Monday, June 26, 2006

I'm Sorry

Dear Pacific Northwest,

I apologize. I'm pretty sure I did it. Caused all this heat, I mean.

See, my in-laws are in town. They are from sunny Colorado and have this thing about making "funny, funny jokes" about our weather. They were pretty sure that it never stopped raining here. They were convinced they wouldn't even be able to leave our house for fear of drowning in the incredible, perpetual downpour. I knew that if it rained even once, even for five minutes, we would never hear the end of it. So...I hoped really really hard for nice weather. And then this happened. I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I swear.

Carnival of the Green #33

The 33rd edition of the Carnival of the Green is up at Jen's Green Journal.

Jen walks us through a future museum display where we learn about the environmental crisis of the past. I like my future-looking with a little positive spin so I highly recommend this brilliant edition - Be sure not to miss it!

(Thanks to Jen for including my post Rivers, Iraq and the Exxon Valdez in the Carnival!)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Conference Call Speeches

Are conference call speeches new or just new to me?

Al Gore gave one, with, on climate change and his An Inconvenient Truth book/movie combo a few weeks ago. Yesterday morning I listened to one given by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on energy policy, organized by the Democratic Governors' Association.

It's a pretty good idea. You don't have to get people to actually show up anywhere, you just have to get them to call in. The listener gets to hear the speech as it's given, in the comfort of their home or office or even on the bus with a cell phone. They can even be personalized up a bit - for example, at the end of the speeches by Governors Kulongoski and Granholm they each answered two questions submitted by listeners. Of course mine wasn't among them so who knows if they were really from the audience. It's nice to believe that they were though, so I'm going to.

Governor Granholm talked a lot about E85 (a fuel that is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.) She said that because Michigan is an automotive leader that it has a responsibility to be a leader in alternative automobile fuels. She also mentioned that she was "sitting in her hybrid car right now!"

Governor Kulongoski emphasized energy conservation. He also made a point of saying that the state should be a role model and to that end he has called for the state government to use 100% renewable resources for its electricity generation by 2010. Not to be outdone by Governor Granhom he commented that one of the cars he rides around in is E85.

Neither Governor mentioned "clean coal" as part of their vision for future energy policy. There was lots of talk of ethanol, wind, solar, geothermal, and even tidal resources.

Both Governors stated that they believed their state would emerge as the leader in alternative energy. Governor Granholm joked that she wouldn't mind a friendly competition between Oregon and Michigan to see who would come out on top.

I liked the conference call speech format enough that I would call in again if given the opportunity. It would have been nice if there had been more time - the whole thing lasted only half an hour. Also, instead of using pre-submitted questions it would have felt more genuine if they had let listeners ask questions live instead of using those that were pre-submitted.

If you'd like to listen to the call yourself the DGA has the mp3 available.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Happy Summer Day !

Here's a happy Summer Day to you - PDX style!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Carnival of the Green #32

The 32nd edition of Carnival of the Green is up at Savvy Vegetarian...

My pick this week is the two-part series on Moon Colonization at debitage. Two excellent responses to moon colonization related questions: First - Will it solve the human overpopulation problem? and Second - Who gets to go?

(Also - thanks to the Savvy Vegetarian for including my post Carbon Neutral Challenge in this week's carnival.)

Rivers, Iraq and the Exxon Valdez

In preparation for River School I've been reading all I can about rivers and river restoration. One of the books I started with was Disconnected Rivers: Linking Rivers to Landscapes by Ellen Wohl who does an amazing job detailing the history of human impacts on rivers (mining pollution, beaver removal, channelization, levees, dams, pesticides, sewage...) and the consequences (decreased habitat, decreased wetlands, decreased biodiversity, decreased water quality, cancer...) in a way that is at once readable, reasoned and passionate.

In the final chapters Dr. Wohl cautions would-be rehabilitators of rivers to plan projects carefully, to avoid doing even more harm to the river. She urges the consideration of questions like:
  • What aspects of the river are the focus of the rehabilitation: channel stability? flood conveyance? habitat enhancement?
  • How will the proposed rehabilitation measures likely affect other aspects of the river and its surroundings?
  • In what condition will the river exist when you are finished?
These seem to me to be very reasonable guidelines for any project. What are you trying to do? How will your actions affect the world beyond your project? When will you be successful, and what will your project look like when you are?

