Test-Driving a Car That Runs on Gas

So this is an interesting way to turn the tables: a Swedish Tesla owner wrote a pretend but entirely realistic description of what it’s like to drive a gas-powered car from the point of view of someone used to electric cars. It’s easy to find electric car test drives that compare them to gas-powered vehicles, but this reversal seems to clarify a lot of the reasons electric cars might be considered better for many purposes.

gas-driven engine

While reading this review, it occurred to me that gas-powered vehicles are literally powered by making poison explode (and then spewing the waste gases into the air). Fun! But perhaps imprudent.

Here’s the full article: Test drive of a petrol car. If you don’t have time to read it, below are a few of my favorite quotes:

The petrol engine then uses a tank full of gasoline, a fossil liquid, to propel the car by exploding small drops of it. It is apparently the small explosions that you hear and feel when the engine is running.

The petrol engine consists of literally hundreds of moving parts that must have tolerance of hundredths of a millimeter to function. We begun to understand why it is car repair shops that sell the cars – they might hope for something to break in the car that they can mend?

We asked if the constant sound of the engine -that frankly disturbed us from being able to listen to the radio- could be turned off. But it couldn’t. Very distracting.

The seller looked very puzzled at us and explained that it is not possible to refuel gasoline cars at home, and there are no free gas stations. We tried to explain our questions, in case he had misunderstood, but he insisted that you can not. Apparently youhave to several times a month drive to the gas station to recharge your petrol car at extortionate prices – there are no alternatives! We thought it was very strange that no gasoline car manufacturers have launched their own free gas stations?

The entire front portion of the car was completely cluttered with hoses, fittings, fluid reservoirs, and amid all a huge shaking cast iron block which apparently constituted the motor’s frame. There was no space for luggage in the front of the car! Despite its enormous size, high noise and vibration, the engine barely delivered one hundred horsepower.

115 Good Sources of Information on Climate Change and Carbon Footprint

I’ve been working on my current book project, the novel The Town at World’s End, since late 2012. The story follows climate change educator Jess Finch from tragedy in an unseasonable and outsize storm through trying to piece her life back together and make a real difference in climate change. On the way, it imparts a huge amount of specific, practical information on reducing carbon footprint–not just facts, but experiences, problems, contradictions, motivation, obstacles, side benefits … even how to make sure the wires don’t fall into the wall when you’re installing a programmable thermostat.

Anyway, it wasn’t until a good ways into the project that I realized I needed to be maintaining a bibliography. Even though this is a novel, it’s based on a massive body of research, writing, and other resources, many of which are well worth reading (or seeing, as the case may be).

How long ’til doomsday? Should I replace my windows? How do I grow my own food year round in a cold climate without wasting energy? What’s biochar? How do I talk with someone who doesn’t even believe climate change is a threat? It’s all in the below, plus a lot more. Actually, it’s enormously encouraging to me to realize how many smart, dedicated, hard-working, resourceful people are out there working on all of the facets of the climate change problem. If you’re one of them, I’d like to take this moment to express my deep gratitude and to cheer you on.

I still have a lot of work to do in pulling that bibliography together, adding other items, formatting it usefully, categorizing, and so forth, but as an initial step I thought I’d share the initial bibliography notes, in case it’s helpful to anyone in finding good sources of information on climate change and carbon footprint.

How Bad Are Bananas

How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything
Mike Berners-Lee
Greystone Books, April 1, 2011

“How to Start a Shuttle Business”
http://smallbusiness.chron.com/start-shuttle-business-2080.html
by Felicia Greene, Demand Media
Retrieved 6/24/14

“Interviews with flood victims in Oxford”
http://www.climateoutreach.org.uk/portfolio-item/video-floods-and-climate-change/
Climate Outreach & Information Network
Retrieved 7/7/14

“How much electricity does an American home use?”
http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3
US Energy Information Administration
Retrieved 7/8/14

“Average Household Electricty Use Around the World”
http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/average-household-electricity-consumption
Retrieved 7/8/14

“George Marshall on How to Talk to a Climate Change Dissenter”
Climate Access
http://www.climateaccess.org/resource/tip-sheet-george-marshall-how-talk-climate-change-dissenter
Retrieved 7/16/14

Extreme Weather: Climate Change in Action?
British Library
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyZVahX87As
Viewed 7/16/14

Don't Even Think About It

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
George Marshall
Bloomsbury USA (August 19, 2014)
(Portions of the book made available to Luc by the author prior to publication)

“Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States”
http://riskybusiness.org/report/overview/executive-summary
The Risky Business Project
June 2014

