Archive for January, 2010

Grassroutes Caravan: Madtown 2 Motown, a Mobile Village of Resilience

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Sounds like a fun & wacky bike ride! — A caravan traveling by bike to the United States Social Forum from June 10th-20th of 2010.

The Route
The Route

Efficiency Pays, Renewables Cost

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Duh.

Relevant parts from the article itself (in case FT gives hassles you about registering):

Governments around the world could make rapid, substantial and relatively cheap cuts to carbon emissions by pursuing energy efficiency in place of more ambitious, but expensive, technological solutions, says a new study.

The analysis, based on data provided to the Financial Times by McKinsey, the consultancy, identifies more energy-efficient cars, lighting and buildings as the “low-hanging fruit” in the global warming battle.

The findings are particularly relevant in the US, the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, as Washington prepares to join international efforts to fight global warming at a UN conference beginning in Copenhagen next week.

The McKinsey analysis says that for the US the initial upfront expense of buying an electric or hybrid car would be rapidly offset by lower fuel costs, which in turn result in lower emissions per vehicle. It estimates a saving of €79 ($119, £52) for every tonne of carbon dioxide mitigated by 2030 through greater vehicle efficiency. For lighting the saving is €50 and €44 for buildings. Carbon capture and storage, a much touted technology to cut emissions, is by contrast likely to remain much more expensive. The cost of taking a tonne of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere this way would initially be €76 in the US in 2015, the consultancy found, falling to €39 a tonne by 2030.

US companies should also invest in energy efficiency before they turn to buying carbon offsets overseas, if they wish to get the most “bang for the buck”.

This contrasts with the view of many US businesses which believe they will need to buy cheap carbon credits from abroad if they are to cut emission mitigation costs under a federal cap-and-trade system up for consideration in the Senate.

For companies looking to invest in renewables, the most cost-effective place to do so through the UN carbon trading scheme, is likely to be South Africa – which currently offers generous feed-in tariffs – according to a study by the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany.

Smaller hydroelectric power plants, which are among the most popular small-scale projects registered under the UN system, are also highly costeffective, the study claims.

These costs contrast sharply with other forms of renewable energy that have a higher profile. Solar power, for instance, would cost €34 per tonne of carbon dioxide avoided in India in 2015, while in China the cost would be €43 per tonne, according to McKinsey’s estimates. Wind turbines are lower cost but still relatively expensive. In China, McKinsey calculates wind turbines would cost €8 per tonne of carbon avoided in 2015, and €15 in India.

Making renewable energy investments in developed countries is far more expensive, according to the data.

This reflects one of the founding philosophies of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism – that it would help rich countries achieve their obligations to cut emissions under the 1997 Kyoto protocol by allowing them to invest in lower cost projects in the developing world. Poor nations meanwhile could gain access to low-carbon technology which they could not otherwise afford.

But the scheme has fallen short of expectations, prompting calls for its overhaul at the Copenhagen conference. The greatest single reducer of emissions under the CDM, is the elimination of certain industrial gases – such as hydrofluorocarbons, a by-product of the manufacture of refrigerants.

But while this should in theory be one of the cheapest methods of cutting emissions – at an estimated $1 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent destroyed, according to Point Carbon, a carbon consultancy – the international community ends up paying much more, with high profits accruing to factory owners and intermediaries such as carbon traders.

Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate change official, said Copenhagen must produce “mechanisms . . . that will allow for prompt action on emissions, to deploy new technologies, and to build capacity in developing countries”. Some form of carbon trading would remain a key mechanism, he said.

Too bad they left out the lowest of low hanging fruit: walking-, biking-, transit-friendly land use patterns.

Paving As Disease Vector: Road Salt in Drinking Water –> Heart Disease

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Our paving proclivities have many well-known deleterious effects on our environment (urban heat island, capping off aquifer recharge areas, energy intensive construction, car promotion, ugly places, etc). Direct health effects on humans can be somewhat difficult to establish (e.g., high correlation between chronic diseases and car-mandatory, over-paved places, but direct causal links sometimes too diffuse to nail down).

But one emerging health threat might end up being the biggest direct killer of them all:  Road salt in drinking water (You didn’t think the salt just magically disappeared come March, did you?). The New York Times just published an article about the mounting scientific & public health concerns about salt in our diets vis-a-vis hypertension.

And think about it: the more the city paves, the more it must de-ice. And that means more road salt forevermore.

And that salt does eventually make its way into our drinking water.

Though road salt was never mentioned in that NYT article as a possible culprit, hydrogeologists and water utility operators in the US and Canada have been alerting us to the rising levels of NaCl in our drinking water sources for some time. This 2001 article from Stormwater: The Journal for Surface Water Professionals surveyed studies from across the US and Canada about road de-icing practices and the resulting build up of NaCl in drinking water supplies. They came to this conclusion:

Applying road salt in deicing operations could create significant adverse health, environmental, and infrastructure problems. Equally troubling is the fact that New York State applies up to 298 tons of road salt/lane-mi./yr. in the unfiltered drinking-water—supply watersheds for more than 9 million citizens. This level of salt use jeopardizes the health of consumers having heart or kidney disease, destroys protective vegetation and soil, and corrodes automobiles, bridges, and other infrastructure.

