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7 Quick Tips for a Greener, Less Expensive Home

7 Quick Tips for a Greener, Less Expensive Home

When the economy is challenged, rallying support for a good and charitable cause becomes difficult. While the world looks to recover from difficult economic times, we all find ourselves being more cautious with how we spend our money.

No matter the state of the economy though, our planet continues to feel the impacts of climate change, global warming and poor energy consumption practices.

And, while saving the planet may seem secondary to saving money – we’re here to show you that keeping a greener home is not only good for the environment, but it’s good for your wallet, too.

1.) Change Five Lightbulbs in Your Home
Replacing conventional light bulbs in your home is a very simple thing to do, right? If every home in America replaced five conventional bulbs with ENERGY STAR bulbs, we could prevent the greenhouse gas equivalent to the emissions from more than 9 million automobiles.

2.) Using ENERGY STAR Products
Buying new things isn’t a great way to save money. When it comes time to replace something though, be sure to weigh all of your options including products that bear the ENERGY STAR logo. From computer monitors and dishwashers to light bulbs and windows – ENERGY STAR represents an opportunity for you to conserve energy, reduce greenhouse gasses and air pollution.

3.) Heat and Cool Your Home Wisely
Modern thermostats with programmable schedules allow most home owners to have a comfortable home that conserves fuel and energy use. If you think you’re paying too much to heat and cool your home, be sure to look into these options and have your equipment serviced regularly. Replacing filters and choosing the right equipment like high effeciency models that are properly sized and installed will go a long way for you. Quick fact… ENERGY STAR reports that the average American household can save more than $180 per year by switching to a programmable unit.

4.) Insulating Your Home
Sealing air leaks and adding more insulation to your home is a great do-it-yourself project for most homeowners. Since most homes have the worst leaks in the attic or basement, installing insulation tends to be easy because of the accesability of both places. Other areas where its common to find faulty insulation are around door and window frames, or alongheating ducts.

5.) Using Green Power Sources

Electricity doesn’t have to be carried to your home frmo large corporations over wires and poles. Many renewable sources for electricity such as solar and wind power are affordable and offered as alternatives to conventional energy. Or, if you’re motivated – you can take advantage of renewable energy incentives in your state or country and install solar panels, windmills or hydroelectric producers on your own property. In some cases, if you produce an excess of energy – you can even sell your unused power back to the electric companies!

6.) Taking Care of Your Yard and Property
While buzzing around in a riding lawn mower may seem fun, it’s not only expensive – it’s bad for the environment – and your waist line! Push mowers without motors may require a little more effort, but the rewards are plenty. In addition to getting some excercise, you can maintain your yard without hurting the envinroment at all. If you’re forced to use a traditional lawn mower though, look into one that has mulching function to reduce grass clippings. These clippings can either be left in the lawn to help rejuvinate the soil with nutrients, or, you can use it to compost yard and food waste on your property – which goes a long way in keeping our landfills clean and planet greener.

7.) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
We’ve all heard it before, but “reduce, reuse, and recycle” is an excellent lifestyle to practice. Think twice before you throw garbage away… Can that bottle, can, jar or bag be recycled?  Do you need to keep home electronics plugged in when they’re not in use? What about all that water you use… could you be more frugal with it? For many – the answer is yes, but that’s nothing to feel guilty about. If you actively think about reducing your conumption, reusing materials and recycling goods to be used again – you’re not only heling the environment, but also helping to keep costs lower for any number of ammenities in life.

Do you have a tip that you think would make for a great article here on EcoWorld? Be sure to comment below and let our editors know! Please spread the word, too to help make our planet a greener place to live!

Posted in Air Pollution, Consumption, Electricity, Electronics, Energy, Hydroelectric, Landfills, Other, Recycling, Solar, Wind0 Comments

EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research Funding Greentech Innovation

Not a direct part of the economic stimulus package, and only extended by Congress (as of March 20th) for another 60 days, a significant source of funding for primary research by startup greentech companies has been from the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research which manages the funding of the SBIR – Small Business Innovation Research program, and STTR – Small Business Technology Transfer program. Both SBIR and STTR monies are channeled through as many as 12 other federal agencies. Click here to discover the GreenTech funding opportunities within these agencies and sub-agencies.

Anyone in the GreenTech business universe ought to recognize the following R&D categories being funded by various federal agencies, i.e. the EPA, DOE, DOD and NSF to name a few. Some of these free money R&D categories may be the exact same areas of research you are about to commit to, or have been thinking – or dreaming – about doing.

Clean air – innovations to
ensure healthy air are just beginning.
(Photo: US EPA)

The 2010 EPA-SBIR Broad Area Topics are:

  • Green Building Materials and Systems
  • Innovation in Manufacturing
  • Nanotechnology
  • Greenhouse Gases
  • Drinking Water and Water Monitoring
  • Water Infrastructure
  • Air Pollution
  • Biofuels and Vehicle Emissions Reduction
  • Waste Management and Monitoring
  • Homeland Security

The 2010 NSF Broad Area Topics are:

  • Biotech and Chemical Technologies (BC)
  • Education Applications (EA)
  • Information and Communication Technologies (IC)
  • Nanotechnology
  • Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (NM)

There are specific sub-categories for each of these broad area topics.
To see if your companies R&D interests and that of our governments are aligned click into these links:

  • EPA-SBIR Program Solicitation: http://es.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/2009/2009_sbir_phase1.html
  • More information is available on the EPA-SBIR web site at: http://es.epa.gov/ncer/sbir/
  • NSF/SBIR Program Solicitation: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2009/nsf09541/nsf09541.htm#pgm_desc_txt
  • More information is available on the NSF-SBIR web site at: http://http://www.nsf.gov/eng/iip/sbir/stop.jsp

The closing dates for the EPA-SBIR are May 20th. This means for this funding year, applicants only have 45 days left to get that EPA-SBIR proposal in. For NSF-SBIR the close date is June 9th. Companies are eligible to apply to both of these and others, like STTR.

