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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Corporate Climate Response - Live

Check out Ogilvy PR's live blogging from the 3 day Corporate Climate Response conference that ends today, May 31st.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Presidential Candidates need to Emulate the Governator on the Environment

In an Op-Ed piece in today's Washington Post, Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jodi Rell blast the federal government for its failure to take the lead on global warming regulations and for standing in the way of states such as California and Connecticut who want emissions regulations that are more aggressive than the EPA recommendations.

This is yet another gutsy move by Gov. Schwarzenegger as he continues to be the maverick of the Republican party. He is taking heat from conservatives and those on the right for being "soft" on the environment, or should I say for believing the Global Warming "myth." Just like we say with Ron Paul's remarks on terrorism during last week's Republican debate in South Carolina, most of the candidates are out of touch with what the public. Old school partisanship is out. Standing up for what is right and bucking your party line is no longer taboo (unless you are Joe Lieberman).

Gov. Schwarzenegger's leadership on the environment is something that is severely lacking from the political debate. Is anyone else sick about Iraq and Abortion dominating these debates? What about the environment? What about energy independence? How about education? Iraq was last election. We need this election to be about our future, about the critical issues where the United States are falling behind in the global economy. Education and the Environment are two issues that have hardly been mentioned during this first phase of the presidential primaries. We need strong leadership and candidates who have done more than just play lip service to alternative energy.

This is not an endorsement but I strongly believe that Governor Bill Richardson is one of the few candidates who actually stands out when it comes to green energy initiatives. Unfortunately, money runs these elections and Richardson cannot touch the fund raising prowess of the big three democratic hopefuls. Most people do not even know who he is! Although I don't see him beating Edwards, Clinton, or Obama for the presidential nod I think Richardson would be the best VP candidate on the democratic ticket. He brings more experience to the table than the three combined. I'll have more on the Presidential candidates and their green policies (hey Iowans - McCain really does hate ethanol) down the road after the field starts to whittle down.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Potential Solar Breakthrough Could be Around the Corner

As some of you know, I am a huge fan of Solar Thermal technology, and although some companies such as Stirling Energy Systems have solar thermal plants currently under construction, the energy produced by these large scale solar plants will still be more expensive than electricity produced by coal fired plants. Last week at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin Texas, Solar Thermal company Asura presented a technology it is currently testing that may be able to store the excess energy it produces from its solar thermal arrays. This could be huge!

Solar electricity is currently only feasible during peak usage periods but the capability to store energy for the hours when the sun is not shining could mean that solar electricity would finally be competitive with electricity produced by coal power plants. I am betting that electricity from coal fired plants will eventually go up due to the utilities passing on the costs of meeting emissions regulations. Unless we finally have a breakthrough in Nuclear waste storage or CO2 ground storage we are going to have to rely on coal plants for the majority of our electricity demands. This is not good. Coal plants are probably the biggest culprit for climate change, smog, and pollution; and even though they talk a big game about reducing pollution they know that there is no competition for cheap electricity, which is why there will be 30 or 40 new coal plants built over the next couple years in the US. That could change if we can see a major breakthrough such as solar thermal storage. The amount of venture capital going into clean tech and solar start-ups means that we are almost certain to see a breakthrough eventually.

My question is this, and I am kind of switching gears here:

When will our government and policy makers stop drinking the ethanol cool-aid and start backing a truly clean technology without the negative consequences of corn based ethanol.

Besides high costs there is no downside to solar energy. There are tax credits for businesses and residences for photovoltaics but that has proven to be cost effective in places such as California which has enough sun hours and incentives to make it a worthy investment. I think the key is getting the incentives to the companies and technologies that are upstream so that customers can use solar produced electricity regardless of their location. The government needs to require utilities to get more of their production from clean tech companies such as SES and Auras and they need to make the deadline to meet that threshold sooner than 2020. They should also make the threshold for clean energy production even higher for dirty coal companies.

read more at CNET | digg story

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

More Candor, Less Pander

This week I need to talk about something that has been greatly irritating me. In the wake of the first two debates for what looks like will be a very long road to the presidency, you can clearly start to hear the political shape shifting that candidates can't seem to stop themselves from doing. This shape shifting is the ambivalent stance they take on issues so they can't be pinned down as being pro or against a certain issue. This is normal behavior but, it can't be tolerated when it comes to pushing forward to save our planet and ourselves.

