Monday, September 29, 2008



Congress rejected the bailout.

Of course it's important, but guess what the news is going to be about for the next few weeks, if not years.

The debate

Yeah, it's been a couple of days since the debate, but everyone seems only to be concerned with the economy.

Fair enough. The plight of the nation's middle class increases daily; the nebulous business practices of quasi-legal government-investment partnerships led many to buy houses that they really could not afford. Now it's coming back to bite them in the behind.

Foreign policy was much discussed as well but the true reason behind our Middle Eastern aggression was left unmentioned: our dependence on OPEC countries.

Though Obama brought up wind, solar and and bio-diesel early in the debate, he was met with derision from McCain who simply spouted the same sources. The republican candidate then insisted that Obama was anti-nuke power when, in fact, the democrat is not against using nuclear energy, he is just concerned with waste removal and storage.

It doesn't take a sci-fi geek to know that nuclear waste is about as welcome as a weeping boil on the forehead and to undertake the construction of such plants requires careful planning for the future.

The energy from nuclear plants itself is very clean - most of the emissions from such energy consist primarily of steam. However, when the radioactive material used to create this energy is expended, the leftovers still have enough residual radiation to keep a small city glowing (NOT lit) and growing multi-limbed children and pets.

France gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear power.

The US gets about 20% (according to Wikipedia, the only site I could find with a solid number).

Although the US economy is certainly an immediate concern, our future on a healthy planet requires forward thinking in the energy market.

Obama seems disturbed by the state of the environment and genuinely willing to do something about it. McCain, I'm not so sure.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Another green victory in Austin

On Thursday, September 25th, the Austin City Council passed a few resolutions that prove why this fair city, a liberal oasis in a desert of rednecks, deserves its spot on the Top 50 Greenest cities in America. According to Country Home magazine, we are number 33. Popular Science ranks us at 10.

Aside from having one of the cleaner electrical plants (but that's not saying a lot) in the state, Austin's public transportation, its green-conscious citizens and one of the more effective municipal recycling programs around, the city is now installing photovoltaic cells (i.e., solar panels) on certain schools and offering cash incentives to green building.

In a rundown of the council meeting Thursday night, the Austin American-Statesman listed the resolutions passed.

The top 2:

The city council "agreed to give a $51,216 rebate to the Long Center for the Performing Arts for installing high-efficiency lighting, chillers and cooling towers."

And it "agreed to use $100,000 in state grants to buy and install solar photovoltaic systems in six Austin schools."

This is wonderful and groovy and should be applauded. However, though it may be a start, is it enough?

How about more money for all the schools? Why not turn every section of available rooftops at the University of Texas into solar collectors? Initial cost aside, in the long run it would reduce dependence on the power plants and cut down on the emissions that accompany the production of electricity the "old-fashioned" way.

Lastly, how about fining developers that don't make their new buildings energy efficient. It's more expensive to do so in some cases, and those that do should be rewarded. But the condos built as cheaply and as quickly as possible should have to pay for not respecting the land around the spot they just dug up.

The Austonian condos going up downtown have doggie toilets for chrissake. How about some solar panels and maybe a couple wind generators?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Drink it, it's got rocket fuel!

In an AP story released today, the Evironmental Protection Agency has decided that a little bit of rocket fuel in our drinking water is ok.

Three paragraphs into the story it says, "The ingredient, perchlorate, has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states at levels high enough to interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental health risks, according to some scientists."

Now, that does not necessarily mean that those scientists are correct. However, the Bush administration is notorious for quashing things that makes it look bad, is bad for the businesses backing it or more probably both.

Back in 2006 when An Inconvenient Truth brought much more attention and information to the public at large. By the end of the year, scientists by the dozen were accusing the Bush administration of repression of well, "loaded words." Words like "Kyoto" (as in the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce emissions that the US never ratified), "global warming" and climate change were not to be used under any circumstances.

The reason: scientists are not supposed to talk about policy.

But it's gone further, with congressional committees being blocked access to NASA climate scientists and even getting up Howard Dean's blood pressure. On CNN's Situation Room in late 2006, he accused the Bush administration of "bullying" scientists to ix-nay on the imate-clay ange-chay.

So when it comes to light that "The Pentagon could face liability if EPA set a national drinking water standard that forced water agencies around the country to undertake costly clean-up efforts," I think only fair that some eyebrows are raised in suspicion.

And keep in mind that this is the same Bush administration EPA that said that fallout from the 9-11 bombings was safe for clean-up workers to breathe. Now, they are sick and dying.

With experts in the field saying that the perchlorate-infested water many are ingesting is a potential health hazard, the Bush administration has once again shown a callous disregard for the health of its constituents.

There enough enough things in this world making us sick. Does the water we drink have to join the ranks of our menaces?

Monday, September 22, 2008


It's everywhere. Advertisements for huge, ridiculous vehicles that look like they should (and were actually designed to) have a gun turret on top espousing their virtuous 19 MPG and comparing it to another abomination with similar pitiful specs.

OK, I will digress.

Before I go on, a confession: I do not drive. I use public transportation, my bicycle and whichever foolish friend of mine lets my drunken ass in their car (ain't ya glad I don't drive?). I recycle even when it's not really convenient but I smoke and I'm only frequently conscious of where the butt goes.

I have done nothing but bewail the state of new car salesmanship. BOOooooOORRrring. I promised info on positive technology and a brighter, dare I say, cooler future. Oh, and funny or some facsimile thereof.

Let's think tiny.

