Dr. Even T. Ually, the prominent Washington environmental scientist, announced an agreement reached today between the House and the Senate that has wide-ranging impact on global climate change and domestic energy production.
Leaders from both branches will soon employ a new scientific technique that harnesses gasses emitted during the creation of the Congressional Record, a process that traps the carbon emitted and sends it to congressional bunkers for underground conversion to electricity.
“At its peak, the Congressional Record represents some 40,000 pages a year of verbatim coverage of, among other things, the 4,175 recently introduced bits of legislation recorded in the Record,” noted Dr. Ually. “The volume of gas it takes for that much speech equals enough carbon production to cut fossil fuel imports for years. We can now rely entirely on domestic production.”
The ability to trap Congressional gasses came as a result of a scientific breakthrough which transforms carbon emissions from human speech into DC electrical energy.
“Global human respiration accounts for about 8% of all man-made CO2 emissions as noted by the EPA,” said Dr. Ually, “but of course we would not consider the congressional wisdom captured in the Congressional Record as a pollutant. Nevertheless, this new ability to convert Congressional emissions into electricity means Americans can be assured of a never-ending supply of the new energy.”
Dr. Ually further noted that a study was underway to compare the verbal output of reelected officials to Freshmen Congressmen and woman, pointing out that preliminary laboratory results suggest a direct relationship between a representatives’ years in Congress and his or her ability to fill the Congressional Record with future energy.
“That’s good news,” Dr. Ually noted, “because in the long run, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United will keep the most loquacious representatives in Congress for ages, insuring our reserve of gas-based electricity.
The energy crisis solved, Congress is moving smartly on to the deficit.
Nobody said it would be easy, but the E.P.A. has taken on a powerful adversary in its effort to get industry to go public with data on hydro fluorocarbon emissions. Efforts to get the facts out have set loose the lobbying mercenaries of the oil producers and refiners, steel companies and the aluminum manufacturers who argue collectively that it’s enough for the public to know that emissions are a problem; but that there’s no need to go public with specific data on the actual amounts of greenhouse gasses shed.
Industry insists such detailed disclosures give away company secrets and telegraph the specifics of internal plant operations to competitors. They oppose the E.P.A. proposal to make public the underlying data used to calculate greenhouse gas emissions. Unsaid but obvious is that they balk at providing specifics on heat trapping gases because it arms E.P.A. efforts to make industry mitigate CO2 pollution, efforts that come with complex rules and costly procedures.
As the battle forces take their positions, industry lobbyists gulp coffee and work the phones late to block what the E.P.A itself has described as some of the most ambitious regulatory controls in history. Most importantly, it’s expected that the EPA will declare CO2 a pollutant that is dangerous to the public health, a declaration leading to a matrix of regulations that industry will spend millions to avoid.
It’s coming down to a choice seen by heavy industry as the lesser of two dreaded evils. Either the EPA is going to be a CO2 emissions watchdog with strict regulatory standards and the power to oversee industrial production; or, industry will have to accept congressional legislation, likely to produce a carbon cap system. While wanting neither, forced to the wall industry will prefer to deal with congress, knowing legislators will respond to their lobbyists while the E.P.A. will not.
In the strange bedfellows department, heavy industry and the Obama administration curiously will be allies as the drama unfolds. The Obama administration prefers a congressional solution with cap and trade legislation, thereby sharing the political liability with Congress. Watch for the Obama team to wave the scenario of an expanded E.P.A. regulatory bureaucracy like a red flag, as a means of encouraging coal, oil, and heavy industries to accept a cap and trade system.
In either case, full disclosure of emissions details belongs in the public record. The sin of omission merely delays the inevitable.
“Who sells more, the U.S. car industry or the American recycling industry?”
You’ll say the auto industry, and you’d be right – but surprisingly you’re not right by much. U.S. recycling sales in 2009 totaled $236 billion while auto industry sales totaled $250 billion.
