Monday, November 30, 2009

Making Buildings More Efficient: Rationalizing Retrofit Markets

Neat post about how to motivate people on energy efficiency
(and clean energy) from David Roberts here:

As I said in my last post, taking energy efficiency in buildings seriously means expanding our policy horizons beyond the blunt tool of raising energy prices. We have to think in creative ways about how to remove market and behavioral failures that inhibit cost-effective responses to today’s energy prices. How can we make efficiency markets more rational and robust?

What follows is not intended to be comprehensive,  just to call out some of the bigger challenges and a few interesting attempts to overcome them. There are folks out there who know much more about this than me—I hope they’ll comment or email me with things to add.

Read more>>

Capturing the Massive Social Benefits of Fuel Efficiency Requires Regulation

Among the ways to motivate a transition to a Green Economy is simply to mandate greener products and practices, since all too often, people are too comfy with their habits to make changes on their own.

Will that affect how happy consumers are with their new mandated choices (in this case, more fuel-efficient, though likely smaller vehicles)?

In the long run, "no", says this Grist piece about the EPA's new regulation that would make cars and light trucks 30 percent more efficient in 5 years:

(H)ow consumers choose and value cars is...complicated. A car’s newness, size, and power are valued not just for their functionality, but for their relation to the others in the parking lot.  Consumers value horsepower not just for speed but as a status symbol and for the ability to out-accelerate others at a traffic light. People don’t necessarily want a big car, they just want a bigger car.

The problem with prestige goods is they don’t actually increase welfare or status. If Smith buys a bigger car, Jones has to buy a bigger car as well to catch up; relative to average car size, neither has really moved ahead. By devoting resources to conspicuous features like size, less visible features like fuel efficiency and financial savings are sacrificed.

The proposed CAFE regulations correct a market failure and accomplish what the non-cooperative marketplace cannot: fuel efficiency increases, Americans get the value of fuel savings, and consumers do not have to risk their positional status, since over time the entire fleet’s average size and power will shift.

This is one of the chief reasons to regulate: to increase consumer welfare by doing what the market can’t on its own. It might take consumers some time to grow accustomed to the new vehicle options, but relatively quickly they will be just as happy with their new, more fuel-efficient models, and they will be thrilled by the trillions in savings at the pump.

I honestly think this is the case for a lot of -- if not most -- green products and practices.  We've been watching the green marketplace grow considerably for several years.  I know plenty of people who are good and green in their values, but still don't necessarily use the greenest of products or practices.

In many cases, I find that the reason they are slowly, sometimes barely, transitioning to green is simply a matter of habit -- they have a way of doing things and a type of product that they have always used, and they're comfortable with it.   It's part of their routine.  In other cases, they are extremely busy and just haven't gotten around to figuring out which green brands to switch to, which composter to buy, etc.  The way around these perfectly normal human tendencies -- especially if we need to drive a positive social change quickly -- is via regulation.

People harp on regulations, but a new regulation is typically a response to a problem that the market can't solve on its own, for one reason or another.  I don't find anything wrong with smart regulatory approaches -- they are one of several tools in the toolbox and there is certainly a time and place for them.

Read more>>

Solar Energy Industry Brings Ray of Hope to the Rust Belt

Could America's emerging renewable energy industry revitalize our ailing Rust Belt?

Encouraged by the stimulus package and new clean energy incentives, that's exactly what's happening, reports the L.A. Times:

For all of green tech's futuristic sheen, solar power plants and wind farms are made of much of the same stuff as automobiles: machine-stamped steel, glass and gearboxes.

That has renewable energy companies hitting the highway for Detroit and Northeastern industrial states, driven in part by the federal stimulus package's incentives and buy-American mandates.

Irvine's Fisker Automotive, for instance, will manufacture its next plug-in electric hybrid car at a defunct General Motors assembly plant in Wilmington, Del.

And Stirling Energy Systems, which is building two massive solar power plants in Southern California, has signed deals with two automotive companies to make components for its giant solar dishes.

Stirling signed an agreement with Tower Automotive to manufacture the dishes' structural components and assemble the mirror facets. The Livonia, Mich., company makes vehicle body parts and other components for the major carmakers but has seen auto orders slow with the downturn.

Jim Bernard, Tower's vice president of North American sales and program management, said the company had been looking to diversify its operations.

"The market that we thought would fit us was alternative energy," he said. "Utility-scale alternative energy projects have some of the exact same requirements that our automotive customers do."

That means Tower can use its existing machinery, with some modifications, and workforce to make SunCatcher components. In turn, Stirling avoids the capital costs of setting up its own factories and gets to tap Tower's manufacturing know-how to bring down its costs, which will be a key competitive advantage in the race to deploy new solar technologies.

I love articles that present a concrete picture of the hope that the Green Economy has to offer.  This is certainly one of them.

Read more>>

Future of Farming May Be Urban High Rises

Among the sustainable food production solutions that I am watching with some intrigue is the rise in talk of vertical farming.

Could urban buildings really provide enough food to feed cities, you might wonder?  Well, I wonder the same.

The benefits of these farms certainly sound enticing:

Moving farms off land and into urban buildings offers a solution to land and water scarcity and a really impressive swath of other natural, health, economic and political challenges:
  • Produces crops year-round; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more,  depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres)
  • Avoids weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
  • Grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • Virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
  • Returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
  • Greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
  • Converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of evapotranspiration
  • Adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals
  • Dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
  • Converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers
  • Creates sustainable environments for urban centers
  • Creates new employment opportunities
  • We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on earth
  • May prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps
  • Offers the promise of measurable economic improvement for tropical and subtropical Least Developing Countries (LDC).  If this should prove to be the case, then vertical farms may be a catalyst in helping to reduce or even reverse the population growth of LDCs as they adopt urban agriculture as a strategy for sustainable food production.
  • Could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water and land for agriculture
 As soon as one of these opens up, you can be sure that we'll blog about it!

Read more>>

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Signs of Hope in Our Energy Future

So what do we have to gain from taking the lead in solving climate change?

Here's a new pitch from the NY Times' op-ed page:

You want new industry in the United States, with astonishing technological advances, new mass production techniques and jobs, jobs, jobs? Try energy.

Mr. Ovshinsky knows as much or more about the development and production of alternative energy as anyone on the planet. He developed the technology and designed the production method that made it possible to produce solar material “by the mile.” When he proposed the idea years ago, based on the science of amorphous materials, which he invented, he was ridiculed.

But the thin-film photovoltaic solar panel was just one of his revolutionary ideas. He invented the nickel metal hydride battery that is in virtually all hybrid vehicles on the road today. And when I pulled into the parking lot outside his office in Bloomfield Hills, he promptly installed me in the driver’s seat of a hydrogen hybrid prototype — a car in which the gasoline tank had been replaced with a safe solid-state hydrogen storage system invented by Mr. Ovshinsky.

Within minutes, I was driving along a highway in a car that produced zero pollution. No carbon footprint whatsoever. How’s that for a wave of the future?

