Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Comic Relief From Steven Colbert... plus the greening of Bellingham, WA

(h/t to Barry Katz at "the future is green"... an excellent blog site)

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Prescott Oil Loves the Earth
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

After a good chuckle, read Barry's recent guest post on the greening of Bellingham, Washington by Mayor Daniel Pike. Here's a sample of the Mayor's post:
As a community, we share the challenges and joys common to most communities: tough finances, a rising unemployment rate, businesses struggling, but also a shared sense of place and connection with our neighbors. What makes us a little different from the mainstream, though, is our commitment to a triple bottom line, or TBL, approach to the issues before us. In Bellingham, the conversations are not about jobs versus the environment, rather the community talks about how to grow better. This is a community whose ethos receives notice from authors such as Bill McKibben and Paul Hawken, and that National Public Radio’s “Marketplace,” in its Nov. 15, 2008 broadcast, described Bellingham as “the epicenter of a new economic model for a post-consumerist economy: locally produced goods and services focused on what surrounding communities need and can sustain.”

And more:

Perhaps the most compelling opportunity we have put in practice as a Triple Bottom Line approach is our waterfront redevelopment project. The waterfront project is the largest waterfront redevelopment effort in North America, comprising about 220 acres on Puget Sound, on the site of an old pulp and paper mill. The redevelopment is one of a handful of national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design--Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) pilot projects. This approach steps beyond construction-specifics to include elements like reduced automobile dependence, housing and jobs proximity, access to active public spaces, and habitat conservation and restoration.

This is our opportunity to thoughtfully and intentionally design a new neighborhood that reflects our deepest values as a community – to make real the vision the community has been articulating and advocating for years

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Malmo, Sweden - On the Green Frontier

Three years ago, in an article titled Green living takes root in Sweden BBC News reported on the efforts of Malmo, Sweden and its green district Western Harbour. A portion of the BBC report from October 2006 follows:

Sustainability is the motto of the Western Harbour (Vaestra Hamnen) project in the southern city of Malmo. There are futuristic buildings sporting massive glass windows and glinting solar panels.But turn a corner and you find a green courtyard with a little pond and some modest timber structures that remind you of Swedish villages."I really like the diversity of houses - and they've made it easy here to live in a sustainable way," says Helena Parker, who was among the first to move into the area in 2001.

A former shipyard and industrial site is being turned into a green residential area based on 100% use of renewable energy.

The planners devoted plenty of space to greenery and water features. And there are no high-density tower blocks, except for the Turning Torso - a graceful 190m (627ft) skyscraper designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Parking space is limited to 0.7 cars per apartment, compared with the usual 1.1 for Malmo, and garages are underground.

Architect and planner Hans Olsson says the project drew inspiration from the plan of medieval Lund, a nearby town. "We wanted a human scale, small streets."

Taller buildings are on the outside, facing the sea and sheltering the inner spaces. Passages to the sea are narrow to keep the wind out.

Bo01 has an open drainage system which traps rainwater on numerous living green roofs, in courtyard ponds and open channels. That allows the water to run off slowly into a saltwater canal or the sea.

The ponds and canal not only look attractive - they provide habitats for wildlife, creating biodiversity.

Jon Andersson, energy coordinator for the project, says there were initial fears in Malmo that "exclusive" flats would be built, just for the rich.

But student flats account for 34% of the homes in Bo01 and there is also a retirement complex, while the seaside walkway is enjoyed by residents and non-residents alike.

A nearby 2MW wind turbine provides much of the electricity for Bo01, the rest coming from solar panels. Solar collectors on 10 of the buildings provide 15% of the heating, but a more important source is a heat pump connected to aquifers 90m (297ft) underground.

Oil-free future

The sustainable measures were backed by 250m kronor (£18.5m; $34m) from the Swedish government and 1.9m euros (£1.3m; $2.4m) from the EU.

Most of Sweden's electricity comes from nuclear and hydropower - but green solutions are part of a plan to wean the nation off oil. Housing accounts for about 40% of Sweden's energy consumption.

The energy-saving star of Bo01 is probably the small, well-insulated LB house, no more expensive to build than a conventional home.

Its energy consumption is 87kWh per sq m annually - compared with about 200kWh per sq m for some other buildings in Bo01.

Fast forward to 2009... and the news out of Malmo, as reported by the enterprising Maria Colena, is encouraging:

Western Harbour, a former shipyard now densely urban, runs on 100-percent renewable energy from sun, wind and hydropower, as well as biofuels generated from organic waste. Its buildings are constructed with sustainable materials and designed to be energy efficient, and its streets are pedestrian and cycle friendly -- 40 percent of commuters and 30 percent of all travelers go by bike [source: PV Upscale - Full report on Malmo at this link/pdf] .

Additionally, the restoration of the area of Sege Park, another eco-friendly transformation, will power the neighborhood with green energy sources including photovoltaics (solar electricity), wind power and biofuels.

­Augustenborg, a district that's been going green over the past decade, is known for its green roofing -- botanical roof gardens that reduce runoff and add insulation and vegetation to an urban neighborhood. Augustenborg is also home to the world's first emissions-free electric street trains, as well as more than a dozen recycling houses processing about 70 percent of collected waste [source: Ekostaden.com].

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happy Earth Hour!

Happy Earth Hour, mis companeros verdes!
One hour on March 28, 2009 from 8:30 to 9:30 pm with no electricity or light!

A thought-provoking effort and a moment (or hour) of refection for my kids and me. See you on the flip side. We at Metro Green would love to hear how you passed this momentous slice of time and what came up for you.

