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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It's time to revisit nuclear power

The past few years, I've found myself reconsidering nuclear power. Gasp! Yes, I'm a strong environmentalist and I'm coming out in favor of nuclear power at the risk of shocking Rob, my host here, and other environmentalists. But a rift has developed amongst green activists, with the Sierra Club coming out against atomic energy, and Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greenpeace, and Hugh Montefiore, a former Anglican bishop and longtime trustee of Friends of the Earth two of the more prominent proponents of third and fourth generation nuclear power technology.

The need to move to a "hydrogen economy". . .
. . .suggests a role for a clean, efficient, and much neglected energy source: nuclear. Like the fuel cell, the nuclear generator is a technology ripe for exploitation. Unlike the solid-core reactors of the past, pebble-bed modular reactors such as the one at Koeberg, South Africa, don't get hot enough to risk melting down. Koeberg uses small graphite-covered uranium balls rather than plutonium rods, and the reactor's cooled by helium rather than water. This new design is so efficient, it might make nuclear competitive with coal and oil. In any event, the nuclear power industry is in dire need of research for everything, from generation to waste treatment. Thus, $10 billion should be allocated to developing and securing nuclear technology that can power the hydrogen revolution.
(From How Hydrogen Can Save America, Wired magazine, April 2003)

Compared to the very real risk of catastrophic global climate change due to our current reliance on fossil fuels, is nuclear power really that dangerous? New nuclear reactor technology, several generations ahead of the designs we commonly know, are reportedly simpler, safer, and more efficient. With the new generation plants, the likelihood of a Three Mile Island or Chernobyl is ostensibly nil, and the statistically insignificant risk of serious problems is nothing compared to the myriad documented health problems resulting from burning coal, oil, and natural gas to produce our electricity.

Several good articles on nex-gen nuclear power may be found at:

Environmental Science & Technology Online
Living On Earth (audio)
M.I.T. Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering
Wired magazine, February 2005

Granted, there are too many cultural, environmental, and cost hurdles to make nuclear power a global warming panacea, but as one component of the future energy generation picture it certainly warrants consideration.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Al Gore Video - Like You've Never Seen Him?

Here is a fantastic video of Al Gore giving a short version of his global warming talk. Before he starts, Mr. Gore shows that he has come a long way from the presidential candidate that we saw in 2000 who was accused of being as lively as an oak tree.

Take a few minutes to watch this...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Could Detroit be coming around?

"Cheaper Gas? No Thanks, Says Detroit"

In a recent entry on's Autopia blog
, Mark Durham wonders if the investments domestic automakers have made in eco-friendly vehicles could be at risk as fuel prices descend. If that's what it takes to force the no-longer-appropriately-named "Big Three" to abandon their seedy affair with cash cow, gas guzzling SUVs then I say, "Bravo!"

Even if their interest in greener, more fuel efficient vehicles has less to do with genuine leadership than with capitalizing on increasing consumer awareness of the link between automobiles (and the euphemistically categorized "light trucks") and climate change, it can only be seen as positive. With consumers being offered more and more high mileage vehicles each model year, almost exclusively by European (diesels) and Japanese (hybrids) manufacturers, the increasingly archaic domestics need to act decisively and responsibly, and post-haste, if they hope to survive. Hopefully this will mean more eco-friendly transportation choices at prices that everyone can afford. It's only a part of the necessary effort, but an exceedingly important part. I say to GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler, "Let's see some good old fashioned American ingenuity!"

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Think twice before idling

Car and truck drivers who idle their engines for more than 30 seconds are wasting money, needlessly emitting global warming pollution, and putting the health of others - especially children - at risk.

The Union of Concerned Scientists say that "[f]uel-injection vehicles, which have been the norm since the mid-1980s, can be restarted frequently without engine damage and need no more than 30 seconds to warm up even on winter days."

Steps that you can take to minimize your idling time:
  • "When first starting your car, idle for no more than 30 seconds.

  • "Except when sitting in traffic, turn your engine off if you must wait in your car for more than 30 seconds. You can still operate the radio and windows without the engine running.

  • "When the time comes to buy a new car, consider a hybrid. Hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles switch off the engine and use battery power for accessories when the car is not moving, effectively eliminating idling."
It is a weird feeling to pull up to a stop light in a Toyota Prius and suddenly realize the the car has automatically turned off. When I think about all of the fuel wasted each day as people idle their cars - whether stuck in traffic, heating up the car to drive to work on a cold winter morning, or running into the grocery store for a gallon of milk - I realize how changing just this behavior would be a great way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information, visit the Union of Concerned Scientists' blog Also, the EPA has a website about Anti-Idling that focuses on school buses, but has good information about the effects of idling.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Exxon Mobil Changes Stance About Global Warming

An article in the Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette entitled "Exxon Mobil softens its climate-change stance" reports that the world's largest oil company is starting to accept that (1) global warming is real and (2) limits on carbon emissions are likely to be coming from the US government in the near future. Rather than argue against the theory that humans are contributing to global warming, they are starting to try to shape the form that regulations might take.

Kenneth Cohen, VP of Public Relations, says, "[W]e know enough now -- or, society knows enough now -- that the risk is serious and action should be taken."

This is a good sign. The tide is turning. The debate is changing from whether human-influenced global warming is fact or fiction to how best to approach the problems of global warming and climate change. As that debate moves forward, there will be heavy lobbying from all sides. We need to communicate with our elected officials to be sure that the actions taken in Washington will represent the types of reform that we need.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

GM shows plug-in hybrid concept car

CNN reports that GM unveiled a plug-in hybrid vehicle that uses a small gasoline engine only when necessary to recharge the batteries. The Chevy Volt can drive for about 40 miles of "suburban driving" and recharges in about 6.5 hours.

