Entries Tagged as 'Energy'

The Anti-Green – Junk Mail

Why does the United States Postal Service encourage companies to send “Junk Mail” by substantially reducing the costs of distributing it?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, I understand that it may actually cost the post office a little less to distribute junk mail than it does to distribute first class letters and such — but take a look at how little junk mail you even look at… and how much ends up in your recycle bin (and I’m not even going to bring up the large number of people who probably don’t recycle since they don’t have curb-side recycling programs).

America needs to take action to reduce it’s carbon footprint — and as I have pointed out for the last few days it would be extremely easy to make a fairly substantial improvement without sacrificing anything most consumers care about — and in fact, it would probably improve the quality of life for most Americans not having a mailbox full of junk mail they have to sort through so as not to miss something that might be important.

Sure, the post office would probably have to raise the cost of postage, and possibly reduce the service level (hey — I have no problem with mail not being delivered on Saturday — of maybe being delivered only on alternate days or only a few days per week).  The overall effect would be a decrease in the waste (of natural resources and energy).

The Anti-Green – Architectural Lighting

It’s estimated that US electrical plants burn six million tons of coal daily to power unnecessary outdoor lighting — this estimate doesn’t include the wasted hydroelectric in areas like Las Vegas used to power unnecessary outdoor lighting.  Another estimate puts the waste at three-hundred twenty thousand kilowatt hours per minute!

Often called “light pollution” this unnecessary outdoor lighting could be produced by individuals or businesses and both need to take responsibility for adopting more sustainable lighting policies.

Earth Day this year illustrated just how much “needless” light we humans produce… and just what the potential savings and reductions could be.

Consider that electricity isn’t free; it has the initial cost of purchasing the kilo-watt hour of power and the negative impact it’s generation had on the environment (even in areas where wind or hydroelectric are used there are negative impacts to the environment — and power saved there could be routed to areas using coal or natural gas for power further reducing the carbon footprint).

This is an excellent area where it doesn’t take much to save a great deal.

First, think — if the light doesn’t serve a useful purpose, turn it off; or use it sparingly.  Put it on a timer or a motion sensor if you’re forgetful.

Second, consider the lighting technology.  Lights that need to be on quite a bit should use technology that’s efficient, like LED lighting.  Lights that are on occasionally could use (and recycle your existing CF bulbs — remember production and disposal of those lighting elements have an adverse effect on the environment).  For lights that are rarely on, and heat does not pose a problem re-using your existing incandescent bulbs might make sense.

Third, consider using solar powered LED lighting completely for outdoor lighting.  While the rechargeable batteries in those devices do impose potential environmental impact, properly recycled their impact is greatly mitigated by their years of service lighting without drawing power from the grid.

In commercial applications it’s probably a no win situation unless the business takes directed action to improve their lighting; and that might require local, state, and federal government taking action to make it fiscally desirable — a combination of taxes and tax credits.  Here we as individuals might want to take the initiatives to make heavy consumers of electricity pay a “waste” tax (users who actually produce real goods and services would have a threshold for the tax than those who simply consume it for eye candy effect).

I certainly believe that an individual or company should be able to purchase and use electricity for whatever purpose they desire; however, I also believe that individuals and companies that waste that electricity without providing benefit to society as a whole should shoulder the costs of the impact on the environment more than those who attempt to use resources responsibly.

Off Shore Drilling

For years the oil and gas companies have been telling us (the American public) how safe off shore drilling is, and they’ve been trying to convince us that they have contingencies for anything that might happen, and that there’s no substantial risk to our environment.

Well, take a look at the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the relatively tame Gulf of Mexico and the inability of the world’s largest oil company to stop (or even really slow) a huge oil leak and consider who ill prepared the oil companies would be to handle a spill anything like this is the Gulf of Alaska (or any place near the Artic) in the middle of the Winter — or what could happen in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic seaboard during hurricane season.

Yes, I think it’s a travesty that the Federal Government didn’t have any contingency plans for oil spills of this magnitude — but don’t point a finger at the current administration; you’ll find that’s been years and years in the making (and least you forget, we just had an “oil and gas man” in the Whitehouse for eight years), but in the end, it is the industry itself that is ultimately responsible for the impact of their decisions to use such a small amount of their profits to insure the safety of their endeavors — and it is the companies that should be made to pay for the damages they’ve caused.

Damages to the coastal ecosystem of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are increasing hourly as BP does little to stem the disaster — except possibly try and contain the public relations damage.  While BP stock is down 40%, first quarter 2010 saw record profits — and in the end, I suspect BP will find a way to pass all the costs and loses onto consumers and reward their investors.  BP CEO Tony Hayward has already assured investors that the company has “considerable firepower” to cope wit the severe costs… but missing are statements to the world that they’ll commit the “firepower” it’ll take resolve this disaster.

Bottom line, perhaps rather than increasing the leases for off-shore drilling it’s time to pull back all the currently unused leases and start heavily fining the oil and gas industry for any and all violations.