As a growth industry, sales charts reveal recycling’s steady, predictable growth compared to the auto industry’s roller coaster history. It’s a less bumpy ride
Staying with our comparison, recycling will outpace auto industry sales before the end of the next decade, because of these market realities:
• It is less costly to manufacture using recycled materials than to produce them from virgin metals, woods or plastics
• The carbon impact of producing from recycled materials is significantly lower
Quick example: if we recycle three quarters of the aluminum cans we toss out, we reduce carbon emissions by 11.8 million metric tons compared with producing those same cans from virgin aluminum.
• Recycling slows the depletion of Earth’s rapidly dwindling resources
• Manufacturing from recycled materials uses considerably less precious water to make the same product, like paper for example.
But the real dynamo driving green growth has to do with what’s on everyone’s tongue this political season: jobs, jobs and jobs. In this context, the green job scene has exploded. Very quietly. 1.1 million Americans have jobs in the recycling industry, which itself is only a small part of green-related commerce.
What’s happening with green jobs gets clearer if we take a vertical micro-slice of green jobs in a single state, using Massachusetts as our example.
For the year 2009, according to the Massachusetts Recycling Coalition, 1,437 recycling and reuse firms operated in the commonwealth state. These firms produced $3.5 billion in sales, creating tons, so to speak, of jobs. They paid 19,445 workers a total $577 million in salaries.
How about tax contributions? Glad you asked. The state collected $64 million from recycle and reuse businesses.
Peering deeper, there are four major categories within the recycling industry and if you look at the relative contribution of each to Massachusetts last year, the sectors breakout as follows:
Collection and reprocessing businesses had sales of $923 million and salaries of $142 million, paid to 4,642 employees.
Manufacturing from collected recycled raw materials employed 10,120 people with a payroll of $330 million. This sector raked in sales of over $2.1 billion.
Reuse and refurbishing manufacturing had sales of $342 million, employing 3,443 people and a $67 million payroll
Consulting, engineering, brokering and other support jobs rang up $535 million in sales and accounted for 3,397 jobs.
Multiply the Massachusetts picture by 50 states and even the most curmudgeonly green-shade legislator has to reconsider green growth legislation, if not for moral reasons then simply because green means more jobs for the state. Big time.
If as a kid you played with a battery-operated battleship, the U.S. Navy has upped the ante; with an electric battleship – actually a seaborne hybrid amphibious assault vessel christened the U.S.S. Makin Island.
The 847 foot, 41,335 ton (fully loaded) assault ship carries 2,891 persons, but it’s not her size that’s newsworthy. Rather it’s what drives her. She’s electric – and turbine – a hybrid vessel powered by a new gas turbine-electric engine that’s noteworthy as another sign that military technology is greening.
On her maiden voyage alone (Mississippi to San Diego), the Makin Islandsaved 900,000 gallons of fuel – sipping fuel as if through a needle-straw when compared to conventional boiler-fired ships.
The Navy’s hybrid assault ship achieves speeds of up to 10 knots running on electric motors without relying on her thirstier gas turbine engines. The latter kick in for higher speeds. Fuel efficiency comes from two induction-type auxiliary propulsion motors that power the shaft, driven directly from the ship’s electrical grid.
The Makin Island’s primary propulsion source is not in fact those less-efficient gas turbines. She actually runs on electrical auxiliary power system about 75% of the time. Electricity for the ship’s electric motors requires fossil fuel for the pair diesel generators, but they are far more fuel-efficient than the ship’s gas turbine engines.
According to the Navy, the ship’s hybrid power will achieve savings of an estimated $250 million over the vessel’s 40-year life span, and she’ll save even more should the cost of diesel fuel rise, which it surely will.
The Navy’s new hybrid technology is also quieter and requires fewer sailors to operate boilers, monitor gauges and survey computer screens in the ship’s cooler engine rooms.
Don’t count the Air Force out which already has jets testing a half bio-based fuel from algae. Ultimately, the military’s ability to produce fuel from plants means less dependence on fuel depots in volatile locales. The Pakistanis, protesting drone incursions, drove that point home recently when they closed vital fuel transport roads to the American military in Afghanistan. And at sea, the ability to cruise on biofuels means a military with the capability to route ships more flexibly.
