Saturday, February 28, 2009

Arizona Turning 'Drill, Baby Drill!' Into 'Blow, Baby Blow!'

Despite favorite son John McCain's repeated "Drill, Baby Drill!" mantra in last year's election, dyed-in-the-wool Republican-voting Arizona may be in danger of losing it's conservative Red State bona fides if this keeps up.

First, we discovered the state very seriously inquiring into the possibilities of solar power, looking to the sun (of all places!) to be a significant energy source not just for Arizona but for the entire southwestern region of the country.

Today we learn The Grand Canyon State has floated more than just the kite of possibility into the winds of change; it's actually endorsed and permitted construction of a giant wind farm (called Dry Lake Wind Farm) near the mid-eastern part of the state - in Arizona's White Mountain Region - in the grassy, windswept valleys just outside the town of Snowflake.
According to an article (see link above) in this morning's Arizona Daily Star (2/28/09), the giant cylinders for the 425-foot-tall wind turbine towers began arriving by train at the Port of Tucson last week. From there they will be trucked north and east (most likely swinging around Phoenix to avoid the impossibly steep climb out of the Salt River Canyon), through Show Lo, AZ, up State Route 77 to Snowflake. It's a long journey for the heavy construction elements (when assembled, the blades alone on each tower will weigh 7 tons!)
A metaphor perhaps for the long political and economic journey the state has had to make - and the heavy initial cost it may have to bear - to embrace these important emerging new energy technologies. But according to an online publication called Renewable Energy Development, the Arizona Corporation Commission and the state legislature have been relatively out front in their support for renewable energy in the state:
"Both the Arizona Corporation Commission and the state legislature have encouraged the development of renewable energy sources, including wind projects, in Arizona. Arizona utilities are required by the ACC to produce or procure 15 percent of their total electricity sales from renewable sources by 2025 - including wind, solar, biomass, biogas and landfill gas. By the year 2020, experts predict that, if the utilities comply, an estimated 92 billion pounds of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, will be prevented from entering the atmosphere."

As one who's lived here many decades I say Bravo!

What took you so long?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In reality...

there's no such thing as "Clean Coal"
(as only the Coen brothers can say it):

And of course, the classic, "Smudge:"

If The Reality Coalition is of interest to you,
get more information here or join here.

Since I'm not, nor do I pretend to be, an expert on coal technology, it seems only proper that I offer this link to "What is Clean Coal?" a Wise Geek article explaining the concept of "clean coal technology" such as it is or may be. Do pay a visit if the subject interests you.

As for me, I suspect there are numerous ways to make coal plants cleaner and more efficient, but I'd much prefer to see the effort and investment applied to renewable energy rather than trying to retrofit an industry based on non-renewable fossil fuels. It just makes more sense in the long run.


UPDATE: Behind the scenes on the video shoot and what to look forward to from the Coen Brothers and the "Clean Coal Clean!" campaign:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

NASA's OCO - Opportunity Cost

NASA's highly touted Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO).

So much promise.

"NASA's new Orbiting Carbon Observatory will measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over any spot on Earth's surface and establish a record of how carbon dioxide concentrations change over time. Observations from the mission will improve our understanding of the carbon cycle—the movement of carbon among its "reservoirs" in the Earth system--and help us understand the influence of the carbon cycle on climate."

Such a loss.
The Los Angeles Times - 2.25.09: A NASA satellite designed to measure greenhouse gas emissions and pinpoint global warming dangers crashed Tuesday after a protective covering failed to separate from the craft shortly after launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The loss of the $278-million satellite came as a severe blow to NASA's climate monitoring efforts, as well as the builder of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NRDC dot Org.

Natural Resources Defence Council

This site is a treasure trove of well-reasoned, professionally written articles, arguments and ideas about sustainability, environmentally responsible living, green urban development, water resources managment, architecture - the topics list goes on and on - as does the roster of top-flight thinkers and career environmental activists who write and post here.

NRDC online description - posted at the website of the US Fish and Wildlife Service:
"An environmental activist organization endeavoring to use law, science, and the support of more than 1 million members and online activists to protect the planet's wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things."

