I’m giving up all non-emergency air travel

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I’m giving up all non-emergency air travel.

The Blue Marble, as seen from Apollo 17

At some point future generations are going to ask “Why didn’t you do something? Anything?!” and I refuse to arrive in that moment empty-handed, especially with a head full of beautiful jet-set vacation memories to prove how little concern I had for future generations or the commons. I already live 100% solar off-grid and drive a Prius and my contribution –my sacrifice– is still not enough for me, especially considering how absolutely filthy air travel is and how utterly avoidable.

So for my kids, my brother’s kids, for everyone’s kids…for the children they will bequeath to the world some day…for the one-in-a-trillion chance that gave us this perfectly habitable biosphere…for all the critters who flock to and rely on my little oasis…that’s it. No more air travel.

There’s nothing so important about my time I feel entitled to ask you to pay for it by deducting its cost from what remains of our shared home in the terrestrial biosphere. If someone was injured or on the verge of death for instance I can’t think of an American who’d refuse me the chance to be at that bedside in a timely manner if means to such speed was available. Flying up to Seattle for a concert or a routine visit however…I can’t ask other people to pay for that with their breath; their health. There’s nothing so important about my time.

Car-Free Living :: Grocery delivery found ‘greener’ than driving to the store

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More support for the car-free existence (at least in markets where retailers like Safeway and Amazon Fresh operate):

Ordering your groceries online and having them delivered to your door can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half compared with driving to the store yourself, University of Washington engineers reported Monday.

“A lot of times people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn’t the case here,” Anne Goodchild, UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in a news release. “From an environmental perspective, grocery delivery services overwhelmingly can provide emissions reductions.”

It’s important to note the global warming footprint of many foodstuffs is already high by virtue of carbon-intensive production or the emissive nature of the livestock in question. If you believe (as I do) that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution applicable to personal approaches to climate mitigation you will view this method of carbon savings as another arrow in your personal reduction quiver.

Read the rest here.

More reasons I don’t own a car

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There’s already more CO2 in the atmosphere than we thought:

The chances of the world holding temperature rises to 2C – the level of global warming considered “safe” by scientists – appear to be fading fast with US scientists reporting the second-greatest annual rise in CO2emissions in 2012.

Carbon dioxide levels measured at at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaiijumped by 2.67 parts per million (ppm) in 2012 to 395ppm, said Pieter Tans, who leads the greenhouse gas measurement team for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The record was an increase of 2.93ppm in 1998…

…and it’s irreversibly changing the Earth for the worse:

See Canada’s glaciers while you still can. Their melting is irreversible, according to projections based on real-world data and validated by satellite images.

By the end of the century, a fifth of the Canadian ice sheet – the world’s third largest – could be gone for good, raising average global sea levels by 3.5 centimetres.

If the whole ice sheet melts, it would raise the global sea level by about 20 centimetres, a fraction of the 70 and 7 metre rises expected respectively if Antarctica and Greenland each shed all their ice…

I could not be aware of the cumulative effect of carbon emissions on the Earth and not feel both responsible for the harm I was causing with my automobile and ashamed of putting my needs and desires before those of all humanity; indeed all Earthly life. In a cool, rainy place like Seattle there have definitely been times when I’d have preferred riding around in a mechanized, heated La-Z-Boy; but I get where I need to go walking with my head held high.

James Howard Kunstler on the inability of technology to save us

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I have been a fan of Kunstler’s since I first saw ‘The End of Suburbia’ in 2005 (documented here in an article in Seattle Weekly).

In his latest book, Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation, Kunstler zeroes in on the central narrative of our time: that we are a highly evolved and technologically sophisticated civilization that will use our ingenuity and engineering expertise to come up with a solution to all the problems we face, from the end of cheap oil to the arrival of extreme climate change.  In other words, we’re not going to collapse into the dust bin of history like the Mayans or the Easter Islanders, because we have iPads and antibiotics.