An Inconvenient Truth
Al Gore
Viking Books, 4/10/07

“Global Food Waste in 8 Numbers”
http://www.bbc.com/news/health-28140395
7/3/14
Viewed 7/24/14

“Intermarché – ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables'”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2nSECWq_PE
7/12/14
Viewed 7/20/14

“Deforestation and Its Extreme Effect on Global Warming”
Scientific American
Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss, Nov 13, 2012
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/deforestation-and-global-warming/
Retrieved 7/24/14

“Health care accounts for eight percent of US carbon footprint, calculation finds”
ScienceDaily, 11/13/2009
University of Chicago Medical Center
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091110171647.htm
Retrieved 7/29/14
based on
Jeanette W. Chung; David O. Meltzer. Estimate of the Carbon Footprint of the US Health Care Sector. JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2009; 302 (18): 1970 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2009.1610
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091110171647.htm

“Savings Project: Insulate Hot Water Pipes for Energy Savings”
US Dept. of Energy
http://energy.gov/energysaver/projects/savings-project-insulate-hot-water-pipes-energy-savings
Retrieved 7/29/14

“Ask Pablo: Is It Really Worth It to Insulate My Pipes?”
Pablo Paster, January 16, 2012
http://www.treehugger.com/energy-efficiency/ask-pablo-it-really-worth-insulating-my-pipes.html
Retrieved 7/29/14

“This or That: Curtains or Plastic for Insulating Windows?”
Emily Main, 11/9/2009
Rodale News
http://www.rodalenews.com/insulating-windows
Retrieved 7/29/14

“Conserve Energy with Plastic Window Insulation”
Josh Peterson, Planet Green
http://home.howstuffworks.com/green-living/conserve-energy-plastic-insulation.htm
Retrieved 7/29/14

“Ask Pablo: Is Replacing Windows a Good Investment?”
Pablo Paster
August 17, 2010
http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/ask-pablo-is-replacing-windows-a-good-investment.html
Retrieved 7/31/14

“Noooo Edinburgh, Don’t Lift Ban on Changing Windows in Historic Structures”
Lloyd Alter
9/4/08
http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/noooo-edinburgh-dont-lift-ban-on-changing-windows-in-historic-structures.html
Retrieved 7/31/14

“Are New Windows Really Worth It?”
Reliance Capital
http://www.reliancefirstcapital.com/articles/new-windows.html
Retrieved 7/31/14

“Obama Seeks to Boost Resilience to Climate-Driven Drought Fires”
3/5/14
Mark Drajem, Bloomberg News
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-05/obama-seeks-to-boost-resilience-to-climate-driven-drought-fires.html
Retrieved 7/31/14

“Supporting fire and rescue authorities to reduce the number and impact of fires”
UK Dept. for Communities and Local Government
3/5/13
https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/supporting-fire-and-rescue-authorities-to-reduce-the-number-and-impact-of-fires
Retrieved 7/31/14

“No Single Solution”
Energy Co-op of Vermont
10/25/13
http://www.ecvt.net/blog/vermont-wood-pellets-2/no-single-solution
Retrieved 7/31/14

“This Is Why It Makes Sense to Pair Solar With Electric Vehicles”
GreenTechGrid
Tam Hunt, 7/14/14
http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/this-is-why-it-makes-sense-to-pair-solar-with-electric-vehicles
Retrieved 8/1/14

“Why heat pumps are hot in Vermont this summer”
WCAX
Julie Kelley, 8/6/14
http://www.wcax.com/story/26216622/why-heat-pumps-are-hot-in-vermont-this-summer
Retrieved 8/8/14

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing, 3rd edition
by Doug McKenzie-Mohr (Mar 15, 2011)
New Society Publishers

The Aquaponics Cycle

Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-by-step guide to raising vegetables and fish together
by Sylvia Bernstein
New Society Publishers, 10/11/11

“Al Gore ‘profiting’ from climate change agenda”
The Telegraph
By Nick Allen in Los Angeles 7:13PM GMT 03 Nov 2009
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/6496196/Al-Gore-profiting-from-climate-change-agenda.html
Retrieved 8/12/14

“Al Gore to Donate His Half of Nobel Prize Money to Charity”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy”
10/12/07
http://philanthropy.com/blogs/philanthropytoday/al-gore-to-donate-his-half-of-nobel-prize-money-to-charity/13981
Retrieved 8/12/14

Wikipedia: Aquaponics
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaponics
Retrieved 8/12/14

“Does Aquaponics Really Work?
Ecofilms
NOV 4, 2010
http://www.ecofilms.com.au/does-aquaponics-really-work/
Retrieved 8/12/14

