Friday, August 08, 2014

UNDO-ing Plastic: At The Source

As I've been documenting just one small corner of our problems with plastic pollution — the fact of the vast patches of plastic garbage in the world's oceans — it's equally important to keep the focus on solutions.

They do exist (Bucky Fuller said so), and while we don't expect any particular new deconstruction of technology to restore the planet back to Eden overnight, it's almost always a much better use of our time and attention to be part of a solution.  That's even if its effect is no more than a nudge in the right direction (which, let's be realistic, may be the best we can expect at this point).

But it is still worth doing – any part of the right direction feels better than just moving further into the wrong ones.

Trying to address the source of the problem is usually a good way to go.  So here is just such an effort:

The "Think Beyond Plastic Business Accelerator," in Menlo Park, California, (of course,) calls itself the world’s first such incubator to focus on eliminating plastic pollution.  The company helps startups to develop affordable, sustainable alternatives to plastic, meeting the specific needs of large companies.
"Plastic may be toxic, and it lasts forever, but it’s also extremely convenient.  ...If you want companies to stop using plastic, you need to offer viable alternatives—and provide assistance to the startups coming up with them."
"A NewBusiness Accelerator Takes on Plastic Pollution"
By Caroline Winter, Businessweek, July 14, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

'Fun Facts' About The Great Pacific Garbage Patch & Co.

Continuing from the previous post, a few interesting items from the Wikipedia page on the "Great Pacific garbage patch" and its four fellow mid-ocean dumps around the globe:

  • The Great Pacific garbage patch was predicted in a 1988 paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States. 
  • Charles J. Moore, returning home through the North Pacific Gyre after competing in the Transpac sailing race in 1997, came upon an enormous stretch of floating debris.
  • It consists primarily of submerged, suspended concentrations of often-microscopic particles in the upper water column, which, in one of many effects, fish consume as they feed on their normal menu… and those plastic micro-bits migrate all the way up the food chain.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The OceanS' Floating Garbage PatcheS – Yes, it's worse than you thought

Recently, the conclusion has come to me that the mere fact of the five gigantic "floating garbage patches" in the world's oceans means we'd better start figuring out how to capture waste plastic in the wild, and to reuse or break it down to its original elements, among other things.

North Pacific Gyre World Map (by Fangz)
(That's right: it's not just the one in the northern Pacific, the first one spotted in 1997, said to be twice the size of Texas.)
I mean, really – shouldn't the world collectively feel the shame of this, and the responsibility?

(Okay, I know the world I've mostly chosen to live in is a Frank Capra movie, but,)
How come as soon as the news first hit the big media, had its 15 minutes — now probably down to around 3-5, hm? —an immediate worldwide action movement didn't spring up to do something about it?
Could it be that maybe all the plastic they say has leached itself into our systems has influenced us to be more sympathetic to plastic!? (Okay, I'm kidding... I sure hope I'm kidding.)
But for the moment, rather than dive any further into another depressing round of grim facts about all our plastic-coated problems, two basic questions:

What can be done about it?
What can we do?

Maybe we could start with an insight of R. Buckminster Fuller's, who had the right idea when he wrote, decades ago,
“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value.”
(Pollution seen simply as unharvested resources – this idea would work as an brilliant example of Genius, or vision, something really grand like that.)

An End-to-End Range of Solutions

Beyond that, of course, the full product lifecycle has to be dealt with. The main point first will be to reduce demand and production to the level where it can all be recaptured and somehow processed.  Reducing demand will require learning how to produce good alternatives to the functions people like to use plastic for.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute 
The Guardian's environmental news index on plastic bags:  ( 
The "Great Pacific garbage patch" on Wikipedia  
Here: posts tagged "appropriate technology"

Monday, July 21, 2014

(All the old posts restored, cleared of any unsuspecting copyright issues)

As noted in a post here some months back, I had promptly taken down all 150+ pieces that I'd put up over the years when I heard that a certain online image bank was sending hefty bills with threatening letters to bloggers who'd used one of their copyrighted images.

It didn't matter if you'd linked and attributed that photo (which I've always practiced), or immediately took it down.  You owed 'em, and they said they'd sue if you didn't pay.