The point is that these (and many more) brilliant, innovative technologies are here. They are real, tangible. They exist. What’s needed now is the will to develop policies that will vastly expand these advances and radically reduce their costs. The United States should be leading the world in the creation of whole new energy technologies and industries, instead of allowing the forces of the old carbon-based industries — coal, oil, gasoline-powered vehicles — to stand obstinately in the way of real progress.

“Now,” Mr. Ovshinsky told me, “is when we have to build the new industries of the future.” He has always been driven by the desire to use science and technology to solve the real-world problems of real people, and that has meant creating employment and stopping the pollution of the planet. He and his late wife, Iris, formed a company (to become known as Energy Conversion Devices) in Detroit in 1960 with the idea of using their considerable talents, as he put it, “to do good, to change the world.”

As oil defined the 20th century, new forms of energy will define the 21st. The U.S. has the opportunity, the intellectual resources and the expertise to lead the world in the development of clean energy. What we’ve lacked so far has been the courage, the will, to make it happen.

This is the side of the climate change solutions story we need to be hearing about in EVERY media story that covers the Senate debate about climate change and clean energy solutions legislation.  To just talk about climate change as an environmental issue that isn't relevant to our everyday lives is irresponsibly misleading to a public who, for the most part, doesn't seem to know better.

At a time of great economic challenge, this same public is desperately seeking hope, and these types of solutions are exactly what the doctor ordered.  Properly informed, the public will be empowered to demand from Congress that its climate change legislation helps America's future clean energy-related industries realize their potential.

Read more>>

What Peak Oil Can Do For Climate Change

Getting real today with a series of outstanding posts from Chris Nelder of GetRealist.

In this installment of facing up to the hard data on energy and climate, he talks about how the urgency of addressing the Peak Oil crisis looming on the horizon can help address the climate crisis that is really starting to bubble up to the surface, even if much of the public continues to act like the proverbial frog in a slowly warming pot of water on a stove...

Says Nelder about what climate change can do for Peak Oil:

With all eyes focused on the Copenhagen climate summit in less than three weeks, perhaps its time for the peakists to find a new purpose.
The reason is simple. Money isn’t interested in problems; it’s only interested in solutions. And wherever capital goes is where the changes will be made.
The public also has little appetite for unpleasant stories, even true ones. The message is: Don’t tell us what we can’t consume — tell us what we can consume. Tell us our grid power costs are going to go up because of climate change and we’ll fight it. But help us buy efficiency improvements and renewables that will pay for themselves in fuel savings, and we’ll support it all the way.
A new Pew study on “apocalypse fatigue” highlights the problem nicely. The public’s confidence in the global warming problem has fallen sharply this year, even as momentum built toward Copenhagen.
Guilt and deprivation simply don’t sell like opportunity does.
That’s why trillions of dollars are pouring into cleantech annually, while the peak oil community continues to go begging for a few dollars to staff a small office and keep a web server running, all while battling a constant onslaught of misinformation placed in the top mainstream media by very deep-pocketed vested interests.
That’s why I said last week that the IEA was shrewd to turn its annual World Energy Outlook into a stalking horse, masquerading its alarm about peak oil as an earnest appeal to address climate change.

What do climate activists need to realize about the threats posed by Peak Oil -- even to renewable energy itself?

First, solving the energy crisis isn’t an either Green or Brown proposition, but all of the above. There is a dangerous paradox here that the peakists can help the world avoid.
Climate activists need to realize that the renewable energy revolution can only be built on the back of fossil fuels. It will take vast amounts of oil, gas, and coal to mine raw ores, crush them, transport them, smelt them down and turn them into stock, transport them again, and turn them into end-products, then transport them again. We have no idea how to do all that without petroleum fuels, gas, and coking coal.
Therefore, in order to build a vast new infrastructure of solar and wind generation, ubiquitous rail transport, plug-in and natural gas vehicles, the next-generation grid, and so on, and do it at a reasonable price, we’ll have to ensure that fossil fuels receive vigorous and sustained investment.
Here’s a rough, rule-of-thumb way of expressing the supply dilemma: We have to fill a 25% gap in 25 years, a 50% gap in 50 years, and we need to be off fossil fuels completely by the end of the century.
Here’s another rule of thumb: Starting two to four years from now, the world will need to build the equivalent of all the world’s existing renewable energy capacity every year just to compensate for the decline of oil.
Meeting that challenge with renewables and efficiency would solve the emissions problem as a side effect, only it would do so by harnessing the profit motive — not by penalizing production. That’s how capitalism works best.
If we allow climate policy to pour cold water on the fire of fossil fuels, we would extinguish the growth in renewables too. Failing to maintain a steady supply of fossil fuels, even as they peak and decline, their prices rise, and their availability shrinks, would subject the cleantech industry to devastating boom and bust cycles.

Head spinning yet?  Here's the real eye-opening claim in Nelder's analysis:

Count on Less Fuel. . . and Less CO2

It’s fairly astonishing, but none of the climate change models take the peaking of any fossil fuels into account. They all project — over a period of 30 years or more! — fairly simple growth curves for population and the global economy, assuming that sufficient oil, gas and coal will be available to satisfy demand at historically normal prices.
As the peakists know, nothing could be further from the truth.
If my current understanding of the situation is even close to correct — peak oil circa 2005-2012; peak gas 2015-2020 and peak coal 2025-2030 — then the climate models are not accurately modeling 78% of the global energy supply over the next 30 years.
Accordingly, the CO2 projections must be wrong. Ultimately, the population-based forecasts must also be wrong. The peak oil study can help correct these glaring flaws by offering better data to the CO2 emissions models.

Easier to Switch than Fight

In resisting the policy focus on climate change and resisting the truth about peak oil, the fossil fuel industry has become its own worst enemy.
By perceiving these issues as threats, the Browns have created a vicious cycle. Fighting the renewable energy revolution sows public opposition, adds cost, and delays the deployment of renewables, which makes the CO2 problem worse. The worse the CO2 problem gets, the more it costs them.
If instead the Browns acknowledged that the future of fossil fuels will be increasingly difficult and expensive, and that CO2 is a problem they need to own, it would feed a virtuous cycle.
Peak-adjusted fuel models would lower the projected CO2 emissions, reducing the cost of mitigation and buying a bit more time for the transition to renewables. It would give the energy industry a clear mandate to invest more in renewables, and do so in a measured, less disruptive way. In turn, the accelerated adoption of renewables would reduce CO2 projections and feed further investment, reducing CO2 even more.
Hopefully, the peakists can help the fossil fuel industry come to terms with a decarbonized future, and in so doing, ensure its long term survival.

Wow -- that scenario is quite entirely different than what most of humanity believes.  If Nelder is right (and I've found that he usually is, even if I don't want to hear it), then what's the solution?

Incentivize, Don’t Penalize
Perhaps the most important way that the peakists can help the climate change cause is by changing the focus to what goes into the engine, instead of what comes out of the tailpipe.
As I have argued, incentivizing renewable energy solutions would be far more effective than penalizing fossil fuel producers.

