Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Traffic Hurt By "Wind Gazers"

For those of you that actually read my blog over the holiday weekend, you will know that I drove through Indiana on Friday as well as Sunday. Anyone that has driven through Indiana knows that the entire state is relatively boring in terms of scenery.

For as far as the eye can see you are overwhelmed by cornfields and nothingness (with the exception of Indianapolis which lasts for all of 10 minutes). However, the wind farms on 1-65 have broken up this sprawling boringness of the flat land with towering beacons of clean energy.

It really is impressive to see hundreds of these wind turbines moving at once, especially when you consider that each one of these things costs upwards of $2 million. Another cool aspect of this particular wind farm is its incredibly close proximity to the highway that the video below demonstrates.

However, there may be one small draw back for these wind farms in Indiana. I didn’t notice this on Friday because the roads were so empty, but on Sunday when everyone was heading back home from their holiday weekend the traffic was noticeably slower once we entered the wind farm.

Up until these farms traffic was chugging along at 70-75 mph, but once we entered the wind turbine fields, traffic dropped to around 60 mph. This doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but it was noticeably slower.

This is probably because many people are just not used to sprawling fields of towering pinwheels, and traffic probably wasn’t helped by people like me that were taking pictures and videos with their cell phones. Once we passed through the farms traffic jumped back up to its regular pace, but it was very interesting to witness these changes in speeds.

I'm just as guilty of taking pictures while driving.
I imagine (and hope) that as time goes by and these wind turbine fields become more of a standard sight people won’t be as distracted and almost mystified by these turbines – I just wonder how long that will take.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sustainable Architecture: Taiwan's Green Building

The other week I talked about an energy efficient building down in Miami and how it is defying the view that ecologically friendly building practices are not as pleasing to look at as other ‘traditional’ forms of architecture.

I believe that post speaks for itself and supports my point, but today I wanted to highlight a building that is going to be in constructed in Taiwan because it is truly groundbreaking in design.

This building is set to be constructed in 2012 and will have a minimal ecological footprint as it is designed to collect and purify its own water from rainfall and will be heated through geothermal power.  It will also generate electricity through solar and wind powers.

Most notably, the design looks like something out of a video game (probably because it was inspired by them according to Romanian architect Stefan Dorin). As you can see from the above picture, the building looks similar to a tree and its leaf-like observation pods will move up and down the ‘trunk’ of the structure.

This is a great example of how green architecture can be really cool while also stimulating the local economy through increased tourism.

I’m fully aware of how our markets aren’t exactly friendly towards new construction projects in America at the moment, but it would be great to see some cities eventually follow Taiwan’s lead and invest more in these cleaner and edgier buildings.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Comics

I know I have been poaching off of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal a lot lately, but come on - how great are these comics?

Also, I want to thank a reader I'm going to call "Meg" for the following photoshopped picture which is a play on last week's awesome post of a seal photo-bombing a photo.

Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Google Is The Best

Yesterday I drove through Indiana which has fields of wind turbines visible from I-65, which truly is a cool site.  It is hard to understand why people think that these turbines are so ugly, especially after you drive through Gary, Indiana which is infinitely less aesthetically pleasing.

This caused me to think of probably the understatement of the century:  Google is great.

Clearly, on the internet front, Google reigns king.  However, it looks like Google is planning on being a large contributor to our nation's energy system in the future.

Recently, Google has decided to be a major investor in a 350 mile cable on the east coast of the United States which will support up to 6,000 MW of off-shore wind energy.

The price tag of the entire project will be $5 billion and will help power around 1.9 million homes with clean energy.  Google has already invested tens of millions of dollars into this project and will continue to do so as the project is developed.

Google clearly recognizes that there is a lot of money to be made in this arena which informs their large initial investment, so one can hope that other large companies follow in their footsteps.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving: A Solar Solution To The Aftermath

Thanksgiving is great.

Food, family, more food...what isn't too love?  I'll tell you what. The cleaning (and the feeling like you can never eat again).

However, I do believe I have found a project that can help cut down on some of the garbage you may have accrued from Thanksgiving Festivities in a sustainable fashion.

Many people spend the night before Thanksgiving drinking with their family and friends. Then, as tradition dictates, they sleep in until the football games start and then spend the better part of the holiday eating and drinking again.

This generally unhealthy process leads to a lot of "soda" cans stacking up.  However, I found a website that teaches you how to make a solar heating panel from these spent "soda" cans.  The full tutorial can be found in the following link:

Inside this glass case are 180 cans painted black and stacked on top of one another.  According to the creator, he says that he as achieved temperatures between 80 and 120 degrees.

If this is interesting to you, I really do suggest that you visit the above link and get the details on how to make this.  It is incredibly simple and a good way to handle the buildup of cans that can occur over the holidays (even though if you have gone through 180 cans in one holiday, you probably need to seek help).

If this isn't interesting to you, just do us all a favor and make sure you recycle as much of your trash as possible - it isn't that hard.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Just wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to everyone that has been reading the blog, sending in emails, and leaving "charming" messages on my updates on Facebook.

It isn't a secret that overconsumption is one of my pet peeves (another pet peeve of mine is the term, 'pet peeve').  However, we are going to forget about that because today is all about getting fat.