Tonight I was particularly taken by a blog post by Kaid Benfield, Washington DC's Smart Growth Program Director, on the subject of beauty viz a viz sustainable communities, architecture and historic preservation projects:

I was in a committee meeting about a month ago where a couple of us were pushing for greater recognition of historic preservation in our movement's advocacy for smart, green neighborhoods.

But we were unsuccessful. In fact, we were quickly silenced by the viewpoint that the application of a literalist definition of historic - "if it's old, it's historic" - by NIMBYs is actually preventing sustainable development, and the problem is only going to get worse as more mediocre buildings from the 1950s and 1960s pass the 50-year mark generally considered to define eligibility for landmark consideration.

Benfield affirms in this post beauty's "power to motivate" and he contends that architectural beauty "is not merely in the eye of the beholder" but rather is inherent in "the ability" certain buildings have "to be loved and valued by the everyman." In this context, Benfield links to green architect Steve Mouzon's Original Green website and the charming page dedicated to "Lovable Buildings." is one of those rare resource, opinion and information sites you stumble on, start exploring, bookmark, return to (time and again), and eventually find yourself able to trace certain essential elements of your own progressive philosophy and consciousness directly back to that one foundational source.

Pay a visit. Let me know what you find.

UPDATE: Predicatably, NRDC is providing important, comprehensive information on LEED Certification for new construction and renovation projects. LEED (acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was developed and is administered by the US Green Building Council and it is fast becoming the industry standard by which all building projects wishing to be verifiably and legitimately labled "Green" are evaluated.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Or (better yet), run these numbers...

We've been on the subject of calculators programmed to help quantify - or, in the case of our house, feel REALLY bad and guilty about - the size and relative scope of our carbon footprints on beleaguered mother earth.

Thanks (and a hat tip) to Rio Loco for directing me to this alternative: The US EPA calculator.

This one has much to recommend it.

First, unlike the previous one, in addition to the adverse impacts, this calculator also weighs and measures activities - like recycling - that have net positive effects and applies that data as offsets to (reduce) the total. More importantly, it includes a lifestyle and product-use section proposing minor changes to ordinary behavior, then illustrating, in hard numbers, the impact of those small changes in helping to reduce net global carbon emissions.

Best of all, there are a dozen or so questionnaire fields inviting visitors to read, think about and consider not just what they can do but what they actually will do to modify their most energy-intensive behaviors. A change in driving habits? Commit to better fuel efficiency? Revise the thermostat settings? Install higher-efficiency CFL and LED light bulbs? Etc. - Then it calculates the total net reductions for each change the respondent agrees to make. (Yes! An online calculator that actually asks for a commitment to improve.)

A pretty nifty, if not-so-subliminal, marketing tool. And a classic sales strategy: Offer the upgrade, then ask for the sale.

Oh, and by the way, in case you're wondering: despite our perpetual, slavish recycling efforts, the new calculator didn't exactly tell us we'd gone from Bigfoot to Bambi. But it did drop us down by over 20,000 lbs. of carbon emissions. And, even better, it may have helped us identify more easily and accurately the areas in which we can - and really must - improve.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Call Me Bigfoot

Good news: The Emissions Calculator from yesterday's post appears to work just fine. (How fine? Picture a REALLY precise mirror magnifying every conceivable flaw in every pore of your face). Still, as promised yesterday, here are my results.

But first, how's it work...?

Provided you have easy access to your annual kWh of electricity usage, therms of natural gas, gallons of propane and fuel oil (my info was available online at each of the utility's "My Accounts" links); and provided you can estimate your annual air-travel and driving miles each year along with your average gas mileage, you should have no trouble getting a total. You simply move the graph-line sliders on the calculator to the amounts most accurately reflecting your annual usage and the numbers are calculated and totaled for you, automatically.

At the end, your total production (in pounds) of CO2 appears above a results line that ranks you from 1 (the worst, most profligate, wasteful user of non-renewable fossil fuels and abuser of our natural resources...e.g. "me") to 10...e.g. "Bambi."