Emphasizing CO2 emissions in policy...has several undesirable outcomes: It doesn’t address coal plants satisfactorily; it raises costs substantially; it reduces overall power output; and it engenders resistance from the energy industry.
By contrast, focusing on the renewable generation side — what goes into the engine — results in increasing amounts of power that was clean to begin with, at ever-declining costs, and could create a long-term growth opportunity for the energy industry.
This is along the lines of the Nordhaus and Shellenberger's argument that instead of solving climate change by making fossil fuels more expenses, climate policy should focus on making renewable energy cheap -- something that I agree with not yet in terms of supply and demand (I am not familiar enough with the data), but in terms of the types of positive-visioned policies that I think are most likely to inspire the support of citizens and decision-makes. Joe Romm of Climate Progress, however, strongly disagrees -- you can hear him out here. (I've really enjoyed following this fascinating debate)

Read Nelder's full post>>

Notes From the 2009 ASPO Peak Oil Conference

Of course, the opposite side of the climate change coin is Peak Oil: another powerful reason to transition to much more efficient and clean energy and transport systems.

Chris Nelder of GetRealList provides us with his notes from the anual ASPO Peak Oil Conference, which included presentations from many of the world's top energy experts.

I know I can't wait to dig into these...

Dark Climate Change Messages

Given what we've seen today via our little journey around world visiting places where climate change's impacts are being felt now, the question returns to: how can we motivate people and decision-makers to take bold action?

Here, the Washington Post presents some darker climate change ads that have been used overseas.

Don't turn out the lights...

The First Climate Change Conflicts: Fighting Over Water As Kenyan Rains Tail Off

Climate change -- in combination with political and resource management-related factors -- is causing serious water shortage-related conflicts in Kenya.

The Guardian reports:

Three years of failed rains have left nearly 4 million Kenyans dependent on food aid. Thousands of animals have died and malnutrition rates are climbing in a drought that has hit pastoralists the hardest. In many areas they're trekking an extra 20 miles in search of water and pasture, their fate determined by careful negotiations with local leaders such as Abdi. His fear of fighting is not unfounded. According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), since January this year 306 pastoralists have died from conflicts over scarce resources.
"What we're observing are some of the world's first climate-change conflicts," says Jeanine Cooper, head of Ocha Kenya, in Nairobi. "Tribes have fought over water points before now," she says, "but climate change has increased the frequency and duration of drought, exacerbating the competition over scarce resources."

Forty miles away in the town of Moyale, Molu Dika, drought management officer for the government's Arid Lands programme, agrees that the "future is not bright for pastoralists". He is well informed about climate change. "We used to have drought in cycles of 10 years; now every other year there is depressed rainfall," he says.

As the government struggles to provide the most basic infrastructure the task of adapting to climate change has been left to the NGOs. Leading the way in Moyale is Farm-Africa - its strategy of creating alternative livelihoods has already helped 5,000 households find new ways of generating an income - from haymaking co-operatives to new business ventures in camel meat.
Project co-ordinator Boru Dulacha says that traditional ways of adapting to drought - building water points or managing grazing patterns - are no longer enough. "We want to help pastoralists maintain their traditional way of life, but without them being dependent on livestock to survive," he says.

The changing weather patterns and accompanying conflicts and adaptations seen in Kenya are a microcosm of what's happening in other countries across the world. As leaders prepare for the climate- change conference in Copenhagen, in December, Sir David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, says: "How we help developing countries adapt to climate change now is critically important - as by the middle of this century there is likely to be an increase in conflict related to resource scarcity."

But climate change alone isn't responsible for these issues, emphasize some experts.  Rather, poor land use practices and repressive policies contribute to the impacts of climate changes:

But how far is climate change responsible for the tensions already escalating in regions such as north Kenya? Idean Salehyan, assistant professor of political science at the University of North Texas, says: "The causes of violence are rarely as simple as resource scarcity." Instead, he thinks conflicts are over how resources are managed and are therefore a political problem as much as an environmental one. "Deliberate policies to reward political supporters and undermine opponents can play an important role in determining the distribution of these resources," says Salehyan. "Countries that are accountable to the needs of their people can withstand environmental disasters better than those with undemocratic governments."

Today, we've journeyed from the Arctic to the Caribbean to Africa learning about impacts of climate change affecting peoples' lives and well being NOW.

Wither the mainstream news networks doing their part to help raise public awareness about these issues?  Too often, the storyline remains that climate change is some distant environmental issue irrelevant to our well being.  As these stories demonstrate, the impacts of climate change are very much here.

Read the full story>>

More from the BBC>>

Can Ecological Agriculture Feed 9 Billion People?

I just finished reading the latest article I've come across about converting to a more ecologically-friendly agriculture.

It's good stuff -- reminding us of the challenges we face, and of the benefits of sustainable agriculture:

(S)ustainable agroecosystems...have positive side-effects, helping to enhance local environments, strengthen communities, and develop human capacities. Examples of positive side-effects recently recorded in various developing countries include:
  • Improvements to the ecosystem, including increased water retention in soils, improvements in water table (with more and cleaner drinking water in the dry season), reduced soil erosion combined with more organic matter in soils, leading to more carbon sequestration, healthier soils, greater productivity, and increased agrobiodiversity;
  • Improvements to communities, including more and stronger social organizations at the local level, new rules and norms for managing collective natural resources, and better connectedness to external policy institutions;
  • Improvements to human potential, including more local capacity to experiment and solve problems, reduced incidence of malaria in rice-fish zones, increased self-esteem in formerly marginalized groups, increased status of women, better child health and nutrition, and reversed migration and more local employment.
The article then details key remaining areas of uncertainty, as well as the complex psychological factors involved in motivating farmers to make significant changes to their ways of farming:
We do not yet know for sure whether a transition toward sustainable agriculture, delivering greater benefits at the scale occurring in these projects, will result in enough food to meet the current food needs in developing countries, let alone the future needs after continued population growth and adoption of more urban and meat-rich diets. But what we are seeing is highly promising, especially for the poorest. There is also scope for additional confidence, as evidence indicates that productivity can grow over time if the farm ecosystem is enhanced, communities are strengthened and organized toward positive goals, and human knowledge, nutrition, and health are improved.

One problem is that we know much less about these resource-conserving technologies than we do about the use of external inputs in modernized, more industrial agricultural systems. (Most of the agricultural research in developed countries has been focused on products used for input-intensive systems such as fertilizers, pesticides, new genetics, and new machinery — products that could be sold to farmers.) It is clear that the process by which farmers learn about technology alternatives is crucial. If farmers are forced or coerced, then they may only adopt for a limited period. But if the process is participatory and enhances farmers’ ecological literacy of their farms and resources, then the foundation for redesign and continuous innovation is laid.

Regrettably, successes are still in the minority. Time is short, and the challenge is enormous. This change to agricultural sustainability clearly benefits poor people and environments in developing countries. People involved in these projects have more food, are better organized, are able to access external services and power structures, and have more choices in their lives. But change may also provoke secondary problems. For example, building a road near a forest can help farmers reach markets to sell their produce, but also aids illegal timber extraction. Equally, short-term social conflict may be necessary for overcoming inequitable land ownership, so as to produce better welfare outcomes for the majority.

So where do we stand, and what does this author see as next steps?

