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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do It For Richard

Today is the last day to comment on the Port Authority's Transit Development Plan (TDP). Speak now or forever hold your peace.

Of course, if you are not internet-saavy, would you even know about the plan which portend huge changes for the bus system?

If you're my retired neighbor, Richard, the answer is a resounding "No." Sure, Port Authority has advertisements in the City Paper saying "Tell us what you think." They even have regular advertisements on the buses themselves reiterating the same statement.

However, they don't happen to mention: "Tell us what you think OR your bus route may be eliminated." And that's the case with Richard. He doesn't own a car and takes the bus every day. But until I mentioned the TDP to him yesterday, he had no idea that Concept 1 means a drastic elimination in service from our street. However, Concept 2 means a drastic increase in service from our street.

I implore you all to give your opinion and tell Port Authority you want Concept 2 (specifically increasing service on the existing light rail line #52 through Allentown.) If you can't work up the motivation to do it on your own behalf (or for the reasons expounded upon here, here, and here), do it on behalf of Richard and all the folks like him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Commuter Rail Options For Pittsburgh

The results of a delayed 15-month study are finally ready and the results are good for mass transit in the Pittsburgh region. The map below is a rough mock-up of the two potential commuter rail lines studied (plus the existing South Hills light rail line and a potential future airport line for balance).

Pittsburgh Rail Map

Not too shabby.

The study found that the cost of building both services would be about $200 Million (much less than the expected $300 Million). Also, the study states that the Greensburg line would attract at least 1,500 passengers per day, and the Arnold line would attract at least 2,700 passengers per day.

So, what's next? Another study. Still, this is a very timely study and very promising. These rail lines could really help transform Pittsburgh into a world-class city with viable regional transit options. Considering the cost of the current construction on Rte 28 is scheduled to cost between $150 and $170 Million, $200 Million for 2 alternate routes seems pretty damned reasonable.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Panel of retired U.S. Military leaders recommend a call to arms against the National Security threat of Climate Change

A few weeks back a group of twelve retired U.S. Admirals and Generals issued a report on the "national security consequences of climate change." The report includes a list of the group's findings on how climate will impact our security over the next 30 to 40 years, along with a list of recommended a list of actions for the U.S. to take to mitigate the security risks climate change will present to our nation. The following is a list of their key findings, followed up by the group's recommendations.

Summary of Findings:

  • Projected climate change poses a serious
    threat to America’s national security
  • Climate change acts as a threat multiplier
    for instability in some of the most volatile
    regions of the world
  • Projected climate change will add to
    tensions even in stable regions of the world
  • Climate change, national security, and
    energy dependence are a related set of global

  1. The national security consequences of
    climate change should be fully integrated
    into national security and national
    defense strategies
  2. The U.S. should commit to a stronger
    national and international role to help
    stabilize climate change at levels that will
    avoid significant disruption to global
    security and stability
  3. The U.S. should commit to global
    partnerships that help less developed
    nations build the capacity and resiliency
    to better manage climate impacts
  4. The Department of Defense should
    enhance its operational capability by
    accelerating the adoption of improved
    business processes and innovative technologies
    that result in improved U.S.
    combat power through energy efficiency
  5. The Department of Defense should
    conduct an assessment of the impact on
    U.S. military installations worldwide of
    rising sea levels, extreme weather events,
    and other projected climate change
    impacts over the next 30 to 40 years
The full report is less than 20 pages of actual content and has some more details around the military advisory group's findings and recommendations, including a great quote on climate change skepticism by General Gordon Sullivan (Retired), who stated that “ We never have 100 percent certainty. We never have it. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

5 Green Projects Happening Right Now

For my first post on "Green is Good," I wanted to highlight some of the good things that are going on in Pittsburgh. I'm a firm believer that "Green is Good" and that we can spur the economy while saving the planet with the right planning and investment. As a country and a region, we've spent more than enough money investing in projects that are anti-Green. It's time for Green.

5 Exciting Projects Happening Right Now:

  1. Dan Onorato has pledged to use his millions of green stimulus money on weatherizing buildings throughout the county.
  2. Car-Free Fridays and in general a biking renaissance in the city of Pittsburgh spear-headed by bike-pgh
  3. A great focus on our rivers with new docks planned and more interconnecting river-side trails.
  4. Construction of the first LEED-certified Gold Sports Arena - even if it has a bad name.
  5. Green Innovators. This long-term pet project of Senator Jim Ferlo is set to teach high school graduates to become "green collar" and work in the abundant green projects throughout the region.

