Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

"We Have Built America in a Way That is Fundamentally Unhealthy"

Opponents of climate action pointed to estimates that it may have slowed economic growth by 1 to 3.5% by 2050 as reason to maintain our status quo on energy, transportation & community design. But as a new PBS series details, the cost of sprawling communities that are unhealthy for either people or the planet may already be at least that high:
“We have built America in a way that is, I believe, is fundamentally unhealthy,” Dr. Richard Jackson says. “It prevents us from walking. It inhibits us from socializing. It removes trees and the things that make our air quality better. We could not have designed an environment that is more difficult for people’s well being at this point.”

He adds: “Two percent of the United States’ gross domestic product goes to the treatment of diabetes. This is a crushing economic impact.”
And that's only a fraction of the cost, from higher taxes to pay for more & wider roads, billions of dollars sent overseas to buy foreign oil for gas & home heating, and countless hours wasted in traffic that could've been spent at work or with family.

Here in the DC area, WETA will air the series in its entirety on Saturday (2/4) starting at 1pm. Learn more and find listings in your community at DesigningHealthyCommunities.org:

Episode 1: Retrofitting Suburbia (preview all episodes here) from MPC on Vimeo.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Will DC's TV Forecasters Acknowledge Climate's Contribution to Warm January Weather?

The DC area's forecast for Friday calls for temperatures near 60 degrees with thunderstorms. In January.

But you won't catch our television weather presenters attributing the bizarre forecast to global warming loading the dice for extreme weather! No, sir! Expect to hear lots of things like, "Wow, tropical weather in January. Uh ... weird!"

If they mentioned our changing climate, they might get angry calls from viewers who find climate reality doesn't fit in with their political views. Here in the DC area, unless your name is Bob Ryan, you're likely to figure it's better to keep quiet about the facts than risk standing up for inconvenient truths. Or maybe, like Topper Shutt, you're a climate science denier yourself.

Learn more about why some TV weathermen aren't straight with their viewers about climate science at ForecastTheFacts.org.

Want to Win in November? Support Clean Energy.

2009 Solar DecathlonA must-read piece today from Grist's David Roberts on why clean energy is a huge political winner:
With the Wall Street Journal editorial page beating its chest, Politico making sweet, sweet love to the Solyndra non-scandal, and the Chamber of Commerce dumping money into attack ads, Democrats have gotten unduly spooked. They’ve started believing John Boehner’s trash talk, that energy is a wedge to divide unions from greens.

It’s an empty threat. The fact is, overwhelming majorities of Americans — across party, age, and regional lines — support clean, modern energy. A poll conducted by ORC International in November found that 77 percent of Americans, including 65 percent of Republicans, believe that “the U.S. needs to be a clean energy technology leader and it should invest in the research and domestic manufacturing of wind, solar, and energy efficiency technologies.” Last February, a Gallup poll offered a list of actions Congress might take. The most popular option, with an incredible 83 percent support, was “an energy bill that provides incentives for using solar and other alternative energy resources.” [...]

Clean energy isolates the Republican base from the broad mass of American opinion and, in particular, from swing-state independents. It’s a wedge issue and an electoral winner for Democrats if they can quit playing defense and go on the attack. The appropriate response to threats from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a well-administered ass kicking.
Next time you hear a Democrat waffling on support for clean energy, kick them in the shins. I am not making this up: Some focus group testing this week showed clean energy is almost as popular with swing voters as killing Osama bin Laden (although who gives killing the mastermind of 9/11 a B minus?). Plus, we all know how much voters love candidates apologizing for what they believe in.

And if you want to support great work like David's and have a few bucks burning a hole in your pocket, go donate to Grist.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Petition Protests "The Lorax" Movie's Watered-Down Message

As I've pointed out in the past, the new movie based on inspired by with the same name as the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax looks like it will downplay the book's ecological lessons. Kate Sheppard reports at the Mother Jones Blue Marble blog that some elementary school students have started a Change.org petition protesting the movie's commercialized storyline. The Green Miles is especially proud since the students are from Brookline, MA, where I went to high school. Here's the link to the petition.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Obama's 2012 State of the Union Disappoints on Conservation

Overall, it felt like a clumsy attempt to co-opt Occupy Wall Street's message with little policy substance to back it up. Only a fleeting mention of global warming despite a record year for extreme weather disasters in 2011. And as ThinkProgress Green's Brad Johnson points out, President Obama blamed Congress for climate inaction while himself proposing more oil and gas drilling.

But hey, at least he had Mitch Daniels to follow him, who combined George W. Bush's disastrous policy prescriptions with Dick Cheney's reptilian demeanor.