The news for us was disappointing, surprising and frank: in terms of carbon footprint size, we're apparently closely related to Bigfoot. To look at the carbon footprint size of my little family, you'd think we devour three brontosauruses, a T-Rex and a herd of mastodons worth of fossil fuel and exhale tons and tons of noxious gas vapors all by ourselves every week.

The total carbon-emissions output our home/family was responsible for producing last year was over 100,000 lbs! That's more than 50 tons of greenhouse gasses per year just from us (two big people), our kids (two little people) and Lucy the Labradoodle (frankly, I blame the dog). And that number didn't even take into consideration or include my wife's extensive international air travel for business (use the emissions calculator to check out the heavy load of greenhouse gasses those jumbo jets churn out per passenger, per mile. You'll be shocked.)

That's not all. If you think the calculator overstates YOUR carbon emission production, consider this: nowhere does it ask about - or factor into the total mix - the energy cost in food and other grocery-store-item transport - from producer, to distributor, to the local Safeway - nor was it apparent how it figured in (if indeed it did) the air, rail & truck delivery energy demand for shipping items purchased online or from catalogs... or, in the back-and-forth return-transport energy when those online purchases fail to please.

In all seriousness: It's time for us - my family and me - to make a very detailed and deliberate accounting of our home life habits. Like addicts, living in the fantasy that fossil fuels will burn on forever without consequence - and under the illusion that we can continue to use them indefinitely - we must now take a fearless inventory of those habits that deplete resources, trash the environment, heat up the globe and diminish the likelihood of ever achieving the end goal of long-term sustainability.

It's a big but surely worthwhile challenge. And it's an educational opportunity for us all. Especially, it's a great chance to get the kids involved in the meaningful, lifelong process of living responsibly and pursuing sustainability. On purpose. It's time for us to make some progressive decisions and some abiding new commitments.


Who knows, it could make a difference.

And you?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Handy- Dandy CO2 Emissions Calculator

I know my boot size: 12. I know my hat size (7 1/4). I know my neck size, sleeve length, sport coat size, pant size (inseam and waist - don't ask). I know the square footage of my house, liter displacement and horsepower of my truck engine (ok, ex-truck) and I even know my ring size.

But I'll be darned if I know the size of my carbon footprint. And, until today, I hadn't much of a clue how to figure it out. Which has been sort of a problem because I've been routinely chided by friends familiar with this little blog to figure out - even rough back-of-an-envelope approximations of - just how green (or how hypocritically - the measurements would tell!) I was actually living.

At one point - just for heuristic, motivational purposes - I got out an envelope and turned it over... but sadly, instead of conclusions, I kept drawing blanks as to where and even how to start. Then (inspiration struck and) I thought, it must be the medium. I used to be a poet of sorts - and a songwriter - and I'd always found bar napkins to be the ultimate in inspirational stationary.

But the napkins didn't really work either. Someone may as well have suggested I do a "back-of-the-envelope" calculation of the parabolic plastic force of a 14-foot tall wave breaking at 19.7 MPH under partly-cloudy skies while Neptune rises in Aquarius... on the moon.

I guess you could say, carbon-footprint-size-wise, I was pretty much clueless. Until now. Tonight I stumbled on Greenopolis, an active little blog with nearly 3000 members, some interesting posts and comments, and best of all for my purposes, under the "myopolis" link, this handy-dandy, all you need to get your number, CO2 Footprint Calculator.

It couldn't be easier. I'm going to check mine immediately. After I publish this post.

I'll get back to you with the results... if you'll share yours. It's ok. Really. We're here to learn, not to judge.

UPDATE: And just in case you're even farther behind than I am and don't know what, exactly, a carbon footprint is...there's no more excuses.

UPDATE #2: Gasp!

Friday, February 20, 2009

University of Arizona Solar Mirrors Demo'd at "Death Ray" Intensity

Solar power and Arizona - back in the news.

You've got to admire a university professor who'll take a visiting Congresswoman to the rooftop of a college gym and, before her eyes, vaporize a quarter-inch hole in a piece of steel using nothing more than good old-fashioned Arizona sunshine and his newfangled 10-foot parabolic mirror.

