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[1THING] Blog: Archive for November, 2012

[ Car Sharing Widens the Lanes of Access for City Drivers ]

City dwellers are expanding their options for mobility with peer-to-peer car sharing. Can “accessing” replace “ownership” in the love affair with the automobile?


[ Solar From Nevada Indian Reservation to Help Power Los Angeles ]

After decades of getting electricity from faraway pollution-and-greenhouse-gas-spewing coal-fired power plants, Los Angeles is looking out of state for less toxic forms of energy.

An example: The city council this week approved [PDF] a 25-year power purchase agreement with K Road Moapa Solar for up to 250 megawatts of power from a solar power plant on tribal land of the Moapa Band of the Paiute, north of Las Vegas. The council also approved a second agreement for 210 megawatts of power from the Copper Mountain solar complex in Boulder City, NV.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has said it expects to get around 706,650 megawatt-hours of energy annually from the planned K Road photovoltaic solar operation beginning around 2015 – enough to power about 118,000 homes.

According to City Council documents [PDF], the LADWP will pay up to $64.8 million a year for the power, which by our rough calculation works out to about 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. Under the deal, LADWP will also purchase a 5.5-mile transmission line, at a cost of $18 million, to connect the power to its substation, and get an option to purchase the solar power plant.

LA now obtains a hefty portion of its power from big coal-fired plants in Arizona and Utah, but there is a direct coal angle to the Moapa PV development: The Moapa are hopeful that producing power from solar can eventually allow for the shuttering of the Reid Gardner power station that sits right in the middle of their community. That’s a hope U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) addressed in reacting to the L.A. City Council vote in favor of solar.

“Unlike the old, dirty technologies used at the nearby Reid-Gardner coal plant, this new solar project will not emit any hazardous emissions, wastes, or carbon pollution,” the senator said in a statement. “I have worked hard to make sure that Nevada tribes have new opportunities to flourish and I am confident that this clean energy project will provide a meaningful opportunity to improve the quality of life for the Moapa Paiutes and nearby communities.”

The plant, approved by the Obama administration in June, will go on 2,000 acres of leased tribal lands — about 3 percent of the tribe’s trust lands — while 12 acres of U.S. public land, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, will be needed for the larger of two new transmission lines.

Pete Danko

This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.


[ Student Conservation Association Helps Young Vets ]

Young Vets Serve Country in Fire Corps Program


Photo: Student Conservation Association


James Love enlisted in the Marines right out of high school,
11 years ago.  By the time he reported
for duty at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego as assigned, on the
morning of September 11, 2001, the world had already changed forever.

After eight years in uniform, including two tours of Iraq,
Sgt. Love is continuing his service to our country through the Student Conservation Association’s (SCA) Veterans Fire Corps, an
innovative career preparedness program that trains young military vets in
wildfire fighting and mitigation. This program and many others like it are made
possible with the support of federal and military employees through the
Combined Federal Campaign each year.

SCA, an EarthShare member organization, conducts the
Veterans Fire Corps in partnership with the US Forest Service, employing
protocols familiar to those in uniform to aid the transition back to civilian
life.  Love says that for him, it’s made
all the difference in the world.  “I was
interested in the Veterans Fire Corps because it was specifically geared
towards recent era military veterans, meaning I would be working with fellow
veterans that have had experiences and general customs similar to my own,
unlike 95% of the young college kids I am surrounded by in school,” he says.

Love’s unit works the Kaibab National Forest outside
Williams, AZ.   “I’m surprised by how
serious everyone takes fire in northern Arizona,” he observes.  “It probably has to do with the fact that the
city is literally surrounded by the forest.” 
His crew alternates between preemptive prescribed burns and thinning

Davon Goodwin earned a Purple Heart with the Army Reserve in
Afghanistan before signing on with SCA. 
“I didn’t think being a wildland firefighter was this physically
demanding and stressful,” states the 23-year-old Pittsburgh
native.  “But I like that
we are still giving back to our country by restoring and improving the
conditions in our nation’s forests.”

