Thursday, February 28, 2019

Is the Green New Deal feasible?

Popular Science weighs in on the Green New Deal. One of the debates is what energy sources are considered renewable and clean energy. Are nukes in or out. But according to reputable experts, the Green New Deal might be financially sound.

Though our current mix of energy is dominated by fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean 100% renewable goals are infeasible. “It’s technically and economically possible to do it by 2030,” says Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor, about a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. “But for social and political reasons, it will probably take longer, maybe up to 2050.”
 In total, a nation-wide energy transition would cost $15 trillion, says Jacobson. But, he adds, “It’s much cheaper than the current system—it’s like one-eighth the social cost and one-half the direct energy cost, so it’s really foolish not to do so.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Boulder reaches 2020 cliamte goal early

Like Ray Anderson liked to say, "If someone can do it, it must be possible." Boulder has been growing but they still met their 202 climate goal.

The City of Boulder has achieved a 16 percent reduction in community greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to a 2005 baseline, according to the city’s annual inventory . The analysis shows that Boulder has achieved its 2020 GHG emissions reduction target three years early and, even more noteworthy, has done so during a time of economic and population growth in the city.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Housing for Tourist Town Workers

It's a dilemma for any tourist destination. Real estate values go up, long term rentals are converted to AirBnBs, and suddenly no one who works in your town can live there. In the Village of Oak Creek, we lost our elementary school because so few people with kids could live and work here.

What can be done? This June 2018 issue of Affordable Housing Finance has some examples. The article starts on page 24 and includes examples from the Florida Keys and Vail, among others.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Tesla releasing Dog Mode

Teslas will soon have Dog Mode, keeping your pooch comfy while parked. In hopes that passers by won’t break the window and call the cops, the display will show the inside temp and a message, “My owner will be back soon”.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

4 lessons to learn from the world to combat climate change

As we in the US wring our hands, wondering what can possibly be done to meet climate goals, other countries are plowing ahead. This article highlights 4 things we can do, that others have done, to make significant progress.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The cost of sprawl: $1 trillion per year in US

When auto companies bought up and killed off public transit in the early 1900’s to build a car-fueled world, they set the stage for sprawl.

Sprawl is made possible by highways. This is expensive—in 2015, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year in reduced business activity, environmental damage, consumer expenses, and other costs. Leaving aside the emissions from the 1.1 billion trips Americans take per day (87 percent of which are taken in personal vehicles), spreading everything out has eaten up an enormous amount of natural land.
This article makes the case for addressing sprawl in climate policies, in particular building workforce housing in walkable, transit oriented developments.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Might population peak sooner than we think?

There’s a well-known formula in sustainability called IPAT:


Human Impacts are a function of Population x Affluence (consumption) x Technology.

It points out that we have three levers to reduce our environmental impacts: reduce population growth, reduce consumption or change technology to those with a lighter impact.

The 20th Century was an environmental disaster on fronts. Human population ballooned from about 2 billion to 6 or 7. Rising affluence, especially in Asia (a good thing for people in abject poverty) turned into conspicuous consumption and a plastic ocean. Technology brought us traffic jams, invasive species carried by planes and mountaintop removal.

But in the 21st Century, there are glimmers of hope.

P....Morality has prevented us from limiting births or purposefully shortening lifespans. Even China gave up on it one-child policy. But researchers discovered that educating women and giving them access to family planning services was a powerful lever to reduce the birth rate. This new book, Empty Planet, the author calls into question the U.N. estimates of population growth, arguing that cellphones are driving a cultural change, projecting we will hit 9 billion by 2100 and fall from there.

A...Techniques associated with The Circular Economy and biomimicry (see previous posts) may limit the destruction associated with our stuff.

T...Technologies like renewable energy and nanotechnology might let us have the same benefits with less impact.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

USPS experimenting with electric trucks

We can always tell the mail truck from any other vehicle on the street just by sound. Vroom, sigh, vroom, sigh. But someday we may have to go check to see if the mail is in. The Postal Service is experimenting with quiet electric vehicles in Fresno. It’s a great application since they are never far from their charging station and the electric motor probably is more forgiving of all that idling. It should save money in the long run too.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

How a city in Brazil ensures no one is hungry

Brazil has been an incubator for sustainable civic innovations. Decades ago I visited Curitiba to see how they fought hunger, built community and developed a world-class transportation system. (Search out a TedTalk by Jaime Lerner...A song of the city Part of what drives innovation there is they have all our same problems—in spades—but not much money to throw at it. They have to find elegant solutions that solve multiple problems, the essence of sustainability.
Innovations keep happening in Brazil. Belo Horizonte is a city of 2.5 million that has used Participatory Budgeting ( as one way to solve their hunger crisis.

