Friday, December 25, 2009

Ask Senators Warner & Webb to Keep Christmas Cold

Merry Christmas! The Green Miles is in Holyoke, MA this morning, drinking organic coffee (Newman's Own Nell's Blend!) with my mom & cousins. And of course, celebrating the passage of the health insurance reform bill in the Senate. We all have friends & family members who'll be helped -- either through help paying for insurance or through new protections on pre-existing conditions.

With the health insurance reform debate in Congress now in its final stages, I had a party in Arlington this week to look ahead to the Senate's clean energy & climate debate. Just as with the health debate, industries making huge profits will be pressuring Virginia Senators Mark Warner & Jim Webb to kill reform & preserve the status quo. We talked about ways to let Warner & Webb know that Virginians are behind clean energy solutions.

We started by recording some YouTube clips asking for action, which my friend Chris posted to Repower America's Wall. I decided to add a little season to my greetings:

If you're on Twitter, you can ask Mark Warner to support clean energy & climate legislation by signing our petition to Keep Christmas Cold.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Recognizing Mortal Danger: Do Humans Suck At It?

I'm watching a special on the fifth anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake & tsunami on TLC right now. The special is a mix of home video of the tsunami's impact and interviews with its survivors.

What's most amazing is how people stand on the beach watching the monster wave right offshore ... and do nothing.

In cases when an enormous, killer wave is bearing down on the beach, just a few hundred yards away ... people just stand there and remark about how strange the wave looks.

In cases when there wasn't a big wave but the water simply came up quickly like an overflowing bathtub, again, people just stand there as the water rises around their ankles.

The first couple of times it happens, you think, "What idiots! Not recognizing the disaster that's about to hit them!"

But then they show Banda Aceh. And Phuket. Everywhere, the same response. It's no wonder the death toll was so high -- an impossible-to-comprehend 230,000 people. Most people didn't react until it was too late.

Humans like to use the fable about the boiling frog to illustrate failing to recognize danger. You know how it goes -- a frog placed in a pot of water brought to a boil through gradual temperature increase won't try to escape (not actually true). OK, so the story would be more grotesque with a boiling human. But are we any better at recognizing a slowly rising mortal danger?

In other news, delegates in Copenhagen put off dealing with global warming and U.S. Senators haven't gotten around to working on clean energy & climate legislation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ACE Endorses Geothermal at New Wakefield

Big news in the debate about geothermal power at the new Wakefield High School. The Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment board has endorsed the plan:
Dear Ms. Baird:

On behalf of the board of directors of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (ACE), we’re pleased to offer support for the School Board’s plan to adopt geothermal energy, solar hot water, and photovoltaic generation for energy at Wakefield High School. Your commitment to adopting a framework to evaluate school construction projects in both financial costs as well as environmental and educational value is commendable.

We specifically support your inclusion of these alternative energy features at Wakefield to:

* Reduce carbon emissions and pollution.
* Provide a world-class learning opportunity for students.
* Reduce dependence on fluctuating global energy markets.

With Arlington’s history as a community committed to sustainability, the integration of alternative energy features is the right decision for our students. Thank you for your continued leadership in providing outstanding learning environments and minimizing the footprint of our schools.

Elenor Hodges
Executive Director
The School Board will vote on the environmental options tonight (Thursday 12/17) at 7:30pm. If you can spare the time, please attend tonight's meeting (Education Center, 1426 North Quincy Street) and speak up in favor of the clean energy options. If you can't attend in person, please email the Arlington County School Board to tell them you're willing to put your money where your mouth is by investing our tax dollars in a sustainable future for our children.

UPDATE 3:13pm: The APS Advisory Council on Facilities & Capital Programs has also endorsed the clean energy options (including geothermal power):
Recommendation on Wakefield High School Environmental Alternatives
December 16, 2009

The Advisory Council on Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) supports the inclusion of the recommended environmental alternatives for the design of Wakefield High School. These include a geothermal heating and cooling system, a solar hot water system, and photovoltaic generation of electricity sufficient to meet 2.5% of the building’s total energy needs. It is our belief that the inclusion of these items will allow Wakefield to control its long term energy costs as much as possible and to operate in an environmentally sensitive, efficient manner. Although there is an up front cost associated with all of these alternatives, when one evaluates the alternatives using a life cycle analysis, it is clear that over the life of the investment, the costs are minimal and the benefits are positive. Overall, the projected additional upfront costs represent less than 1% of the projected cost of the new building. Most importantly, APS needs to be sure that it implements LEED Enhanced Commissioning. The intent of this would be to begin the commissioning process early and allow time to execute verification and training activities after the systems’ performance verification is completed. Finally, these systems should be fully integrated into the overall design of the building.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Geothermal For New Wakefield On The Rocks?