Get at it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Problem With Recyclable Coffee Cups

I doubt that this is the first article ever written about coffee cups and it certainly won’t be the last, but I’m going to go ahead and write about it anyways because the only opinion that matters is mine*!!!!!
I typically start every weekday morning with some form of coffee from one of the coffee shops near me. Whether it is Starbucks, Dunkin, or a local shop (my favorite kind), they all serve coffee in a disposable cup.

Most of the time these coffee cups are made from recycled material. I imagine this makes people feel good when they are buying a drink. However, the whole ‘recycled material’ thing only really helps if people are turning around and recycling their cups after they are finished with their drinks.

I know many of these coffee shops have a recycling service within their shops, but this doesn’t help when most people are getting their drinks to go. Most of the time, people will just throw their cups in the trash because they either forget about recycling their own cups or, more often, they just don’t have an option.

I say they don’t have an option because many places just opt to not have a recycling bin. This doesn’t make sense to me, especially on public transportation such as trains.

Trains provide transportation for a countless (maybe not countless, but I’m lazy) amount of morning commuters, most of which are drinking their morning coffee out of these cups. Many of these people will finish their coffee on the train and then not have a choice but to throw their cup in the trash.

It is inevitable that recycling will become more widespread, but it is annoying that we have to wait for some accountant to deem it cost-effective. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing that individual people can do.

If you are a regular coffee drinker, then I suggest you get a mug that you can just rinse out after you are done with your coffee. Most places are more than willing to fill up a personal mug instead of giving you a disposable cup, and let’s face it, they are much cooler.

I love this damn cup.
That is my rant about paper cups. I expect that a widespread adoption of personal coffee mugs will take place tomorrow, dramatically shifting the paper-products market and mitigating deforestation.

You're welcome, World.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Solar Panels: The Eavesdrop Edition

This morning I had the fortune of being able to eavesdrop on two people talking in my local coffee shop about adding solar panels to their home (Yes. I get it. I’m a stalker).

The one person made a good point about it being a mistake to purchase the panels for their home right now. This is because Chicago already suffers from limited sun exposure during the winter months...though I don’t understand why because I was under the impression that the sun rotated around Earth, but I may have my facts wrong.

Solar technology is constantly improving its ability to capture energy from sunlight, even at low levels (Germany, a remarkably cloudy country, is leading the charge on many new solar technology advancements). However, the alternative energy of choice for places that have many months of low sun exposure is probably going to be wind.

These things aside, it was interesting to hear the other person’s reaction after hearing that solar may be the wrong way to go. He went on to say that if he couldn’t invest in solar energy then there wasn’t much that he could do right now (and then he started talking about the Chicago Bear’s playoff chances*). This fell right in line with a quote that I just read in Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce:
The environment is one more thing to worry about. It looms in the future at a time when we are beset with many other concerns. It is like being a single parent when the dog has run away, the children are fighting, the dinner is burning, the babysitter hasn’t shown up, we are late for the PTA meeting and have spilled gravy on the carpet—then someone doing a survey knocks at the door and wants to know how we feel about the proposed incinerator at the edge of town. Although the incinerator may affect our lives in the future, we are afflicted with pressing problems today.
This is a remarkably simple way of stating how environmental issues are treated in every day situations. Here is a person that had a brief moment to attempt and address an environmental concern through solar power, and once something got in his way he abandoned the idea and began to think about something else that was on his plate.

I guess the point of all this is that environmental issues require planning in advance because nature is inherently slow in its processes. This goes against our instincts to read and react in real-time meaning that we are going to have to train ourselves to place environmental issues further up our to-do lists when considering our options.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The "Energy Internet": The Next Big Boom

Underlying all my ranting about alternative energy and energy efficiency is the 'Smart Grid.'

Luckily, this was Dayaway Career's Energy IQ term for today, which saves me the trouble of writing up my own definition and instead just stealing theirs!
Smart Grid - is a form of electricity network utilizing digital technology. A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital communications to control appliances at consumers' homes; this saves energy, reduces costs and increases reliability and transparency. It overlays the ordinary electrical grid with an information and net metering system, that includes smart meters.
I would feel bad for blatantly taking their material, but they got their definition from Wikipedia.  For all we know the Wikipedia definition was written by a 5 year old, and my moral compass tells me that stealing from children is permissible.

Social ambiguities aside, the development of a national smart grid is not only necessary, it is just a matter of time.  In order for any of the other developments in the sustainable marketplace to really make an impact, they are going to have to work together:
  • Electric cars communicating with wind turbine's to determine when it is cheapest to charge their batteries
  • Excess energy produced from a home's solar panels being sold back into the energy market
  • Appliances turning on and off in accordance to aggregated energy usage
  • Avoiding and preventing power outages that cause million's of dollars being lost
These are just a few examples of how a smart grid will benefit America (emphasis on the few).  Make no mistake, a national smart grid will cost a mind-numbingly huge number.  However, if America is going to even think about staying competitive with other countries (all of which are also pursuing the digital smart grid), then we will need to invest.