NASA Satellites’ View of Gulf Oil Spill

Hydroelectric Power

On this day in 1882 the world’s first commercial hydroelectric plant (later to be known as Appleton Edison Light Company) began operation on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin, US.

Clean power was born in a time of dark and dingy coal powered factories and generation facilities… a small reprieve back to the days that spawned the industrial revolution where mechanical power was harnessed from flowing water just as it had been for many years before.

Today we have many hydroelectric power plants and a moderate amount of power in the US is produced from the flow of water (much more than from other renewable resources), yet by far most of the power produced in the US is from fossil fuels.  Fossil fuel imports accounts for a sizable portion of our trade deficit.

America has had several wake-up calls, and for well over thirty years has chosen to ignore the inevitable — we must use our resources more wisely, we must conserve, we must reduce, we must increase efficiency, and we must find alternatives.

Gulf Oil Spill

Well, I’d say that the fact that BP stock is at a fourteen year low is karmic retribution for the way BP has been handling the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; but the stock price doesn’t really hit the company, and most of the large investors are likely to weather the stock price storm until the public forgets about what a horrible company BP is.

Though — the public might not forget too quickly, because the incompetence of BP has now put the problem squarely into hurricane season, and the $2.35 billion that BP has spent to date on the issue could be a pittance compared to what it might cost them if a tropical storm hits the Gulf… and of course the storms have started in what forecasters have indicated is likely to be a very active season.

Hybrid Vehicles

There’s been a great deal of “buzz” over hybrid vehicles being green… but for a very long time I’ve had some serious questions about just how green they are.

Yes, there’s no question that their carbon emissions are substantially lower than gasoline powered vehicles (but remember, hybrids do use gasoline).

Yes, hybrids are a significant step forward (though the modifications to hybrids that allow them to be recharged and ran totally from electricity certainly makes them far more green; and really shouldn’t cost any more in a production model).

But the reality is green isn’t just about the emission in the every day use of the vehicle — green also has to do with the environmental impact of the production of the batteries and their disposal.

Most hybrids use lead acid, a few newer ones use Lithium Ion / Lithium Polymer… neither of which is exactly eco-friendly (I’d prefer them not to be buried in my back yard, or any where near where my water comes from).

Lead acid batteries have a limit life; how long they last depends on a number of variables, and some of the materials can be recycled and reused – but you need to make sure that your community has setup to deal with those issues before you buy your hybrid.  My reading indicates that only California has implement stringent rules for the warranty and handling of lead acid batteries in hybrid (hopefully more states will follow suit).

Lithium cells appear to be a great solution.  They’re small and dense; but the downside is they have a three year life span from the time they were manufactured.  And Lithium is an extremely dangerous substance to release into the environment.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a hybrid; they are good choices for many drivers (particularly commuters who can’t use all electric), but consider the impact of the improperly disposed of batteries, and even the properly disposed of batteries resulting from normal wear and tear as well as accidents.

Green isn’t something you should try and see under a microscope — it’s an end-to-end game.

The Anti-Green – Postal Mail

Receiving postal mail, such as bills, statements, etc and making payments via paper check (either dropped off or mailed in) wastes an incredible amount of natural resources.

Like junk mail and advertisements you receive in the mail, your bills and statements require the use of paper and energy to produce them, energy to distribute them, and energy to properly dispose of and recycle them — plus your paper check payments require the same.

Electronic bills and statements provide you the same information in a form that is far more environmentally friendly.  The production and distribution of that information requires a fraction of the power sending out traditional paper would, and totally saves the paper.

Additionally, paying electronically further reduces the wasted paper and energy.

Most institutions offer statements and bills via electronic delivery at no cost, some even offer incentives such as statement credits or some type of bonus or reward for signing up for electronic statements; and you needed be afraid of electronic statements, you still have every protection that a paper statement would have offered to you.

As for electronic payments, there’s a number of ways in which you can do that…

You could authorize a company to automatically debit your account for the amount you owe.  There are there often used methods.  First, a company could issue an automatic draft against your checking account — that’s essentially like a paper check, though since Check21 it’s likely it would be transmitted electronically.  Second, a company could issue an ACH (Automated Clearing House) transaction against your checking (or savings) account — that’s presented to the bank generally though a purely electronic medium.  Third, a company could issue a charge against a major credit card account.

Personally, I’d be cautious about authorizing any institution to directly remove money from my checking (or savings) account; while there aren’t any real long term issues with them taking out too much, you might find that the time required to correct a mistake is quite long (and you don’t have use of the funds in question during the resolution period).  With credit cards, however, all the mechanism are in place to insure that if someone makes a mistake — you won’t be out the money (or charged any interest) while the error is being looked into and resolved.

Another (entirely different) way you could pay your bills electronically is by using a bill payment service.  Most financial institutions now offer free bill payment services and puts you totally in control.  You decide who to pay, when to pay them, and how much to pay them.  If the bank makes an error, they’re totally responsible for resolving it — and if they remove funds that you didn’t authorize, or in a way you didn’t authorize then they are responsible for the ramifications.  At worst this type of bill payment generates a paper check that’s sent out on your behalf; generally it’s totally electronic.