Here's a good video promo:

Enjoy. Meditate. Plan for change.
Each day we awake in a brand new world.

Best to you from
Metro Green.

Speedbumps on Green Highway

'Green' stimulus costs jobs, study says

By Gianluca Baratti

March 27 (Bloomberg) -- Subsidizing renewable energy in the U.S. may destroy two jobs for every one created if Spain’s experience with windmills and solar farms is any guide.

For every new position that depends on energy price supports, at least 2.2 jobs in other industries will disappear, according to a study from King Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget proposal contains about $20 billion in tax incentives for clean-energy programs. In Spain, where wind turbines provided 11 percent of power demand last year, generators earn rates as much as 11 times more for renewable energy compared with burning fossil fuels.

The premiums paid for solar, biomass, wave and wind power - - which are charged to consumers in their bills -- translated into a $774,000 cost for each Spanish “green job” created since 2000, said Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the university and author of the report.

“The loss of jobs could be greater if you account for the amount of lost industry that moves out of the country due to higher energy prices,” he said in an interview.

Spain’s Acerinox SA, the nation’s largest stainless-steel producer, blamed domestic energy costs for deciding to expand in South Africa and the U.S., according to the study.

“Microsoft and Google moved their servers up to the Canadian border because they benefited from cheaper energy there,” said the professor of applied environmental economics.

Getting down and dirty for squeaky-clean dishes

The Associated Press
SPOKANE, Wash. — The quest for squeaky-clean dishes has turned some law- abiding people in Spokane into dishwasher-detergent smugglers. They are bringing Cascade or Electrasol in from out of state because the eco-friendly varieties required under Washington state law don't work as well.

Spokane County became the launch pad last July for the nation's strictest ban on dishwasher detergent made with phosphates, a measure aimed at reducing water pollution. The ban will be expanded statewide in July 2010.
But it's not easy to get sparkling dishes when you go green.
Many people were shocked to find that products like Seventh Generation, Ecover and Trader Joe's left their dishes encrusted with food, smeared with grease and too gross to use without rewashing them by hand. The culprit was hard water, which is mineral-rich and resistant to soap.
As a result, there has been a quiet rush of Spokane-area shoppers heading east on Interstate 90 into Idaho in search of old-school suds.
Real estate agent Patti Marcotte of Spokane stocks up on detergent at a Costco in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and doesn't care who knows it.
"Yes, I am a smuggler," she said. "I'm taking my chances because dirty dishes I cannot live with."
(In truth, the ban applies to the sale of phosphate detergent — not its use or possession — so Marcotte is not in any legal trouble.)
Marcotte said she tried every green brand in her dishwasher and found none would remove grease and pieces of food. Everybody she knows buys dishwasher detergent in Idaho, she said.
Supporters of the ban acknowledge it is not very popular.

Phosphates — the main cleaning agent in many detergents and household cleaners — break down grease and remove stains. However, the chemicals are difficult to remove in wastewater treatment plants and often wind up in rivers and lakes, where they promote the growth of algae. And algae will gobble up oxygen in the water that fish need to survive.
While traditional detergents are up to 9 percent phosphate, those sold in Spokane County can contain no more than 0.5 percent.

Phosphates have been banned in laundry detergent nationally since 1993. Washington was the first state where the Legislature passed a similar ban against dishwasher detergents, in 2006. The ban is being phased in, starting with Spokane County.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reykjavik: Icelandic Green

Following yesterday's post on future green cities, here's some additional scholarship on a current one from Maria Colenso posting at How Stuff Works:

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the smallest amazing green city on our list, with only about 115,000 people living in the city and roughly 300,000 people in the entire country of Iceland. But its impact on the world has been impressive.

Reykjavik, Iceland has colorful rooftops and a green plan for power.
Gavin Hellier/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Reykjavik, Iceland has colorful rooftops and a green plan for power.

Iceland plans to unplug itself from all dependence on fossil fuels by 2050 to become a hydrogen economy. Already, Reykjavik (and all of Iceland) gets energy for heat, hot water and electricity entirely from hydropower and geothermal resources -- both of which are renewable and free of greenhouse gas emissions. Some vehicles even run on hydrogen, including three city buses.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

5 Green Cities of the Future

Writing for the online journal How Stuff Works, Maria Colenso has done an admirable amount of research and investigative reporting on what she (apparently) considers the 5 preeminent Transition or Green City projects either in the planning stages, currently under development or already up and running (5 Green Cities of the Future). They share the common theme of being waste free, transport efficient, wholly energy independent and minimizing carbon output.

Below, slightly abridged for space is her report.
"How do green cities help in the effort against climate change? Eco-cities all share similar characteristics: They aim to reduce or eliminate fossil-fuel use, adopt sustainable building practices, promote "green space" and clean air quality, implement energy-efficient and widely available public transportation, create walkable city designs and develop well-organized mixed-use neighborhoods that combine living, working and shopping. These qualities add up to sustainable urbanism.

Here we'll look at five green cities of the future -- some that have broken ground for construction, some that are still the ambitious aspirations of city planners -- all competing to be the first carbon-neutral city in the world."

5. San Francisco's Treasure Island, Calif.

Treasure Island's transformation to green is just another shade in its colorful history. The 400-acre (1.5-square-km) man-made island was built in the middle of San Francisco Bay for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. The ­land was intended to hold an airport after the Expo. Plans for the commercial airport never took off, though, after the Navy acquired the island during World War II. In 1996, the base was decommissioned, and since then, the island has been home to a deteriorating landscape and about 3,000 residents.