“How to build a heat sink for a self-heating greenhouse”
Greenhouse Gnome
Mark Finch, 7/28/13
http://www.greenhousegnome.com/heat-sink-self-heating-greenhouse/
Retrieved 8/13/14

“Build a $300 underground greenhouse for year-round gardening”
Treehugger
Kimberley Mok, 2/22/13
http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/build-underground-greenhouse-garden-year-round.html
Retrieved 8/13/14

“Most stable year round greenhouse in 5b climate”
Permies.com (forum discussion)
8/19/12-8/31/12
http://www.permies.com/t/16911/passive-solar/stable-year-greenhouse-climate
Retrieved 8/13/14

“All About Valhalla’s Earthship Greenhouse, part 7″
Vahalla Movement, Quebec
Posted April 20, 2014
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b70f4xVOil4
Viewed 8/13/14

“Solar Passive Greenhouse for 4-Season Harvest”
PrairieComm.net
http://www.prairiecomm.net/greenhouse.html
Retrieved 8/13/14

“Passive Solar Aquaponic Greenhouse Tour 2″
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=li5dvZjo5qE
Viewed 8/13/14

“Greenhouse vent openers & supplies”
ACF Greenhouses
http://www.littlegreenhouse.com/accessory/vent2.shtml
Retrieved 8/13/14

“How We Designed Our Solar Greenhouse”
The Permaculture Research Institute
by Rob Avis, 2/11/11
http://permaculturenews.org/2011/02/11/how-we-designed-our-solar-greenhouse/
Retrieved 8/13/14

The Day After Tomorrow (movie)

Hollywood Global Warming Dramas Can Be Misleading”
Seán Ó Heigeartaigh
Nytimes.com, 8/4/14
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/29/will-fiction-influence-how-we-react-to-climate-change/hollywood-global-warming-dramas-can-be-misleading
Retrieved 8/17/14

“Climate Fiction Will Reinforce Existing Views”
NYtimes.com
George Marshall, 7/29/14
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/29/will-fiction-influence-how-we-react-to-climate-change/climate-fiction-will-reinforce-existing-views
Retrieved 8/17/14

“Personal Stories About Global Warming Change Minds”
NYtimes.com
Heidi Cullen, 7/30/14
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/29/will-fiction-influence-how-we-react-to-climate-change/personal-stories-about-global-warming-change-minds
Retrieved 8/17/14

“George Marshall on communicating climate change following extreme weather events”
TransitionNetwork.org
Rob Hopkins, 3/20/14
https://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins/2014-03/george-marshall-communicating-climate-change-following-extreme-weather-eve
Retrieved 8/18/14

“Sleepwalking into Disaster: Are We in a State of Denial about Climate Change?”
George Marshall, 9/22/05
http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/climate/marshall.htm
Retrieved 8/18/14

The Aquaponic Gardening Community (online forum)
http://community.theaquaponicsource.com/forum

Essex Farm: About Us
(this is the farm that offers its members a CSA that can provide all of their food)
http://www.essexfarmcsa.com/portfolio/about-us/
Retrieved 8/24/14

“3-D Printing Will Be a Manufacturing Engine for the Economy”
Daniel S. Hamermesh, 8/12/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/3-d-printing-will-be-a-manufacturing-engine-for-the-economy-20
Retrieved 8/26/14

“3-D Printers Are No Rival for Mass Production”
Nick Allen, 8/12/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/3-d-printers-are-no-rival-for-mass-production-6
Retrieved 8/26/14

“With 3-D Printers Comes the Possibility of Medical Miracles”
Mick Ebeling, 8/11/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/with-3-d-printers-comes-the-possibility-of-medical-miracles
Retrieved 8/26/14

“3-D Printers Allow Designers to Go to a New Level”
Kacie Hultgren, 8/11/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/3-d-printers-allow-designers-to-go-to-a-new-level
Retrieved 8/26/14

“Space Travel Will Be Easier and Less Costly With 3-D Printers”
Alison Nordt, 8/11/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/space-travel-will-be-easier-and-less-costly-with-3-d-printers
Retrieved 8/26/14

“3-D Printers Mean More Plastic in Landfills”
Luke Heemsbergen, 8/11/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/3-d-printers-mean-more-plastic-in-landfills
Retrieved 8/26/14

“Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan”
City of Arcata, CA
http://www.cityofarcata.org/filebrowser/download/15824
August 2006

“Assessment of Arcata’s Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan”
Fall 2009
http://humboldt.edu/sustainability/sites/default/files/envs411_080009-11.pdf
Hackett, John et al