Apparently Canada has even declared road salt a toxic substance for the very same reasons:

Based on the available data, it is considered that road salts that contain inorganic chloride salts with or without ferrocyanide salts are entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity or that constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends. Therefore, it is concluded that road salts that contain inorganic chloride salts with or without ferrocyanide salts are “toxic” as defined in Section 64 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999).

Wow. And according to that same Health Canada report, here’s how it happens:

Road salts enter the Canadian environment through their storage and use and through disposal of snow cleared from roadways. Road salts enter surface water, soil and groundwater after snowmelt and are dispersed through the air by splashing and spray from vehicles and as windborne powder. Chloride ions are conservative, moving with water without being retarded or lost. Accordingly, all chloride ions that enter the soil and groundwater can ultimately be expected to reach surface water; it may take from a few years to several decades or more for steady-state groundwater concentrations to be reached. Because of the widespread dispersal of road salts through the environment, environmental concerns can be associated with most environmental compartments.

So we won’t experience the full effect of Mayor Pave’s paving spree on our heart health for a few years, though we do know that salt concentrations in Wisconsin’s drinking water have been going up right along with increased salt applications.

The [US Geological Survey] study found the rising levels were consistent over the past two decades with more use of road salt and the expansion of road networks and parking lots that get deicing.

More paving = More salt.

More salt = Decreased heart health.

How many reasons do we need to scale back the paving?

Pick Up an Isthmus! Then read more about Jevons Paradox here….

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

If you are coming here because of my article in the Isthmus, and for the first time, welcome!

[Regular readers: Please pick up an Isthmus Thursday, because I’ll have an Op-Ed in there. I’ll try to post the direct link once it is up there. Update: here’s the link. If you like it, please consider clicking the “recommend” box, just to the right of the article. ]

The Op-Ed deals with entropy & ethics* as it has been playing out in the political arena here in Madison. For reasons of space constraints and unity of theme, I kept it pretty narrowly focused on the issue of over-paving, the resultant forced car use and the resulting increased overall energy use citywide, despite all the hoopla surrounding the mayor’s groovey-green gizmos sprouting atop fire stations around the city.

I make the case that the big environmental issue facing us all is the issue of Jevons Paradox,

the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.

In other words, as we get more efficient, we end up burning even more. Wants, now easily attainable through efficiencies, become needs.

Mayor Pave’s glorified solar panel sitting atop a “green” building, set in the energy intensive carscapes of suburbia, is just one example of Jevons at work. Some might call it cognitive dissonance. Some might call it greenwashing. Others hypocrisy. I’ll just blame Jevons. (For now.)

Other examples….Take for instance the US car fleet and the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards. From 1970-1990 we doubled the average MPG of the “fleet.” Guess what we did in the meantime? We drove more than twice as much on a per capita basis. Same with houses. In 1970 the average house size was 1200 square feet. And they were seives; energy hogs in the extreme. At least on a per square foot basis. By 1990 the average new home was twice as efficient, on a per square foot basis. But guess what happened? The average home not only got twice as big, there were fewer people living in each house! In both cases we actually moved backward in terms of total per capita energy expenditure despite having gotten more efficient in a technological sense.

Now we’ve got mainstream enviros telling us that we’ll be just fine if we just get more solar panels on roofs, if we just all bought Toyota Piouses. But we’ve seen that movie before…double efficiency…more consumption…double efficiency again…more consumption….

That we have made such technological progress and are relentlessly consuming ever more, More, MORE! tells me that something is missing from the dialogue — ethics.

I would suggest that a radical overhaul of our ethic — personal, professional, community — is in order. We will have to start with a big, heaping helping  of plain, old self-control. [Gasp!] Thus, at the personal level, when we make an investment in, say, an energy efficient furnace, we shouldn’t then use the savings to buy a giant professional-grade refrigerator, add onto the house, pump out a second or third kid, or go jetting off somewhere. At the policy level, when our politicians vote to build green buildings, they shouldn’t site them in car-only neighborhoods. Hell, they shouldn’t create car-only neighborhoods at all.

We’ll also have to agree that there are no silver bullets, no messianic miracle fuels (no, not even solar, nor switchgrass), no groovey-green fixes (no, not even windpower; and here) that will get us all the way back down to 350 (ppm CO2 in the atmosphere). Every form of concentrated energy has its limitations and drawbacks.

Even if we were to discover a messianic miracle fuel that was cheap, easy to produce, burned nothing and created no pollution, think about what we would do with all that energy. First think of all the wasteful ways we use the limited energy we do have. Now imagine that it is unlimited. I reckon we’d pave the world. Why? Because we could.

Thus, self-control will be the key ingredient in getting us down from our current 387 ppm — on a trajectory to 700 — to 350 and cleaning up the other environmental messes we’ve already made….