Given what a wild and woolly frontier the Web was in the early years, with everyone reusing everything and proud of it, this certainly did seem like a dirty trick.
So I then started going through every post, following the links to everything that I'd put there, and zapped anything that I couldn't confirm had a Creative Commons license or was otherwise public domain.  This did get dreary, naturally, so it's taken awhile; it wasn't exactly a high priority, y'know?

But today, working on a new one, I finally got around to finishing going through the rest of the earlier posts, from way back in 2006.  So, for what it's worth, it's all there again, minus a couple of pix.

A quick search of "blogs images copyright threats" reveals quite an amount of cases; this one, among others, was detailed and instructive:
If Getty Images sent you a demand letter, there is definitely potential for a lawsuit.” –  (

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"All Earth's water in a bubble"

Saying, "perhaps this will give us some perspective on how truly precious a resource water really is," Treehugger posted this provocative info-graphic from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), attempting to show how much water is there on, in, and above the Earth as a series of full bubbles.
 Earth water as a bubble 860 mi. in diameter

The big one represents all of the water on, in and around Earth as a bubble 860 miles in diameter.  But that's 96% saltwater.  "The smaller sphere over Kentucky represents Earth's liquid fresh water in groundwater, swamp water, rivers, and lakes," the USGS says.  The volume of this sphere would be over 2.5 million cubic miles, forming a perfect bubble (and you have to imagine, quite an imposing one) about 170 miles in diameter.

That's the fresh water we need every day, but around 30% of it is unavailably deep in the ground. Rivers, the source of most of the fresh surface water people use, only constitute about 300 cubic miles, about 1/10,000th of one percent of total water.
"How much water is there on, in, and above the Earth?"  (USGS) 
From the USGS Water Science School, which offers "information on many aspects of water, along with pictures, data, maps, and an interactive center." 
"If you put all Earth's water In one place, it'd look like this"
by Jaymi Heimbuch,

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Will The Solar Rise Again in NY State?

Try, try again - only a few years back, a big push for developing solar industry in New York's Hudson Valley and elsewhere melted down, between China underpricing the world for solar panels and the failure of a deeply politically conflicted U.S. government to resolutely fund the growth of sustainable energy.  But Governor Andrew Cuomo sure seems serious about it, and he just seriously upped the ante again.

"The already-impressive NY-Sun Initiative is about to become one of the most ambitious solar programs in the nation, with the governor committing, through a filing with the state’s Public Service Commission, $1 billion to the program—that’s right, $1 billion—over the next 10 years."
 – Natural Resources Defense Council, Pierre Bull’s Blog, 1/8/14

SUNY Buffalo's 750 kilowatt Solar Strand,
the switch just flipped on in December, 2013
From the Spring of 2012, Cuomo's NY-Sun Initiative brought together and pumped up existing programs of the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), and the New York Power Authority (NYPA), to create one, well coordinated and funded solar energy effort.  The launch came paired with the Public Service Commission's approval of NYSERDA’s request to double funding for customer-sited solar electric systems to $432 million over the next four years.

Last month the Governor added another $108 million in funding over the next two years for residential and commercial solar energy projects, bringing the total budget for the next two years of NYSERDA alone to $216 million.

The NY-Sun Initiative had the stated intention of "doubling the amount of customers' installed solar power in a year, and quadrupling it by 2013."  As of December, according to the Governor's office, a total of 299 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity has been installed or is under development, more than was installed in the entire prior decade, said to be greenhouse-gas equivalent of taking 29,000 cars off the road.

Due largely to the initiative, the state rapidly moved up the national charts of installed solar power ranking, as of the third quarter of 2013:
 “With enough solar to power more than 30,900 homes, New York currently ranks 12th in the country for installed solar capacity," According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (via "There are more than 411 solar companies at work throughout the value chain in New York, employing more than 3,300 people."
But the goal is even more ambitious: to install 3,000 (MW) of solar across New York, enough solar, they say, to:
• power 465,000 homes,
• cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.3 million tons annually —subtracting the exhaust of almost 435,000 cars — and
• create more than 13,000 new solar jobs.

A win-win-win?  Sounds great, like it always has...

