Category Archives: Environment

Electric Car Expansion to Apartments

Electric cars are making more and more in roads. One of the most visible brands of these new electric-only vehicles is Tesla. Electric only cars run solely on an electric motor, no gasoline. This makes them very cost efficient to run, but limits their use because you a) need to plan road trips carefully to make sure you can charge, b) for daily use need to have a charger available at home or work to recharge when necessary.

To alleviate the first concern about road trips, Tesla has been installing quick charge stations along major highways in parts of the country.

That second point is critical because for many in urban environments, there simply isn’t a personal garage where you can install one of the charger machines. This means electric cars simply aren’t an option for apartment dwellers. So, my thought is, in order to open up more potential customers, Tesla should partner with a few national apartment management corporations and install charger stations.

The benefits would work for both sides. Tesla gets more charging stations across the country, and potentially more customers looking at them as a realistic option. The apartments have a selling point for people who are looking to rent, but want an electric car – they would practically have no other choice.

Starbucks Reusable Cups

Starbucks has unveiled a program where they are selling plastic reusable cups to their customers. Starbucks has always encouraged a greener business model. They would always use any mugs or cups customers bring in on their own to use instead of the traditional paper cup. When customers did this, they would discount the purchase by 10 cents.

When they first launched this program, they had an ambitious goal of 25% of their orders being served in reusable cups. However, they never came close. Now they are re-focusing on a goal of 5% of orders by 2015. In order to do this, the company is trying to boost this by selling a $1 reusable cup in their stores to focus on the program.

I believe this is smart because as much as people want to be green and help waste less, there is also a certain status of being seen with that cup with the visible green mermaid on it. Now customers can do both.

IMG_2769This cup is just a touch thicker than a big gulp 7-11 cup. It does not insulate like a real thermos style travel mug. However, I think that might be the point. These are supposed to be replacements for the traditional paper cup. I like the paper cups because they tend to cool off the very hot coffee in a timely manner after it is served to me. A co-worker who prefers to slowly sip his coffee over an hour or two was not happy with how quickly the heat dissipated. So, your preferences in temperature and drinking manner may affect how you like this cup.

Also, the cup is Grande (medium) size. Those of you who order Ventis (or god help you, Trentas) are out of luck.

Which brings me to my last point. As benevolent as this program sounds, I think the real cause is that I imagine Starbucks spends a TON on paper cups every year. By encouraging customers to reuse cups, they can spend a lot less. Especially when you as a customer are helping to defray this cost up front. However, it is still nice to know you are wasting a little less with your morning coffee.

The mug is $1. However, you get .10c off your order with a reusable cup. They will wash the cup for you if you ask.


The North Pole Is Moving

Santa might need to find a new home.

There is this phenomenon that has actually been on my radar for some time since I first heard about it while watching Discovery back in High School. Scientists have found that the magnetic poles actually shift over time. They move around a bit, but randomly (every 300,000 years or so) they completely shift.

Meanwhile, regular scientists have evidence that the Earth’s magnetic field flips every 300,000 years. The problem here is that 780,000 years have passed since the last polarity change, which means that a new shift could be imminent. There’s proof that the field’s strength is falling down at a very fast rate over the last two hundred years, a fact that has lead some experts to believe it could disappear completely over the next 1,000 years before it flips. Other boffins believe that this is just a fluctuation in the field.

The reason this concerns me is that if the magnetic poles reverse – we can’t be exactly sure what that will do to our electronics. GPS, Cellular Signals, Radio, TV, almost all of our communications might go haywire. This might sound a bit Y2K bug-ish and paranoid – but it hits me hard because I’m a technology dependent geek who has societal breakdown issues.

There are more concerns too:

If the first theory finally happens, the whole process will have catastrophic consequences to human civilization and nature. Without a magnetic field, nothing will protect us against space radiation. The weather will go completely gaga, and the Sun will fry all our communications and navigation services, not to talk about all of us. At the same time, countless migrational species will get lost, affecting food chains and causing mayhem through the entire planet.

So, if you wake up one day and your cell phone, tv, radio and computer don’t work – DO NOT GO OUTSIDE.

Aliens Are Green

Found a great article discussing a new theory about why aliens have not contacted us.

According to the article the idea that if there is intelligent alien life out there, it should have contacted us already is called the “Fermi Paradox“:

It’s an old conundrum (which may have started with physicist Enrico Fermi) that asks “If space-traveling ETs exist, why aren’t they with us already?”The idea is simple. Start with a civilization that colonizes one world. Then that world colonizes two more planets. Those worlds go on and do their own colonization. Follow this logic and you end up with a very, very rapid expansion of even a single star-faring civilization. Even one ET with space travel can, in a pretty short time, lead to a galaxy teeming with intelligent life.

Little green friends should already, have overrun us.

So, why aren’t we running around with E.T., Klingons, and Na’vi? The two normal theories are that they do, and secretly live among us, or there isn’t life out there. But there is a new theory that is gaining popularity in light of our own concerns about energy consumption.