That's precisely the little "parlor trick" regents professor of astronomy and optical sciences, Roger Angel (above, right), performed for visiting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. and University President Robert Shelton atop U of A's storied Bear Down Gym.

As reported* by Tom Beal (Arizona Daily Star - published 02.19.2009), "at Wednesday's demonstration, it took less than 10 seconds for the focused light to bore through the steel."

"Angel knows a thing or two about mirrors, being the director and driving force behind Steward Observatory Mirror Lab and its revolutionary mirror-casting process.

Those mirrors, made of expensive borosilicate glass, are spun and polished to the perfection needed to peer deep into space. They cost upward of $10 million and are not the prototype for this project.

Angel and his Mirror Lab colleagues are now going for cheap ordinary window glass, heated and shaped into a curve and coated. "The price has to be 10,000 times less than the telescope mirrors," Angel said.

His research partner, Yong-Hang Zhang of Arizona State University, will supply the relatively expensive part. Zhang is inventing the solar engine that will transform Angel's focused light into electricity — a photovoltaic cell more closely related to those used in space satellites than those collecting sunlight on your roof.

At the moment, Angel said, he can buy a pretty good solar cell and Zhang can buy a pretty good mirror, but both know they can do better. "If we both succeed," said Angel, "you get dynamite."

Now, according to Zhang, they're looking for an inexpensive, fluid-cooled, high-efficiency solar cell.
"Ordinary photovoltaic cells are expensive because their entire mass collects and makes electricity, said Zhang. The best of them are 20 percent efficient. Zhang said 40 percent efficiency is "doable" now and he hopes to improve on that.

The idea is to separate the collection part of the process from the electricity-generating part. With big, cheap mirrors and small, efficient solar cells, they hope to make photovoltaic generation cheap enough to rival burning coal or natural gas."

I don't know about you but to me that sounds suspiciously like 100% clean, renewable energy production. And (GULP!) sustainability. What will they think of next?

*Link access may require free registration.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Going Nuclear... Or Gone Fission?

Rethinking your opposition to nuclear power? Washington Monthly Editor Mariah Blake suggests you "Rethink again."

Having cheered the courage of scrappy Karen Silkwood, a 1970s-era nuclear power plant worker (immortalized by Meryl Streep's portrayal of her in the 1983 film Silkwood) who fought for her rights after being sickened by repeated radiation exposure, I came to my political senses in an age whose vernacular included Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. I had generally taken for granted that nuclear power and the plants that generated it would never be safe. I'd assumed they would perpetually loom as toxic environmental hazards just waiting to sicken and kill us all and that they would ultimately be deemed lethal, unpredictable and monumentally expensive exercises in futility.

Their terrible, long-term threat to the environment spooked me. I suspected their awesome (if largely fictitious) destructive power (remember The China Syndrome?) and I was challenged and deeply troubled by doubts they could ever - as touted - be safe, clean, fully-contained, cheap and reliable alternatives to traditional electric power plants.

Too, their other-worldly sci-fi mien gave me the willies. Frankly, I was intimidated and chilled to the bone by the prospect of a meltdown or a core mishap mis-happening anywhere near me or near the food I ate or the water I drank.

I didn't trust the technology and I had no confidence in those who regulated and ran it. In short, I thought nuclear power, in current form, was headed for the scrap heap of human technological history; destined merely to asterisk the story of man's quest for power.

Decades later, as Washington Monthly Editor Mariah Blake illustrates in her well-researched and ably-written feature Bad Reactors, the real threat lies not in the awesome, nucleus-smashing atom-bomb technology that so frightened me, the real threat, the paralyzing issue, turns out to be the money. More specifically, the cost and reliability of construction.

Regarding a Finnish reactor currently under construction - and over budget - at Olkiluoto, Blake writes:
To date, more than 2,200 "quality deficiencies" have been detected, according to the Finnish nuclear authority, STUK. Largely as a result, the project, which was supposed to be completed in 2009, is three years behind schedule and is expected to cost $6.2 billion, 50 percent more than the original estimate. And the numbers could keep climbing. "There are still some very challenging phases ahead," says Petteri Tiippana, STUK’s assistant director for projects and operational safety. "Things will have to go extremely well if those responsible for building the project are to hit the new targets."