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer markups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.
“For ABC sellers with the best spots, there’s another obligation attached to being able to use the city land,” a former manager within this city agency, Adriana Aranha, explained. “Every weekend they have to drive produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city center, so everyone can get good produce.”

Friday, February 15, 2019

Meet your Meat

The phrase, "Meet your meat," used to refer to people understanding where their shrink-wrapped steaks and chicken nuggets come from. When you've looked Bessie in her limpid brown eyes, you tend to have more empathy for how she is treated, concern for how the meat is processed, and respect for the sacrifice behind the product.

But with the cultural change toward less meat-eating in most of the developed world, and the need for greenhouse gas reductions, will meat disappear from our diets? This article says no. It's just your meat may be 'meat,' grown in a lab. Bessie can retire to pasture.

Are people really eating less meat?Actually, no. Overall meat consumption continues to increase on a global scale, buoyed by rising affluence in developing economies such as China and Brazil. But while per capita consumption in the U.S., the world’s biggest beef consumer, is also growing, countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Sweden are cutting back on meat. What’s more, there’s a discernible shift in attitudes in wealthy nations, including the U.S. In a 2015 study, two-thirds of Americans said they had reduced their meat intake and a recent Gallup poll showed the number of U.S. vegans had risen by more than 3 million between 2012 and 2018 to about 3 percent of the population. While a third of U.K. consumers have lowered or stopped meat purchases, Germans have been winding down meat consumption since 2011.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Good or bad news? Google is dealing on solar/wind farms everywhere

Google (Alphabet) has been working for years to open up energy markets so they could procure their energy not from their local utility but instead from renewable energy farms. (Homeowners and small businesses can do the same through Arcadia Power.) That sounds good, right? They’re trying to run their entire, gigantic tech infrastructure on renewables, including a new deal in Taiwan.

Google is the first company to benefit from a change in the country’s [Taiwan’s] electricity laws that allows non-utility organizations to procure power directly. It took many trips to the country, by many Googlers, over the last several years to lay the groundwork for this installation, according to Michael Terrell, head of energy market development at Google, who chatted with me about the strategy.
After all, it’s impossible to cover a company’s power needs with deals in just one region or country. Plus, it should be intriguing for any company wondering how to help its supply chain procure more clean power.

But it got me thinking about where this is headed. A lot of people are okay with seeing solar panels on houses or a couple wind turbines on the serve their own needs. But how are we going to feel when one multinational after another wants to blanket our land with huge installations to serve their own needs? A big blight on your landscape, brought to you by Bayer or Amazon or BP. Isn’t this another form of imperialism?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Zero waste, reusable packaging coming soon

Loop, a coalition of major brands, are developing a way to sell youevertyhing from ice cream to shampoo in returnable, reusable containers. As cofounder of TerraCycle said,

“We run what is today the world’s largest supply chain on ocean plastic, collecting it and going into Unilever and Procter & Gamble products and so on,” Szaky says. “But every day, more and more gets put in the ocean, so no matter how much we clean the ocean, we’re never going to solve the problem. That’s really where Loop emerged…To us, the root cause of waste is not plastic, per se, it’s using things once, and that’s really what Loop tries to change as much as possible.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Solar = 242,000 jobs, up 158% since 2010

With solar costs cascading downward, jobs and installations are up. (Not surprisingly there was a little drop in jobs in the past two years, probably due to lack of enthusiasm in the Whitehouse.)

If you wonder why Arizona Public Service is blasé about solar on your roof, the cost chart in this article shows why: utility scale solar costs less. But a UBS analyst thinks renewable energy will “effectively be free” by 2030.

The industry is still expected to rise in the coming years. A report last month from the Energy Information Administration stated that wind and solar, which provided three percent of the United States' energy generation in 2018, will comprise 13 percent of generation in 2020. Around 18 percent of the 24 gigawatts of power set to come online next year is expected to come from photovoltaic solar panels.

Do US automakers even WANT to sell electric cars

When Dale and I went in to buy our first Volt, we knew more about the car than the sales person. He gave incorrect information about its range. Dealerships around here don’t even have an electric model to show you; the manufacturers send them all to California and Oregon. You see lots of ads for gigantic Ford pick ups, usually careening through fragile habitat, but zip for their electric models. Dealerships make a lot of money through repairs but electric vehicles need much less maintenance.