Like other huge infrastructure projects, such as the internet or the highway system before it, a smart grid will definitely offset the initial cost of development with untold benefits down the road.  This is why you are seeing around $350 billion spent on these projects annually.

So 5 years from now when you are charging your electric car, managing your appliances from some website, and making money from your solar panels, remember that Colin Brownell guy wasn't just making things up back in 2010.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Comics

Sorry for not posting anything yesterday.  Blogger was being a turd and refused to actually upload what I wrote, so I'll just save that post for this week at some point.

To make it up to my thousands of readers (numbers may be skewed to support the author's ego), here is an extra-large serving of Sunday Comics!

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Also, in relation to my post this past Tuesday about leaf-blowers, I found this following comic posted the following day.  Does this mean that the writer is an avid reader of this blog? Probably not, but I sure am going to act like it!

Savage Chickens

And finally, for no good reason whatsoever, here is the greatest photobomb ever captured.  Nature is awesome.

Hope the remainder of your weekend goes well! It is a short week (for most of us) this coming week!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekly Review - November 19, 2010

Biodiesel In Singapore

  • The What
    • The world’s largest biodiesel production plant has been opened in Singapore this week. This plant is rumored to be able to produce 800,000 metric tons a day.
  • Why You Care
    • I went into depth on this topic yesterday, but the most important point to take away from this (aside from the fact that Asia is beating our ass) is that a plant of this size signals that investors are beginning to recognize the potential of other clean fuel sources and we can expect more of these plants to pop up around the world.
    • Petroleum products aren’t going away any time soon, but these are vital steps towards a cleaner energy community.

Fort Collins Going Green

  • The What
    • Fort Collins in Colorado is going for a carbon footprint of zero.
  • Why You Care
    • I know what you are thinking. “An establishment in Colorado being environmentally conscious? Stop lying!”
    • If a military base can reduce its carbon footprint to zero, the certainly residential homes can also do it. Also, as I have said before, once the military begins to invest in technologies, the technology is developed even further and the price becomes lower for consumers.

Job Searching

  • The What
    • I’m looking for a job.
  • Why You Care
    • Plenty of other things happened this week (most of which you can find on Sustainabili-City’s Twitter page), but none of it was earth shattering as most of it was politics related, and I told myself that I would take a break from that while I am looking for a job.
    • If anyone else is going through the same excruciating process of job searching in the alternative energy or efficiency markets, I recommend taking a look at Dayaway Careers. They have a great listing of green companies and a list of jobs that is constantly updated – just don’t take a job that I am applying for, because I will find you*.

*Just kidding.**

**Not really.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nipping Away At Petroleum: Biodiesel

I'm feeling especially lazy today, especially as I am wrapping up my last semester of school and really turning up the heat on my job search (Editor's Note: A little known fact is that Colin Brownell will work for peanuts*).

However, in keeping with the daily nature of this blog, I wanted to touch briefly on biodiesel and the important role it is going to be playing in the near future.  As I have said before, there is no silver bullet in terms of one alternative energy acting as the sole replacement of petroleum.  However, there will be a collaborative effort with multiple sources (wind, solar, tidal, etc.) that will put a lot of pressure on the petroleum industry.

I will let the New York Times tell you why biodiesel is poised to be even more influential with the opening of the world's largest biodiesel plant being opened in Singapore just yesterday.  Copy & Paste time!
...What is being billed as the largest biodiesel plant in the world started production this week in Singapore. Operated by Neste Oil, the plant has the capacity to produce 800,000 metric tons of fuel per year. The fuel is made from vegetable oils or a combination of oils and waste animal fat sourced from the food industry. [Marketwatch]...
Aw, I don't feel bad.  NY Times stole this from Marketwatch.  Wait, there is more?
...The value of the green building market grew 50 percent from 2008 to 2010, to $71 billion, a new market report finds. The analysis, by the McGraw Hill Construction information service, predicts that the green construction market will grow to $135 billion by 2015. [Sustainable Business]
I think I am getting a hang of this blogging thing.  It seems like everyone just copies one another, and if the NY Times is just going to copy Sustainable Business and get paid for it, I am certainly not above copying them when time is short and I am looking for a job at the same time.

Obviously 800,000 metric tons of fuel is not going to be replacing our oil consumption any time soon.  I don't have the figures in front of me, but I think an American 7 year old burns through 800,000 metric tons of oil every 2 hours...that doesn't sound right.

The point is that while this one plant is not going to be replacing the petroleum industry, people are recognizing the potential of sources like this plant and are willing to invest money to begin the process of slowly replacing the use of oil with a combination of clean technologies and resources.

*Did that editor say peanuts? He meant money...definitely money.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How Large Of An Environmental Footprint Do Renewables Have?

This morning I was sitting on the train and got into a conversation with a completely random person about alternative energy which I know is shocking to hear because it is a rare occasion for me to want to talk about this stuff...wait.

This person was asking me that if we are sacrificing so much land and resources to construct a wind turbine or solar energy field, are we really making a difference or if we are just trading one evil for another.