These complications have already erased the cost savings nuclear power was supposed to deliver compared to other energy sources, such as natural gas. What’s more, the reactor won’t be completed before 2012, when the Kyoto treaty expires. To meet its targets, between now and then Finland will have to buy hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of credits through the European Union’s emissions trading scheme.

Elfi, a consortium of Finnish heavy industries, has calculated that the project delays will create $4 billion in indirect costs for electricity users.

Further along, Blake provides this status report on the current health of the nuclear power industry and specifically the reactor-building business:

In October 2007, Moody’s Investor Services piled on with a report projecting that new reactors would cost $5,000 to $6,000 per kilowatt to build, or up to $12 billion per unit. This figure, which was based on actual bids for new reactors in the United States, caused considerable sticker shock. The trade magazine Nuclear Engineering International ran an article questioning whether utilities would shelve their plans for new reactors amid revelations about "prohibitively high" costs.

In January 2008, Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. scrapped plans to build a new reactor because it found the "economics of building the next generation of nuclear power plants" were "not in our customers’ best interests." But as staggering as their estimates were at the time, those who did the calculations for Keystone and Moody’s have concluded, based on newer data, that they were not high enough. "The numbers have simply gone flying past our highest 2007 estimates," says Jim Hempstead, a senior vice president at Moody’s, which now predicts new nuclear power plants will cost $7,500 per kilowatt to build.

That’s more than double the capital costs for solar power and three and a half times the cost for wind.

At just over 6,000 words, the article is a bit long, but Mariah Blake's "Bad Reactors" is a fast, informative read as well as an excellent resource for anyone interested in an update on where things stand in the nuclear energy production industry and particularly in the prospects and outlook for future new reactor construction.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Architect Ed Mazria and The 2030 Challenge

Architecture 2030's Founder and Executive Director Ed Mazria is urging Congress to fund private building sector efficiency projects and to offer increased tax incentives for private residential investment in renewable energy-generating systems.

With the private building sector making up 93 percent of total buildings in the United States, many green building advocates believe funding efficiency projects within that sector in the stimulus could have a substantial effect on the economy and job growth. Architecture 2030, a nonprofit research organization, recently released its 2030 Challenge Stimulus Plan, proposing - among other significant initiatives - a mortgage buy-down program that could help homeowners lower their mortgage rates if they renovate and improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Here, Mazria discusses the proposal and explains how the building sector can improve the accountability of efficiency improvements. And how the Obama administration and the US Congress can help.

A significantly more detailed Mazria video presentation can be found at the link below (sorry, no 'embed' coding available).

Video: Ed Mazria - The 2030 Challenge.

Among other staggering statistics, Mazria asserts that just over "76% of all the electric energy produced in this country goes to operate buildings." His proposal includes the 2010 Imperative which would effectively establish a goal of 50% reduction (based on the regional average) in the use of energy produced from fossil fuels and green house gas emitting sources in all new building designs by the year 2010.

Click the hyperlink.
Watch the video.
It's well worth your time.

Ed Mazria is one very forward-thinking leader.

UPDATE: Here is a link for those interested in reading the actual text of the 2030 Challenge.

And here is the text of the 2010 Imperative.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Can One Household (Or One Business) Save the Planet? No, but...

Today's Washington Post Magazine has a compelling feature article "Can One Household Save The Planet?" (Free access - membership registration may be required) The subtitle responds: "No, but the planet can't be saved without it." The charming, utterly engaging article begins with the exasperated writer, Liza Mundy, wondering how best to start:
"I'm in the corner of our family room, by the TV, looking to take a first baby step toward making my houshold greener. Everything I've read on reducing your carbon footprint says it's best to start with something easy, and what could be easier than unplugging electronics?

(But) what about the cordless phone, which I am just now noticing, and which must be drawing a bit of power to make that red light stay on? If we unplug the phone, it won't work, so I better leave that one connected. Ditto for the oven and microwave, both of which have digital clocks -- a minute apart, I notice, meaning they are sucking power from the grid in order to give me conflicting information. Since they are both encased in cabinets, I'd have to get a saw to unplug them, and, worse, I'd need to reset the clocks every morning.