Yes, these guidelines could be used for projects small and large. Starting a small business, say, or running a grassroots campaign. Even waging war...Hey, there's a good one. Wouldn't it be great if we knew the answers to those three questions in regards to Iraq? Why did we go there in the first place? How is the war affecting the people and the environment of Iraq, of the region, of the world? How is the US defining "success" and what do the people in control of the whole thing think the world is going to look like when/if success is achieved?

Unfortunately, it looks like Dr. Wohl's original intentions for her guidelines will be needed in Iraq. 36,000 barrels of low-grade fuel oil a day are being dumped and burned, polluting the groundwater and the Tigris River. That's 1,512,000 gallons, or about 6 olympic sized swimming pools, per day. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill was 11 million gallons. Or, to put it another way: There's an Exxon Valdez sized environmental crisis happening once a week at just one location in Iraq.

From the NY Times:

The dumping and burning has embarrassed ministry officials and exposed major gaps in the American-designed reconstruction program, even as President Bush appeals to the international community for much more rebuilding money in the wake of his visit to Baghdad.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Come Again? What's That Now?

When the headline "Bush Plans Vast Protected Sea Area in Hawaii" appeared in my rss feeds this morning I literally had to read it twice to make sure I didn't miss a "doesn't" or "opposes" in there somewhere. Then I had to wonder who this "Bush" is - is it someone whose job it is to plan vast protected areas, who just happens to have the same last name as a certain other "Bush" who has been, let's just say, not a great (or the greatest) environmental president?

No, it turns out that the Bush referred to is actually none other than our very own G.W. (Has anyone else noticed that this also stands for "Global Warming"? Heh.) Apparently Jean-Michel Cousteau made a documentary about the Hawaiian area that, according to the NY Times, had a "powerful effect" on GW and Laura.

The 140,000 square miles, currently known as the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, was headed for national marine sanctuary status under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. But this wasn't good enough for that crazy environmentalist George Bush who was chomping at the bit to get some protectin' done. So he used his National Antiquities Act powers to grant the reserve some of the strongest protection available. It's been reported that he's even going to phase out sport and commercial fishing. No, seriously.

The NY Times suggested that the move could be to help Republican governor of Hawaii Linda Lingle's re-election attempt. I guess to show conservative voters that GW is backing her moves to protect her state's waters from commercial activities. I don't care why he did it - the area now has real protection and that is all that really matters! From the reserve website:

The NWHI coral reefs are the foundation of an ecosystem that hosts more than 7,000 species, including marine mammals, fishes, sea turtles, birds, and invertebrates. Many are rare, threatened, or endangered. At least one quarter are endemic, found nowhere else on Earth. Many more remain unidentified or even unknown to science. Unexplored deep-sea habitats, expensive and challenging to survey, may provide new species records to science for decades. Even the shallow coral reef habitats hold new species to science. This is especially true for invertebrates and algae.

Besides supporting these species, the coral reefs and bits of land of the NWHI provide an amazing geological record of the volcanic powers that created the area and the erosion and subsidence that sculpted it.

Update: It's official!

Permits will be required for activities related to research, education, conservation and management, native Hawaiian practices and non-extractive special ocean uses. The commercial and recreational harvest of precious coral, crustaceans and coral reef species will be prohibited in monument waters and commercial fishing in monument waters will be phased out over a five-year period. Oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction will not be allowed anywhere in the monument.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Green Power

This morning I went to the PGE website to sign up for some green power. While there I found three different renewable options to choose from. None of the options is perfect. But all of the options are better than just continuing to pay for the traditional mix.

The first of PGE's options is called Green Source. As a Green Source customer your green power dollars purchase energy from new wind (50%), geothermal (25%), and low-impact hydro (25%) sources in the northwest. Your cost? $0.008/kWh. We use about 1000 kWh per month (and are doing our best to do better) so our additional cost with this program would be about $8 tops.

The second option is Healthy Habitat. Healthy Habitat customers purchase energy from the same sources and at the same rate at Green Source customers. Additionally they pay a monthly fee of $2.50 which goes to the Nature Conservancy to restore salmon habitat in Oregon.

The third option is Clean Wind. This one is a little bit different. Clean Wind customers pay to help build new wind farms here in Oregon. You can purchase units of 200 kWh of new wind at $3.50 per month. However, you actually "receive" energy from both traditional and renewable resources - about 1/3 from coal, 1/3 from hydro, 1/5 from new wind, 1/6 from natural gas and the remainder from "old" wind and nuclear.

