June 25, 2009

Sears Tower to produce its own power

Buildings are among the world's largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. The NY Times reports that the Sears Tower, that bronze-black monument that forms the 110-story peak of the skyline here and stands as the tallest office building in the Western Hemisphere, will soon have another unique feature: wind turbines sprouting from its recessed rooftops high in the sky.

The building's owners, leasing agents and architects said Wednesday that they are literally taking environmental sustainability to new heights with a $350 million retrofit of the 1970s-era modernist building — and the turbines are only the tip of the transformation. The plan, to begin immediately, aims to reduce electricity use in the tower by 80 percent over five years through upgrades in the glass exterior, internal lighting, heating, cooling and elevator systems — and its own green power generation.

In such a huge tower, with 4.5 million square feet of office and retail space, 16,000 windows and 104 elevators, the project is bound to be one of the most substantial green renovations ever tried on one site, planners said. The Sears Tower is significantly larger than the 102-story, 2.6-million-square-foot Empire State Building, for instance, which is also undergoing renovation to reduce energy consumption.

"If we can take care of one building that size, it has a huge impact on society," said Adrian Smith, an architect whose firm designed the Sears Tower renovation. "It is a village in and of itself."

June 24, 2009

First person accounts of climate change in Alaska

Here’s a personal story of how climate change is affecting three high school students in the rural fishing village of Kwigillingok, Alaska.

They have made a video slideshow of the climate impacts that they’re experiencing, many of which were documented in the US Climate Change Report.

The issue of melting permafrost is all the more clear with photos of houses collapsing. The problem of displacement of marine species affecting fisheries is made all the more real with their photos of abandoned fishing boats. These authentic voices are often missing from news stories on climate change.

San Francisco composting law


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom today signed the nation's first mandatory composting policy into law. The ambitious rule will help the city achieve what are arguably the most aggressive organics waste targets in the U.S.

At the Farmer's Market in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building today, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signed a first-of-its-kind rule requiring all residences and businesses to compost their organic waste. The tougher new composting standards were approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in early June by a vote of 9-2.

"San Francisco has the best recycling and composting programs in the nation, and we've already attained an impressive, and first in the nation, 72 percent rate, because of them," said Mayor Newsom.

June 21, 2009

Cost Estimates for Markey - Waxman

On June 19, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the average household would spend a miniscule amount to reduce global warming pollution under H.R. 2454. This independent analysis determined "that the net annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion—or about $175 per household." This is 48 cents per day – about one-third the cost of a small cup of Starbuck's coffee.

CBO acknowledges that its estimates are quite conservative (low) since the calculation "does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in GHG emissions and the associated slowing of climate change."

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates that the efficiency provisions alone could save consumers $9 billion annually by 2020. The savings would be $750 per household –- more than double CBO's highest projected cost for compliance with the bill's greenhouse gas pollution reductions.

The bottom line is that CBO predicts the net costs of the global warming reduction program in H.R. 2454 will have a relatively small cost. And energy efficiency measures alone will save at least twice as much as this estimated cost.

June 18, 2009

Van Jones Quote of the Day

"Everything that is good for the environment, everything that is good in the fight against global warming, it's a job, it's a contract, it's an entrepreneurial opportunity."

Renewable Energy Production Up!

In it's Electric Power Monthly report released Monday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that non-hydro renewable energy expansion continues to clip along with double-digit growth.

Compared with the first quarter of 2008, the EIA reports that electrical generation from all renewable sources increased 7.2% in the first quarter of 2009, accounting for 10% of the nation's electricity production. Conventional hydro power increased 4.6% while all other sources of renewables (biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar) rose by 12.4%

In just the month of March '09 alone, renewables accounted for 10.9% of net electrical generation in the U.S. (conventional hydro providing 6.9% of that total and all other renewable sources about 4%). Of particular note is wind power, with net generation some 38.5% higher in March '09 than in March '08

Conversely, use of coal and natural gas has plummeted, while nuclear power generation remaining essentially stagnant. Net electrical generation from all sources dropped 4.3% in March '09 compared with March '08, the eighth consecutive month of decline when compared with the same calendar month of the previous year. Coal generation dropped 15.3%.