Moving upstairs, I see my husband's laptop. If we're going to include that one in our unplugging project, who has to crawl under the table to do it, he or I? Think I'll leave that one to his conscience, and ditto for his BlackBerry charger. But here in the spare bedroom I confront my own laptop, which I hate to turn off, much less unplug, because after three years of heavy use it has become so agonizingly slow that turning it on and off involves enduring any number of virus scans and wretched cannot-connect messages, as well as mysterious warnings about some sort of hidden window. Plus, it's plugged into a power strip with a printer, modem and wireless router, and if I turn the whole strip off, we'll lose the wireless signal, as well as the use of several lamps also plugged into the strip."

If Ms. Mundy's initial slapstick approach to creating just one green household seems a tad reminiscent of the old classic TV show "I Love Lucy," she quickly gets very serious and right to the point:
"...standby power (alone) "accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. electricity consumption, and $11 billion in annual energy costs," according to Katharine Kaplan, EPA team leader for Energy Star product development."
Mundy's analysis is penetrating and thorough. It illustrates the possibilities and the potential cumulative effects of taking personal responsibility for creating what we know we can all create: one green(er) household.

From suburban America, we move to the busy streets of Atlanta, GA and to the entrepreneurs behind Green Express (link - Atlanta Business Journal feature story) who have invested themselves and their hard-earned capital in creating a profitable green business in the unlikeliest of sectors - the delivery business. Think "all hybrid all the time:"

Sustainability, on a global scale, may be the biggest metaphorical "vessel" in the most profound, tempestuous sea mankind will ever attempt to turn 180 degrees. These two very different pieces - one focused on the greening of a single household in an ordinary American neighborhood, the other on how one business is seizing the opportunity to reduce - to a minimum - their carbon footprint and their adverse impact on the global climate/energy crisis, are both testaments to the possibilities of purposeful living. Both point us in the right direction. They're about moving, if only a single deliberate step at a time, toward the ultimate goal of a sustainable global community.

This exemplary 'one house, one business at a time' method brings to mind the classic American National Bestseller, "Bird by Bird," by Anne Lamott. At its soft, sensible heart it is a self-awareness-cum-aspiring-writer's self-help handbook that begins:
"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. He was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"
House by house.
Business by business.
Town by town.

That's the way we'll just have to take it... buddy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sphinx Enterprises Ltd: A Wealth of Green Resources & Information

I like Sphinx Enterprises approach to corporate branding and to identity politics. I admire their efforts to identify, explore and promote prudent, manageable solutions to pressing environmental problems. And there's much to admire in Sphinx's logical approach to spreading the good word about fostering vibrant, sustainable places to work. I especially respond to their integrity; it can take courage to call a spade a spade and the folks at Sphinx seem to do it more unabashedly than most. Look at their use of the term "green washing" (an obvious play on "whitewashing") aimed at putting pretenders on notice right from their homepage:
We understand that you don’t have to sell green to be green; however, selling green products without greening your daily operations or making unsubstantiated claims regarding product attributes could lead to allegations of “green washing” and missing out on valuable cost savings.
Their website provides a wealth of information and vital green-themed links. I particularly admire their Resource Center which, in addition to providing a simple, easy to follow "Top 10" list of steps to "greening" small businesses, also includes an incisive, economic list of useful, informative links and even the elementary and entertaining "Story of Stuff" along with a half-dozen or so downloadable (pdf) articles ranging from policy/tech ("CEO Think Green") to uber-wonk ("Sustainability and ROI").

Headquartered in Chicago, IL, Sphinx Enterprises, Ltd. is a post-modern consulting firm providing, in their words
"business sustainability solutions and research for corporations, organizations and local living economies. We are business sustainability professionals and expert practitioners committed to meeting the needs of our clients and community by providing innovative, sustainable solutions that maximize business performance and profits while being environmentally and socially responsible."
Not convinced? You'd be hard-pressed to find a more spot on summary of the philosophical imperative underpinning the sustainability movement than their Local Living Economies/Mission Statement. All in all, on a 1 to 10 worth-your-while readability scale, for small businesses looking for legitimate ways to "go green," Eco Town gives the Sphinx Enterprises web presence a solid 9 as a place to start.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Arizona's New "Bumper Crop?"

