We Could All Use a Second Look

25 08 2009
From: CTV, 2009

From: CTV, 2009

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. “

– From the film Dead Poets Society
Advertisements




Better Place: The Electric Car Revolution

19 08 2009
From: Renault, 2009

From: Renault, 2009

As companies like General Motors, Toyota, and Honda plug away at developing new hybrid vehicles in their attempts to ‘go green’ (and I applaud them for doing so!), a group called Better Place has teamed up with Renault to offer fully electric vehicles as well as the infrastructure to go with them to cities across the world. Better Place’s initiative includes:

  • working with battery manufacturers to produce advanced lithium-ion battery technologies with improved performance, range, charge time and battery life, not to mention recyclable and environmentally friendly too.
  • creating networks of electric vehicle charging possibilities including charge stations and battery switching stations
  • assisting in the development of global standards which will hopefully accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles all over the world (http://www.betterplace.com/)

Now what part does Renault play in all this? Well, Renault has committed to providing the vehicles to go along with the infrastructure. They plan to produce tens of thousands of electric vehicles per year starting in 2011. There will be 3 models available: a saloon, a compact city car and a van. Better Places Denmark is developing the lithium batteries for these vehicles. The plan is to have each buyer sign up for a monthly subscription to have access to the batteries. The partnership will initially market the program and its cars in Israel and Denmark where a recent study initiated by Better Place indicated that these 2 locations had the highest percentage of buyers interested in purchasing an electric vehicle for their next car (57% and 40% respectively). Charging of these vehicles will be available through three methods. First, Denmark plans to construct an initial 60 charging stations in parking lots and on streets where you will be able to ‘top up’ your battery charge. You can also plug the vehicles in at home when they are not being used. The third method overcomes the obstacle of the time it takes to charge a battery. 100 swap stations will be available across Denmark for driver to quickly switch their used battery for a fresh one in only 5 minutes. Less time than it takes to fill up the gas tank in some cases. (http://www.betterplace.com/company/press-release-detail/strong-consumer-interest-in-electric-vehicles-bodes-well-for-new-era-of-sus/, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/18/renault-electric-car)

Better Places is also now working with the province of Ontario in Canada. Despite the deep rooted dependence on cars in Ontario established by Henry Ford in 1903, the Ontario Government has acknowledged the need for change. They have partnered with Better Place to move from the current gas powered Car 1.0 model to the electric powered Car 2.0 model which relies on renewable energy. The partnership plans to create an Ontario wide electric vehicle network powered by Bullfrog Power, a renewable energy company in Ontario. This network includes everything from public awareness and education to government incentive/rebate programs to reviving the local auto industry with the production of electric vehicles to a system of province wide charging stations. Finally, a real solution to recover Ontario’s dying auto industry (http://www.betterplace.com/company/press-release-detail/better-place-partners-with-ontario-to-bring-car-20-electric-car-infrastruct/, http://www.betterplace.com/global-progress/canada/).  

Thanks to Sarah English for contributing.





Quotes from GM’s Bob Lutz

13 08 2009
From: Maxgladwell.com, 2009

From: Maxgladwell.com, 2009

This is directly taken from Wired Magazine:

“Maximum” Bob Lutz is a man who always speaks his mind, no matter how outlandish, which is why it should be no surprise the General Motors honcho says global warming “is a total crock of sh*t.”

Lutz made that crack during a private lunch with reporters in Virginia, according to D Magazine, and followed it up by saying, “I’m a skeptic, not a denier. Having said that, my opinion doesn’t matter.”

No, it doesn’t, but it’s always entertaining to hear it. Lutz said he’s pushing the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle because “I’m motivated more by the desire to replace imported oil than by the CO2 (argument).”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why Lutz is pushing the Volt, just so long as he’s pushing it. But we have to wonder what the hell Lutz was thinking when he said hybrids like the Toyota Prius “make no economic sense” because of their high cost when GM has promised to roll out one new hybrid every three months for the next four years.

Goodness Bob!

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/02/bob-lutz-global/





Walking! It’s the New Driving!