"Apologists for the nuclear and fossil fuel industries persist in trying to mislead the public by repeatedly spreading the myth that renewables account for only a tiny fraction of U.S. electricity production," said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "However, the hard numbers document the continuing dramatic growth in renewable energy's already-significant contribution to the nation's electricity supply – a contribution that will eventually leave coal and nuclear behind in the dust."

June 15, 2009

Start-ups most likely to make the world a better place

I found this list of startup companies most likely to make the world a better place. The winner (Good Guide) and all the nominees are worth taking a look at.

As many of you know, I love what Kiva and Better Place are doing.

Tech Crunch awards the Crunchie awards.

Most Likely To Make The World A Better Place

GoodGuide (winner)
Kiva (runner-up)
Better Place

Green Guide

These days, every skin lotion and dish detergent on store shelves gloats about how green it is. How do you know which are good for you and good for the earth?

NY Times reports that it was a similar question that hit Dara O'Rourke, a professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley, one morning when he was applying sunscreen to his young daughter's face.

He realized he did not know what was in the lotion. He went to his office and quickly discovered that it contained a carcinogen activated by sunlight. It also contained an endocrine disruptor and two skin irritants. He also discovered that her soap included a kind of dioxane, a carcinogen, and then found that one of her brand-name toys was made with lead.

And in looking for the answer, he hatched the idea for a company that used his esoteric research on supply chain management. "All I do is study this, and I know nothing about the products I'm bringing into our house and putting in, on and around our family," Mr. O'Rourke said. But when he wanted to find that information, he could. Most consumers would struggle to do so.

Hence GoodGuide, a Web site and iPhone application that lets consumers dig past the package's marketing spiel by entering a product's name and discovering its health, environmental and social impacts.

NPR reports that it truly is eye opening. For one thing it allows you to input a product and come up with a better choice in the same price range. Who knew that it does not cost extra to go green. For example, the third highest ranking shampoo is Finesse. Yes, the same Finesse that costs $4.99. The worst, Bvlgari BLV Pour Homme Shampoo and Shower Gel, costing $49.99. So, by reducing your costs by a factor of ten you also help the environment. WOW!!!

June 14, 2009

Cap and Trade - Musical Chairs?

Joseph Romm at the Center for American Progress likens cap-and-trade to musical chairs.

"Chairs are carbon dioxide pollution, mostly from the combustion of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas," he says.

Only so many chairs are allowed in the room. The government sets the number. That's the "cap" in cap-and-trade. And to reduce emissions over time, the government gradually takes chairs away.

Now, here's the "trade" part: A chair is a permit, which you need if you want to emit carbon dioxide. If you don't have enough permits, you can buy them from someone who has extras.

Say you're an electric utility. The government has given you a bunch of chairs to start with. You can use them, sell them or hang onto them and use them later.

But remember this: Each year, the federal government will be allowing fewer and fewer chairs in the room. Romm says that's how cap-and-trade reduces carbon dioxide pollution, in a predictable way.

"You know exactly how many chairs there are going to be every year, so no one's going to be surprised and they can plan ahead," Romm says. "And the whole point of doing it this way is to allow utilities and other big polluters to have a certainty about what's going to happen so they can make the transition over time to a clean-energy economy."

Growth for the sake of growth

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. - Edward Abbey

Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated 41 years ago last week. He challenged our monomaniacal pursuit of GDP in "one of the most beautiful of his speeches," as Obama described it an August 2008 NYT profile of his economic thinking.

Let's listen to RFK's remarkable words.

Here is the transcript:

We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads…. It includes… the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.

And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials… The Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America — except whether we are proud to be Americans.

Now here's what Obama has been saying, again and again, on a bigger stage to a bigger audience:

  • "I want us all to think about new and creative ways to … encourage young people to create and build and invent — to be makers of things, not just consumers of things." (4/27)
  • "The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline." (4/22)
  • "We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand." (4/14)
  • "We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for our lasting prosperity." (3/19)

After praising RFK's speech, Obama goes on to discuss sustainability with the NYT reporter:

The second point Obama wanted to make was about sustainability. The current concerns about the state of the planet, he said, required something of a paradigm shift for economics. If we don't make serious changes soon, probably in the next 10 or 15 years, we may find that it's too late.

