The following is a list of all entries from the Uncategorized category.
I found a clip that shows the essential process in making biochar, a cheap way to generate heat while sequestering some of the carbon in agricultural waste.
It would be terrific if agriculture became carbon negative while still generating revenue. And biochar puts this within reach of not just wealthier nations, but developing countries as well.
The biochar process involves heating organic waste products, like manure or plant clippings, in a low oxygen container to a high enough temperature that the combustible molecules break their chemical bonds, releasing gasses that can be burned as fuel. The remaining biochar, which is essentially charcoal, can then be used as fertilizer. This increases soil fertility while trapping carbon in the ground for a net reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere.
By the way, those of you inspired to experiment with burying regular charcoal as a fertilizer and carbon sink, please use the charcoals that don’t have the easy start additives.
Wikipedia has a great article on the process.
I have been contemplating a very sustainable desert community. They could save lots of money and time if they built dwellings out of used cargo shipping containers. But how to keep them cool in the desert? Green Roofs.
The shipping containers would be cheap. They could be cleaned and refurbished to become modular housing components. And by putting a green roof on top, they could keep the dwelling in the cool shade. The containers would have the structural strength to support a green roof since they were designed to be stacked like blocks.
Building soil filled planter boxes on the sides would provide further shade, some insulation, and even thermal mass effects. That last aspect is where the sheer volume of dirt would keep the dwelling cooler during the hottest part of the day and warmer at night.
Articles out of Florida say that the next planned coal fired power plant has been cancelled. This markes a milestone of sorts, since it was partially an economic decision. The Seminole Electric Cooperative has cited…
– Uncertainty – there might be new fees on carbon intensive fuels or coal in particular
– Lower cost Natural Gas – the cleaner fuel seems more abundant with less risk of carbon tariffs
– Energy efficiency measures (from a scaled back economy and from Federal incentives) reduce demand
– Alerternative Power, especially solar, is cheaper and in greater demand from power consumers
To my thinking, the cost of coal must now suffer with the additional cost of uncertainty in regulation when competing with the other energy sources.
Most alternative energies don’t face the kind of minimum start-up size issues that coal and gas face. Installing a ten megawatt facility of wind or solar one megawatt at a time isn’t much more expensive than installing it all at once. This allows a utility more financial flexibility in a fiscal landscape with less freely flowing capital. There might even be additional savings from falling wind & solar prices during an extended project. And there are no fuel costs with wind or solar, which brings in a owning vs. renting calculation.
It is analogous to weighing whether one should rent an entire home, or, for just a little bit more per room, buy that home one room at a time as your budget allows, while being able to fully utilize each of the rooms one has purchased. What resident wouldn’t prefer the second option? I think the owning vs. renting model will be a major motivator for the more fiscally astute companies and landowners to chose wind & solar.
Our solar-advocating governor has signed in two bills that will add monetary incentives for installing more solar. AB 920 will mean that solar on your home won't just reduce your electric bill; you might actually get paid by the utility for producing more than you consume. And SB 32 means that the utilities have to buy energy at above-wholesale prices from producers between 1.5 and 3 megawatts. So we might see more big installations on large roofs and large parking lots.Articles:
Perhaps, in a small way, efficiency has contributed to our recent economic downturn.
