Carbon Crusaders

Greenovations by ddelcourt
September 27, 2007, 9:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Recently reading through Good Magazine I ran across this little idea I liked enough to look into. Basically, every CFL box would be similar to a DVD envelope from NetFlix. After installing your CFL, you reverse the packaging, revealing a pre-paid box for the mail, you’d take the old incandescent and ship it to a central recycling location. First, the benefits: 1) I love the “outside the box” thinking. It gives users an uber-simplicity option. Never have to leave your house to recycle the bulb. 2) It is a great driver for recycling, which is otherwise very difficult to find at the local level for certain items such as lightbulbs. Now the negatives: 1) Most unfortunate is the environmental effects of the transportation required to ship the bulb back to the recycling plant. It would be interesting to analyze the environmental impact of CFL impact & recycling bulb vs incandescent re-shipping. Off the top of my head, the approx 150-250 lbs of carbon you save over the life of the CFL would outweigh the shipping, but I haven’t done the math on that one yet.

Another one of my favorite greenovations is the Chico bag. This bag is made from tough, 100% recycled material and reduces down to a small stuff sack about the size of a potato. It’s light, easy to carry and fits in everywhere from a purse to the glove compartment. I feel it answers the problem of remembering to bring your own bag even when you run out to buy milk, bread and PB&J. At MakeMeSustainable we’re going to try and start incorporating them in with our site. I used mine just the other day to carry about 5 pounds of peaches back from the farmers market…no problems.

Finally let’s think about cell phones. Motorola applied for a patent on a cool solar powered phone in May. But for the rest of us there are ways to charge a phone without having an internal solar PV. Solio is currently the industry standard for solar chargers. The small, flower looking charger convert 1 hour of sun charging into 15 minutes of cell phone talk time or 4o minutes of MP3 music play. At $99 it’s not the cheapest thing on the market, but there are competitors fast on it’s heels. The Guardian UK reviewed the Freeloader, one of Solio’s competitors in the UK. At about $60 it’s cheaper and advertises more features then Solio. Unfortunately, it’s not yet available in the US unless you want to pay international shipping charges. I’m holding out for the solar cell.


Understanding a Carbon Tax by bnbrown11
September 19, 2007, 6:14 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I was recently asked whether I supported a carbon tax or a global cap-and-trade system. I suggested that it really depended on what you thought was more realistic – Americans accepting a carbon tax or the developed and developing world agreeing on national allocations of global carbon emissions.

My response was by no means unique, but shared by a consensus of policy analysts, environmentalists and economists (read the NYTimes article from Sunday’s business section, 9/16/07). I discussed the four policy options for reducing carbon emissions below, commenting on the positives and negatives to explain the logic behind the question I posed.

  • The Libertarian Scheme: markets reduce carbon through voluntary measures

Some of the early measures in the U.S. would fall into this category (i.e. voluntary Renewable Energy Credits and carbon offsets for households). This could be a viable long-term option if we were dealing with marginal carbon reductions and the consequences of failing to take serious action weren’t disastrous. In reality, however, we are talking about a reduction of 50-90% in the next 40 years to avoid runaway global warming and voluntary measures won’t cut it.

  • The Kyoto/Acid Rain Style Cap-and-Trade Scheme: where permits are allocated freely

A cap-and-trade system works by capping the total carbon emissions for a state, country or group of countries and allocating permits to individual polluters for the right to emit a portion of the total. The scheme allows those who can reduce their carbon emissions cheaply (low “marginal cost of abatement”) to sell their permits to the companies for whom it is more expensive (high “marginal cost of abatement”). The idea is that through market mechanisms, the lowest cost of compliance will be sought and the regulating body need only to reduce the total cap overtime and watch the market adjust. Similar to other supply chain costs, the “cost of carbon” will be passed onto consumers through higher prices, which will disproportionately place the burden of reducing carbon on low-income families. If permits are allocated freely, as opposed to an auction where the government sells the rights to pollute, there is no revenue raised by the government to alleviate these effects.

  • The Auction Cap-and-Trade Scheme: tax revenue is raised

Similar to the above approach, the only difference is that tax revenue is generated by the auctioning of permits for programs that alleviate the effects of higher prices for those in need. The most appealing component of this solution is that it allows the government to determine the quantity of carbon emissions and cap it, as opposed to a tax which attempts to estimate what increase in price would stimulate that reduction.