11 08 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

A fellow blogger put together a great post on the benefits of walking as well as the unseen costs of driving a car. Here are a few of the things he’s discovered:

  1. 40% of trips made in the United States are 2 miles or less
  2. Even given the above, fewer than 10% of all trips are made by foot or bike
  3. In 2008, Americans consumed 22.5% of the world’s oil production (884 million metric tonnes)
  4. For those of you who like to blame China for being the big polluter, they burned 375 million metric tonnes
  5. If you thought driving vehicles was bad for the environment, consider this. A car produces more waste and air pollution in it’s lifetime before it’s even driven.
  6. Medical expenses due to obesity count for 9.1% of all American medical expenditures.
  7. The risk of death from heart disease could be reduced by 34% by simply walking 2 hours per week

I put these numbers out there for obvious reasons. Do I believe cars are terrible things? Not at all, especially when they’re becoming incredibly more efficient, and we’re finally on the cusp of producing electric vehicles for the masses. I understand that cars are necessary at times, especially given the current urban form of North America – that is sprawl. You can’t really be expected to walk everywhere when there is no infrastructure in place to encourage it. However, I know for a fact that there are still plenty of trips that are incredibly brief and could easily be made on foot. Often our first instinct as 21st century human beings is to hop in the car no matter where we are going. It has been proven though, that this is unhealthy in numerous ways. So, next time you’ve got to go somewhere, consider the actual distance and the actual time required for that trip. Do you really need to drive? Could you benefit from a calming walk and a breath of fresh air?

For more on the social benefits of walking and more stats and numbers: http://svenworld.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/talking-the-walk





Support for Inhabitat’s ReBurbia Contest

10 08 2009

I just want to quickly talk about the design competition that Inhabitat is finishing up with right now. It’s called ReBurbia. Applicants were asked to submit a design that dealt with the issues surrounding suburbanism. These solutions could be anything, from rezoning, to total destruction. Out of it though, came some fantastic ideas. The top 20 finalists are here. If you want some eco-inspiration,  look through the finalists. They can also teach you quite a bit, and if nothing else, the designs are impressive and nice to look at. Some of my favorite designs:

1. Agricultural Medians on super-wide suburban streets

STREET-Rendered-670x453

 

2. Convert Big Box Stores to Algae Bio-fuel Centres

BigBoxBioFuel 

3. The Urban Sprawl Repair Kit: Simple Infill

UrbanSprawlRepairKIT





Senator Inhofe: Oil and Gas Don’t Pollute

29 07 2009

Wow…I don’t even know what to say about this. Senator Inhofe, of Oklahoma, actually says not only that oil and gas don’t contribute to climate change, but that they don’t pollute at all. That is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard.

Well senator, I guess that gives major oil companys the go ahead to dump their waste water in your backyard? Have you possibly tried to leave your car running in the garage with the door closed? Can you tell me that would have no ill effect on your livelihood? Maybe I can stop by and dump my oil motor oil in your garden? I certainly hope you just fumbled the words and didn’t actually mean what you said.





Sarah Palin Doesn’t Understand Cap-and-Trade

27 07 2009
Sarah Palin wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Washington Post on July 14th this year. It is full of BS and truth stretching, as well as a good old fashioned lack of concrete information. Allow me to retort:

There is no shortage of threats to our economy. America’s unemployment rate recently hit its highest mark in more than 25 years and is expected to continue climbing. Worries are widespread that even when the economy finally rebounds, the recovery won’t bring jobs. Our nation’s debt is unsustainable, and the federal government’s reach into the private sector is unprecedented.

Unfortunately, many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges. So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be:

I am deeply concerned about President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.

Ok Sarah, you say this plan will undermine the economic recovery in the short term. Here’s some news for you, the plan is not to take affect until 2012, if the United States is still in recession over two years from now, I think we have some bigger issues to worry about.

American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy.

Yes, this is true, but is it all encompasing and defining? To put the matter close to home, Alaska’s average retail price for electricity in April 2009 was 14.76 cents/kWh. That one of the highest prices in the United States. The cost of electricity is generally between 10 and 15 pence/kWh in England. That translates to between 16.48 and 24.73 cents/kWh in American dollars. Would you say that England is not prosperous?

Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security. Consequently, many of us in this huge, energy-rich state recognize that the president’s cap-and-trade energy tax would adversely affect every aspect of the U.S. economy.

Every aspect? Thats pretty broad. I bet it would lead to less pollution? Is that an adverse affect Sarah?

There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn’t lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive! Those who understand the issue know we can meet our energy needs and environmental challenges without destroying America’s economy.

All energy on earth comes from the sun in some way or another. The scarcity lies in fossil fuels, which takes millions of years to develop. Sun and wind happen naturally every day of the year. Until the sun implodes, I don’t think you can call that a scarce resource.

Job losses are so certain under this new cap-and-tax plan that it includes a provision accommodating newly unemployed workers from the resulting dried-up energy sector, to the tune of $4.2 billion over eight years. So much for creating jobs.