SUNY Buffalo's 750 kilowatt Solar Strand 
"'SolarStrand' Opens as New Gateway to UB Campus"
3,200-Panel Photovoltaic Array at the State University of NY at Buffalo.  Built in partnership with, and $7 million from, NYPA's Renewable Energy Program, which is now under the umbrella (solar-panelled, we're sure,) of NY-Sun.
More links:
"Governor Cuomo Announces Additional $108 Million Commitment to Solar Industry Through NY-Sun Initiative" - Gov.'s Press Office _

Filing with the state’s PSC
Related, in this blog:
"Green" Lights in Europe, Asia, But Not U.S. (2011)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Steve Jobs' Parents' Garage Now A Landmark

The Los Altos, California, Historical Commission recently voted to designate 2066 Crist Drive -- the house where Steve Jobs grew up, with the legendary garage where Apple Computer was born -- as an "historic resource."
It's not the only famous garage of its kind in Silicon Valley, but between Jobs' astonishingly long line of successful breakthroughs and the fact that Apple has been bobbing in and out of the top spot of most valuable company in the world (jostling past Exxon Mobil and the stragglers, Microsoft, Wal-Mart and IBM), it'll do for the symbol of them all.

That garage, built in 1952, would 24 years later become the lab where he and co-founder Steve Wozniak assembled the first 100 Apple I computers. "Woz," of course, was the engineer who imagined and created the working computer that put the stars in Jobs' eyes, and made them both stars in the process.

The garage's other historic function was as the office -- the space where Jobs met with their first investors.

The first 50 computers created by Jobs and Wozniak were sold to an electronics store in nearby Mountain View for $500 each. The rest were assembled for their friends in the Homebrew Computer Club, part of the tech ecosystem the two Steves were nurtured by. Today, original Apple I's sell for tens of thousands. One was auctioned off a few years ago for more than $200,000.

That little garage simply reminds us that the power of a great idea -- put into effect with a committed team, solid planning, and persistent followthrough -- can create the largest effect out of very humble beginnings.
(This post first appeared in Mitch Ditkoff's "The Heart of Innovation," one of Guy Kawasaki's top blogs on innovation on  Mr. Ditkoff also writes for Huffington Post.)

(Photo by gflinch, on Flickr, under Creative Commons license)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

(In-process note: slowly restoring earlier posts, for © pics check)

Only around 60 of ~150 posts originally published here are visible at this time, because as you may have heard certain large copyright holders were not just informing blogs that they had (perhaps unwittingly) copyrighted images on their blogs and demanding their removal, but presenting said bloggers with hefty bills and the lawyers to back them up.  Ouch!

So I real quick-like unpublished every post with a picture I hadn't taken or verified, and am slowly restoring them… at the leisurely pace that befits the project.  When you've put up over 150 posts, and is hardly what you'd call a urgent task, it's going to take some time.

I do want to point out that every single graphic I published, and every quote, was attributed and linked back to the source. But apparently they're demanding payment regardless; so in all such cases we've been forced to denude a number of early posts, unfortunately, reducing them visually to just thoughtfully-formatted clusters of words.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

This Year's Spring View

The view across the street here in Catskill, NY, of the middle of the eastern range of the Catskill Mountains, three miles west.


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

New Leaves on the Tree Again

It's Spring, (even if kind of an on-again, off-again one this year,) so what better way to restart the discussion here in the Things Green Dept. than by Going Back To The Roots.

Yes, we're talking about Trees, in this case stimulated by an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times, "Why Trees Matter."
"We have underestimated the importance of trees," author Jim Robbins writes. "They are not merely pleasant sources of shade but a potentially major answer to some of our most pressing environmental problems. We take them for granted, but they are a near miracle."
Among the many well-cited benefits he names are,
  •  "In a campaign called Forests Are Lovers of the Sea, fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to bring back fish and oyster stocks. And they have returned. 
  • "In Japan, researchers have long studied what they call 'forest bathing.' A walk in the woods, they say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases natural killer cells in the immune system… 
  • "In Africa, millions of acres of parched land have been reclaimed through strategic tree growth."
"…an old proverb seems apt. When is the best time to plant a tree? The answer: 'Twenty years ago.' The second-best time? 'Today.' "
From "Why Trees Matter," by Jim Robbins, author of the upcoming book, “The Man Who Planted Trees.” NY Times, published April 11, 2012

Ah, the endless subject of trees, the lengthy lists of all their virtues and gifts to us. From just one page of the Arbor Day Foundation's site, for example, we can learn that trees:
  • help fight climate change, 
  • are the “low tech” solution to energy problems, 
  • reduce your carbon footprint,
  • tame stormwater, 
  • conserve soil and water, 
  • regulate the temperature of your neighborhood, 
  • provide food for wildlife. 
Why, they even "add value to your home," especially when planted to require less energy to heat or cool it.