What is a passive design home, the subject of this week’s My Green Mind Best of The Green News story? It’s a virtually air-tight, well-insulated home that’s heated primarily by passive solar (sun exposure) along with heat gains from body-heat, electrical equipment and even the tea kettle whistling on the stove. In a passive design home, any needed remaining heat is supplied by an extremely small source. A traditional furnace isn’t needed. (Learn more at the Passive Home Institute)
The popularity of passive design homes is established in Europe, but they are just gaining interest in the US. A combination of design advances create a comfortable home with the most minimal traditional heat requirements. That combination includes:
• super thick insulation that creates a virtually air tight envelope • orientation of the home with window and facade exposure toward the southern sun • architecture based on algorithmic calculations from software that insures an air-tight design • a mechanical ventilation system that removes stale air and doubles as a heat transfer system to minimize heat loss. • triple paned windows that let thermal energy from the sun in yet prevent it from radiating back out
Built to passive construction certification standards, the virtually air-tight passive home requires about 10% of the energy needed to heat and cool homes constructed to traditional code standards.
A New York Times video offers an example of passive design home construction, a 2000 square foot home in Vermont. The walls have about 18” of fiberglass batting compared to the average US home now with 6”. And the Times article notes that “America’s drafty building methods account for as much as 40 percent of its primary energy use, 70 percent of its electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of its carbon-dioxide emissions.”
Owners of new passive homes built today in the US will pay a premium of an estimated 15 to 20% more for their homes, in part because needed materials are less available in the US. In Europe, where passive homes are more common, the premium for a passive design home shrinks to from 2 to 5%. Based on current costs in the US, owners of a certified passive design home can recapture their investment in ten years, varying by home size and location.
In the new Vermont home, electric radiant heating occasionally supplements the sun’s natural heating, for examples if the owners are away from the home for extended time periods. Solar roof panels provide the energy for hot water. With the addition of photovoltaic solar panels , wind turbines or other energy collectors, passive homes can become energy-neutral homes and even positive energy producers.
A temporary downside to passive home construction in the US is that the technology is so new that Congress has yet to offer special tax incentives for the new green design homes. That’s expected to change soon, because the issue is heating up…or maybe because it’s about not heating up.
And if you think this is photoshop science fiction, think again. This week the My Green Mind blog reports the Arctic Sea has melted so dramatically in the last four summers, that researchers say the region will be ice free in September of 2030. Earth will look like our picture, because according to the AFP and the LA Times, we are losing arctic ice coverage at the rate of 11% annually.
Arctic ice coverage has fallen below 1.93 million square miles and occurrences of a similar rate of shrinking have all happened in the past four years, according to a report from the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Simply put, they report more ice is melting in spring and summer and less is forming in the winter. The ice region is warming quickly, impacting everything from polar animal life to world weather patterns. In 2008, the loss of sea ice turned the polar bear into the first federally designated endangered species, officially a victim of climate change.
But the long term effects of the loss of our Earth’s “refrigerator” extend beyond polar animal life. For example, mid planet regions that count on snowfall for their water supply and for tourism will have to cope with the declining snow fall.
NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) similarly reported the Arctic ice coverage was 22% below the average taken from the period of 1979 to year 2000. The minimum this year was 25% below a 31-year average (1979-2010), a deficit of 625,000 square miles.
Of added concern following rising sea levels is what will happen when mother nature “photoshops” portions of the globe’s land masses, turning them blue too. At least those who deny climate change will have plenty of water for their tea bags.
This week’s news from My Green Mind is of a wall plug module from GE called Nucleus. It can cut your electric bill and it’s coming soon. The device is a real home-of-the-future advance.
For starters Nucleus monitors how much juice your home gulps in real-time for any moment or over time periods: days, months and for up to three years. Your internet connected computer or a smart phone displays your overall home electricity use, but you also see which individual devices are the big drains.
It gets better. If your utility company offers variable pricing adjusted for peak and non-peak hours, Nucleus helps you buy electricity cheaper. WIth it, you can make informed choices about when to use power, for example when to run a loaded dishwasher. Nucleus information helps you save. You may adjust your home thermostat from the office, turn off unnecessary lights, and cut energy to vampire suckers like a home theater system that’s not in use while you’re at work.