That's a healthy list of things to be proud of in the Pittsburgh area. We have a long ways to go (which I'll be sure to point out in future posts) but there's a lot going on here. Anything you're excited about that I missed?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shop at Kohl's, buy your groceries at Whole Foods, drink Pepsi, and read this blog while on a Dell powered by Intel

The EPA has a neat website that shows the top purchasers of green power across the private and public sectors, and also academia. The top 50 rankings are by total green power used for electricity, with Intel coming in at #1, Pepsi at #2, and Kohl's at #3. A lot of companies actually purchase 100% of their electricity from green sources such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, or biomass. Dell was #4 overall but purchased a whopping 158% of their electricity needs from green sources, compared to 46% for top ranked Intel. You can also view the top green power purchases by federal or local government. It is good to know that the EPA gets 100% of its electricity from green sources. The DOE, however, only gets 3% of its total electricity from green power, which is pretty sad since they should be leading the way. Let's hope that DOE Secretary Chu does something to change this. Come to think of it, I would hope that the Obama administration sets a precedent by mandating that all electricity used by Federal buildings come from the green energy sources listed above. I am a believer that government can and should use its purchasing muscle to create markets for emerging and socially and environmentally beneficial technologies like clean and green energy. Imagine the impact on our clean tech industry if the federal government mandated that its agencies get 100% of their electricity from green power sources? Imagine if the state and local governments followed suit? That would be huge!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The New and Improved Green is Good

About three weeks back yours truly relocated from the Golden Triangle of Pittsburgh to the Research Triangle of the Raleigh Durham region. Here in Chapel Hill, home of your NCAA National Champions, I join fellow blogger and entrepreneur James Dillard, an UNC alum and non-profit director who has been blogging here at Green is Good since the fall of 2008. James and I have already begun scoping out the best of the best of the Triangle's clean tech startups and champions of sustainability. We're hoping to add some entusiasm to the movement for a more sustainable Triangle region.

The Golden Triangle, Pittsburgh, will continue to be covered by "Green is Good," thanks to blogger and tech professional Cara Jette, a New England native who three years ago adopted Pittsburgh as her new city. I got to know Cara through reading, commenting, and debating over at her great blog, "Pittsburgh is a City," where Cara blogs frequently about all that is great about Pittsburgh, in addition to some great ideas on how to make Pittsburgh a more transit and sustainability oriented town. Welcome aboard Cara!

With the blog now covering two regions in Pittsburgh, a city that has been writing the book on how cities should reinvent themselves, and Raleigh Durham, a region on the move that is centered around a 50 year old research park rather than an actual city, it should be an interesting look at how the two regions not only compare with one another but compete in the race to create green jobs and build a 21st century clean energy economy.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Arguing with Climate Change Deniers in Mt Lebanon PA

Over at Blog Lebo, a blog that covers pretty much everything about Mt Lebanon, my former home just outside of Pittsburgh, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not it is right for the school district to include text books that offer an alternative argument to Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth and some of the environmental text books already being used by the students. Pardon the pun, but this is a textbook example of school board members injecting politics into the school curriculum. It one thing to object to a certain text being use, but according to a local paper, the board members (both whom happen to be Republicans) "said they did not object to the book, focusing their argument on whether an additional text reflecting the other side of the debate be added."

In the comments thread of that blog post, the Climate Change denier crowd is arguing that offering the students an alternative textbook would help teach them to not only learn that there are two sides of the debate but to learn critical thinking and analysis skill. One of the school board members quoted in the original story in the South Hills Almanac, James Frasch, makes the argument that by introducing an alternative text they would be "teaching our students that there is a debate about the existence of man-made global warming." Add Mr. Frasch to the climate change denier category. The post is followed by 19 comments, some which try to say that there was a scientific "consensus" that the earth was actually cooling rather than warming. This "consensus" around cooling has been proven to be a myth. Comment #20 (if it gets published) is also posted below and includes some very interesting links about the origin of the global warming discovery and the debate that occurred long before Al Gore presented "An Inconvenient Truth." If you haven't read this summary of the book "The Discovery of Global Warming" I encourage you to do so or at the very least take a look at the time line.

The following is my response to a former school board member, who stated that "The flat earth argument has been settled for centuries; the environment is an ongoing current debate that is relevant to all our lives. We need to give our students the respect and balanced curriculum materials to develop their own point of view and prepare them well for life."