In addition to their work with SCA, both Love
and Goodwin are pursuing their college degrees and agree that their experiences
at Kaibab are invaluable.  “I
am not only fulfilling my internship requirements for college,” says Love, “but
I’m providing a service to the environment and giving back to the local
community.”  Adds Goodwin, “As a biology and botany major, this work can really tell you a lot
about the current ecosystem.  My career
goals are to become an agronomist and help to make agriculture sustainable for
the world.”

Other corps members note that if they are able to mount a
career with a federal resource management agency, their time in uniform will
count toward their government pension.   “’All
labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken
with painstaking excellence,’” says Goodwin, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr.  “I have served my country in war and
this program gives me the ability to serve my country in a whole new way.”

to learn more about the Veterans Fire Corps


[ Green Quiz: Carbon Tax ]

Green Quiz: Carbon Tax


emanuel balanzategui / Flickr

From towns like Brookline,
Massachusetts to multi-country regions like the European Union, people around
the world are experimenting with different policies to fight the pollution that
causes global warming.

In the US, talk has recently turned to a carbon tax, a policy of
putting the societal costs of burning fossil fuels into their market price.
It’s not a new idea though. Do
you know which country was the first to introduce a carbon tax in 1990?

A. Finland
B. South Korea
C. Mexico
D. Norway

The correct answer is A. Finland. Congrats to our green quiz winners, Michael Dorn, Shari Durand and Carol Edwards Dunn!


[ This Holiday, Consider the Hidden Poundage of Turkey Day ]

Whether you view the six-week stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day as a license for gluttony or as a treacherous onslaught of health-jeopardizing temptations, you’ll find no shortage of media advice on how to make the most (or the least) of the season. That advice, particularly in America, typically revolves around food.

But as you plan your menus — and your post-feast damage control — consider a stunning fact that Dana Gunders points out in her blog for the Natural Resources Defense Council: When Americans throw out an estimated $282 million in turkey meat this Thanksgiving, they will also be wasting the 1 million tons of carbon dioxide and 105 billion gallons of water used to produce that turkey.

While Gunders did not include similar calculations for all of the mashed potatoes, casseroles, salads, and desserts (well, maybe not much of the desserts) that will surely end up in the trash after the holiday indulgence ends, we can imagine that they will contribute a healthy chunk of the estimated 34 million tons of food that Americans waste every year.

The waste of resources associated with production of trashed food is staggering enough, but the impact extends to the landfills where food ends up and subsequently becomes a significant source of the greenhouse gas methane.

Though less than 3 percent of food waste is recovered from the waste stream, according to the EPA, it is actually an energy resource that can be turned into compost or used in an anaerobic digester to create electricity. The EPA estimates that if 50 percent of this food waste were anaerobically digested, it could generate enough electricity to power more than 2.5 million homes for one year.

(Related: A Fuel That Doesn’t Go to Waste)

The better solution, of course, is to prevent waste in the first place. To that end, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet blog has some advice worth paying attention to, no matter what your personal dining goals:

10 Tips for Reducing Food Waste

Before the meal: Plan your menu and exactly how much food you’ll need.

1. Be realistic: The fear of not providing enough to eat often causes hosts to cook too much. Instead, plan out how much food you and your guests will realistically need, and stock up accordingly. The Love Food Hate Waste organization, which focuses on sharing convenient tips for reducing food waste, provides a handy “Perfect Portions” planner to calculate meal sizes for parties as well as everyday meals.

2. Plan ahead: Create a shopping list before heading to the farmers’ market or grocery store. Sticking to this list will reduce the risk of impulse buys or buying unnecessary quantities, particularly since stores typically use holiday sales to entice buyers into spending more.

During the meal: Control the amount on your plate to reduce the amount in the garbage.

3. Go small: The season of indulgence often promotes plates piled high with more food than can be eaten. Simple tricks of using smaller serving utensils or plates can encourage smaller portions, reducing the amount left on plates. Guests can always take second (or third!) servings if still hungry, and it is much easier (and hygienic) to use leftovers from serving platters for future meals.