The NYT profile, "Obamanomics," ends:

Based on the collective wisdom of scientists, global warming really does seem to be different from any previous environmental crisis. For the first time on record, meanwhile, economic growth has not translated into better living standards for most Americans.

Secret Life of Paper

Watch the 5 minute video http://www.mediathatmattersfest.org/watch/9/the_secret_life_of_paper

Americans consume more paper than anyone else on the planet. In 2006, Americans consumed 663 pounds of paper per person, versus 448 pounds in the UK and 136 pounds in Mexico. Yet very few of us stop to think about what constitutes responsible paper usage. Most are also unaware of the connection between the production and consumption of paper and global warming. In fact, the pulp and paper industry is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the US manufacturing sector.

To reveal little-known but vitally important facts such as these, INFORM created The Secret Life series. The series, a tool for education and activism, examines the lifecycle environmental impacts of commonly consumed products. The videos define best practices in terms of sustainable production and consumption and give viewers concrete steps they can take to be part of the solution to the particular environmental challenge.

The Secret Life of Paper highlights important information, such as the global warming impact of paper, the disproportionately high per capita paper usage in the US versus other nations, the forest and associated biodiversity loss linked to paper production and the development of promising alternative non-wood paper fibers. In addition, the video illustrates the significant environmental benefits of recycling, of buying recycled paper products and just using less paper in the first place.

Simple changes can add up to huge impact; we hope that The Secret Life of Paper will prompt you to re-think how you use paper at home, at school or at the office. The more people that change their paper habits after watching The Secret Life of Paper, the better for the environment.

The Secret Life of Paper is posted on all the major video sharing and social networking sites and has also been picked up by a diverse array of corporate, non-profit, university and government sites representing all regions in the U.S.

The Secret Life videos have also attracted plenty of attention in the blogosphere, where they have been discussed in prominent blogs, including the Los Angeles Times, Treehugger, CNN Money, Information Week, and The Huffington Post. They have been viewed online in over 84 countries worldwide and appeared in whole or in part on televisionComcast Network, NBC and Discovery Channel's Planet Green. They have also been used for educational purposes at events around the country, including Earth Day celebrations at Grand Central Station in New York City and the Zero Waste Conference in Los Angeles.

June 11, 2009

Environmental Groups on Markey-Waxman Energy Bill

Twenty major environmental groups sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter (here) urging that she make three key improvements in the Waxman-Markey bill and reject attempts to weaken it.

The groups, which include the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, Environment America, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resource Defense Council, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, want to

  • "Increase the portion of pollution allowance value dedicated to delivering" clean energy;
  • "Preserve EPA's ability under the Clean Air Act [CAA] to require existing power plants, refineries and other sources to meet up-to-date carbon pollution standards"; and
  • Strengthen the renewable energy and energy efficiency standard as follows:

Strengthen renewable electricity provisions to achieve 20 percent of sales generated from clean renewable energy by 2020, including the flexibility to achieve another 3 percent that could come from either efficiency or renewables by 2020. Increase the energy efficiency requirement so that utilities achieve 10% energy efficiency by 2020. Strengthening these standards will generate hundreds of thousands of new clean energy jobs.

June 10, 2009

Ocean Acidity up 30%

Jane Lubchenco — Obama's terrific choice for administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — discussed the threat to the ocean from global warming in a long interview on NPR's Diane Rehm show yesterday (mostly in the second 20 minute segment). You can catch it here.

This BBC story explains:

Man-made pollution is raising ocean acidity at least 10 times faster than previously thought, a study says.

"When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans." (Atmospheric CO2 levels are presently 385 ppm, up from 305 in 1960.)

If we want to save life in the oceans — and save ourselves, since we depend on that life — the time to start slashing carbon dioxide emissions is now.

June 3, 2009

More Coal Soot, More Heart Attacks

A recent study, with some not very surprising news. Our increasingly dirty energy production is leading to an increase in heart attacks.

The study covered 116 American cities.