What did you think?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Visual Demonstration of Why LED Lights Save You Money

Incandescent light bulbs are terribly inefficient at turning electricity into light, wasting most of the energy they use as heat. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) waste very little energy as heat, meaning they'll rapidly pay back their higher cost & much more by saving you money on your electricity bill.

I got a demonstration of their efficiency after this weekend's snow & ice thanks to a string of LED Christmas lights still up on my fence. While incandescent Christmas lights quickly melt a cone into the snow & ice around them, I plugged in the LEDs and hours later, they were still frozen firmly in place:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Paula Deen, Keystone XL & America's Gluttonous Side

This week, we learned famed culinary fat food-pusher Paula Deen has diabetes, but only revealed it 3 years late to protect her cooking empire and is now hawking diabetes drugs winking that - for a price - maybe you don't have to do all those hard diet & exercise changes.

And then former oil company consultant Newt Gingrich blasted President Obama for rejecting Congress' efforts to force him to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline before TransCanada has even determined a safe route, even though it would kill jobs and raise gas prices.

Last night I was in Harris Teeter and spotted this combo package of DiGiorno Pepperoni Pizza/Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies and wondered ... isn't gluttony #2 on the list of deadly sins? And doesn't America claim to be three-quarters Christian? Talk about cafeteria Christianity.

But come on - there's no money to be made in hard choices. How could Paula Deen keep making money by the pudgy fistful by telling people to stop shoving cheese, salted meat, chocolate & dough into their gaping maws & go for a walk? How could Newt Gingrich keep the oil money flowing by telling people the only real way to save on gas is to drive less or pay more for an efficient vehicle?

Much easier to tell people to have a second helping of pizza & cookies and take their magic snake oil pill, and tell people it's not our conspicuous consumption but the gays that are the cause of our moral decay.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Green Miles' Hometown Saving Big with Clean Energy

Gates of Fall RiverMy birthplace of Fall River, MA is combining clean energy and new efficient lighting to collect some huge savings:
THUMBS UP to Fall River city and school officials who celebrated the completion of the first phase of a multi-phase energy initiative that will pay off in the form of big energy and environmental savings. At Silvia Elementary School, a 76-killowatt solar panel was installed by Ameresco Inc., which has built, owns, and maintains four such systems at school buildings and the sewage treatment plant. In all, the first phase is expected to save the city more than $2.7 million during the life of the contract.

The project is being funded with $862,000 in stimulus funds and contributions from local utility companies. The city receives fixed utility rates as part of the contract. Over time, Fall River’s “solar” system is expected to consist of 2,624 solar modules, producing 750,000 kilowatt-hours annually.
It's a vastly less polluting and much more attractive way to power the city's future than the giant new cooling towers that just went up at a coal-fired power plant across the Taunton River in Somerset. Read more about the project at SolarDaily.com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Columnist Says Chicago Cubs Have New Curse: Using Transit

Cubs Epstein BaseballTheo Epstein recently took over as president of the Chicago Cubs and said, to no one in particular, "Hey! We spent $125 million last year and lost 91 games and finished 25 games out of first place! I bet we could've spent a lot less than that and still done just as badly!" So he's trimming the major league payroll until the team has a reasonable shot at the playoffs & making reasonable cuts to other expenses.

But anytime new management takes over a team, it is mandatory for a local sports columnist to anonymously quote loyalists from the previous regime bashing this new guy who thinks he's some hot shot while remaining oblivious to the fact that these are the very same employees whose wisdom guided the team to its 91 loss season.

Today's case in point comes from the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer:
For instance, a big-market team that just committed $3.5 million a year to a newly created position of president of baseball operations, that created several other high-level front-office jobs and that’s assured of trimming tens of millions of dollars from its big-league payroll this season is pulling a Marge Schott on its scouting staff this week to save relative pennies.

Borrowing a page from the notoriously cheap former Cincinnati Reds owner, the Cubs assigned their scouts two-to-a-room hotel accommodations this week and advised using the L instead of cabs, including to and from airports with their luggage, sources said.
OH THE HUMANITY. Being asked to ride the L train, which goes directly to O'Hare & Midway for 1/10th the cost of a taxi or van ... and with their rolly bags? I'm surprised these people who get paid to fly around the country & watch baseball don't just up & quit.

Or maybe they should keep their traps shut & develop a little flinty Chicago toughness.