New horizons, but not for us

I really don't like to pick on domestic companies that stimulate the American economy, but lately none seem to come to mind. The only economy these companies care about is their own. Case in point, Ford Motors.

According to an article published by BusinessWeek last Friday and now gracing the the Yahoo! homepage, Ford Motors - responsible for some of the most reprehensible gas guzzlers on the market - have come up with a 65 MPG car. It's called the Fiesta ECOnetic and it runs on clean diesel. 65 MPG!

The drawback?

It won't be sold in America.

However, Ford is not entirely to blame. Yes, the engines for the ECOnetic are built in Great Britain under higher labor costs and and a pound that still trumps the dollar in global eonomic strength. Under such conditions, the ECOnetic would wind up costing a consumer almost $2,ooo more than Toyota Prius hybrid. Which is much hipper, just ask Ethan Hawke.

This is where the American Attitude comes in: Americans do not believe in such a thing as "clean diesel." Diesel is that smelly stuff that big trucks run on and makes bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic a hand of Texas Hold 'em with carbon monoxide poisoning, right?

Not anymore.

Researchers have developed a method of "combining clean diesel fuel, advanced engines and effective exhaust-control technology," according to the Diesel Technology Forum. Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have been making clean diesel vehicles for years, according to the BusinessWeek article, but only 3% of U.S. cars run on it (65 MPG!).

This is where it becomes the Ouroborus swallowing its own tail. Because only 3% of drivers have vehicles that run on diesel, rare is the filling station that carries it (as far as I know there are two in Austin). If one cannot find the fuel, why would one purchase the vehicle that runs on it (65 MPG!)? And so no one bothers to create a demand for the fuel and the scarcity of it remains in place. Misperceived air pollution aside, people are not buying diesel vehicles because there is no place to get diesel and there is no place to get diesel because there are no vehicles that require it.

Perhaps an ad campaign that actually showed people that Ford cared would create a demand for the ECOnetic in the states (65 MPG!). Hell, it wouldn't hurt Volkswagen to promote the technology either. We as Americans are consumers and we prefer a plethora of choices (just look at the insane amount of fast food franchises that have essentially the same menus), and the more that are out there, the happier we seem to be.

Although when it comes to environment vs. fast food*, I'm afraid fast food gets the vast majority a vast majority of the time.

*And by fast food, I refer to anything convenient, easy and probably bad in the long run.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday morning TV

Falling asleep with the TV on Friday night often leads to waking up to infomercials Saturday morning.

Today, one of these interminable commercials disguised as informative television was for a chain of car dealerships here in Texas that deal almost exclusively with American vehicles. This morning they were hawking Ford cars and trucks.

With some segment of the population becoming more eco-aware, many manufacturers and dealerships tout high gas mileage as a selling point.

Ford, you have a ways to go.

The smooth-talking, spiffy-suited salesman pointed out that the Ford line of Focus sedans get a whopping 28 miles to the gallon (according to Kelly Blue Book, they actually get 22-24 MPG city and 35 MPG highway). Kellys rates the Honda Civic at 40 city/45 hwy.

After the parade of boxy but roundish passenger cars came the SUVs. Now, Kellys rates the Escape at 34 MPG city. Not bad for one of these large, usually unnecessary vehicles. However, that number drops to 30-31 hwy. It almost seems like one would be better off towing your Focus through the city where the Escape gets better mileage then using the smaller car for out of town travel. But then, the weight of the car would reduce the mileage of the truck, and then what do you do with the truck? Silly, no?

And to drive a final nail into our environment's coffin, one can purchase a brand new Ford F-150 for no money down and only $399 a month. So, with the dealership's apparently very liberal credit policy, almost anyone can own a behemoth work truck that gets an abysmal 13/17 MPG.

Of course, all of these vehicles have practical function in most cases, but does anyone really need a 3.5 ton work truck for tooling around town?

Well, do you?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gas prices and our motivation

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the national average price of gas was around $3.85 as of September 15th. While that may be slightly higher (about 15 cents) than two weeks ago, it is down by 50-70 cents in some places. The $130/barrel summer we just experienced took its toll on many a motorist.

Everyday the news contained a shocked motorist complaining about the prices and how they have to pay them anyway because, after all, they got kids ta feed. As a result, more stories surfaced about alternate transportation and fuel sources.

Perhaps it is the pending election and Ike certainly garnered much media attention, but the stories about hopeful technology for the future seem to have gone the way of stories about high gas prices. They are still there in print media; The Daily Texan ran a front page piece about a new library at Loyola University with sustainable climate control on Tuesday. Blinds automatically bock out heat-causing UV rays while an automated system maintains precise temperature control, thus minimizing waste and environmental impact.

But are these stories featured on on ADD stricken broadcast media?

And are people as willing to look for different means of transportation now that the price of gas is more "managable"? Well, if a certain professor is any indication, the answer is no.

Ahhh, how quickly they forget.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Welcome to A Cooler World

The world is hot. And not in a good way.

Ecologically fragile species are dying out, glaciers are shrinking and experts predict that there is the possibility that within a decade arctic ice may be non-existent during the summer.

This blog will explore the implications of climate change and new technologies designed to minimize it.

But this is not a blog for the doom and gloom crowd out there. There will be some humorous asides to take the seriousness out of the preaching that invariably comes with such subject matter.

As an introduction, here is a link to a column I wrote last year.

Yes, it's "An Ode to Molly Ivins" but the content addresses the current administration's blatant and purposeful ignorance of man's effects on the planet.