  • A Carbon Tax

Using a carbon tax, the regulating body determines a marginal price of carbon emissions (i.e. something on the order of $8-25 per metric ton) and allows the market to incorporate it into decision making. Similar to cap-and-trade strategies, lower carbon emissions will result and the associated costs of compliance will be passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices. The most appealing component of this approach is that it lends itself to better international cooperation (countries can determine their own carbon tax) and avoid some of the geopolitical problems associated with determining national shares of a global cap on carbon emissions (i.e. are they allocated according to population or historical emissions).

The truth is, any of the last three options are better than a voluntary approach. A carbon tax or a cap-and-trade with auctions are the most complete, because they can raise the revenue necessary to alleviate the socio-economic consequences of higher energy costs. The question is about which approach is more realistic. Americans will balk at the word tax and the international community are in a stalemate over the logistics of a global cap-and-trade system.

Improving the road ahead by ddelcourt
September 15, 2007, 11:07 pm
Filed under: transportation

The Frankfurt auto show 2007 is underway. Souped up Ferrari’s rub shoulders with BMW’s 1 series and Bugatti’s $1.4 million Veyron. One very good sign is the omnipresence of “green” and eco-friendly cars coming to the market. In a New York Times article (sorry, you’ll need Times Select to access this one), the centerpiece was the Mercedes Benz F700 concept car, which manages to churn a whopping 295 ft lbs of torque from just 1.8 liters…sounds more like one of those after market Japanese suckers in the Fast and the Furious.

What I liked most about the Mercedes is that it highlights one pivotal point regarding the auto industry today. With existing technologies, without even hybrid drive technology, it is possible to achieve significant eco-positive attributes for automobiles today, not tomorrow. The Mercedes starkly contrasts the U.S. executive’s position on MPG standards. Here is a pdf of a U. Michigan study discussing the President’s proposed “attribute-based” changes to CAFE (Corporate Avergage Fuel Economy) standards. CAFE is what governs corporate fleets and is a key cog in the struggle for better fuel efficiency standards. Basically, the attributes model allows for issues like size and materials to come into play in determining MPG standards. The results of the proposed CAFE standards would allow the Detroit automakers to meet lower fuel standards then other manufacturers, lead to higher market share for the big three and higher profits. All of this while only having mild environmental benefits. I say let the free market system work and make all automakers conform to better standards.

Back to the auto show. My second favorite discovery was the Fiat/Microsoft software package called Blue&Me. The program allows users, via USB drive, to download data from their Fiat, upload it onto their computer and learn how they can change driving habits in order to maximize performance. This type of technology is worked into higher end cars, though the future is one universal device that can plug into any car via a Bluetooth or infrared port to download the data. So, can I save driving to and from work and in the rental car when I visit my folks.

Next time we’ll take a trip down biodiesel lane and take potshots at those silly U.S. ethanol pundits.

Watching our Ice-Globe Melt by bnbrown11
September 14, 2007, 1:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sitting on a rooftop overlooking downtown Manhattan, I watch the remains of a 300 pound globe, sculpted from ice, melt. It is 4 in the morning and we are waiting for the sun to rise. After 20 hours of filming, we are holding out for a few more shots to call it a day.

There is nothing like sitting on a rooftop in the middle of the night looking out over New York City – you feel like you are alone in a city of millions. Watching the world turn, you feel significant, yet insignificant at the same time.

Witnessing the chaotic melting of an ice sculpture 1/100,000,000 the size of it’s subject, you glimpse just how incomprehensible the mechanisms are, that are changing our planet forever.

Fox Goes Green by bnbrown11
September 11, 2007, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I woke up to an NPR piece about Fox going green this morning. When I first heard Murdoch’s announcement in May, I passed it off as yet another corporation greening up (which is all well and good, just not news anymore): News Corp will employ an increasingly standard approach, reducing their carbon footprint 10% by 2012 through conservation measures and going carbon neutral by 2010 through investments in carbon offsets.

What struck me about the piece this morning, was the excerpt from Rupert Murdoch’s speech, which spoke to including green messages in News Corp’s entertainment content. In his words,

“Our audience’s carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours … Imagine if we succeed in inspiring our audiences to reduce their own impacts on climate change by just 1 percent. That would be like turning the state of California off for almost two months.”

