Tag Archives: carbon emissions

We Have the Tools to Create Meaningful Change

For the first time in my memory, which stretches back to the now fuzzy early 1980s, I feel that we have the tools to positively combat climate change available at a personal level.  No longer are we limited to advocating for municipal recycling, agitating McDonald’s to get rid of polystyrene clamshells, or hanging our undergarments out to dry in the sun.  Hey, it was the 1980s and I wanted save the whales so I spent a lot of time writing letters to McDonald’s threatening to boycott Happy Meals forever unless they got rid of those old school burger boxes.

Let me use solar power as an example of a tool that we have available down here at a personal level.  Consider the cost per watt in dollar terms from 1977 until 2015:

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In simple mathematical terms that is a decline in price per way of over 99.5%.  Whereas a solar photovoltaic system was probably only something that strange science teacher who drove an ancient Volvo actually had on his house is now something a lot more people can install.

Take my solar photovoltaic installation.  In a little more than two half days and for a cost of less than $11K I had 4.64 kWh of solar installed in a single array on a west facing garage roof.  After tax credits the total cost will come in somewhere around $6K.  For six thousand dollars I now produce all of my electricity needs from the sun.  Granted, it is a grid tie system so I use traditional utility power on occasion.

Yes, I use a lot less electricity than the average peer house but it’s not like I live in an off-grid yurt.  I have a typically large American refrigerator, I run the air conditioning when it is hot, I have a large screen television that gets turned on to watch football games, and so on.  Hell, I have an electric dryer and range.  The point is that you can use a lot less electricity and produce it all via the sun with a fairly minimal investment and without sacrificing the quality of life we have come to assume is natural in the United States.  This is not Ed Begley Jr. being eco-dramatic on Living with Ed.

Even better is that none of the technology used in a solar system is in its infancy, so the maturity of the design is well along which means the systems are reliable.  No one is going to be spending hours up on a roof trying to figure out why the panels are not producing any juice.  The solid state system just sits on top of the roof generating power from the sun without any moving parts or noise.  Day in and day out whenever the sun shines and even when it does not.  If that is not a powerful tool to combat carbon emissions and the resultant climate change I do not know what would qualify.

Going solar is just one of the many tools available to us to make a difference.  We all need to take a moment and examine our lives.  What are the activities that we engage in that have an outsize impact on our carbon emissions.  Tools exist and are available to us that can ameliorate almost any source of emissions if we are willing to make the effort.

Given the horrible state of national leadership on climate issues it is incumbent upon us as concerned individuals to make every effort and deploy every tool.  You might feel good about yourself when you sign a petition, but it has to go further than that if we are to have any hope of a sustainable and equitable future on this planet.

My goal over the next few months is to really examine what the tools are that can help me—a guy living a fairly normal suburban life with three other people in eastern Iowa—eliminate my carbon emissions.

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Solar Power is Scary for a Reason

Solar power should scare the daylights out of anyone who generates electricity from coal, natural gas, and/or nuclear.  Why?  It works like some sort of middle ages alchemy.

After two half-days of work, a grip load of procedural hoops, and about $11k in cash I had my solar system installed on my roof:

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Now, it just sits there generating what I hope will be more than 100% of my annual electricity needs.  More so, it does it in the most unspectacular way.  The panels just sit on my roof, unseen from the front of the house, soaking up the sun silently day in and day out.  When I go to work the panels just sit there soaking up the sun without any intervention on my part.  When I go on vacation the same deal applies.

If you take into account the tax credits that I will receive from the federal and state governments, I am looking at a net cost of approximately $6k to generate all or more of my electricity needs from the sun via solar panels on my roof.  I keep looking around wondering if there is a catch that I missed somewhere that states this is not really possible.

Solar power used to be the stuff of Mother Earth News and Homepower, both great magazines but hardly the harbingers of mainstream adoption.  Sure, the hippie dippie science teacher at your middle school had solar panels, biked to work, and wore tie dyed hemp shirts but he was an outlier.  Solar power is no longer an outlier.  It is something that nearly everyone, including someone like me who lives in a very “basic” suburban home in a nondescript development in eastern Iowa, can put on their roof and break free of the fossil fuel monopoly.

These are seemingly dark times.  The threat of climate change is real.  Our government is led by a cadre of profiteers in the pocket of business interests with a nominal figurehead who is the single most unfit human to ever hold that office.  Our civil society seems not so civil anymore as polarization and animosity appear to be at extremely high levels compared with the relative calm of the recent past.

However, I hold out hope because solutions to some of these problems seem so close at hand.  We have the tools to create lasting and meaningful change that will lead to a resilient and abundant future.

Friday Linkage 7/21/2017

Can we just have someone organize a “touch a truck” event every week on the White House lawn so that our dear leader can have some fun:

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Can you imagine the crude jokes he is making with this bat in his hands:

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All hat, no cattle…never were truer words spoken:

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On to the links…

Bill Nye on the Terrifying Ascendancy of American ‘dingbatitude’—When did it become ok for people to basically act like an idiot, claim that they were an idiot as a defense for the behavior, and then go on their merry way to keep being an idiot?

The Best Way to Reduce your Personal Carbon Emissions: Don’t be Rich—Right wingers will never like to hear this, but the richest members of society are the ones who are causing the most damage to the environment:

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Scott Pruitt Desperately Wants to Be Loved—During the 2016 election we got to know alt-right terms like snowflake all too well.  It looks like the actual snowflakes are the people working for Donald Trump up to and including the dear leader himself.  These people have created an echo chamber of praise so that they do not have to deal with the reality that their only true defining characteristic is historic incompetence.

