And the Answer is: No!

December 7, 2007

No Energy Bill for US!

The Democrats failed to attract any defectors, and the energy bill died a quick death — at least in its current form.

Look out for an anemic, flimsy alternative to happen, or for nothing at all.

When it comes to the environment, or to the war in Iraq, Democrats are basically Republicans, just with a bit of angst about it.


Can They Pass the Energy Bill? Or Any Bill?

December 6, 2007

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a GREAT energy bill that would push auto fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon, getting it half way to the President’s desk.

And not a moment too soon! In addition to jacking up the mpg, the bill would also make some other big changes:

  • It would require the electric companies to use more and more renewable generating capacity, to the point where 15% of all electricity comes from renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, i.e. NOT coal)
  • It would levy $21B in taxes on oil companies. They currently get such lavish tax breaks that they practically paid no taxes at all in recent years, despite crazy record profits

But will any of this get past the insurmountable hurdle that is the Democratic Senate? After all, if there’s one thing the Dems have trouble doing, it’s doing anything at all.

Think about it: Have they beaten a filibuster, even once? Come up with the magical 60 votes for something important, even once?

The Republicans never had 60 votes in the Senate but they regularly found a few defectors to vote with them. But the Democrats, despite facing a demoralized, regrouping opposition that is politically and psychologically weak (as well as suffering under big election losses and endless hypocrisy-highlighting scandal), can’t move a bill. And even when they do, as with the kids’-health-insurance bill, they get beat with the veto and then simply accept defeat.

Given that track record, it is naive at this point to expect the bill to survive. That’s so sad, because even though it sounds like a dramatic world-changing law, the truth is that this energy bill is really only catching up to the situation on the ground.

  • Lots of states (and our little ‘burgh, Washington DC) are already taking on California’s car rules, which will eventually push up MPG requirements even without the federal government’s say-so.
  • Lots of utility regulators (like our hometown again) are setting higher requirements for renewable energy in their electricity supply. Many are aiming higher than 15%.
  • Lots of cars get better than 35 MPG already — all the hybrid sedans (Prius, Camry Hybrid, Civic Hybrid), which add up to several hundred thousand cars on the road already. They’re 20+ years ahead of this bill, if this bill even passes this year.

In retrospect, this was the wrong story to write about — Congress’s likely-meaningless charades aside, the real story is happening in state and local governments, where the lightbulbs have been fluorescent for years….

Cool Biz — What It Proves, and Could It Work Here?

October 3, 2007

Check out Cool Biz — it’s a program started up by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment. What does it do? Simple; it raises the thermostat in the summer. Offices set their summer indoor temps to 28C, or about 81F, instead of the typical 70F.

It’s the law in government buildings, and voluntary in others, but the majority of private sector buildings have bought in.

(We like saving energy, but 81F?  Gives me pause.)

So it’s a big-government environmental regulation, so therefore it must have had some crushing blow on some sector of the economy, right? Actually, true to form, the free market finds a way to create wealth from regulation — Despite the government specifically pushing a new no-tie-no-jacket office standard, a whole new industry of ultra-light business attire has come onto the scene. So instead of giving up their famously-traditional business suits, your classic (or stereotypical?) Japanese businessman can still dress the part.

That’s the moral of the story, economically: environmental regulations will require change, but the free market will spawn products and services to facilitate that change, and the economy will innovate into a more sustainable future. It happens all the time, in every aspect of society.

Could Cool Biz (Hot Office) work in the US?

It sure could, if we raised the temp to about 75F instead of 81F. But we could go up a few degrees, at least. Everybody’s had the experience of walking into a store out of a blisteringly-hot summer day and being shocked — not comforted, but hit — by a bracing cold blast. When it’s over 90F, nobody’s going to complain that a 75F store temperature isn’t cold enough. Plus, having just spent a DC summer with a sweater draped over my office chair for chilly August afternoons at work, I can safely say from personal experience that there’s room to burn less coal on summer air conditioning.

But could we go all the way to 81F? Nah — we’re a little too chubby a population to stay comfy over 80.

Is this a good target, strategically, for environmentalists in the US?  No.  It will reduce electricity demands, but it won’t make a huge impact on total consumption (it makes about a 0.5% impact in Japan, where people drive less), and it won’t do anything to impact the causes of the growth in our CO2 emissions.  Further, and more importantly, there are enough ways for us as a society to make bigger impacts (fuel efficiency, CFL’s, better transit, city planning, and community design) that pushing a plan to make 100 million Americans suffer through hot stuffy days at jobs that they already don’t like isn’t necessary.  The real risk is the pushback against this and against environmentalism in general.

The greatest misconception is that our standard of living will suffer with conservation efforts, and a massive sweaty-offices campaign by green groups would just feed that misconception and increase resistance against the cause.

Too Hot, Too Fast

October 1, 2007

According to NASA, this summer was so hot in the Arctic that Canadian researchers are revamping their timetables for when climate change will really start to hurt.  (NYT covers it here.)

Melting permafrost, unfrozen (in some cases) for the first time in hundreds of years, slides down hills and gluts rivers. Water supplies to communities and ecosystems are blocked, or simply disappearing.

Arctic water supplies feed the rest of the continent, so big changes up north mean big changes here. If the potential devastation of vast stretches of pristine habitat doesn’t bother you, that’s one thing. But if the destabilization of water supplies doesn’t scare you, you’re a fool.

