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Clean Coal Air Freshener

This seems to me to be an especially effective commercial:

Tire Inflation

Yesterday Obama said:

"There are things that you can do individually though to save energy," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, said. "Making sure your tires are properly inflated, simple thing, but we could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much."

Today, Limbaugh and others ridiculed the comment:

"My friends, this is laughable of course, but it’s stupid!  It is stupid! How many of you remember the seventies? When we had these shortages, all through the Jimmy Carter years and we have all these tips, all these tips on how to save gasoline?  Avoid jackrabbit starts, keep your tires properly inflated, there’s a list of about ten or twelve these things.  I said if I follow each one of these things I’ll have to stop the car every five miles, siphon some fuel out, for all the fuel I’m going to be saving. This is ridiculous.  This is a presidential candidate and he's talking about keeping your tires inflated and getting regular tune-ups and that would save as much oil as drilling would produce. And this guy is the Democrat presidential nominee.  Who has filled his head with this stuff"

I accept that some might find the statement laughable because convincing everyone to diligently keep their tires properly inflated is not practical. Fair enough, but that’s not what Obama was intending to communicate anyway. I figure he was making the point that conservation and improved efficiency will inevitably be part of the energy solution, as will technology advances and development of other energy sources. As a statement of fact, Obama’s probably doesn’t hold up exactly…a careful examination indicates proper tire inflation would probably only account for 2/3 of offshore drilling (link), but I’d hardly say that’s a laughable comparison (link) and would also point out that Republican governors of both California and Florida recently (one of who is on the short list for the Republican VP spot) (link):

…appealed to those with the real power to make change — average citizens — to drive slower, keep engines tuned and tires properly inflated, to buy hybrids and lower overall consumption.

Of course, that quote hardly a complete summary of Obama’s energy policy. If you care to be informed, a thorough description of his energy policy can be found here: link

Can you buy a greener conscience?

Smokestack_in_Detroit.jpgA recent article of the same title by Alan Zarembo in the LA Times examines the current trend in purchasing carbon offsets:

The race to save the planet from global warming has spawned a budding industry of middlemen selling environmental salvation at bargain prices. The companies take millions of dollars collected from their customers and funnel them into carbon-cutting projects, such as tree farms in Ecuador, windmills in Minnesota and no-till fields in Iowa. In return, customers get to claim the reductions, known as voluntary carbon offsets, as their own. For less than $100 a year, even a Hummer can be pollution-free -- at least on paper. Driven by guilt, public relations or genuine concern over global warming, tens of thousands of people have purchased offsets to zero out their carbon impact on the planet.

But the industry is clouded by an approach to carbon accounting that makes it easy to claim reductions that didn't occur. Many projects that have received money from offset companies would have reduced emissions by the same amount anyway. The growing popularity of offsets has now prompted the Federal Trade Commission to begin looking into the $55-million-a-year industry.

Several environmental and clean energy groups have also raised concerns about verifying projects, monitoring their actual carbon reductions and ensuring that each carbon offset is not sold more than once.

It seems that the middlemen buying and selling the carbon offsets often pay a tiny fraction of a projects cost buy claim 100 % of the carbon reductions. That's how they can sell the carbon reductions so cheaply and why the carbon reductions would have occurred anyway regardless of whether or not someone purchased an offset. I assume that there are plenty of cases where purchased offsets really were integral to the success of a project (while this article focused on the more sensational examples to the contrary), but to me, this sets a pretty horrible precedent. It's an example of appearance without substance...of people cheaply satisfying their consciences without actually making much of a real difference. And when you try to convince people to make a lifestyle change that would actually make a real difference, they'll be suspicious that what you're advocating will have as little substance to it as these offsets. As Zarembo put it:

Offsets are so convenient that they may foster a false sense that global warming can be easily solved when the hard and expensive work remains undone.

The director of An Inconvenient Truth put it this way:

All of us knew when you're doing offsets that the theoretical and symbolic quality to doing this is as important as the practical quality.

I'm not sure I agree.

Local Solutions Not Suitable for Global Issues

From an editorial of the same title by William Falk in the current issue of The Week:

To accurately calculate a product's carbon impact, they found, you have to go beyond "food miles"-the distance that kiwi or artichoke-flecked sausage traveled before reaching your table-and figure in how much fertilizer, transported water, electricity, and other energy was used to produce it. Lamb raised on New Zealand's sunnier, grassier hills and shipped 11,000 miles to Britain, the study found, produced a mere 1,520 pounds of carbon emissions per ton. "Local" British lamb, which requires more intensive care, produced 6,280 pounds-four times as much. As if that heresy were not upsetting enough, a British scientist has calculated that walking to the store contributes more to global warming than driving a car. Walking, it seems, burns calories, which have to be replaced by eating food. And producing food-especially beef and dairy products-is more carbon-intensive than burning a smidgen of gasoline, particularly since ruminating cattle emit so much methane.

It was funny when I read that today because I had just finished listening to a Science Friday segment where the guests were emphasizing the virtues of locally-grown food. There is a New York times op-ed that argues, based on the New Zealand study, that buying local food isn't always best for the environment here. Response letters are here. An article about walking vs driving is here. This reminds me of a talk I heard by a professor within a month or so of joining Dow (fall 1999). He had done an analysis that showed, at least for a particular case, creating fuel from crops was a net energy drain primarily because of the energy used to make fertilizer.

FEMA's toxic trailers

This story of the same title from The Week magazine is to me emblematic of a sickness in our government and society in general. On the advice of the lawyers, FEMA failed to investigate claims that fumes in trailers provided to Katrina survivors were making them sick. Rather than "undermine the agency's position in any court proceedings," FEMA leaves them to the formaldehyde fumes.

FEMA officials covered up concerns that trailers provided to survivors of Hurricane Katrina contained toxic levels of formaldehyde, congressional investigators said last week. Agency e-mails unearthed by a House committee show that FEMA lawyers vetoed a proposal to test the trailers for formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Some 120,000 people displaced by the 2005 hurricane lived in FEMA-supplied trailers, and hundreds have reported health problems such as nosebleeds and shortness of breath. Following the death of one hurricane victim who had complained of fumes in his trailer, agency lawyers advised against an investigation, saying it “could seriously undermine the agency’s position” in any court proceedings. FEMA officials this week apologized and said they were testing the 66,000 trailers still in use.


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