I can understand where this person was coming from, but I believe that this is a less complicated issue than they were making it out to be.  This is mainly because even though we are dedicating land and certain natural resources to the construction of an alternative energy infrastructure, these are mainly a one time "cost."  When it comes to coal or other non-renewable energy sources, these are ongoing "costs" to the environment through a constant emission of pollution.

The best analogy I can come up with is when you are taking off a bandaid:
  • Investing resources towards clean energy is kind of like ripping off a bandaid quickly.  It may 'hurt' in the short run, but in the long run you will feel a lot better.
  • Continuing with our current system of energy production is kind of like keeping a dirty bandaid on forever and you develop sepsis.  Yay!!!
In all seriousness, clean energy is clearly the way to go, and when you compare clean energy's costs vs. benefits against coal's costs vs. benefits, it is a no-brainer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Things That Should Be Solar Powered: Leaf Blowers

I decided to start a new segment today called 'Things That Should Be Solar Powered.' The reasoning behind this is that often I will see something that (at least in my mind) should be powered by solar power.

Today's segment focuses on the leaf blower.

"I'm going to enjoy nature with my gasoline powered leaf-blower"
As you would expect from Autumn in Chicago, all the trees have been losing their leaves for the past few weeks which would inform the heightened level of lawn-care going on in all the surrounding suburbs. It has gotten to the point that every morning I am awakened by the sound of leaf blowers that sound like chain-saws, which frankly is the exact sound I don't want to be woken up abruptly by in my bed.

I have a few common complaints about leaf blowers:

  • What happened to good ol' fashioned child labor where neighborhood kids were paid one dollar to pickup leaves?
  • Is a rake really that troublesome to use? No wonder people are so out of shape.
  • A leaf blower makes little sense in an area that has been dubbed 'The Windy City.'
  • Must they all reek of gasoline? These engines can't be as efficient as they could be.

The last bullet point about gasoline use is probably my most serious point (right after child labor). Using gas to essentially power a big fan seems like a huge waste to me - especially when you can smell these damn things from 40 yards away.

I don't see any reason why a company can't develop a leaf-blower that you can initially charge by plugging into a wall and then mitigate power loss by having a solar cell attached to the blower. Most of these leaf-blowers already have a backpack for the engine or a fuel tank - so just 86 the tank and replace it with a solar cell and there you go.

I'm looking at you, engineers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Rare Opportunity For Sustainability In New Orleans

It is easy to see that I am passionate about all things clean energy related.  However, it isn't as easy to see how these things are applied in real life because for the most part the application of clean energy and sustainable practices is scattered randomly across the nation on a small scale.

In New Orleans it is a different story.  Yes, Hurricane Katrina was a terrible event that is still indescribable on so many levels...but if there was a silver lining to this tragedy, it is the opportunity to rebuild the city in a cleaner, more sustainable fashion that can serve as an example for the rest of the nation.

Recently I was down in New Orleans observing the impact that the oil industry has had on the area (particularly with the Deepwater Horizon spill).  Aside from seeing a spider eat an entire frog right before my eyes*, I also visited the Lower Ninth Ward which was the hardest hit area in New Orleans during Katrina.

The interesting part about the Lower Ninth is that the opportunity to rebuild a whole section of a city is rare at best because it is typically impossible to justify the costs of tearing down an entire neighborhood in order to rebuild.  Tragically, the majority of the Ninth was destroyed, but moving forward it can now be rebuilt in a more sustainable fashion.

This is exactly what some organizations such as Global Green USA is doing right now.  Global Green is building new homes in the Lower Ninth which are LEED Platinum certified which is the gold (platinum) standard of energy efficient building.

I had the pleasure of walking through one of these homes and they really are quite impressive.  Solar panels on the roof, incredibly efficient appliances, energy monitoring software, responsible water usage in the bathrooms, and much more - these homes are amazing.

Also, there is no feeling that you are sacrificing comfort which I feel a lot of people assume when they hear about sustainable living.  The rooms are spacious and the materials are nice.  If you were to walk into this house without knowing that it was LEED certified, I would be willing to bet that most people wouldn't recognize a difference between these homes and other newly built homes in other areas.

It is wonderful to see that there are people out there that recognize the opportunity for sustainability in New Orleans and I hope that this becomes more and more common in other cities across the nation as time goes on.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Comics

This past Wednesday I talked about sustainable food markets and why it is important to be more aware of where our food is coming from.

So today's Sunday Comic shows how nature isn't made to support our overconsumption.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reader Email: The Clean Coal Compromise

Yesterday in Sustainabili-City's Weekly Review I ended up talking briefly about John Boehner who is a strong proponent for clean coal and nuclear power. Understandably, this is troublesome for people who would like to see truly clean alternative energies begin to make a bigger impact in our electricity production.

However, as one reader points out, this doesn't necessarily mean that alternatives are doomed to a diminished rate of development for the next few years.
Mike says:
In my opinion, Boehner's push for clean coal and nuclear could be good in that it sets up a trade: $$ for that stuff so long as $$ go to renewables. Given the really, really long development time for clean coal and nuclear, the trade may work as renewable will bring more immediate results and people by nature are impatient.
This is a good point, and one of the numerous possibilities of collaboration from both sides of the "energy line" that can occur.

