is it really? Here's the beginning of a really interesting scientific piece on the history and geology of the polar ice caps. The article can be found at Polar Ice Caps - Polar Ice Caps And Geologic History:

Although the polar ice caps

have been in existence for millions of years, scientists disagree over exactly how long they have survived in their present form. It is generally agreed that the polar cap north of the Arctic Circle, which covers the Arctic Ocean, has undergone contraction and expansion through some 26 different glaciations in just the past few million years. Parts of the Arctic have been covered by the polar ice cap for at least the last five million years, with estimates ranging up to 15 million. The Antarctic ice cap is more controversial; although many scientists believe extensive ice has existed there for 15 million years, others suggest that volcanic activity on the western half of the continent it covers causes the ice to decay, and the current south polar ice cap is therefore no more than about three million years old.

At least five times since the formation of the earth, because of changes in global climate, the polar ice has expanded north and south toward the equator and has stayed there for at least a million years. The earliest of these known ice ages was some two billion years ago, during the Huronian epoch of the Precambrian era. The most recent ice age began about 1.7 million years in the Pleistocene epoch. It was characterized by a number of fluctuations in North polar ice, some of which expanded over much of modern North America and Europe, covered up to half of the existing continents, and measured as much as 1.8 mi (3 km) deep in some places. These glacial expansions locked up even more water, dropping sea levels

worldwide by more than 300 ft (100 m). Animal species that had adapted to cold weather, like the mammoth, thrived in the polar conditions of the Pleistocene glaciations, and their ranges stretched south into what is now the southern United States.

Not all that comforted yet? Me either. If, as is generally accepted, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, that 20% (stipulating Plimer's claim) of geologic time that the polar ice caps have been existence still represents roughly a billion years. More time even than it's been since the Cubs won the world Series. And, if you recall, according to Ed Mazria author of the 2030 challenge, a +2 to +6 deg. Celsius rise in global temperatures would melt enough polar ice to inundate the major population centers on both the east and west coasts of the United States. New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc., etc.

Unless Plimer is dead on about his statistical interpretation that the current and much-ballyhooed global warming trend ended in 1998, there's really not a great deal of comfort to be gleaned from the science.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Geology, Carbon and Metro Green (e.g. Mr. Non-Science-Guy) Trying to Sort Stuff Out

Every now and then we at Metro Green (well, actually, "I") become seized with an overwhelming urge to separate (or at least to educate myself enough to be able to separate) political propaganda from scientific fact. The last time I was so moved was during a hotly contested political campaign involving the uses of Colorado River water supplied by federal contract via the 335-mile-long Central Arizona Project canal to southern Arizona. The side I supported proposed enacting local legislation - The Water Consumer Protection Act - which would ban the direct delivery of chemically treated Central Arizona Project water to the potable water supply in the Tucson Metropolitan service area.

The Act allowed for numerous other productive uses of this important natural resource - including farming and agriculture, mining and industry, stream-bed and basin recharge - just not for direct delivery to water-users' taps and faucets for drinking.

The various campaigns (1995, 1997, 1999) in which I was involved and in which I played an important advocacy role were waged at ever-higher emotional pitches (as the carte blanche formerly enjoyed by the real estate development and business community began to evaporate and as its members felt more and more threatened) and by the time the issue was more or less settled about $1.5M had been spent by interests on both sides of the questions.

The goal - to once and for all settle the issue of surface water use in a region blessed with one of the largest and purest fresh-water aquifers in the world - was not achieved easily nor without lots of hard feelings on both sides; there were lots of political and bureaucratic casualties and - despite having essentially duked it out three different times - the subject to many remains as raw and unpleasant today as it was when the first experiment with direct delivery went horribly wrong in the Tucson service area back in 1992. (For some background, see here.)

We who have lived here all our lives can do little but resign ourselves to the axiomatic wisdom that in the desert, "Whiskey's fer drinkin' and water's fer fightin.'"

This is a somewhat long introduction to the topic at hand: With all this chatter about carbon pollution and the consequences of unchecked carbon emissions and minimizing carbon footprints, etc., etc., what scientific data is available about carbon to the average blogger-type person and can anything useful be learned from it?

I don't know much (e.g. "zero") about the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) but I did find their web page entitled "Frequently Asked Global Change Questions" quite instructive. It includes question such as:
Q. What percentage of the CO2 in the atmosphere has been produced by human beings through the burning of fossil fuels?
Q. Why is the sum of all national and regional CO2 emission estimates less than the global totals?
Q. What is the greenhouse effect? Is it the same as the ozone hole issue?
Q. Is it possible to reduce CO2 emissions without cutting back on the burning of fossil fuels? In other words, can higher efficiency or better technology reduce the impact of the consumption of fossil fuels?
And the question I was particularly interested in:
Q. Is it possible to separate the carbon and oxygen from CO2 as is possible with other molecules?
So, if at this point you find yourself inclined to do more of your own research, this is not a bad place to start. My questions have simply led to more questions which is, to me, the ideal nature of any intellectual inquiry.