4. Encourage self-serve: Allow guests to serve themselves, choosing what, and how much, they would like to eat. This helps to make meals feel more familiar and also reduces the amount of unwanted food left on guests’ plates.

After the meal: Make the most out of leftovers.

5. Store leftovers safely: Properly storing our leftovers will preserve them safely for future meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that hot foods be left out for no more than two hours. Store leftovers in smaller, individually sized containers, making them more convenient to grab for a quick meal rather than being passed over and eventually wasted.

6. Compost food scraps: Instead of throwing out the vegetable peels, eggshells, and other food scraps from making your meal, consider composting them. Individual composting systems can be relatively easy and inexpensive, and provide quality inputs for garden soils. In 2010, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to pass legislation encouraging city-wide composting, and similar broader-scale food composting approaches have been spreading since.

7. Create new meals: If composting is not an option for you, check out Love Food Hate Waste’s creative recipes to see if your food scraps can be used for new meals. Vegetable scraps and turkey carcasses can be easily boiled down for stock and soups, and bread crusts and ends can be used to make tasty homemade croutons.

8. Donate excess: Food banks and shelters gladly welcome donations of canned and dried foods, especially during the holiday season and colder months. The charity group Feeding America partners with over 200 local food banks across the United States, supplying food to more than 37 million people each year. To find a food bank near you, visit the organization’s Food Bank Locator.

9. Support food-recovery programs: In some cases, food-recovery systems will come to you to collect your excess. In New York City, City Harvest, the world’s first food-rescue organization, collects approximately 28 million pounds of food each year that would otherwise go to waste, providing groceries and meals for over 300,000 people.

Throughout the holiday season: Consider what you’re giving.

10. Give gifts with thought: When giving food as a gift, avoid highly perishable items and make an effort to select foods that you know the recipient will enjoy rather than waste. The Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit, works with farmers and producers in tropical areas to ensure they are practicing environmentally sustainable and socially just methods. The group’s certified chocolates, coffee, and teas are great gifts that have with long shelf-lives, and buying them helps support businesses and individuals across the world.

For more ways to slim down, check out the 360º Energy Diet, with tips for how to shrink  energy consumption in six key areas, including food.

Editor’s note: The original version of this post ran on Nov. 21, 2011.


[ Hurricane Sandy, Other Disasters Focus Attention on Climate Change. How to Use the Opportunity? ]

One of the great frustrations to the climate science and environmental stewardship research community is that the steady advance of solid scientific consensus about the risks of climate change warrants very little coverage.  On the other hand, disasters— mega-story Sandy, heat waves, fires, and drought— get a lot of attention, even if the risk assessment literature shows how hard it is to tie individual extreme events to overall climatic trends.

Perhaps the most popular – and accurate language in common use today – is to highlight how climate trends that destabilize current weather systems is equivalent to “loading the dice” against us, and in favor of costly and potentially catastrophic extreme weather events.

Or, in other words, how can the climate community best follow Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s advice of “not letting a [good] crisis go to waste”?

First, we need to recognize where this much-repeated quote connects to risk analysis and the psychology of reading the headlines.  In a classic 1986 piece of research, Paul Slovic, Baruch Fischhoff, and Sarah Lichtenstein found that while people are generally pretty good at estimating damages from risk, we consistently over-emphasize the importance of rare events —such as deaths from super-storm Sandy —and consistently under-emphasize common events, like property damage due to steady beach erosion, or salt-water intrusion into infrastructure.

So how do we use this information?  First, the climate science community needs to recognize how fundamental this “sensationalize the extreme and ignore the commonplace” perspective is in public response.  Sandy may be just what the climate models forecast will become more common, but that only means that as more storms or droughts hit, the novelty will wear off, even if the costs continue to mount.

Second, there is a need to clarify how much individuals, corporations, and governments stand to lose in this new category of $100 billion disasters, and to make clear that the losses here warrant insurance just as much as do health risks or accidents.

This is the moment to focus on what form of insurance is least cost and of highest value.  In our 2000 book, Should We Risk It?  a former student, David Hassenzahl and I highlighted a range of cases where we pay for damages from unfamiliar events in ways that cost society the most.  A far better strategy is to obtain insurance in ways that generate jobs and businesses.