I also think that part of the ethic will include good, old fashioned shaming. Polite Midwesterners will be horrified at the prospect, no doubt. Polite (though direct) Midwesterner Hans Noeldner has written extensively about the element of shaming in fashioning a new consciousness, and my buddy Tim Wong has been practicing it regularly on local listservs for years (Bikies, SASYNA-discussions@yahoogroups.com). And I’m not exactly quiet, either. Making it real, bringing it down from the policy level to the personal, Hans hammered the point home on the Madison Area Bus Advocates listserv:

We need to tell people that their choices and behaviors really matter.  And that all of us have much to learn.  Thus the most important thing is to challenge people to just get out there and begin occupying their communities as HUMAN BEINGS again.  So long as well-meaning people remain behind that damned windshield, they will not learn the first thing about what we/collectively must do to create – not “walkable communities” – but “communities that walk”…and bike…and have enough people walking and biking to make transit viable.
Perhaps our message should be in-your-face: “Stop passing the buck!  Habitat follows behavior.”

We need to tell people that their choices and behaviors really matter.  And that all of us have much to learn.  Thus the most important thing is to challenge people to just get out there and begin occupying their communities as HUMAN BEINGS again.  So long as well-meaning people remain behind that damned windshield, they will not learn the first thing about what we/collectively must do to create – not “walkable communities” – but “communities that walk”…and bike…and have enough people walking and biking to make transit viable.

Perhaps our message should be in-your-face: “Stop passing the buck!  Habitat follows behavior.”

Amen, Brother Hans.

And finally, those who end up getting shamed need to learn how to disassociate their person from their machinery. You are not your deathmobile, no matter how tightly you grip that steering wheel.

So sustainability, resiliency, green living — whatever buzzword you choose — is going to require extreme responsibility at all levels of government, all types of business enterprises, for-profits, non-profits, and yes, each and every individual in their daily lives whether at home, in their community or at work.

Maybe start by  learning how to make your community more sustainable…like at the upcoming Sustainable Atwood “Big Picture” event on January 28, 2010, 7-9 PM at the United Way Building, 2059 Atwood Avenue.

And consider walking, biking or taking the bus there (bus lines #3 & 4 run within a block of this address).

It’s a start.

*I’d like to thank the Brothers Noeldner, Paul and Hans, for generating insight into these issues and how they relate to our current environmental dilemmas.

Latest Edgewater Fun

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010
Hey Mike,
Check out these two links. The video from Beverly Hills is amazing! Maybe posting these on your Blog? Not sure if you have seen www.edgewaterproject.com.
Scary moment of the day…
What is up with the weird way the Fontana store is closing, and no info on the plan for the building?
The old White Horse Inn and assorted stores behind the Overture that are all defunct are not seeking new renters.
One half of the first hundred block of State St. in front of the Overture has been bought and sold to Marty Rifkin and his rumored partner, Jerome Frautchi.
Maybe other big buck people are waiting to get a precedent setting overturn of Landmarks to get busy and tear down a significant portion of the downtown to make the setting of the Overture less conspicuous by removing the “ugly old buildings” surrounding it.
Don’t believe me? Google Pleasant Rowland/ Aurora New York, and see what you get.
The Overture..The gift that keeps on taking.
Hope your party is a huge success! I’m working the whole day and will be too wiped to party, but thanks.
Happy New Year to both of you!This
Joe

David Waugh (a leader in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood) put together an excellent fact sheet replete with some big, fat, ugly factoids that leave more big, fat questions than answers regarding the developers of the Edgewater Hotel project. It just gets more & more apparent that the partners involved in the Edgewater redevelopment are rather unsavory.

Here is a little prognostication, from an always-in-the-know friend, regarding the Edgewater project and its implications for the future of State Street & environs……

Hey Mike,

Scary moment of the day…

What is up with the weird way the Fontana store is closing, and no info on the plan for the building?

The old White Horse Inn and assorted stores behind the Overture that are all defunct are not seeking new renters. [Though I did just talk to the owner of Fontana today–the store is apparently moving a couple of doors down, on Henry St. — MB]

One half of the first hundred block of State St. in front of the Overture has been bought and sold to Marty Rifkin and his rumored partner, Jerome Frautschi.

Maybe other big buck people are waiting to get a precedent setting overturn of Landmarks to get busy and tear down a significant portion of the downtown to make the setting of the Overture less conspicuous by removing the “ugly old buildings” surrounding it.

Don’t believe me? Google Pleasant Rowland [Frautschi’s wife] / Aurora New York, and see what you get.

The Overture..The gift that keeps on taking.

Meanwhile, Alderman Brian Solomon (one of the good guys on the project), had a lot to say in his defense of the law, our civic processes and the future of the look and feel of our downtown.

And for a little levity, my in-the-know friend also sent along a fun video which uses the It’s a Wonderful Life trope to make the point about the importance of planning for a quality place.

Tuesday evening (Jan 5) at the council, folks, council “reconsiders” the Edgewater, with a rumored “compromise.”