Aug 25

Fast Draw video: Hybrids vs. Used Cars

The Fast Draw guys (featured on CBS Sunday Morning) show why buying a used car that gets decent MPG is “greener” than buying a new hybrid. As always, they make it quick, fun, easy to digest — but very smart. Like many things, smart recycling is better than buying something new (cars, clothes, housewares…) because you aren’t supporting the significant environmental costs to manufacture something new (trouble viewing the video? visit the Fast Draw blog.)


Aug 19

Bill McKibben: “The Greenback Effect”

I’m working to educate myself about environmental issues, and Bill McKibben’s books The End of Nature and Deep Economy are on my growing need-to-read list. His smart, engaging article in the May/June 2008 issue of Mother Jones has me looking forward to delving into his books.

In “The Greenback Effect” (subtitle: “Greed has helped destroy the plant — maybe now it can help save it”), McKibben makes a good argument for how we could/should use traditional market forces to battle global warming. Here’s the premise:

For those who wanted to stop thinking about politics and responsibility and morality and science and all that stuff, the advent of Reagan-era market fundamentalism was a godsend, and anything that threatens to disrupt it is an identity-challenging tilt of the psychic pinball machine.

So what I tend to say to these people is, I hear you. Markets are powerful. Let’s think about why they’ve failed here and how to make them work.

And there’s a one-word answer: information.

Markets are impotent in fighting the greatest challenge our planet has ever faced because we’ve given them absolutely nothing to work with. They exist in childlike innocence about the crisis because carbon carries no required cost. And in fact almost everything that environmental campaigners are doing at the national and the international level is an effort to fix that problem—to feed information into markets so they can help slow the rise of carbon. That’s right: If there are true believers (or at least true hopers) about markets right now, they tend to be green.

McKibben goes on to explain how carbon credits could be used to provide the “information” markets need, and different ways that could play out.

Even as he makes an argument for how to tap into the power of markets to create change, he doesn’t think markets have all the answers:

There’s a deeper flaw to my argument: Continuing to rely on a growth economy for change keeps us locked into the wider damage an ever-more market-centered civilization causes—the constant “creative destruction” beloved by economists and hated by those of us who would like to, say, live in the same community for a long time.

Nonetheless, the case for tapping into capitalism is compelling, with McKibben concluding:

…for the atmospherically relevant time frame, we’re not going to change our basic economic framework any more than we’re going to sign on to some new nature religion that would turn protecting the planet into some kind of Eleventh Commandment. Given how fast the ice caps are melting, speed is of the essence. And markets are quick. Given some direction, they’ll help.

Read the full article here: The Greenback Effect

On a side note, learned a new piece of lingo from one of the comments by someone who doesn’t believe in global warming (which, to me, seems a little like not believing in weather…), who refers to McKibben and his ilk (uh, that would be me) as “warmies.” Hilarious!

Aug 18

Tyler Colman: “Drink Outside the Box”

Now, this is an environmental-impact issue I can really get excited about.

In the August 17 NYTimes, guest columnist Tyler Colman, who has a blog called, writes about Italy giving the green light for some wines to be sold in boxes, and why boxed wine is a preferable way to package wines that are meant to be drunk within a year of purchase.

More than 90 percent of American wine production occurs on the West Coast, but because the majority of consumers live east of the Mississippi, a large part of carbon-dioxide emissions associated with wine comes from simply trucking it from the vineyard to tables on the East Coast. A standard wine bottle holds 750 milliliters of wine and generates about 5.2 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions when it travels from a vineyard in California to a store in New York. A 3-liter box generates about half the emissions per 750 milliliters. Switching to wine in a box for the 97 percent of wines that are made to be consumed within a year would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about two million tons, or the equivalent of retiring 400,000 cars.

Colman also explains that boxed wine lasts longer once its opened and is more economical. Read the rest here: Drink Outside the Box. Bottoms up!

Aug 18

Tom Friedman: “Eight Strikes and You’re Out”

In the August 12 NYTimes, Tom Friedman points out that while John McCain is out there talking big about America’s energy crisis, he has failed to vote eight times on a Senate Bill that would extend tax credits that support renewable energy.

Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits — which expire in December — to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile.

Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.

Friedman doesn’t let Barack off the hook for his recent failure to vote:

Barack Obama did not vote on July 30 either — which is equally inexcusable in my book — but he did vote on three previous occasions in favor of the solar and wind credits.

Friedman’s closing words capture my frustration with the huge gulf between reality and campaign rhetoric:

Without taxing fossil fuels so they become more expensive and giving subsidies to renewable fuels so they become more competitive — and changing regulations so more people and companies have an interest in energy efficiency — we will not get innovation in clean power at the scale we need.

That is what this election should be focusing on. Everything else is just bogus rhetoric designed by cynical candidates who think Americans are so stupid — so bloody stupid — that if you just show them wind turbines in your Olympics ad they’ll actually think you showed up and voted for such renewable power — when you didn’t.