Next, what about real scientists who dispute AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming)? Is it possible that the globe is warming (in cycle with phases of cooling - as it has for all of recorded geologic time) and it has absolutely nothing to do with what mankind does or doesn't do, burns or doesn't burn, drives or doesn't drive, etc?

Is that possible? Let's ask Australian geologist and best-selling author (Heaven and Earth - Global Warming, The Missing Science) Ian Plimer. Here are a couple of interviews with Plimer which I found arresting to the point of feeling compelled to wrestle these science questions to the mat prior to proceeding with the good fight.

Particularly the following of Plimer's assertions, quoted from a piece by James Delingpole writing for spectator.co.uk:
"‘The hypothesis that human activity can create global warming is extraordinary because it is contrary to validated knowledge from solar physics, astronomy, history, archaeology and geology,’ says Plimer, and while his thesis is not new, you’re unlikely to have heard it expressed with quite such vigour, certitude or wide-ranging scientific authority. Where fellow sceptics like Bjorn Lomborg or Lord Lawson of Blaby are prepared cautiously to endorse the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) more modest predictions, Plimer will cede no ground whatsoever. Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory, he argues, is the biggest, most dangerous and ruinously expensive con trick in history."
Obviously, I'm still exploring. And I will continue the exploration. After all, what's the use of advocating a major political sea-change if your position won't stand up to some good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed scientific scrutiny?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Smartest people in the country - Chu, Gore, Wm. Clinton, Boone Pickens, Reid, etc - nod in agreement...

...run America's six million plus 18-wheelers on natural gas.

According to the eponymously-titled Pickens Plan, to do so could cut foreign oil imports in half. Here's a video clip from the recent Natural Clean Energy Summit 2.0. The momentum appears to be building. Despite the long-term promise of electric vehicles, it's gratifying to see, at this summit, that none are promoting conversion of the trucking industry to electric power just yet. Today's electric motors will not power an 18-wheeler. But, apparently, natural gas will.

An impressive collection of luminaries at this table seem to concur. See what you think:



If you're up for some exploration, additional info on T. Boone Pickens and The Pickens Plan is available here and here.

For what it's worth, Boone Pickens impresed me enough to sign up for emails from his "Army headquarters" (All his emails all start: "Hey Army!")

My kinda guy.

UPDATE: Here's the latest propaganda... if you're so inclined:



UPDATE 2
: Are the possibilities for real? Here's a press release from last May issued by Kenworth Truck Company regarding it's client Border Valley Trading, a California agri-trucking company, that just replaced it's diesel fleet with 15 new Kenworth LNG(liquefied natural gas)-powered T-800s. Judge for yourself.

UPDATE 3: The Austin Statesman (newspaper) weighs in on T. Boone, The Pickens Plan and the Nat Gas Act with its September 16th editorial "Break the Curse of Oil Addiction." From the editorial:
Big rigs are constantly on the move, spewing fossil fuel emissions in their wake. Incentives for trucking companies to buy natural gas-burning vehicles would lessen dependence on foreign oil and contribute to cleaner air. Transmission and delivery costs would be miniscule when compared to the savings, Pickens said.

Though battery powered vehicles are hailed as the transportation future, batteries aren't practical for powering 18-wheelers, Pickens says, and there are transportation experts who concur...

Like the junkies we are, we promise to get clean after just one more fix. And so it goes until the next time OPEC dries up the supply and drives up the price of U.S. energy.

Rigs that burn natural gas may not be the whole solution, but that certainly is a move in the right direction.


UPDATE #4: From the Arizona Daily Star, October 16:

New compressed-natural-gas station opens

ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 10.16.2009

A Tucson Unified School District bus gets a fill-up with gas literally in gaseous form. On Thursday, Clean Energy Fuels Corp., the school district and the Pima Association of Governments/Tucson Clean Cities Coalition debuted the new natural-gas station at 1744 E. Winsett St., near South Kino Parkway. It's open to the public. At front, from left, bus driver Verlin Mosley, Jeff Ell of Tucson Young Professionals and county schools staff members Vaughn Croft and Curtis Dutiel observe the fueling process. The district, which has 70 CNG buses, is expected to be a large customer for the relatively clean-burning fuel, which is sometimes cheaper than gasoline. The station is operated by Clean Energy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Chevy Volt for 2010... 230 MPG?

Take a look at this item from CNN Money.com. It's a feature on the 2010 Chevy Volt. A promising sounding new automotive product combining the best in electric car technology with the most miserly and fuel efficient of traditional internal combustion engines. It's designed to begin using gas only after the car has gone around 40 miles. And with most day-to-day road trips averaging fewer than 40 miles round trip, the gas in this car's tank could last a long, long time.