Under a new proposal, Treasure Island -- along with its neighbor Yerba Buena Island -- will become one of the most environmentally friendly developments in the United States when ground is broken in 2009.

The Treasure Island project will be a test bed for eco-friendly urban ideas. Some of the proposed green features include LEED-certified buildings, the reduction (or elimination) of storm water runoff, alternative forms of water treatment including artificial wetlands called Living Machines and a transit system that favors clean air vehicles over fossil-fuel chugging cars. A 20-acre (0.08 square-km) city-operated organic farm is planned in walking distance from the city center and will supply the projected 13,500 residents with locally produced foods. Solar and wind-farm power will provide energy; and by 2020, solar panels will cover 70 percent of rooftop space and will provide about 30 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually [source: ENN].

4. Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia, plans to be carbon-neutral by 2012. Its Dockside Green pro­ject brings that goal closer to realization. The environmentally sustainable plans for Dockside Green combine residential, commercial, light industrial and green space on 15 acres (roughly 0.06 square kilometers) of harbor-front land.
How will Dockside Green achieve its goal to be the first carbon-neutral community in North America? Through a combination of green solutions for buildings, transportation, energy and waste treatment.

Let's begin with buildings: Those of Dockside Green are being constructed with reclaimed wood from forests that were submerged by reservoirs. Energy-efficient appliances and fixtures (such as motion-sensing light switches), green roofs (rooftop gardens), and carbon footprint monitors (that allow residents to track their heat, energy and water use over time) are outfitted inside homes.

It's unlikely you'll find a car or two parked in driveways, either. Residents of Victoria, and now Dockside Green, take part in a clean-fuel and hybrid car-sharing program (even the cars are Smart). In addition, Dockside Green plans include bike and pedestrian paths, subsidized public transit and a harbor ferry.

Energy and waste treatment will be self-contained within Dockside Green. One hundred percent of waste will be treated on-site, and the treated water will be reused to flush toilets and irrigate gardens. A biomass-gasification plant will turn wood waste into energy for heat and hot water.

This innovative green community is under way currently, with the first of three neighborhoods opening in 2009. Upon completion, the entire community will be home to about 2,500 people. ­

3. Sherford, England

A b­owling green, a dedicated cricket playing field and an organic farm in the town's park -- sounds like a lovely, green place to live, yes? The future residents of Sherford, England, have these amenities to look forward to, along with a plethora of other green characteristics.
Sherford, in south Devon, is the eco-project of Prince Charles. It will be home to 12,000 people and is planned for completion by 2020. Royal advisors consider it Britain's greenest future community.

The proposed community will take advantage of cutting-edge green building designs and materials but will look like a traditional English town. Buildings will be constructed with sustainable materials gathered mostly from within a 50-mile (80-kilometer) radius of the site; water and sewer waste will be recycled.

Homes and workplaces alike will put their rooftops to work. The majority of buildings will have solar power systems, and vegetation will cover the roofs of commercial buildings. About half of Sherford's power will be supplied from renewable sources in the community: In addition to solar power, plans call for wind turbines.

Lastly, a walkable urban layout will put residences, retail stores and industry in close proximity, reducing the need for cars. In fact, cars will be banned from some areas of the town. Did we mention new homeowners receive a free bicycle? ­

2. Dongtan, China

China is on its way to being the world's worst offender in greenhouse gas emissions by 2009 [source: USA Today]. Yet there's an eco-oasis in the works on Chongming Island, near Shanghai. Chongming Island, roughly three-quarters the size of Manhattan, sits at the mouth of the Yangtze River and is poised to become home to one of the first carbon-neutral cities in the world: ­Dongtan.

Dongtan will grow in phases, with phase one (for between 10,000 and 25,000 residents) expected to be complete in time for the 2010 Shanghai Expo and the final phase complete by 2030 (for up to 500,000 residents). The city will be comprised of three neighborhoods called Marina, Lake and Pond, and will be designed with opportunities for all socioeconomic groups and many occupations in mind, including farming. Designated agricultural areas will use organic, sustainable farming methods.

It's the energy plan that makes Dongtan ambitiously green. The city will source its energy from a combination of solar and wind power, biofuels and recycled organic matter. There are no plans for landfills in Dongtan -- waste will be composted, processed and reused. Rooftops will be green with vegetation, which provides insulation. Only clean-fuel cars will be allowed on the island, and the abundant public transportation will run on hydrogen fuel cells. In addition, bike and pedestrian paths will snake through the city grid.

The city will only be built on three-quarters of Chongming Island. The remaining area is reserved as a protected ecological zone. To attain carbon-neutrality, Dongtan planners also expect to plant trees to offset emissions. ­

1. Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

No cars, no waste, no pollution. Doable? Such a city is slated to rise from the oil-rich grounds in Abu Dhabi. Masdar, which means "the source" in Arabic, is a $22-b­illion undertaking that could be the world's first carbon-neutral city [source: Masdar].

Masdar's sustainable urban development will take advantage of wind, hydrogen and solar-photovoltaic energy sources. Wastewater will be treated and recycled into irrigation systems.

In addition, Masdar's transportation goals are ambitious. Fossil-fuel burning cars are banned from the city in lieu of an electric personal light-rail system -- small, programmable cars that run only when you need to go somewhere, and a pedestrian-friendly city layout.

Masdar is already under construction and will develop over several phases, with completion expected in 2016 [source Inhabitat]. Up to 50,000 people are expected to live in Masdar, and the first residents will likely move in sometime during 2009 [CNET].

