Solutions & sustainability - Oct 11
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Solutions and Sustainability
Sustainability: It's About Time
Joel Makower, WorldChanging
The notion of "sustainability" is, at its essence, about time -- an intergenerational Golden Rule that promises that today's actions will ensure tomorrow's prosperity -- but most people's notions of "time" aren't particularly sustainable. We waste time, run out of it, and try futilely to manage it better. "Time is money," Benjamin Franklin declared in Poor Richard's Almanac, and many of us seem hellbent to maximize time's value, producing -- and consuming -- more and more along the way.
A new book brings the many linkages between time and sustainability into sharper focus. About Time: Speed, Society, People and the Environment is a collection of very readable essays compiled by the U.K. think tank Forum for the Future. Collectively, they explore the issue of time and its relationship to the environment, the economy, and society.
Only a relative handful of trends explicitly address linkages between the temporal and the sustainable -- time banks, slow food, and land trusts come immediately to mind -- and it's a bit sobering to be reminded how out of synch we've become in our just-in-time, multitasking, everything-on-demand, 24/7 lifestyles. (And how dissatisfied: "Ironically, both the overworked and the unemployed share the sense that their position is involuntary," writes Geoff Mulgan in his essay, "The Arrival of Time Politics.")
(9 October 2005)
Related story in the Washington Post: Scientists Finding Out What Losing Sleep Does to a Body.
UCLA Engineers Pioneer Affordable Alternative Energy:
Solar Energy Cells Made Of Everyday Plastic
With oil and gas prices in the United States hovering at an all-time high, interest in renewable energy alternatives is again heating up. Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science hope to meet the growing demand with a new and more affordable way to harness the sun's rays: using solar cell panels made out of everyday plastics.
In research published today in Nature Materials magazine, UCLA engineering professor Yang Yang, postdoctoral researcher Gang Li and graduate student Vishal Shrotriya showcase their work on an innovative new plastic (or polymer) solar cell they hope eventually can be produced at a mere 10 percent to 20 percent of the current cost of traditional cells, making the technology more widely available
(10 October 2005)
As Nathan Lewis from Caltech points out, the economics of PV is key to getting it widely adopted.
Ford makes the big hybrid leap
Union of Concerned Scientists, HybridCenter.org via WorkingForChange
As you may know, Ford announced its intentions to step up its hybrid production. Here's what Jason Mark, the director of UCS' Clean Vehicle Program, had to say about it:
"Ford's announcement today that it will increase hybrid sales to 250,000 by 2010 is welcome news for consumers and the environment. The days of cheap gas are likely behind us, so the company's investments in fuel-sipping technologies is wise planning.
(10 October 2005)
Also see The Week in Sustainable Transportation by Mike Millikin.
"Green chemistry" proponents seek ways to reduce pollution
William McCall, Associated Press via Seattle Times
PORTLAND — Remember the famous line from the classic movie "The Graduate" when a helpful family friend whispers to a young Dustin Hoffman that there is one magic word of advice for the future — "plastics"?
The leaders of a growing scientific revolution called "green chemistry" might rephrase the line to something more modern like, "biodegradable, renewable, nontoxic and environmentally friendly plastics."
They say the world no longer can afford the pollution and health risks associated with toxic industrial chemicals used to make plastics, drugs, paper and so many other things taken for granted in everyday life.
"For many people, chemistry is dangerous, scary stuff — I think they have a hard time seeing the future where we can do chemistry safely," said Ken Doxsee, a University of Oregon chemist who is one of the leaders of the movement to educate the next generation of scientists and industrial researchers about green chemistry.
The concept has been embraced by the American Chemical Society as one of the best ways to reduce pollution while cutting the huge cost of toxic-waste disposal and cleanup, making it more profitable for industries to switch to safer chemicals.
(10 October 2005)
Thanksgiving on the 100-Mile Diet
Friends in Vernon take to heart the ideals of local feasting
Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, The Tyee
James is in Nova Scotia, and facing the thought of a 100-Mile Thanksgiving alone was a gloomy thing. He is the chef of this duo. What could I make? Humble potatoes, baked or boiled, sprung to mind. I can only deal with so many ingredients at once, or disaster ensues; also, I am happiest if everything can be made in one pot. James, meanwhile, emailed yesterday to say that there is maple syrup on the east coast. He'd better have some in his suitcase when he returns.