GM is closing plants, ostensibly to focus more on electric vehicles. But they are stopping production on cars, focusing on bigger, more lucrative trucks and SUVs, eliminating any hope for modest mobility. Most of the power of a vehicle goes to moving the vehicle, not the passengers, so the bigger the vehicle, the more inefficient it is.

According to this article (see link), we are currently in the ‘chasm’ between the early adopters and the early majority. Their motivations are different. The early adopters are willing to take some risk and inconvenience; early majority, not so much.

This article suggests there’s a role for government to play, to promote the benefits of electric cars and maintain the tax credit. It might seem a big request of the current administration but we spend millions and millions of dollars promoting our industries abroad.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What's often forgotten in arguments against regulation

Here's an interesting perspective on environmental regulations. Typically the government looks at the cost to companies to comply vs the costs in human health, etc. if they don't. The morality of pitting corporate profits against human life aside,  this article makes the case that regulations spawn new industries and jobs. A cost to a coal-fired power plant to add scrubbers is income to the companies that sell them scrubbers.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

OLIO, an app to share food you don’t need

You’ve learned in earlier posts that foodwaste is a significant source of greenhouse gases and in the US, muchof the waste is caused by us. Bought more bananas that you can eat? Got 5 boxes of pasta when your doc says to try gluten free? Got cans of tuna but your daughter just turned vegan? Is your apple tree loaded or the yogurt getting close to the use-by date? Now all you have to do is snap a photo and post it on OLIO. Someone nearby will arrange to pick it up.

DiCaprio models how to avoid titanic climate impacts

Leonardo DiCaprio’s organization has been crunching numbers, laying out a couple options to a 5 degree increase in global temperatures, which is what we’re heading toward if we do nothing. In this report he lays out actions in different sectors and importantly also examines the impact on employment.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Carbon Capture and Storage: what’s it role in combatting climate change?

Karl Henrik Robert, founder of The Natural Step, warned us that the longer we waited, the farther we went down “the funnel”, the more expensive it would be to achieve sustainability. Had we started the transition to renewable energy 20-30 years ago, we wouldn’t be faced with the need for an all out effort by 2030.

We no longer have time to choose technologies to reduce emissions. Research has shown that we need to deploy all solutions, including for example demand-side measures, energy efficiency, resource efficiency, electrification of heat and fuel switching. Exactly how many emissions reductions will be delivered by CCS [carbon capture and storage] depends on a variety of factors, including local and regional circumstances and electricity prices.
 According to this article, CCS will be particularly important in certain industrial sectors like cement, steel, etc.

Costs vary largely among these applications in the industrial sector (PDF). Generally, costs of adding carbon capture equipment to an existing facility are lower for plants where the CO2 is already separated as part of the production process. This means that such facilities produce a pure stream of CO2, such as natural gas processing and fertilizer and bioethanol production processes. For them, the cost of adding CCS ranges around $20 to $25 per ton of carbon captured. Higher costs are associated with processes that result in a more diluted Co2 waste stream such as in iron, steel and cement production which can range anywhere up to 125$/t.
Fortunately the US still has a tax credit for CSS.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Cops driving Teslas

Tesla cars are expensive to purchase. But increasingly, police departments are being drawn to them. It’s not just the “Insane Mode” that should let them outrun virtually any car on the road. They’ll also be cheaper to own and operate over the 5 years they usually own their cruisers.

The single Model S might’ve been more expensive right off the bat, at just over $61,000 plus the costs of converting it into a fully-fledged police cruiser, according to a press release. Modifications include a “light bar, push bumper, and ballistic barriers.”
But savings in gas and maintenance could make it a lot cheaper for the Department over five years of use — the average life cycle of such a vehicle. The Fremont Police Department has already installed a solar array on top of the Police Complex’s carport to charge electric cars, including the new Tesla.
So don’t say I didn’t warn you. The next Tesla you see might be in your rear view mirror with a flashing light bar. Drive safe. Don’t text and drive!