At this time we are neither feeding all the 6.7 billion people in the world nor — with some notable exceptions — conducting agriculture in an environmentally sound way. It may be possible to feed the estimated 9 billion people living on earth by mid-century. However, this will take a massive and multifaceted effort that may include changing the way animals are raised (not feeding ruminants food that could be used for human consumption) and giving up the ill-conceived use of cereals and other foods for conversion to transport fuels. In addition, support is needed for the development of participatory groups of farmers that can try out a variety of practices and learn from each other as well as technicians as they explore new techniques that will enhance sustainability.

I'm sure I'll get back to this one as a reference for future writings...

Read the full article>>

More on this question from Grist>>

Sea Level Rise Could Cost Port Cities $28 Trillion

A new report warns that sea level rise could cost port cities more than $28 trillion:

A possible rise in sea levels by 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world's largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry.

The value of infrastructure exposed in so-called "port mega-cities," urban conurbations with more than 10 million people, is just $3 trillion at present.

The rise in potential losses would be a result of expected greater urbanization and increased exposure of this greater population to catastrophic surge events occurring once every 100 years caused by rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

The report, released on Monday by WWF and financial services Allianz, concludes that the world's diverse regions and ecosystems are close to temperature thresholds -- or "tipping points."

I have a solution for those people who still suggest that global warming is only an environmental issue: a trip around the world to all the warming-impacted places we're reporting on today.

Read more>>

Rising Sea Levels Threaten Caribbean Region

Don't tell retired Colombian naval officer German Alfonso that global warming's impacts are still theoretical and decades away.  Based on his own personal experience, he just won't buy the line that we shouldn't worry about it now because the economy is more important (which, frustratingly, is the standard line that too many in the mainstream media irresponsibly roll out as 'truth' on a daily basis).

As the L.A. times reports, just ask Alfonso about the time his neighborhood in this historic coastal city became an island.

For five years, Alfonso, 74, has watched tides rise higher and higher in the Boca Grande section of Cartagena. This month, tides briefly inundated the only mainland connection to his neighborhood, a converted sandbar where about 60 high-rise condo and hotel towers have been built in the last decade or so.

"Before, people thought it a normal phenomenon. But we're becoming more conscious that something is going on," Alfonso said. "If the sea keeps rising, traffic could just collapse."

According to a recently updated World Bank study on climate change in Latin America, Alfonso and his neighbors have reason to be concerned. Not only are the effects of global warming more evident in Latin American coastal cities, the report says, but the phenomenon could worsen in coming decades because sea levels will rise highest near the equator.

Wow -- we'll definitely file this story as another power anecdote to use as evidence that global warming is anything but some theoretical future environmental problem.

This story paints a picture of global warming as a people problem that is negatively impacting lives and livelihoods today.

Read the full article>>

Melting Arctic: Forget About Polar Bears. Worry About Humans

Here's a well-told story from New Scientist about the great transformation of the Arctic that is currently taking place.  For the most part, the author takes us on a journey through the vast environmental changes taking place.

How is it, he wonders, that so many humans can still be so lackadaisical about such dramatic climate changes? 

For too long, too many fruitless efforts to combat climate change have been billed as "Saving the Planet". Right now, in the last week or two before the climate negotiations at Copenhagen, there are few signs of dramatic action. Perhaps that is because the message is wrong. As the changes in the Arctic show, the planet continues. Species come and species go. The planet does not need saving, even from us.

Far better that the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is portrayed as simple self-interest; that we focus on the coming losses of agricultural production, the droughts, the mass migrations and political instability that will follow rapid climate change.

Political will might be better stiffened by listening to generals rather than to environmentalists. As a former head of the US Central Command, Anthony Zinni, explained, if we don't pay the price to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, "we will pay the price later in military terms".

Add this one to the climate change messaging folder...  Most of the world seems to get it.  It boggles the mind what's happening with the U.S. Republican party's views on the issue -- so long as they continue to ignore the world's best scientists, their ideas don't have a chance of being effective for making our world better.

As a registered Independent, I find it highly frustrating that one party's ideas are so out of step with what our top scientific societies are telling us (see also this recent joint statement from the world's top National Academies of Sciences).

Imagine this was the case with a Congressional minority ignoring the medical science's consensus about causes of and cures for cancer (as happened with the tobacco industry -- a striking parallel)!

As somebody who votes based on ideas and proposed policy solutions rather than by party, I'd much rather have two parties with different, but well-informed, high-quality approaches to choose from.  The current political situation that we have right now in America clearly isn't cutting it for solving society's most pressing problems.

Read more>>

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Green Redemption

The Economist has an enjoyable piece about a green path to redemption for all the greedy bastards bankers who caused the financial crisis that has made so many of our lives (including ours) difficult over the last year.

Speaking about the costs required to protect rainforests as a mean to mitigate climate change, the author notes that:

"setting up a formal United Nations scheme to pay for avoided deforestation, which is expected to emerge from a global deal on climate change, will take time. On November 19th a high-level group of representatives from forested nations met at the London home of the Prince of Wales to discuss an emergency package of funding to stop deforestation while the trees are still standing.

The meeting heard how an informal working group on interim finance recently produced a report suggesting that between $22 billion and $37 billion will be needed between 2010 and 2015. Although that might sound like a lot, in the global scheme of things it is not. For comparison, the size of the bonuses to be shared by bankers at Goldman Sachs this year looks set to be about $21 billion.

Which prompts your correspondent to ponder where such short-term finance might be found. Rich-world governments, many of which have record levels of debt, are skint. Bailing out the banks has been costly. Meanwhile the social standing of those bankers who are lucky enough to be getting bonuses, while their fellow citizens face years of higher taxes and cuts to public services, is at an all-time low. The ideal solution, surely, is for those bankers to shun a new Ferrari in favour of rainforest conservation.

I love it!

It just boggles my mind that in the year after the banking sector's greed and irresponsible swindling of the public caused the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, Goldman Sachs executives stand to receive $21 Billion in bonuses.  It is nauseating, and in itself, is cause for President Obama to demand the resignations of Treasury Secretary Geithner and Economic Adviser, Lawrence Summers. Clearly, we need sheep dogs guarding the hen house, not wolves.

Read the full Economist article>>

Consevation is Seen As Key to Dealing with California's Water Woes

One thing many of us know well in California -- due to droughts and water restrictions -- is the value of water conservation.

The L.A. Times offers a nice summary of the state's current situation, in which conservation is really the main immediate solution.

In a warming world, the Sierra snowpack is predicted to gradually shrink as a key water reservoir.  With it melting earlier in the spring, more of the water that it releases into reservoirs will be lost to evaporation.  This impact will be further exacerbated by poorly planned logging operations that aren't designed to maximize shading of logged sites (e.g., by planning cuts in east-west facing strips that reduce exposure to solar radiation).

For homeowners and municipalities, our water supplies are only going to become more uncertain, and we're best off preparing now.

That SHOULD mean that something serious is going to have to be done about all the golf courses, green grass lawns, and swimming pools in hot, deserty southern California.