Our choice? Healthy Habitat. Green power and habitat for fish. I like it. I think this is the greenest of the three choices - 50% wind is fantastic. 25% geothermal requires drilling and plant construction but is still far and away a better choice than coal. 25% hydro - this is my biggest problem with the plan. Although it is "low-impact" the very existence of dams significantly impact rivers, river habitat and river life - including, but certainly not limited to, salmon and other fish. Still, a better option than coal which, of course, impacts rivers as well:
Many potential stressors are associated with mining activities. The physical and chemical stressors associated with mining are reflected by the composition of biological assemblages and the energy and material flows of the ecosystem ((e.g., Clements et al. [1992]; Starnes [1985]; Hill et al. [1997]). The principal response to physical habitat degradation is loss of biological diversity (fish, macroinvertebrates, algae) at both local (stream) and landscape (watershed) scales. Accelerated morbidity and mortality can also occur. Overall ecosystem function degrades.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Energy in the West

The governors of the west have gotten together and passed a clean energy policy resolution based on two years of research gathered by over 250 participants from a wide range of organizations, from the National Mining Association to the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. While it may not be perfect, it's something. And something's not nothing.

The Western Governors' Association is a group, as the name indicates, of governors in the western states. Specifically, these western states:

and, additionally, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.

In 2004 the WGA held the North American Energy Summit which led to the Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative. This initiative established three goals for the western states:
  • Develop an additional 30,000 megawatts of clean energy by 2015
  • Achieve a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020
  • Ensure a reliable and secure transmission grid for the next 25 years
The Clean and Diversified Energy Advisory Committee (CDEAC) was created to make recommendations for meeting these goals. The CDEAC was made up of subject-grouped "task forces" charged with making policy recommendations in their areas of expertise. These areas were:
  • Advanced Coal
  • Biomass
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Geothermal
  • Solar
  • Transmission
  • Wind
The CDEAC had a set of guidelines to follow while forming their policy recommendations. As outlined in their report "Clean Energy, a Strong Economy and a Healthy Environment" each task force had to:

  • Examine the deliverability and adequacy of energy resources, including an assessment of promising new resources and technologies;

  • Examine the obstacles to both intrastate and interstate transmission siting and construction in order to access clean energy resources;

  • Consider price, reliability, and the mitigation of environmental impacts of all recommendations;

  • Develop energy efficiency and conservation recommendations that take into account all types of energy used in facilities, not just electricity;

  • Address both technical and policy issues.
Additionally, the WGA stressed the importance of policies that were non-mandatory and incentives-based.

The task forces made production recommendations for each energy resource by the year 2015:
The CDEAC appears optimistic that an additional 30,000 MW, provided by a diverse portfolio, is well within reach. It even went so far as to say that transmission issues shouldn't be a problem:

A Transmission Task Force examined this cross cutting issue and concluded that while transmission is always a large consideration with respect to the location of new generating facilities, transmission in and of itself should not be a barrier to achieving the 30,000 MW goal.

The CDEAC calls the energy efficiency goal of 20% by 2020 a "win-win" for consumers and businesses. The benefits of this increase, as outlined in the CDEAC report are:
  • 48,000 MW of avoided power plant construction during 2005 - 2020
  • Small reduction in electricity prices in the latter part of study period
  • $53 billion in net economic benefits for consumers and businesses
  • Substantial avoidance of power plant emissions
  • Approximately 1.8 trillion gallons of water savings during 2005 - 2020
The CDEAC's recommendation is to utilize current "best practice" methods to increase efficiency to reach the 20% by 2020 goal. It identifies these methods as:
  • Electricity and natural gas energy efficiency programs where energy efficiency is considered a resource and all cost effective savings are pursued with investments of a percentage of revenues
  • State-of-the-art building codes. training, enforcement and “beyond code” incentive programs
  • State appliance efficiency standards on products not covered by federal standards
  • RD&D and technology transfer
  • Public sector initiatives including aggressive energy efficiency and conservation goals for public buildings
  • Tax credits and other financial incentives
  • Pricing and incentive regulation policies
  • Regional cooperation and market transformation efforts
Two days ago, on the 11th, the WGA passed the policy resolution Clean and Diversified Energy for the West based on the CDEAC recommendations.

Renewable Portfolio Standards are being implemented in an increasing number of western states so it makes sense for the WGA to anticipate these energy obligations. While I know that coal will continue to dominate even this energy game it's nice to hear words like "renewable," "solar," "wind" and "clean" coming out of these states:

Monday, June 12, 2006

Carnival of the Green #31

Carnival of the Green's 31st edition is up at one of Science Blog's newest members: Blog Around the Clock.