Recently when certain politicians have been asked "Do you believe in global warming?" they give the type of response that acknowledges that the planet's temperature is rising, and they want to do all they can to help but, are still not convinced that humans are causing this change. What!!!!

Here is an example, Listen to the end of this clip from a presidential candidate. He says "blaming humans for enjoying the environment is extreme"

Maybe his idea of enjoying the environment is pumping extreme amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, dumping waste into our oceans, cutting down rain forests, etc... My concept of enjoyment is a little different.

There is a major problem with the argument that humans can't be blamed for our environmental problems, and we need to call politicians out on it. The problem is that if you are unwilling to identify human behavior as the cause for the environmental problems then you remove yourself of any obligation to change human behavior.

No problem can be approached or solved without identifying the cause of the problem. Yes, I know it sucks to have to change our routine of energy and resource waste that we humans are so used to but, the alternative is much worse.

Going green should not be a divisive political issue. The only reason some candidates are unwilling to blame humans for environmental change is because they are pandering to their corporate interests that may have to change the way they are doing business. That is why instead of pandering we need leaders who will speak with candor about the fact that "yes" we humans caused the problems and now we need to change them.

If we can't agree politically on this issue at least, I'm sorry to say but it is a very sad time in our country's history.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

By 2020, we'll all be dead.

"A key Senate committee today adopted a fuel-efficiency plan that would require automakers' products to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020."

Instead of taking action to drastically improve their emissions I am sure the auto industry will instead spend the money on lobbyists to fight the new fuel efficiency proposal adopted by the Senate Commerce Committee today.

The problem with the proposal is that is it 13 years away. By 2020 we'll all be dead from either global warming or nuclear annihilation. Why not be more aggressive and say 2015?

By the way, big ups to Barack Obama, one of the few presidential candidates with the stones to go to Detroit and give the auto industry an earful on how they screwed up and need to change. His plan to trade their production of more fuel efficient vehicles in exchange for assistance with their health care expenses in an interesting one. The government is going to bail these guys out anyways when they go under, so why not get something in exchange for their assistance?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Allegheny County returned over $1.4 million in federal clean air grants since 2002

Now this I cannot believe - it was just reported that the Allegheny County Health Department has let $1.4 million of the $4.8 million in Federal Clean Air grant money go unused from 2002 through this past march. Allegheny County is a perennial favorite to win worst air quality - so how did this happen? Are the people at the Allegheny Health Department that incompetent or do they not really care about our health? Who is accountable? Enough is enough, its time for someone to lose their job.

Read about this inexcusable offense here at the Pittsburgh Trib.

I'm not sure how long the director Bruce W. Dixon, M.D., pictured above, has been with the ACHD, but someone needs to pay the price.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Green With Patriotism

If your not currently familiar with Thomas L. Friedman, he is a New York Times Op-Ed columnist and bestselling author. In my opinion he is constantly on the forefront of progressive ideas. He just wrote an important article that should immediately be acted upon called "Turning the Election Green".

The main theme of this article is that there should be separate presidential debate that focuses environmental topics. Even though the Iraq war is currently the most discussed topic in politics and probably will be a main focal point of the upcoming election. I think that Green issues are just as important, the reason for this is that Green issues are the only issues that permeate the outcome of other issues.