Right now the European Union, the northeast and mid-Atlantic US states (the RGGI coalition), five Chinese provinces, California, Australia and Korea are all operating under, or on the road to implement carbon pollutions emission pricing. (Related: “California Tackles Climate Change, But Will Others Follow?”) The natural next step would be to note that carbon pricing in each of these jurisdictions is not only unlikely to cause economic hardship, in fact, it offers a means to tax what nobody wants—pollution—and perhaps even to remove taxes or fees on aspects of economic growth. However, this has been tremendously difficult elsewhere in the world.   While these “first mover” countries and states play out their carbon pricing experiments, we need to listen to Rahm Emanuel and find motivations to act, for those not willing to lead on pricing externalities.

This “second mover” opportunity is where creative policy-making is vitally needed.  In many cases, the benefits of greenhouse gas pollution policies are possible without making the story a battle over carbon politics. For example:

Enable Development Projects for the Global Poor

Development projects are often particularly low-cost carbon abatement opportunities.  Under new World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the global development lender has launched a more aggressive stance to integrate climate change into development.

“We will never end poverty if we don’t tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today,” Kim told reporters on a conference call last Friday.  A number of development agencies in economies where carbon prices exist are searching for low-cost carbon opportunities.  Among the innovations in local development that chart carbon impacts, are clean cookstoves, sustainable forest certification, and  awarding carbon credits for energy efficiency projects (“CO2 to EE”).  Identifying these opportunities is a great place to meet multiple goals. (Related: “On Cookstoves, Research Paves the Way to Action,” and “The Solvable Problem of Energy Poverty“)

Design Carbon Investment Accounts for Individuals and Firms

Instead of putting carbon credits into state or federal accounts, an alternative is to place the authority to spend the tax money directly in the hands of the American people (See: “The best way to save the planet? You Decide.” This approach would make a carbon tax more palatable, equitable and efficient at reducing greenhouse gases. The average American would pay roughly $555 a year for all of the carbon used in his or her gasoline, electricity, and home heating.

But this tax money, instead of going to the U.S. Treasury,  would be credited into individual “energy savings accounts.” Taxpayers could decide how best to spend the money to reduce carbon emissions, to benefit themselves  and the planet. You could use your $555 toward installing solar panels on your roof, cutting your electricity bill to zero. Or you could direct your tax money to a charity that plants fast-growing trees at the equator, or to a private company that would suck up the carbon in the atmosphere and sequester it under the ocean floor. You could pool your “cooling tax” money with your neighbors and build a windmill to supply your town with electricity or a plant to supply you with a non-carbon alternative to gasoline.

Any plan that produces energy without emitting carbon, or gets rid of carbon already in the atmosphere, would qualify. Companies would compete for your business, and more would surely develop to serve the burgeoning clean-energy market.

Both of these are just examples of opportunities that the Emanuel Paradigm opens for debate and trial.  Our challenge is to launch as many of these experiments as possible before the moment fades.

Daniel M. Kammen is the Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy in the Energy and Resources Group and in the Goldman School of Public Policy.  He is on the board of advisors to National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge.  Kammen served as the inaugural Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for the World Bank Group (2010 – 2011), and has served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.




[ Cuba’s Oil Quest to Continue, Despite Deepwater Disappointment ]

In a drilling campaign profoundly hampered by the long-standing U.S. trade embargo, Cuba came up dry in its search for deepwater oil this year. But its quest for offshore energy will continue.


[ Energy Independence: Would it Live Up to the Hype? ]

Energy independence is a lot like the extravagant Christmas present you wished for all year as a child. For Americans, it’s been the equivalent of a pony, or a Red Ryder BB gun  – we hoped for it, we yearned for it, but we never completely believed we’d get it. Now that it’s potentially within reach, one of the key questions is: will it live up to the hype?