What do we do?
  • We have an energy efficient dishwasher, which we run only when full and only late at night -- usually about once every 5 days (fortunately, ours has a setting that allows us to set it to go on in 3 or 6 hours, so it goes on at 2AM and we are greeted to fresh dishes in the morning)
  • We take relatively short showers
  • We rent our home, and have to deal with a small lawn in our front yard.  So we set the timer to go on for 15 minutes per week at 2AM, when evaporation is lowest.
  • Being a rental, we also can't install rain barrels. However, we have set up a tube from one of our gutters to direct rainwater down a hill into an extra plastic garbage bin can we have.  We use this water all winter to water our house and garden plants.
  • Our fairly large back yard is not landscaped, and while we have a garden, it is composed of four 4x4-foot raised beds that we plant with a square foot grid, as well as barrel planters for our cooking herbs (about 12 different kinds).  These are highly space-efficient, and with no plant more than two feet from the edge, they are easy to water directly on to the base of each stem.  Of course, I usually water early in the morning (for food plants, watering at night can lead to mold issues).  A future goal is to add drip irrigation, but with square foot beds, it isn't entirely necessary.
I can't wait to have a home of my own so we can redirect our gray water to our garden and fruit trees, and add rain barrels that will likely last us well into the summer.

I find that conservation is actually not only money saving, but is FUN!

The Language of Sustainability: Why Words Matter

Here's a new post about the language of sustainability, "Why Words Matter", ironically authored by a fellow whose last name is 'Jabber'.

A few highlights:
In applying framing to the issues that many of us are typically dealing with, examples might include:

1. Change "natural resource management" to "regeneration of nature" or "natural resilience." "Management" reinforces a false sense that we know exactly what to do and how nature is going to respond to our actions. We clearly have a wealth of knowledge on work with natural processes, and it is clear that our actions very often have unintended consequences, to due to the complexities of natural systems. "Resource" conveys that nature is something to be used, rather than our life-support system. As alternative terms, even restoration, a decent improvement, doesn't conceptually support the dynamic ongoing process that is ecology, but, rather, restoring to some static state. Terms like regeneration and resilience better illustrate the end goal of re-establishing the capacity to adapt, flexibility, and ongoing processes that can evolve over time.

2. Change "proper stewardship" to "proper interaction" or "healthy relationship," for the same reason as the above. Our relationship with nature is rightly a dynamic, two-way relationship, and so we shouldn't communicate that we are managing or stewarding nature.

3. Provide context for "sustainability," in that it means the ability to continue into the indefinite future by respecting the Earth's ecosystems, its limits, and providing space for the other beings on the planet to exist. Otherwise, we create perverse concepts like sustainable growth, as if we can continue unlimited growth in the face of limits.

4. Change any language that implies economic growth is always good. In an economy predicated on unsustainable uses of nature, is economic contraction and recession necessarily bad? Or is recession a necessary correction guided by the laws of feedback? During this relatively serious recession of 2008 and 2009, these questions never entered mainstream media or politics in a significant way, yet are the real questions that we as a society need to work through.

Jabber then jibbers (sorry, couldn't resist) about the importance of using the right indicators to measure progress in achieving sustainability goals, and gets into a few good ones offered by Gil Friend.

Read more>>

Green Seal's New Business Certification Aims to Catalyze the Green Marketplace

As huge proponents of measures to improve the credibility of the green marketplace, we at CVI were thrilled to hear about GreenSeal's new business certification, which aims 'to catalyze the green marketplace.

As GreenBiz reports:

Green Seal, the nonprofit certification group, is celebrating its 20th anniversary by undertaking a dramatic shift in its operations: In addition to continuing to certify individual products and services as environmentally friendly, the group has just launched a company certification pilot project that aims to measure, verify and push for continuous improvement of a company's entire operations.

The group is aiming high as well: Weissman said they've been talking primarily to Fortune 1000 and Fortune 500 companies, rather than just already-green firms that would likely have an easy time earning certification.

"We want to have a balance -- if this program just became the Seventh Generations of the world, it's not going to change much in the marketplace," Weissman said. "That's not to denigrate them at all, a green-oriented company does a great service, but if they were the only ones to participate in the pilot I don't think we'd be very effective in trying to do a rapid transformation of the consumer marketplace."

The certification will feature three levels -- Bronze, Silver and Gold -- and Weissman anticipated that all companies will enter the certification at the Bronze level, leaving plenty of room for improvement, a key element of the project.

Among the impacts under assessment in the certification are greenhouse gas emissions, water use and conservation, biodiversity impact, and other issues. (The nearly 70-page standard laying out the entire process is available for download [PDF] from But in another big shift for Green Seal, the process will look beyond companywide environmental practices and lifecycle assessments to factor in issues of governance, supply chain, and labor and human rights. In so doing, Weissman said that the certification will also cover Walmart suppliers, who as a result of the recently launched Sustainability Index are already facing these issues.

I really look forward to seeing these standards in action.  We'll keep you posted as this story develops, so stay tuned to CV Notes...

Read more>>

Nature's Success Inspires Green Building Mimics

The Oregonian reports on how a building designed to mimic the passive cooling action of a termite mound helped save billions:

A small but growing number of architects, building engineers and scientists who design building products are looking to animals and plants for inspiration to address the challenge of being kind to the Earth while retooling the manmade environment.

Wild creatures have been adapting to their natural worlds longer than us and may have answers to the riddle of building shelter while conserving resources. And avoiding pollution. And slowing down the burning of coal and oil for electricity and so many modern comforts.

An Oregon State University chemist studied mussels clinging to rocks at a Newport-area beach and found a naturally occurring chemical model for a new adhesive to replace the formaldehyde that commonly emits toxic fumes in kitchen cabinets.

Farther afield, in Zimbabwe, where searing summers boost sky-high air-conditioning costs, architects looked to termites. They found that the tall dirt termite mounds we see only on the Discovery channel may well be situated in 100-plus-degree environments but have interior tunnels, top to bottom, averaging 87 degrees Fahrenheit.

That would be called passive air conditioning, in which hot air is naturally expelled, trapping cool air within. Buildings can do that, the architects figured, so they designed and built a shopping mall/office center that cools itself, mimicking the mound.

Result: $3.5 million saved, 75 percent less energy needed for cooling, and no A/C as we know it. Yet everyone's comfy.

Read more about the amazing economic promise of biomimicry>>

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Capitalize On A Narrow Window of Opportunity to Advance the Green Economy

Dear Conservation Value Notes reader:

As a smart, conscious citizen, you know the difference between talk and action when it comes to Green Economy solutions. 

You know that to achieve the policy victories needed to simultaneously reduce America’s oil dependence and solve climate change, we need an informed electorate that demands bold Green Economy solutions from our political leaders.

The time to act is NOW.  With President Obama and a majority in Congress favoring a transition to clean energy, and society rapidly approaching tipping points in climate change and shrinking oil supplies, we have a narrow window of opportunity to achieve Green Economy policy solutions. 

Your support helps CVI advance:

•    Our shared vision of a society transitioning to a clean technology-powered economy,
•    Sustainable land use that makes conservation both possible and profitable, and
•    The best emerging Green Economy solutions that benefit the earth and make our lives better.

What YOU Can Do Now
As 2009 draws to a close and you consider how you’ll direct your year-end charitable giving, please consider how much more you can do to help advance the Green Economy by sending a special, tax-deductible gift to support our blogging here at Conservation Value Notes, and the other projects of Conservation Value Institute.