Fast on the heels of Tuesday's post featuring Bill Gross and his solar energy innovations comes this morning's headlines in the local paper, The Arizona Daily Star: "AZ: The Solar Source." A quick scan of the lede supports the premise that energy-concentrating solar reflectors may have huge potential for clean energy production and distribution:

"Imagine large-scale solar-power plants being built across the Sonoran Desert, along with power lines up to 300 feet high, to export the sun's power to the rest of the West. That's the ambition of an idea the Western Governors Association and the federal government are studying — to make Arizona a solar-energy "colony" for 11 other states, two Canadian provinces and Baja California.
The governors are also looking at the other states and how much of the West's land could be set aside to build huge plants and other facilities producing sun and wind power and other renewable energy forms — and to build power lines to carry it across the West.
Solar advocates like to say Arizona and the Southwest have enough sunshine to power all the nation, so the idea carries promise for them."

It gets better:
"A square mile of desert covered with solar panels can furnish about 100 megawatts of power, says the Western Governors Association, whose $1 million study is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy."

But, predictably, out here in the deepest, perpetually boiling-red section of TV weather-map America, all is not sunshine and cactus blossoms. Some hesitant green-leaning groups and ardent environmentalists are expressing concern over the impact 300-foot tall transmission-line tower construction and placement will have on vast swaths of Arizona's pristine Sonoran Desert and on its most sensitive and vulnerable critters, habitats and ecosystems.

It remains to be seen if these conflicting interests will find paths to progress or roadblocks and impasse. But, unlike The Lone Ranger and Tonto...the relationship between the producers of clean, renewable solar energy and the wary environmentalists who try to keep them in check not only IS supposed to be going somewhere... it really must.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Eat the Suburbs - More on Peak Oil

A compelling and oddly upbeat Australian short film about Peak Oil and a Transition Community's approach to post-peak sustainability through gardening:

(Notice Richard Heinberg is - again - a featured expert).

Money quote from the concept of creating what Heinberg refers to as a "post-peak culture:"
"Our society is likely to go through some very dramatic changes and you could say, "Well, is one person gardening going to make a difference?" Of course not. But if you have millions of people gardening, that makes a tremendous difference."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bill Gross: Ideas for Harnassing Energy

Here's "boy genius" Bill Gross, founder and CEO of Idealab. This is a somewhat older video (from his notable 2003 TED presentation) but it's an idea whose time may very well be at hand.

His creation of a solar energy collector/concentrator competes with - and may challenge the dominance of - the Photovoltaic micro-solar panel. The video is roughly 21 minutes... but well worth it if for nothing more than his "ingenuberance" (a portmanteau for ingenuity + exuberance).

Perfecting the device he demos here (or one like it) may solve many of the energy concentration/storage space/efficiency issues still plaguing battery-dependent photovoltaics for sustainability. It may also reduce or eliminate the need for a back up diesel system to satisfy peak load demand.

UPDATE: eSolar appears to be putting Bill Gross' innovations to work.

And look who noticed.

More interesting ideas from Bill Gross. This essay, from January 30, 2009, discusses proportional-use pricing for electricity.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Peak Oil & The Transition Movement

A word about peak oil:
"Fifty years ago, the world was consuming 4 billion barrels of oil per year and the average discovery was around 30 billion. Today we consume 30 billion barrels per year and the discovery rate is approaching 4 billion barrels of crude per year.” Asia Times, May 4, 2005"
Peak Oil perspectives from Richard Heinberg, author of "Peak Everything":

Transitioning from a global culture dependent on oil-based energy to one relying on sustainable, renewable energy sources and resources is the raison d'etre of The Transition Movement.

Key to their effort is the concept of the Transition Town; essentially a community committed to moving toward sustainability with each year and with each new local policy, ordinance and law (the Transition Town Wiki, linked above provides an excellent boilerplate and overview of what this movement is about and how its elements are interconnected):

The Viral Spread of Transition Initiatives

At the forefront of this new approach is a growing band of communities who are adopting the Transition Model as they devise an entirely new way of thinking, living and working together to make our local communities more resilient and more abundant.