Callista Gingrich: Trump Wants US To Be Environmental Leader—The surrogates are getting more surreal as anyone with a pulse and hopes for a future in Washington D.C. head for cover.  Callista Gingrich saying that Trump wants to lead on the environment is laughable on so many levels.  Soak in the insanity.

Coal and Nuclear are Uneconomic — More Bombshells from Perry’s Draft Grid Study—Be careful what you wish for Rick Perry.

A Texas Company Wants to Spread Wind Power Across the U.S.—Wind energy is big business in Texas and big business usually wins in Texas.  What happens when renewable energy becomes big energy?  We are about to find out as established players with viable business models spread their wings.

States Can Recharge Rooftop Solar—Solar needs rules stability.  At the current prices rooftop solar can be competitive without heavy government incentives but a chaotic rules and regulations environment is hurting long term planning.

A Pipeline that Would Cut through the Iconic Appalachian Trail Sparks a Fight over Natural Gas Expansion—Pipelines are everywhere and the government is just a rubber stamp for industry regardless of who sits in the White House or controls Congress.

$2 Billion Energy Investment goes Bust in Rare Complete Failure of Private Equity Fund—This failure might not be an indictment of an entire sector or it may be a harbinger of hard times to come for fossil fuel investors.

Coal Baron Don Blankenship Jumping Straight From Jail To Senate Race?—First Kid Rock and now Don Blankenship…the right wing is going to be loving their candidates over the next couple of years as the Trump influence on the party metastasizes.

Flip-Flops: Fun in the Sun, but Tough on Feet—Can we just kill flip-flops for anything other than a quick jaunt to the beach or trip through the locker room?  The sound of cheap flip-flops dragging and slapping is the official sound that summer has begun.

Denver Startup To Install Flatscreens In Chairlift Safety Bars and Advertise—God help us.  Now Vail Resorts can advertise to us on the chairlift, which was one of the few screen free places left anywhere.

Friday Linkage 7/4/2014

For several days it has been nothing but chain saws, chipper shredders, and other power tools ringing out as people clean up from the nasty storm on Monday. The derecho left a pretty nasty wake of landscape destruction. If there was one good thing that came out of the storm it was that one of my trees I was going to have to stake to straighten is now leaning the right way. I will take what I can get given the general destruction.

On to the links…

Not Eating Meat Can Cut Your Food-Related Carbon Emissions Almost In Half—There is nothing new with regards to this study finding except that it draws some attention to the fact that our appetite for meat is destructive. If you had to make one lifestyle change tomorrow that would benefit the planet it should be stopping the consumption of meat.

China’s Hurdle to Fast Action on Climate Change—No matter what we do in the U.S., if developing countries like China and India do not act on climate change goals then the efforts we make will be too little, too late.

The Secret to Richer, Carbon-Capturing Soil? Treat Your Microbes Well—The world of microbes, regardless of the location, are an amazing wealth of scientific discovery right now. The impacts of these discoveries is impacting our health and our planet.

California Ranchers Tackle the Climate Crisis One Pasture at a Time—Meat can be part of our food system if it is raised in a way that benefits the planet. So, animals should be allowed to live on wide open pastures that are maintained as opposed to living in CAFOs. Simple.

Shrimp’s New Path to the Plate—It’s amazing how much shrimp we eat in the U.S. If we expect to keep eating shrimp it is going to have to come from farms raising captive stock.

A New Wind Turbine Generates Back The Energy It Takes To Build It In Just 6 Months—A bugaboo of the right is the claim that a wind turbine never produces more energy than it takes to manufacture. Guess what? That is wrong.

How Energy Efficiency Is Hitting It Big With The High Tech Industry—Applying the principals of data mining and analysis to efficient efforts can only yield better results in terms of reducing energy usage per dollar expended.

Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?—In the U.S. there is an unspoken agreement in polite society that poverty is not something to be discussed. However, the growing inequity in our society is making it necessary to have a conversation about why some people get so much and so many get so little.

Natural Resources Worth More than$40 Trillion Must be Accounted For—Do you know why companies that drill, mine, and burn fossil fuels are able to make so much money? It’s because they do not have to account for the externalities like damage to the natural resources of the world. If you can put a price on something, you can make lasting change.

Creeping Up on Unsuspecting Shores: The Great Lakes, in a Welcome Turnaround—The Great Lakes are an amazing asset in the United States and Canada. So much freshwater is locked up in these bodies of water that it is criminal we do not manage them better. The news the past couple of years has been pretty bad, but here is a little good news. Yay!

Ocean’s Nasty Plastic Garbage is Disappearing: What’s Going On?—Our understanding of the oceans is so poor. We pour trash and chemicals into the waters without a single thought to the health of the oceans. And we are surprised that we do not know what is going on? Wow, we are dumber than I thought.

After the Trees Disappear—The impacts from the emerald ash borer are going to be far reaching and permanent. Many of our forested landscapes will look considerably different once the ash trees are gone.

Drug Lord’s Rogue Hippos Taking over Colombia—Okay, the title is a little hyperbolic but the story is interesting anyway. It looks like one of Pablo Escobar’s legacies is going to be an invasive population of hippos. Strange.