The time of the carbon-neutral city is upon us. And if these projects make the jump from paper to reality successfully, they might even earn a spot on our list of existing amazing green cities. ­

Monday, March 23, 2009

E=MC2 for E value "Electric" (as in car)...

In the title equation, when E stands for Electric (as in electric cars) the MC stands for Mucho Cash. Squared. Take a look at Aptera, a first-generation ultra space-aged three wheeled all electric car currently in production in California. At a penny per mile and plug-in-and-go recharge convenience, Aptera already has 1100 deposits and customers eagerly awaiting production & delivery of the sleekly aerodynamic $30K automotive innovation.

Check it out:

Aptera is by no means alone.

Meet Shai Agassi of BetterPlace.com speaking at a Web 2.0 summit. Agassi's new business model is based on all-electric cars with easy to charge and easy to swap out batteries running on highways served by an intercontinental, indeed international, network of charging/battery changing stations.

Agassi has raised an unprecedented $300M in seed and development capital and installations of his vision are already underway in Israel and in process in Hawaii.

The Better Place network will provide fully-automated battery exchange stations. These swap stations are designed to extend the driver’s journey beyond the 100 mile range of a fully-charged battery. Because most of today’s driving is within 40 miles of the home, a visit to one of these facilities will be infrequent when compared to the number of times we currently have to pull into a gas station.

These Better Place battery exchange stations are even more efficient and convenient than conventional gas stations. Each is roughly the size of your average living room. Like the charging spots, they are fully automated. A driver pulls in, puts the car in the neutral gear, and sits back. The battery exchange station does all the work. The depleted battery is removed, and a fully-charged replacement is installed. In under three minutes, the car is back on the road. It’s just like an automatic car wash, a quick, effortless, drive-through experience.

The battery exchange stations will be able to accommodate any Better Place-compliant vehicle. All manufactured batteries will be stocked so that any electric vehicle with a swappable battery, regardless of make or model, can pull in and be serviced.
I don't know about you but to me this looks suspiciously like the future.

UPDATE: Apparently Korea's Hyundai is getting into the act.
UPDATE #2: Introducing the Tesla S Electric to launch in 2011 at around $50K.
UPDATE #3: Even China is planning to give the US "Big Three" automakers a run for their money in the electric car market.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fusion or Illusion?

Writing last week in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman referred to fusion energy as The Next Really Cool Thing. On a recent visit to the auspiciously named National Ignition Facility, or N.I.F., at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 50 miles east of San Francisco, Friedman reports on touring a facility that could be what Metro Green likes to refer to as the Central Front in war on fossil fuel.
"Cynics often say that viable fusion energy or hydrogen-powered cars are “20 years away and always will be.”

But what if this time is different? What if a laser-powered fusion energy power plant that would have all the reliability of coal, without the carbon dioxide, all the cleanliness of wind and solar, without having to worry about the sun not shining or the wind not blowing, and all the scale of nuclear, without all the waste, was indeed just 10 years away or less? That would be a holy cow game-changer.

Are we there?

That is the tantalizing question I was left with..."
In case the fusion concept is new to you, here's Friedman's description:
I began my tour there with the N.I.F. director, Edward Moses. He was holding up a tiny gold can the size of a Tylenol tablet, and inside it was plastic pellet, the size of a single peppercorn, that would be filled with frozen hydrogen.

The way the N.I.F. works is that all 192 lasers pour their energy into a target chamber, which looks like a giant, spherical, steel bathysphere that you would normally use for deep-sea exploration. At the center of this target chamber is that gold can with its frozen hydrogen pellet. Once one of those pellets is heated and compressed by the lasers, it reaches temperatures over 800 million degrees Fahrenheit, “far greater than exists at the center of our sun,” said Moses.

More importantly, each crushed pellet gives off a burst of energy that can then be harnessed to heat up liquid salt and produce massive amounts of steam to drive a turbine and create electricity for your home — just like coal does today. Only this energy would be carbon-free, globally available, safe and secure and could be integrated seamlessly into our current electric grid.
But if the notion is not so far out, or far off, InventorSpot,
a website billing itself as "Serious Fun For The Inventor In All Of Us," brings realistic news from a European research facility, HiPER (High Power laser Energy Research):

Perhaps a lesser known alternative is nuclear fusion--the same process that fuels the sun and the stars. To hear its potential--a method that offers enough energy for the world's power, a limitless fuel supply, and no greenhouse gas emissions--it sounds like an ideal solution.

But while it's one of the only foreseeable methods to completely eliminate our reliance on natural gas, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 0%, development of a nuclear fusion reactor will take time. Actually, it already has--one of the biggest criticisms of the idea is that, after 40 years of research, there have been no significant breakthroughs. Most dishearteningly, scientists have not yet been able to contain a nuclear fusion reaction long enough to produce more energy than is required to perform the reaction.

If it's hard to know exactly what to make of these reports, it's equally hard not to be enthusiastic. No GHGs, clean, renewable power and all based on the underpinning principle of nuclear power: E=MC2.

Assuming it can be made to work, what's not to like?

