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Self-Sufficiency Plan for a Suburban Home

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
I have been talking a lot lately in various places about adaptation – the ways in which we can use our existing infrastructure to live a lower-impact life. And so, I wanted to describe how that might work. I chose as a model the suburban home of a college friend of mine, who coincidentally has become aware of peak oil and asked for my advice not long ago. She lives in an exurb of Boston, with no direct public transportation (there is a train line 15 minutes away), in a fairly conventional suburban home with her partner and two children, 1 1/2 and 5.

She has a lot of slightly over an acre, of which 1/2 is wooded, the rest being open yard and a few raised garden beds. Her neighbors have mostly similar lots, often quite shady, but with fairly good tree cover. The population is quite dense there, but there are few lots of less than 1/2 acre. She is not terribly connected to her neighbors, but they get along reasonably well.

She is permitted poultry, but no larger livestock, and she wanted to know if she could feed herself and her family from the land she has. The answer, I think, is not quite, but she could make an enormous reduction in the amount of food she has to purchase.

There are a lot of potential problems, but here are the suggestions I gave her, and I hope they might be helpful to someone else in a similar situation…
(16 Nov 2006)
Full of practical advice — Sharon is a great source of self sufficiency knowledge. -AF

Science cafés: Knowledge in a casual setting

Carrie Peyton Dahlberg, Sacramento Bee
SAN FRANCISCO-A young couple leaned toward each other over cappuccinos, retired roommates sipped red wine, and at the front of a bustling café, UC Davis anthropology professor Sandy Harcourt talked about man and monkey.

Monkeys’ choices about who they groom, Harcourt said, can help humans understand the biological roots of our own obsession with royalty and movie stars.

“Monkeys groom the ‘Tom Cruise.’ They direct their nice behavior to the high-ranking animal,” Harcourt said as he wove a tale of primate behavior for a rapt and sometimes skeptical audience.

Questions flew, Harcourt’s ideas were challenged repeatedly, and the talk was punctuated by breaks for beer and wine — all trademarks of a growing international movement of science cafés.

Such cafés, springing up as science becomes increasingly complex and political, offer a chance to relax with the subject instead. Speakers keep things short. Audiences ask questions and offer opinions, making the evening more dialogue than monologue.

“In a lecture theater, you expect to be lectured to, but in a café, you expect to have a conversation,” said Duncan Dallas, a retired TV producer who founded the first “Café Scientifique” in the English city of Leeds in 1998.

Today, there are a couple of hundred similar venues scattered from Tokyo to Warsaw, Poland, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, some unrelated and others modeled after Dallas’ venture. American science cafés have sprung up in Chicago, Dayton, Ohio, Los Angeles, New York and at least two dozen other cities, although not in Sacramento, so far.

In San Francisco, graphic designer Juliana Gallin has created “Ask a Scientist,” which she bills as “a lecture series for curious humans.”

Like Dallas, Gallin founded a science café because she wanted one to attend, so she could hear more about science in a casual setting where people mingle.
(20 Nov 2006)
Perhaps a model for discussing peak oil and energy issues? -BA

Is Corporate Do-Goodery for Real?

Bill McKibben, Mother Jones
… is it any wonder we want corporations to solve our biggest problems as well? Isn’t it a parent’s job to protect us? And besides, who else has the capital and the power to do what needs to be done in the face of a crisis like global warming?

Any sign that corporations might be willing to take on the job is greeted with an enthusiasm that borders on delusion. When John Browne, the head of British Petroleum, gave a speech in 1997 admitting that global warming exists, and announcing that business must respond “to the reality and the concerns of the world in which you operate,” people began calling him the “Sun King.”

There is no question that entrepreneurs with a social bent can do enormous good-especially until they decide to go public or sell out to a larger corporation. And they can do well at the same time, connecting with a reasonably large block of motivated consumers. If I need paper towels, they’re damn well going to come from Seventh Generation. I would probably wear Patagonia jackets even if they weren’t so incredibly warm.

…But mostly we need politics of a more straightforward, and entirely unglamorous, variety. If you want energy companies to rearrange their portfolios so that way more money goes to renewables and way less to hydrocarbons, the best way forward is not to appeal to the ceo’s conscience-it’s to pass laws to push him in the right direction.

…Helping corporations do the right thing through regulation-which, it should be noted, also levels the playing field so that a greenish BP doesn’t have to worry about a dirty Exxon­Mobil-is not exactly a new idea. It’s more or less what we used to do, in the long period from Teddy Roosevelt and the trustbusters on to about the 1980s.
(Nov-Dec 2006)

Visionary architect William McDonough – The buildings of tomorrow

John Heilemann, Business 2.0 via CNN Money
Visionary architect William McDonough is making the boomtown environmentally friendly – from Google’s headquarters to China’s cities.
Last spring, green-design guru William McDonough got a mysterious call from Steven Spielberg. Though Spielberg didn’t explain why, he invited McDonough to visit him in Los Angeles. McDonough went – and learned that the Hollywood icon wanted to produce a documentary about McDonough’s work.

“He’d just seen Al Gore’s movie and felt it would be great to make a film about what people are doing about [global warming],” McDonough tells me. “The ending of Gore’s film is tragic, because after showing the scale of the catastrophe, he says, ‘There’s some hope here,’ but the hope is what? Buy hybrid? Change your lightbulbs? It’s not enough!”

Certainly it’s not enough for McDonough – the former dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture and head of two pathbreaking design firms in Charlottesville, Va. – whose eco-friendly schemes are sweeping, radical, and “head-twisting,” as McDonough puts it. Recyclable cars. Server farms powered by wind. Entire cities with factory roofs covered with vegetation.

Yet, far-out as all this sounds, McDonough’s ideas are gaining currency in unexpected places, from corporate boardrooms to the Chinese government. And while some of his dreams are unlikely to become reality, they point the way to a future where business and the environment are friends, not foes; where innovation and conservation are entwined; where maximizing profit and saving the planet are synonymous.
(20 Nov 2006)

Companies are urged to consider the size of their “carbon footprint”

A scheme designed to help companies measure the total amount of carbon emissions from their goods and services has been launched by the Carbon Trust.

The “cradle-to-grave” initiative will provide businesses with a profile of products’ pollution, from the sourcing of raw materials through to disposal.

A recent poll by the Trust showed that 66% of people asked wanted to know the “carbon footprint” of their purchases.

The carbon audits aim to identify ways firms can cut energy use and emissions.

“Cutting carbon in the supply chain is the next critical stage in the business contribution to reduce emissions to tackle climate change, “said Carbon Trust chief executive Tom Delay.

Until now, the Trust, a government-funded independent company, had only offered an audit of firms’ energy consumption.

The new scheme’s “carbon investigations” will look at the amount of carbon being emitted at each stage of a product’s life; from the supply of raw materials and production, through to delivery, consumption and disposal.
(21 Nov 2006)