The NSF Phase I limits have gone up to $150,000 because of a surge of “reinvestment” monies from the Obama administration. Also, NSF allows for a maximum of 4 proposals from any one private company. As with most business endeavors, there are many “optimizing strategies” that can be applied and the federal grant money-making environment for small businesses is no exception.

Federal research “grants” are just that, grants. They are not loans, i.e., you don’t have to pay anything back. You will to do some periodic reporting and invoice the government to get your money, but that is well worth the time and effort expended to perform these grant maintenance tasks if you win an award. In many cases, if you win the money then the maintenance efforts which can be an administrative burden for small or even mid-size companies, can be paid for from grant monies you’ve won. For example, the EPA/SBIR allows for up to $4,000 of the Phase I grant winnings (won through a separate but conjoined proposal) for what is referred to as “Technical Assistance.”

Don’t be intimidated by the grant writing task. Most all SBIR type grants are written by the chief scientist or the engineer as CEO/President of small, private companies. You will not be competing with professional grant writers. That said, it is important to know there is a “style” to grant writing, and there is certain marketing or “pitching” in the grant writing space. You have to have a certain marketing sensibility in writing to the agency and program you are writing to. In this sense I suggest you check out last years winners and get a sense of who won and read their abstracts, or better yet, give the “chief investigator” at the company a phone call and ask them if they are willing to share their grant proposal. Having a winning proposal in hand is a beautiful thing. Also the agency itself can assist you in assessing the “alignment” of your research with that agencies specific funding objectives. First, do your homework before you call or write as they will remember your name and the name of your company especially if your waste their time.

These often overlooked grant programs can provide a decisive financial edge to greentech startups and greentech entrepreneurs who are looking for cash and have a “novel” GreenTech (or other) R&D idea.

Brian Hennessy provides proven expert, hands-on assistance to start-up company founders and executive management. He has worked on 12 start-ups and with 9 Founders or CEO’s of start-ups over the last 25 years. www.maxroix.com

Posted in Air Pollution, Business & Economics, Drinking Water, Education, Infrastructure, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Waste Management1 Comment

Eliminating Microscopic Particulates

While regulating CO2 emissions occupies an ever increasing share of policymaker and environmentalist priorities, which translates into countless new businesses and technologies to address this new challenge, there are still all those other air pollution emissions that we used to worry about exclusively, and almost, but not quite eliminated.

While impressive results in air pollution have been logged ever since the introduction of the catalytic converter and unleaded gasoline, microscopic particulates are still not being captured by conventional systems. The problem with these microscopic particles is that even though they are invisible, they actually pose greater potential health threats because they are so small the lungs are not able to expel them. Finding a product that improves automotive fuel efficiency – which translates into lower CO2 emissions – but also helps eliminate whatever other emissions we haven’t yet tackled is a rare treat.

A new aftermarket tailpipe filter that works on virtually all automobiles is now available from Sabertec, a three year old company based in Austin, Texas. Called the “Blade,” this filter can eliminate another 70% of microscopic particulate emissions, greatly improving air quality. Because this filter also alters the volumetric efficiency of the engine and accelerates the speed at which the catalytic converter reaches its optimal operating temperature, engine efficiency is improved up to 12% or more.
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Sabertec claims that BLADE is the only automotive afterproduct
that both reduces emissions and increases fuel efficiency.
(Photo: Sabertec LLC)

These achievements are apparently well documented. After acquiring the Blade technology in 2005, Sabertec went to CARB in California to ask them who they would recommend to test the unit for emissions reduction. They were referred to ATDS in Ontario, California, where most all major automakers test their vehicles. The standard they wanted to measure the performance of their unit against was the EPA protocol 511 – a test created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate aftermarket retrofit devices that claim to reduce automobile exhaust emissions and/or improve fuel economy.

The results were encouraging. The blade unit, which costs $200 and requires a new $20 filter about every 10,000 miles, improved fuel economy by 6% in a four cylinder Honda Civic, by 12% in a six cylinder Hyundai Sonata, and by 5% in an eight cylinder Ford E-250.

Sabertec began when their CEO, William O’Brien, learned of an inventor in Brazil who had been developing this unit since 2000. O’Brien acquired the technology and hired the scientists who were working on it – since 2005 they have been working for Sabertec. They began installing devices on a fleet of test cars in August 2007 and at that time they also began testing the device with ATDS. The results from ATDS were released in December, 2008, and since then these devices have been available at select retailers as well as on the internet. If you include the many fleets who have already purchasing these products – including early adopters – Sabertech has already equipped over a thousand vehicles.

Posted in Air Pollution, Cars, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Transportation0 Comments

Carlisle-Energy Saving Skin for Roofs

Cities are hot: Filled with skyscrapers, traffic and hot pavement, heat simmers between buildings causing the “heat island effect”. Stagnant heat is trapped in the narrow city gaps and air conditioners cooling the inside of buildings spill even more heat out the walls. Trees offering natural cooling and shade are minimal and soil that helps water evaporation (thereby cooling the area) is non existent. Replacing the trees and soil are dark streets that store heat and reach temperatures up to 70F (21C) hotter than lighter surfaces. Stifling heat is depressing (unless you’re at the beach), and the added smog and clouds that form because of it, don’t help matters either.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that “for millions of Americans living in and around cities, heat islands are of growing concern. This phenomenon describes urban and suburban temperatures that are 2 to 10°F (1 to 6°C) hotter than nearby rural areas. Elevated temperatures can impact communities by increasing peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution levels, and heat-related illness and mortality.”

Sure White Fully Adhered EDPM
(Photo: Carlisle SynTec)

Carlisle Syntec Incorported, one of the biggest single-ply membrane roofing companies, provides a product that helps cut down on the ‘heat island’ issue. If, however, energy costs need to be cut back because of heat escaping in winter climates, they have solutions for that too.

