Which kills more people, climate change or terrorism?

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Climate or terrorism?

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Fluffy William and the Threat of Global Climate Change

Once there was an adorable little chipmunk named Fluffy William, who for whatever reason could understand English. It was just one of those things.

chipmunk

Fluffy William was so wee and cute that he charmed everyone he met, except for gardeners, from whose strawberry patches he had a habit of selecting a strawberry, eating just one bite, and then moving on–though in Fluffy William’s defense, his wee stomach was so small that one bite of strawberry filled him right up.

Fluffy William lived an unusually happy chimpmunk life, with cool leaves to rustle under in hot weather and a warm nest to bed down in when it turned cold, until he chanced to be sitting by an open window during a ninety-minute documentary on climate change. Climate change, it turned out, was weather and temperatures and reliable natural cycles all going haywire. Climate change was floods in the Spring and droughts in the Summer and hurricanes in the Fall and God only knows what kind of trouble in the winter. Climate change would make it harder for people to grow food, which would make for more desperate people, which would make for more disasters and refugees and wars. It rapidly became clear to Fluffy William, understanding English as he did, that somebody needed to do something about this climate change problem, and quick.

So Fluffy William ventured deep into the woods until he came to the burrow of Elder Stern Wanda, the wisest and most respected chipmunk anywhere thereabouts. There, breathlessly, he explained about climate change.

“We have to do something about this terrible problem, Elder Stern Wanda!” cried Fluffy William. “But what can I do? I’m just one little chipmunk.”

“You can’t do anything,” said Elder Stern Wanda. “Anything you might try to do would be totally useless. It’s the humans who have to do something about it, and everybody knows you can’t make a human do something they haven’t chosen to do on their own without a gun or a fistful of money.” Elder Stern Wanda picked up an old, chewed-up acorn and gnawed at it gingerly with her one remaining front tooth. The effort seemed to exhaust her after a few gnaws, and she put it back down. Age has its compensations, but it’s still a pain in the neck.

“So humans have to each decide to change their habits on their own?” said Fluffy William.

“Don’t hold your breath for it,” said Elder Stern Wanda. “Now scamper along home.”

So Fluffy William scampered along home and did nothing. That next spring there was a terrible flood, and in the summer there was a terrible drought. Regrettably, Fluffy William could not compete with the other chipmunks for the scarce food available, as he was so wee and cute, so he died of starvation.

He never did find out whether the humans did anything about climate change.

Photo by Gilles Gonthier

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.

Reduce Your Footprint, Increase Your Profits

A new car wash facility in my home town of Williston caught my eye recently. Look below: you can see why.

Eco Car Wash exterior

When I read up on the ecological details of the business, I was more deeply impressed. As you probably know, one of the dangers with a business like this is “greenwashing”–that is, adopting a couple of seemingly environmentally-friendly practices while running a deeply unsustainable business and calling it “green.” “Eco-friendly” products have proliferated in recent years that range from questionable to downright horrible in terms of environmental impact. In this case, however we appear to be looking at the real deal.

If the biggest environmental impacts of a car wash are water, energy, construction, and the gas people expend to drive there, Eco Car Wash seems to be a win on all four fronts. They gather rain and snow and process their water on site, relieving the municipal water system of a potentially large impact; their transparent design and high-efficiency equipment minimize electrical use; their building is constructed from recycled and reclaimed materials; and their location is on the commute and errand path of many local residents.

Eco Car Wash interior

Washing your car at an ecologically-minded commercial car wash can save large amounts of water compared to doing so at home. Unfortunately, the total calculation of impact has to take a lot more elements into account: in terms of carbon footprint, energy usage and production of equipment and buildings have a much greater footprint than cold water (though if you’re in an area with serious water problems, carbon footprint may not be your top ecological concern). A car wash facility certainly does involve a substantial amount of energy and materials, compared to a garden hose. Since a facility like Eco Car Wash washes on average 45,750 cars per year, however, managing energy well seems like the total environmental impact is well justified, especially taking into account the importance of preventing rust on cars in terms of preventing cars from having to be junked (adding to the waste stream and requiring huge resources to manufacture new units) unnecessarily.

Eco Car Wash charges $8-$21 for a wash, which makes its pricing about average for the industry (for in-tunnel washes) despite the ecological advantages, according to StatisticBrain.com.

It makes sense that their prices should be normal even though they have presumably spent much more than the usual amount on constructing the facility, because their energy and water management practices should save them a bundle over time. While a car wash is an unusually obvious example for this kind of practice, it’s an approach virtually any business can take to be more profitable, as demonstrated by the massive energy retrofit done at the Empire State Building a few years ago: see Empire State Building’s Energy Savings Beat Forecast.

If I sound like an advertisement for this business, you’ll have to pardon me: it’s rare that I see a strictly commercial operation that takes sustainability to these lengths.

Videos: A Massive Iceberg Breakup and One Day on Earth

Here are two online videos I came across recently, one of which shows what a calving iceberg looks like as ice is splitting off, the other of which gives a series of glimpses of life around the entire world.

iceberg breakup

click the image to go to The Guardian’s Web site and see the video