By dividing the funding that goes towards new energy plants, you can please both sides of the political spectrum by supporting the 'coal states' as well as mitigating the carbon footprint of these states with completely clean industries such as wind and solar.

Clearly, this an extremely oversimplified statement of how these policies are developed, funded, and implemented - but as we have seen in the past, strong-arming one-sided policies through our system just doesn't work because our checks and balances do their job wonderfully by allowing the minority side to slam on the breaks and halt all productivity.

Like I have said before and will continue to say in the future, these changes are going to require cooperation and compromises from all sides of the government.

On a sillier note, here is one of my more favorite viral videos about clean coal:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekly Review - November 12, 2010

Cost Competitiveness
  • The What
    • Biofuels are poised to become cost competitive with traditional forms of fuel as soon as 2012.
  • Why You Care
    • With so much attention on the potential limitations facing electric cars, it is interesting to see that biofuel may be transforming our auto industry instead. I am more partial to electric cars because they stand to help speed up the adoption of smart grid technologies as well as wind energy, but at least this is progress.
  • The What
    • There is a lot of focus on the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, especially with his focus on a ‘cleaner coal’ and nuclear power.
Time Change
  • The What
    • Majority of people ‘fell back’ this past week, leading it to be (temporarily) lighter out in the morning in the Northern Hemisphere and darker earlier in the afternoon.
  • Why You Care
    • If you are like anyone I have talked to in the past week, you are extremely annoyed about it getting dark around 5, but look at it this way – It is going to be so much worse when it starts to get dark at 4! (Yayyyyy)
Sustainabili-City Posts

Here are the posts since the last Weekly Review that you may have missed:

It was a pretty slow week in terms of new developments in the alternative energy industry and sustainable markets, mainly because the news has been dominated by the political landscape.

It is easy to get sucked into the political storm that is happening right now and allow you to adopt a defeatist attitude about the future of alternative energies, transmission, and sustainable movements such as high-speed rail – however I would caution against that.

Even though the political climate has been causing a lot of poor speculation about near-term developments of alt. energy & co., these things still stand to create a lot of jobs and make a lot of money. As soon as politicians stop setting up smokescreens to distract people from the issues, these markets will open up again and receive the attention that they deserve – it is only a matter of time (sooner than later, please).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Does Sustainability Mean Sacrificing Aesthetic Value?

One of the shallower complaints about alternative energy, most notably wind energy, is that the structures are not aesthetically pleasing.  These complaints hit a fever pitch during the debates about placing a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod in the Nantucket Sound when old rich people said that it would ruin the scenery.

The fact is that these wind turbines would have been barely visible from the shoreline, amplified by the fact that most of the people fighting Cape Wind are over 60 with worsening eyesight, really rubs me the wrong way...but that is neither here nor there.

Today I stumbled across some pictures of some gorgeous sustainable architecture that can be found in Miami.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but these are great examples of the unlimited possibilities of green architecture and why we need to keep on challenging ourselves to be more efficient without thinking that we need to sacrifice style.

Estimated completion in 2011.

View from inside.

For more information and pictures, go to GreenMuze or Oppenheim.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Importance Of Sustainable Food Markets

Sitting back last night, I realized that I have spent a ton of time talking about alternative energy and energy efficiency technologies - it is almost like I want to get a job within those industries (hire me, please).

To switch it up today, I'm going to talk about the importance of moving towards a more sustainable food market because many people just aren't aware of the dangerous situation we are moving towards with our current food consumption rate.

Population continues to rise as the years pass, and I guess we have to feed these people as come into this world.  ("People need food? Thanks, Professor!")  Combining the increasing population with our trend of overconsumption and America's quest to make sure that at least 40% of our citizens are obese, obtaining food is already becoming a problem.

One of these problems is already visible in the seafood market.  The Bluefin Tuna has already been overfished nearly to extinction, made only worse by the fact that the market is now pricing a single fish at more than $150,000 which doesn't exactly say, "Don't fish me."

Yay! Charts!
This isn't to say that the Bluefin Tuna is the only fish experiencing problems.  As you can see from the graph above, pretty much everything is under attack.  Do people hate fish and have decided that they must all be destroyed? No.

Instead, it is just that people are not aware of how much work goes into their food getting to their dinner table, and this disconnect leads to increased consumption which then turns into rapidly increasing fishing rates.

A not so simple solution to this problem is to educate people so that they can make smarter purchases when buying their seafood dinner.  I, for one, absolutely love sushi (to the point where I'm fairly certain mercury poisoning is in my future), and lately to make sure that I'm not contributing to the overfishing of fish that are at risk I have been using a guide that CP sent to me the other week, which can be found in the link below:

Seafood Watch Pocket Guide

This guide is wonderful because it allows you to select the region that you are going to be buying fish in, and it outlines the safest choices, good alternatives, and fish that you should always avoid.  Combining this guide with a more responsible level of seafood consumption, we can start to form some habits that will benefit both us and the seafood industry down the road.

Oh...and the fish will probably appreciate the whole 'not going extinct' thing as well.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Climate Change Is Real, Dummy

This is the only time I am going to write an article on this because I personally find the topic of climate change to be a no-brainer and it has honestly been boring to talk about since 2007.

