A Concrete Overpass Can be Beautiful

2 02 2010

This Vertical Garden is located in Pont Juvenal, Aix-en-Provence.

This just shows that it is possible to green our existing infrastructure in two senses of the word. Adding vegetation like this both enhances the aesthetic of the monotonous highway commute and all those little plants can make a small dent in counteracting the greenhouse gas emissions released from thousands of passing automobiles.





Let’s All Have Coal Ash for Breakfast!

14 01 2010

You can find someone to deny just about anything, and, I’m making an assumption here, but I would not find it remotely hard to believe that people like this can make a REALLY good living pulling stunts like this.





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




China and Pollution: What You Can Do

18 08 2009
From: Current, 2009

From: Current, 2009

I know this probably isn’t News to anyone, but China is pretty bad when it comes to pollution. Often the argument goes like this:

  • China’s recent history of water pollution, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions is higher than anywhere in the world.

But then there is the counter argument:

  • North Americans along with Western Europeans have far higher greenhouse gas emission rates per capita, in fact the emissions per person in china are about a quarter of those of his or her United States counterpart.

And my counter argument?:

  • If China’s pollution is so high when their per capita rate is so low, that means there are a few very large, very powerful corporations, power plants, etc in the East that are allowed to pollute without consequence, or so it seems to me. We can’t punish the already struggling and impoverished general population of that country.

My personal argument isn’t based in fact so much as it is in observation and inference. We often hear about industrial catastrophe’s in China such as the recent lead poisoning of nearly all children in one village. We see the polluted haze that consumes Beijing daily (the olympics sure didn’t help thier image). We know that the country is very rapidly running it’s water resources dry and on top of that, it is said that a major water pollution incident occurs every other day. In effect, most of these problems are partly induced by us westerners who demand Chinese goods day in and day out, from irons to computer chips. It is within our capacity to change the way China manufacturers it’s products. We have the ability to demand a clean manufacturing process and the fair treatment of employees by only purchasing goods that meet our requirements. Wal Mart, of all places, is sort of doing this. They are developing an environmental rating system for all products on their shelves, and if their manufacturers don’t comply, they’ve threatened to drop them. The catch here, is that the system will only apply to packaging, which Wal Mart says it will reduce by a whopping 5%. This doesn’t mean much in and of itself, but it may hopefully spawn a new movement towards consumer knowledge of what they are purchasing. A rating system that expalins the approximate greenhouse gas emissions created by that product, the amount of recyclable material within it, the exact toxins that go into the manufacturing process, the amount of water used. If the west were to make purchases based on this type of data and not solely price, then maybe we could see a great change in Chinese manufacturers?

For now, you can look desparately for North American made products (occassionaly you can still find some clothing, shoes, office products, etc.), and you can improve your knowledge of the manufacturing industry in China. Two relatively mainstream documentaries are worth watching: WalMart: The High Cost of Low Prices, and Manufactured Landscapes. You can also support Human Rights Watch or support any number of environmental organizations, many of which will be involved with China in some way.

We can’t blame the country of China for the environmental problems of the world. We in the west have certainly been polluting for a longer period of time. Consider our industrial revolution was over 100 years ago, China’s has happened within the past 20 years. However, they are not going to change all by themselves. A quote from Wang Yongli, a water engineer in Shijiazhuang says, “We have a water shortage, but we have to develop…And development is going to be put first…In Israel [where there are also extreme water shortages], people regard water as more important than life itself. In Shijianzhuang, it’s not that way. People are focused on the economy.” If we as consumers show that we want environmental and social justice through our purchases by buying locally as much as possible, maybe the Chinese will then see the need to meet western regulations on both the environment as well as human rights. This is as much our problem as it is theirs. Don’t blame China until you stop supporting their dirty industries with your wallet and demand change.





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





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.