You can discuss til' your blue in the face why we are in Iraq but, a simple fact is that a large majority of terrorists originate from organizations that originate from middle eastern countries and the money to support these organizations primarily comes from oil wealth. While it is a lesser known fact that they US only gets a small percentage of their oil from the middle east, this has no bearing on the fact that if the US took a stand on becoming energy independent with green technology other countries would soon follow suit. This would eventually cut off the flow of money to middle eastern rulers, which would take away their power, and eventually force democratic change in the region. The major point is that it would force democratic change internally instead of externally which I personally believe won't work. In conclusion if you have democratic change in the region it gives people control of their own lives which in turn gives people no reason to join terrorist organizations because now their focus is on living their lives to the best of their ability, and not blaming outside influences for their problems.

I know the above paragraph is a long diatribe but, the idea is that we need to force politicians to take environmental issues seriously. While it's so easy for them to say what they think should be done in Iraq, let's force them to come up with real solutions for our world that not only has a global impact, but has a cross platform social and political impact to make our world a better place. The democratic debate last week had only 1 or 2 questions with an environmental focus. This is not good enough.

Having a separate green debate will force the legitimacy of this issue, and hopefully change some behavior in Washington.

Recently Thomas Friedman has been involved in some excellent projects promoting green ideas here are some links:

"The Power Of Green"
NYT Op-Ed Article
"The Power Of Green"
NYT Video Interview

"What's Red, White, Blue & Green all over?"
WNYC Interview with Thomas Friedman

"Tip Of The Hat / Wag Of The Finger"
Stephen Colbert Bit about Thomas Friedman (After the Shrek Bit) This is just for Fun!!

"It's All About Carbon"
Great NPR bit about carbons effect on the environment (Not Friedman related)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

One way to reduce congestion tomorrow....Open the Wabash Tunnel to all vehicles

The Wabash Tunnel was opened in Pittsburgh in 2004 and was supposed to be used by 2,500 cars per day. The sad thing is - since the tunnel is HOV during peak commuting hours people in Pittsburgh will not use it. People here do not carpool - there is no incentive to which is why I have been a proponent of bringing NuRide to the region.

Now, I drive by the Wabash tunnel entrance every day I never see cars taking the ramp off of route 51 to the tunnel. The three entrances to the city in that area - Liberty and Fort Pitt tunnels, and the West End Bridge entrance - are all congested. So, my question is this, and it is self serving since I would use it - why not open up the tunnel to all vehicles? A recent report said that the Port Authority was debating closing the tunnel. Well, I say at least open it to all vehicles and charge a toll. That would still save many of us time in the morning, and, it would alleviate some of the congestion that is detrimental to the air quality in our region.

America's most livable city is once again rated.....most polluted?

Well, 2nd worst for particulate pollution, or soot. I've posted a few times that the Pittsburgh region has poor air quality. While our leaders continue to beat their chests over meaningful rankings such as "Most Livable City", other rankings such as our annual placement in the worst pollution rankings and statistics such as our poor job and population growth seem to refute that this city is in fact on the right track.

Don't get me wrong, I love Pittsburgh, but we need to get our priorities straight if we ever want to be a place that attracts and retracts young people. Redundant commissions are not enough. The new hockey arena won't do it. Casino? Come on. I've said it once I'll say it again. Pittsburgh has to create jobs if it wants young people to stay here and young people to migrate here. One way to create jobs - BE DIFFERENT!

Pittsburgh needs to strive to be unique in its regional economic policies. Clever marketing campaigns won't do it. Why not become a leading edge city for green tech and environmentally sensible regulations? Pittsburgh should build on its success with green building and become the Green city. Why not turn this city into one that replaces cars with light rails, congestion priced roads (want to drive from Monroeville to downtown? Pay up!), NON-SOOT emitting trucks and city where riding your bike to work is not only preferred but safe!

In order to do most of those things hundreds of millions must be spent on infrastructure such as light rails, new roads, personnel, etc but unfortunately there is going to be roughly $1 billion tied up in construction of a light rail tunnel from downtown to the North Shore. People think that much money to extend the 'T' 1.2 miles is ridiculous, it may be, but hopefully it is the start of something big. That rail may eventually extend further north of the city where congestion is getting worse and worse as more people move to the northern suburbs. Not all boondoggles have to be bad.