Cost concerns have already killed two major sustainability features for Arlington's new Wakefield High School. Will the Arlington School Board now cut yet another one?

Arlington Public Schools staff, looking to balance cost and environmental impact, made a series of recommendations for the upcoming project:
Senior staff on Dec. 3 are expected to recommend to School Board members that the design for a new Wakefield include geothermal heating and cooling, solar hot water and photovoltaic generation of energy to meet about 2.5 percent of the building’s total energy needs.

But school officials rejected two other options, saying that a green roof and using photovoltaic generation to supply 7.5 percent of energy needs are not cost-effective in a tight budget environment.
You can watch the December 3rd discussion at the Arlington County School Board website. (A warning -- to watch it, you have to download the full 42-minute, 138MB video. Yes, really.)

School Board members focused in on the proposed geothermal heating & cooling system. While Sally Baird and Ed Fendley expressed strong support for all recommended environmental features, Abby Raphael and, to a lesser extent, Emma Violand-Sanchez, expressed concern about the cost. (Libby Garvey was absent from the meeting.)

"We have the potential here to make Wakefield High School the environmental learning center for this community, and I think for around the region, if we invest in these systems and take the opportunity to fully integrate them into the curriculum," said Fendley.

"To not do it now, we pass up the opportunity for 50 years," said Baird.

The geothermal system would cut the new Wakefield's carbon emissions by an estimated 100 tons a year. However, it requires an up-front investment that isn't projected to fully repay its cost. But as we've learned through recent spikes in gasoline & coal prices, projections can't tell you the whole story when you're dependent on fluctuating global energy markets.

Additionally, the projections don't take into account the likely effects of a new, national global warming policy on coal-dependent Virginia's electricity rates. And considering the devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining, along with coal-fired power's resulting air & water pollution, it's hard to put a simple dollar value on getting off the grid.

I asked several Arlington environmental leaders what they thought about the Wakefield debate. Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Jay Fisette told me:
Arlington needs to be smart about our energy future. The cost and availability of fossil fuels will become increasingly unpredictable. Accepting the Superintendent's recommendation for a sustainable geothermal system in the design for Wakefield High School would help the environment, provide great learning value to the students, and will remove the long-term cost risk for the schools.
While Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment has not taken a position on each of the individual proposed elements, ACE Executive Director Elenor Hodges said:
If we consider education of our children a long-term investment, we should also consider the construction of our buildings’ energy system a long-term investment. We should take a holistic approach where students are not only being taught about critical environmental issues and stewardship on paper, but they are learning in buildings that have incorporated best practices for stewardship of our resources.
Beyond energy & environmental concerns, it seems odd that board members would make decisions based on FY2010's economic conditions on spending that won't kick in until somewhere around FY2014. If our economy (and with it, tax revenue) hasn't long since come roaring back four years from now ... well, we're screwed in a lot more ways than this one.

The School Board will vote on the environmental options tomorrow (Thursday 12/17) at 7:30pm. If you can spare the time, please sign up to speak at the meeting (Education Center, 1426 North Quincy Street) in favor of the geothermal system. If you can't attend in person, please email the Arlington County School Board to tell them you're willing to put your money where your mouth is by investing our tax dollars in a sustainable future for our children.

UPDATE 12/17: ACE has endorsed the geothermal plan, along with solar hot water & solar power.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Mist: DC Edition

All that was missing were giant mosquitoes.

Weird weather in DC this morning. At F & 9th NW it was totally clear with blue skies overhead ... but looking down 9th, there was a solid wall of fog over the National Mall. Quite an eerie effect, like the world ended just past Bruegger's Bagels:

The Mist: DC

Friday, December 11, 2009

Copenhagen Coverage: A Brief Note on Bullshit

You may have heard several stories this week that indicate climate talks in Copenhagen are going off the rails.

When you see these stories, ask yourself several questions:
* Did the story involve a suspiciously leaked document?
* Was the story reported by a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper?
* Was a crime committed in the process of manufacturing the story?
* How big a role did the right wing noise machine play in getting the story out?
* Is one side's case being made mainly on someone's Facebook wall?
If so, your bullshit detector should be lighting up brighter than Clark Griswold's house.

Then take a deep breath and go to
Grist to get the best Copenhagen coverage around.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Flying Squirrels Finally Get Their Due

Arlington has a thriving population of flying squirrels, with an extremely popular meet the squirrels program at Long Branch Nature Center.