Via Buster Olney

TheGreenMilesMobile Handles Beltway Better Than $48,720 DoucheMobile

Ford F150 Harley Davidson EditonI was driving home on the Beltway recently in my still-spry 1999 Saturn SL2 with 128,000 miles on it, pleasantly surprised TheGreenMilesMobile remains fun to drive after all these fuel-efficient years, when I noticed a low-riding pickup truck lumber past me with brake lights flashing constantly. It was a Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson edition and the heavy highway-hugger and its overmatched driver couldn't even successfully execute a lurching lane change without repeatedly tapping the brakes.

First, let me make clear I'm not bashing Harleys or the Ford F-150 series here. Harleys get fantastic gas mileage. Ford's base F-150 XL model is an excellent made-in-America truck that gets 17 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway, not far from some of the best-mileage pickups like the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid's 20 city/23 highway.

But the two brands have combined into a gas-guzzling, hideously expensive Frankenstein monster. The Harley-Davidson edition starts at a ridiculous $48,720 and gets a putrid 13 miles per gallon city and 18 mpg highway. So not only does the Harley model get 25 percent worse gas mileage than the base XL model, but you could buy two F-150 XLs for the price of one F-150 Harley - with $4,000 leftover for gas money.

And that's before we talk about what it looks like. I'll leave that to Car & Driver:
If the d├ęcor is in fact your style, though, your taste might be a little, shall we say, questionable. Example: There is glitter on the center console. To paraphrase everybody’s favorite park-bench prophet, that’s all we have to say about that.
Not just expensive and planet-killing, but ugly too ... but hey, I'm sure people will think you're just as cool as actual Harley riders.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ben Stein Upset Company Realized He's Kinda Nutty

Ben SteinRepublicans are all about free enterprise, business knowing better than government, and reforming the legal system to prevent frivolous lawsuits & tie the hands of judges ... unless it's former Nixon White House staffer Ben Stein suing Kyocera for realizing they didn't want to have a climate science denier as their spokesman. "God, and not man, control[s] the weather," says Stein. It is not clear why Stein thinks God is stepping in to stop man's carbon pollution from affecting our climate but not stopping, say, man's nitrogen pollution from creating dead zones in our waterways.

Stein is also an evolution denier, defended Larry Craig, and has compared President Obama to Hitler.

Clearly the government must step in and make sure this rich idiot gets the money he was never actually promised and didn't actually earn!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Supermarket Eggs < Farmers Market Eggs < Backyard Eggs

After getting sick of the bland produce at the grocery store, I've been making more of an effort to walk to the Falls Church Farmers Market on Saturday mornings to get tomatoes that actually taste like - wait for it - tomatoes.

I've also been getting eggs from Valentine's Country Bakery & Meats. They taste a little better than supermarket eggs, but what really jumps out at you is the color - a brighter yellowish-orange compared to pale yellow factory farm eggs - and I'm far from the only one who's noticed. Research shows eggs from chickens with a free range & varied diet may be healthier than chickens locked up & fed a diet of cheap processed feed.

Some Arlington residents are taking it one step further, with the Arlington Egg Project pushing the County Board to allow backyard chickens. Tonight the Arlington Committee of 100 is making the issue the topic of its monthly dinner.

I've visited a home in DC with chickens in the backyard & barely noticed the were there - they pecked around one corner of the yard until the sun went down, then climbed into their small wooden roost on their own. No smell (and this was a hot summer day), no mess that I saw, and very little noise, just a few clucks when someone ventured too close. On the fridge I found this note about what leftovers NOT to feed the chickens.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Do We Subsidize Roads But Expect Profits From Amtrak?

Amtrak's Capitol LimitedFederal, state & local governments spent nearly $193 billion on highways in 2008, recouping only about $30 billion of that in toll revenue. That means highways lost $160 billion, money we spent with no expectation of ever getting it back.

Yet when Congress spends a little over $1 billion on Amtrak, why do Republicans expect it to turn a profit?

If Amtrak is expected to turn a profit, shouldn't highways be expected to do so as well? Why should Amtrak be asked to compete on an uneven playing field? It's like asking Starbucks to turn a profit if Dunkin Donuts is handing out free coffee next door.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Parking Spot Yoga!

Learn more at CarFreeDiet.com.