That's all just on the coolly rational, cost/benefit analysis side, too. Trees, standing in for the entire plant world, offer a perfect symbiosis with oxygen-breathing, carbon-dioxide-exhaling humans. "Through the natural process of photosynthesis," reminds us, "trees absorb CO2 and other pollutant particulates, then store the carbon and emit pure oxygen."

Then, in the most direct terms, how much does the shade of a tree mean to you on a hot summer day, with the sun at full blast? How about the sound and the visual of a grand old tree in the wind, being moved and heard from a thousand different spots; and the incomparably soothing effect that can produce in your nervous system?  How is it that all that motion can massage us, tip to toe, from inside to out, somehow washing away a tide of tension and concerns?

Like the man said, we don't appreciate trees nearly enough.

Not that there aren't people who do, and are working on it: for example, the United Nations sponsored an International Year of Forests in 2011, "a global celebration to highlight people's action for sustainable forest management," and "highlight our relationship with forests and humankind’s role in ensuring their well-being and development."

"The four shared Global Objectives provide a framework for international efforts toward sustainable forest management."

This United Nations Forum on Forests awarded their first-ever Forest Heroes Awards, celebrating the "countless individuals around the world who are dedicating their lives to nurturing forests in quiet and heroic ways. By honouring everyday people, we would like to show that it is possible for everyone to make a positive change for forests!"

(Snapshot by BR, 2012)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Green" Lights in Europe, Asia, But Not U.S. (Except...)

The new Peekaboo version of The New York Times ran an excellent overview of the state of "green" business in the U.S. vs. the rest of the world, which pretty much explains what we're seeing today.

European and Asian governments had good game plans and put them in play effectively, while, until the last few years, the oil-bound U.S. stood alone bravely claiming that the science on climate change wasn't in yet. As a result, other countries have raced ahead in developing and implementing sustainable technologies on a wide scale.

"Many European countries — along with China, Japan and South Korea — have pushed commercial development of carbon-reducing technologies with a robust policy mix of direct government investment, tax breaks, loans, regulation," and emissions either capped or taxed, author Elisabeth Rosenthal writes. "Incentives have fostered rapid entrepreneurial growth in new industries like solar and wind power, as well as in traditional fields like home building and food processing, with a focus on energy efficiency."

Tighter energy-efficiency standards in Europe, Japan and China have incented companies there to dive into design and development with more gusto than their American counterparts — with the notable exception of California, whose standards are equivalent to Europe's.

The story contrasts insulation jobs on a single, four-story home each in the U.S. and Britain: $5,000 vs. $1,000, with the English tapping that 40-to-60% subsidy from their government, thus being able to recoup their full investment in 12-18 months in fuel saved. (Poor people and seniors got theirs done for free.)

"U.S. Is Falling Behind in the Business of ‘Green’" – NY Times, June 8, 2011, by Elisabeth Rosenthal

"California's Energy Efficiency Standards for
Residential and Nonresidential Buildings"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Followup: "Dr. King" quote mostly accurate

(…depending on which network you saw it on.)

Just happened to see followups this past week about two different, almost-true stories, one of which I had passed along the longer, more-accurate version of to my purposefully-small corner of Facebook.

That would be the quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. ("Rev. King," let's remember), which was being passed around when the U.S. government finally found, and killed, the mass murderer. Turns out someone noticed it was almost a King quote, garbled by addition, and one thorough individual took the time to track the messages back to the source; so here's how it happened.

The Christian Science Monitor reported, "Megan McArdle, a blogger at the Atlantic, tracked the original quote down to Jessica Dovey," a young lady recently graduated from Penn State but living in Kobe (the original one), Japan. She'd posted in Facebook, writing,

I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." MLK Jr

Note, as someone down the line didn't, that she properly put quote marks at the beginning of the actual words of Dr. King. But as the message was passed along, those crucial open-quote marks were lost, and it became No-Longer-Really-A-Quote of MLK.. Then, as the wave spread to Twitter (ah-ha!), the rest was dropped and only Jessica's sentence remained, at which point it attained the state of true Fakeness.