2018 Climate Report in three US maps

2018 was the 4th hottest on record. But what did that mean in the US? Virtually everywhere was warmer but some places like Arizona were much above normal. It brought record-breaking soaking rains east of the Mississippi but parched the Southwest. Want to know how your state fared last year? Check out this article. The entire country should be preparing for this being the new-normal. And we need to work faster to stop it from getting worse.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Healthcare represents 10% of greenhouse gases

All those MRIs, air conditioning, laundry, incinerated medical waste. It adds up. According to this article, the healthcare field represents about 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions. The article includes things they could do now to turn things around.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Electric cars cheaper over their lifetime than gas guzzlers

Auto companies promote the environmental benefits of electric cars, but that only appeals to the “dark green” market segment. Initial cost can be a barrier to purchasers who don’t see the need to take a perceived risk on new technology. Perhaps instead car makers should tell people that electric cars are more powerful and cost less to own and operate. There’s a nice chart in this article that compares the lifetime cost of vehicles. Wouldn’t you rather have a car that rarely need servicing?

The other barrier we need to overcome is thinking that our car has to do everything: Take us back and forth to work and the grocery = 95%; go on one long road trip with the kid in the summer = 5%. Why not buy an electric car that gets you around the vast majority of the time and then rent a van for your road trip?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Resource for Cities

The UN has just released a guide to help cities pursue the Sustainable Development Goals. You can download it off this page:

The guide includes a 10-step process:

1. Setting up the leadership and management structure, including budget and timelines, for the planning process
2. Identifying core values for your city
3. Establishing work teams
4. Assembling baseline data, including population trends and eco-nomic conditions
5. Taking stock of what your city is already doing that aligns with the SDGs, identifying gaps, and analyzing those most important to fill
6. Identifying budget resources and potential funding sources
7. Developing a draft framework for the plan, including targets, benchmarks, metrics and indicators
8. Identifying stakeholders, outside advisors (including university and academic partners), and community resources; establishing processes to work with them; and integrating their knowledge and ideas into the drafted plan
9. Aligning budgets and accountability mechanisms, including met-rics and indicators, and final reviews
10. Launching the plan while establishing the feedback and account-ability mechanisms

Image credit: UN

In 12 years, DC will have 100% renewable energy

The gap between Congress in the District of Columbia and DC itself is astounding. The District has a climate action plan; Congress not so much. The District has a renewable energy standard; Congress nada. The District has declared it will be run on 100% renewable energy by 2032.

“I think it’s especially interesting because less than three years ago, [D.C.’s] renewable portfolio standard for 2032 was 50%,” says Jay Orfield, who works with the communities program at the nonprofit NRDC. “I think that speaks to a number of elements in support of renewables–the pricing continuing to come down, but then also realizing that action on climate change needs to be ramped up.”

Monday, February 4, 2019

New science: methane disproportionately increases sea level

This is new to me. I had been told by scientists that carbon dioxide was absorbed by the oceans (making it more acidic) but methane was not taken up by the oceans. Technically true.  But this new research shows that methane, which leaves the atmosphere faster than CO2, affects sea level for centuries. In addition to heating up the air which affects ocean temperature, methane creates a radiative effect (like the sun on your face on a cold day) even when and if global temperature falls.
We show that short-lived greenhouse gases contribute to sea-level rise through thermal expansion (TSLR) over much longer time scales than their atmospheric lifetimes. For example, at least half of the TSLR due to increases in methane is expected to remain present for more than 200 y, even if anthropogenic emissions cease altogether, despite the 10-y atmospheric lifetime of this gas.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What’s changing climate deniers’ minds

In the US, acceptance of climate science has increased by 8% in three years. We’re up to 78%. It’s intriguing to dig into the data to see who is changing their minds.

A recent Monmouth poll found that 78 percent of Americans believe climate change is real and leading to sea-level rise and more extreme weather. That’s up from 70 percent three years ago. The headline-grabbing takeaway: A majority of Republicans — 64 percent — are now believers, a 15-point jump from 2015

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Flowers hear bees

It’s important to remember what we’re fighting for, the preservation of complex life on earth. And that complexity is mind-blowing. As animals, we tend not to think much of plant intelligence. But researchers are finding that trees in forests communicate and support one another. Plants decide which direction to send their roots, toward the better resources. And now we know that flowers can hear bees and boost their nectar’s sugar content.

Look on with awe and wonder.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Cutting plastic from your kitchen

This article reveals a variety of efforts to reduce plastic. It features a couple products to help in the kitchen, including the Final Straw (an easily portable, reusable straw) and a better alternative to ziplock bags made from silicone called the Stasher. You can even cook in them!

US House of Reps has Climate Committee again

The House just resurrected a committee to focus on climate change, now called the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. What can they do? They  have no legislative authority but they can hold hearings. Learn more in this Scientific American interview with Rep. Kathy Castor.