But apparently this new wave of politicians are attempting to make the topic of climate change sexy and trying to bring it back.  (YEP!)
Shhhhhh... Be quiet, climate change.  The politicians are talking.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, there is a good chunk of politicians that don't believe in the science of climate change and now are trying to challenge everything that apparently 97% of the scientific community accept as fact (holy fuck, that is greater percentage than most dentists agree on what type of toothbrush you should use).

Do these politicians believe that there is no scientific proof of climate change? Probably not, but they do recognize that by challenging these findings, they are stalling the government backing of many green energy and sustainable projects - many of which they believe are wastes of money...(Editors Note: WHAT?!)

The reason that it will hold up many of these projects is that the constituents that these politicians represent believe that many of these projects were necessary solely because of the threat of climate change, and by smearing the science of these findings, the constituents will no longer be as enthusiastic about investing into new technologies and energy sources.

American voters need to recognize the potential that these new technologies and sources have in terms of generating money and the potential costs of continuing down the path that we have been on.

By focusing on money, I'm not saying that climate change is no longer an important driving issue behind these sustainable practices...because it definitely is.  However, if politicians are going to attack climate change, then voters need to recognize that politicians are also attacking potential job markets as well as setting up the nation for higher energy costs down the road.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tidal Energy Is Making Important Strides

It is quickly becoming clear that big battles are rapidly approaching on the political horizon, and I am going to do my best to cover these events as thoroughly as I possibly can. However, I won’t be getting to those things until tomorrow because I still need time to wrap my head around the numerous issues that are popping up.

Right now I’m going to talk about a notable event in the world of alternative energy. While the alternative energy marketplace is dominated by news about wind and solar developments, today marks the day that a shallow-water tidal energy system in the UK has been successfully tested and proven.

*Yes. I made that comparison just so I could post this picture from one of the best South Park episodes ever.

While the media views tidal energy as the red headed stepchild* of the alternative energy community, it is important that this technology is still being researched and developed. This is because at the end of the day, no matter how well wind and solar are performing, they are subject to their natural limitations:

  • Wind
    • Produces the most energy at night
    • Windiest in remote areas leading to transmission issues
    • Subject to pressure systems
  • Solar
    • Only producing energy during the day
    • Subject to cloud cover
    • Not as effective in the further Northern and Southern Hemispheres

The point of listing these limitations isn’t to suggest that these technologies are inefficient in addressing our energy needs. Instead, it is to show that it will take a collaborative effort between multiple technologies in order to make clean energy work. This is why the further development of tidal energy is wonderful and necessary because it can help lessen the burden on wind and solar technologies.

Obviously tidal energy is only really useful where there are tides (“Thanks, Professor!”), but when coasts contain some of the most densely populated cities and ports; tidal energy makes sense. By combining tidal energy with offshore wind farms, clean energy stands to make a large dent in the energy consumption of these areas.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Comics

As I mentioned in Sustainabili-City's first Sunday Comics segment, every Sunday I am going to attempt to and post comics that are related to energy efficiency, alternative energy, or sustainable practices.  Well this is one of those times where I am straying away from those issues and am instead focusing on some other loosely related issues that have popped up on the blog lately.

First, a comic for the Democrats and Republicans that are still animated about the election results this past Wednesday:


Secondly, here is a comic directed at the grammar police that pointed out some errors in comma placement in one of my posts from last week...Im only human damnit*:


*See what I did there? Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Reader Email: High-Speed Rail v. Road Maintenance

This blog has only been live since October 23, but within that time, I have gotten more comments and site-traffic than I ever thought I would in a short two week period (yes, 15 comments isn't earth-shattering, but it is still great to know people are interested).

Building upon this trend of community participation, I got an email last night from some a reader going by the name of Jon with a pointed question about the true benefits of high-speed rail systems:
Jon writes:
In your weekly review, you talk about these high-speed rail systems damaging the growth of our nation's infrastructure.  I know that in Wisconsin they are talking about taking the money and diverting it to improving the roads instead.  Don't you think that in a world where most people own a car, money would be better suited to be [spent]* on the roads that these car owners are using?
This is a great point which I am sure that many people do think about when they hear about the $800+ that is planned to be spent on these rail systems.  In the short-term, it is mind-numbing to think that this money is going to be focused on one particular project.  However, I believe that in the long-run the state of Wisconsin (along with any other state that implemented these rail-systems) will actually make and save money from high-speed rail.

They will make money because Wisconsin is a beautiful state with many scenic areas to visit (if you haven't been to Northern Wisconsin, you are missing out) and you also have a sports rivalry between Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois.  By having highly efficient rail systems leading into Wisconsin, you could then make the prospect of heading to Wisconsin for the weekend even more appealing to tourists and sports fans which would end up pumping even more money into the state.

Who doesn't want to see this guy?
Wisconsin would also save money because they wouldn't have to spend so much money constantly maintaining their roadways.  Traffic from tourism takes a large toll on roadways which places a large demand on maintaining the roads.  By having a rail-system in place, you would reduce the need for people to drive their cars on the roads which in turn lowers the demand to constantly be resurfacing your roadways.