So it was just due to this petty detail, a seemingly harmless omission, that the meaning was changed; only subtly, but enough that its credibility was compromised. But worse, this made it ripe pickings for Twitter, the Short Attention Span Medium (SASM), to phase it impatiently into a total "fake accompli."

Not the author's fault; first of all, her own statement still seems to me to be entirely faithful to the thought and intention of the great man she quotes in turn. And technically, she got it right — although it would have been an even better version of Right if she'd started the quote with its own paragraph.

So, right on, Jessica; and good work, Megan.

More to the story: Facebook to blame, too?

But, ah-ha! Here, once again, we detect the haughty hand of Fazebook's user interface design authority, which has turned its back on 25 years in the evolution of GUI design standards. They've decided that a Return or Enter is now the Send or Post command, not a line feed/"carriage return" as in pretty much every other piece of major or minor software out there.

And of course this fairly-significant change seemed to be turned on without any prior warning, much less inquiry into how their non-mobile access users felt about this new "feature" (since it seems geared to handhelds).

Therefore, Ms. Dovey may not have known that she's able to write posts with more than one paragraph — the trick is a couple "Shift-Return's." Only recently, finally, is it noted on-screen, while the function was always there (one UI tradition they have kept, so far). Maybe people were complaining.

So, that's another fine mess you've gotten us into, Mr. Zuckerberg. (And you can quote me on that.)

"How Osama bin Laden's death sparked a fake Martin Luther King quote"
– Christian Science Monitor

"Anatomy of a Fake Quotation"
by Megan McArdle, The Atlantic, May 3 2011

(The next day.. )

Only later does it occur to me that there's a genuinely wonderful thing to appreciate here, which should also be acknowledged. That's the fact that a near- and very-faithful-to-the-original quote with this perspective, this nature, struck such a chord in so many people, all over the country and globe. Nice to know that such a sensibility is that alive in this world, don't you think?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Good Guys Finish First, Too: Ray Allen Hits Record 3

[Thursday night, 8-something:] Just watched Ray Allen hit his 2,561st three-pointer, breaking Reggie Miller's all-time record, and in a game against the Lakers in the Boston (TD) Garden, no less. "All-Time" here should be understood to mean, "in 32 years," since the three-point shot only dates to 1979 in the NBA.

Ray Allen is by all accounts a real stand-up guy, and Reggie Miller, on the scene as a TV announcer, spent the whole first recording-breaking half sending up Allen's hours of work perfecting his craft. He's at the top of his game at age 35, a real old-timer by NBA standards, so it's worth noting how he's gone about it.
The new record holder is interviewed and says that what inspired him, when he first came into the league 15 years back, was seeing how long before a game Reggie would be out there practicing. So Miller explains that he in turn got the idea from watching Larry Bird, hours before gametime…
Later in the broadcast, Miller explained that, "it was all about having the whole court free" so you could practice taking shots from all different spots on the floor. (Ah-ha! That little mental-vision jolt you get from an expert insight.) And it's always about that 10,000 hours.
These are guys who take around 1000 practice shots a day. Miller spent the entire night repeating variations on the phrase, "those long hours in the gym, working on your shot." Because as all these gentlemen have made obvious again, for whatever craft we can talk about, that's how it's done.

Friday, February 11, 2011


The traditionalist part of my brain will not allow me to let seven months sans postings go by unacknowledged. Search-engine-wise, of course, it doesn't matter, because people reach you by tags, not chronological lists.

But in the narrative sense, in the words of Chico Marx, "Nah, atsa no good, too." I'd moved my blogging attention primarily to logging events in the movement to make the Hudson Valley a Green Tech center, and what seems to have happened, at least at this point, can be summed up in a word: China.
In a few more words, Vince Cozzolino of The Solar Energy Consortium in Kingston talked about a specific solar manufacturer's setback, but he could have been speaking for the sector.

He explained they were "hit by a combination of the bad economy, reduced demand for solar cells because of lower subsidies in parts of Europe, and competition from countries such as China, where solar manufacturing is heavily subsidized by the government."

(From the story by Christian Livermore in the Times Herald-Record/Recordonline, 12/22/10.)
At the same time, I've gotten busy with successive new documentation projects, two of them back in the field of professional video, one for large-scale live events and the other for broadcast studios.

As a guy who was trained to really take the time to choose the right word and proofread carefully, I can't just dash off some breathless verbiage and hit Send. It takes time. Even here in the 21st century, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right — right?