(There's also a brief video presentation at the above link but, as of this posting, the embed function was disabled. If/when it returns, I'll embed the video for easier viewing.) Meantime, here's a YouTube info piece:



Being an old time ad guy I admit to having swooned a bit over GM's recent ad campaign with the tag line: "We're not going OUT OF BUSINESS, we're GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS."

Read the story. I guess some ad campaigns aren't all fluff and hooey after all. We at Metro Green wish GM all success with the new Volt and hope (and encourage) other car manufacturers to follow their lead.

Chevy Volt... the optional humor upgrade:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Live-blogging Al Gore / Repower America National Conference Call


RePower America's prearranged nationwide conference call... off to a late start (scheduled for 8:00 pm, Tuesday, June 23) by a few minutes. Steve Bouchard, veteran political strategist and Repower America Campaign Manager, intro.

Discusses new Waxman-Markey legislation and how overdue it is.

Promos phone poll following call to register support for the bill.

Introduces Vice President Al Gore at 5:08 PT:

AG: Begins with expression of gratitude for all the Repower America members. Ideal timing: Final obstacle for a floor vote on the Waxman-Markey bill has been removed and legislation will come up for a vote this week, Friday, in the US House of Representatives. So this is a timely opportunity for calling members of Congress.

AG: This is the moment. This new legislation is an important first step. It achieves real reductions in carbon emissions... below the levels stipulated for 2020. The vote is on Friday. Refers to the siginificance of the passage of Obama's Green Stimulus Bill. This next bill is another key step toward reducing GHG emissions. (AG) Solicits volunteers to call members of Congress.

Passage sends a signal around the world that we in the United States are indeed serious about reducing GHG emissions. House Energy & Commerce Committe voted 33 to 25 in favor of this bill. Unheard-of success in bringing clean energy legislation to the House floor... unthinkable only 2 or 3 years ago. This is the time to get the House of Representatives fully on board. Hearing from constituents will get house members over their "fear" that this does not have universal support.

(AG) Reality is our strong ally. The opposition has only discredited information and data to use in lobbying against Waxman-Markey. This bill, plus the stimulus investment, will result in 1.7 million new jobs in the green energy and technology sectors.

Launched a new RePower America TV ad last week.



1) Stay on call following this message to record a message to your congressperson;
2) Lobby your friends and family to contact their representatives;

Steve Bouchard, Thank you Mr. Vice President. Press 1 on your phone to volunteer; stay on this line for prompts to leave a message for elected representaive.

I recorded a brief message encouraging my congressional representative, Gabrielle Giffords (D, Az) to vote "Aye" this Friday in support of the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill.

Call or write to your congressional representatives and encourage them to do the same.

UPDATE: This "National Conference Call with the Former Vice President" was, after a night to sleep on it and some reflection, a tad less substantive and inspiring than I'd hoped it would be. Still, glad to have been part of it.

And in case you didn't read through the bill at the link above and are as yet unfamiliar with the tenets of this newly proposed piece of legislation from Senators Waxman and Markey, here's the link again: Waxman/Markey Bill in convenient bullet points.

Do read through it and, please, lend your support.

UPDATE #2: Repower America sign-up link. And a new video message from Vice President Gore:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tucson, AZ - Clean Energy Jobs Day - a MoveOn.org event



Last month, I attended an informative, inspiring and very-well-organized event hosted by MoveOn.org featuring four prominent Tucson, AZ business projects - united by the sustainability theme. The event, (essentially a half-day tour) called Clean Energy Jobs Day, began at The Solar Store (one of Tucson's oldest retailers of solar energy products) with short rousing speeches by Southern Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D, Az), Tucson Vice Mayor Steve Leal (D), Tucson City Councilwoman Karen Uhlich (D) and Solar Store President Katherine Kent.

Among other things, the event was organized to rally support for additional federal green-jobs legislation (and the stimulus money to fund it) by introducing the local community to diverse, pioneering, successful projects and businesses that have provided significant leadership in green technology, sustainability in architectural design, green cooperative technical trades contractors and even in the food-services business. The tour ended at a fully solar-powered pizza parlor - Brooklyn Pizza - whose rooftop 82-panel PV grid - during the heat of the day - was not only powering the pizza ovens, the air conditioners, the beer coolers and the food-storage freezers, it was doing so while returning .72 kWh of green electrons back into the grid - the net effect of which was to run UniSource Energy's specially-designed feed-in electric meter backwards, providing a cost-saving credit onto the restaurant's electric bill.