Zero Energy Homes presentation

“Zero Energy Homes”
Presentation by Li Ling Young, Efficiency Vermont
for Net Zero Montpelier
Thu, Nov 13, 2014
Montpelier, Vermont
A similar presentation by Young at a different location can be viewed online at http://www.brattleborotv.org/efficiency-vermont/path-zero-energy-homes-li-ling-young-hd

“The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate”
Al Gore, 6/18/14
Rolling Stone
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-turning-point-new-hope-for-the-climate-20140618
Retrieved 11/9/14

“Americans Still Favor Energy Conservation Over Production”
Gallup
http://www.gallup.com/poll/168176/americans-favor-energy-conservation-production.aspx
4/2/14
Retrieved 12/5/14

Americans Want More Emphasis on Solar, Wind, Natural Gas
Gallup
http://www.gallup.com/poll/161519/americans-emphasis-solar-wind-natural-gas.aspx
3/27/13
Retrieved 12/5/14

Energy Star

Energy Star Program
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
http://www.EnergyStar.gov

Dishwashing
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
http://www.aceee.org/consumer/dishwashing
Retrieved 12/21/14

Dishwashers
Efficiency Vermont
https://www.efficiencyvermont.com/For-My-Home/ways-to-save-and-rebates/Appliances/Dishwashers/General-Info/Overview
Retrieved 12/21/14

“Do Space Heaters Save Money and Energy?”
Kiera Butler, 1/10/11
Mother Jones
http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/01/will-space-heater-save-you-money-and-energy
Retrieved 12/30/14

Dauncey, Guy
The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming
New Society Publishers, 2009

Gore, Al
Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
Rodale, Inc., 2009

“Study provides new metric for comparing the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide”
Apr 28, 2014 by David L. Chandler
http://phys.org/news/2014-04-metric-greenhouse-gases-methane-carbon.html
Phys.org
retrieved 1/1/15

“Climate impacts of energy technologies depend on emissions timing”
Morgan R. Edwards & Jessika E. Trancik, 25 April 2014
Nature Climate Change
abstract at http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n5/full/nclimate2204.html
retrieved 1/1/15

“Evaluation of Net Metering in Vermont”
Vermont Public Service Dept.
10/1/14, revised 11/7/14
http://publicservice.vermont.gov/sites/psd/files/Topics/Renewable_Energy/Net_Metering/Act%2099%20NM%20Study%20Revised%20v1.pdf
retrieved 1/4/15

“Solar”
U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
http://energy.gov/eere/renewables/solar
Retrieved 1/5/15

“Want to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint? Choose Mackerel Over Shrimp”
NPR
April Fulton, 7/29/14
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/07/29/336301714/want-to-reduce-your-carbon-footprint-choose-mackerel-over-shrimp
Retrieved 1/8/15

“Going Green: Carbon footprints revisited”
SeaFood Business
Lisa Duchene, 5/1/09
http://www.seafoodbusiness.com/articledetail.aspx?id=4294994142
Retrieved 1/8/15

“Fueling the Fleet, Navy Looks to the Seas”
(about synthesizing jet fuel from the carbon in seawater)
US Naval Research Laboratory
Daniel Perry, 9/24/12
http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2012/fueling-the-fleet-navy-looks-to-the-seas
Retrieved 1/17/15

“US navy synthesizes jet fuel solely out of seawater; costs $3-6 gallon”
ZME Science
by Tibi Puiu, 4/14/14
http://www.zmescience.com/research/us-navy-synthetic-jet-fuel-seawater-0423432/
Retrieved 1/17/15

“Can ‘Green Cement’ Make Carbon Capture and Storage Obsolete?”
New York Times
John J Fialka, ClimateWire, 8/13/10
http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2010/08/13/13climatewire-can-green-cement-make-carbon-capture-and-stor-9325.html?pagewanted=all
Retrieved 1/17/15

“Frequently Asked Questions About Biochar”
International Biochar Initiative
http://www.biochar-international.org/biochar/faqs
retrieved 2/1/15

biochar

“What Is Biochar?”
International Biochar Initiative
http://www.biochar-international.org/biochar
retrieved 2/1/15

“Heat & Cool Efficiently”
US Environmental Protection Agency
http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_hvac
retrieved 2/3/15

“A Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling”
US Environmental Protection Agency
August 2009
http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/publications/pubdocs/HeatingCoolingGuide%20FINAL_9-4-09.pdf?6752-4ef7

“Savings Project: Lower Water Heating Temperature”
US Environmental Protection Agency
http://energy.gov/energysaver/projects/savings-project-lower-water-heating-temperature
Retrieved 2/3/15