Friday, March 20, 2009

White House Vegetable Garden

And while we're on the Obama bandwagon, we at Metro Green wish to say good on Barack & Michelle for forwarding the idea - both in spirit and in practice - of the value of locally grown produce.
From the March 20, New York Times article "Obama to Eat Local Produce (Really Local)":
Whether there would be a White House garden has been more than a matter of landscaping. It’s taken on political and environmental symbolism as the Obamas have been lobbied for months by advocates who believe that growing more food locally could lead to healthier eating and lessen reliance on huge industrial farms that use more oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer.
This kind of environmentally sound leadership, though, in the case of the garden is largely symbolic, is precisely what I was hoping for from Brocco (my 6-year-old son's nickname for BHO). So, as the fruits of the First Garden grow, let me be the first to wish the Obama's bon appetit!

UPDATE: Seems nothing escapes the artistry & wit of the editorial cartoonists (John Cole, Scranton Times-Tribune march 26.2009):

Obama on Leno 3/19

A conversation worth watching. Not exactly Metro Green, but important:

UPDATE: Re: "Special Olympics" gaffe...I love this guy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

World Changing - Here's the Pitch

From The Book "World Changing:"

Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century is a groundbreaking compendium of the most innovative solutions, ideas and inventions emerging today for building a sustainable, livable, prosperous future.

From consumer consciousness to a new vision for industry; non-toxic homes to refugee shelters; microfinance to effective philanthropy; socially responsible investing to starting a green business; citizen media to human rights; ecological economics to climate change, this is the most comprehensive, cutting-edge overview to date of what's possible in the near future -- if we decide to make it so.

Cities: Living green by living urban

Cities: Introduction

We live on an urban planet. For the first time in history, a majority of us live in cities. How we grow those cities, how we build neighborhoods, how we provide housing, how we choose to get around, how well we incorporate nature into the places we live - these are the challenges that will largely determine our future.

And with millions and millions of people moving every year from the countryside to the city, all of these difficulties seem even more insurmountable. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. For, along with the boom in urbanization, we're seeing a boom in urban innovation. Simply put, we're getting better at building better cities.

Though a couple of years old by now (published 2006), still, I'm convinced it's worth looking into. I've ordered my copy. I'll let you know how it looks and what it offers when it arrives. And (as recommended) I bought local.

UPDATE: Worldchanging.com co-founder Alex Steffen discusses energy conservation and our planet's other big challenges. Learn how energy conservation can help us create a sustainable future in this video from TED.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rush and Coulter Make Three...

What you don't know is that the environment, in this case, is being used by the Obama administration in an attempt to gain control of the US population. The brownshirts, as I said, under Hitler, were used to intimidate Germans who opposed Hitler. My fear is that Obama will be using the greenshirts, these street agitators, in order to control the police and the people. (Michael Savage - The Savage Nation)
I'm posting this audio stream of right-wing radio talk show host Michael Weiner, aka Michael Savage, not for the reason others have posted it (to show what destructive, raving lunatics the spokespersons for the radical right-wing of the Republican party can be) but rather to show the worst of what responsible citizens are up against in attempting to be part of the green revolution.

The title for this post comes from efgoldman commenting on the March 14th Obsidian Wings thread titled Almost Like The Nazis, Except For, Well, Everything ... In it, my favorite blogger, hilzoy, skewers Michael Savage as only she is able.
"But if Obama did create a private army under Van Jones, despite his having given no indication whatsoever of doing this, and despite Van Jones' job not having any such powers, and if the courts and the Congress somehow acquiesced in this flagrant illegality, that would be pretty awful! And if, in addition, he started a global war of aggression, opened concentration camps, and committed genocide, then he'd "have almost the same exact policies as the Nazi Party did."

Likewise, if Michael Savage were to take over the US, send its urban population to do forced labor on collective farms, confiscate private property, abolish money, and create a massive famine that killed at least one eighth of the population, he'd be a lot like Pol Pot. And if he had wheels, he'd be a trolleycar.

Obama possibly being a Nazi, Michael Savage possibly being Pol Pot, the horrifying specter of human/trolleycar hybrids: it's a scary, scary world we live in!

Or, you know, maybe not."
As I said, I'm posting this here at Metro Green tonight just to give you an idea of the level, content and sheer stupidity of the resistance. It's a wake-up call for those whose efforts and intentions lean toward (or those who have already embraced) the 21st Century notion that sustainability - and all it entails, "inconvenient" though it may be - is quite likely the only route to long-term survivability here on planet earth.

So be warned: there are those out there who will dispute and repudiate you in the vilest terms... and some of them - the ones with the biggest mouths and most rabid fans - are (as you can see from this clip) quite wholly out of their minds.

Or, as Awesom0 commented at ObWi: " Oh the stupid, it BURNS!"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It was only a matter of time...

They should have called it Google Mars.
(Google Earth is just too local,
and so last millennium.)

On the other hand, if you can zoom in
on the farmers market up there, do let me know.
I hear it's out of this world!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Project Rescue

In grade-school I recall my 3rd or 4th-grade class learning a song for a student assembly that we had to perform in front of the whole school.

Parents were invited (and always welcome), but few (ever) attended. Unlike today, when kid's programs are scheduled for evenings in deference to parents who want to watch (and photograph and video-tape), in those (olden) days, assemblies were strictly afternoon affairs held during the school day or immediately following. At best we'd have a handful of moms who'd stop by the cafeteria/auditorium to watch and clap for us. Some of them, from the neighborhood, still wore their aprons, as if they'd just torn themselves from their kitchens to rush over and watch us while their evening casseroles baked in the oven.

The song I remember learning for that program was called Let There Be Peace On Earth and what I best remember about it was the second line: "And let it begin with me." I remember as a kid taking the notion of my personal responsibility for bringing about world peace very seriously. To a certain extent, down deep, where the spirit occasionally dips to sample its truest nature, that sense of personal responsibility for causing good effects in the world never left me.

