The UN Report on climate change released last month – just in time for the Bali Conference – provides more details about the threat of a warming climate. The report synthesizes 3 reports released earlier in the year, cross referencing various data that would not otherwise be linked. In short, this is the seminal, holistic document on climate change. And the prognosis is poor.
One big problem is that the computer models showing the effect of melting ice sheets cannot compute numbers that are actually being measured on the ground. Originally data showed that the earth could warm by 1 to 4 degrees by the end of the century. Data crunching from recent numbers estimates that global temperature could rise by as much as 6 degrees by 2030, resulting in catastrophic sea level rise.
Many of the green-leaning blogs are excited about the new energy bill because it incorporates several somewhat progressive policies. The House of Representatives is exclaiming its virtues, while the Senate continues to make legislative sausage with the bill.
But what does it really mean?
Fuel Efficiency. One of the key features of the bill is the increase in fuel efficiency standards from 27 mpg (today) to 35 mpg by 2020. The problems are twofold. First: “standards” do not imply enforcement; the government won’t shut down GM if they don’t respond. Second: fuel efficiency applies only to passenger cars – not to the ubiquitous SUVs, because of a longstanding loophole exempting vehicles with a truck chassis. Current “light truck” efficiency stands at 20 mpg.
Man-made reservoirs don’t exactly bring a soft, fuzzy image to my mind, so when I heard what’s happening in Southern California in the hills between L.A. and San Diego, my skeptical side kicked in.
Metropolitan Water District (MWD) is the top dog in securing water for L.A. and its suburbs. They don’t have a great track record in terms of being kind to the environment, draining natural lakes and damming rivers to create man-made reservoirs to help quench the thirst of millions of people living in the desert. One area targeted for a reservoir was Diamond Valley, just outside of Hemet, CA, and construction of the 4,500 acre site began in 1995. Almost immediately, crews began unearthing prehistoric creatures and American Indian artifacts. There was no place to put the over 1 million pieces until recently when the Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology opened its doors.
It’s a fact that humans need about 100,000 gallons of water per person / per year to survive. But that number is easily outstripped by our various collateral activities. Maintaining nice lawns, using water for motorized recreation, creating extravagant water shows – even over-running the tap while brushing our teeth – has thrown the sustainability loop well out of orbit – especially when these activities happen in a desert environment.
It’s no secret that many of the large cities in the Southwestern U.S. wouldn’t be around without significant human engineering and its accompanying environmental impact. Mark Reisner’s Cadillac Desert follows the transformation of the American West in detail, decrying the loss of important habitat for farming and wildlife, geographic beauty, and archaeological records of the area’s first inhabitants. Cadillac is a sad, yet important story because so many inhabitants of the Southwest take their water for granted, not for the scarce commodity it truly is.
You may not know this, but our cross-country and continental jauntsI don’t usually get excited about new technologies that claim to be the “future” of this or that, but Lisa Airplanes’ Hy-Bird is making me take a step back. The plane is light at just over 2,000 pounds, it’s powered by Lithium-polymer batteries, and it will generate about 10% of its own electricity from solar arrays that cover the wings. Lisa has planned the first around-the-world trip to happen sometime in 2009, which makes the plane pretty much a reality.
Intelligent Energy is set to revolutionize motorbike technology with its new ENV (Emission Neutral Vehicle) bike, the latest in a line of smarter new motorcycles that will be hitting the road soon. This thing looks like a souped up mountain bike, but there’s no need to pedal. It tops out at about 50 mph, and has range of about 100 miles – enough to get you to work and back pretty easily. Designed by award-winning British outfit, Seymourpowell, the bike looks easy to use. There are no gears, it has adequate suspension for offroad use and it just looks fun to drive.
Perhaps the greatest part of the design is the bike’s removable Core – a hydrogen-powered fuel cell that can be taken from the bike and used for electricity elsewhere. That’s right, Intelligent Energy is betting it all on the hydrogen future, and they seem uniquely positioned to re-shape the way the world thinks about power consumption with their motto “Clean power anywhere.”
First we had the choice of regular, premium, supreme or diesel. And generally the decision was an easy one, since most cars are built with a decided preference.
