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Friday, October 12, 2007

Honoring progressive leadership

Today the "former next President of the United States" joined such great leaders as the 14th Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr as this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Albert Arnold (Al) Gore, Jr., along with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was awarded the prize for "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Al Gore is not the first "politician" to win the Peace Prize; far from it, as many of the winners have been U.S. and world politicians. What is notable for me, in light of the direction this country has taken in the past three decades, and most dramatically since Bush's "election", is that only two Republicans have been awarded this most important honor. And of the two, only Henry Kissinger (1973) could be considered a Republican in the modern sense of the GOP. The other, President Theodore Roosevelt, was a progressive reformer who endeavored to move the Republican party into the Progressive movement. This put T.R. into the same company as his cousin F. D. R. and solidly into modern liberal territory. (I purposly say "liberal" and not "Democratic". The U.S. ideology has shifted right since Reagan to the point where very few Democratic politicians, at least in Federal government, represent the traditionally diverse, liberal issues espoused by the Democrats in the past.)

[P]rogressivism made great strides under American presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Progressivism historically advocates the advancement of workers' rights and social justice. The progressives were early proponents of anti-trust laws and the regulation of large corporations and monopolies, as well as government-funded environmentalism and the creation of National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.

"Old-school" Democrats are well represented in the Peace Prize, with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson, 2002 and 1919, respectively, and George Marshall, originator of the Marshall Plan winning in 1953. Most striking, however, is the realization that post-Goldwater Republicans, the so-called conservatives of today, consider peace and promoting peace a sign of weakness. (Today's conservatives are better termed "neoconservatives" with all the justly deserved negative connotations associated with the label "neocon".)

As with all dark periods in world history, this too will end. I can't help but feel that Mr. Gore's Nobel Prize is yet another sign that the Reagan legacy is losing strength and that true progressive ideas will soon take root. Republican Senators are retiring en masse, the Democratic party is millions of dollars ahead of the GOP in fundraising, and concepts like global warming, alternative energy, increasing fuel economy, and reducing consumption are being discussed by more and more people.

We may yet survive. . .

(Okay, I derailed my Nobel Peace Prize essay and turned it into a political statement. That happens. To read more about this year's award see the story at the BBC News website.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Think globally, generate locally.

We hear more and more in popular culture and the media about generating electricity with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, but relatively few people have actually seen this technology in action. Two Kennebunk, Maine women received some good news this week that will give local residents something to see, and hopefully talk about, on the subject of solar power.

A group of citizens, teachers, and school district administrators and operations staff in Kennebunk formed an Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) eighteen months ago to address energy, recycling, and other sustainability topics in the Maine School Administrative District 71 facilities in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. (The idea for our group, SEA, was germinated in that group.)

This group has enjoyed tremendous success, attaining Energy Star certification for the 2.5 year old Kennebunk Elementary School, achieving impressive electricity and heating fuel savings across the school district, and driving a sharp reduction in trash through an innovative composting program implemented at the beginning of the current school year.

As I alluded to earlier, two members of the EAC have achieved yet another notable milestone in the local efforts to slow global warming. Jennifer Neise and Sassy Smallman raised seed money and applied for a Maine Public Utilities Commission grant to install a PV array at the Middle School of the Kennebunks. Neise was notified this week that the EAC was awarded this grant, and that installation of the 5.6 kW photovoltaic array can proceed.

The energy data from the array will most likely be available online, and the panels will tentatively be installed where they are prominently visible to the public. I would suggest that a placard be installed to direct people to sources of information about PV specifically and alternative energy in general to maximize the educational potential of the installation.

When people start to see concrete action taken at the local level, they will begin to realize that individual, incremental progress can be made in combating serious environmental issues.

On the web:
Middle School of the Kennebunks
Pemetic Elementary School, Southwest Harbor, Maine online PV reporting system

This graph is from Pemetic's PV array:

Here's what Pemetic's array looks like:

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

New Weapons From NewScientist To Fight Against Skeptics

If you have questions about some of the "controversy" about climate change or you are having trouble rebutting the assertions of a Global Warming Skeptic, then the NewScientist website has a new tool for you.

They write: "With so much at stake, it is right that climate science is subjected to the most intense scrutiny. What does not help is for the real issues to be muddied by discredited arguments or wild theories... So for those who are not sure what to believe, here is our round-up of the 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions."

My favorites:
Overall, it is a good resource.. Click here to read it from the New Scientist website.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Climate Counts Holds Companies Accountable

Gary Hirshberg of Stoneyfield Farm has teamed up with the folks at Clean Air-Cool Planet "to bring consumers and companies together in the fight against global climate change." With their Climate Counts effort, their goal is "to motivate deeper awareness among consumers-not only that the issue of climate change demands their attention, but also that they have the power to support companies that take climate change seriously - and avoid those that don't."

It sounds so simple... Support companies who prove that they care about the future of humankind by taking concrete efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. But, getting that information is not very easy. That is where Climate Counts comes in.

This partnership has created a scorecard to "see how serious companies are about stopping climate change - and how they compare to their sector competitors." With this type of scorecard, consumers can make informed decisions to "vote with their wallets" to support companies who take a progressive stand about climate change.