Carlisle has developed membranes for over 40 years and their popularity has increased substantially in that time: Demand exploded as early as the 1970s, during the Arab Oil Embargo when Asphalt became scarce. In the 1980′s Carlisle stretchable roofing technology accounted for 40% of the non-residential roofing market. Now, as continued in their company timeline, “Carlisle reaches out domestically from 21 manufacturing locations, 80 manufacturer and representative offices and eight regional sales offices to serve the non-residential single-ply roofing marketplace.”

Their roofing materials are developed for a variety of needs. Their thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO), is a white reflective material that, after easily being rolled over and attached to rooftops, cuts down on buildings’ cooling costs and energy usage. Logically, the reflecting material also helps cut back on the heat island effect. Cool roof products are becoming increasingly popular: in the past three years, for example, Carlisle has rolled out more than 400,000 square feet of TPO.

Carlisle specializes in a variety of roofing needs: For cooler climates, where it isn’t necessarily beneficial to reflect heat, darker heat absorbing membranes are used on rooftops. The company also designs unique skylights and a variety of roof gardens.

With the ease of application, the environmental benefit and the aesthetic appeal of these roofing systems, it won’t be a surprise if bland dark roofs are soon a thing of the past.

Posted in Air Pollution, Buildings, Energy, Homes & Buildings, Regional, Science, Space, & Technology2 Comments

Rational Urban Planning

It is our official position that long-range government planning cannot work no way no how. But it is a mark of how bankrupt the planning profession has become that many of its members never seem to bother to follow its standard planning system, which is known as the Rational Planning Model.

As defined by Wikipedia, the Rational Planning Model “is the process of realizing a problem, establishing and evaluating planning criteria, create alternatives, implementing alternatives, and monitoring progress of the alternatives.” This model, Wikipedia adds, “is central in the development of modern urban planning.”

If it is so central, then why do so few urban planners follow it? In particular, most plans that I have reviewed leave out step 3, “create alternatives.” They also leave out what should be step 4 (but which goes unmentioned by Wikipedia), evaluate alternatives. Which isn’t surprising if they don’t have any alternatives to evaluate.

Today, most planners follow what I would call the “Irrational Planning Model.” That model (to paraphrase Wikipedia) “is the process of thinking a utopian scheme, establishing planning criteria that are foreordained to support the scheme, creating a constituency of special interest groups that will benefit from the scheme, implementing the scheme, and proclaiming victory.” Notice that they leave out monitoring as well as alternatives, because there is no need to monitor when you know you are going to succeed.

My first exposure to the idea of a Rational Planning Model was when the Forest Service began writing plans for each of the national forests under the National Forest Management Act of 1976. The agency issued planning rules in 1979 that specifically followed the Rational Planning Model. Over the next decade, I read nearly all of the 100-plus forest plans issued by the agency. Nearly all of them had at least five alternatives. Some had as many as ten. Even though I didn’t agree with most of the agency’s decisions, the alternatives were very useful in identifying cost-efficient solutions to national forest issues.

A thing of beauty, or an abomination?
Should freeways have a future, as cars go green?

Nowadays, I review urban land-use and transportation plans. Most plans don’t contain any alternatives at all.

Some plans have token alternatives, usually because they are required by some federal rule, that everyone understands have no chance of being selected.

Take, for example, long-range transportation plans, which all metropolitan areas have to write to be eligible for federal funding. I recently happened to download such plans for the nation’s 65 largest urban areas. Only two — Jacksonville and Salt Lake City — included two or more real alternatives and compared the effects of those alternatives on such things as congestion and air pollution.

Most of the plans had no alternatives at all. A few had what they called the “no-build” alternative, which presumed that no new facilities would be built for 20 years. Some had something you might call (and one of the plans did call) the “wish-list” alternative, which included every transportation project that every transportation agency in the region could think of to build in the next 20 years.

Plans compared no-build and wish-list alternatives against the “financially constrained” alternative, which became the plan. This which only included projects for which funding was available. But neither no-build nor wish-list could be considered serious alternatives, since no one expected nothing to happen any more than anyone expected that every possible improvement would be funded.

So the question is: how do planners go from the wish list to the plan? Ideally, you would develop alternatives that included different combinations of projects on the wish list and then do an analysis to see which alternative works best.

I happen to have a 1958 book called Better Transportation for Your City (11 MB pdf) that was put together by a group called the National Committee on Urban Transportation, which consisted of a variety of planners, engineers, transit managers, and other transportation experts. The book describes the Rational Planning Model and recommends (on page 57) that cities and urban areas consider at least three alternatives: predominantly transit, predominantly automotive, and balanced transit-automotive. Planners from Jacksonville must have read this book for those are similar to the alternatives they used.

Many national forests followed a similar system: because timber cutting and wilderness were considered polar opposites during the forest planning process, they typically had a timber-emphasis alternative, a wilderness-emphasis alternative, and a supposedly balanced alternative. They usually also had a no-action alternative (meaning no change from previous plans), and at least one more, perhaps a wildlife-emphasis alternative.

I didn’t like this process. For one thing, it was polarizing: it made everyone defend “their” alternatives (which were, in fact, Forest Service caricatures of their alternatives). For another, it ignored many win-win solutions that could have protected more wilderness and wildlife while still cutting lots of timber.

I would suggest that, instead of focusing on inputs (how much land to manage for timber, how much for wilderness, how much money to spend on highways, how much for transit), plans should focus on outputs. Here is my four-step process for developing alternatives.

First, identify the goals of the plan. They might include safety, congestion relief, reduced air pollution and other environmental effects, energy efficiency, and so forth. Goals must be outputs, not inputs. Things like “multimodalism” and “walkability” are inputs, not outputs. Goals should not be biased towards any particular mode but should focus on the things that people consider important.

Second, measure the effects of every possible transportation project in the region on each of the goals. How many lives will each project save or destroy? How many hours of congestion relief will the projects provide? How much pollution will they prevent or generate? How much energy will they consume or save? In addition, how much will each project cost?