Most impressive was the tour of legendary Tucson green pioneer builder/developer John Wesley Miller's award-winning downtown barrio renovation project Armory Park del Sol. Adjacent to - and just south of - downtown Tucson in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, the project's plat stipulates roughly 100 single family residences, all designed to maximize renewable energy sources - PV electric, solar hot water, thermal mass energy production - to recycle grey water, to optimize insulation and to minimize energy leakage and other forms of waste.

All in all, it was a very impressive tour and an inspiring reminder of both the possibilities and the delights of looking at business and enterprise from the perspective of sustainability using clean, green, carbon free renewable energy.

Look for a follow-up on John Wesley Miller here at Metro Green... coming soon.

In which we at Metro Green salute the courage of those marching in the streets of Tehran. We stand with you and wish you freedom.

Though I'd heard it earlier today, a friend just emailed me the text of Obama's newly-released formal statement on the Iranian uprising. I am particularly moved by his MLK quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Obama calls on Iran to 'stop all violent and unjust actions'
Obama directly addresses the Iranian government for the first time after a day of violence in Iran:
"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

Martin Luther King once said - “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."
By all and any means.

UPDATE: "Clerical Error." Best Iran-related headline to date. (h/t)

UPDATE #2: Thomas Friedman provides a well-crafted explanation/analysis of the current political situation in Iran in his op/ed Bullets and Barrels.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Poetry of Paul Hawken's (Commencement Address)

You Are Brilliant and the Earth is Hiring!



Paul Hawken is a friend of CharityFocus, renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, founder of Wiser Earth and author of many books -- most recently Blessed Unrest.

In May, when he was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University of Portland, he delivered this superb commencement address.

Here's just one little gem from this extraordinary speech:

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food - but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

A tad later come this:
We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering
This is as Metro Green as it gets, and full of the kind of inspirational morality and poetic authority that leads armies into battle.

My favorite of the many, many magnificent notions and turns-of-phrase in this address is Hawken's simple assertion, "Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich."

Go ahead. Read the rest. It's a 10 out of 10. (And in case you missed it above, here's the link to Hawken's speech one more time.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Van Jones on NOW/PBS - Green Collar Jobs


While in Austin, Texas last week, I caught David Brancaccio's NOW segment on PBS. He was interviewing Van Jones, author (The Green Collar Economy), environmental activist, founder of "Green for All," an environmental group dedicated to bringing green jobs to the disadvantaged, and recently-appointed special advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Jones is passionate, articulate and well-versed in the broad lexical vocabulary of sustainability.

Now that he has the President's ear, will Jones be creating a new career frontier for America? Let's hope so.

This is an inspiring and encouraging segment... especially for those eager to transition into the green(er) jobs market:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The Three Rs" by Mitchell Musso

My six (soon-to-be-seven) year old son Xander showed me this kids vid. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.
So very Metro Green. Enjoy:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Grand Canyon Goes Solar


Some may consider this blog unduly Arizona-centric and they may have a point. If it is so, (and surely it is), doubtless it's because I live in Tucson in the southern part of the Grand Canyon State and am particularly attuned to Metro Green activities here in my own back yard.

Here's a cool one:

Having been a professional musician for many, many years and having played at virtually all the lodges in Grand Canyon Village (including Bright Angel, Maswik and El Tovar), the following news item in this morning's paper caught my eye and struck me as particularly Metro Green:

Arizona Daily Star: Business
Grand Canyon goes solar
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 05.19.2009

Phoenix-based Arizona Public Service Co. has installed 84 photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Grand Canyon National Park Visitor Center and on ground-mounted platforms next to the building.
The panels will produce 18 kilowatts of electricity, enough to offset 30 percent of the center's power needs. APS, the state's largest utility, said the site creates the opportunity to educate more than 4.5 million visitors to the Canyon's South Rim each year about renewable energy.
Funding for the project came from APS customers through a state-approved surcharge for renewable energy programs.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

House OKs $6.4B for schools that are greener


It's a start!

Associated Press: WASHINGTON — The House passed a multiyear school construction bill Thursday with the ambitious goals of producing hundreds of thousands of jobs, reducing energy consumption and creating healthier, cleaner environments for the nation's schoolchildren.
Opponents, almost all Republicans, objected to the cost associated with the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act. The cost would be $6.4 billion in the first year with similar outlays approved over the next five years.
It passed 275-155, and now goes to the Senate, which did not act after the House passed similar legislation last year.
The situation has changed this year. While then-President George W. Bush threatened to veto the measure, objecting to a costly new school construction program, President Obama made school improvement projects an element of his economic stimulus initiative.
The bill would provide states with money to make grants and low-interest loans so school districts could build, modernize and repair facilities to make them healthier, safer and more energy-efficient. The funds would be allotted under a formula based on a district's share of students from low-income families, but the bill guarantees that every district that receives federal money for low-income students will get at least $5,000.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Transition Town Japan: Hidetake Enomoto

Hidetake Enomoto: A very soft-spoken, sensible and forward thinking young man.