It gets better still. Coming soon, new, smarter GE Energy Star appliances will feed information to your Nucleus module so that they can respond to signals from your utility company. Signals will delay electricity use in peak periods. Once peak periods have passed, the smart appliances will complete the cycle they delayed.
You get to pay lower prices for electricity, by using it during late evening and early morning hours. “Peak” periods, those of highest demand, are typically between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The hand-sized Nucleus module plugs into any standard wall outlet and connects via an Ethernet cable to your router or computer. The Nucleus comes with its own “dashboard” software pictured on the right. An internet connected computer or smart phone displays actual kilowatt use in the moment, with rates in corresponding colors to help you visually differentiate them. High-cost peak electricity use shows in red, with off peak use shown appropriately in green.
Long term, the Nucleus system will take advantage of the smart grid and of TOU (time of use) pricing. It will pave the way for you to use renewable energy resources such solar and wind, helping to curtail our dependence on foreign sources of oil for power while it reduces CO2 emissions.
The GE Nucleus works in conjunction with the new smart electric meters. If you don’t have one yet, note that by 2012 US electric companies will have installed more than 40 million smart meters.
Beyond 2012, GE hopes to provide the Nucleus with software upgrades that allow the system to monitor water use, natural gas and renewable energy use, and to follow the cost of plug-in electric vehicle charging. The price of the Nucleus module and included software is expected to be between $149-$199. GE expects them on the market in 2011.
Don’t look now but there’s cash in your closet. At least if you’re like most and have old cell phones gathering cobwebs. We should recycle them, but who has the time and where would we go if we did?
In the best of all worlds there would be a kiosk that takes your old phone, values it, and pays you for it. Enter the ecoATM which does exactly that. It even wipes the data from your old phone to protect your privacy.
Here’s the way ecoATM works.
Insert your old cell phone or electronic portable device into the ecoATM. The are kiosks at some store locations now, but soon you’ll find them at many familiar retailers. If you accept the value offered, ecoATM pays you for it in cash or with a gift card from the store, or a trade-up coupon, or you can opt to make a charitable contribution.
You make money, but importantly you’re also helping to green the planet.
EcoATM resells what it accepts (about 50% of the phones received are sold again) or they are melted down for their material which is recovered and reused. Safely recycling phone materials prevents some three tons of dirt and minerals per phone from having to be mined. To quote the ecoATM site: By using the ecoATM, you’ve saved “a pile of dirt about the size of a car for a phone that fits in your pocket.”
Who is the corporate money behind ecoATM? A key investor is the Coinstar people who provide those ubiquitous coin sorters found in major supermarket chains. Coinstar followed it’s successful coin sorters with about 22,000 Redbox movie kiosks. The ecoATM is their act three.
A startup, ecoATM presently has only a few ATMs, mostly in California, but the roll out of the ecoATM kiosk on a large scale is underway. Coinstar’s sorter and Redbox kiosks are already in select grocery stores like Kroger’s, fast-food giants like McDonald’s, drug stores like Walgreens and CVS and in Wal-Mart stores, so the company has the contacts to get ecoATMs in place.
EcoATM estimates the market for electronic assets lying dormant in consumer homes at $25 billion. By reselling or recycling dormant electronics, they help prevent electronics from ending up in landfills where they seep toxins into our aquifers.
You may know what the Germans, the French, and the Northern Europeans have achieved in the way of increased renewable energy. Now have a look at the smaller EU nation of Portugal. America’s GNP makes Portugal’s look like chump change, yet Portugal not the U.S. is leaping ahead in renewable energy production.
According to the New York Times’ excellent article, Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover, five years ago Portugal’s elected leaders did something unheard of in the US. Leaders decided to lead. They took the heat and charged ahead with a brilliant renewable energy plan.
When they began, 28% of Portugal’s grid electricity came from renewable sources – solar, wind and hydropower. The goal was to increase that. Today, five years since Portugal set their plan in motion, 45% of their electricity comes from renewable energy. The U.S. compares at 5%.