Finally, I know most people have a hard time caring about it because right now there is no real cost to it, but by reducing the level of cars on the roads you are reducing the level of pollution being emitted by traffic.  To put it in perspective, Wisconsin is such a beautiful state when it comes to trees, wildlife, and waterways - all of this is damaged by an increased level of traffic-pollutants.  This is just another thing that high-speed rail would help mitigate.

These are the most prominent reasons for why I think that spending money on high-speed rail is a smarter investment than continually dumping money into the financial-vampire that is road maintenance.

Thanks for writing in, it definitely took me by surprise and I really do appreciate the level of interest that has been show in this blog.  I encourage others to feel free to write me an email if they ever have any comments - and if you don't feel like doing that, then go ahead and just write something in the 'Comments' section below each post.

Also, don't forget to follow Sustainabili-City's Twitter and if you have an account with Google (who doesn't?) then go ahead and click the 'Followers' section on the right-side of this page!

*Corrected a spelling error.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekly Review - November 5, 2010

Every Friday I take a break from covering individual topics and instead highlight the most notable stories from the previous week in an attempt to give you some talking points for the weekend.

Tesla & Panasonic
  • The What
    • Tesla, the cutting-edge electric car manufacturer, has partnered with Panasonic to pursue more energy-efficient and powerful batteries for their cars.
  • Why You Care
    • Panasonic has already been working with Toyota on the Prius to make their fleet of hybrids as efficient as possible, and Toyota has already been working with Tesla to advance the industry – so it only makes sense that Tesla and Panasonic begin to work together.
    • Batteries have always been one of the biggest points that has held back electric car development due to range anxiety. Even though many (all) of my readers can’t exactly afford the Tesla Roadster, it is encouraging to see such prominent companies attempting to tackle these issues because it will ultimately benefit the entire industry.

Proposition 23 Defeated
  • The What
    • Prop. 23 was a proposal to suspend the important Global Warming law established in California that essentially demands a higher level of air pollution control.
  • Why You Care
    • This is an important victory because Prop. 23 was heavily funded by many out of state heavy-hitters (mainly oil-companies). By defeating such a heavily funded campaign by the oil industry, this is setting an example that others states can adopt more stringent air quality standards leading to the establishment of more efficient energy sources and practices.

Election Stuff
  • The What
    • There was an election this week? First I have heard about it.
  • Why You Care
    • People have a tendency to overreact to election results, no matter what they are. I talked earlier this week about how people need to not live and die on these results because I do believe that it is a healthier to believe that the last two years were worthless and the next two are hopeless...with that said, it is disappointing to hear about so many plans to unravel the positive environmental actions that have been in the works, such as high-speed rail systems.

High-speed Rail Under Attack
  • The What
    • High-speed rail is one of the more promising energy-efficient and environmentally friendly forms of public transportation that has been proposed in America in a long time. Up until now, there have been great strides towards making this a reality.
  • Why You Care
    • Europe has been enjoying these systems for a long time now, and it is about time that America started to catch up. However, almost immediately after the elections took place this past Wednesday, there is talk in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida about halting the development of these systems.  This is an incredibly shortsighted attempt by politicians to flex their political muscles and will do nothing but stunt America’s growth. Here are just a few things that will suffer:
      • Infrastructure
      • Energy Security
      • Environmental Health
      • Job Creation
      • Tourism
      • Innovation

Sustainabili-City Posts

Finally, here are the posts that you might have missed from the past week:
Thanks to those that have been commenting! Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Disney Setting A Good Example With Energy Efficiency

CP, an incredibly good-looking* reader, sent in a message the other day highlighting Disney’s effort to make their theme parks more energy efficient and sustainable environments. These suggestions range from making sure that the lights are turned off when you are leaving the room to keeping the thermostat at a reasonable level.

Found on the inside door of hotel suites.
These are all just simple energy saving tips that anyone can do. What is so important about Disney posting these signs in every room is that it is instilling these sustainable habits into children at a young age...and apparently 20-somethings. If there is one thing that Disney is good at, it is trying to plant (sometimes creepy) messages and lessons into people’s minds.

Another important factor with these messages is that being more energy efficient just makes good business sense. To put it into perspective, if college dorms in University of North Carolina can save more than $950,000 on their energy bill, then expand that idea on a scale as large as Disney World’s campus.

I’m not a mathematician (as many of you will painfully become aware of as you continue to read this blog), but it doesn’t take a genius to see the millions of dollars Disney can save if these energy saving tactics are followed.

With all that saved money, you can just imagine the possibilities for Disney:

  • Invest in solar panels to further reduce their energy footprint.
  • Invest in smart grid technologies to more accurately monitor their energy distribution.
  • Make the ‘Small World’ ride even more obnoxious!
  • Two Words: Aussie Disney (you heard it hear first)

The point of all this is that Disney is setting a wonderful example for other businesses across America as well as the rest of the world. By saving money on your energy consumption, you can direct that money elsewhere to improve your business model and enjoy a fatter bottom-line.

All of this stuff has a pesky side-effect of being beneficial to the environment as well, but you would have to be a hippie to care about that kind of thing…right?