As glad as I am to hear of such wonderful efficiencies and reductions in the carbon footprints of major corporations, I have to consider further: Who is being hurt by this? With less electricity and water being consumed, with less materials entering the waste stream, there must be some companies that are getting less business. Could these companies be said to be part of an industry of inefficiency? Here in California, we have been proven wise to have been tough on our utilities in the 1970's. We forced them, kicking and screaming, to work under rules that rewarded them for selling less energy to their customers. The power companies of other states work under the old model where they get more money for selling more power, and polluting more along the way. It is not very surprising that PG&E has become the greenest utility in the country, even to the point of lobbying for more efficiency and clean energy mandates. Relative to PG&E, utilities that rely on coal, for example, seem to benefit when corporations and individual consumers are wasteful. They get more revenue from a wasteful, inefficient customer base than from an efficient one. So they have no interest in implementing new efficiency standards. In fact, their obligation to their shareholders that they maximize profits would seem to require them to discourage efficiency legislation and practices. I am not saying that there are people who get up for work looking forward to creating some more waste for the sake of sheer malevolence. I am saying that there will be some who will rightly worry when the public thinking of the day turns towards efficiency. The insecurity they feel about their investments, their workplace, or their job will be quite justified as our consumer economy demands a higher MPG rating, as our health care reforms discourage unnecessary procedures, and as the shareholders demand better management techniques. Amory Lovins used a wonderful phrase when talking about corporations being forced through competition to adopt efficiency practices: "… they will either change their minds or their managers." Maybe the manager whose training didn't include sustainable management techniques might want to educate himself on such methods as a hedge against getting fired some day soon. And considering how many managers had efficiency low on the priority list, how few executives paid attention to something as lower management as the electric bill, how few employees are even asked to turn the light off in an empty room, one must wonder how much of our economy is based upon waste? As we find our society can't afford the wasteful practices in the face of global competition and global warming, how much of the old investments in the industries of inefficiency will evaporate? What will happen to those who owe at least part of their paycheck to waste? We should feel some sympathy for those who will be displaced by the sustainability trends. But we should try to give them "a hand up, not a handout" when that demographic is large enough to warrant government expenditures. Let's retrain those coal workers to do efficiency retrofits, install solar panels, or process biofuels. Fewer people will suffer less if we adopt the green practices sooner rather than later. We should be expect some real resistance to change from those that invested heavily in the inefficiency industries. They will be willing to devote a significant portion of their investment capital towards preventing the loss of the rest of their investments. But ultimately, our capitalist system will seduce them back towards the industries of growth and profit. One of my favorite aspects of Amory Lovins' lecture series was the discovery that the fundamental drives of capitalism might happily coincide with the need to reduce civilization's carbon footprint. Corporations and capitalism might be our most effective tools for getting us out of the mess that corporations and capitalism got us into. After all, they are terraforming the Earth without even really trying. Imagine what they can accomplish when they are deliberate and motivated. Reference:
– Amory Lovins debate on ForaTV
– Amory Lovins 4th of 5 lectures on energy efficiency at Stanford.
– Doug Rushkoff's interview about his new book, Life Inc.
A follow up on William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, whom I referred to in a prior post. Time magazine named him “Hero of the Planet“. I saw him speak at Stanford on Oct. 15th. He hit his main points from the earlier podcast, but with new detail and data. (Links below.) He discussed eco-efficiency within architecture, civic planning, general manufacturing processes
He states a goal we should conditionally adopt:
I say conditionally, because we don’t know now what we will know in the future. We may need to modify this as time goes one. And overcommitment to any one philosophy is a bad idea. It could then be called an ‘-ism’, like socialism, capitalism, or ecologism. That last one’s from McDonough, who adds that an ‘-ism’ is fundamentally out of balance, leading society inevitably towards troubles. He advocates a balance, where society maintains an equilibrium between being ecological, economical and equitable.
During the Q&A phase, I asked who he would like to see as a Presidential adviser on the subjects of sustainability and energy, he suggested John Holdren, Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center. He was also on an science advisory committee for President Clinton. My impression from casual research on Professor Holdren is that he would bring a balanced approach in advising for sustainablity while reminding everyone of the value of expertise. We need to undo and more the efforts of the Bush administration to devalue science in our culture. One of our dire needs right now is for government to get advice from true experts on how to best direct the limited resources of our declining economy towards climate change mitigation, prosperity and equality.
McDonough also said he would like to see substantial activity at the federal level aimed towards building and vehicular efficiency, sustainable energy, improving infrastructure, etc.
~ In the North Pacific Gyre, the large scale vortex flow in the North Pacific driven by the Coriolis effect, there is a ratio of plastic to plankton of 6 to 1.
~ 48% of the anthropogenic carbon since the industrial revolution has gone into the oceans. This has dampened the atmospheric global warming effects, but we are raising the acidity of seawater. Historically, the Ph has been between 8.8 and 8.2 according to the Ross Ice Shelf cores. We are currently at 8.06 and it could reach 7.9 by 2099. At 7.9 Ph, calcium carbonate goes into solution, meaning that none of the creatures that make shells will be able to do so. This will create a huge die-off at the bottom of the food chain, creating more die-offs further along the food chain. In other words, massive extinctions and a potential end to the fishing industry.
A few of the examples he sited during his talk:
~ Better Place: CEO Shai Agassi has a vision of oil independence for Isreal by employing plug-in electric vehicles with batteries that can be swapped at service stations for trips longer than a single charge. ~ Wiki article
~ Could we just lift farmlands up onto the roofs of buildings, so that the city integrates farms rather than displacing them? McDonough + Partners worked on a plan with the city of Liuzhou in China to implement his Eco-Efficiency standards into an upcoming expansion of the city. All the new apartment buildings will have rooftop gardens & solar panels, and the local sewage treatment plant will provide fertilizer and 20% of the local cooking gas.