The sectors scored are Apparel/Accessories, Beverages-Beer, Electronics, Food Products, Food Services, Household Products, Internet/Software, and Media. To rate companies, a total of 22 questions are asked like: Is a Green House Gas emissions inventory completed?; Has the company achieved emissions reductions?; and Is the company publicly reporting emissions? Click here to see a complete list of report questions.

As an example, here are the scores for the Apparel/Accessories category:

Company Score Company Score
Nike 73 Gap Inc. 39
Liz Claiborne 15 Limited Brands 05
VF Corporation 02 Levi Strauss 01
Jones Apparel Group 00

With all of the bad press that Nike gets about sweatshops making Air Jordan's, it is nice to see that they are leading the way on climate change. Levi Strauss... not so much. Guess what brand I won't be buying the next time I shop for jeans. Click here to see all of the categories - and to print out a handy pocket-sized version to keep in your wallet.

As consumers, we have an amazing amount of power over the corporations who are responsible for so much of the carbon footprint of our society. To be effective, though, we need more information like what has been gathered by the Climate Counts people. Let's hope that this is just the beginning of the public accountability of corporations. In the meantime, use whatever information is available to make informed choices when you buy! Your purchases make a difference.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Use Blackle Instead of Google To Save Energy

NOTE ADDED 6/25 - Apparently the energy savings is only good on old-fashioned CRT screens, not LCDs... There seems to be some controvery here. Interesting idea, though!

I stumbled across a blog posting about a new site that uses Google to search the Internet except that it has a black back ground instead of the familiar white background. The premise is that a black background uses less energy on a monitor than a white background.

This is from the Blackle website:

"In January 2007 a blog post titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine. Since then there has been skepticism about the significance of the energy savings that can be achieved and the cost in terms of readability of black web pages."
Using the premise that every little bit helps - give it a try! Save some energy whenever you Google. The search results are from Google, so you really have nothing to lose!

Reconnect To The Food That You Eat

I have blogged before about the important part that food choices make in the fight against climate change. With more and more food being shipped from across the country and around the world, the global warming pollution emitted to provide us with the foods that we eat significantly contributes to our carbon footprint.

The solution to this problem is for us all to eat more locally produced food. And, with summertime here, now is the perfect time to eat as much locally produced food as possible. Attend farmers markets (if you live in Maine, click here to find a local farmers market). Search out local produce and meats at the grocery store. If you cannot find a good selection, ask one of the managers to let them know that you want more local foods. Join a CSA (short for "Community Supported Agriculture - click here to find out more). We just had our first pick-up at our CSA (Wolfpine Farm in Alfred, ME) and enjoyed a wonderful salad with fresh lettuce picked within the last couple of days. The bottom line is that our food choices make a difference.

Also, I found a book excerpt from Wendell Berry who is "a farmer and author of more than thirty books of poetry, essays, and novels" titled The Pleasure of Eating. (Click here to read the excerpt). If we all followed his philosophy of connecting with the food we eat, we would significantly reduce the part of our carbon footprint related to our diet. He suggests:
  1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can.
  2. Prepare your own food.
  3. Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home.
  4. Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.
  5. Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.
  6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.
  7. Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of plant and animal food species.
Think about the food that you eat. Eat local as much as possible. Enjoy your food. Save the world.

Thanks to Dave Pollard and his How To Save The World blog for pointing me in this direction.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Think Before You Buy That Bottled Water

A recent newsletter from The Union of Concerned Scientists presents an excellent overview of the reasons why bottled water is not necessarily the best choice - for your family nor for the planet.

From an environmental standpoint, there are three reasons why bottled water is not a good choice:

  • "Fossil fuel consumption. Approximately 1.5 million gallons of oil—enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year—are used to make plastic water bottles, while transporting these bottles burns thousands more gallons of oil. In addition, the burning of oil and other fossil fuels (which are also used to generate the energy that powers the manufacturing process) emits global warming pollution into the atmosphere.
  • Water consumption. The growth in bottled water production has increased water extraction in areas near bottling plants, leading to water shortages that affect nearby consumers and farmers. In addition to the millions of gallons of water used in the plastic-making process, two gallons of water are wasted in the purification process for every gallon that goes into the bottles.
  • Waste. Only about 10 percent of water bottles are recycled, leaving the rest in landfills where it takes thousands of years for the plastic to decompose."
If you are out without a water bottle and deciding between a bottle of Poland Spring water and a can of Coke, go for the water. But, with a little preparedness, you can bring along a water bottle (stainless steel is the best) with cheap water from your tap, help save the earth, and keep a little cash in your pocket.

Click here to read the article.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Climate Change: From The Front Lines

Think climate change is not happening? Think that we still have decades until the effects of global warming are felt? Think again.

One of my favorite shows in the podcast-sphere is NPR's Science Friday. Last week, they went to Alaska to see and hear firsthand the ways that climate change is already effecting their lives. You can listen to the podcast here:

Climate change is already happening. This is why significant action is needed NOW.