Friday, December 26, 2008

Autumn Leaves

In North Texas, leaves don't begin to fall off the trees in earnest until December. My red oak tree still had nearly all its leaves when I snapped a picture on December 13. So even though it is now winter, the pragmatic environmentalist is just now having to clean up the autumn leaves from his yard.

The pragmatic environmentalist does not like dealing with the autumn leaves that fill his yard any more than the next person. The one thing he wants to avoid is and raking and bagging all the leaves. He further does not want to haul all the bags to the street for the trash pickup. It is just too much work. Its not environmentally friendly either. A neighbor used more than twenty 30 gallon plastic trash bags to hold the leaves from his yard. A trash truck then needs to burn fuel to hall these leaves away. It doesn't make use of all the good organic material in the leaves. There must be a better way to deal with these leaves.

An alternative is composting. The pragmatic environmentalist also see this as a lot of work. It still evolves a lot of raking and hauling to get the leaves to the compost bin. Then over the next months it means tending to the bin. It you want to compost your leaves I think that is great. The organic soil created will be very useful when you start your spring gardening.

What the pragmatic environmentalist did do that is just as good as composting. He mulched the leaves into the grass. All one needs to do is first rake the leaves from the edges of the yard to the middle. Then, just get out the mulching lawn mower and run it over the leaves. All the organic material in the leave is mulched into the grass and the leaves are gone. It much less work than raking and bagging leaves and much easier than composting. It also adds good organic material to the soil in the yard.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Energy Debate

It seems to me that the Republicans and Democrats just can't get over their petty politics, ideologies and ties to special interests long enough to put together a pragmatic energy policy that will be good for all Americans, break our costly dependence on foreign oil, improve our economic and national security and combat global warming.

The Republicans seem tied to drilling our way out of the oil crisis and continue to provide tax breaks and incentives to the oil, gas and coal companies. They can't break away from 20th century energy solutions that aren't working. Republican also seem to have no appreciation for the benefits the environment provides and hate energy efficiency and renewable energy. To most Republicans, global warming is not a problem that needs to be addressed.

The Democrats, on the other hand, love energy efficiency and renewable energy. They are big into environmental protection. They don't want to open up any new areas for more domestic drilling. Not only do the Democrats want to take away unwarranted tax breaks from oil, gas and coal companies, but also want to add a wind fall profits tax on oil companies to punish oil companies. Democrats seem to be opposed to any new fossil fuel energy development even if strict, effective and enforceable environmental safeguards are put in place. To Democrats, global warming is the biggest problem.

I think the Republicans and Democrats need to be aside their partisan, ideological and special interest dogmas and start working on a pragmatic comprise on energy policy.

The Democrats could allow offshore oil drilling if strict environmental safeguards are put in place. The Republicans should not object to these safeguards. With oil north of $130 per barrel, there is plenty of money to pay for the safeguards and provide oil companies big profits too.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are a very important part of the energy future. The Republican should support the renewal of the investment tax credits for renewable energy. Republican need to stop protecting the oil can coal industries. Republicans should support that 20% of our energy come from renewable energy by 2020. By stifling U.S. efforts on renewable energy, the Republicans are simply letting foreign countries increase their technological lead over the U.S. They are also letting the energy hole we are in get deeper and deeper.

Both the Republicans and Democrats need to stop going after scapegoats like speculators, OPEC and environmentalist. A real energy plan would mitigate efforts by these groups and other to limit energy supplies and manipulate prices. Both the Democrats and Republicans also need to prepare for peak oil. Peak oil occurs when world oil production stops growing and eventually starts to decline as oil fields deplete. Sure we may have oil for another 100 years. But the production rates will be much lower than they are today.

Basically, we need Democratic and Republican statesmen and stateswomen to go beyond petty politics, ideologies and special interest to create pragmatic energy policies that will provide a healthy and prosperous future for America.