Transition Town Japan: Hidetake Enomoto from UNUChannel on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stand By Me

Though some may dispute, it just doesn't get any more Metro Green than this:

Enjoy.




UPDATE: OK, maybe it does get more Metro Green:



UPDATE 2: Interested in more? Check it out here: Playing For Change.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

TerraCycle - Near Perfect Eco-Capitalism

Caught a glimpse of a National Geographic TV special featuring TerraCycle, a company that makes all its products from waste. All its products. Every part of everything, recycled, upcycled, repurposed, reused.

Check it out:



(As of this posting, their website (www.terracycle.net) was down so no link can be provided at the moment. But I'll update this post with a link when their site comes back up.)

UPDATE: Here's the link to www.terracycle.net.

UPADTE 2: From the TerraCycle home page: Terra-Ific!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009 - Kids Edition


I want to take a minute on this Earth Day 2009 to acknowledge the efforts of elementary educators (everywhere, really, but particularly those under whose influence my children fortunately fall) in whom I've seen a commendable dedication to spreading the word about sustainability, recycling, respect for the earth and all the elements that will enrich their imaginations and spur them to green living, thinking and action.

You may even recall this March 13th Metro Green post about Project Rescue, a "play" my 3rd-grade daughter's combined classes staged.

The image above is the cover of an elementary education news publication produced by Time, Inc. called "Time For Kids. This week's issue, titled "Green Schools," features articles on resource conservation (particularly water and electricity), trash recycling, photo-voltaics and solar collection, and even a charming little piece on composting, which, for the benefit of the first-graders, exaggerates the "ewww!" factor by describing how "worm poop is mixed with soil."

On the back a little "test" challenges kids to study a schoolyard illustration and then circle all the "Earth-smart choices" they see and "X" all the things they see that should be changed.

My son and I went over it together and he was sufficiently inspired to urge us to observe another Earth Hour tonight before bed. So we did, thoroughly revisiting the camaraderie we had shared on March 28th when we'd offed all the lights and snuggled together outside looking at the stars and talking about what it means to be kind to Mother Earth.

Tonight before bed we read together a poem called "Mother Earth Needs Your Help" by Tonda Rae Nalle that my son's first-grade teacher had sent home in his backpack:

Our world is a large and beautiful place,
But soon we will run out of space
For all our litter trash and cans.
So let's start now and lend our hands
To clean up our roadsides, parks, and streams.
It's not as impossible as it seems.
Our world will remain a beautiful place
And future generations won't run out of space.

Recycling is a lesson learned
From Mother Nature, who in turn,
Will teach us if we only try
To recycle the things we use and buy.
If we all work hard and do our share
Our world will survive because we care.
Admittedly, not Shakespeare, but a lovely little message to send home with the kids as the effects and the effectiveness of each progressive Earth Day become more and more critical to the health of the planet and to the quality of our lives on it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Sunday NY Times Magazine - The Green Issue


For those coming late to the party, pick up a copy of last Sunday's (April 19) New York Times. Pull out the magazine and you'll find what's being called the Green Issue. For those who prefer investigating online: The Green Mind. (May be behind a subscription wall... but I believe registration is free).

Of greatest note here at Metro Green is the Times' focus study of Shai Agassi and his visionary efforts to promote electric cars with interchangeable batteries. Batteries Not Included is an in-depth look at the progress Agassi has been making with his Better Place concept for the operating mechanisms of viable all-electric car transportation. Metro Green readers will remember Agassi from our March 23rd post entitled "E=MC2 for E value "Electric" (as in car)..." Central to the topic of electric cars is this puzzling conundrum:
"The most advanced electric car currently for sale, the Tesla Roadster, runs for no more than 250 miles on a charge, and others can do only 50 miles or so; then they require two or more hours of plug-in time to recharge. The problem of refueling is so significant that fans of electric cars have a phrase for it: range anxiety, the nagging fear that you’ll run out of juice before you can find a charge spot and be stranded at the side of the road. It is the major reason that most Americans, even as they cheer on the development of low- or no-emissions vehicles, are leery of actually buying one. And if people won’t buy them, carmakers won’t make them."
It is the single question best answered thus far by Agassi's Better Place battery changing stations. Author Clive Thompson also updates our original essay touting in summation the recently-committed Obama stimulus plan's $2.4B in development grants for electric cars and plug-in electric hybrids.

Jon Gertner also has a worthwhile psycho-social inquiry into the nature of our struggle to get 100% behind sustainability efforts and the green lifestyle in his essay "Why Isn't The Brain Green?"