Make what difference you can — drive less, buy windpower from your utility, and get CFL’s like these or like these (the sale item) for every light fixture; they’re not ugly, really — and then get on your local government to do more. Is your city encouraging sprawl and car-dependency? Then fight it! Has it passed a law to require new homes and buildings be more energy-efficient? Push for these laws!

Inactivity is what the short-sighted pushers of our coal and oil habits are banking on. Doing nothing is a sin for which your kids will judge you.

Go! Do!

Automakers Pitch Their Bogus Line To DC Officials

September 30, 2007

Last Wednesday, we went to support the Clean Cars bill that is pending in Washington, DC (find a link here; it would make cars sold in DC meet the California emissions standards, which about 11 states also copy).

Most of the people there were supportive, but one attendant was from the AAM, or Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. They’re the industry group that represents the 6 biggest car companies, and they’re fighting cleaner cars and tighter regs at every turn. (They’re fighting California’s new emissions rules, and they just lost the Vermont case.) He was Greg Dana, their Vice President for Environmental Affairs.

Mr. Dana had his turn at the microphone, and made his case against tighter air regs. It came down to four points. Here are points #1, #2 and #3:

  • The automakers are doing everything they possibly can to make cars cleaner, and really shouldn’t be pressured right now.
  • California’s rules get so tight by 2016 that the auto industry is likely to completely collapse.  Consumers will stop driving rather than buy better cars.
  • They’re looking into making cars out of tin, with 3-cylinder engines, because nothing else could possibly work. They need a “breakthrough” technological advance, which they don’t foresee, if they hope to comply with the 2016 rules.

And here’s point #4, the one I thought most interesting:

  • Under California’s 2016 emissions standards, only 4 of the 494 new-car models on the market today (2007) would be allowed to be sold. They are:
    • Toyota Yaris
    • Toyota Prius
    • Toyota Camry Hybrid
    • Ford Escape Hybrid

I’d like to point out how plainly untrue points 1-3 are, using point 4 (i.e., AAM’s own assertion).

Read the rest of this entry »

Paris Hilton, Uhh, Well Just Read This

September 27, 2007

Paris Hilton is gonna Green Her Home.

Hard time does strange things to an inmate, but this is something else: they must do some pretty intense reprogramming at LA County. The Heiress came out a changed woman, apparently. Her itinerary, which used to be a continuous, half-conscious migration from thumping club to vacation town and back again, is now chock full of Angelina Jolie material.

Here’s a rundown of the next couple of months:

  • Shoot a movie called “Repo! The Genetic Opera” in Toronto (actually, not so Jolie, that)
  • Go to Rwanda (that’s right — Rwanda)
  • Go to other places like Rwanda, actual destinations TBA
  • Make her Beverly Hills house eco-friendly. (She said “green friendly”, actually, but you go girl, you’re on the right track.)

And there’s a quote about the green-living effort: “I just bought the house and haven’t been able to work on it yet,” Hilton said. “But I intend to.”

Now, the idea of Paris actually driving a nail, or in any other way working on her own house, just makes my head twitch from sheer impossibility. But if she’s serious (and isn’t taken in by some huckster who wafts incense around her house for $500 an hour), she could do for the green-living movement what she might do for Rwanda. Which could be quite a bit, considering people pay her $300k just to show up at places and not even say anything.

You scoffers must give respect to the silly young lady’s ability to drive traffic and attract cameras. Don’t believe me? Then answer this:who, really, would move more CFL’s by just holding one in front of a camera? Paris Hilton, or Al Gore? Paris Hilton, or Leonardo DiCaprio? Paris Hilton, or Ralph Nader?

Same answer, all three times. Now I go off to confidently await the highest visitor totals this blog has ever had, all because I wrote about Paris Hilton.

Win Some, Lose Some and Too Little, Too Late

September 20, 2007

From around the web:

  • The Green Pope speaks, and looks less and less like the evil emperor from Return of the Jedi every time. At least to us.
  • George Bush’s efforts to study climate change to death (and thus do nothing about it) have inconceivably come under criticism. Almost as though he wasn’t really trying….
  • The Baiji might not be extinct, says a guy with a handicam on a Chinese river somewhere. Love the end of this story: the government built a reserve for this rare dolphin, but now can’t find any to put in it. (Insert Nelson Muntz laugh here.) Of course, if they find one or two now, what do they do? Put them in the reserve, which might actually make the wild population extinct? What do you do when there’s one left? Take pictures, that’s what — there’s nothing else to do.
  • The Big 6 automakers (Detroit plus Toyota, Honda, and Nissan) got a break when a judge threw out a $billions lawsuit by some crackpot who said they were responsible for damages due to global warming from their cars. What crazy, predatory, silk-suited shark plaintiff’s lawyer would dare to file such a — oh, wait. What? Oh. I see; turns out it was the California Attorney General’s office.
  • Hold on, hold on, hold on. What a sign of the times in California. Imagine the AG in Michigan files that suit — his kids will be hoisted up flagpoles by their undies every school day. But in Cali, suing the car companies for global warming is cool. AG’s often run for Governor, and Governors are good at becoming President. Even filing the suit says something about the where the state’s politics are with respect to climate change.
  • Hold on #2: We have to call BS on any state suing cars for too much emissions when it’s happily zoning more and more land for suburban sprawl, which means more driving, more car dependency, greater travel times, and more emissions. So here’s hoping Cali is plucking the beam from its own eye.
  • You SRI stockbuyers have another list to look at, of the 20 most sustainable companies out there. Thanks to Envirostats for the data.