Posts Tagged ‘consumption’

Efficiency Pays, Renewables Cost

Friday, January 22nd, 2010


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.

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, 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.

Sermon on the Baltic

Thursday, December 17th, 2009


Malthusian Delusions

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Monbiot is one of those rare writers who sees right through to the truth, every time. His latest diatribehis diatribes being always enjoyable, and always backed up with irrefutable data–assails the rich for blaming the poor for all of our environmental ills.

This is the exact same argument I’ve had with well-meaning enviros time & again. Their belief: that overpopulation is the root of all of our environmental ills. As Monbiot points out with data, the overarching generator of greenhouse gases is rich countries. Poor countries, including the most procreative, barely register. Thus, the root of our environmental problems is gluttony, not population. But the the 70s-era enviros cling to their Malthusian delusions, even as they jet about the world, spewing filth out into every corner of the globe….

Of Smart People, Global Warming, Gluttony and Bombing Villages to Save Them

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Oh hey look, the really important people are finally figuring out that our gluttony really does endanger our national security. Even the Pentagon–USDOD being the single largest user of oil in the world–is finally getting it. Face it folks, Afghanistan & Iraq are to future oil wars what the Spanish Civil War was to WW II–just a warm up. A sampling of what’s to come:

At first the military’s concern was for its bases. Advice was sought on the effects of tidal surges and rising ocean levels. More recently, the long-range dangers of droughts, food shortages, floods and the perils of mass migrations of hungry peoples 20 to 30 years from now have been studied.

The Pentagon foresees situations resulting in political instability and unrest that might require American military intervention in the worst cases, and big humanitarian rescue efforts at best. “It gets real complicated real quickly,” said the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, Amanda Dory, throwing grammar to the wind.

Sounds like self-induced Apocolypse to me. Sayyyyyyyy, speaking of biblical prophesies, since I’ve been all Noah-like in my screaming & yelling on this energy conservation thing since I was, oh, 11 years old–and actually reducing my household’s energy consumption by more than 2/3 compared to the national average– I’m wondering if maybe I’ll get rapted (is that a word?), thus leaving all y’all to deal with the disasters foretold by Pentagon planners!

And those smart guys at the Pentagon are finally figuring out that, no, you can’t save a village by bombing it:

As General Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day strategic assessment is wrapping up, he [is?] poised to recommend a new approach for Afghanistan, one grounded in counterinsurgency’s strategy of protecting the population.

Who says military intelligence is an oxymoron?!!!! What’s that you say? Why didn’t they figure this out after Viet Nam? Welllllllll, we’ll call that the $64,000,000 toilet seat question that someone from the military can answer for me!

Speaking of really smart people in the military, this is all quite amusing to me (in a dark humor sort of way) because I remember back in my days as a 2nd lieutenant serving under then-Major John Abizaid in the 3/325 (ABN) in Vicenza, Italy, and having that rising star lecture us junior officers on how bad the commanders in Viet Nam were, and how he would have done everything differently than the generals back then. And that basically, he could have won it because he would have been a better commander.

Flash forward 16-18 years and the Major is a General. He commands all operations in the Middle East, including the Iraq War. The smart guy has a chance to prove that he could do better. Does he bring us a just peace? Nope, he brings us more of the mindless, senseless brutality that marked our murderous excursion in Viet Nam. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Bagram Prison. Wanton wrecking of the cultural patrimony of Iraq (more here, here and here). Basically, Abizaid commanded the same brutal tactics that drove the success of the Viet Cong back in the day. He orchestrated so much senseless brutality on the part of the US forces that they actually generated more enemies and more danger than they had before. He practically drove Iraq into a civil war. It was South Viet Nam all over again. They didn’t pull out of the tailspin until Bush canned him.

Yet that Wikipedia article about him is nothing more than despicable sycophancy. It reads like something his publicist put out. But hey, it got him a spot at that rightist think tank at Stanford! Smart guy indeed.

GDP: More Is Not More

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Growth Machine activists–most especially Mayor Pave & Konkrete Kathy–take note: Whether it is killing the coastal ecosystems of Louisiana or paving over the richest farmland in the world, right here in Dane County, more is not necessarily better.

Lucky in Paving

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Mayor Pave on the retirement of the City Engineer:

Larry will have many legacies, luckily many of them literally cast in concrete.

Luckily. Umh-hmmm.

De-Growth for Prosperity

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Looks like the important people are starting to catch on with regard to living more simply for a better life. This is something of an update to the themes Ivan Illich (more here) professed back in the 70s & 80s in his critique of the over-sped, over-consumed, over-educated, over-institutionalized, over-mechanized life of rich countries.

And maybe here would be a time to acknowledge my membership in the cult of Illich! I’m coming to discover legions of us out there who have either actually worked with him (and gone on to do fascinating things or were heavily influenced by his writings. (Here is an interesting example that seems to be Illich-inspired.)

Setting the Bar Low…

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

…on energy efficiency. Pitiful. In fact, it is no better than we’ve done since the dawn of time. We’ve always been able to increase efficiency by 1% a year. So this report says absolutely nothing.

We could easily cut energy use by 90% if we set up the right incentives. Start with a tax that starts low and ramps up over a few years. Then, just sit back & watch the gluttons scramble to invest in energy efficiency.

But no. Instead of going on a crash program to implement basic, fun energy saving measures like these, we’ve got to do cap & trade giveaways for wasteful, gray, old industries (with the help of the enviros). And we’ll continue to subsidize wasteful land use & transportation patterns with “shovel ready” pork (with the help of enviros). And then pay people to buy more cars (with the help of the enviros).

Book: Urban Pioneers in Oakland

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

This looks to be a fun read about more urban pioneers!