“How to Clean a Clothes Dryer Vent”
wikiHow
http://www.wikihow.com/Clean-a-Clothes-Dryer-Vent
Retrieved 2/3/15

“Energy Saver 101 Infographic: Home Heating”
US Dept of Energy
12/16/13
http://energy.gov/articles/energy-saver-101-infographic-home-heating
Retrieved 2/26/15

“#AskEnergySaver: Home Energy Audits”
US Dept of Energy
1/24/14
http://energy.gov/articles/askenergysaver-home-energy-audits
Retrieved 2/26/15

“Home Energy Audits”
US Dept of Energy
http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/home-weatherization/home-energy-audits
Retrieved 2/26/15

“Energy Audits”
Efficiency Vermont
https://www.efficiencyvermont.com/For-My-Home/ways-to-save-and-rebates/audits-insulation-air-sealing/Audits
Retrieved 2/26/15

Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds
David Gershon
Empowerment Institute, 2006

“Average Daily Media Use in the United States from 2010 to 2014″
Statista.com
http://www.statista.com/statistics/270781/average-daily-media-use-in-the-us/
Retrieved 3/12/15

“Do Energy-Efficient Appliances Add Up?”
by Craig Guillot
Bankrate.com
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/do-energy-efficient-appliances-add-up-1.aspx
Retrieved 3/12/15

“Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator”
US Department of Energy
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/do-energy-efficient-appliances-add-up-1.aspx
Utilized 3/12/15

“Adding Wall Insulation Has a Lengthy Payback Period”
Jeanne Huber, 12/14/2010
Houselogic
http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/insulation/adding-wall-insulation/
Retrieved 3/30/15

“The Potential of Biomass to Curb Global Warming”
May 2014
Alliance for Green Heat
http://www.forgreenheat.org/issues/cooling_climate_change.html
Retrieved 3/30/15

“Bulletin #7217, Maine Home Energy: Options for Home Heating Fuels and Energy Systems — An Overview”
(includes chart rating each option on e.g., convenience, cost, efficiency)
The University of Maine Extension
http://umaine.edu/publications/7217e/
Retrieved 3/31/15

“Home Energy Sources”
(list of emissions by fuel source, but not compared to each other with equivalent units)
Carbon Independent
http://www.carbonindependent.org/sources_home_energy.html
Retrieved 3/31/15

“Carbon emissions of different fuels”
(deals with fuels for heat and transport, thus doesn’t include non-fuel renewables)
Biomass Energy Center
http://www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/portal/page?_pageid=75,163182&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
Retrieved 3/31/15

“How We Calculate”
Carbonfund.org
http://www.carbonfund.org/how-we-calculate
Retrieved 3/31/15

“Implications of Shale Gas Development for Climate Change”
Richard G. Newell and Daniel Raimi
American Chemical Society
April 22, 2014
Published in Environmental Science Technology, August 5 2014
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es4046154?source=cen

“Georgia Mt. Community Wind Open House draws over 750 local visitors”
originally published in Vermont Business Magazine, June 2013
http://georgiamountainwind.com/georgia-mt-community-wind-open-house-draws-over-750-local-visitors/

“After the Flood: Vermont’s Rivers and the Legacy of Irene”
(YouTube playlist of program in 4 parts)
November 26, 2013
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLX5V6zW7pAiYEC3bIrK3ymOegGrPwg0xT

“Cheap, Abundant Shale Gas Won’t Significantly Cut U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions”
Janet Pelley, Chemical & Engineering News
May 2, 2014
http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/web/2014/05/Cheap-Abundant-Shale-Gas-Wont.html

“Climate Change: 10 Years to Cut Off Nuclear War, Plagues”
(no longer available online)
Fairfax Climate Watch
April 2013
http://www.fairfaxclimatewatch.com/blog/2013/04/climate-change-10-years-to-cut-off-nuclear-war-plagues.html

“Carbon Cutoff Point ‘Is 27 Years Away'”
Alex Kirby
Climate News Network, 10/27/2013
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/carbon_cut-off_point_is_27_years_away_20131027

“Global warming’s new frightening deadline”
Pete McMartin
Vancouver Sun, 3/9/13
http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Pete+McMartin+Global+warming+frightening+deadline/8071552/story.html

“New global warming deadline: Reverse it in 8 years or it’ll be too late”
Doug Powers
MichelleMalkin.com, 3/28/12
http://michellemalkin.com/2012/03/28/new-deadline/