Now Richmond's new minor league baseball team is paying tribute to the local rodents, with the Flying Squirrels slated to begin play next season. Thanks to, here's the AA team's new logo:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sarah Palin Unclear on What Your Word "Denier" Means

Sarah Palin responds to Al Gore on her Facebook page:
However, he’s wrong in calling me a “denier.” As I noted in my op-ed above and in my original Facebook post on Climategate, I have never denied the existence of climate change. I just don’t think we can primarily blame man’s activities for the earth’s cyclical weather changes.
Why would anyone think Sarah Palin denies the existence of climate change? Just because she put "climate change impacts" in scare quotes in her op-ed in today's Washington Post?

OK, so let's give Sarah that. It doesn't make her sound less dumb -- it makes her sound more ignorant that she apparently doesn't even know what a global warming denier is. I mean, does Sarah think there's anyone out there who's denying that Alaskan winter temperatures have shot up six degrees in my lifetime alone? No one's gonna drip melting glaciers on your leg and tell you it's raining. We're 25 years past that.

Being a denier is about blaming global warming on anything but us. Sunspots! Volcanoes! An interplanetary conspiracy! Whatever it takes to distract us for as long as possible from our addiction to the dirty fuels that deliver record profits to Big Oil & Big Coal.

The science is settled & scary -- manmade emissions are increasing temperatures, raising sea levels, and driving deeper droughts & stronger storms. We need climate action now -- both a global treaty in Copenhagen and a deal in the Senate -- to transition us away from expensive use of polluting fuels to efficient use of clean energy. Let's hope Sen. Mark Warner & Sen. Jim Webb take their cues from President Obama, not from science deniers like Sarah Palin.

Tonight: Sustainability Toolkit for Condos & Apts

Check out this Fresh AIRE event in Arlington tonight:
Please join us for the unveiling of Fresh AIRE’s sustainability toolkit for condos and apartments. It will include a demo of the new utility tracking software and comprehensive signage package.

: Multifamily Toolkit Unveiling

: Arlington’s Central Library (1015 North Quincy Street, near Ballston Metro)

: Wednesday December 7, 7:00-8:30pm

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Conundrum: Real Tree vs. Fake Tree?

Here's a re-post of a clip from last year:

Monday, December 7, 2009

CVS Launches New Reusable Bag Incentive

As DC prepares to implement its 5 cent disposable bag fee, CVS is offering an incentive that stretches across the Potomac:
CVS is also distributing “Green Bag Tag” cards that offer discounts to reusable bag customers. Gordon Howard, CVS area vice president, said in the city’s release that the company has “a long history of rewarding our customers with incentives that are both convenient and beneficial to their well-being. The District of Columbia’s initiative to clean up the Anacostia ties in with our ongoing green efforts, such as the Green Bag Tag program.”
Seems like a vastly better incentive than the usual 5 cents off. My friend Virginia Robinson reports, "My local CVS (Clarendon) tells me that there has been so much demand for them that they can't keep them in stock."

Photo via

Arlington Hosts White House Clean Energy Economy Forum

White House Clean Energy Economy ForumThe Green Miles was at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington this morning for the White House Clean Energy Economy Forum. I was part of an Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment contingent invited to attend. W-L served an ideal host –- a gold-level LEED-certified green school in one of the most climate-conscious counties in the country.

The forum featured Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA), former Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Deputy Agriculture Sec. Kathleen Merrigan, and Assistant Energy Sec. Cathy Zoi.

I live-blogged the forum over at DailyKos. Check it out!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hazmat Release in Four Mile Run

Just got this from Arlington Alert:
Avoid all contact with Four Mile Run stream downstream of South Walter Reed Drive until further notice as precautionary measure following major automobile fire resulting in the release of auto fluids and fire fighting materials.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ikea: Chopping Down Forests = Sustainability!

The Green Miles was recently in the market for a new desk and coffee table, so I went searching for sustainable options. I ended up going with Legare Furniture, which is Forest Stewardship Council-certified and uses what it calls eco-friendly finishes.

I haven't found any independent sources that verify Legare's eco-friendliness. But in my brief furniture search, it was rare to find a company that even bothered to claim sustainability.

And then there were claims of sustainability that were laughable. Check out Ikea's note in a coffee table's description:

Chop down an old-growth forest to make cheap furniture? No sweat, it'll grow back ... eventually. Let's just hope "eventually" comes before the planet gets too warm for them to grow back.

Ikea has made some progress on sustainability, reducing energy use, setting goals to make more of its products from recycled material & sustainably-managed forests, and eliminating plastic bags. But it has a long way to go -- just look at the National Wildlife Federation's 2009 Garden Furniture Scorecard (PDF). Ikea received a measly one star.

Could I have saved a few dollars by shopping at Ikea? Sure. But I'd much rather spend a bit more for products that reflect my lifestyle -- and I'm not talking about square chairs.

Smart shopper footnote: You can get Legare products much cheaper (and in many cases with free shipping) through, or than you can through the Legare site.