Again, I don't see how you can call teaching the students on one hand, a theory that was proven decades ago and then on the other - the the wrong side of that theory, the side that already lost the debate, a "balanced" view. The only difference with this issue between when this debate was first settled and today is that now this has become a hot button political issue because some have chosen to put political ideology ahead of science, research, and history.

The following is a history lesson for anyone out there who thinks that Global Warming is something that was made up by Al Gore and the Democrats as a means to raise our taxes. Please bear with me.

This Global Warming "debate" you refer to already happened - during the first half of the 20th century. The greenhouse gas effect was discovered way back when James Monroe was President of the United States. The initial discovery was followed up by more quantitative research right before the turn of the century. The findings of these researchers led to the conclusion that an increase in CO2 led to an increase in global temperatures. The debate in that early period (late 19th early 20th century) between said researchers was not a matter of if increases in CO2 caused an increase in the earth's temperature, but by how much a certain increase in CO2 increased the earth's temperature. There was also a debate about how long it would take before all of the CO2 emitted by the coal plants and industrialization would have an meaningful impact on the earth's temperature. The "consensus" at that time agreed that worst case scenario it would probably take a few centuries before CO2 emitted by human activity would be substantial enough impact the earth's temperature. A few decades passed until a little known engineer, Guy Stewart Callendar, took notice that the CO2 levels are rising much faster than expected and having an impact on the earth's temperate. His findings were pretty much dismissed by all but a few who picked up where he left off and then, it was finally vindicated when Roger Revelle made a key discovery that the earth's oceans had a more limited ability to absorb the excess CO2 that was being produced by humans. Up until that point, it was thought that most of the CO2 generated by human would be absorbed by the oceans, and hence, would have little impact on the earth's temperature. The time line of global warming's discovery is here. A summarized or a full version of the story behind the discovery and the individuals who made can be found here.

The story does a great job of including some of the arguments against global warming. Some of these arguments happened over one hundred years ago. The debate was settled a while ago so as I said in my first post "there is no 'other side of the debate'" unless you feel the need to teach the students all of the junk science and false arguments against this already scientifically proven theory. With the state of education in this country, can the students really afford to spend time in the classroom learning about the "other side", the earth is flat side of the debate just because some people, James Frasch, Mark Hart, and others, cannot look beyond the politics of issue to come to grips and accept that the earth is warming and it is due because of the increasing CO2 emissions generated by human beings. It would help to at least start reading some of the links I have already posted. You may be skeptical about some of the scientific research I have linked to but how about disappearing glaciers? How about people dying?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fuel prices and Globalization

Interesting post last week from Cleanbreak about how upward pressures on fuel prices could affect global trade patterns.

The post focuses around the book Why Your World is about to get a Whole Lot Smaller by Jeff Rubin and his thesis that conventional forms of energy will have peaked before non-conventional forms can meet the supply, leading to a rapid rise in energy prices.

I’m not an economist, but this seems to make a whole lot of sense — and it’s been supported by the “inexplicable” rise of the price of oil over the last several weeks. But even if the exact dates that he predicts (somewhere around 2012) aren’t completely accurate, it seems logical that economy transferring from one set of energy sources to another is going to experience some growing pains, which will be felt in terms of higher costs.

According to Rubin’s logic, dramatically higher fuel prices will lead to a sort of reverse globalization and a return to the trade patters of 25 years ago — patterns which will greatly chance the face of the global economy.

In some ways, he suggests, we’re already feeling those effects.

According to Rubin the high fuel prices of last summer and the inflation caused by them ultimately triggered the economic meltdown. As interest rates rose due to inflation, people began to default on their mortgages.

Rubin goes on to posit that over the course of the next 18 months, as the economy rebounds, we’ll begin to see these “reverse globalization patterns” emerge — an emphasis on local agriculture, the return of domestic manufacturing and an increased reliance on public transportation.

Last year I heard Thomas Friedman speak at Duke about his book Hot, Flat and Crowded and the message he gave was that the Energy Revolution won’t occur until there are both winners and losers. At the time, I was thinking primarily in terms of nations (the US versus China) or industries (oil versus solar). But as it becomes clear that conventional forms of energy are going to become increasingly expensive, the first round of winners and losers may be companies that aren’t able to maintain their current supply chain without cheap transportation and don’t have a must-have product.

Or it could be the geographies that rely on cheap transportation to deliver their good or service to the market at a reasonable price. More likely than not, it will be both.

In this case, the winners will be the companies and geographies that can most easily adapt to a world with higher energy costs, either because of alternatives or through investment in unconventional energy.