Hummer vs. Prius - Round 2

Several years ago there was bogus information going around the web that the Hummer was the more environmental friendly vehicle when you considered cradle-to-grave total energy costs (see my previous post here)

Well now comes round two of the Prius vs. Hummer and I think the Prius is delivering the knockout punch. GM is considering ending Hummer production and closing the Hummer plant (see here). In the mean time, Toyota can't build the Prius fast enough to meet demand. Dealers can't keep them on their lots and Toyota will be starting Prius production in the US (see here)

With gas averaging over $4 per gallon, the Hummer just couldn't keep pace with the Prius. In the end, the gasoline price is what cleared the air on the Prius vs. Hummer energy obfuscation. The Prius won hand down. The debate is over.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

De facto Carbon Tax is Here

The most efficient way to regulate carbon dioxide emissions is to institute a tax on carbon. This is how many economists and environmentalists see it. However, creating a new tax is a non-starter since it is political suicide in the U.S. to propose any type of new tax even if it replaces an existing tax or funds are returned to the public. This is why complicated cap and trade emissions trading plans are being proposed. Cap and trade avoids the word tax and provides so called market incentives to reduce carbon.

But we now have in effect a de facto carbon tax. We have the tax due to the failure of our political leaders to enact an effective energy policy. Oil is nearing $150 per barrel and gasoline is over $4 per gallon, which is double the price of only a few years ago. The ever escalating price of oil is just like having a carbon tax except for one thing: the money is going to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other foreign countries instead of the U.S. treasury. So the U.S. taxpayer and consumer gets no benefit from this tax and it damages our economy.

This de facto carbon tax is having the same effect as a real carbon tax to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. People are driving less and abandoning SUVs for fuel efficient cars. Detroit is scrambling to move from SUV and pickup truck production to high gas mileage vehicles. We don’t need CAFE standards anymore since Detroit is now being forced into building fuel efficient cars due to high oil prices and market pressures. Airlines are trying every way they can to reduce their fuel consumption to save costs. You can see people worried about living in car dependent suburbs and starting to change their driving and living habits. Cities are planning mix-use zoning plans to make walking to stores and work possible again. Mass transit is making a comeback. People are talking about bike trails and riding bikes to work. Motor cycle and motor scooter sales are rising. These are the things we need to do to combat global warming. These are the things a carbon tax is suppose to put in motion. This shows that a real carbon tax would very effective at limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

Who is to blame for this de factor carbon tax. There are many bogeymen. Speculators, OPEC, Congress, President Bush, American saber rattling against Iran, oil companies, auto manufacturers, environmentalists, SUV drivers, the ambivalent American public, new demand for oil from China and India, peak oil, the falling dollar, failure for the U.S. to enact an effective oil policy, terrorism, political instability in many oil producing areas of the world. Probably all of these factors have some part in the current high price of oil. Because of all the varied forces driving up the price of oil, don't expect the price of oil and the de facto tax on carbon to come down anytime soon if ever.

Only effective energy policies can reduce this de facto tax on carbon. I don't think our politicians have the guts needed to bring about the necessary energy policy changes.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Power Strips and Standby Power

Most appliances and electronics in the home are never completely off. They are usually in standby mode ready for someone to touch a key or use the remote control. While in standby mode they are still drawing power twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Maybe its not much, perhaps only one to ten watts. But start counting the number of devices you have in your home and the standby power consumption can add up quickly.

It is estimated that 7% of the power used in a home is for devices in standby mode. It could amount to the equivalent of leaving two or three 100 watt light bulbs on all the time. These standby loads can add a significant amount to your electricity bill over a years time ($50 or more). They also add to the global warming CO2 going into the atmosphere since the electricity probably comes from a coal or natural gas fired electric power plant.

The standby loads also are called phantom loads and vampire loads. The devices that have standby modes include TVs, microwave ovens, cell phone chargers, battery chargers, computers, computer monitors, printers, video game consoles, VCRs, DVD players and stereos. Anything with a clock, remote control or LED ready light draws standby power.

What can be done to reduced these standby loads. There are two simple low cost ways to eliminate phantom loads. Unplug the device when not it use or use a power strip. The power strip is usually the most convenience since it can be used to turn off multiple devices with one flip of a switch.

I use power strips at home to turn my PCs completely off. One power strip is all that is needed to turn off the PC, monitor and printer. At my home, we usually only use our PCs in the evening. It makes sense to have them off the rest of the day. PCs can use up to 50 watts even in standby mode. So its good to shutdown PCs completely and then cut off their power with a power strip.

I also use a power strips at work. I have a laptop PC that fits in a docking station. Whenever I undock my PC, I flip the power strip off. That eliminates the standby load from the docking station and my desktop monitor.

I only plug my cell phone charger in when I am actually charging the cell phone. The charger will still draw some power even when the cell phone is not plugged in.