*Editors Note: Levels of hotness may be exaggerated** in order to protect feelings.

**Seriously though. Smoking hot.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Don't Live Or Die On Election Results

Judging by commentary on Twitter as well as overhearing conversations on the train today, apparently there was an election yesterday – and here I was thinking that John Stewart and Steven Colbert were just giving away free entertainment this past Saturday.

Seeing that most people treat elections like a sporting event by being really opinionated the morning after a win (or loss) and then becoming less animated about the results a day or two later, I’m not going to waste my time talking about this too much.

Congrats, I guess.

Sorry for your luck.  Just think of this as another reason that it may be better to be color-blind*.

*That and solving a Rubik's cubes is a snap!

No matter what your political affiliation is, here are some positive (or potentially positive) environmental things that came out of the elections yesterday:
  • 25 of the 42 Democrats who voted against the climate bill lost their seats.
The Democrats losing their seats is loosely positive because one way to view it is that these seats will be filled with people that are more open-minded towards environmental issues, but another way to look at this is that these seats are potentially filled with people that are going to be no different.

Only time will tell.

One thing is for sure though; any progress on the environmental front will have to be a cooperative effort from both sides. The best way that this can happen is when politicians from both sides begin to see the economic benefits of pursuing alternative energy and sustainable practices - which is exactly how our government is supposed to work in the first place.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Range Anxiety" Presents Opportunities - Not Limitations

This past Friday during Sustainabili-City's Weekly Review, I briefly talked about range anxiety and how it can adversely affect sales of electric cars.

For those that don’t know what range anxiety is, a brief explanation is that electric cars have approximately a 40-50 mile driving range before the car needs to be charged again. This has been striking fear at the heart of potential electric car consumers, and on the surface it is understandable.

Is the Tesla expensive? Yes.
Awesome? Definitely.
Worth it? Maybe not (yet).
The numbers vary depending on the source, but the average American drives between 30 and 40 miles per day. This means that at the initial level of technology these cars are being released at, the battery capacity is just bordering on the limit of a day of driving (not true for the Nissan Leaf which boasts 100 miles of battery capacity).

However, I believe that as you begin to dig deeper into the issues, range anxiety becomes less of an issue for the following reasons:
  • I would argue that range limitations present at the release of these electric cars will actually lead to more innovation. These innovations will range from ‘charging stations’ that mimic gas stations to the newer concept of charging your car as you drive in special lanes which is being demonstrated by HaloIPT.
  • The fuel cell industry is one of the most dynamic technology industries today, and as electric cars are introduced into the marketplace, competition to develop a more efficient and longer lasting battery cell will grow and the electric car’s driving range will benefit.
  • Many of these electric vehicles that are going to be released contain a small gas engine in the event that you do run through all of their battery’s capacity, which would either enable you to make it home (or an ‘electric station’) where you can then recharge your vehicle.
  • At running the risk of repeating what I said yesterday, sometimes sustainable products require us to change our consumption behavior.  If the biggest problem with electric cars is that people need to be more responsible when planning their driving routes to the grocery store or work, then I say that is a small price to pay when trying to reduce our country's dependency on oil.
It is easy to just hear the term ‘range anxiety’ and decide that you aren’t going to make the transition to a (cleaner, smarter, cooler) electric car.  However, I believe after taking the bullet points above into consideration these concerns of ‘range anxiety’ are mitigated and consumers shouldn’t let these things deter from making the transition.

Also, aside from the obvious clean benefits of driving an electric car, other clean industries will benefit from the release of electric cars:
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Fuel Cell
  • Smart Grid
                              ...but more on that later.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sustainable Products Require Certain Adjustments

The original title of this post was 'Sustainable Products Require Certain Sacrifices,' but I decided to change 'Sacrifices' to 'Adjustments' because people generally hate the concept of sacrificing comfort. I also changed the title because what I am going to be talking about in this article should never be viewed as an earth-shattering sacrifice.

Recently, SunChips decided to discontinue their compostable bag in the United States due to "consumer pressure."  By consumer pressure, of course I mean a facebook page - what else could I mean?  In a world where a movie about a website is being considered for an Academy Award, I wouldn't expect anything less from web-based petition movements that are most likely started by some stoned-coed.

At least Canada still seems to be sane by releasing a public service announcement talking about why the bags may be noisier than their petroleum-based counterparts.

I like to believe that market-based forces are the best solution for many of our environmental problems, but this is a fantastic example of how the market can be resoundingly backwards.  I have a hard time believing that SunChips was spiraling into the red because their bags were noisy - the more likely reason is that SunChips (PepsiCo.) was just worried about negative press.

They should have realized by now that America has a relatively short attention span when it comes to these types of stories and they should have stuck it out in the pursuit of doing the right thing while also setting an example for other companies.

As our population continues to grow so will our levels of consumption - which ultimately increases our amount of waste.  It is unlikely that we are going to reduce our intake over night, so the more logical move is to move to more sustainable products that have a minimal impact on the environment - such as these chip bags.

Yes, there will be tradeoffs and adjustments when using these products, but if noise level is our biggest concern when using these products then people need to just deal with it.