“Climate change deadline 5 years – IEA”
News23.com, 11/10/11
http://www.news24.com/SciTech/News/Climate-change-deadline-5-years-IEA-20111109

“We already blew the deadline to avoid dangerous climate change”
Christopher Mims
Quartz, 12/6/12
http://qz.com/34443/we-already-blew-the-deadline-to-avoid-dangerous-climate-change/

“The Deadline for Global Warming: Reversing the Effects of Climate Change Before 2017″
Luisa Crisostomo
International Business Times, 11/16/11
http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/250465/20111116/deadline-global-warming-reversing-effects-climate-change.htm#.UqMZqvRDs24

“Carbon Footprint Of Best Conserving Americans Is Still Double Global Average”
MIT
ScienceDaily, 4/29/08
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428120658.htm

How to Live a Low-Carbon Life: The Individual’s Guide to Stopping Climate Change
Chris Goodall
Routledge, 3/30/07

Building Powerful Community Organizations

Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World
Michael Jacoby Brown
Long Haul Press (September 28, 2007)

Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living
The Union of Concerned Scientists, Seth Shulman, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, David Friedman, Margaret Mellon, John Rogers, Suzanne Shaw
Island Press; 6th edition (April 3, 2013)

The Burning Question: We Can’t Burn Half the World’s Oil, Coal, and Gas. So How Do We Quit?
Mike Berners-Lee, Duncan Clark
Greystone Books (September 21, 2013)

Flight Behavior: A Novel
Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins, 11/6/12

The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
Rob Hopkins
UIT Cambridge Ltd. (April 1, 2014)

“Clean Break: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It”
Osha Gray Davidson
InsideClimate News (November 8, 2012)

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Bill McKibben
Times Books (April 7, 2010)

Actually, We CAN Put It Back in the Ground

One of the most demoralizing things about climate change is that it’s generally a one-way process: it’s easy for us to put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but not so much for us to take them back out–at least, that’s what I thought until recently.

True, there has been some research into carbon sequestration (putting carbon dioxide directly into underground spaces or at the bottom of the sea), but these processes aren’t very far advanced or very affordable, and some of the plan for them is just to capture CO2 being produced by fossil fuel plants and sequester that. The fossil fuel industry likes to hold this very theoretical idea out as though it’s an available technology, so as to get a free pass to burn more fossil fuels.

But I mentioned that there was some hope, and there is: biochar.

What is biochar? It’s basically charcoal, an extremely carbon-rich material made at high temperatures, from 200 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, which consumes pretty much everything in the fuel except the carbon. Biochar can be made from practically any burnable material–wood, seed pods, husks, brush, paper, manure, etc.–even trash.

biochar pellets

What’s so great about that? A few things, actually! First, using the right process to make it, biochar produces energy without producing much in the way of greenhouse gas emissions. Second, the process that makes biochar can alternatively make liquid fuels from renewable sources. Third, and most intriguingly, biochar is very stable: you can bury it in the ground, and the carbon won’t go anywhere for hundreds to thousands of years. Fourth, when you do bury it in the ground, it increases the fertility of the soil by making necessary chemicals more available to plants and by helping retain and regulate water in the soil. Fifth, the process is simple enough that it can be used for everything from massive plants to cookstoves.

So the cycle can go something like this: plants grow, absorbing and using carbon from the atmosphere. The plants are harvested, and some or all of the resulting plant matter is made into biochar, producing up to about six times as much energy as it consumes in the process. The biochar is then buried in the ground, accelerating plant growth. Even without this acceleration, the new plants that grow where the old ones were harvested absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, and the process continues.

If we’re willing to commission a lot of large biochar plants and to make biochar a standard part of preparing agricultural lands–including reclaiming currently unproductive lands, such as former farmland that is tapped out or turning to desert–then we can actually pull a huge amount of the carbon dioxide we’ve generated over the past couple of centuries back out of the atmosphere, and reverse the process we’ve been causing that is currently wrecking our climate with no relief in sight.

Photo by Lou Gold

A Great Online Home Carbon Footprint Estimator

The CoolClimate network at the University of Berkeley, California has a very well-designed tool for estimating home carbon footprints. Carbon footprint calculations are kind of a bear, so anything that makes them more straightforward and understandable while remaining accurate enough to be truly useful is a win. Check it out! It only takes a few minutes to get some interesting information, and they have a small business version available on the same site (all free).

CoolClimate household carbon footprint calculator

Better Gifts for a Smaller Footprint

presents

The holidays present a whole different set of circumstances compared to daily life, so they also come with a whole different set of sustainability challenges. Top among these after  travel and food (see my previous post) is gift-giving. Recycled wrapping paper or reusable gift bags are great, but be sure the gift in that wrapping takes sustainability into account too.