For the United States, this presents a daunting challenge — after all, a lot of our quality of life is built upon products that we import. But for the developing world, this is potentially devastating, especially for poor countries without a lot of money to invest in fuel-efficient transportation systems or local markets to target. Even for China, all the cheap labor in the world is no good if it’s too expensive to deliver them. The manufacturing jobs they’ve gained over the last 30 years can be moved again just as quickly.

In the end, it’s tough to imagine a world without globalization. Now that we’ve tasted the richness of it (and thanks to the web, we can see it), entrepreneurs will find a way to bring it to the market at a prize the market can bear. But between now and then, disruption in fuel prices will provide opportunities to those with the capital and foresight to invest.

Update: An example of a company poised to exploit these trends: Hara helps companies track and manage the energy and environmental impact of their business processes.

Up, up and away! Bio-fuel ready to power airplanes!

From Scientific American:

Bill Glover, managing director of environmental strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, which is leading an effort to develop, test and certify alternative jet fuels, said the technology is ready. Now, it is just a matter of growing enough non-food feedstock plants and refining enough of their oil.

"We've proven the technical capability of biofuel as a drop-in replacement," Glover said. "It meets all jet fuel requirements and then some."

Not only has the industry proved the technical capability, but it also has shown that biofuels can improve overall fuel efficiency.

Air New Zealand said yesterday that using a 50 percent blend of biofuel with traditional jet A-1 fuel can improve fuel efficiency by more than 1 percent, according to data collected during the December 2008 test flight. On a 12-hour flight, that would save 1.43 metric tons of fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 4.5 metric tons, the airline said.

Read the whole article, with an analysis of the different bio-fuel options here, or read what we said about it’s potential 6 months ago here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tuesday Bullets

From Climate Progress: "Europe made a major commitment under the Kyoto protocol that U.S. conservatives have been telling us for years they would never achieve. It now seems clear they will meet their commitment under the terms of the protocol. It will become increasingly difficult for those who don’t want a U.S. cap-and-trade system to point to the European Trading System ETS) as an obvious failure."

Waxman-Markey is going to get changed. Again and again and again.

India wants US $upport from Copenhagen on climate change.

Software as a service company helps businesses reduce greenhouse emissions — and be more energy efficient. Customers include Coca-cola and (surprise, surprise) the city of Palo-Alto.

Volvo presses the gas on its plans for a plug-in hybrid.

VA’s GOP Gubernatorial candidate talks about energy, fails: "On energy, our opponents will say NO to offshore drilling, NO to clean coal, NO to nuclear, and NO to the new jobs and investment that come with it. When it comes to promoting energy independence: They’ll just say NO, we’ll just say YES!" Not quite, "Yes we can..."

First quarter funding for renewable energy in Asia fell 70%
due to credit crunch, recession, drop in oil prices.

Don’t call it a comeback — wood is getting back into the energy mix.

China invests $14.6 billion to double wind power capacity by 2010.

The United States' share of Global Warming

Climate Progress posted today on a report by Greenpeace that used WRI data to approximate the relative share of carbon that had been emitted by countries over the past 150 years.

Its finding's weren't particularly surprising — the United States had emitted the most of any country, followed by China. From what I could tell from the breakdown of the data, if the countries from the EU were totaled, they would rank somewhere near China.

But while the findings of the study weren't particularly surprising, it's statistics like these which will dominate the negotiations between the United States and China. Developing countries like China argue that Western Nations are using climate change as a way to maintain the status quo. After using "dirty development" to establish dominance, they're asking the rest of the world to develop using more expensive standards, which will slow growth in developing countries.

It's logic like this which kept China and India from participating in the Kyoto Protocol and will likely complicate the Copenhagen negotiations (referenced earlier as "one of the most complex in the history of the world," by Sen. Edward J. Markey).

From China/India's prespective, this makes a lot of sense, even if you agree that access to cleaner energy is the way of the future (which, based on their investments, it seems like they agree). Why give your biggest competitors a leg up on you as you develop?

The United States, meanwhile, allowed this attitude to keep them from ratifying the Kyoto agreement. This time around, I think they should do the opposite — push for the highest standards possible, as a matter of principle. Then, use this principle to justify levying a "carbon tax" on imports, revenue from which will be used to offset American emissions. Doing this would use the power of the American Consumer to force our biggest suppliers to comply with the same standards we are, while allowing us to claim the moral high ground while we begin to re-tool our economy for a more energy efficient future.

Monday Bullets