Third, rank all of the projects using each goal. Planners should divide the benefits of each project by its dollar cost to get a cost-efficiency estimate. Then sort the projects from high to low cost efficiencies.

Fourth, create an alternative from each goal’s ranking. Planners know roughly how much money the region will have to spend on transportation improvements. So pick the top projects ranked according to each goal until all the money is spent.

The result would be alternatives emphasizing Safety, Congestion Relief, Clean Air, Energy Efficiency, and any other goals planners considered important (and quantifiable). None of these alternatives are biased toward transit, autos, bikes, or whatever. Instead, they each focus on an important community goal. Moreover, it is likely that there will be a lot of overlap between alternatives, because some projects that improve safety will also reduce congestion and air pollution. By finding such overlaps, and weighing trade offs when goals conflict, planners can put together a preferred alternative.

All this supposes that planners really want to develop the best possible plans for their communities or regions. But it seems that few do, which is why so many use the Irrational Planning Model instead. If they don’t develop alternatives, then no one will know how much money they waste and how poorly their plans perform.

At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t think that the Rational Planning Model can save government planning from all the insurmountable problems with planning that the Antiplanner has identified. But it would go a long way toward keeping planners honest and keeping the public better informed about the benefits and costs of the often inane plans that planners propose.

If anyone knows of urban land-use or transportation plans that really do follow the rational model, I would love to learn about them.

About the author: Randal O’Toole is the author of Reforming the Forest Service, The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, and The Best-Laid Plans, and edits the website The Antiplanner. This article originally was published on The Antiplanner on March 17th, 2008, and is republished here with permission.

Posted in Air Pollution, Cars, Effects Of Air Pollution, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Other, People, Policy, Law, & Government, Transportation0 Comments

Rational Environmentalism

Back in March 2008 we first posted an essay entitled “Rational Environmentalism,” where we explicitly stated fifteen principles that we believe summarize our editorial position on what environmentalism should be, versus what environmentalism has become. We did this because we had just been noticed – perhaps we should consider this an honor, but we don’t – by a professional PR firm whose charter is to smear anyone who questions global warming, or the radical policies being advocated to mitigate alleged global warming.

This post is to restate those principles, because we want to make certain our position is clear. We don’t consider EcoWorld to be a “greenwashing” website, because greenwashing is the process of obfuscating facts and presenting misleading information in order to further the public relations agenda of a polluter. We don’t think that’s right. We think pollution should be cleaned up. But we also believe environmentalism needs to be rational, not extreme, and our mission is to rescue environmentalism from the radicals. So here are these fifteen precepts – in brief – and if you wish to read them in their entirety, please click here to the original post:

ECOWORLD’S PRINCIPLES OF RATIONAL ENVIRONMENTALISM

(1) We believe in emphasizing limited government, free markets, and individual liberties.

(2) We believe “smart growth” is damaging the economy and the environment.

(3) We believe there is not compelling evidence that human CO2 emissions are causing potentially catastrophic climate change.

(4) We believe there is abundant land, and “urban service boundaries” are meant to inflate the price of homes to increase property tax revenues to the public sector.

(5) We believe California’s “Global Warming Act” is a tactic to reduce public entity budget deficits through fees and hidden taxes (such as CO2 emission auctions).

(6) We believe budget deficits can be eliminated by placing ALL retired workers in America on social security and medicare, including retired public employees – and NOT through global warming taxes & fees.

(7) We believe nuclear power is safe, and Yucca Mountain is a safe repository for nuclear waste.

(8) We believe the “alarm industry” is far better funded, by 100 to 1 or more, than the “denial industry.”

(9) We believe cars, busses and roads are a far, far more efficient solution to mass transit challenges than light rail.

(10) We believe CO2 is the LEAST of our air pollution concerns, and we should focus on reducing genuine air pollution.

(11) We believe if there are regional climate impacts caused by man, they are more the result of deforestation, aquifer depletion, and desertification – than atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

(12) We believe that many green entrepreneurs and green politicians have been corrupted by the fascistic urgency of the global warming message, and are unscrupulously exploiting it.

(13) We believe centralized mandated solutions to alleged global warming will inhibit innovation and undermine our ability to achieve energy independence and genuine pollution reductions.

(14) We believe the excessive focus on CO2 is slowing the trajectory of solutions to genuine environmental challenges, if not reversing them.

(15) We believe we may modify these principles at any time, based on factual evidence.

AND WE ARE ENVIRONMENTALISTS!

This is the message that needs to come through – loud and clear. There are other items that could be added to this list, but they don’t belong on it because they aren’t about the beliefs we hold or the policies we advocate, but instead are about the conversation we are having. And what of this “conversation?” Has it turned into a farce? Is conversation still possible?

We believe it is wrong – and an opportunistic diversion – to take any of these 15 points and use them as evidence we are “greenwashing,” because we aren’t. We are providing what we believe is a rational response to today’s mainstream environmentalism having lost sight of the balance between the needs of people, profit, and the planet. And we see the urgency of the global warming “crisis” not as a crisis, but as a tactic. Because we haven’t written off every informed skeptic in the world as a tool of corporate interests – rather, we’ve read their material, and found it compelling.

Alekos Panagoulis

Alekos Panagoulis, a 20th century Greek freedom fighter, a man of exceptional courage and tenacity, wrote the following:

“This is the epoch of the ism. Communism, capitalism, marxism, historicism, progressivism, socialism, deviationism, corporativism, unionism, fascism: and nobody notices that every ism rhymes with fanaticism. This is the period of the anti: anticommunist, anticapitalist, antimarxist, antiprogressivist, antisocialist, antideviationist, anticorporativist, antiunionist: and nobody notices that every ist rhymes with fascist. It is through locking oneself up in a dogma, in the blind certitude of having gained absolute truth, whether it be the dogma of the dictatorship of the proletariat or the dogma of the virginity of Mary or the dogma of law and order, that the sense or rather the significance of freedom is lost, the only concept that is beyond appeal and beyond debate.”