Another place to look for reductions in postal mail is to discourage companies to send you out anything by mail that can be delivered electronically (remember, in the United States, electronic signatures are legally recognized — faxes and physical signatures are no more binding that an “electronic” signature).  So the bottom line, companies that feel the need to interact with you in writing are simply showing you that they care little for the environment and do not wish to invest in the future.  My advice, look elsewhere and send them a clear message by terminating your relationships with them.

Finally, many people use postal mail to send pictures, greeting cards, personal letters, etc.  Sure, sometimes you’re going to have to — but have you ever considered that most people just throw those away, or put them in a shoe box at the bottom of the closet?  Consider sending what you can electronically — if they really want a picture printed, they can do that locally (for probably the same it would have cost you — and less than the postage you paid).

As I’ve said a number of times before… it doesn’t take much to make a huge difference.

Go Green — Goes Slow

1 April 2010 the US (by the hand of Barack Obama) sets new standards requiring automobile manufacturers to increase their fleet average MPG by about 5% per year starting in 2012, moving up a goal set three years ago to meet a 35 MPG average by 2020.

Also, the waiver request California filed to have more stringent emission standards than the federal standards that was blocked by George W Bush (who obviously needed to serve his friends interests in the oil and auto industries) was reversed; allowing California to require automobiles sold in that state to further improve MPG and reduce emissions.

Nearly four decades after the oil embargo; and almost as many decades since emissions have been linked to air quality and climate change the US makes a small move forward to require the carbon foot print of every automobile sold in the US is reduced to a standard that could have easily been met years ago — and further encouraging the development of alternative energy.

So little, so late, so slowly — while it might seem like an event to applaud, it really is something to hang your head in shame and ask why was this not done sooner — why aren’t we doing more?

Oil companies still report record profits and push to drill off shore of our pristine beaches while sitting on thousands of parcels of lands they already have leases for.

Gulf Oil Spill

President Barrack Obama toured the Red-Neck Rivera this past Monday… seeing for himself the damage the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform disaster was wreaking on the Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana coastline.

I appreciate that he used this as a king pin to push (again) for an American commitment to clean and renewable energy… but maybe for the moment we need to focus more on cleaning this mess up, and preventing future mishaps.

Sure, there’s plenty of people in Washington to work on all three agendas (though that in itself is part of the problem — there’s too many people in Washington — and no one seems to be responsible for much of anything)… but let’s put the best public face on dealing with the crisis du jour — and not forget de jure or de facto!

Oil and gas companies (like BP) have been making record profits over the past several years.  They’ve heavily lobbied Congress to get more and more access to public lands for drilling and exploration — all under the moniker that off shore drilling is perfectly safe, and with that they created a public perception that they had contingency plans to handle everything.

Surprise…

Not only is off shore drilling not safe; but oil and gas companies haven’t a clue about how to handle most crisis — and those record profits they make are at the expense of safely maintaining their equipment and staff.

When you look for where to point a finger — point it first at the oil and gas companies (BP would be the right place for the Deepwater Horizon disaster)… then point it at your elected official who accept major campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry — and they are the ones who control the regulations and the regulators (yeah — the regulators are to blame as well, but first vote out the idiot who created the system).

Lot of people are saying that very little (or nothing) is really being done to manage this crisis… but they’re dead wrong.  That might be their perception — but lots is being done — just maybe not the right things, and certainly BP didn’t do enough in the very early days… part of that was because they didn’t have a plan and they didn’t invest time, energy, and money into planning.

Let’s be realistic about this — the oil spill is going to get much worse before it get’s better.

Oil is still leaking from the Deepwater Horizon.

The spill is now large enough that the currents will almost assuredly take it out of the Gulf of Mexico and into the Atlantic — where the Gulf Stream will push it North along the Eastern seaboard.

It’s hurricane season; and it’s not a matter of if but rather when a storm will enter hurricane alley (remember — if the oil hits the Gulf Stream almost any storm that comes toward North America will disperse the oil even more).

BP is still clueless as to how to arrest the oil (and still short-sighted I’m sure).

All we can do is move forward and be prepared… and hopefully now the mult-member task-force will be able to do a better job managing all the facets of containment and cleanup.

Earth Day 2010

Forty years after the first Earth Day, the world is in greater peril than ever. While climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, it also presents the greatest opportunity – an unprecedented opportunity to build a healthy, prosperous, clean energy economy now and for the future.

Earth Day 2010 can be a turning point to advance climate policy, energy efficiency, renewable energy and green jobs. Earth Day Network is galvanizing millions who make personal commitments to sustainability. Earth Day 2010 is a pivotal opportunity for individuals, corporations and governments to join together and create a global green economy. Join the more than one billion people in 190 countries that are taking action for Earth Day.

EarthDay.org