Take a trip down to Neon, Kentucky and look at how people are living after the coal industry left the area. The lifetime of fossil fuel industries is finite and will eventually leave people without jobs. The lifetime of a renewable energy sector is infinite, therefore, in the long run, there are far more permanent jobs. Oh ya, its cap-and-trade Sarah, not cap-and-tax, you made  a typo there.

In addition to immediately increasing unemployment in the energy sector, even more American jobs will be threatened by the rising cost of doing business under the cap-and-tax plan. For example, the cost of farming will certainly increase, driving down farm incomes while driving up grocery prices. The costs of manufacturing, warehousing and transportation will also increase.

For the second time, 2012 is not immediate. And for the second time, its cap-and-trade. Poor farming practices are already subsidized by the government because we demand cheap terrible food. If subsidies were granted to the poor rather than the farmers, higher food costs would be so big an issue. Buying vegetables from your local stand sure is cheaper than buying them from the grocery store.

The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.

The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet. As the president eloquently puts it, their electricity bills will “necessarily skyrocket.” So much for not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

Even Warren Buffett, an ardent Obama supporter, admitted that under the cap-and-tax scheme, “poor people are going to pay a lot more for electricity.”

This might be a valid point. Though it has been disputed and stated that the poorest families will actually benefit from cap-and-trade. Additionally, rising costs will force an increase in conservation efforts. And if energy costs too much to purchase, part of the cap-costs that corporations pay could go to financing solar panels for the rooves of those who can’t afford to pay for energy. I don’t think this is in the plan though, so Sarah, maybe you could use your influence for something productive like this?

We must move in a new direction. We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil. Just as important, we have more desire and ability to protect the environment than any foreign nation from which we purchase energy today.

Umm…the plan IS to move in a new direction….not the same old direction that you’re proposing.

In Alaska, we are progressing on the largest private-sector energy project in history. Our 3,000-mile natural gas pipeline will transport hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of our clean natural gas to hungry markets across America. We can safely drill for U.S. oil offshore and in a tiny, 2,000-acre corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if ever given the go-ahead by Washington bureaucrats.

Oh those darned Washingotn bureaucrats, trying to protect what little natural environment is left in the world! How dare they take away our black gold! Sarah, there is a reason that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is protected! Once you start drilling in one protected environment, you’ve set the precedent that allows drilling to occur in every wildlife refuge in the country. And who’s to stop you from ploughing through the whole thing? Not to mention the environmental impacts that an oil drilling operation would have on the wider surrounding environment. Take a look at what Texaco did to the Amazon in Ecuador.

Of course, Alaska is not the sole source of American energy. Many states have abundant coal, whose technology is continuously making it into a cleaner energy source. Westerners literally sit on mountains of oil and gas, and every state can consider the possibility of nuclear energy.

Please see my post on the issues surrounding the myth of ‘clean coal’

We have an important choice to make. Do we want to control our energy supply and its environmental impact? Or, do we want to outsource it to China, Russia and Saudi Arabia? Make no mistake: President Obama’s plan will result in the latter.

This is my only gripe with Obama’s plan and I think Sarah Palin might be semi-correct on this one point. However, pretty much everything we consume comes from outside of the continent already anyways. There are bigger problems that pertain to our North American lifestyle than those relating to where our electricity comes from. We continuously greed for the fastest and cheapest of everything, no matter what the external costs to society and the environment. While I could see this cap-and-trade system resulting in the export of even more jobs to foreign countries, I don’t think it is the fault of the plan so much as it is the fault of the North American people as a whole. Make a choice with your wallet and buy what little goods are still made within the continent and we will see those jobs comes back. Only consumers can change the market. Sarah can agree with that.

For so many reasons, we can’t afford to kill responsible domestic energy production or clobber every American consumer with higher prices.

The renewable energy sector is domestic energy production. Buying oil from the middle east is not.

Can America produce more of its own energy through strategic investments that protect the environment, revive our economy and secure our nation?

Please, oh please explain to me how mining for more coal and drilling for more oil is protecting the environment?

Yes, we can. Just not with Barack Obama’s energy cap-and-tax plan.

Wow. That was difficult. To be clear though, I’m not even much of a supporter of the plan proposed by Obama. So many concessions have already been made, so many loopholes, and so many freebies given to big polluters, that the bill has already failed to do what it was meant to do before even beeing enacted. For the most part, the bill is a greenwash effort so that the United States can say they are doing something about climate change. Sarah Palin though, does not have the answers. She’s not remotely close.