Here are some tips for carbon-smart gifting:

Start early!
Early planning alone can save both carbon and money. By giving ourselves time to work out good options in advanc, we can avoid unwanted or wasteful gifts as well as rush shipping and other flailing around. In this instance (and many others, as it turns out), organizing and planning make for more affordable, more sustainable presents.

Make sure your gift will be used
In measuring the emissions of a gift in proportion to how much happiness it brings, the biggest loser is a gift that isn’t used at all. We’ve all gotten (and given) them: whether a seemingly genius idea that didn’t pan out or a gift bought at the last minute in desparation, a present that isn’t used damages the climate without helping anyone. Even a returnable present often feels bad to the recipient while creating more travel and/or shipping, which has its own footprint.

Some ways to ensure a gift isn’t a duplicate or a misfire include discussing it with someone else close to the recipient, erring on the side of conservative gift-choosing (for instance, with gift certificates), or even involving the recipient in the gift choice. I know it’s traditional (and fun) for gifts to be surprises, but both as a gift giver and a gift getter, personally I’d be much happier about a gift that’s a hit but not a surprise than a gift that’s unexpected but a flop.

The driving gotcha
Think twice about gifts that involve much driving, whether it’s you getting the gift or the recipient using it. On top of the gift itself, the extra driving creates a bigger negative impact on carbon footprint that’s easy to miss or discount. Since travel is the number one source of emissions for individuals and households, it’s entirely possible to give a gift that has a much bigger impact in terms of driving than is embodied in the gift itself.

Of course, not all driving raises a gift’s impact. For example, if you pick up a gift while driving but are combining that errand with others, the extra driving attributable to that particular gift is lessened or eliminated. Similarly, if the gift-getter is already going to do the driving your gift would entail (for instance, you buy a ski pass for someone you know already plans to go skiing), driving again stops being an issue.

Types of presents
Some categories of gifts, such as electronics, tend to have a much worse impact than others. Even some seemingly-harmless gifts, like clothing and shoes, can come with a heavy climate toll. Here are some ways to approach more sustainable gift choices:

  • Favor gifts that will be used more. An item that is seldom used, even if it’s enjoyed when it is used, is contributing much less for its cost in carbon than something that’s used regularly.
  • Favor gifts of necessities over luxuries. A gift that solves a problem is not only welcome, but also does a much better job of justifying its climate impact.
  • Steer clear of upgraded replacements. For instance, a slightly newer, slightly better smart phone as a gift wastes much of the carbon cost of manufacturing the phone that’s already in use.
  • Prize quality. With so many things so easily replaceable these days, we tend to think of quality as an indulgence. In fact, a durable, high-quality item will often pay for itself much better over time than a cheap item that will wear out and need to be replaced.

Used = more delight for the recipient, less trouble for the climate
My son is interested in animation, and for his recent birthday we bought him a high-quality graphics tablet, the kind of device animators connect to computers and draw on to create their art. There’s no way we could have afforded it if we’d tried to get him a brand-new one, and the climate impact of electronic devices in general is often terrible. Buy buying him a used unit from a reputable seller, we not only got him a much bigger gift than we otherwise could have–one he’ll have a real use for–but we also avoided buying something that had to be manufactured just for him.

Buying used goods doesn’t usually make for a zero carbon footprint, even if we disregard shipping. It’s always possible that if we hadn’t bought that graphics tablet, someone else would have who instead decided to buy a brand-new one. At the same time, it’s also possible that by buying that graphics tablet, we contributed enough to the demand for used items like that that somebody somewhere took one out of the closet and dusted it off for resale rather than letting it sit unused. On average, the impact of buying a used item will be significantly less than that of buying a new item, just not zero.

It’s true that some people may be put off by getting or giving used gifts. We certainly tend to prize the new and shiny in our culture. However, I think we can consider this more reason to give used gifts, not less. If we want to reduce waste and therefore climate change damage in our culture, we need to get used to fixing things, reusing things, and sharing things rather than insisting that everything we have be the latest, private to us, and previously untouched by human hands. Buying used has its limitations, but by encouraging reuse, we help to change both our own and the gift recipient’s ways of approaching consumer goods … for the better.

Photo by Liz Brooks

Remaking Holidays for Sustainability: Ways to Improve Any Holiday

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, the Fourth of July, and other holidays all have a few things in common: they tend to involve travel and special meals or feasts. For many extended families, like mine, these kinds of occasions are the only times during the year we all have a chance to see each other, yet travel and food are two of the four biggest ways individuals and households contribute to global warming*. So our choices are to give up on sustainability over the holidays, to give up on the holidays, or to find ways to the holidays more sustainable, starting now. These posts are focused on that last option.