All in all a very worthwhile read and what better way to ring in April 22nd: Earth Day 2009?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Congress for the New Urbanism

Metro Green acknowledges and salutes Congress for the New Urbanism, a non-profit (501(c)(3) corporation) think tank dedicated to sustainability at the urban (city/neighborhood) level. From their "Who We Are" web link:

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is the leading organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl. CNU takes a proactive, multi-disciplinary approach to restoring our communities. Members are the life of the organization – they are the planners, developers, architects, engineers, public officials, investors, and community activists who create and influence our built environment, transforming growth patterns from the inside out. Whether it's bringing restorative plans to hurricane-battered communities in the Gulf Coast, turning dying malls into vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods, or reconnecting isolated public housing projects to the surrounding fabric, new urbanists are providing leadership in community building.

Our relationship with our members allows us to do more than just talk about the problems of the built environment. Together, we are creating tools that make it easier to put New Urbanism into practice around the world.


In March, CNU's John Norquist testified before Congress earning a cooperative response from Obama administration officials:

"...bringing a message about how federal investments in integrated networks of walkable streets and public transportation will strengthen communities, bolster regional economies and dramatically reduce carbon emissions and other environmental impacts. “For thousands of years, urban thoroughfares were used for commerce, movement, and social interaction,“ says Norquist. “Only in the 20th century did engineers start to think that traffic should be segregated from other activities. Increasingly though, Americans are turning away from the isolation of automobile-dependent areas and choosing to live in neighborhoods with traditional walkable street networks. Federal policies should reflect the choices people are making. The time for grade-separated highways as the centerpiece of federal transportation policy has come and gone.“

Two key Obama Administration officials sounded similar themes in a remarkable joint appearance before the same subcommittee yesterday: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary Shaun Donovan of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The two cabinet officials used the joint appearance to announce a Sustainable Communities partnership “to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs.“ Although CNU and other reform organizations are eager to work with both agencies to put meat on the bones of these aspirations, the plans coming from both departments are highly promising. The NRDC's Kaid Benfield provides highlights of what's planned under this partnership in a posting at CNU's group blog:

“One of my highest priorities is to help promote more livable communities through sustainable surface transportation programs,” concluded Secretary LaHood yesterday.

Further exploration into the activities of CNU (and membership in the organization!) could prove useful and productive as we move forward toward a sustainable future. Kudos to the Obama administration for responding so positively to community-generated leadership.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Plastic Plague

A very strong new blog called "Say No To Plastic..." makes a powerful case for the adverse impacts of non-biodegradable plastics on our global ecosystems. Though they don't cite their reference sources, if the following "quick facts" list is accurate, alarm bells should be sounding... from one end the planet to the other:

QUICK FACTS ON PLASTIC POLLUTION

* A plastic milk jug takes 1 million years to decompose. ONE!


* A plastic cup can take 50 - 80 years to decompose.


* Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR.


* Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1 million sea creatures every year.


* Today, Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste a year but recycle only 1 or 2 % of it.


* An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash, much of it plastic is dumped in the world’s oceans every year.


* The worldwide fishing industry dumps an estimated 150,000 tons of plastic into the ocean each year, including packaging, plastic nets, lines, and buoys.


* Each of us creates 1,500 lbs of trash every year that has to be disposed of . . . much of it could be recycled.


* Every year we make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap the state of Texas.

Now, take a look at what's happening in a region of the Pacific Ocean (between San Francisco and Hawaii) called the North Pacific Gyre:

Recycle all the plastic bottles you possibly can. If the local grocer uses plastic bags, create a recycling box or bin and from time to time return them to the store. The urgency of dealing with this plastic plague cannot be understated. Unchecked, it will eventually find its way onto our dinner plates... if it hasn't already.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If you REALLY love tofu... a bit of Metro Green humor

I don't ordinarily watch (or pay much attention to) Fox News but this story made me laugh out loud. Was it the subject matter or the deeply "challenged" news anchors? Hard to say, but on the eve of tax day... here, for your quasi-green amusement:

Monday, April 13, 2009

If Westwood, NJ can do it, what's stopping the rest of us?

Westwood, New Jersey... rethinking how an entire town operates. Sever ties with traditional energy? Why not? Garbage trucks running on bio-diesel? Hybrid cop cars? But of course! Wind turbines, solar panels and the installation of a hydro-generator on a nearby river? Obviously!

It's all in the works and Westwood City Hall is 100% on board. And the movement is generating considerable accolades and attention beyond the city limits.

Shows what leadership, political will and community buy-in can accomplish in a town not unlike say, for example... yours.

Video clip from CBS News this morning:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Saturday, April 11, 2009

5 Ways To Monitor Energy And Money Use


Dave Burdick writing the other day at Huffington Post had this interesting column on monitoring energy consumption and how to measure the direct expense. Self-explanatory and posted without further comment:

We all know we need to use less energy to save money. But we work best with goals -- how much energy, exactly, should we save? Easier to work in dollars, right?

