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Energy-Hungry Nations Also Most Wasteful

Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service via Common Dreams
BROOKLIN, Canada – China, India and Brazil could cut their rapidly rising energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25 percent using existing energy efficient technologies.
Despite the potential cost savings, conservative bankers are reluctant to loan money to fund improvements in energy efficiency, an international study said Monday.

With a combined population of 2.6 billion people, economic growth rates nearing 10 percent per year and soaring energy use, China, India and Brazil are on track to become the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

China will overtake the United States as the leading source of climate-altering gases before 2020, said the three-nation report led by the World Bank and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), and funded by the U.N. Foundation.

“Cutting energy waste is the cheapest, easiest, fastest way to solve many energy problems, improve the environment and enhance both energy security and economic development,” said Robert Taylor, an energy specialist at the World Bank who led the study.

Without significant gains from energy efficiency efforts, these countries will more than double their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions within a single generation (by 2030) with major impacts on global energy markets and climate, Taylor said.

Experts estimate that cost-effective retrofits could reduce energy use today by at least 25 percent and advanced technologies could reduce their energy use growth projected through 2030 by at least 10 percent (and reduce projected carbon dioxide emissions growth by 16 percent), the report noted.
(30 May 2006)
Related: China, India ‘could slash energy use’. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Forget Gas; We Need A Plan to Keep Passenger Trains Rolling

Alfred Runte, Seattle Times via Common Dreams
Here we go again — blaming everything on the oil companies for the spiraling cost of gasoline. How about we try something positive for a change, say, restoring our passenger trains?

For decades, Europe has paid double what the U.S. pays for gas, and just look at the trains they have. Every day, thousands of passenger trains — conventional and high-speed — whisk tourists and business people across the continent.

Of course, Europe has a plan for trains. Addiction prevents that here. So addicted have Americans become to the automobile we have forgotten all that railroads were — and could be again.

Indeed, our plan would begin with some national soul-searching about why we lost our passenger trains in the first place. On May 1, 1971, the railroads deeded to Amtrak just 180 trains. As late as 1960, the railroads had operated at least 5,000.

Simply, a new generation of railroad executives wished to downsize, dropping passengers for more profitable freight. Freight trains, or so the railroads also argued, did not need faster, double track.

The inescapable irony is that America abandoned the passenger train just when the environment needed it most. Need any American be convinced of that, watching the march of asphalt and urban sprawl?

Again, our plan to restore railroads would include why to restore them — the preservation of America the Beautiful. Like Europe, when American passenger trains were in their glory, we knew to appreciate the entire landscape. Westbound from Chicago to Seattle, the Northern Pacific Railway invited passengers to “Count the Mountains!” From the Hudson River to the Great Lakes, railroads invited the same.

Alfred Runte of Seattle writes on the environment and transportation. His new book is “Allies of the Earth: Railroads and the Soul of Preservation” (Truman State University Press).
(30 May 2006)

Railroading Amtrak

Editorial, NY Times
…the underpinnings of the nation’s railroad system are primed for disaster. The White House and Congress have tried to squeeze every dollar out of Amtrak’s meager budget. To survive, the nation’s passenger railroad has cut service and raised ticket prices. But what really frightens the rail experts is how little federal money has been available to update the railroad’s aging infrastructure. One inspector general for the Department of Transportation warned that the budget for basic maintenance and improvements was so low that Congress and the White House were playing “Russian roulette” with the welfare of millions of riders across the country.

Amtrak would need at least $2 billion a year to bring the system to a state of good repair, according to the department’s analysts. For the Northeast Corridor, where some parts go back to the 1930’s, it would take a total of about $4 billion. So far, Congress and the White House have agreed to hand over a scant $600 million a year for all capital programs on passenger rails from coast to coast.

Washington power brokers like to say that Amtrak is mismanaged, but calling for better management of a system where the wires and steel are eroding is simply dodging the question. It is time to drop the old bromides and recognize that for the United States to be an advanced nation with a mobile work force, the American government needs to maintain a clean, efficient national railroad. Amtrak does not need to make a profit, but it does need to work. The government directs billions of dollars to roads and bridges. Airports get plenty of help, but somehow very little trickles down to the rails.
(28 May 2006)

Car culture in BC: Our toxic love affair

Chris Rose, Vancouver Sun
More than half of B.C. drivers believe cars are destroying the environment, yet almost all of us love having an automobile and close to three-quarters think our lives would be thrown into a tailspin if we did not own a motor vehicle, a new poll has found.

On other aspects of our car culture, about two-thirds of those surveyed say unsafe drivers are a critical or significant problem and a similar number believe drivers are increasingly becoming rude, aggressive and nasty.

And a little more than half of those surveyed said they are struggling to pay all the costs associated with owning a car.

Those are some of the key findings that provide a snapshot of our enduring love-hate relationship with the car in a poll done for the British Columbia Automobile Association by Innovative Research Group Inc.
(27 May 2006)

High-rise residents big energy guzzlers

Sherrill Nixon, Sydney Morning Herald
… a Department of Planning and Energy Australia study …shows high-rise buildings emit more greenhouse gases per dwelling and per person than smaller blocks of flats, townhouses or detached homes.

High-rise apartment blocks emit 10.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, compared with nine tonnes for detached homes and 5.1 tonnes for townhouses.

When divided by the average number of residents in different types of housing, flat-dwellers came out the highest energy offenders – 5.4 tonnes of greenhouse gases a person, compared with 2.9 tonnes for residents of detached homes.

…The report, published on the department’s website, says electrically heated swimming pools and inefficient lighting and ventilation systems in common areas were found in many of the apartment blocks audited.

“With more thoughtful selection of common area technologies, many high-rise buildings could enjoy large energy and greenhouse savings,” it said.

Bill Randolph, who heads the University of NSW City Futures Research Centre, said … “Seventy per cent of the next generation of Sydney’s property is going to be medium- and high-density,” Professor Randolph said. “We have to make sure that whatever is built is up to the highest environmental standards.”
(30 May 2006. HT: Big Gav)

Server Efficiency Is Hot Topic

Peter Coffee, eWeek
If you want to enjoy willing suspension of disbelief when watching most science-fiction movies, don’t learn any thermodynamics. Once you start to look at things in terms of energy flows, too much of what you see on the big screen will stop making sense. Lately, though, my problem is that the energy picture of real-life IT is starting to seem just as implausible.

There’s simply no possible way, using any known or imagined technology, for the typical Hollywood spaceship to pack enough joules to get itself off a planet-not to mention that no one ever seems to ask what it’s going to cost to fill ‘er up. And don’t even get me started on the question of where the creatures in the “Alien” movies get the calories they’d need to move those ugly exoskeletons. If they use the humans they catch as hosts for their young, what do the adult aliens eat, and where do they grow it?

OK, that’s entertainment, but have you looked at a server farm lately? The imbalances look just as bad. Before the decade is out, even conservative predictions suggest a crossing of the curves. The cost of powering and cooling a server over a four-year lifetime will soon exceed the cost of the server hardware, projects Luiz André Barroso, Google platforms engineering group leader.

In a paper published in the Association for Computing Machinery’s Queue journal last fall, Barroso wrote, “One could envision bizarre business models in which the power company will provide you with free [server] hardware if you sign a long-term power contract.”

…It’s in this environment that Sun Microsystems announced in May its appointment of a vice president for eco-responsibility, David Douglas. He’ll be charged with minimizing the energy footprint of systems, not only while they’re running but also over their whole life cycle of manufacture and salvage.

Don’t dismiss this as some Californian tree-hugging gesture: The real-world numbers are significant today and will be even more so tomorrow.
(22 May 2006)