Panagoulis, who was killed before personally witnessing the positive consequences of his courage, saw power for what it was, a mountain, a mountain with left flanks and right flanks, but more than anything else – a mountain with daunting mass; presence; power. It is those people, everywhere, who form this mountain of power who benefit if we succumb to the alarmism and the attendant policies to “mitigate” alleged climate change – not the rest of us, or this good green earth. And if your only animating ideology rests upon one wing or one flank, at the expense of the other, you are only part of the mountain, only a reflection of your reflexive adversary, you have become a puppet of power; you are no longer the patient, transformative, liberating wind of change, nor an agent of freedom.

Posted in Air Pollution, Cars, Energy, Other, Policies & Solutions, Policy, Law, & Government, Regional, Wind8 Comments

Lucky Lucky America

As a free nation, a democratic nation, and a global superpower, America’s fate, today more than ever, is to midwife and manage the emergence of the first world generation. Not an easy task, as technology and globalization make every surviving cultural tradition anywhere suddenly replaced or confronted by every other on this shrinking planet, and our polity grapples with it all. It would be surprising indeed if America were not also considered a troubled nation, inflicting and incurring heartbreaking trauma every day in this imperfect world. But America’s fate is also a stroke of exceptional luck and opportunity.

The message for Americans to send the modernizing, globalizing peoples of the world, through thick and thin, is how bad things were, and how good things have gotten, and how we are on the brink of the best things ever. Despite lip service, sometimes effective agents of political change in America focus only on the worst possible end of things – endless war, imminent environmental apocalypse. But the enduring agents of exponential change in the world are technology and democracy, and these are forces of incredible good, that have brought unprecedented prosperity and opportunity to humanity. In only fighting demons, America risks losing what makes her most great. If dwelling on averting catastrophe replaces optimism and independent enterprise, America’s promise is at risk; her uniqueness, her gift to humanity. Optimism and independent enterprise has driven America, draws people to America, defines America. And like the flow of the river, optimism and enterprise cannot be kept down. Complaining is no way to get up every morning. Optimism, can-do, is America’s message to the world.
(post resumes below image)

Paddling towards pluralism.

Global environmentalism, despite a veneer of exhuberance and a facade of hope, today is mostly about doom and gloom. Extreme environmentalists, more powerful today than ever, at root are complainers, they are indignant, they are doomsayers, and they are dominant today for reasons that ought to be challenged. Perhaps the world is going to come to an end if we don’t all do exactly what they say. And perhaps it will not. In many cases environmentalism, and the policies to enforce it, already constitute the most regressive hidden tax in history, and global warming alarm will catapult these hidden taxes into the stratosphere of economic stagnation. With carbon trading and carbon taxes and carbon offsets set to eclipse rational environmental policy, our economy and our way of life are what is in peril, not our planetary icecaps, and only financial traders, professional accountants, attorneys, credentialed consultants, academic experts, corporate cartels and the public sector will benefit. The temple of ecological green will fill with the changers of the financial green, and common sense will be coopted and coerced by the color of money, no matter how the game is called, or how the rules are set. With global warming alarmist policy, we will rob from the poor and give to the rich as never before.

There is a lot of junk science out there on both sides of the environmental debate, as always with all debates, but extreme environmentalist junk science seems to be carrying the day, so that is where we most appropriately ought to shine our scrutiny. Daunting, to put it mildly, is the stupifying volume of all these authoritative and ostensibly terrifying studies. Example – yet another recent (and highly publicized) report reviewed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) called for additional and significant new regulations and levies. Citing “expert” studies, the report projected approximately 300 additional deaths in California due to additional pollution over the next few decades, unless massive corrective actions are not immediately undertaken. Despite its portentious tone, such a study is not an imperative, rationally compelling us to move towards a socialist police state, because it rests on utterly unimpressive projections – 300 deaths within a population of nearly 40 million is a statistically trivial outcome. There are infinite and totally unforseeable random outcomes, from infinite conceivable causes, that could reduce a population of tens of millions by a few hundred lives over a few decades.

The idea that anyone or any study can project economic or demographic results so far into the future with details so specific and fine is simply ridiculous. Equally absurd is that such fluff might suffice to justify transformative economic policies. If the California Air Resources Board takes something like this seriously, perhaps the entire agency should be eliminated and replaced with people who care about air pollution, not climate speculation and draconian policies that follow from such exercises of counting angels on the point of a needle. Yet whether it is 15 score additional dead over decades, or catastrophic collapse of every global ecosystem in the world within the same brief span, extreme environmentalists carry the public scene today, preaching like the saviours in Salem, burning witches and pressing life out of the truth with relentless stones of rhetoric both formidable in craft and terrifying in content.

We need environmentalists, of course we do, but we need environmentalists who care about the difference between a million and a billion, or a thousand and a million, and who make judgements accordingly. For informed citizens anywhere to leave both local and global environmental policy to a coterie of fanatics and their powerful opportunistic bedfellows – who hide behind opaque clouds of science as they unleash relentless media torrents, the sleet of indignation and the hailstones of fear – is tragic folly. Anyone who has formed an opinion on any environmental issue needs to think for themselves what passes the smell test, what provides an acceptable cost/benefit, absolutely reject reflexive, unexamined demonization of anyone who disagrees, and demand access to better data, unfiltered and unbiased.

America is a lucky, lucky nation and perhaps cursed as well with troubles so huge, but complaining and doomsaying will not make the world better as fast as optimism and unfettered enterprise. Setting people free to compete, nurturing meritocracy, sustainably improving entitlements everywhere, encouraging building and development – and letting green resume its place within the dazzling full spectrum of reality – will help optimize economic growth and tolerance for pluralism; will help create the next step in the ascent of man.