Dominion Virginia Power Proves the Sierra Club Right

Dominion Virginia Power CEO Paul Koonce has an op-ed in today's Washington Post responding to a recent evisceration of Dominion by Virginia Sierra Club Vice Chair Ivy Main. She'd made three key charges:
  1. Dominion is using pre-existing hydro power or biomass projects of dubious environmental value for renewable energy credits
  2. Dominion is not building large-scale solar and wind projects in Virginia to deliver that energy to Virginia customers
  3. Dominion is insanely planning to slap a massive fee on customers who install their own solar power
Koonce's response?
Our renewable generation includes one of the largest biomass plants in the East, taking advantage of one of Virginia’s richest renewable resources. Four more biomass projects are in various stages of construction or development. We operate several hydroelectric facilities and have announced plans for solar arrays on commercial and public buildings. Other Dominion companies operate large wind farms in Indiana and West Virginia.
That's Koonce's big rebuttal? That Dominion DOES rely heavily on existing hydro & questionable biomass, ISN'T currently building solar or wind in Virginia ... oh, and the massive fees on renewable energy? The CEO of Dominion, which earned $1 billion in profit in the first 9 months of 2011 alone, calls them "simple matter of fairness."

He might as well have written, "The 1% don't have to explain themselves to people like you."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Migrating Whales Return to Virginia, Bring Coconuts for Ken Cuccinelli to Bang Together

Humpback WhaleThe first migrating humpback whales of the winter have been spotted off Virginia Beach:
The Virginia Aquarium is reporting whale sightings off the coast of Virginia Beach. The aquarium's winter wildlife boat season started December 27th and the first whale watchers were treated to a number of sightings in the first week.

New Year’s Eve morning, two humpback whales and a seal were spotted hanging out near Rudee Inlet. Thursday the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team confirmed that there are four humpback whales near the Cape Henry Lighthouse.
Keep in mind this is the area people like Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli think should be open to oil drilling. More on the whales from About.com:
Each winter, from late December until mid-March, majestic humpback whales follow a migration route, originating from the Bay of Fundy, which brings these magnificent oceanic mammals to the coastal waters near the shores of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Known for their complex and lengthy whale songs, graceful athleticism, unusual bubblenet feeding techniques and immense size, humpback whales are among the most fascinating and thrilling whales to observe.
Watching whales & dolphins is a truly unique experience in the world of wildlife. Usually spotting birds & animals involves slowly & quietly creeping up on a creature that would bolt if it spotted you. But approach them carefully & safely, and they'll swim right up to the boat and look back at you - whales & dolphins are just as interested to see us as we are to see them.

Get more details on the Winter Wildlife Boat Trips at VirginiaAquarium.com.

Photo via Flickr's Melissa Copper

Thursday, January 5, 2012

George Will Fails to Disclose Financial Ties to Polluter Front Groups

Why is George Will so aggressively anti-climate science? A new report makes his financial incentives more clear.

Media Matters reports that not only has Will been drawing a salary from his role on the board of the extremist-conservative Bradley Foundation, he's been writing about the front groups they fund without disclosing it in his Washington Post columns:
Media Matters reviewed Will's columns from mid-2008 to the present and found at least a dozen instances in which he has promoted conservative groups that have received money from the Bradley Foundation without disclosing his connection to the foundation. Those groups include the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society, and National Affairs quarterly.
SourceWatch has a full rundown of the Bradley Foundation's activities, funding everything from climate science denial to attacks on minorities as genetically unworthy of any public assistance. Just really the worst of the worst stuff. And as the Media Matters report details, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt is completely indifferent to Will's lack of disclosure.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hey, America! The 1% Has A Brown Job For YOU!

Are you ready for a risky life of hard labor digging up dirty fuels the 1% can sell to make billions in profit? Get excited for the brown jobs revolution!

No, really. An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal calls for More Brown Jobs. Even though American oil use is declining and what's being produced isn't lowering gas or home heating oil prices here - it's just being sold overseas.

So get excited! From drilling for oil shale to fracking for methane gas to digging for uranium to building pipelines that bring Canadian tar sands to Chinese oil tankers, corporate polluters are eager to exploit the crushing economic crisis their Wall Street friends created to make unemployed workers think they have to sell out their children's health to put food on the table now!

What's that? Worried your community will be turned into an industrial wasteland? That you'll be able to light your tap water on fire? That soon you too will be saying things like, "Just about anybody I talk to that's a neighbor — and some of them are getting wealthy — are sick of it"?

Come on - corporate America wouldn't lie to you! Right?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Metro Reduced Fare Mini-Flashmob

I got to East Falls Church Metro station this morning and was taken aback by a dozen people standing around randomly just outside the fare gates. For a second I thought I was caught in that terrible move The Happening. I approached a guy fiddling with his BlackBerry and asked what was up.

"It's 9:29," he said without looking up from his tiny keyboard. "Off-peak fares kick in at 9:30." Seconds later, the glowing red clock in the station entrance changed to 9:30 and the group poured through the fare gates.