Because we’re stretching every dollar, every donation helps more than ever this year – whatever its size. 

By sending your year-end gift so we have it in hand by December 31st, you’ll help CVI effectively plan for each of our urgent and critical action programs.

Click here to donate online now:

To Donate by mail: please download this form and send it to us with your check

With my warmest regards, and my best wishes for your health and happiness in 2010.

Jonathan L. Gelbard, Ph.D.
Executive Director and Founding Fellow
Conservation Value Institute

P.S.  The rest of the week, I'll be traveling with my wife and 11-week-old daughter to visit with family and share cherished times.  I'll be back at the blog first thing next week.

What Our Partners Say

Just wanted to say a quick thank you for everything you did to put together a fantastic Think Tank at Rothbury. I was thrilled to take part. Rothbury and the Think Tank are really good for spreading the word about energy/enviro issues, and great for Michigan. Your efforts help make that happen.”
- Jeff Sharp, Communications Director, Congressman Ed Markey and the House Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming

Companies to Reward and Avoid on Black Friday

Getting ready to head out shopping first thing Friday, and want to reward good companies who are truly taking significant green steps?

Here's an article about the release of Climate Counts' new green scorecard -- see who ranks the greenest and who would draw the ire of ol' Woodsy Owl.

At the top of the list: Nike (83 points out of 100) and topped the Climate Counts list.

At the bottom (dirty companies to avoid): Jones Apparel Group (7), VF Corporation (6), Viacom (3), Burger King (10), Wendy's-Arby's Group (2), PNC Financial Services (3), SunTrust (2), Regions (1), ExpressJet (7), AirTran (5) and SkyWest Air (0).

Says GreenBiz author, Marc Gunther:

In the argot of the NGO world, this is known as "rank 'em and spank 'em." And it seems to work.

So long as we're keeping score, let's also note that Coca-Cola beat PepsiCo, Microsoft outperformed Google, HP nosed out IBM and Marriott crushed Starwood in the 2009 Climate Count rankings.

More meaningful is the fact that many companies made dramatic improvements to their scores. Among the big gainers were Levi Strauss, eBay, Disney, Nokia, PepsiCo, Yum! Brands, Darden Restaurants and US Airways. (Thanks to Mother Nature Network blogger Shea Gunther for pointing this out and, no, we're not related, at least as far as we know.) The entire electronics sector scored above 50, Turner noted, as did consumer shipping.

Something very interesting to consider:

One last thought about this list -- it's signal that "green products" by themselves aren't enough to signal a company's sustainability commitment. Clorox, for example, has its GreenWorks line of products, but it ranks last in the household products category, far behind P&G. Green companies Method and Seventh Generation aren't rated but it's a safe bet they would do well. Climate Counts plans to come out with an iPhone app soon to help environmentally conscious shoppers.

I don't plan to buy much on Friday -- not much that constitutes new "stuff" anyway.  But I'll definitely keep this scorecard in my back pocket, so to speak, when I do need to make some purchases...

Read more>>

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sustainability and Employee Engagement: Anything Goes

Thinking about ways to introduce sustainability into your business and get your employees both involved and excited?

The Triple Pundit, reporting from a Net Impact Conference panel on employee engagement, says that what works typically differs from company to company, so take what you know about sustainability and think about how to plug it into your business's culture.  On encouraging employee involvement, the post recommends:
  • provide opportunity for employees to generate ideas (green teams)
  • allow employees the freedom to run with and implement their ideas (encourage passion!)
  • provide a format for sharing ideas across departments, locations, and countries (intranet, electronic newsletters)
  • start with initiatives that everyone can participate in (establish recycling programs, remove all Styrofoam products from cafeteria)
  • develop ongoing training programs (videos, podcasts, lunch & learns)
  • leverage the diversity of your company – allow for different ways to engage in sustainability initiatives (recycling, volunteering, leading a team)
  • communicate early and often and in different formats (signs, newsletters, conference calls, meetings, pod-casts, tweets)
  • make sustainability part of every employee’s job description
They provide additional recommendations for how to launch your program and change employee behavior.

The most important thing, the Net Impact conference panelists emphasized, is to do something, and not be afraid to get creative!

Read more>>

Coastal Ecosystems a Powerful Carbon Sink

We know that coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and sea grass provide valuable environmental services such as protection against storms and floods, filtration of pollutants, and crucial fishery breeding grounds.

However, says Conservation International's Emily Pidgeon, it turns out that they are also quite powerful carbon sinks -- absorbing the heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) and storing the carbon deep in sediments:

PIDGEON: (One) way that plants sequester carbon is by burying it in the soil or the sediment below them. And these marine plants, or marine ecosystems, seem to be incredibly effective at the second type of carbon sequestration. This burying it in the sediment below them.

LIVING ON EARTH: Why is that?

PIDGEON: There's a couple different ways they do it. The two main ones are they have these incredibly deep root systems. If you can imagine they're all living in the sort of tidal or wave dominated part of the coast and they're holding on for dear life with these deep root systems. And it's through this deep root systems that they can pull carbon out of either the water or the air and then pump it down in to the sediment and push it out. There is also these areas that are really good for capturing sediment that is in the shallow water, and by doing that that settles down and also captures lot of carbon that way.

More good reason to protect and restore these valuable ecosystems...

Listen to the Living on Earth Story>>

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bottled Water Sucks

A new documentary film illustrates the environmental, economic and health damage caused by the proliferation of bottled water:

With style, verve and righteous anger, the film exposes the bottled water industry's role in suckering the public, harming our health, accelerating climate change, contributing to overall pollution, and increasing America's dependence on fossil fuels. All while gouging consumers with exorbitant and indefensible prices.

Claire Thompson summed up the problem well in her post on the movie at Grist:

"Not only is it [bottled water] a clear waste of resources (only 20 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States are recycled, and far too many of the rest probably end up in the Pacific Garbage Patch), it's an incredible waste of money for consumers, who pay more than the price of gasoline for water that's marketed as "pure," but in reality is largely unregulated, full of harmful toxins like BPA, and far less safe for drinking than free tap water. (In fact, 40 percent of the time, bottled water is nothing but municipal tap water, freed from the government oversight that keeps it safe.)"

The main excuse that I hear from people who abuse bottled water is convenience.  For example, in my martial arts dojo, they offer bottled water for $1, and almost every student uses it.  I bring my own stainless steel water bottle, and have never had to purchase a single plastic bottle. So to me, the 'convenience' line doesn't hold water (no pun intended).

My Sensei agrees that we should try to find a better solution, but the owner of the dojo apparently insists on the disposable plastic water bottles for the convenience of kids classes, in particular.  That's the excuse he received for why the solution I proposed wouldn't work: changing to a water cooler and re-fillable 5-gallon jugs, with compostable plastic cups.  Apparently, the cups would make too much of a mess.  Plus, it wouldn't be as easy to re-coup the costs by charging per cup as it is to charge for a water bottle.

Then again, if she charged $1 per 12 ounce CUP (usually filled to 11 oz), she'd bring in about $58 per 5 gallon jug -- and with bottled water delivery services, these jugs cost about $5-8 each. Even with the added cost of cups and disposal, it would still be a money-making green solution!