I'm not sure where it came from in me but, as a parent, it's always been my firm intention to impart it to my kids: that they can - and that they DO - make a difference in the world.

I bring up that old song from that long-ago assembly because the other day my 8-year-old daughter was doing her homework on the floor of my office at home as I was working at my desk and she started absent mindedly singing softly to herself (to the familiar tune of "School Days, School Days):"
"Earth Day, Earth Day,
Join the earth's rebirth day,
Recycle, replenish, respect you see,
They're the three Rs of Ecology..."
It turned out, their entire grade at school (3rd) was scheduled to perform a program called Project Rescue: Save the Planet (by Michael and Jill Gallina) and the song she was singing was one of the numbers from the show. We had a conversation about how important that subject was and, seeing that I was interested and excited, she proceeded (at my request) to sing me all the songs from the show. They included titles like "Disposable Society," "Keep Our Waters Clean," "Overload," "Pollution Free," and the finale, "Guardians of the Earth."

Clever little songs and, as it turns out, a very clever little script. The show was last night and the little cafeteria was packed with parents to see the 3rd grade perform. There were four main groups of kids with speaking parts: the self-conscious group of picnicking litterbugs and the delightfully-costumed Air Animals, Sea Animals and Land Animals to call them to account. The rest of the 3rd-graders were the chorus and they belted out the reggae, rap and rock numbers with gusto and enthusiasm.

I'll spare you the scene by scene, but let's just say by the end of the play, the litterbugs had acknowledged their misdeeds and renewed their pledges to be good Guardians of the Earth and to abide by the three Rs of ecology. I loved the play and especially the fact that the school my kids attend is socially conscious enough to seek out and find - and then to make the effort to perform - such a worthwhile little show.

I just hope the message sticks with my daughter the way "Let There Be Peace on Earth" stuck with me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

41pounds.org - Keeping trees on the job.

If you've done any catalog shopping - as we have - your family and mine are probably experiencing a similar phenomenon: Junk Mail Overload. Not just the occasional (well, weekly) unwanted newsprint circulars & coupon carriers, but the reams and reams of handsomely designed and fastidiously printed (in 4 colors on coated, glossy stock) TOTALLY UNINVITED AND UNWANTED saddle-stitched sales catalogs touting everything from kids clothes, to the latest gizmos and gadgets; from hiking and fitness gear, to fishing equipment and sporting goods; from kitchen cookery and memorabilia to real estate, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

Oh, and did I mention we'd never asked for them?

It got to the point in my house that dragging this useless junk mail in from the box each day became so infuriating my wife and I tried desperately to figure out a) how this happened and more importantly, b) how to make it stop.

Enter 41pounds.org: a website that provides USPS customers of all stripes and persuasions with data about the global impact of this paper-powered tsunami and how first to make it stop and second to begin to reverse the tide. For example, here's 41pounds.org at its philanthropic best. And here are the useful and informative FAQs from the site.

If you're frustrated beyond your ability to deal rationally with this overwhelming waste of trees and natural resources, by all means check out 41pounds.org. We, just today, received our packet in the mail. We'll be filling out the "Keeping trees on the job" cards tonight. There's a small cost for the service ($41 for five years - $8.20 per year) but what a bargain! And their service is guaranteed or your money back. As far as how long it takes for the service to go into full effect:

How long does it take for the junk mail to stop?

You will see a noticeable improvement within two months. After four months, your junk mail should be eliminated by 80 to 95%. Please keep in mind that many catalog companies print their mailing labels months in advance, so it may take a while for these to stop coming.

I'll let you know how we fare. Any other ideas?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Heading out to see Irena Salina's highly-touted documentary on water: FLOW. Will report back here shortly.

Synopsis: Irena Salina’s cautionary documentary is determined to stir things up. Water, the quintessence of life, sustains every creature on Earth. The time has come when we can no longer take this precious resource for granted. Unless we effect global change, impoverished nations could be wiped from the planet. Roused by a thirst for survival, people around the world are fighting for their birthright. Under the cover of darkness, African plumbers secretly reconnect shantytown water pipes to ensure a community’s survival. A California scientist exposes toxic public water supplies. A “water guru” promotes community-based initiatives to provide water throughout India. The CEO of a billion-dollar water company argues for privatization as the wave of the future. A Canadian author pops the cork on bottled water, unveiling the disturbing realities that drive profits in the global water business. Flow: For Love of Water is an inspired, yet disturbingly provocative, wake-up call. The future of our planet is drying up rapidly. Focusing on pollution, human rights, politics, and corruption, filmmaker Salina constructs an exceptionally articulate profile of the precarious relationship uniting human beings and water. While each community’s challenges are unique, the message is universal--the time to turn the tide is now. --© Sundance Film Festival

UPDATE: Sold out. Damn! It was a one-night-only showing but with a line around the block, the theater manager promised a second screening. I'll queue up earlier and report back then. In the meantime... check out the trailer:


Monday, March 9, 2009

Cap And Trade 101

Following one of my comments on the previous grey-water thread regarding cap and trade policies and new legislation aimed at regulating carbon emissions, I wanted to post a relatively elementary primer - hence "Cap and Trade 101" - (h/t) to aid your understanding of this potentially complex subject.

What is Cap and Trade?

The goal: To steadily reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide in a cost-effective manner.