To lift my sagging spirits, friends in Vernon told me they were going to do a 100-Mile Thanksgiving. So hats off to Marcia McKenzie, a UBC education post-doctorate, and crown counsel Colly Blenkinsop. They have a cooking group with whom they regularly organize menus, go on shopping trips, and share the camaraderie of meals together. They (gently) foisted the idea of doing a 100-Mile Thanksgiving on these pals. I was, of course invited, though unfortunately, a collision of work and other plans made it impossible. Also, I thought people might find it ironic if I drove 400 miles to have a 100-Mile dinner.
(10 October 2005)
The latest in an ongoing series in the Tyee on eating locally. Past articles are available by searching at the Tyee and in Energy Bulletin.
SUV Drivers in Paris Get Wind Knocked Out of Them
Sebastian Rotella, LA Times
A clandestine group lets air out of tires as a form of protest. The vehicles' owners are not amused.
PARIS - If the French marauders known as The Deflated waged their brand of urban subversion in Southern California, the mecca of the sport utility vehicle, by now they would probably have been jailed, beaten, shot or at least sued.
But five weeks after the clandestine crew of environmentalists launched a low-intensity war on SUVs in Paris, there are no casualties to report. Except, of course, for dozens of deflated gas-guzzling vehicles, said Sous-Adjudant Marrant (Sub-Warrant Officer Joker), the mysterious, masked leader of Les Dégonflés.
Under cover of night, Marrant's troops target Jeep Cherokees, Porsche Cayennes and other four-wheel-drive vehicles parked on the tree-lined avenues and cobblestoned lanes of wealthy neighborhoods. The eco-guerrillas deflate tires without damaging them, smear doors with mud and paste handbills on windshields proclaiming that the vehicles are dangerous, polluting behemoths that do not belong in the city.
"We use the mud to say that if the owners will not take the four-wheel-drives to the countryside, we will bring the countryside to the four-wheel-drives," said Marrant, 28, who uses an alias because angry drivers deluge his website, degonfle.blogg.org with e-mails threatening mayhem and questioning his manhood.
Although his nom de guerre was inspired by Subcommander Marcos, the masked Mexican guerrilla revered by leftists, Marrant insists he is not violent or even particularly serious. "Deflated" is a self-deprecating name that also means "coward" in French. The group wants to send a mischievous message while avoiding damage to the vehicles, injury and prosecution, the thin, mop-haired activist said during an interview in a corner cafe on the Seine's left bank, longtime turf of radicals and revolutionaries.
"We emphasize the comic, the burlesque side," Marrant said with the earnest, wide-eyed look of a prankster trying to keep a straight face. "It would be hard to take us to court. We don't slash tires, we deflate them. Air doesn't cost anything. As for getting cars dirty, that's nothing. I would plead guilty to that. Our rules are to never run from the police. And always run from the owners."
The rise of anti-SUV activism in France shows that one man's vandal can be another man's avenger. The deflators are on the fringe of a movement that has considerable support at City Hall, which is governed by an alliance of the Socialist and Green parties.
(10 October 2005)
Patagonia's Founder Seeks to Spread Environmental Gospel
Leslie Earnest, LA Times
Planet and profit aren't mutually exclusive, outdoor apparel maker Yvon Chouinard says.
Yvon Chouinard has climbed a glacier on the face of Mt. Kenya, survived an avalanche on Minya Konka in Tibet and kayaked down the Yellowstone River through a treacherous rock wall canyon. He has also helped preserve millions of acres of wild lands in the U.S. and South America - all this on top of building an outdoor apparel business with $240 million in sales.
But the founder and chairman of Ventura-based Patagonia Inc. is now facing what could be his biggest challenge: convincing corporate America that environmental awareness can be a profitable business model.
Chouinard has a new book, "Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman," which describes the pitfalls of growing a business too fast and the perils of polluting. In a nutshell, he wants people to think first about the planet.
It is, he admits, "a hard sell."
The 66-year-old Chouinard - who backed into a career when he began making climbing tools almost 50 years ago - isn't brimming with optimism. "I'm very pessimistic about the future," he said during a recent interview at his Ventura office. "I don't feel like we've had much impact yet."
Even his own company has a long way to go, he observed ruefully. He noted that he recently paid $2 million to install solar panels over a parking lot - which is filled with employees' gas-guzzling SUVs.
(9 October 2005)
Long sketch of Yvon Chouinard.
The growing problem of shrinking population
Doug Sanders, Globe and Mail
But after she tucked 8-year-old Madelaine and 3-year-old Elie into bed, she contemplated the huge sums [the French] government is offering to make her family grow.