Well, I'll keep trying... 

Read more>>

Deforestation Emissions Should Be Shared Between Producer and Consumer, Argues Study

Should China take the full blame for its skyrocketing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping gases that cause global warming? Or should these emissions be split with the U.S., EU and other countries that are outsourcing their manufacturing -- and their emissions -- to China?

The same question can be asked of Brazil, where deforestation accounts for 75% of the country's carbon footprint, and the major causes of deforestation are cattle ranching and soy production to produce products that are exported to Europe, Asia and Africa. reports on a new study that explores these questions:

Brazil's high annual deforestation rates are currently supporting a massive agricultural industry that exports most of its product abroad: Brazil is the world's largest exporter of both beef and soybeans. Between 1990 and 2006, exports of beef increased by 500 percent. The soy boom, which began in the 1990s, did not cause as much direct deforestation, but pushed cattle farmers and small-land holders deeper into the forest.

From 1990-2006, EU countries and Asian countries were the primary importers of Brazil's soy, while importers of Brazil's beef came from around the world, including Eastern Europe, the EU, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and other South American nations. Yet so far none of these nations have had to pay a cent for the environmental damage, including high carbon emissions, caused by the deforestation of the Amazon.

Zaks and his team have proposed a model to change this. According to their study when a product is exported half of the emissions should be the responsibility of the producing country and half of the importing country and its consumers.

"There is no 'right way' to proportion emissions between consumer and producer, but we did not think that assigning the burden of emissions to either Brazil OR the importing country would be logical," explains Zaks. "If emissions are assigned only to the importing country, there is a reduced incentive to decrease deforestation in the exporting country."

He adds that the study "chose to split them 50/50 as more of an illustrative example than a definitive answer."

This is some good lifecycle-type thinking here, and I definitely agree that we can't blame countries like Brazil and China for all the emissions.  That said, this type of thinking also shows how important it is that we (1) reduce our beef consumption (or at the very least choose more locally raised, grass fed beef from sustainably managed ranches), and (2) choose local and organic.

Perhaps it also indicates that consuming nations need to contribute conservation funding, in an amount in proportion to their imports from Brazil, to REDD-type forest protection initiatives.

Read more>>

Agriculture and Global Warming: Making it Better, Making it Worse

Did you know that agriculture contributes about 20% of America's emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping gases that cause global warming?  For the entire planet, agriculture contributes about 12% of these emissions.

How are the impacts of our food, fiber and biofuel production systems so severe, and what are some ways that we can revolutionize our agricultural practices to turn them from a source of carbon emissions to a sink?

Treehugger explores these questions:

If we consider some of the embodied energy required for industrial ag, it gets worse. According to Will Allen, green farmer extraordinaire, including all the "manufacture and use of pesticides and fertilizers, fuel and oil for tractors, equipment, trucking and shipping, electricity for lighting, cooling, and heating, and emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other green house gases" bumps the impact up to between 25 and 30 percent of the U.S.'s collective carbon footprint. That's a big jump.

(However), Organic agriculture can remove from the air and sequester 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre per year. The Rodale Institute study that found that staggering number also found that, when properly executed, organic agriculture does not compromise yield. As a matter of fact, in drought years, it increases yield, since the additional carbon stored in soil helps it to hold more water. In wet years, the additional organic matter in the soil wicks water away from plant roots, limiting erosion and keeping plants in place. Both of those attributes will also benefit organic ag's ability to adapt to the higher highs (and lower lows) of climate change.

Obviously, there are some very powerful economic interests -- the multinational corporations who make all the fertilizers, pesticides and even crop types -- who are going to try to fight these types of positive changes tooth and nail.

That's why it's up to people like you and me to vote with our everyday choices (the more of us choose organic, the more land will need to be farmed organic to meet our demand), and contact our state and federal decision-makers and demand change -- for the earth and for ourselves.  You can reach your Congressional representatives at 202-224-3121.

Read more>>

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Challenge of Making Solar and Wind Power More Reliable

We know about the environmental, economic, security and health benefits of solar and wind power: lower emissions, cleaner air, reduced dependence on foreign oil, abundant job opportunities as these technologies get installed far and wide.

What we don't hear about too often are the very real challenges of our transition to a clean energy-powered economy.

These are crucially important to be aware of, as our engagement will help spawn fresh ideas that drive innovation.

The NY Times gets into these challenges.

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Global Biodiversity Conservation: Gloom, But Some Promise

While the world's efforts to sustain biodiversity continue to fall short, the journal Nature reports that there are some silver linings to the continuing cloud of biodiversity loss:

Since the 2010 target was adopted in 2002, the Brazilian government has increased the proportion of land designated as protected by 25% and deforestation rates have been reduced by 60%. It plans to identify further priority areas for conservation over the coming year.

And in Sweden, 9 new marine nature reserves were established between 2007 and 2008, bringing the nation's total to 21 sites. A further seven marine protected areas and six no-fishing areas are planned by 2010.

A surge of further efforts can be expected before next October to ensure that countries will be able to report some positive news.

Read more>>

Biodiversity's Bright Spot

The journal, Nature, has an outstanding success story about efforts to protect Brazil's Atlantic Coastal Forest:

Stemming the deforestation required a broad set of measures: new laws and governmental incentives, the commitment of researchers and conservationists, increased funding from international donors and the Brazilian government, and a growing community awareness. Lately, a boost has come from efforts to emphasize the forest's value as a source of water, a draw for ecotourism and a generator of other ecosystem services.

International pressure has also helped. Through the Convention on Biological Diversity, countries have committed to slow the rate of biodiversity loss and to protect 10% of their ecoregions by 2010. Although few nations will meet these goals, Brazil has set aside 16% of its land. Most of this is in the Amazon, but the biodiversity treaty has put pressure on Brazilian authorities to establish state parks in the Atlantic forest southwest of São Paulo, says Oliver Hillel, an officer in the convention's secretariat in Montreal, Canada.

Read more>>

Friday, November 20, 2009

When Behavioral Economics Meets Climate Change

Here's a fun little anecdote from Marc Gunther that has bigger implications for how we advance our transition to a Green Economy:

At the Net Impact conference last week, a waiter stopped by before lunch to ask if anyone at our table wanted a vegetarian meal instead of chicken. Just one or two people did.

This, as it happens, is typical. When a meat-based entrée is being served, and people are offered a vegetarian alternative, about 5 to 10 percent will request it.

But what if the choices were reversed? Organizers of the 2009 Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference, which began Monday in Washington, tried an experiment: They made a vegetarian lunch the default option, and gave meat eaters the choice of opting out.

Some 80 percent went for the veggies, not because there were lots of vegetarians in the crowd of about 700 people but because the choice was framed differently. We know that because, at a prior BECC conference, when meat was the default option, attendees chose the meat by an 83 percent to 17 percent margin.

As for the larger implications of the above findings, reports Gunther, these are what Behavioral Economists talk about:

Might there be broad-based ways to promote a vegetarian diet, while giving people the freedom to choose what they want? How can smart-grid technology be designed to encourage people to conserve energy? Which green marketing messages work, and which don’t? Can the insights of behavioral economics help fight climate change?