The International Energy Agency, in its closely watched World Energy Outlook report last week, said the United States could become the world’s No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas by 2020, and might be “almost self-sufficient in energy, in net terms,” by 2035. That’s not exactly around the corner, but it’s also not that far off, historically speaking. As a point of reference, the last time the United States could meet its own energy needs was the same year Sputnik was launched: 1957.  (See related story: “U.S. to Overtake Saudi Arabia, Russia as World’s Top Energy Producer”)

Mind you, this is a projection, not a guarantee, but it lines up with analyses from other organizations, like the U.S. government’s Annual Energy Outlook and the BP Statistical Review of Energy. We could still go off the rails here (20 years is more than enough time to screw up a trend). In fact there are two factors driving this, and there’s no guarantee we’ll continue doing either of them.

One is fracking, which is opening up domestic reserves of shale oil and natural gas that were previously out of reach. Fracking is a huge change in our energy landscape, but it also is bitterly controversial because of the potential impact on groundwater and other environmental issues. The second factor, which is getting less attention, is increasing energy efficiency, particularly raising fuel efficiency standards for cars. The IEA estimates this may account for 45 percent of the total shift toward U.S. energy independence. Both of those trends have opponents, both could still be rolled back.

But the bigger issue here is whether energy independence will actually accomplish what many Americans hope it would. The belief in energy independence as a goal rose out of the oil embargos and gas shortages of the 1970s, and a lot has changed in the world. It’s worth asking several big questions here:

Will it control gas prices? The answer seems to be, very likely not. Oil is one big global market, where lots of people are selling and nearly everyone is buying. Just like any other commodities market, oil markets bounce up and down based on day to day changes in supply, demand, politics, information and levels of fear.

If the United States moves up from third to first place in terms of world production of oil, we’d probably be a stabilizing influence on the markets. Unlike the Middle Eastern nations or Russia, we’ve got no history of using our oil taps as a political tool. But that doesn’t guarantee that turmoil or deliberate manipulation among any of the other oil producers can’t drive up prices. A good example is the tumult that occurred in oil markets as the Quaddafi regime toppled in Libya, even though Libya only produces about 2 percent of the world’s oil.

How will it change the United States’ relationship  with the Middle East? One of the dreams of proponents of energy independence has been that if we didn’t need the oil, we wouldn’t have to deal with the messy politics of the region. Nor would we end up paying enormous sums of money to oppressive regimes that didn’t particularly like us. There’s truth in that. But it’s also true that the Middle East still has enormous reserves of oil at a time when global demand continues to rise. China, India and the rest of the developing world will buy that oil if we don’t. And disruptions to the oil flow would still disrupt the global economy. The IEA itself notes that oil supply routes from the Middle East to Asia would become an increasing concern under their projections. If our allies and the world economy are hurt by oil disruptions, would we act?

What’s more, while oil is doubtless one factor behind U.S. interests in the Middle East, we would still have humanitarian and security interests in the region. We probably can’t just close our eyes to what’s happening there.

What will this mean for climate change? Well, it won’t do much of anything to solve it. Granted, the energy efficiency gains that are part of this trend are helping control overall fossil fuel use and thus cut greenhouse gases. And using more natural gas for energy production has reduced our reliance on coal, which is currently the most problematic of the fossil fuels. But energy independence in itself may remove some of the economic pressure to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

It’s worth remembering, in the frequently repeated holiday movie “A Christmas Story,” that young Ralphie has two things he’s really excited about. One is his BB gun, and the other is his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. The BB gun proves to be the best gift he’d ever get; the decoder ring is kind of a letdown.

So many politicians and experts have been promising so much from the idea of energy independence for so long that it’s likely to be a letdown for the American public as well. Don’t get us wrong – the implications could be huge. But they’re not likely to be what people expected.


[ California Tackles Climate Change, But Will Others Follow? ]

California launches its cap-and-trade market to curb carbon emissions. Advocates for climate change action hope the state’s approach will spread.


[ Second Life for Old Electric Car Batteries: Guardians of the Electric ]

General Motors demonstrates that “spent” Chevy Volt batteries can be deployed in communities to deliver more reliable, cleaner power to buildings.