The recently announced plan would pay $1,060 per month for a year to the parents of a third child, plus a permanent monthly allowance of $373 for the third child on top of $164 for each of the first two.
Tax deductions will be doubled for third and any additional children, railway fares will be 75 per cent cheaper for three-child families, all child care will be free and an additional gift of $1,176 will be paid when the third child is born.
At the moment, Western European countries are saved from the negative economic effects of depopulation because they have a steady stream of low-wage workers coming from Eastern Europe. But, Mr. Klingholz points out, those eastern countries have the lowest fertility rates in the world, and will soon be facing their own labour shortages.Yet as both France and the former communist countries have shown, it is possible for governments to "buy" a higher fertility rate, and some economists say that it may be economically beneficial to do so.
Indeed, this was the conclusion reached by the EU study. Its surveys found that the average European would like to have 2.3 children, while the actual continent-wide fertility rate is 1.5.
"Europeans would like to have more children," the EU concluded, "But they are discouraged from doing so by all kinds of problems that limit their freedom of choice, including difficulties in finding housing. This means that, if appropriate mechanisms existed to allow couples to have the number of children they want, the fertility rate could rise overall."
France has led the way in this direct, money-for-babies approach. The communist countries of the east also managed to raise their fertility rates above the shrinkage level in the 1970s through welfare payments and aggressive pro-family propaganda.
Other countries, such as Denmark and Sweden, are using flexible working hours and family-friendly benefits to encourage women to have more children without sacrificing their careers.
Indeed, European demographers have discovered one encouraging trend: more money, and more education, can lead to more children.
(8 October 2005)
This article on encouraging population growth belongs in an "anti-solutions" category.
A new sheriff at Port of L.A. takes dead aim at air pollution
Former state energy czar adopts lofty goals for reducing toxics
James Sterngold, SF Chronicle
San Pedro, Los Angeles County -- David Freeman has never been one to think small. When he ran the Tennessee Valley Authority under President Jimmy Carter, he halved the sulfur oxide emissions from the country's largest utility, and later, as Gov. Gray Davis' energy czar, helped extricate California from the fallout of the energy crisis by renegotiating punishingly expensive power contracts.
But at 79, Freeman may have now taken on his most ambitious mission yet: slashing pollution from one of the dirtiest industrial sites in the country -- the Port of Los Angeles -- by perhaps 80 percent or more, and soon.
Tough as that may sound, Freeman insists with matter-of-fact confidence, it is just the start. His real goal, he said, is to show how cutting-edge technologies, which he intends to employ aggressively and pioneer at the port, can bring about a radical shift away from fossil fuels by industrial users nationwide. "Ports can lead the way to an end of our dependence on oil," said Freeman, appointed this summer as chairman of Los Angeles' powerful harbor commission. "There is a patriotic commitment to this."
Other California port officials are watching Freeman's efforts closely, and agree that if Freeman can push shippers, truckers and the railroads to adopt new technologies that drastically reduce emissions, it will help their efforts.
(9 October 2005)
Carter's Brave Vision on Energy
David Morris, Minneapolis Star Tribune via Common Dreams
George W. Bush asking Americans to save oil by driving less reminds me of Jimmy Carter wearing a cardigan sweater and asking Americans to save oil by turning down our thermostats and, yes, by driving less.
But former President Carter was asking for individual sacrifice as a small part of an aggressive, national campaign. President Bush is asking for individual sacrifice instead of a national initiative.
Carter gave his first energy speech in February 1977. In July 1979, four months before Americans were taken hostage in Iran, he delivered his fifth energy address. To this day, that speech and its aftermath illuminate the profound differences between the way Democrats and Republicans address the oil crisis.
"Ten days ago I had planned to speak to you again about a very important subject -- energy," Carter began. "But as I was preparing to speak, I began to ask myself the same question that I now know has been troubling many of you. Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?"
He told us he had set his speech aside and talked to hundreds of individuals. His conclusion? Americans had lost confidence in our capacity to act decisively and collectively to address and solve our problems. Republicans quickly dubbed the address the "malaise speech."
But to Carter the energy crisis offered an opportunity to regain our sense of hopefulness and national self-confidence. "Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally," he observed. "On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny ... . It can rekindle our sense of unity, our confidence in the future, and give our nation and all of us individually a new sense of purpose."
(10 October 2005)