~ For the green roof of the Gap HQ in Redwood City, they planted native grasses of the area, taking a first step in reversing the trend of developers reducing the native habitats of local birds and incects.
~ For the roof of a Ford truck plant in Michigan, they made a 10 acre green roof that captures the rainwater that would have had to be cleaned by a waste treatment plant. They saved money immediately, and their roof is consuming CO2 and providing habitat.
Balancing Economy, Equity, and Ecology Through Design – Oct. 15, 2008 – at Stanford, audio & some video
Speech at the Feb. 2005 TED talks, MP4 download
Cradle to Cradle Design, a talk on Feb 11, 2003 at Stanford, audio
As we face this financial crisis, we can watch for at least one positive effect from an environmental standpoint: less sprawl.
Both the lending mechanisms and the insurance industry have been hurt badly. This will result in more caution on the part of developers, their investors, and their customers. They will build fewer developments due to the comparative lack of available funds. And where they do build, they will find less demand from home buyers whose agenda coincides more and more with the sustainable development movement:
– The migration of population away from remote suburbs towards more dense urban centers will mean the jobs will follow.
– If there’s too much of a threat from floods, forest fires, hurricanes, or coastal erosion, then insurance will either be too expensive or totally unavailable.
So as the population moves from owning to renting, the units closer to jobs will be in higher demand. The developers will build denser neighborhoods with shorter commutes and less insurance risks from climate change effects. And the wise home-buyer will be seeking out more sustainable homes, giving the green developer a market advantage.
And with enough of a sustainability sentiment in government, we might even see additional market incentives through a carbon market or tax breaks for LEED homes.
There will be personal hardship for many, and I don’t mean to minimize or dismiss the impending struggles of those who will suffer (probably including myself). But I am pleased that some of the market mechanisms seem to be making the more sustainable choices coincide with financial wisdom.
Scary Idea: Technology learns 10,000 times faster than you do (according to John Smart of the Acceleration Studies Foundation).
For example, the silicon chip industry has remained consistent with Moore’s Law, doubling almost 30 times the concentration of transistors per chip per $1000 since its invention. That means that today’s chip is about 10 billion times better than it was 50 years ago.
Since we designed our technology to get us into this ever-increasing climate disaster, maybe we should start designing our technology to get us out of it. So how do we do that? We start by specifying what is needed. Industry calls such specifications design challenges. They usually seek them out on their own, but we need solutions faster. So let’s start collecting and voting on the best ideas for improving the situation.
There are a few advantages for the marketplace specifying what is needed. One is that the design challenges remain in the public space. Patents won’t keep other companies, governments and individuals from coming up with new, better solutions. And solutions can be low budget enough to be accessible to the poor and developing country populations.
Another advantage would be shifting of some of the market research out of the hands of the short-term profit oriented corporations and into the hands of the community. We can ask for solutions that won’t be huge sellers in Walmart in the next quarter. (See Chris Anderson’s notions on ‘the Long Tail’ and ‘Free’ –
Our technology development cycles will seek to solve these design challenges, treating the victims of the unresolved issues as an unserved market eager for a solution in the form of a product or service. Why? Because these are ripe market opportunities. As Vinod Khosla, the founder of Sun Microsystems and Khosla Ventures said, “No one will pay you to solve a non-problem.” “Every big problem is a big opportunity.”
(video clip: http://edcorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=26)
A third advantage is that the community would do it’s own marketing for the best solutions. A voting process would show companies and inventors both what the solutions were the most demanded (what they should be working on) and which solutions were the best (how each solution performs). This would encourage industry, technologists, and Do-It-Yourself types to design better solutions faster.
Google has made something of a start along this process. Their “10ToThe100” contest (which just stopped accepting submissions, dammit!) is looking for the best ideas based upon how many would be helped. They are in a narrowing phase right now and will offer the 100 best ideas for public voting on Jan. 27th. So make sure you vote.
I missed the deadline, so I will post a few of my ideas over the next few days. And I make no apologies if they are a bit out of reach of current technology. Remember these are design challenges, and technology is a fast learner.
References & Inspirations:
~ Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, Author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, and Disrupting Class
Book purchase: The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business (Collins Business Essentials)
The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns
~ John Smart of the Acceleration Studies Foundation
~ William McDonough of William McDonough + Partners, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), and author of Cradle to Cradle
Book purchase: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
~Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems and Khosla Ventures
video clip: http://edcorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=26
~ Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, author of The Long Tail and Free (being published in ’09… for FREE!)
Book purchase: Long Tail, The, Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More