Of course there is no free lunch. At the start of the effort the average Portuguese family was already paying about double what we do for electricity, and the Portuguese have had to bear further cost increases of about 15% during the five year period of renewable energy expansion. But the investment has paid off in stabilized electricity costs even as the electricity rates in fossil fuel dependent nations keep rising. While in other nations dwindling petroleum supplies spike the cost of what citizens pay for electricity, the Portuguese continue to reap the benefit of their farsightedness.
Meanwhile we Americans ride the fuel price roller coaster and wonder if someday the family vehicle will again be a horse.
Portugal’s leadership illustrates what can be done. And the coastal nation is not alone in rapid renewable energy growth. Ireland, Denmark and Britain are projected to produce 40% of their electricity from renewable sources in fifteen years. Brazil and Canada aren’t far behind them. The US will be lucky to reach 15% by 2025, and that’s going to happen only if the deep political divisions in our Congress don’t scuttle progress.
I can hear the objections now. Surely, the oil lobby will cry, countries like Portugal had to increase their debt burden to invest in renewable energy? But no. Portugal saves millions because electricity from renewable sources does not require the country to import oil, coal and gas to make it. The savings help pay for the project.
So what could pull us from our energy malaise? Tell your representatives to have some pluck and vote to:
• assert federal authority over the design of an efficient energy grid. Private companies own and operate grid sections, just as they do in Portugal. But the efficient integration of regional grids won’t happen if the feds don’t control it. (I hear the screams now, “But that’s socialism.” No, we’re not suggesting America federalize the grid. but without a government blueprint, how will fiercely competitive energy producers integrate their sections? The Portuguese understood that and so the government controlled grid design. Of course, we could go down in flames in the name of pristine pure capitalism. We’d get a mishmash of a grid. We could also revert to cooling ourselves with hand fans.)
• subsidize firms at the forefront of renewable energy technologies (Investing in green manufacturing grows the tax base.)
• reduce our reliance on coal and petroleum imports by investing in nuclear, solar, wind, hydro and other renewable energy production systems. That’s a no-brainer.
• pass legislation on federal and state levels to fence in the regressive Supreme Court ruling that permits unlimited corporate campaign spending. (It’ll be easier to go green if legislators can get reelected without coal and oil money.)
• pass carbon cap legislation
The New York Times lists the five year Portuguese investment at about $22 billion and notes that much of the cost is recovered. The completed renewable electrical system costs $2.3 billion a year to operate, lower than the previous running cost because Portugal’s renewable-based grid doesn’t require imported fuels. What is more, the coastal nation will make money selling carbon credits to other EU nations; and finally Portugal is already making money exporting wind generated electricity to Spain during periods when the new system has a capacity excess.
Meanwhile America’s energy future sinks in Congressional timidity. Unlike the Portuguese, our actions say we’d rather export cash and pile debt than pass an energy bill with vision. It’s less painful for Congressmen to let families pay higher electric bills than it is to risk offending a corporate constituency. With inactivity comes reelection. (Is there a Latin motto for that?)
Any urgency to take action is further mitigated on both sides of the isle by the assumption that our rich, natural fossil fuel resources, an accident of America’s geological good fortune, will save us. So let the next session of Congress deal with our energy crisis.
So what’s it going to be? We either follow Europe, China and India and invest a similar percent of our GNP in renewable energy, or we stock up on candles. At least they’ll be Yankee Candles.
Newport’s trash is gone. 15,000 music lovers might have left it scattered about Fort Adams State Park over the three days at the jazz Mecca that first formed back in the sixties. Some 2 tons of plastic bottles, paper and other potential waste didn’t get trashed, didn’t go to the landfill and instead is being recycled. Who are our green angels? A terrific group of volunteers from Clean Water Action, with 40,000 members in Rhode Island and more than 1.2 million thoughout the U.S.
Volunteers collected the waste via trash, compost and recycle bins conveniently placed throughout the festival Park. This year, for the first time in the 19 years the Clear Water Action has handled the Newport Festival recycling, the group collected food waste in bins specifically for composting, with volunteers trucking the waste. Earth Care Farmof Charleston, Rhode Island (they offer tours!) will handle the composting which will in turn be used throughout the state.