Read the full column here: Eight Strikes and You’re Out

Aug 18

William McDonough on cradle to cradle design | Video on

Last week, I blogged about a Newsweek Q&A with architect William McDonough. That’s a great 5-minute introduction, but if you have 20 minutes, watch this TED talk (from February 2005). Be patient — McDonough warms up once he gets going (the main problem is he’s probably fitting two hours of ideas into 20 minutes). By the end, like his TED audience, I felt like standing and applauding. Trouble watching the YouTube video from here? Find it on the TED site: William McDonough: The Wisdom of Designing Cradle to Cradle.



Aug 18

Joseph Romm: “The NY Times Blows the Solar PV Story”

On August 11, I blogged about an August 10 story in the NYTimes about big retailers putting solar panels on the roofs of their stores. On August 12, Joseph Romm, in his blog Climate Progress, offered a great critique of the story.

While the NYTimes story offers some great info, they fall down on explaining the economics of solar power. This critique was good for me, since I tend to have a blind spot about the NYTimes — the paper gives me so much pleasure in so many ways that I don’t question what I’m reading (or what’s missing from the reporting) as much as I should. This is also a great example of how renewable energy is a more complicated topic that often gets simplified. The danger of that, in this case, is that the article doesn’t paint a full picture of the appeal and advantages of solar. Here’s a snippet of Romm’s commentary:

Readers of this story would be left with the distinct impression that major retailers are paying four times more for electricity than they should be just to satisfy some irrational green urge.

Romm goes on to fill in details the NYTimes didn’t and show how Wal-Mart and others aren’t going solar out of altruism — it’s actually good business for them to do so. It’s worth reading how he gets there, but Romm’s conclusion is this (emphasis his):

The bottom line is that solar is good for the bottom line right now in many states.

Read Romm’s analysis here: The NY Times Blows the Solar PV Story

Aug 14

GOOD Magazine video | Rooftop Bees

Short video (2:30) about a beekeeper in NYC (and yes, his hives have suffered losses from hive collapse). Interesting insight into an unexpected aspect of sustainable urban living (not only is he providing pollinators, but he also sells the honey). By the way, I recommend GOOD Magazine in general — their website isn’t all that amazing, but the print magazine is gorgeous and full of, well, good stuff. Plus, it’s only 20 bucks a year, and you get to select a nonprofit that your subscription price goes to.

I can’t get the video to talk to my blog — watch it here: Rooftop Bees

Aug 13

Architect William McDonough: The Future of Green Building

In the August 18/25 issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria’s Future of Energy column is a Q&A with architect William McDonough. It’s a quick overview of McDonough’s approach/philosophy, and the article includes a photo gallery of projects designed by McDonough’s firm, including the living roof on the Ford Motor Complex in Dearborn, MI. It’s a quick read, but here’s a taste:

Cradle to Cradle is a protocol I’ve developed with a German chemist, Michael Braungart. We characterize things as either being part of nature—biological nutrients—or being part of technology, which we call technical nutrients. We look at the world through these two lenses and we say, let the things that are designed to go back to soil, like textiles and clothing, be designed in order to be returned safely to soil, to restore it. But the cars and the computers … [should be] designed to go back into closed cycles for technology.

Read the full Q&A — and have a look at the gallery — here:
The Future of Green Building

Aug 12

NPR: “Missouri Town is Running on Vapor — and Thriving”


One of four wind turbines in Rock Port, MO (photo credit: backstage/flckr)

Nice NPR radio story from Frank Morris at KCUR (in my hometown of KC) about Rock Port, a small town (pop. 1,300) in northwest Missouri that is the first U.S. community to be powered completely by wind.

There’s a written summary, but I recommend listening to the audio, which provides more details and atmosphere — it’s about 4 minutes.

Find the link to listen at the top of this page:
Missouri Town is Running on Vapor — and Thriving

Aug 12

Joseph Romm: “Why We Never Need to Build Another Polluting Power Plant”

Writing for (July 28), Joseph Romm (whose blog I’m just starting to explore: explains how utility companies are encouraged to build more power plants, and how we could turn that around.

Very convincing stuff, with California as the model for success:

In the past three decades, electricity consumption per capita grew 60 percent in the rest of the nation, while it stayed flat in high-tech, fast-growing California. If all Americans had the same per capita electricity demand as Californians currently do, we would cut electricity consumption 40 percent. If the entire nation had California’s much cleaner electric grid, we would cut total U.S. global-warming pollution by more than a quarter without raising American electric bills. And if all of America adopted the same energy-efficiency policies that California is now putting in place, the country would never have to build another polluting power plant.

He also explains some of the systemic reasons its hard to change things, offers lots of real-world examples of success stories, and proposes how to stop rewarding utilities for selling more electricity and instead reward them for energy efficiency.

Read the story here: Why We Never Need to Build Another Polluting Power Plant

I’m catching up on past Salon articles by Romm and will try to blog about those I find most valuable; here’s a link: More by Joseph Romm

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