Well, Michael Graham Richard over at Planet Green reports that there's an easy conversion:

Eric Drexler, a great scientist and engineer who also recently started blogging, noticed something interesting about the average electricity rate in the US ($0.115 per kilowatt-hour): One watt for one year costs one dollar.


Why is this interesting? Because most of us aren't really good at estimating our energy usage and what part of our electricity bill comes from what.

So, armed with that knowledge, here's how to get started monitoring the speed at which money and energy are leaving your home.

Coolest ways to monitor your energy use:

KILL-A-WATT and KILL-A-WATT EZ
Plug it in, plug your appliances into it and do some math (or don't, with the EZ model) -- and you'll know how many watts you're using.

TWEET-A-WATT
Monitor energy use from afar! Maybe you want to spy on your roommates to make sure they don't crank the A/C while you're out of town. Or maybe you're less crazy and you just wonder about natural fluctuations during the day. Either way, combining Kill-A-Watt and Twitter can keep you posted on your appliances' energy draw.

THE METER READER
Where Kill-A-Watt reports on energy use of specific appliances, the Meter Reader (runs about $200) will monitor your whole home's energy use.

WATTSON
An incredibly cool (and immodest, if you watch the video) device that monitors home energy use via your home's energy meter. It's like the Meter Reader, but looks much cooler -- and it knows it.

TATTLETALE HOUSE
This is not for your average consumer, but it's pretty incredible. When this house uses too much energy, the whole world knows -- because big, illuminated orbs outside the house will glow red!

We all know we need to use less energy to save money. But we work best with goals -- how much energy, exactly, should we save? Easier to work in dollars, right? Well, Michael Graham Richard over at P...
We all know we need to use less energy to save money. But we work best with goals -- how much energy, exactly, should we save? Easier to work in dollars, right? Well, Michael Graham Richard over at P...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Oh God, here they come...

Did You Know? & 2.0

Not exactly Metro Green, but since Aristotle held "the swift perception of relations" to be "the hallmark of genius," here is an interesting primer in global economic, social and cultural relativity, just so... you know... we can all be geniuses. (Some redundancies, but both videos are worth watching & absorbing).



Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Adaptive Reuse - Podcast: Kirsten Ritchie on Green Biz Radio


Adaptive Reuse is the term given to the retrofitting and repurposing of existing buildings to minimize new construction while maximizing energy conservation in the satisfaction of our demand for space.

This podcast, features Kirsten Ritchie, director of sustainable design with Gensler, the international architecture, design and planning firm based in San Francisco. In this interview from mid January, Ritchie talked with Green Biz Radio Associate Editor Leslie Guevarra about adaptive reuse — a practice that gives new life to old buildings.

Here's how it began:
LG: Please talk to us about adaptive reuse. Why are we hearing more and more about this strategy these days?

KR: Well, certainly, I'd love to chat about it with you. But what I'd first would like to do for our listening audience is to have them understand what adaptive reuse is. Or when we use that term, what we believe is.

Adaptive reuse is where you're actually taking an existing building and you're repositioning its function. So for example, you have a situation where you had an old manufacturing plant and you're transforming it to use as a commercial office. We have that example right here in our offices in San Francisco where we are located in the old Hills Brothers Coffee Building and it was originally a coffee plant built in the turn of the century. Now it has wonderful commercial offices in it.

Another example would be for our Ferry Building, which of course, was originally built as a terminal for all the ferries that were plowing the Bay. And now it is a wonderful market hall.

So when talking about adaptive reuse, that's what we mean. We mean taking a building and really repurposing it for use that is popular and needed in today's marketplace.

So why are we hearing so much about adaptive reuse? You see it in the newspapers, of course a lot on the design magazines, a lot in the development area.

And the reason for that is first of all, we have a huge amount of existing building stock and we need to be smarter about using it. Particularly if you look at the older buildings, they have wonderful bones from a design perspective. They have high floor-to-floor ceiling heights that allow us to bring in a lot of natural daylight. It allows for good circulation systems, it allows you to optimize how you set up your lighting systems.

And of course, the buildings themselves are pretty strong, sturdy buildings. They've been around so long and they have a lot of materials in them and you want to take advantage of that.

Also, buildings in particular that were built in the earlier part of the century were designed to optimize their performance in what we call the passive state. That is, being able to take advantage of solar orientation and wind and natural ventilation because we didn't have such reliance that we do now on mechanical systems for our comfort. So they're very smartly designed buildings.

The only thing is that their use or what they were originally designed for is no longer needed. And so what you now want to do is say how can I take this building that's, for example, plunked down in the middle of a city, an old manufacturing plant, and take advantage of it because we need housing or we need offices or we need hotels. And can we use these buildings to provide that function?