Now add the increasing if still stingy amount of time on Facebook, because naturally I've discovered a couple dozen old buddies that I wind up riffing with on subjects both serious and JPF (Just Plain Fun*), and all that's how the blog went "on hold." You've got to have a sense of when you're getting spread too thin; and that's coming from a skinny guy, where it becomes especially important.

But I knew the tide would come back in, and there it is. It just took the right time and an exciting enough reason — in this case, Ray Allen's night — to take keyboard in hand again.

(* - "Just Plain Fun" - no, I'd never seen that acronym before, either.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

3 Great Green Bills in NYS Limbo

As long as the price of petrol is low, it doesn't appear that free markets will do much about reducing our dependence on it. Gas doesn't look too awfully expensive now, so people stop buying hybrids and companies see too long a payback on converting to renewables.

With mixed feelings, then, we look to the avenue of government to advance urgently necessary causes that are otherwise blocked or stalled. Unfortunately, when the New York State legislature adjourned July 1, they left behind at least three bills with the potential to "make New York a real leader in solar power development."

Those same rascally lawmakers are back tonight for the special session Gov. Paterson called, but "expectations are that nothing will actually get done," according to the Albany Times-Union, due to continuing political gridlock. Nevertheless:

The Solar Industry and Jobs Development Act

The Solar Jobs Act would require New York State's electric utilities to get 2.5% of their power from solar energy by 2025, enough electricity to power one million homes. That's starting from the current merest sliver of a percent. Backers say the bill would generate $20 billion in economic activity, including 22,000 quality jobs in an array of fields, all while costing ratepayers an average of 39 cents a month. (From a report by the Vote Solar Initiative, an industry advocate).

In a July Op-Ed in the Times-Union, Jeff Jones claims, "Solar energy represents less than one tenth of one percent of our state's energy mix, yet creates more jobs per megawatt than any other electricity resource," and then he gets specific:

"Think of the glassmakers that have lost auto contracts but could be covering solar panels; semiconductor factories that no longer make computer parts but could be making solar cells; public and private educational research and development facilities ready to partner with industry and foster the next generation of solar technology."'s blog had a great crack that, " As if that weren’t enough to motivate New York lawmakers, the report’s authors emphasize that inaction on the bill equates to losing to New Jersey: 'New York is already losing solar trainees and economic output to neighboring New Jersey, which installs nearly five times as much solar annually.”

Lose to Joisey! Say it ain't so, Joe.

(Two more to come in follow-up posts…)

Friday, July 16, 2010

A CLEAR-Headed Idea for Reducing Emissions

Two U.S. Senators have proposed what looks like a brilliant framework for not only reducing carbon air pollution, but putting some money directly into our pockets, and doing it with what sounds like a refreshingly simple system.

The 4 Sisters smokestacks go down
(Are you kidding me? Can I be forgiven for fearing, in these nutty times, that it's too good to be true? Well, I just read this morning that the White House and Senate allies decided this week, "to press ahead with a scaled-back energy bill," and they didn't mention this one, so it might turn out to be. Nevertheless:)

In December, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) Act. They wrote,
"Our concept is simple: Instead of cap-and-trade, our approach is 'cap-and-dividend,' with the dividends going where they belong: into the pockets of hardworking Americans."

"The legislation would set up a mechanism for selling "carbon shares" to the few thousand fossil fuel producers and importers through monthly auctions. Seventy-five percent of the auction revenue would be returned to every citizen and legal resident of the United States through equally divided rebate checks -- averaging $1,100 for a family of four each year. The remaining 25 percent would finance clean-energy research and development…" and more.
This would be done "without disrupting the economy, using a gradually declining 'cap.' The concept is to gradually accelerate emission reductions," aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020, and 83% by 2050.
Quotes from "A cap-and-dividend way to a cleaner nation and more jobs," Cantwell and Collins' Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post, Friday, 6/18/10.
There are literally a host of good ideas contained in this one bill, beyond the obvious lure of a check from the guv'mint, for a change: transfer money directly from those who profit from polluting to those who suffer from it the most. Set a predictable price for carbon that everyone can plan on, one that's market-driven within set limits, and all with a minimum of government involvement since an independent trust would be set up to handle the auction. (A few nods to the Republican side of the aisle, there — bully! Let's get everybody on board.)