In Kunstler’s view, this is a childish fantasy. “I’m serenely convinced that we are heading into what will amount to a ‘time out’ from technological progress as we know it,” Kunstler, who is 63, told me from his home in upstate New York. “A lot of these intoxications and deliriums and beliefs about technology are going to run into a wall of serious disappointment.” In short, Kunstler believes we are living on borrowed time – our banking and political systems are corrupt, our fossil fuel reserves are dwindling, the seas are rising – but we’re still partying like it’s 1959.  “Reality itself is very uncomfortable with fraud and untruths. Sooner or later, accounts really do have to be settled.” [my emphasis]

Kunstler echoes what is now a familiar theme for readers of this blog (and environmentalists everywhere), namely Ernest Callenbach’s Four Laws of Ecology, reproduced here yet again because there’s no shortage of people who could benefit from internalizing them:


Accounts indeed have to be settled, and we’re running out of everything: ideas, money, and time.

The thing I identified most with was his use of the term ‘magic’ to describe the fantasy life in which many Americans live about energy, technology, and our ability to save ourselves with ‘more’:

Why Is your book called Too Much Magic?
It’s part of the ongoing story of what’s turning out to be a crisis of civilization.  I tried to describe the first part of the crisis in The Long Emergency.  Since that time, it has become self-evident that we have a range of very difficult problems facing us, and we are taking refuge in wishful thinking, telling ourselves a story that we can continue to live the way that we’re living now.  We desperately want reassurance that we can keep this hyper-complex engine of an advanced American Dream economy going – despite all the signs that are telling us that we probably have to make new and different arrangements for everyday life.

When it happens in my life I refer to it as ‘magical thinking.’ It’s what I told my type 1 diabetic daughter we couldn’t do with regard to her condition. It is the willful abrogation of our connection to the real world. To a Buddhist magical thinking is created by attachments: desires, fears, delusions.

Read more of Kunstler’s article here. Learn more about Ernest Callenbach here.

Germany sets record for solar power generation; equivalent to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity.

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This just in from the first industrialized nation to prove that renewable energy can generate power sufficient to the needs of industry. Yes problems remain (e.g., load-leveling, storage, ‘smart-grid’ technologies yet in development), but the equivalent of 20 nuclear power stations operating at full capacity is not to be sniffed-at.

German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity – through the midday hours on Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think-tank said.

The German government decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be replaced by renew-able energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass. Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renew-able Energy Industry in Muenster, said the 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid on Saturday met nearly 50 per cent of the nation’s midday electricity needs.

“Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity,” Allnoch said. “Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt mark a few times in recent weeks. But this was the first time we made it over.”

It’s not that America can’t do this: it’s that we won’t.

Eat Local: Urban Beekeeping

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The very idea of ‘eating local’ or the ‘100-mile Diet‘ taken here to a whole new level.

But this rooftop honey will be hyper-local, coming from nectar within three miles of the hotel, which is how far bees fly from their hives. Kelly, who buys most seasonal vegetables and meats from local producers, is interested in digging deep into the origins of the products he serves.

And, “I just thought it would be fun to have our own bees. I love the educational aspect of it, learning about where it comes from. It fits into the food and beverage goals of the hotel, being sustainable, local, and efficient. We’re supplementing our supply of something we use a ton of, on an unused part of the hotel: the roof.”

Big, ossified organizations have to be willing/able to entertain even the possibility of such changes in their ways of doing things. Putting bees on the roof of a corporate hotel does nothing to enhance shareholder value, but that can not be taken to mean there is no good to be realized from doing so.

The only thing that separates us from new efficiencies is garden-variety change aversion. Rooftop gardens, urban chickens, replacing non-native (even invasive) ornamental plants with native food-bearing plants…these are the tiny steps that can and should turn urban deserts into productive landscapes.