It’s called THE SUSTAINABILITY SOLUTION TO THE FERMI PARADOX. Its authors, J. Haqq-Misra & S. Baum, have been quite creative in merging SETI with our new environmental concerns.Their answer to the Fermi Dilemma is simple. Civilizations, even extraterrestrial ones, can’t grow without limits. Instead of using the question the Fermi Paradox raises to infer that we are the only intelligent species in the galaxy, Haqq-Misra & Baum use it to infer that these civilizations have learned a lesson which we are just starting to grasp. You have to pace yourself. You have to live within your means. Exponential growth is not likely to be sustainable.

This theory comes from a scientific journal article linked above. The abstract of that paper:

No present observations suggest a technologically advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) has spread through the galaxy. However, under commonplace assumptions about galactic civilization formation and expansion, this absence of observation is highly unlikely. This improbability is the heart of the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox leads some to conclude that humans have the only advanced civilization in this galaxy, either because civilization formation is very rare or because intelligent civilizations inevitably destroy themselves. In this paper, we argue that this conclusion is premature by introducing the “Sustainability Solution” to the Fermi Paradox, which questions the Paradox’s assumption of faster (e.g. exponential) civilization growth. Drawing on insights from the sustainability of human civilization on Earth, we propose that faster-growth may not be sustainable on the galactic scale. If this is the case, then there may exist ETI that have not expanded throughout the galaxy or have done so but collapsed. These possibilities have implications for both searches for ETI and for human civilization management

So, maybe these civilizations are out there and very advanced. They have simply already had their Al Gore powerpoint presentations and peak oil crisis and have figured out that sustainability is the pinnacle of society.

Fuel System Gentrification

Part of the hurdles of getting electric vehicles to really take off is that in most cities there isn’t an infrastructure in place to provide charging stations for the fleet of vehicles.

In an interesting case of serendipity, there is another infrastructure that is phasing out – phone booths. Now that everyone uses a cell phone, these relics from another time aren’t as necessary. Instead of just leaving them to be blights, or paying to have them removed people have figured out they can be repurposed as electric car chargers.

It’s an ingenious idea since telephone booths are often located close to curbs, and they already have built-in electricity supplies. As a result, it’s cheaper to convert the booths into charging stations than to build the stations from scratch.

How neat of an idea is that?

Premium Products Sell Better Lies

A while back there was a big scare about those plastic water bottles people take to the gym. Not like the type that you buy when you get Dasani or Fiji water. The refillable Nalgene style plastic bottle. The scare was that a chemical used in making the plastic BPA could leach into your water and then you would ingest it. The problem is that the chemical acted a lot like female hormones. This could cause a lot of problems if large amounts were ingested.

Suddenly, all the trendy/eco-concious people who brought Nalgene bottles because it was better than buying bottled water showed up with metal water bottles. I of course just bought a plastic bottle that was “BPA Free”. I felt like the kid in 5th grade still wearing Levi’s when you know all the cool kids had Abercrombie jeans. The metal bottles, like those made from Sigg, weren’t made of plastic, so they wouldn’t leach cemicals into your water. At least, thats what they told you.

Very recently, Sigg announced that previous to the last twelve months, their metal bottles has plastic linings. Yes, those plastic linings had BPA. All of my snobby friends who looked down on me and my cute little plastic bottle just got a gut check.

The most interesting part is that Sigg didn’t let the public know until very recently. Even if they did make this mistake, you’d think they would want to inform their customers  as soon as possible so that the customers weren’t exposed to BPA. Considering that many of their customers probably bought the product specifically to avoid BPA.

Of course, Sigg claims that their plastic did not leach into water. However, how Sigg could have figured out some magic process whereby their magic BPA plastic didn’t get into water, while everyone else’s did is curious. I think Sigg just saw the money pouring in and didn’t want to lose new customers in the switch.

For what it is worth, new Sigg bottles has metal linings and no longer contain BPA. Just like my BPA free plastic bottle that I’ve had for the past year.

Ahead of the Environmental Curve

Two months ago I posted that the a key aspect to convincing people that the environment is worth caring about and taking action on is the vernacular we use to describe the problem.

“Global Warmning” doesn’t work because frankly it sounds kind of pleasant, and when we get freak things like snow in April or really cold winters people just snicker and dismiss the idea. It needs to be addressed as “climate change” because that is a more apt description. Some places will get warmer, some colder, some dryer, some wetter. We will just get more extreme weather.

Well, that was two months ago.

On May 1, a green policy group made the same suggestion to liberals publically.

The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.” The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.

Part of this post is just to say “I was right!” (and give me a job!) part of it is to say “I was right!” (now actually do it). This isn’t some crazy spouting. Words matter. Words work. Think about how the Republicans have used “death tax” to totally warp the estate tax in the average voters mind.

Now Is The Time To Raise Gas Prices

Did you decide to read this because of the title? No, that is not a typo. Gas prices have fallen tremendously compared to a year ago. Most of this is due to a stagnating economy. Lack of demand has cause a glut of unused oil, so the price falls. Hurray, right?