Maybe GM is trying to make up for killing the EV-1 (see "Who Killed The Electric Car" for more information about this reference) by being the first US car company to bring this much-needed product to market!

My hope is that GM - and other car companies - will unveil plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt as soon as possible. We need to move away from a transportation sector powered by oil and toward one that is powered by electricity. With plug-in hybrids, the stage could be set for cars powered by renewable-based energy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Insurance Industry and Climate Change

Calvin Jones at "Climate Change Action" has an interesting blog about the insurance industry's current stance on global warming. Their report says:

“In the decades ahead, climate change will come to dominate everything in our lives; everything we do... Even if we act now to drastically curb emissions, things are going to be bad. If we do nothing, they will be far, far worse.”

Business leaders are starting to recognize the crisis. I hope that they can provide leadership to address the challenges that we face.

Check out the blog entry for more information and a link to the report.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Where's winter?

2006 was the second warmest year on-record. The Bristish Met Office reports that there is a 60% chance that 2007 will be a record-breaking warm year. For more on that see my blog post for January 5th.

As if to prove the point, Mother Nature decided that she should give us a glimpse of things to come with unbelievably warm weather on the 6th day of January.

The temperature yesterday in Kennebunk, ME topped out at about 67 degrees. In New York City, it got up to 72 degrees - and they still have not seen any snow this year!

Jeff Masters at The Weather Underground website says "The reason for the warmth? A moderate El NiƱo event is adding a tremendous amount of heat to the globe this winter, and has helped displace the jet stream farther to the north than usual. Global warming is also partly to blame, along with natural variability in the Earth's weather. I also believe that the on-going melting of the Arctic Ice Cap may have contributed to this winter's warmth, although it is difficult to know how much so without doing detailed model studies."

Though I enjoyed the warmth and loved taking a walk with my family as we all wore short sleeves, it is not natural for January 6th. I know that we have cold, snowy days ahead of us, but with the mild winter that we've been having, I cannot help but wonder if "normal" winters are a thing of the past.

Use Earth911 for Recycling Information

Have you ever wondered how you can recycle an old computer monitor or a milk jug of used motor oil from your do-it-yourself oil change? How about that paper bag that is full of old batteries? One of the problems that I have is knowing how to get rid of things that I know should not go into the regular trash. Do I just toss it in, or do I attempt to try to find out what to do with with it?

The folks at Earth 911 have designed a useful website to provide this information. Just enter in your zip code, choose "Reuse & Recycling Services" from the left menu, and you get a list of services. In the "Find Where To Recycle Specific Items" section, choose the category that you want to recycle and you get a list of nearby resources.

Using my zipcode in Kennebunk, ME, I chose "Used Motor Oil" and got a list that included Napa and Autozone stores mostly in NH and MA. Since there are closer stores, if I ever actually changed my own oil, I would call to find out if they also provide the service.

There is also a wealth of energy conservation, global warming, green purchases, etc. Check out this great resource!

Friday, January 05, 2007

2007 to be the warmest year on record

The British Meteorological Office (Met Office) is predicting that this year will be the warmest on record - warmer even than the record-breaking 1998. The Met Office issued a news release predicting that gloval temperatures will be 0.54 degrees C above the average from 1961 - 1990 and slightly higher than the 0.52 degrees C level of 1998.

Katie Hopkins from Met Office Consulting said, "This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world. Our work in the climate change consultancy team applies Met Office research to help businesses mitigate against risk and adapt at a strategic level for success in the new environment."

The graph below shows the continued increasing trend of global temperatures.

The evidence continues to mount that global warming is real. The biggest question is whether we can respond in time to prevent the worst case scenarios as the temperatures continue to rise. Tell your friends and relatives. Forward this post on to anyone whom you think may be "on the fence" about global warming. Start making changes in your own lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years Resolutions: 2007

Happy New Year! The beginning of 2007 finds me, like a lot of people, making New Years resolutions of ways that I can change in the coming year. There are the old stand-bys of eat less, exercise more, and read more books. But, this year, I find myself also resolving to make more of a difference in the fight against global warming and climate change.

I resolve to:
  • increase the influence of the Sustainable Energy Alliance on the lives of people in and around Kennebunk
  • develop this blog as an informative, entertaining, thought-provoking source for people who care about meeting the challenges of global warming
  • find ways to continue to reduce our household's carbon footprint
  • investigate buying carbon off-sets to make our household "carbon neutral"
  • look for ways to increase the amount of local food that we buy
  • write to my elected officials at the federal and state levels to lobby for legislation to address climate change (raising CAFE standards, significant subsidies for renewable energy, reductions in the corporate welfare given to oil companies, a taxation of oil company profit to fund additional renewable energy research and development)
  • plant a garden that grows a respectable amount of produce (the one planted last season a little disappointing...)
  • determine whether it is feasible to install solar panels on our house
Researchers tell us that something like 95% of New Years resolutions are broken by the end of January. Hopefully, my resolutions will last long past the end of the month. The changes that we all need to make - changes in behavior, in thinking, in creativity, in energy use - must become habit. They must become a permanent part of our lives.

I hope that you'll join me in resolving to reduce your environmental impact in 2007! I hope that you will post a comment to let me know your resolutions and if there is any way that I can help you achieve them.