Rooftop Beekeeping
(Left to right:) Richard Stewart of Carriage House Farms; Todd Kelly, food and beverage director of the Hilton Netherland Plazal; and Megan Ketover, the hotel's pastry chef, examine bee hives on the sixth-floor roof. Kelly and Ketover plan to use the honey in the hotel's cuisine. / The Enquirer/Polly Campbell

passive solar feature

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passive solar feature

Originally uploaded by wesh

A genius passive solar feature on a house on the NW side of Capitol Hill. The dark paint behind the glass on this south-facing wall absorbs tons of solar radiation, which the clear glass wall then traps between the glass and the house. With an open window upstairs and another downstairs these folks can likely heat their whole house via natural convection on a sunny day.

Democratizing the energy market

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The idea that distributed electric power generation systems (individual home- or small-business-based generation capacity) are going to be the next generation of major power producers receives a serious boost from laws such as this one passed by the city of Pasadena, which will require electric utilities to compensate owners of power generation systems (e.g., solar, wind, biomass, &c) for the excess energy they contribute to the grid.

Democratizing the energy market in this fashion will encourage many small producers (homeowners being perhaps the best, most readily understood example) to invest heavily in private electric power generation systems with the knowledge that the excess electric power they generate will result not in the billing offsets available to most small electric power producers today, but actual cash payments which could be used to retire some of the initial capital outlay or finance upgrades.

For the foreseeable future there will be a need for the multi-megawatt production plants that currently form the backbone of our grid, but in an era of increasing pressure to invest in renewables, the liberation of small-scale generators to earn cash payments for their surplus electricity would be an excellent example of government’s ability to open vast new markets through deregulation.

A different world is possible

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Not only is a different world possible, but apparently you can build it in your garage.

Home-made Ford Ranger EV, taken at 1st & Madison in Seattle, WA, USA.

Home-made Ford Ranger EV, taken at 1st & Madison in Seattle, WA, USA.

Carbonless bricks

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I’m reading reports of a revolutionary new technique to create bricks without fire using a combination of a bacterial agent, sand, and sunlight. Ginger Krieg Dosier, Assistant Professor of Architecture at American University of Sharjah (AUS) in Abu Dhabi, has won this year’s “Metropolis Next Generation Design Prize” for the process she calls “Biomanufactured Brick.” According to her research, the non-pathogenic bacteria (sporosar) in the prepared liquid mixture precipitate formation of calcite when added to a mold filled with sand and left to process in the sun. The resulting substance is said to have properties similar to sandstone.

Biomanufactured Brick
'Biomanufactured Brick' – Just add sand, bacteria & sunlight. (© Dexigner 2010. All rights reserved.)

The money quote:

“There are over 1.3 trillion bricks manufactured each year worldwide, and over 10% are made by hand in coal-fired ovens. On average, the baking process emits 1.4 pounds of carbon per brick – more than the world’s entire aviation fleet. In countries like India and China, outdated coal-fired brick kilns consume more energy, emit more carbon, and produce great quantities of particulate air pollution. Dosier’s process replaces baking with simple mixing, and because it is low-tech (apart from the production of the bacterial activate), can be done onsite in localities without modern infrastructure. The process uses no heat at all:mixing sand and non-pathogenic bacteria (sporosar) and putting the mixture into molds. The bacteria induce calcite precipitation in the sand and yield bricks with sandstone-like properties. If biomanufactured bricks replaced each new brick on the planet, it would save nearly 800 million tons of CO2 annually.”

This bears fruit for people in the developing world from a variety of perspectives. In parts of Africa where fuels are scarce, sun-baked mud & straw (adobe) is the only option for durable building materials. To say that sun and sand are abundant in many of these same places is an understatement. For the technological cost of preparing the bacterial mixture; and using the same molds, brickyards and infrastructure as current adobe processes; people in the developing world can upgrade the strength & durability of their chief building material (and therefore their homes & places of business).

I’ve set up a news agent to keep me apprised of developments with this technology. I’m eager to see how the engineering turns out (Is it really as strong as limestone? How does it respond to the varieties of mortar builders will use with it? How does it respond to common weathering agents like water, sun, wind?).