For everyone but the oil producers, yes. So, inevitably they will reduce output to raise the price again. Then, when the economy picks up and demand for oil increases, the price will skyrocket again.

Whats the solution? Encourage adoption of alternative fuels! If we stopped demanding so much oil for our cars, we would use less and the demand would stay down. And, when the price went up eventually, we wouldn’t be as hurt.

How do we encourage adoption? The problem is, when gas is cheap- people don’t care. Sales of SUVs and Trucks picked up and outsold cars again this past December as gas prices fell (and admittedly, also because of increased incentives/discounts by struggling automakers). People buy these cheap SUVs instead of the more expensive alternative vehicles- and the cycle continues. We have to break the cycle. It may be painful, but its for the greater good. Like medicine that tastes bad, it is better for us in the long term.

Thomas Friedman – acclaimed economist and author of “The World is Flat” agrees (NYTimes):

Which play? The one where gasoline prices go up, pressure rises for more fuel-efficient cars, then gasoline prices fall and the pressure for low-mileage vehicles vanishes, consumers stop buying those cars, the oil producers celebrate, we remain addicted to oil and prices gradually go up again, petro-dictators get rich, we lose. I’ve already seen this play three times in my life. Trust me: It always ends the same way — badly.

The way to do this is to artificially increase the cost of gas through a gas tax. Gas was around $4. Now it is about $1.70 nationally. Add a dollar to that price in taxes. Gas is still over 25% cheaper than a year ago. Use the tax revenue to 1) increase investment in alt. fuel infrastructure (service stations, charging stations, delivery options) and 2) Rebates for people who purchase alt. fueled vehicles.

These prices will encourage people to be mindful of the vehicles choices they make and encourage us getting off dependence on oil as fuel. Further, it helps reduce our contribution to pollution as a side benefit.

Again Thomas,

There has to be a system that permanently changes consumer demand, which would permanently change what Detroit makes, which would attract more investment in battery technology to make electric cars, which would hugely help the expansion of the wind and solar industries — where the biggest drawback is the lack of batteries to store electrons when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. A higher gas tax would drive all these systemic benefits.

The same is true in geopolitics. A gas tax reduces gasoline demand and keeps dollars in America, dries up funding for terrorists and reduces the clout of Iran and Russia at a time when Obama will be looking for greater leverage against petro-dictatorships. It reduces our current account deficit, which strengthens the dollar. It reduces U.S. carbon emissions driving climate change, which means more global respect for America. And it increases the incentives for U.S. innovation on clean cars and clean-tech.

Are there downsides? Yes. In a time when the economy is already weak, and people are struggling to make their paycheck stretch, this would not help. But when prices shoot back up people will be hurting as well. Especially if OPEC cuts oil again and forces the price up prematurely before the economy recovers anyway.

Arguably, creating an artificially higher price ourselves might force OPEC to not raise prices themselves. They understand that the more alternatives there are, the less money they make. They don’t want us adopting new tech. They would lower the price to counter our tax in a hope to keep consumers on oil as fuel and not seek new options.

Does anyone see any other downsides? Anyone feel strongly that this is a bad move? Do you have a better plan to get off oil? Some kind of postive instead of negative incentive- perhaps via some sort of tax break? One of the things I will never understand is how the government gave small businesses tax breaks for purchasing Hummers, for almost the entire amount of the truck, instead of purchasing hybrids. And we wonder why they need a bailout, and why the government is giving it to them?

Clean Coal Does Not Exist

No matter what the industry’s lobbyists and PR people say. Coal is one of the dirtiest polluting forms of fuel. The process used to filter it and make it burn “clean”, ends up using a ton of energy itself, which ends up polluting as much or more as the coal being burned would be, and the waste has to be stored underground, along with the addition of being very expensive.

This is the last second attempt for an industry that knows better cleaner technologies (solar, wind, etc) are being developed to make it extinct. If they label themselves as “clean” they might be able to be lumped in and get development funding.

We should not be distracted by the hype. And you don’t have to listen to me, NBC anchors left and right are saying so.

Brian Williams began with a remarkable lead-in:

“Coal. While you might have heard the phrase ‘clean coal’ during the presidential campaign, it’s actually an oxymoron. Wishful thinking. Coal does not burn cleanly and it’s hugely expensive to make it burn that way…”

And Anne Thompson herself offers an equally honest lead-in:

“Coal: the fuel the world burns to make electricity. Plentiful and polluting. A major contributor to climate change.”

Al Gore in Obama’s Administration

It only took 8 years, but Al Gore is finally making his way to the white house. Sort of.

Al Gore, on his blog, made a post on Nov. 5th congratulating Obama on his vicotry. He also said Obama will be a good leader and activist for the environment, obviously one of Gore’s pet issues.

However, most interesting is the easily overlooked line:

I look forward to serving in the Obama administration and while I cannot yet reveal what my exact role will be, I can assure you that President-Elect Obama and I are eager to get started building a new world. One that is green and sustainable.

Did Obama offer Gore a role in his cabinet? A position dealing with the environment? EPA? Guess we will find out soon.