But now there’s the Fiat Siena Tetrafuel, which gives us the option of running on four completely different types of fuel. According to Italiaspeed, this vehicle has struck gold in the Brazilian market, being introduced with the capability to fill its 1.4 liter engine with either moisturized alcohol, pure gasoline, natural gas, or Brazilian gasoline (which is made up of alcohol, pure gasoline and natural gas).
Apparently BP doesn’t mind paying fines. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth, to be precise.
Last week in Anchorage, the Alaskan subsidiary of British-based BP pled guilty to violating the Clean Water Act, a federal environmental crime, for its failure to prevent a 200,000-gallon oil spill in March of 2006 and agreed to pay $20 million in fines. The spill, in the Alaskan region known as the North Slope, was the area’s largest in history.
According to an article on CBS News, “For years, the company denied allegations that a culture of cost-cutting was hurting the quality of maintenance on the network of steel pipes at the 30-year-old Alaska field. But after the spill in March, federal prosecutors said millions of company documents and interviews with scores of North Slope employees told a different story.”
Prosecutors allege the company saved $9 million by intentionally not maintaining or inspecting their pipelines.
But almost sadder than the spill itself is the news that the $20 million dollar sentence was a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $353 million the organization agreed to shell out over a separate incident.
It seems BP accepted blame for the manipulation of Midwestern energy markets and the explosion of a refinery in Texas that killed 15 people.
For a company with a 2006 adjusted net profit of $22 billion, making restitutions in the hundreds of millions seems hardly a deterrent. Perhaps we need a stricter policy to ensure safe and thorough practices, like, say… You leak 200,000 gallons of oil due to negligence, and we’re shutting you down.
That’s probably not the answer, but it might cause other oil companies to step up to the plate. After all, BP’s not the only one spilling and paying.
Hi All, It’s great to be a part of the G Living team. I’ve watched G Monkie grow G Living from a cyber-seedling last summer and it’s exciting to see how quickly G Living has grown.
A little about me: I’m a designer with Sander Architects, an award-winning firm specializing in contemporary green design and prefab architecture. I’ve always been something of a nature girl, having spent my childhood roaming through woods, hiking and camping with my family. Although nature is my sanctuary, I’ve always had a great love of fashion and good design. I am a card-carrying Project Runway addict and have dallied several times with the idea of starting a clothing line (although knowing how to sew, drape, and patternmake might be helpful).
Despite what Kermit the Frog says, it’s pretty easy to be green these days. America is loving green so much that it has almost become unpatriotic to question the credentials of anyone who claims to be promoting light-impact products. Wired.com recently took that step, uncovering unethical and probably illegal business tactics at ZAP! Corporation, one of America’s largest all-electric vehicle companies, based in Santa Rosa, CA.
ZAP! has been in business since 1991 when garage-tinkerer Jim McGreen invented electric conversion kits for bicycles. He dubbed his new company ZAP (zero air pollution) Power Systems and started looking for investors. Gary Starr was the first to write a check, and the company incorporated in 1994. Starr was a solar car pioneer who was asked to leave the company he helped to create, U.S. Elecricar — marking an ominous beginning to the company.
ZAP! grew quickly after McGreen invented the Zappy, a standup scooter that Kevin Spacey rode on the David Letterman show. Revenues were over $1.4 million by 1998. Revenues did not bring profits, however, and Starr and McGreen had a major falling out over whether to move production overseas. Starr maneuvered to increase the company’s board to seven members, giving Starr enough votes to get rid of McGreen. Starr succeeded, and by the end of 1999, McGreen, who had founded the company in his garage, was gone – no HP story to tell here.
Well, I’ve never been to Spain, but I kinda like the… green design that seems to abound there. The latest in Spain’s seemingly endless parade of green architecture is definitely a place I would like to call home. It’s called the Casa OS (don’t ask me what OS stands for) and it was designed by Madrid-based Nolaster Architects.
The design is totally green – the basics of which include reduced energy and smart water use. To reduce energy, the home is built over a dug-out cavern, taking advantage of thermal massing and reducing the wind profile. It also has a sod roof, perhaps the coolest (literally and figuratively) of all green home features. The construction materials are green, too, using modular zinc panels which last longer in the salty air and can be easily disassembled, reused, or replaced. Finally, the home has in-floor radiant heating that can be controlled room by room, making it über-efficient.