My favorite article chosen this week: Is the EPA Safeguarding Public Health? at Organic Authority. Apparently the EPA thinks the carcinogen DDVP is definitely not okay for some uses but maybe a-okay for others. Hmm...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Carbon Neutral Challenge

Have you seen An Inconvenient Truth yet? No? Well, please go see it now. I'll wait.

... ... ...

Oh good, you're back! Wasn't that a fantastic, powerful film? Don't you hope that Al will run again in 2008? Me too! Okay, so here's what I want to talk about: Living a carbon neutral lifestyle.

Al posed the challenge to us, as Americans, to do the right thing and reduce our carbon emissions. I would love to be part of a movement that would make me proud to be an American, so I'm on board. Are you up for the Carbon Neutral Challenge?

Jason and I discussed ways to reduce our household's carbon emissions. Here are the commitments we made:
  • Take the Bus To Work/School

  • Reduce Car Use In General
    • Buses go just about everywhere we do. We can even bring the dog.
    • Walking is nice. Our grocery store is a lovely walk through a forested area away and backpacks filled with groceries make the trip back up the hill a good workout!

  • Home Heating & Cooling
    • This is probably my biggest problem. I'm all about the fans and the thermostat. We're going to do our best to use neither.

  • Home Lighting

  • Make More of an Effort to Buy Locally

  • Use Alternative Electricity Sources
    • My goal is to finish our solar generator by the end of the summer. I estimate that we'll be powering 20% of our household electric appliances with it initially and we'll expand to 100% as funds allow.
    • Until then we're also going to purchase electricity through PGE's Green Source program. 50% of our PGE electricity will then come from wind sources, 25% from geothermal and 25% from low-impact hydropower.
How are you trying to achieve carbon neutrality?

Friday, June 09, 2006

What To Do With The Data

Alex Steffen over at WorldChanging has a great post - Virtual Seattle, Virtual Puget Sound - on models and their ever-increasing levels of sophistication. He makes the excellent point that unless we act on the data that models can provide they are near worthless:

The question of course remains, as to whether we are getting any better at all at listening to what our tools tell us. Because unless we're willing to use the insight we're gaining to try to think like a salmon stream, say, and act to meet its needs, the danger always remains of what Thoreau called "improved means to an unimproved end." That is, the danger exists that we will simply more finely and accurately document the decline of what love and depend on.

The whole "caring about data" thing doesn't seem to be happening as of yet. For example, the $200 million (which is what - 15 minutes of war-fightin' money?) climate satellite program has been bumped to make way for the 2020 moon missions. This news follows the cancellation of the already built $100 million Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

Francisco P.J. Valero of Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego described DSCOVR (aka "Triana"):

Triana will view the Earth in a different way - as an entire planet rather than a patchwork of regions of interest. It will uniquely acquire synoptic (all regions in the sunlit side seen simultaneously) sunrise to sunset, high time resolution data for most points on Earth using state of the art, highly accurate, in flight calibrated instruments.

Triana will collect information on the climate system combining atmospheric dynamics, cloud physics, aerosols, radiation and surface remote sensing.

Before we can listen to what our tools tell us we have to turn them on. I guess Triana is still sitting in a NASA warehouse somewhere - Maybe the next administration will have some use for it.

Do You Like Picasso?

Last night I was sitting outside of the downtown library, reading my book and waiting for Jason to pick me up, when a nicely dressed, older woman stopped, looked at me and said, "I just thought of something. I'll try it out on you."

She seemed to be waiting for some sort of response so I closed my book and replied, "Okay." She asked, "Do you like Picasso?"

Picasso? "Sure..." I responded. She looked at me as if I had just told her I eat puppies and asked, incredulously, "You do?" "Sure." I said again. Now I was intrigued. Where could this possibly be going?

"This is what I think," she said, "Picasso was an artist. A con artist!" And then she just continued on down the street.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

PDX Fleet Week

This boat arrived yesterday, kicking off PDX Fleet Week 2006! Big giant boats will be arriving on the Willamette today at 2 and 6pm. Coming from the landlocked state of Colorado I've never had the opportunity to see big giant boats so I'm heading down this afternoon to see them come in.

Also, an update on summer stuff: I've successfully changed to a summer admit and have registered for the summer river restoration extravaganza. :)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Anti-Christmas

A LOL kind of comment this morning over at Crooks & Liars, by someone called strawberry:

Crap. I went to bed last night full of hope. 06-06-06. I sprung outta' bed this morning, rushed to my laptop, and found out God didn't come for them afterall. Shit. So much for the meek inheriting the earth. Kinda' like the anti-Christmas.