Tag Archives: greenhouse gasses

First Order Effects are Only the Beginning

Do you want to spot someone who has zero understanding of an issue?  Ask them about second order effects.

What are second order effects?  These are the impacts of an action that occur because of the aforementioned action but are not the direct intent of the aforementioned action.

What is a good example of a second order effect?  Suppose for a minute that you decide to commute to work via bicycle several days a week.  The first order effect is that you have replaced a certain amount of miles driven with a similar amount of miles ridden.  Attendant to this first order effect is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, less income directed toward fueling an automobile, increase in physical activity, and just a general sense of doing good.

A second order effect, if the number of people replacing car trips with bicycle trips reaches a critical mass, is the reduced need for infrastructure maintenance, repair, or construction.  Another second order effect, again dependent upon the number of people making the switch, is a reduced need for outlets dispensing gasoline so perhaps the number of gas stations decline.  A further second order effect is that workplaces and housing would not need to devote so much space to the transient storage of automobiles.  This would open up a more diverse array of development opportunities since less space would be covered in striped concrete. And so on down the line…

The thing with moving beyond first order effects is that it widens the potential impact of any decision.

Take organic produce as an example.  Most arguments about organic produce fall into a cost benefit analysis vis a vis its potentially greater health benefits, whether from reduced pesticide exposure on the part of the consumer or increased nutrition.  However, there are a myriad of second order effects that may impact the decision to choose organic produce.  By buying organic produce you reduce the potential for synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to pollute the ground, water, and air.  By buying organic produce you reduce the chance that farmworkers are exposed to the same synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.  All of a sudden the argument that organic produce is “just not worth it” takes on a whole new dimension.

There is an element of nuance to this approach and nuance is somewhat out of favor in a world dominated by people like Donald Trump and Fox News.  It falls into the same category as externalities, which are economic costs borne by society at large as opposed to the entity that is directly responsible for them.  Think about carbon pollution.  Coal fired power plants do not pay anything for the cost of carbon pollution yet we all bear the costs.  It’s another concept that makes most dotards heads explode.

We need to move the discussion of most issues past just the first order effects.  If we capable of enumerating all of the ways a choice can be beneficial down the line through even the most minor of second order effects the impact might be transformative.

So, the next time your Uncle Carl has one too many wine coolers at Thanksgiving dinner and wants to debate the merits of bicycle commuting, organic food, solar panels, or whatever is on his Fox News hit list spend a minute to explain first and second order effects.

The Best Way to Cut Your Emissions is to Stop Driving and Start Biking

Depending upon how you calculate the numbers transportation is now the greatest source of emissions in the United States:

Transportation Emissions

No matter the degree to which we decarbonize are electric grid the effort will be for naught if we do not begin to address the emissions that are a result of our transportation choices.  Transportation emissions come from a lot of sources—personal automobiles, delivery vehicles, mass transit, etc.  The most direct control that we have over transportation emissions is to control how much we drive personal automobiles.  If we do not drive our vehicles do not produce emissions.  It is a fairly simple calculus.

A gallon of gasoline produces approximately 20 pounds of carbon dioxide when combusted. The average fuel economy for a new car is 23.4 miles per gallon.   Simple math gives you 0.85 pounds of carbon dioxide produced for each mile driven.  Considering that the U.S. is such a truck/SUV/crossover/whatever market I am going to round that up to one pound of carbon dioxide produced for every one mile driven.

Do not drive a mile, save a pound.  It is a direct, one-for-one relationship in my mind and it makes for a fairly simple accounting of progress.

The average American drivers puts 13,474 miles per year in behind the wheel or, according to my simple math, creates 13,474 pounds of carbon dioxide via combustion to drive.  That is a lot of carbon dioxide.  To put it into comparison, the solar array on my home that went active last August is calculated to have saved approximately 3,350 pounds of carbon dioxide in just over seven months.  If the average driver reduced miles driven by approximately 25% the savings would be roughly the same.  This is why we have to address our addiction to fossil fuels in the transportation sector in order to have any significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and arresting climate change.

My goal for the next nine months is to drive less than 2,500 miles in total.  Why 2,500 miles?  It’s the length of time, in miles, until my next oil change.  Why nine months?  It’s the length of time, in months, before my next trip to Colorado. Everything seemed to line up in such a way to make this an easy target to measure and understand.  This would also put me on pace to drive approximately 5,000 miles per year including regular trips to Colorado.