While I am not convinced of the degree to which green messages will be integrated into television programming, I see potential in their ability to mainstream them: the OC makes it cool to buy organic/vintage clothing and John Madden can convert his bus to bio-diesel, turning his fear of flying into a green crusade on Sunday football (I don’t see him giving up his Thanksgiving Turducken for a Tofurky, but who knows?).

Let’s face it, America’s anti-intellectuality makes it far easier for households to accept green messages (although passively) delivered through entertainment than presented through a nuanced debate or documentary.

I see no harm in embracing proposals such as these, just as long as we make sure to provide scrutiny of them in practice. I look forward to seeing what they come up with…

For more: listen to NPR’s podcast or read Grist article

Preaching the Green: a follow up by ddelcourt
September 10, 2007, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sunday, September 9, the Pope repeated his support for the environment according to the New York Times. This follows on the footsteps of the blog I posted last week on the importance of education for environmental success. The Pope called for a broader look at creation, in order to more fully include environmental protectionism.

On September 7, the Religion, Science and the Environment symposium commenced in Greenland. The symposium was spearheaded by HAH the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew (#1 on Grist’s top 15).  According to the Patriarch, crimes against nature are sins.

For more on the symposium see here.

Live, learn green by ddelcourt
September 4, 2007, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Recently, I was disappointed to learn that my Alma Mater, Wesleyan University – the poster child for social responsibility and political activism – is not living up to their green responsibilities. Fellow New England small colleges Middlebury and Tufts both ranked highly in Grist’s top 15 colleges and universities, swinging in with student-led sustainability challenges, solar installations, board-approved climate plans and in the case of Middlebury, the guru himself, Bill McKibben. In a more in depth study by the Sustainable Endowment Institute (SEI), Wesleyan’s biggest rival, Williams College was one of only four schools receiving an A for sustainability, joining Stanford, Harvard and Dartmouth on top of the pile. In the same list Amherst, Bowdoin, Smith, Swarthmore, and Vassar all placed higher then Wesleyan, which scored a meager C+ for college sustainability. Wesleyan’s saving grace is Campus Sustainability, in which it received top marks. To be clear the SEI college sustainability score evaluated sustainability at the endowment level. Why? Simple, because if a climate plan is tied to a university’s most precious resource (its funding) then will not be left by the wayside.

I find Grist’s ranking more empowering due to the emphasis it places on student and faculty involvement in the learning process. Education remains the most potent tool in our arsenal against global warming. Awareness and clarity make the difference when it comes to issues like recycling, lighting and energy waste. In my conversations in and around Boston, it remains clear that most people do not hate the environment, but rather, they fail to see the ramifications of their actions.

So where does education start? It should begin at the earliest stage of development. But more importantly, it should not be limited to educational institutions. Clearly lessons learned in the home are just as important, if not more so, than those taught at school. Furthermore, there are the lessons from religious institutions which often bolster our moral and ethical constitutions. Grist’s top 15 green religious leaders sheds a little light on the often ambiguous relationship between the earth and religious doctrine. The Grist top 15 underlines one of the most encouraging factors: environmentalism permeates all religions. His Holiness the Dalai Lama not only stresses the importance of a clean environment as a basic human right, which we are responsible for passing on, but takes his message a step further, offsetting all the emissions from his significant travels. Pope Benedict XVI echoes the Dalai Lama’s words and actions, using an electric Pope-mobile in the Vatican, installing solar panels to power the Vatican and stressing the concept that the earth is not indifferent, raw material for our use as we see fit. Islamic and Judaic leaders grace the Grist 15, providing an educating example for how to treat the earth with dignity and respect.

At times it is difficult to not sound “preachy” about the environment. As much as I look up to figureheads such as Al Gore, the real potency lies in grassroots recognition and change. MakeMeSustainable was founded to give everyone a voice in the face of climate change. We set out to empower individuals to change the course of the planet, starting with themselves and spreading the word, becoming catalysts for change in an increasingly vulnerable state of global warming. Education is key to success in this race for the environment. It is too easy for my parents to claim “we didn’t know any better” when referring to their smoking addictions throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. With the resources at our fingertips, ignorance can be bested if we just put in the time and effort to tell our friends, family and co-workers about the benefits of putting that plastic bottle in the blue bin rather than the trash bag.