The cap: Each large-scale emitter, or company, will have a limit on the amount of greenhouse gas that it can emit. The firm must have an “emissions permit” for every ton of carbon dioxide it releases into the atmosphere. These permits set an enforceable limit, or cap, on the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that the company is allowed to emit. Over time, the limits become stricter, allowing less and less pollution, until the ultimate reduction goal is met. This is similar to the cap and trade program enacted by the Clean Air Act of 1990, which reduced the sulfur emissions that cause acid rain, and it met the goals at a much lower cost than industry or government predicted.

The trade: It will be relatively cheaper or easier for some companies to reduce their emissions below their required limit than others. These more efficient companies, who emit less than their allowance, can sell their extra permits to companies that are not able to make reductions as easily. This creates a system that guarantees a set level of overall reductions, while rewarding the most efficient companies and ensuring that the cap can be met at the lowest possible cost to the economy.
I've encountered no better or more thought provoking discussion of the Cap and Trade proposals than the Obsidian Wings post from March 6, 2009 to which I linked in comments yesterday. It's author, who goes by the pen-name hilzoy, is a Ph.D. tenured professor of bioethics and one of the most facile thinkers and persuasively progressive writers currently illuminating the blogosphere. If you haven't looked into the thread, here's the link once again: Don't Give Away Carbon Permits.

As you'll gather from the Obsidian Wings discussion, Cap and Trade is conceptually simple but the nuances can puzzle. That said, however one looks at it, Cap and Trade will never be more than a short term, stop-gap GHG-pollution mitigation effort. Because it's energy source is nonrenewable and its aim is not sustainability, Cap and Trade is, at most, a temporary band-aid on a critical major hemorrhage.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Grey-Water Recycling

Who knew grey-water could be funny?

But, seriously. Let's take a look at perpetually drought-stricken California. A 2/27/09 San Francisco Chronicle article, ("Cities face 20% cuts in water use during crisis"), begins:

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought emergency Friday, urging cities to cut their use of water 20 percent and paving the way for projects such as desalination plants and water recycling projects to bypass standard environmental reviews.

Despite heavy rainstorms this month, state officials say California's water supply remains critically low because of three dry winters in a row, restrictions on water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and a population that has grown by 9 million since the last drought, in 1991.

In making the declaration, Schwarzenegger said the state must prepare for several more years with little rain. Experts predict this year's runoff - the critical spring melt from Sierra Nevada snow - will be 57 percent of normal.

"This drought is having a devastating impact on our people, our communities, our economy and our environment - making today's action absolutely necessary," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor's proclamation stopped short of invoking mandatory statewide rationing, but officials said that option - which would be a first in California history - is available if other tactics fail.

"No Californian can use water as though we have an unlimited amount, period," said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

Water supply, water use, water conservation, desalination, grey-water recycling... all are topics we will visit and revisit here at Metro Green but, for now, let's just agree - with vast geographic regions (North-central Africa, Sudan, etc.) and population centers across the globe fighting to find, develop and make available a reliable supply of clean potable water, the final thought above (in italics) should probably, by now and for the future, be amended to read, "
"No PERSON can use water as though we have an unlimited amount, period."
Period, amen.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Yoshimoto Cube - A Metaphor

Think of the subject of this post (technically "the transformation of two stellated rhombic dodecahedrons from a cube") as a metaphor for the possibilities of an extraordinarily graceful, seamless and harmonious coexistence of man with his environment.

It's the magically enchanting Yoshimoto Cube. Watch:

(And if it's gift-giving season and you don't know what to get me, visit the MOMA Store.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Transition to Cleaner Energy

Last week (2.24.09), The Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a discussion with Robert Hefner III, Founder and CEO of GHK Exploration and author of The GET: Grand Energy Transition. CAP President and CEO John Podesta introduced Hefner as one of “the most powerful voices on the issue of energy transformation and energy security.”

Hefner is an engaging optimist willing to make assertions like 'cars are good; Americans love their cars and that's alright too, today's cars just run on the wrong kind of fuel; technologically speaking, not such a complicated fix. Correct that and you've got something.' Paraphrasing, of course, but not far from one of Hefner's central messages.

An ardent propent of natural gas as an abundant, carbon-free and clean-burning fuel, Hefner's book:
"highlights the long story of natural gas as a superior fuel, but currently of limited use in the United States, and argues that this energy source is a larger resource than liquid oil in the world."
When asked about the potential use of natural gas in other countries,
"Hefner underscored that Singapore runs its energy grid with natural gas, whereas several African nations still lag behind cleaner energy alternatives. “I believe in the abundance of natural gas,” Hefner said. “Everywhere we find coal or oil, natural gas is also found, and there are countries with large resources of natural gas like the United States, Indonesia or Australia.” In his book, he argues that U.S natural gas reserves are probably as large as—or larger than—the country’s remaining minable coal."
The CAP website summarizes Hefner's presentation (and proposed legislation, the Energy and Industrial Recovery Plan), as follows:
"First, he called for the elimination of taxes on labor and capital that would be replaced with a green consumption-based tax levied initially upon the use of oil and coal. Secondly, the Energy and Industrial Recovery Plan, a new piece of legislation proposed by Hefner, seeks to retrofit and transform half the U.S. automobile fleet to natural gas by 2020. He explained that an essential piece of infrastructure for this plan would be a 2.2 million-mile natural gas pipeline grid that would link the majority of U.S. metropolitan gas stations, as well as 63 million homes where nearly 130 million cars can be filled with home-fueling appliances.