Since the “unleashing”of Transition Town Totnes, England (the first in the UK) in the summer of 2006, the Transition concept has spread rapidly around the world. To date, there are about 80 officially designated Transition Towns (or cities, districts, villages, or islands) in the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.; Transition Boulder County became the first Transition Initiative in North America in May 2008. There are some 700 additional communities who are in various stages of becoming Transition Initiatives or considering whether they’re ready for this journey, and more join their ranks nearly every day.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks...

I got a particular kick out of today's (2/8/09) Doonesbury in the Sunday comics. (Click the image for enlarged viewing). The following post explains:

I've been sidelined this past week by a major car accident involving my truck (a 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 quad-cab) and an 82-year old tourist from Iowa driving a rented VW Jetta. On the way to fetch my 6-year old son from his after-school chess club, the mid-sized VW sedan blew through a stop sign without looking, slowing or yielding and t-boned my truck.

The impact knocked off my front right wheel (hence, no steering or brakes) and landed me across the road in a culvert after smacking head-on into a large Palo Verde tree.

I wound up in the Emergency Room for most of the night but was released following X-rays and a CAT scan that showed negative for spine or neck fractures. But my truck was a total loss.

So I'm at home, healing, and resting my aching back and neck. And I'm reflecting.

I've always driven a truck - largely for the utilitarian value - but lately, as I've become more and more interested in and committed to living a sustainable life, I've been feeling more and more guilty about my choice of vehicles. And now that I'm forced to make a decision about a new one, far sooner than I'd hoped or expected, suddenly everywhere I look I see ads for cars and trucks; ads to which I'd never paid much - if any - attention prior to the accident.

Now I'm taking particular note of the fuel efficiency and the practical economy of smaller cars built by Kia, Hundai and Suzuki. Not only do they cost less to buy than a shiny new Dodge Ram truck, they get far better gas mileage. Also, too of course are the hybrids... Toyota's Camry and Prius, the Honda Insight and Civic, and bigger, the Saturn Vue, GMC Yukon hybrid, the Chrysler Aspen and the Ford Escape.

Not to put too fine a point on the already obvious, but along with the Volkswagen, the accident itself hit me like a ton of bricks with the realization of the degree to which I've been part of the problem. Since I can't be totally carbon-neutral (e.g. ride a bicycle everywhere), I do intend my next automotive choice to reflect an enhanced consciousness of the consequences of what I drive, and where, and how fast I drive it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Key Obama Appointments - Environmental Team in Place

American President Barrack Obama's new environmental team has taken shape and the team - which includes Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, Carol M. Browner (left, above), E.P.A. administrator under President Bill Clinton, as the top White House official on climate and energy policy, and Lisa Jackson as Director of the EPA - holds significant promise as a powerful ally to the green movement. According to a New York Times article following the December '08 announcements:
Collectively, they will have the task of carrying out Mr. Obama’s stated intent to curb global warming emissions drastically while fashioning a more efficient national energy system. And they will be able to work with strong allies in Congress who are interested in developing climate-change legislation, despite fierce economic headwinds that will amplify objections from manufacturers and energy producers.
Said Ms. Jackson of her appointment: " As Administrator, I will ensure EPA’s efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency. By keeping faith with these values and unleashing innovative, forward-thinking approaches – we can further protect neighborhoods and communities throughout the country."

Unlike his predecessor, it appears President Obama is committed to facing the daunting challenges and threats posed by global climate change as well as to approaching the reduction of green house gas and CO2 emissions with a reality and science-based strategy informed by the potential for catastrophe of in- or in-adequate action.

This appears to be a welcome and promising moment for those around the globe who are committed to sustainable living - be it in one of the many Eco Towns and villages currently taking shape, in local communities and neighborhoods or in individual single-family residences.

They, and we, will be watching carefully in the weeks and months ahead as the new American President lays out his plans, delineates his environmental priorities and marshals his troops to the battle that looms, fierce and dark, on the near horizon.