Posted in Air Pollution, Causes, Other, People, Policies & Solutions, Policy, Law, & Government, Science, Space, & Technology7 Comments

The Tibetan Plateau

The rooftop of the world, the land of snows… with an average elevation of 4000 meters (over 13,000 feet), the Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau on earth. The plants and animals there are unique– the snow leopard, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan gazelle, Bengal tiger, wild yak, blue sheep, brown bear, and black-necked crane, to name a few. Visitors to Tibet before 1950 compared it to East Africa, with vast herds of large mammals roaming free through the mountains. Today, precious few remain.

Snow Leopard
There could be worse days in the life of a Tibetan Snow Leopard.
(Panthera uncia)
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But although the flora and fauna are diverse, the extreme climate has allowed only a relatively small number of them to flourish; species that have been able to adapt to the thin air, low temperatures, intense radiation, and strong winds. The most recent research indicates that about 13,000 vascular plants and 1200 species of vertebrates have been identified: 678 species of birds, 206 mammals, 83 reptiles, 80 amphibians and 152 fish. Of these, 40 plants and 141 animal species are considered to be endangered.

While this picture may seem rich—and indeed it is—these numbers are actually very low when looked at on a global scale. This ecosystem is the polar opposite of, for example, a South American rainforest consisting of millions of different species of flora and fauna. The result is a web of life that is much more vulnerable and difficult to repair. Imagine a spider web with ten strands next to one with a hundred, or a thousand—if even one string is broken on the first, the whole thing will fall apart.

“Because of its high elevation, the ecosystem here is extremely fragile,” said Dawa Tsering, who heads the World Wildlife Fund’s China Program Office (local branch) in Lhasa. “Once damaged, it is extremely difficult to reverse.”

The major threats the region faces are grassland degradation and deforestation, poaching and the illegal trade of animal products, destruction of habitat due to urbanization and mining, and air pollution. Because of the elevation, the air is thin and more susceptible to toxic fumes.

“The sale of souvenirs and other products made from endangered species is growing due to tourist consumption, and is increasing pressure on local biodiversity,” Tsering said. “Tourists can make a difference simply by not purchasing these products.”

Tibet is the last remaining refuge of the Bengal tiger in China. WWF and other non-profits plan to distribute pamphlets, asking visitors not to buy illegal products made from endangered species like tigers and Tibetan antelopes. The soft underbelly fur of these antelopes is made into shahtoosh shawls, which fetch high prices on the black market.

“International and local laws have guaranteed that killing wild tigers and other protected species for their parts isn’t legal anywhere in the world,” said Dr. Xu Hongfa from TRAFFIC’s China Program. “But the killing of these animals will continue until the demand for buying them stops.”

“Integrating the needs of local development with conserving Tibet’s biodiversity is in need of urgent attention,” Tsering said.

China invaded Tibet in 1949; since occupation, Tibet has suffered loss of life, freedom and human rights. In March 1959, Tibetans rose up against China’s occupation, but were unsuccessful. The Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile in Dharmshala, India, followed by 80,000 Tibetans. It is from here that the Dalai Lama heads the Tibet Government-In-Exile.

When a country is taken by force, and brutally occupied, and its people are regarded as little more than an impediment to another end, without basic rights, what chance can that country’s plants and animals have? And do we have the right to concern ourselves with flora and fauna when human beings, perhaps some of the most beautiful and peaceful human beings on this planet, are also nearing extinction?

It is not necessary to choose. For thousands of years the Tibetan people have lived in harmony with their ecosystem and been a part of it; therefore, their struggle to survive must be included in a discussion of the destruction of that ecosystem.

Tibet is also the only nation in the world that has recognized meditation as essential to life, and has made the search for truth and the awakening of personal consciousness an undisputed priority in its culture and religion. In the words of Osho, a contemporary enlightened master:

Himalayan Mountains
Above harsh rangeland nearly three miles above sea level, vast
beyond imagining, tower the mighty Himalaya, backbone of the world.
(Photo: Guy Taylor)
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“Nowhere has such concentrated effort been made to discover man’s being. Every family in Tibet used to give their eldest son to some monastery where he was to meditate and grow closer to awakening. It was a joy to every family that at least one of them was wholeheartedly, twenty-four hours a day, working on the inner being. They were also working but they could not give all their time; they had to create food and clothes and shelter… but still every family used to give their first-born child to the monastery.

“And we think the world is civilized, where innocent people who are not doing any harm to anybody are simply destroyed. And with them, something of great importance to all humanity is also destroyed. If there were something civilized in man, every nation would have stood against the invasion of Tibet by China. It is the invasion of matter against consciousness. It is invasion of materialism against spiritual heights.

“If humanity were a little more aware, Tibet should be made free because it is the only country which has devoted almost two thousand years to doing nothing but going deeper into meditation. And it can teach the whole world something which is immensely needed” [Om Mani Padme Humm].

Tibetan Buddhism belongs to the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion as the ultimate goal of meditation, rather than just enlightenment. Recent scientific studies show neurological proof that people who meditate actually feel more compassion for others, and are more likely to feel compassion for strangers.

“Emotionally, mentally and physically, all humans are equal and the same. We should take care of one another. It is good for us,” said the Dalai Lama last month in India. His life and work embody compassion, laughter and love—although the Chinese insist it is a diabolically constructed illusion, and to possess even a photograph of him is illegal in Tibet.

At least 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and temples, and their contents have been destroyed since the Chinese invasion and during the Cultural Revolution. At least hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been killed as a direct result of Chinese execution, imprisonment and torture; by some counts, including suicide and other indirect means of death, the number is over a million.

Perhaps because the Dalai Lama is both the religious and political leader of Tibet, China still regards Tibetan Buddhism as a threat. “Patriotic re-education” is their term for the torture of monks and nuns, who are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama, and repeat after them that “Tibet has always been part of China.” Religious pilgrimages are restricted, or impossible, and Buddhist education is difficult or impossible for Tibetans now. Forced sterilizations and abortions are commonplace.