It certainly is a good idea if the next train is still a comfortable distance from the station - I saved $1.05 on my trip to Metro Center - but I've been taking Metro for 10 years and had never witnessed this as a mass phenomenon. Is it a common thing? If you're boarding just before 9:30am or 7pm, do you ever hang out for a few minutes to get the reduced fare?

Dominion's Energy Tyranny: Where's the Outrage from the Tea Party & Ken Cuccinelli?

Virginia's 2007 energy re-regulation bill was a terrible idea from the start. It was essentially written by Dominion Virginia Power and rubber-stamped into law by the Virginia General Assembly & Gov. Tim Kaine, who showed no interest in challenging one of Virginia's top sources of money in politics.

Five years later, as Virginia Sierra Club Vice Chair Ivy Main writes in the Washington Post, Virginia taxpayers are seeing huge costs and little benefit:
Yes, the Dominion family owns some wind farms, one just across the state line in West Virginia. But we aren’t getting a single electron of that energy, because Dominion sells it to other states that have much tougher standards for what counts as renewable energy. For us in Virginia, Dominion buys cheap certificates that no one else wants.

That’s a great deal for Dominion. According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, $1.7 million could buy enough of these certificates to satisfy Dominion’s 2010 RPS targets, qualifying the company to collect an extra $76 million over two years from its ratepayers.
Worse yet, Dominion is aggressively using its monopoly power to target any small businesses who try to sell clean energy to customers in Virginia:
The State Corporation Commission recently granted Dominion’s request to impose a “standby” charge of up to $60 per month on customers who install solar projects in the 10- to 20-kilowatt range (about twice the size of an average home’s usage). It’s enough to make these projects uneconomic and destroy the market for them. At a time when Dominion claims we need to build more power to meet demand, it is doing its best to keep small businesses from doing precisely that.

Even worse is its treatment of a Staunton-based solar company called Secure Futures, which has stepped up to the plate to put solar installations on university campuses, using a third-party power purchase agreement to ease financing. This summer, Dominion hit Secure Futures with “cease and desist” letters, claiming it can’t legally sell solar power to Washington and Lee University within Dominion’s exclusive service territory under Virginia law. Dominion, you understand, will not sell solar power to Washington and Lee, but it seems determined to make sure no one else does, either.
Where are Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli & his Tea Party friends as Dominion treads on the rights of small businesses and Virginia energy customers? Shouldn't they be screaming about activist judges and goverment stifling liberty? Or does Tea Party outrage not cover regulations that enrich its polluting benefactors?

Want to tell Dominion to create jobs and clean our air by investing in wind power? Sign the Virginia Sierra Club's petition to Dominion CEO Tom Farrell.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fracking, Suspected in Virginia's Quake, Linked to Ohio Tremors

frack-ohioAfter Virginia's August 23rd earthquake, there was speculation about whether it was linked to nearby gas fracking. In the wake of a series of quakes in Ohio capped by a 4.0 rumbler on Saturday, officials aren't being so cautious - they're ordering nearby fracking wells to shut down:
The quake was the 11th over the last eight months in Mahoning County, all within two miles of the injection wells, he said. Saturday’s quake was the largest yet. A quake on Dec. 24 measured 2.4.

There is “little doubt” that the quake is linked to injection wells that the state and the owner agreed on Friday to shut down, [state geologist Michael C.] Hansen said. [...]

The wells are among 177 in Ohio. Drilling wastes from Ohio and Pennsylvania are being pumped in increasing volumes into the wells for permanent disposal.

Geologists have long suspected that injecting liquids into underground rock formations can trigger earthquakes along fault lines. The liquids allow rocks to flow more easily past each other. Earthquakes have been linked to injection wells in Arkansas, West Virginia, Colorado and Texas.
Learn more about fracking from the Environmental Working Group, and how it cause earthquakes from the Christian Science Monitor's Pete Spotts.

Sustainability Meets Functionality

AT&T gave me a chance to try out one of those new Motorola P793 Battery Chargers that's made from recycled water-cooler bottles and carbon offset through CarbonFund.org. Cool that it's a combo of both a direct charger and a portable external charger, so I could charge plugged into the wall at my office or plugged into the battery backup in a meeting (rare that I'm the Cool New Gadget Guy, so it was fun to show it off). The battery backup was much lighter than I expected & pocket-sized, so I could keep a backup charge in my back pocket if need be & charge anywhere (i.e. on Metro). And one of my biggest BlackBerry pet peeves is that the USB cord takes forever to charge, so it was great that the battery charger juiced the phone as fast as plugging it into an outlet. I'd definitely recommend it if you need a new charger and/or find your phone's battery needing a charge more than once a day.