And how about these perks? "We create a level playing field instead of providing pollution credits to whichever entities have the best lobbyists," the Senators write. "The act cuts out Wall Street speculators and price manipulators. It minimizes destructive price volatility."

And, perhaps most radically of all, the actual bill is only 39 pages long! That means all those members of Congress will be able to actually have a concept of what's in there, for a change. (Candid Representatives have admitted there's no way you can know all the provisions in your common 2,000-page bill.) Between the few pages and the mechanism proposed, it also means that special interests wouldn't have anywhere in the system to hide big payouts to themselves.

The idea is that now that companies will have to pay for the carbon they allow into the atmosphere (that we're all breathing, and in effect swimming in together), they will be economically incented to reduce that output. At long last they'll find the will and the way to do what they'd put off for as long as possible, simply due to the cost. Polluting did not figure into their bottom line — aside from compliance costs during earlier eras when the EPA was actually on the job. Now it would.

By golly, they even made a cute little video for YouTube to explain it:

"How the CLEAR Act Works" (PDF, from

First saw it here:
"Double Dividend: Make Money by Saving Nature"
George Lakoff, Huffington Post
Photo from Wikipedia —
the controlled demolition of four giant coal smokestacks, known locally as the "four sisters," in a Toronto suburb (2006). The plant was labelled a heavy polluter by the Ontario government; and we who live downwind, to the east, thank you.

VIDEO: Tim-berrrr! (53 sec., no sound)

Related, here:
Posts tagged "Green tech"

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Conservation Tips For The "Heat Wa-a-a-ve!"

Public Service Electric and Gas, New Jersey’s largest utility, and PJM Interconnection, the electric grid operator for 13 states and D.C., put out an urgent release yesterday, July 7th, asking everybody to conserve electricity, and since it's no cooler today I thought I'd pass along these highly-relevant tips they included.
(Unless you tend to live this way already, in which case Bully for you! And thanks.)

These are some of PSEG's conservation tips:

• Turn off everything you’re not using; lights, TVs, computers, etc. Use dimmers, timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.
• Close blinds, shades and draperies facing the sun to keep the sun’s heat out and to help fans and air conditioners cool more efficiently. (Duh.)
• Close doors leading to uncooled parts of your home. With central air, close off vents to unused rooms.
• Delay heat-producing tasks such as washing and drying laundry or dishes until later in the day, and (or least) wait until a load is full.
• Don't use nonessential appliances, like an extra refrigerator in your garage. Consider setting air conditioners to 78 degrees, health permitting.

More "Energy Conservation Tips from PSEG"

"In the New York City area, Con Edison said its crews were working 24 hours a day to maintain service. Con Edison on July 6 broke its 2010 record for peak electricity use when the company delivered 12,963 megawatts at 5 p.m. A news release said usage would have been even higher if not for the efforts of Con Edison’s customers, who responded to the company’s request for conservation."
- News, where I saw a piece on PSEG's release.

(Can't resist on a day like this:)
"Heat Wave" — (the music starts at 1:40 in)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Giant Shipper Finds "Slow Is Better," Cheaper

Maersk ship, tugsNow that oil is back in the news with a vengeance, exacting the price for our dependency on both the fuel and the money to be made from it, I kept thinking about this piece from earlier in the year about a revolutionary move of the leading container shipping company.

"Slow Trip Across Sea Aids Profit and Environment," Elisabeth Rosenthal, NY Times, 2/16/10.
The world-spanning Danish line Maersk, socked with $145 barrels of oil in 2008, cut their fuel consumption by almost one third with a daring manuever: cutting the top cruising speed of its ships by half.

"Reducing engine load dramatically decreases fuel consumption," a Maersk presentation explains, because, "fuel consumption and CO2 emissions increase exponentially with speed." Maersk was able to cut their fuel needs on major routes by as much as 30 percent, a major savings. But just by that, the company also managed an equal cut in their ships’ emissions of greenhouse gases.

On many routes, it doesn't even take any more time(!) — cut-off, transit and arrival schedules remain the same since technology now allows for a better distribution of speed, thus gaining back what had been wasted "hurry up and wait" time.

(Of course, when you think of it, this isn't really an entirely new principle to any of us, because we've all heard from way back that driving at 55 gives you the best fuel efficiency and gets you there just some minutes later. But that doesn't mean some of us aren't still looking for the chance to really open 'er up anyway.)