Railroad
A belated band of steel to the remotest place on earth.
The newly buit Qingzang Railway passes over Namtso Lake
(Photo: Guy Taylor)

Since the turn of the century, China’s economy has been booming, and what they call their “Western Development Plan” in Tibet has been picking up steam. Key to the plan has been the Qingzang Railway project.

The 815 km section of the railroad from Xining, Qinghai to Gormo (Golmud in Chinese), Qinghai opened to traffic in 1984.

Construction of the remaining 1,142 km section from Gormo to Lhasa could not be started until the recent economic growth of China. This section was begun in 2001, and completed in 2006. The cost to the Chinese Government was $3.68 billion.

Before he left office, the former President of China, Jiang Zemin, said of the Gormo-Lhasa railway, “Some people have advised me not to go ahead with this project because it is not commercially viable. I said this is a political decision” [New York Times, 10 August 2001].

This political decision is advantageous to China in many ways, and is one which will likely prove financially profitable.

Tibet houses an estimated 4-5 billion tons in potential oil reserves; the railroad has greatly increased the efficiency of lumber, mining, and other government industries and projects as well.

Due largely to the railroad, Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. A recent report by the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet says the completion of the railway has led to an influx of ethnic Chinese immigrants to the region, and that any economic gains from the improved transport links are largely limited to urban areas, rather than the countryside where about 80 percent of Tibetans live.

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing that the railway has played a positive role in developing Tibet’s economy and it has also strengthened its communication links with neighboring provinces. “I believe the benefits of this project are obvious to all,” he said.

The rail link contributed to a 60 percent increase in the number of tourists visiting the region last year, according to a previous government report. This year, tourism is predicted to gross over $800 million.

Monks in Lhasa
Monks carry on ancient traditions in Lhasa.
(Photo: Guy Taylor)

In 1980, there were only 1059 visitors to Tibet, and 95 percent came from abroad. Since then tourism has surged, and in 2002, an estimated 140,000 visited Tibet.

With 1.22 million visitors arriving in 2004, Tibet logged an increase in tourism of over 1,000 times the 1980 level. Ninety-two percent of the visitors are Chinese tourists.

But while the economy may have improved, the general economic status of Tibetans has not, as they are largely unskilled workers, and cannot compete with the skilled Han Chinese migrants. The ICT report says that the needs of the region’s largely rural population are ignored by China’s planners, and that Tibetans feel increasingly marginalized as their culture and rural way of life are slowly eroded. The Tibetan language is being systematically eliminated, and nomads forced into settlements.

The Chinese government itself has touted the Qingzang railway as a means of transport for troops, saying that not only will the railway improve the efficiency of the army, but the army will improve the efficiency of the railway (Xinhuanet, 10 December 2003). The railway has enabled rapid troop deployments and facilitated the expansion of the People’s Liberation Army, as seen in the recent crackdown. It not only has strengthened China’s grip on Tibet, but its strategic location may pose a threat to India as well, increasing instability in the region.

This April, China announced its plans to continue construction of the railroad all the way to Khasha, on the Nepalese border, estimated to be completed by 2013. Eventually, the train may run all the way through Nepal, to the North Indian state of Bihar.

The ICT report also states that China’s policy of urbanization in Tibet, encouraged by the new rail link, is damaging its natural ecosystems. Over 46% of forests have been destroyed, which has led to increased soil erosion and siltation of rivers, creating major floods and landslides. Government lumber operations continue to cut at an unprecedented rate, and reforestation is generally neglected and ineffective. Rapid and widespread deforestation has life-threatening consequences for the hundreds of millions who live in the flood plains of the major rivers of Southeast Asia, many of which have their headwaters in Tibet. Clear-cutting also threatens the habitat of the rare giant panda, golden monkey, and over 5,000 unique plant species.

The demands of the fast-growing human population, construction of roads, mining, and poor grazing practices are degrading Tibet’s grasslands as well. Huge factory farms are being developed, motivated by the need to feed the growing Chinese population and reduce the costly wheat imports. Traditional farming practices have maintained the ecological balance for centuries, but large-scale commercial agriculture may ultimately harm Tibet more than it helps.

Of far greater concern, however, are China’s nuclear weapons projects in Tibet. Today there are at least three nuclear missile launch sites there, and the number of actual warheads is unknown. The northern Tibetan Plateau was home to China’s “Los Alamos”– its primary nuclear weapons research and development plant. Tibetan nomads living in the area claim to have suffered illness and death. Their strange symptoms are consistent with radiation poisoning, indicating that nuclear waste may have been dumped on the plains nearby. The International Campaign for Tibet has published a ground-breaking report on the issue, entitled Nuclear Tibet.

The Tibetan Plateau is the source of almost all of Asia’s major rivers: the Yellow River, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween, the Indus, and the Yarlung Tsangpo, which downstream becomes the Brahmaputra. Contamination of these waterways, nuclear or otherwise, harms not only residents of Tibet, but potentially all those who drink from them—nearly half the world’s population lives downstream.

One such threat to the rivers is the mining industry. Tibet is rich in natural resources, and the unregulated extraction of borax, chromium, copper and gold is increasing rapidly. More surprising, however, is Tibet’s supply of lithium.

Chabyer salt lake, at an elevation of 14,400 feet (4,400 meters) is not only the largest lithium mine in China but also one of the three largest salt lakes in the world. Chabyer now makes Tibet the No. 1 area in the world in terms of prospective lithium reserves, according to the China Tibet Information Center. China is now the largest producer and consumer of lithium-ion batteries, found in everything from cell phones to computers and even hybrid cars.

The future of zero and ultralow emission vehicles depends on lithium, which is relatively scarce. Lithium is only the 33rd most abundant element on Earth. With Tibet in its hand, China is well poised to move into that future.

March 9th was the anniversary of the 1959 uprising, which recent protesters have been commemorating; but like their predecessors, this cry for freedom has met with little more than imprisonment, torture, and often death. The Chinese Government claims that 18 Han Chinese immigrants were killed in the Lhasa riots; but in their crushing response, over 140 Tibetans were killed by the Chinese. Countless others are still being held in prison, and may be executed as well.