Those are the questions that engaged the policy makers, academics, and business executives at this BECC event, which differs from most conversations about climate change. Typically, when politicians, environmentalists or corporate executives discuss the issue, they focus on technology (solar, wind, electric cars) or regulation (cap-and-trade, the UN climate talks). The BECC crowd focuses on another powerful lever, albeit one that doesn’t get as much attention: human behavior, and in particular the irrational, emotional, self-defeating, short-term, inconsiderate and plain old silly human behavior that most of us engage in every day.

It's a fascinating topic -- one that we'll continue to follow for you here at CV Notes.  You can find related posts under our "Motivating Change" category...

Read more>>

Solar's Rapid Evolution Makes Energy Planners Re-Think the Grid

With the rapid rise and proliferation of solar technologies, could cities become generators of electricity rather than consumers of power?

If we put solar panels on the untold millions of acres of roof-tops that are essentially wasted space right now, can we dramatically reduce our need to spend $billions of taxpayer dollars on new power lines that transport electricity from the Mojave desert to urban centers?

Apparently, according to this Grist article, the answers to these questions are "Yes" and "Yes".

..the rapidly evolving solar photovoltaic market may moot the need for some of those expensive and contentious transmission lines, requiring transmission planners to rethink their long-term plans, according to Black & Veatch, the giant consulting and engineering firm that does economic analysis for RETI (Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative).

In short, solar panel prices have plummeted so much as to make viable the prospect of generating gigawatts of electricity from rooftops and photovoltaic farms built near cities.

“This has pretty significant implications in terms of transmission planning,” Ryan Pletka, Black & Veatch’s renewable energy project manager, told me last week. “What we thought would happen in a five-year time frame has happened in one year.”

That’s prompted Pletka to radically revise the potential for so-called distributed generation—solar systems that can plug into the existing grid without the construction of new transmission lines—to contribute to California’s need for 60,000 gigawatt hours of renewable electricity by 2020.

When Black & Veatch did its initial analysis last year, it predicted that photovoltaic solar could contribute 2,000 gigawatt hours, given the high cost of conventional solar modules and the fact that a next-generation technology, thin-film solar, had yet to make a big commercial breakthrough.

Pletka’s new number is a bit of a shocker: Distributed generation could potentially provide up to 40,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, or two-thirds of projected demand.

“Certainly some of the new transmission lines will be needed but not as many as before,” he says.

That analysis also calls into question the need for as many large-scale solar power plants. Currently there are about 35 Big Solar projects planned for California that would generate more than 12,000 megawatts of electricity.

“I’ve worked in renewables since the ‘90s and I myself had written off solar PV for years and years and years,” Pletka says. “That’s a firmly rooted mindset among everyone who works from a traditional utility planning perspective.”

“We present this new information on photovoltaics to people and it’s still not sinking in,” he adds. “It would cause a major shift in how we plan.”

“It brings up questions people haven’t had to talk about before,” says Pletka.

Get the feeling that change is happening fast on the clean energy front, whether Congress can keep up or not?

I've long asked many of these same questions that this article addresses, and noted that going in the direction of distributed generation would help reduce the major economic and security risks posed by, for example, terrorist attacks on major power plants.  But I've been told it's simply not a viable solution for meeting the bulk of our power needs.

We're getting into times where the inconceivable is happening -- both on the bad news front of climate change (which is getting worse much faster than expected), and on the good news front of solutions -- as described here.

Let's do our best to focus on the solutions, and do whatever we can to create the world we'd like to see!  I think I can, I think I can...

Read more>>

U.S. and China Announce Plan For Collaboration on Clean Energy and Climate Change

In a very good piece of news to head into your weekend with, the U.S. and China actually did MORE than expected in their announced plan for collaboration on Clean Energy and Climate Change.  As Grist and Climate Progress report:

Tuesday, a comprehensive plan for U.S.-China cooperation on clean energy and climate change was announced in Beijing by President Obama and President Hu Jintao. The overall plan is much more ambitious in scope and depth than we had anticipated and contains directives to create various institutions and programs addressing a wide array of cooperation on clean-energy technologies and capacity building, including very important efforts on helping China build a robust, transparent, and accurate inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions.

These efforts include cooperation in the following areas:

1. Greenhouse gas inventory.
2. Joint clean energy research center.  (Factsheet)
3. Electric vehicles. (Factsheet)
4. Energy efficiency.  (Factsheet)
5. Renewable energy. (Factsheet)
6. 21st century coal.  (Factsheet)
7. Shale gas. (Factsheet)
8. Nuclear.
9. Public-private partnerships on clean energy.

In a joint statement, Obama and Jintao agreed on a common approach to achieve a successful outcome in international climate negotiations (emphasis added in bold):

Regarding the upcoming Copenhagen Conference, both sides agree on the importance of actively furthering the full, effective and sustained implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in accordance with the Bali Action Plan. The United States and China, consistent with their national circumstances, resolve to take significant mitigation actions and recognize the important role that their countries play in promoting a sustainable outcome that will strengthen the world’s ability to combat climate change. The two sides resolve to stand behind these commitments.

It's a good thing we currently have strong Executive Branch climate and clean energy action to help offset the intractability of the U.S. Senate, which through its bickering is only making itself irrelevant on these critical issues.

Read more>>

Asia Outspending the U.S. 3:1 in Clean Energy Investment

This new report from The Breakthrough Institute should really rub all you patriots the wrong way (it sure left me frustrated!):

Asia is poised to dominate the fast-growing clean energy industry by outspending the United States by at least three-to-one on infrastructure and technology, according to a new report, Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant, which was released today by the Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology and Innovation Foundation at an event hosted by the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

"Should the investment gap persist," the report warns, "the United States will import the overwhelming majority of clean energy technologies it deploys."

"Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant" is the first report to comprehensively benchmark clean energy competitiveness and government investments in clean tech by China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. These Asian governments will invest $519 billion in clean technology between 2009 and 2013, compared to $172 billion by the U.S. government. Climate and energy legislation, which passed the House in June, would contribute $28.7 billion of the $172 billion five year total. China alone will spend $440 billion to $660 billion over the next ten years on clean tech.

The direct, immediate, and coordinated nature of Asian government investments stands in contrast to the sporadic regulatory approach pursed in the United States. The report suggests that government investments will allow Asian nations to create innovation "clusters" of manufacturers, universities, R&D labs, suppliers and other firms, much as the Pentagon helped create Silicon Valley in the fifties and sixties. These clusters will be attractive to U.S. firms, the report argues, which are already making large investments in China.

It is painful to watch the Senate put off critical economic, security and environmental solutions bold Clean Energy legislation legislation until the spring.  Not to mention the idiocy of mainstream media outlets who keep referring to the Senate Bill as "environmental" legislation.

What's the solution?

"Small, indirect and uncoordinated incentives are not sufficient to outcompete Asia's clean tech tigers," the report says. "To regain economic leadership in the global clean energy industry, U.S. energy policy must include large, direct and coordinated investments in clean technology R&D, manufacturing, deployment, and infrastructure." 

Read the full report>>

Read Grist's Coverage of the Breakthrough Report, and Winning the Clean Energy Race>>