December 12, 2008

A Tough Climate

Does anyone still actually believe that coal is clean or that oil will last forever? Or that building more coal burning plants and gas-guzzling cars is a long term winning strategy for the US?

If anyone does still believe this please stop reading now because you are hopeless.

As for the rest of you, here’s some mixed news from the green front:

The Good:

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) officially and unanimously approved the AB32 Scoping Plan, a blueprint which charts the course for reaching 1990 global warming emissions levels by 2020.

Seven Western states (Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Utah) and four Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario) have followed California's lead by pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions as part of a Western Climate Initiative.

President Obama gets it: "...we have the opportunity now to create jobs all across this country, in all 50 states, to repower America, to redesign how we use energy, to think about how we are increasing efficiency, to make our economy stronger, make us more safe, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make us competitive for decades to come, even as we're saving the planet."

Germany met it’s Kyoto protocol goals 4 years early and as economies go these days, is doing pretty darn well. They’re also doing good things on the auto front – we just bought a Blue Motion Golf V that only needs gas about once a month, so we went from spending about $200 per month on gas to about $50. That means our car will probably pay for itself before we get a new one.

The Bad:

Despite the good, it still isn’t enough. For those of you who haven't yet seen venture capitalist and environmentalist John Doerr talk about what has been done and what still needs to be done, I recommend it.

Coal companies seem to be spending their money marketing coal as "clean" rather than actually making it clean. In reality, not one American home today is powered by a coal-burning plant that captures and stores its carbon pollution. Coal plants are responsible for a full third of America's carbon dioxide pollution, the chief cause of global warming.

The Ugly:

A polar bear in the Nuernberg Zoo just ate her cub. You can’t tell me that nature isn’t seriously out of whack.

The Upshot:

Momentum is gathering in the right direction but we have to keep it going. It's not just about turning off lights and re-setting the air conditioner, although these things help. Let's face it, people aren’t going back to the dark ages where you rode a horse to the next town and read by candlelight. Some lifestyle changes are recommended because mindlessly and voraciously consuming stuff we don’t need isn't good for the soul. But what it really comes down to is having the convenience without the environmental spillover, which means investing in new energy and production technologies. And that will require flexing our political and consumer muscles.

Everyone's busy so here's a list of the easiest things to do, where I've tried to balance level of effort against positive outcome and/or cost savings. My husband has done a lot of research on this topic and each of these ideas has already been vetted by our household.

Join and/or donate to the Environmental Defense Fund or We Can Solve It. Al Gore is one of my heroes, right up there with Tina Fey. So, when he started I signed up right away. Sometimes I donate money to support a new ad campaign and when they ask me to contact my senator or write a letter to the editor I do it. I like them because they keep me informed and make it easy for me to voice my opinion to our political leaders.

Join the Sierra Club – they do good work and will even send you a voting cheat sheet so you know which candidates actually support a green agenda. I love that because it’s hard to figure out from all the political mumbo jumbo who’s actually green. Most rotten politicians aren’t considerate enough to announce that they hate the environment and want to personally kill every last polar bear – excepting Sarah Palin, of course.

Offset your household carbon emissions by purchasing wind credits – it costs a bit more ($15/month for an average family household) but gives the wind power infrastructure a chance to grow and stablize until the day we don’t have to do anything ‘extra’ to get clean energy. East Bay folks can pick up an easy application at Whole Foods.

Offset your auto emissions with Terra Pass. Terra Passes also make great Christmas gifts.

Change your light bulbs and hang your laundry – I saved over $100/month in electricity by doing this. $1200 per year savings will more than offset the minimal additional expense you incur for offsetting your carbon footprint.

Think about what you buy – plastic consumes a lot of power to produce and creates environmental spillover as well. Plastic toys, plastic water bottles, plastic detergent/milk/juice bottles. . . try switching to wood or paper products. Paper isn’t perfect but at least with intelligent planning it’s renewable and most importantly, can be reprocessed.

This is pretty heavy stuff so I'd like to leave you with a joke:

"President Bush told reporters he won't see Al Gore's documentary about the threat of global warming. On the other hand, Dick Cheney said he's seen the global warming film five times, and it still cracks him up." --Conan O'Brien

And one more, slightly off topic:

A woman called her husband during the day and asked him to pick up some organic vegetables for that night’s dinner on his way home. The husband arrived at the store and began to search all over for organic vegetables before finally asking the produce guy where they were. The produce guy didn’t know what he was talking about, so the husband said: “These vegetables are for my wife. Have they been sprayed with poisonous chemicals?” To which the produce guy replied, “No, sir, you will have to do that yourself.”


  1. Comment on behalf of Emily Rosenbaum, who couldn't get past my security word: I wanted to comment that I'd add Earth Justice to your list. My favorite environmental charity.

    Emily's amazing blog can be found here:

  2. Hanging clothes outside to dry always brings me joy. I LOVE that that nature and I can work together in this way. Unfortunately, with temps in single digits this time of the year for me, I have to use the dryer for a few months. Hopefully that gets cancelled out in the summer.

    We are also saving money each month with our Ford Fusion. (Who'd believe, a Ford?) It's not a hybrid, but it's a heckuva lot cheaper than our driving pickup truck, which we can now save for towing, hauling, and snowstorms.

  3. While you are thinking that Germany is doing so well, I live in Berlin, which has the filthiest coal burning plants in the civilized world. In addition, Germany is still destroying towns while mining brown coal to burn in these filthy (and health damaging plants). It's not as easy as it sounds, particularly as Merkel is backing off (running from) environmental promises due to the recession and the fact that 1 in 7 Germans has a job linked to the car manufacturers (the US is 1 in 10).

  4. Patty - I hang my laundry in the basement, even in summer, because that's where my washing machine is. Outside is way nicer but I'm too lazy to haul everything upstairs. . . Glad to hear Ford heard the wake up call, maybe there's hope for them.

    G - Good reminder that there's still lots of work to be done, even in Germany. But I think it's interesting that although Germany is all about cars (actually, they are also a leader in various green technologies, where strong engineering is a plus) and still mine coal, they were able to meed their Kyoto Protocol commitments. Whereas other countries who shall not be mentioned didn't even try. And we see entire communities using solar power, like Vauban in Freiburg. It's not perfect and as you say, it's not easy. But we do see measurable progress here, especially in the West. I hope Angela holds firm.


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