On June 21, the Olympic Torch came and went through Lhasa in about two hours. Since March, Tibetans live under virtual martial law, and were told not only to stay at home, but not to look out of their windows during the relay.

The decision by China to continue with the relay through Lhasa in light of recent events is a message to the world, that Tibet is their property and they fear no one. At the end of the relay, Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party secretary of Tibet, stood beneath the Potala Palace, the historic seat of the Dalai Lama. “Tibet’s sky will never change, and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it,” Zhang said, according to Reuters. “We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique.”

This is the language of power, and people who use it know no other. Talks have just resumed between the Chinese and envoys of the Dalai Lama since the protests, but those talks had been going on since 2002 without progress. The Dalai Lama does not hope for independence, only autonomy for Tibet. Only time will tell if this round is any different.

The Dalai Lama spoke in Denver years ago—not about politics, but parenting, love, and other topics. When he asked for questions, one woman said, “What can we do about Tibet?”
The Dalai Lama was silent. “Just go and see it before it’s gone,” he said at last. “It is a beautiful country.”

Tibet—the plants, animals, water, air, people, religious heritage and the inner search itself— is our heritage as human beings; it is a part of us. Tibet is one of the real diamonds of this world… its freedom is our freedom, and whether the effort is futile or not, we must do anything and everything in our power to save it.

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Posted in Air Pollution, Amphibians, Animals, Biodiversity, Birds, Cars, Consumption, Education, Fish, Mammals, Nature & Ecosystems, Office, Other, People, Radiation, Reptiles, Soil Erosion, Urbanization4 Comments

Photovoltaics In Orbit

A laser beaming energy to earth isn’t as far fetched as it sounds. Japan, at the forefront of technology, has developed space saving vertical parking lots, is bringing us a solar powered Toyota Prius and their newest venture involves putting a light-absorbing panel into orbit for unlimited solar power. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has already invested millions into a prototype Space Solar Power System (SSPS) which will be up and running by 2030.

Earth Turning Towards the Sun

Earth Turning Towards the Sun

The idea of sending photovoltaic panels into orbit is not a new one, and was thrown around at NASA as early as the 1970′s, but the estimated $1 trillion cost of building such a device put things on hold at the time. In today’s world, with cheaper solar paneling and newer technologies available, a massive solar power system orbiting the earth is a realistic endeavor. Various countries, including India, China, Russia and the U.S, are optimistic about harvesting energy through solar panels that would float 22,000 miles up in orbit.

Varied degrees of sunlight, clouds, long hours of darkness and limited space are just a few of the obstacles that current solar panels are dealing with. Space solar panels will have other issues to overcome (including repair work, for example), but with constant access to light for absorption, the energy generated by one of these impressive space panels is so efficient that it could power 500,000 homes for a year!

In fact the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office 2007 report states that “a single kilometer-wide band of geosynchronous Earth orbit experiences enough solar flux in one year to nearly equal the amount of energy contained within all known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today.” The potential of light absorbtion in space is huge.

With a technology that provides more electricity than all of the earth’s power sources combined, the race is on to see which country will eventually be exporting electricity to the rest of the world. Fuel shortages and air pollution may be a thing of the past in less than 50 years if Space Solar Power Systems function as planned.

Posted in Air Pollution, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar2 Comments

Caterpillar and CleanAIR

We have never simply posted a press release, but they remain essential to keeping track of what’s going on out there. Today we received two press releases, almost back to back, that have a lot to do with each other.

The first one announced a major new partnership between Caterpillar, “the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, clean diesel and natural gas engines and gas turbines,” with CleanAIR Systems of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The announcement continues: “CleanAIR’s reduction technology will be installed on existing Caterpillar commercial engine applications to reduce diesel particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and NOx.”

Literally minutes later, another press release arrived in the in-box, this one promoting a book entitled “The Coming China Wars,” by Peter Navarro. We certainly hope there won’t be “China Wars” on the way, but as the book describes, China’s challenges as such a huge and rapidly growing nation are many. Here’s an excerpt: “unlike in the United States, Germany, or Japan where sophisticated pollution-control technologies are deployed, much of what Chinese power plants and factories spew in the air is not just sulfur dioxide but also a high percentage of fine particulate matter. This is a critical observation because particulate matter is the most damaging form of airborne pollutants.”

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this is what we should be worrying about with China right now – the genuine, immediately unhealthy pollution coming from burning fossil fuel. The problem is we are so focused on CO2 emissions, we are taking the spotlight away from particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and NOx. Even if we aren’t ignoring these more immediate and deadly pollutants completely, and this is key, the trajectory of reductions is slowed down because we are so focused on CO2.

The ability of the fully industrialized nations to provide advanced technologies that would render the burning of fossil fuel virtually clean – except for the CO2 – is already here. We have proven technologies to accomplish these goals that get better and cheaper every day. And the Chinese certainly have the money and know-how to deploy these technologies. In fact, their coal plants use coal more efficiently than most of the plants in western nations, because they are newer plants. They simply need to install the scrubbers.

Even more ironic is the fact that if China accellerated the building of modern coal plants, it would actually reduce air pollution in China, because these plants would provide energy to countless millions of households that currently rely as well on coal because they are off-grid. And unlike power plants that produce hundreds of megawatts of power, off-grid coal is almost impossible to regulate.

If they aren’t already, Caterpillar and CleanAIR technologies should go to China and sell their clean technology. And if environmentalists might embrace a greater measure of complexity, they might advocate diplomacy and protocols that emphasize the possible – healthy clean fossil fuel power plants – instead of the impossible – pumping 25+ cubic kilometers per year of CO2 into fissures in the earth. And if we actually did that, the unintended geologic consequences might make the biofueled, CO2 offset subsidy enabled burning of Borneo look like a small campfire.

Posted in Air Pollution, Coal, Energy, Natural Gas, Other, Science, Space, & Technology0 Comments

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