A goal of 5,000 miles per year or less would mean a reduction of almost 63% versus the average American driver and a similar reduction in carbon emissions.  Now imagine a world where the United States reduced its emissions from transportation by 63%.  Wow.

It is not just a story about emissions.  Personal automobiles are expensive.  Most people do not realize the full costs of driving in a way that is easily quantified.  You could spend a lot of time calculating the actual cost per mile of driving for your particular situation or you could just let the IRS do the leg work.  For 2017 the IRS has set the “mileage rate” at 53.5 cents per mile.

In my particular case nine months of driving will cost $1338.  However, every trip to work that I replace with a bicycle trip will save me $6.  Greenhouse gas emissions are hard to imagine.  Six dollars in my pocket every time I decide to commute to work on the dirt wagon is concrete.  Somewhere along the way I am going to translate these savings into a Chris King headset for my bike.

I anticipate a degree of failure, but I feel that I will make little progress toward an ambitious goal unless I make some sort of public proclamation.

March Brought Over 400 kWh of Solar Electricity

For the month of March my solar photovoltaic system produced just a hair over 424 kWh of electricity, which stands as my second best full month since my system went active in the last week of August 2017.  A few things stand out from the month:

Image-1 (2)

Notice the two major dips in production?  That is the impact of some spring snowfall that covered my panels under at least six inches of heavy, wet snow.  It just goes to show the potential value of a snow rake in upping my production next winter.

The other thing that is interesting, but is not something readily apparent in the production chart, is that the month was just generally more productive each day.  Granted, the days are longer in March.  However, I think that there is something to be said for the intensity of the solar radiation being higher as we head into spring.  The winter months in Iowa are known for being heavily cloud covered and this reduces the overall productivity of the solar system.

The last week, as the sun stays bright until after 7:00 PM, I have noticed that the system is producing well in excess of 3 kWh into the late afternoon/early evening.  This bodes well for the coming summer months when the array will be getting hit with the sun fairly heavily from noon until sunset.

Friday Linkage 5/26/2017

Melania Trump may be my new hero.  Okay, maybe hero is a strong word but her refusal to even consent to contact with the flaccid cantaloupe masquerading as the President of the United States is something to behold:

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Damn girl.  What are you feeding the president?

On to the links…

Factory Farming Threatens Public Health—There it is.  The single most important headline I have read in the past few weeks.  No explanation needed.

The “License to Kill” Bill Is As Terrifying As It Sounds—Republicans are going about an orgy of legislation that is designed to make the world a better place for companies that do not mind injuring, sickening, or straight up killing you.  You are worth less than corporate profits in the eyes of Republicans.

Be Compassionate, But Never, Ever, Pity The American Male—After the election of Donald Trump, I still shudder just saying that, the press was filled with reports about how he was fueled by a disaffected group of white males.  Never has a group that has been given so much privilege, squandered so much potential, and been so angry about their own failings gotten so much attention for the fact.  Can we please stop the pity parade?

The Markets Frustrate OPEC’s Efforts to Push up Oil Prices—The market is kicking oil’s ass.  If it is not shale oil production, it’s demand.  If it is not demand, it is something else.

Shale Is Just a Scapegoat for Weaker Oil Prices—It’s the demand, baby.

`Gas Apocalypse’ Looms Amid Power Plant Construction Boom—Why exactly are there any power plants still burning coal in this region?

North Sea Wind Power Hub: A Giant Wind Farm to Power all of North Europe—Imagine power for 80 million Europeans coming from offshore wind.  Wow.

We are the Bicycle Lobby. We are Coming for Your Parking.—The grumpy old men who want to park in acres of free parking after having driven to the parking lot at seventy miles an hour are just going to have to deal with people on bicycles.  They will bitch and they will moan, but they are the past and we are the future.

America’s Cars Are Suddenly Getting Faster and More Efficient—Cars are going faster but doing it using less gas.  If someone tells you that government regulation is stifling innovation they have not been paying attention when they fire up their car.

How a Remote California Tribe Set Out to Save its River and Stop a Suicide Epidemic—When we lose our connection to our past and to our land we lose a lot of what it means to be human.  In a world where forces are trying to privatize all land so that only the rich truly have access and the rest is polluted by industry we need to remember the value of the land in our identity.

Replacing Beef with Beans Would Dramatically Slash Greenhouse Gasses—Rather than put solar panels on our houses, commute by bicycle, or elect politicians who gave a damn the best thing you could do for the planet tomorrow would be to stop eating meat.  Eat beans, pulses, kale, tofu, whatever in place of meat.