The way I propose we look at cutting any emissions is “biggest impacts first.” We often look for the easiest, most obvious ways to act more sustainably, but the truth is that there are so many low-impact things we can do, we can easily spend all our time on those and never get to the good stuff, the major savings. That’s where the Big Four offer a starting point. With those in mind, here are some tips for the making the largest possible savings in emissions at the holidays.

Rethink air travel: Flying around the country and even the rest of the plant has become relatively inexpensive and easy, but unfortunately it’s one of the worst offenders in terms of emissions. Not only do planes burn a lot of fossil fuels, they push out their exhaust at altitudes where their bad effects are at least doubled compared to what they would be on the ground. It’s not up to me to tell you or your family members not to fly, but there are ways to fly less, for instance driving together in an efficient car, taking a bus or plane or boat, or making one longer visit instead of two shorter ones. For more information on flying, see “You Want Me to Stop Doing What?”

If the trip is very important to you and you can’t find any way to make it other than air travel, you can consider making a donation to offset the climate impact. For example, Cool Earth is a non-profit organization that does excellent work preserving forests, which is one of the best possible ways to help slow climate change (even better than planting new trees). Donations to organizations that make a smaller or less direct impact would have to be proportionately larger.

The cost of offsetting a flight depends very much on how long the flight is. For a transatlantic round trip, an offset donation to an organization like Cool Earth would be only $20.90. A short round trip, for instance between Niagara Falls and New York City, would be only about $2.50. (Source: How Bad Are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee)

Not making the trip in the first place is certainly the ideal way to go, but offsetting is a decent alternative if you are having trouble finding away around flying.

Use food well: According to FeedingAmerica.org, between 25% and 40% of all food produced in the U.S. will never be eaten. Take a moment to reflect on that with me: At least a quarter of all our food, and possibly closer to half, goes completely to waste! Meanwhile, much of this food is produced with energy-intensive methods that burn many tons of fossil fuels; methane from ruminant livestock (cows, sheep, and goats) that is more than 20 times as potent in damaging the climate than carbon dioxide; and chemical fertilizers that release Nitrous Oxide (NO2), a greenhouse gas more than 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Careful attention to what and how much food we buy and how we serve and store it can cut our personal food waste to far below the usual amount.

Time permitting, I’ll be posting further ways to transform the holidays over the coming weeks. A happy and sustainable holiday season to all!

Photo courtesy of Emily Barney

* The other two are heat/hot water and electricity.

Why Do People Ignore a Catastrophe They Know Is Coming? This Book Explains and Provides Solutions

In his deeply researched and surprising book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, author George Marshall helps us understand the true nature of climate change and why it’s so hard for us to act on something that threatens to destroy us.

Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate ChangeHis points are surprising and force us to reframe our entire understanding of the issue. Here are a few examples, many of which don’t make sense until you get the benefit of Marshall’s full explanation:

  • Climate change is not a tame problem, but a “wicked” one.
  • Climate change is not an environmental problem.
  • Fossil fuel companies must be stopped, but they are not the enemy.
  • Polar bears and our grandchildren are not the ones who need to be saved.
  • Conservatives are not the enemies of climate change action, but essential allies.
  • Guilt over our personal contributions to climate change and fear of what will happen are our biggest opponents.
  • Climate change is not in any sense a religion, but evangelical churches may be our best models for learning how to communicate about it.

I had some anxiety as I read this book, not so much because it’s about climate change, but because for the first 40 chapters or so, Marshall tells us only how NOT to communicate about climate change: why politically loaded messages hurt the cause, how making the problem scarier encourages us to ignore it even more, and how the science isn’t going to convince much of anyone, for instance. I was afraid that I was going to get to the end of the book and find out that his conclusion was “So basically, we’re f***ed.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t. At the end of the book, Marshall revisits all his key points and turns them on their heads, showing how the things we’re doing wrong in communicating climate change can maybe be done differently and effectively. It’s not that those of us who are working to solve the climate change problem aren’t trying hard enough to communicate: it’s that there’s an entirely different and unexpected way for us to go about it that is likely, based on a great deal of research and investigation, to do a much, much better job.

We tend to understand climate change in limited ways, each of us confined to some extent by our peers and expectations. Marshall’s book helps us break out of those limited understandings to see the big picture, and in the process to find new resolve, new allies, and new hope for immediate change.