And the answer is absolutely yes. And so we're really looking to get so much smarter about repositioning and reusing and adapting the use of these buildings to meet needs that we have in the marketplace right now.
In this conversation, Ritchie explores the impacts of - and the long-term implications for - repurposing the "built environment" and concludes it is of necessity that adaptive reuse becomes the standard for how we approach our need for space - to live, work and play in - in the years and decades ahead.

LG: Now, we're talking about ways to transform the built environment. And it sounds like this is part of the same extended family of strategies that could include industrial infills and retrofits.

KR:
What you're looking at from an adaptive reuse perspective is saying, if we really want to do something about our energy consumption and we really want to do something about the carbon issue, we have to get, we have to improve the performance of the existing building stock big time. We have over 300 billion square feet of buildings in the United States that are already built and we have a lot of great green rating systems that are out there kind of more focused on new construction.

To get our energy down, we've got to go after those 300 billion square feet of existing building and by going into an existing building, adapting its reuse, improving its performance, being smarter about how you manage — for example, manage daylight and provide thermal comfort, we can significantly reduce the energy consumption associated with the operating of that building as well.

UPDATE: More on Gensler; awarded Green Space Today's February 2009 Firm of the Month.
See photos of Gensler's award-winning adaptive reuse designs and new project build-outs. And more from Sustainable Design Director Kirsten Ritchie.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mat Stein's Environmental "Ponzi Scheme" Analogy

Writing at Chelsea Green (originally posted at The Huffington Post), Mat Stein has drafted a Metro Green eye-opening tour de force - titled "We're Running Our World Like a Ponzi Scheme" - in which he reflects on the nature of our consumerism and compares it to a giant Ponzi scheme that will ultimately collapse, leaving future - but not so distant - generations holding little more than the heated sands of a ruined landscape and a barely habitable world.

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that promises, and delivers (at least for a while) exceptionally high and consistent financial returns to investors. These returns are paid to its investors from their own money, and the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned by bona fide income generating investments (such as manufacturing, mining, or rental income). In ways similar to "pyramid schemes" or "chain letters", in order for a Ponzi scheme to work, it must continuously attract an ever increasing pool of investment from unsuspecting customers, in order to provide an ever increasing supply of money to draw upon to maintain payments to its ever increasing pool of investors. The trick is to promise such glorious results that the greed factor overcomes its victim's common sense as they turn a blind eye to the fact that the scheme lacks a solid foundation and can't go on forever. It is absolutely critical to the success of all Ponzi schemes that an aura of respectability and impeccability be maintained for as long as possible, for as soon as suspicions spread concerning the fraudulent nature of the business, new investments dry up and the Ponzi scheme collapses, since it has no source of true earned income with which to maintain payments to investors.

So, is it true that we are running our planet like a Ponzi scheme? And if this is true, does it mean that we must inevitably face collapse, as all Ponzi schemes must eventually end in catastrophe?

The illusion that the "Free Market" is the logical savior of our world has been maintained by the promise of riches and an ever increasing standard of living and lifespan that has been demonstrated by the industrialized world for the past several hundred years. On the surface, who can look at the apparent success of America, and not come to that quick conclusion? However, when you look deeper, you will find that this success is built on a business model based upon exponential growth, and that this growth must be fed by a similar exponential growth in consumption of energy, natural resources, raw materials, and in the continuous expansion to new markets. All of this is well and good when the world has an abundant supply of undeveloped lands and unused resources, but it starts coming apart as that same world approaches its natural limits to growth and consumption.

To summarize Stein's model, the environmental Ponzi Scheme promotes and promises a future dependent on necessary, life-sustaining assets - such as forests, oceans, the atmosphere, fresh waters and other vital resources - that simply will NOT be in place or available when the generation it is being sold to tries to collect. Stein makes a very persuasive case for the consequences of depleting these resources and then asserts:

If the previous list is not enough to convince yourself that we are operating a giant Ponzi scheme, and that we are running out of new sources of energy, untapped markets, and raw materials to keep it running, then the following two figures should open your eyes.



The second figure shows us that back in the mid 1980's, when our world had just over half its current population, we first exceeded the capacity of our planet to continuously supply us with the food and raw materials that we consume, and to process our wastes. What this means, is that we have been consuming our planet's resources faster than they regenerate, and polluting its natural systems faster than they can recover. This "drawing down" of our resources, is essentially spending the money from investors (all of us) in this Ponzi scheme, and when the remaining "money" (the natural resources and ecosystems of our world) can't support the payments anymore, it will most certainly collapse!

Unfortunately, it's going to take more than minor changes in the way we do business to get off this giant Ponzi scheme. It will not be easy, but I do believe it is doable. For a good idea of what it is going to take to make the shift to sustainability and get off this Ponzi scheme, see my prior Huff Post blog, 12 Tips for the Sustainability Shift.