The only devices in my home I do not have on powers strips are the TVs. Its not just a matter of being able to use the remote control. It is that they also loose all their programming and need to search to fine all the channels again when power is re-applied.

For more information on Standby power see:

So unplug or use power strips to reduce the standby power loads in your home. You’ll save some money and help reduce CO2 emissions. That a win-win.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Soft Drinks - Just Another form of Bottled Water

The Fanatic Cook wrote a blog called How America Eats in which she has a picture of a huge soft drink display in a supermarket foyer. The Fanatic Cook is concerned about the health effects of the soft drinks. When I saw this I started thinking about the environmental impact too. My thought was how is bottling all these soft drinks in aluminum and plastic bottles any different than just bottling water?

The major content of soft drinks is water. Its as much as 99.8% water. The rest is just some added flavoring, sugar usually in the from of high fructose corn syrup, carbonation and caffeine. So soft drinks are just bottled water in an unhealthy disguise of caffeinated sugar water. We still have the problem of transporting all the water in these soft drinks and disposing of all the bottles just like plain old bottled water.

To learn more see the following links:

If you still need sugar water, buy powdered drinks like Kool-aid or Gatorade powder and mix them with tap water. If you don’t like straight tap water, just use a carbon filter on your tap. A carbon filter makes tap water as good or better than most bottled waters. My filters work great. Drink the mixture from a reusable glass or bottle.

So do the environment, your waistline and your health some good by cutting out the soft drinks.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

China Restricting Plastic Bag Use

One of the simple ways we can reduce waste, reduce oil consumption and help the environment is to forgo the plastic bags we get stores. I try to take my clothe bags to the super market whenever I remember. When I just pick one or two items, I will carry them out without the bag. Checkout clerks just put things in the plastic bags instinctively. Its a bit of a shock to them when I refuse a plastic bag. Its like I’m the only one who does this.

However, I am no longer alone in my in trying to reduce waste from plastic bags. I now have China behind me. National Geographic is reporting that “China is banning free plastic shopping bags and calling for a return to the cloth bags of old.” The Chinese seem to be taking the plastic bag restrictions in stride with many realizing it’s a good thing. Click here for the complete article

Some other insights from the article are:

  • San Francisco last year became the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags
  • The United States throws out one hundred billion plastic bags per year!
  • Other countries have restrictions including South Africa, Ireland, Taiwan and Bangladesh

One other note I would like to add is Sam Club does not provide plastic bags or bags of any kind at their stores. They do keep used cardboard boxes from goods shipped to their stores at their checkouts for customers to use. I also know that Ikea is charging their customers a nickel per plastic bag in an effort to get their customers to use reusable bags. (click here). It think both of these stores should be given credit for not fostering plastic bags.

I hope you too will follow China’s lead and reduce your use of plastic bags.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Gas Saving Tip when Parking the Car at the Store

The Pragmatic Environmentalist is all about saving energy whether its in the home, office or car. There are many tips on how to improve the energy use of your car and save gasoline like the ones I found on Yahoo! Green. But I never heard the tip I am about to give you here.

When going to the supermarket, mall or big box discount store (e.g. Wal*mart), park in a spot near the parking lot entrance. Just pull in the lot, take a space at the back and turn off your engine. You can waste a lot gas (and time) trying to get that space close to the store door. Some of your worst gas mileage come when inching through a parking lot.

In a busy store parking lot you can spent a great deal of time idling the engine or inching along waiting for people to move out of your path. There are drivers stopping their cars by the store entrance to pickup passenger or load their vehicles who block your way. There are drivers cruising around to get that close in space that slow everyone down.

Then there is the driver who blocks a lane waiting for another shopper to pull out of their close in space. The shopper usually must first put their purchases in the car, then take his time getting in the car, before finally pulling out of the space. Then the blocker finally pulls in the space and out of your way. This process seems to take 5 minutes or more. All this time, the blocker is wasting your gas, his gas and the gas of many others caught in the gridlock.

The are other advantages to parking in a space near the lot entrance is that they make it easy to get in and out of the lot. This reduces the stress of navigating the parking lot. Sure you have the walk a little further, but it’s a good way to get a some exercise too. With shopping carts its usually not a problem getting your purchases back to your car.

So save a little gas and get some exercise by parking in a space in the back of the lot.