He concluded by saying that the $1.5 trillion-dollar Energy and Industrial Recovery Plan, if passed, would also accomplish a number of economic, strategic, and climate goals, such as saving tens of thousands of jobs in the automobile industry; reduce oil imports by more than 5 million barrels per day; save trillions of dollars in payments to foreign oil partners that can instead be invested in the United States; lower carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of millions of tons annually; and restore U.S. leadership in global energy—to name a few."

Like Architect Ed Mazria, Robert Hefner is a realist, a futurist and a person of resolute conviction that solutions are not only possible but are also right in front of us. Find the time to watch the CAP event. It's about an hour... well spent.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Los Angeles’ Eco-Village

"To live a very simple life is important now." -- Julio Santizo, LA Eco-Village

Several weeks ago, StreetFilms.org posted the above Nick Whitaker ~4 minute film about Los Angeles' Eco-Village along with the following text:
"Last Summer contributor Nicholas Whitaker had the opportunity to visit the Eco-Village in LA, to see what it's like to practice more sustainable ways of living, while having a lesser negative impact on the environment. The people who work and live at the LA Eco-Village show how even in an urban setting, there are ways to live closer to the earth and in better harmony with the people and environment around you.

"An ecovillage is a human scale neighborhood where people know their neighbors and care about them. People can live close to where they work and play and have access to other essential services without use of automobiles. Together, neighbors try to minimize waste and pollution of all kinds. Residents and friends work together to create a healthy community socially, physically and economically.

Urban ecovillages work with surrounding neighborhoods and the city at large to bring a whole systems perspective to urban planning and community development activities. The L.A. Eco-Village Demonstration is part of an international network of sustainable neighborhood groups which seek to model healthier ways of living based on environmental sustainability and social and economic justice."

The film is worth watching for its eye-opening peek into the possibility of sustainable community living near the very heart of downtown Los Angeles, California, by all accounts a major-league world metropolitan area, and a population center with one of the largest carbon footprints on the globe.

The LA Eco-Village is part of the Global Ecovillage Network, (GEN), whose compelling web presence provides a wealth of historic background information and a primer on ecovillage living a well as a host of Ecovillage Network links to educational opportunities, a resource library, directory listings to help locate ecovillages around the globe, and much more.

It's worth exploring.

While it may be naive to assume (or even to hope) the giant urban/industrial population centers of the world will somehow, out of tiny, thriving cocooned heart-beats of new consciousness, morph suddenly into fully-sustainable, zero carbon, eco-friendly green cities, it is neither naive nor is it unthinkable that this is the way the full-blown Green Revolution will begin: through a shift in consciousness, a commitment to act and the will (and good nature!) to see it through.

As the parable tells us, out of the tiny mustard-seed is born the monumental vine.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Composting: Food (scraps) for Thought

My attention was recently directed to this article on composting from the February 18th New York Times. Though the techniques here are more oriented to an urban setting than ours were, the article triggered fond memories of my college days at Stanford University where I lived in what was, at the time, the college's only entirely cooperatively-run on-campus student housing facility.

The old converted four-story row house had once been a proud Stanford fraternity. Now it was home to about 35-40 (depending on how many radical, self-styled revolutionist non-students were crashing on our basement couches at any given time) earnest young students trying on what remained from the 60s of the counter-culture's radical mantle .

While the other students lived in well-managed college dorms with eating clubs and janitorial service, aside from campus security, under whose jurisdiction (and watchful eye) we fell, we functioned entirely independent of the university. Each week, small groups from our hardy little commune would take turns buying food for the house at the San Francisco Farmers Market (vegetables and soy products mostly and tons of eggplants because they were cheap), cooking the meals, cleaning the place, organizing the bills, holding meetings to discuss house business and scheduling our intramural soccer team (we were really good)... and, oh, yes: we composted all food scraps and organic trash.

I was brand new to co-op life and to me our religiously-tended (raked, turned and faithfully managed) little compost heap looked almost exactly like what I recognized to be a pungent-smelling pile of rotting food. But my ardent and often clenched young counter-culture housemates assured me the compost would become the best fertilizer for growing our OWN vegetable gardens - saving us from having to actually buy food.

The fact that we didn't technically have our own garden - or even the space for one - never came up and so our compost pile kept growing and growing until I graduated. If the actual compost we produced was ever put to use during our residency, the event escaped me. I suppose if I went back today I'd find that either our little agri-science project had given way to other collegiate experimentations or the University would be bursting with the finest vegetable gardens on planet earth (a distinct possibility... after all, they did call Stanford "The Farm") and would owe all of us, from way back when, a huge debt of gratitude for our visionary approach to organic garbage disposal.

But lest I get too far off track, composting does yield splendid rich, loamy fertilizer and there are distinct environmental advantages to it that, while not as significant as recycling, do in fact keep food waste out of landfills mitigating to some extent methane production as detailed by The Times article:

Composting does not have as big an environmental effect as recycling, Environmental Protection Agency figures show: recycling one ton of mixed paper is four times as effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as producing the same amount of compost.

But keeping food discards out of landfills does more than twice the good of keeping mixed paper out, E.P.A. officials said, because decomposing food that is buried and cut off from air releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, at higher rates than paper. (The ventilation in composting prevents methane creation.)
For those truly interested in effective composting, find good information here, at vegweb.com - Introduction to Composting, and at the Wastes - Resource Conservation page of the EPA website.

Not quite ready to commit to composting (or hate plants and have no room for a garden anyway)? The website Earth911.com has a great resource article, "8 Ways to Green Your Trash", that includes tips on trash auditing, recycling, reusing, smarter shopping and yes, even on composting.