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An Engineer Examines a Town’s Energy Future
(audio, video)
Peak Moment via Global Public Media
How much energy does a town consume? Brian Corzilius sleuthed that out for Willits, California, and got a big surprise: in this community of 13,000 people, nearly 25% of after-tax revenue leaves town to pay for energy–gas, diesel, electricity and natural gas. His inventory grew into an energy independence report which identified opportunities for local fuels to replace the external inputs. His local “energy mix” considers solar, wind, hydro, biomass, wood gasifiers, co-generation, and sewage plant methane to create electricity. A model for any community, his energy report is online at
(4 September 2008)

The Carbon Footprint of Research at Caltech

Asa S. Hopkins, WorldChanging
Over the years, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has earned a name for itself as one of the world’s foremost scientific research universities. In its more than 100 buildings, a small community of just over 3,000 faculty, students, and researchers study everything from chemical engineering to planetary sciences. But, as a member of Caltech’s Sustainability Council, I learned that the facilities and machines used to conduct this research are responsible for generating more than 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Prior to 2006, students felt as if our pleas to increase sustainability efforts fell on deaf ears. But that changed almost overnight once Caltech hired its current President, Jean-Lou Chameau, who brought with him a continuing commitment to improving institutional sustainability and implementing sustainable technology.

Caltech has, in fact, been making incremental progress toward sustainability, including reducing its use of energy intensive lighting and power options, as well as arranging a “power purchase agreement” for solar power from a photovoltaic arrays to be installed atop several buildings.

But despite these efforts, we still face big challenges in terms of carbon emissions. In many ways, these challenges have their roots in Caltech’s defining purpose: research comes first.

Asa S. Hopkins is a graduate student studying physics at Caltech.
(12 September 2008)

Visit low-carbon Honolulu, only 2,500 miles away!

Daniel Lerch, Post Carbon Cities
I’ve always been wary of city sustainability rankings (Warren Karlenzig’s top-notch How Green Is Your City? excepted). A recent Brookings Institution report of the carbon emissions of the 100 largest U.S. cities is a case in point:

The city with the lowest per capita carbon footprint? Honolulu, Hawaii. Honolulu, which owes its modern existence to the hugely carbon intensive international airline system that makes Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy possible.

Brookings certainly does a fine job in the report itself. Quantifying the carbon emissions of the 100 largest American cities is no easy task…

… One lesson: we can’t just look to the city with the smallest footprints and ask what they did right. We need to understand the complex economic and ecological contexts in which those cities operate — and, even more importantly, understand how those contexts will change thanks in a world of carbon constraints and expensive energy.
(15 September 2008)