"Where the previous focus has been on 'What will it cost?' and 'Get it to me as fast as possible,' " Maersk’s director of environmental sustainability explains in the NYT story, there's now a third dimension: 'What’s the CO2 footprint?' " Maersk's pitch to shippers includes the offer that, " We will significantly reduce your carbon footprint," claiming that, "Super Slow Steaming alone easily reduces a customer’s whole annual supply chain by 13%."

"Slowing down from high speeds reduces emissions because it reduces drag and friction as ships plow through the water," says the NYT's story, and points out that the same holds true for airplanes, which could easily reduce their emissions by taking it slower, say by 10%.

This is an especially welcome innovation at a time when worldwide consumption is growing so fast; the container ship trade grew by eight times between 1985 and 2007, especially long-haul shipments of goods from Asia. Maersk says their fleet of 545 ships makes a port call every thirteen minutes. So their shift to Slo-Mo has an impact, even more so as a gauntlet thrown to their competition — not, God forbid, because it's the Right Thing To Do or anything, but because it'll save them money, too.

Hey, whatever it takes.

But here's another excellent and really intriguing example of how progress doesn't always come from charging ahead — maybe just as often, it can be achieved by dropping back a step.

• Maersk vessel photo page

Related, sort of, here:
On Slow-blogging
Posts about Green Tech

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

How could any green-thinking individual not offer an increasingly gladdened salute to the day? It's hard not to consider where we could have been by now if the original Earth Day, 40 years ago, had been embraced more widely. But by golly, at least now the momentum has shifted, and even though every institution with an advertising budget is busily greenwashing itself — for example, the one that brags widely about their "ecoimagination" on one side, while continuing to oppose the cleanup of the Hudson River they publicly agreed to on the other — there are real and tremendous strides being made.

So let's toast the day with a glass of pure water, giving some grateful credit to all the pioneers of this awareness — like the people PBS is chronicling in "Earth Days," the story of "the dawn and development of the modern environmental movement through the extraordinary stories of the era’s pioneers.

And while we're at it, let's not forget to celebrate to whatever force or forces deserve the credit for the amazingly beautiful planet we're standing on.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Finally, It Pays To Go Greener

For the longest time it's been the case that if you wanted to leave a lighter footprint on the earth, it was going to cost you. Now, thanks both to general awareness and government subsidies, you hear of people who are actually saving money by going a little more green.

Says right here that this one guy in Shreveport, guided by a website, spent $260 on small energy-saving devices, which saved him $300 off his utility bill in just a few months, plus they gave him three new trees in his yard. Sounds like a deal that bears looking into.

The anthropomorphized focus of the Associated Press story (beginning, as all reporting must these days, through the eyes of a single person,) purchased only a couple programmable thermostats, blankets for the water heater, and a buncha them new-fangled lightbulbs to gain all that green - the metaphorical, financial, and photosynthetic.

The website he used was, only one of many new Web services for reducing home energy consumption; the story also mentions Google PowerMeter, My Emissions Exchange, and the EPA's "Energy Star" Home Energy Yardstick. They offer graphs that track a home's natural gas, electric and water usage, with impressive integration with utilities, allowing homeowners to spot and optimize where unnecessary amounts of energy are being spent. Earth Aid, for example, also will highlight "the rebates, tax incentives, and discounts that make it even more economical for you to save energy."

"Each year the average household spends about $2,200 on utilities and spews 22,300 pounds in carbon dioxide emissions. With just a few basic energy upgrades, consumers could pocket an average of $660, or 30 percent of their spending, and shrink their carbon footprint by as much as 8,000 pounds each year, according to the EPA."
With the DOE saying residential emissions account for an eighth of the U.S. total, a healthy response to these upgrade campaigns could have a significant impact on how often we as a country need to fill-'er-up.

Some of these Web programs further reward reduced emissions with various prizes, in services or cash. Adding the rewards component to what's fundamentally a cost-saving offer appeals and speaks to more than just the person who pays the electric bill.
'''It makes it easier for us as parents to explain it to our kids and for them to see a tangible result of their actions,' Kincaid said. Now the kids are quick to switch off lights and shut down electronics, with the hope that in a few months they can plant another oak tree."
- Online Ways to Cash In on Going Green - AP, April 9, 2010