Archive for the 'global warming' Category

Great, Green Job Opening

I’m hiring! Rather, the state agency I work for is hiring me a full-time assistant to work on the Governor’s Commuter Challenge (I am the program manager). Full job description and link to apply is here

Perhaps I’m biased, but this is the coolest project in the greenest state in the nation (Oregon). The theme of the Challenge is “Save Money, Reduce Emissions, Share The Ride.” My assistant program manager will help me reach out to 8,500 Capitol Mall employees and encourage them to commute without driving alone, with a special emphasis on carpooling.

Please help spread the word to people who want to work in sustainability.

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Paying For Our Airline Baggage

“More Ways To Make Us Pay” was the Oregonian’s headline yesterday for an article on airlines now charging for baggage due to the rising cost of fuel.

In my counseling days, we called that attitude ‘playing victim’. I would have used a different headline for the paying-for-baggage story, something like “Now We Get Paid To Be Disciplined”.

Background to which my husband Thor will attest: I struggle [Read more →]

Jeff Merkley For U.S. Senate

Jeff MerkleyJeff Merkley, of my home state of Oregon, is now one of the top hopes in the nation for the Democrats to take leadership of the U.S. Senate. Yesterday’s election results mean that he’ll be running against Republican incumbent Senator Gordon Smith in the November election. I want him to win!

I’ll be supporting Jeff with dollars and time, and so will my husband Thor. We got to meet him last summer at a big house party in the country. (A great thing about a state the population-size of Oregon is that elected officials and candidates are truly accessible to you.) When I shook his hand and spoke with him I was struck by his kind, sincere, soft-spoken manner. Jeff is not slick, not full of himself, not drunk with dreams of power. And his leadership as Speaker of the Oregon House has been excellent.

In theory, I favor bipartisan politics and avoiding the polarization that our two-party system creates. That’s one reason I support Barack Obama: he is inclusive and not entrenched in ideology. But it’s impossible to ignore that Democrats get global warming, and the urgency of acting on it NOW, while Republicans do not. While I could say the same thing about universal health care, and corporate responsibility, and ending the Iraq war etc., global warming trumps all those issues. Global warming threatens civilization itself, and dealing with it means retooling ourselves into low-carbon lifestyles. It’s doable.

photo courtesy of Thomas Le Ngo

High Energy Prices: Good

I’m sipping my coffee at 6 a.m. at Stumptown in Southeast Portland (joy). The Oregonian’s front page shows an ocean of the 72,000 faces that turned out to see Barack Obama yesterday (yes, I voted for him, too) and the lower right corner story is: “Who loves high energy prices? The environment.”

The gist is basic economics: when price goes up, demand goes down. And we have got to demand (use) less energy, because it costs the earth heavily. I’ve seen oil fields and coal mines described as war zones, and that makes sense, because we’re violently wresting fossil fuels from the earth that have been millions of years in the making (hence the term fossil). Moreover, burning them causes global warming, because the atmosphere cannot quickly absorb millions of years worth of carbon dioxide and methane. High prices help us slow all this down. In fact, slowing down is crucial all around.

The big problem with high energy prices is that they can make the poor suffer, which of itself is immoral and unethical. If you can’t afford to get to work or heat your house, then you deserve a price break or assistance. (But you also should carpool!) We need a more progressive tax system altogether, and those who have enough need to just voluntarily share more with those who don’t have enough. My household gives about 5% of our net income to philanthropy, but I think we can and should increase that.

If the earth loves high energy prices, let’s get it straight that we are part of the earth, too. Would we put a rock-bottom price on our own lives? No; our civilization is built on valuing human life. Because our fate rises and falls with the earth’s fate, we have to put a high price on energy and use it as the incredibly costly stuff that it actually is.

Heat Wave: Slow Down

Here in Portland, Oregon we’re expecting 95 degrees today, which for our mild climate is a major heat wave. How to cope with it? I suggest we do what people did for theGlobal Warming Coping Mechanism 99.9% of human history prior to the invention of air conditioners. They slowed their pace down so they wouldn’t overheat themselves. And played in the water whenever possible, like the young lass here running through a sprinker.

Air conditioners use outsized amounts of energy. My home doesn’t have one, but just fans. Even Portland, with the benefit of hydropower from Bonneville Dam, still gets about half of the energy in its grid from coal plants. Coal-burning causes the carbon emissions that cause global warming. We need to reduce our emissions. That’s what all the green fuss is about. Let’s stop fussing and start changing.

I’m frustrated that OregonLive, the online edition of the state’s major newspaper, is carelessly saying on its front page “Crank the AC.” (I just posted a comment challenging that wisdom.) If your health is precarious or you’re prone to heatstroke, AC makes sense. If we’re able-bodied, let’s use the sense God gave you and behave differently at 95 degrees than we would at 65 degrees. That means moving more slowly and being less active than usual. It’s a good time to be languorous instead, and sensual.

For myself, I’m driving in my new hybrid to Opal Creek Ancient Forest for the weekend. Only natural air conditioning there. I’ll go running on the trails and cool off in the creek. The Opal Creek cabins and lodge are actually off the electric grid, using a Pelton wheel micro-hydropowered system supplemented by a good-sized set of photovoltaic panels (solar panels). Is that cool, or what? photo courtesy of adwriter

Rejecting Agrofuel: What To Do

The diamond-cut life is about more joy, more integrity and less consumption as we deal with global warming. The food-as-fuel track that the U.S. is on assumes unlimited consumption (driving alone, for instance) with no particular joy or integrity.

What are practical, concrete things we can do? Here is what my household is doing to use less gas and discourage the business of agrofuel (food-as-fuel). Please write in with your ideas too (click Comments at the top of this post.)

Put your household on a fuel or gasoline diet. For instance, how much do you intend to spend on gas each month? (average $3.65/gallon in Oregon at time of this writing). Having healthy limits is what adults do. Some ways we live happily within our fuel diets:

  • Use public transit I am using only public transit today and not touching a car. To see the fun of this, read the 200-word piece Secret Lover, Secret Watchdog. (written before I started carpooling to Salem for my new job)
  • Walk for errands of two miles and less
  • Bicycle to destinations of five miles and less
  • Post a handmade map on your refrigerator of all the cool things you can do within walk/bike distance of home. Spring and summer weather make this much easier.
  • Post a list of all the fun things you can do AT home
  • Carpool or vanpool, especially for long commutes. I have great fun with this. See Carpool Survivor

Check out Drive Less Save More as a good resource for driving less. By June 1st it plans to have a Trip Diary that we can all use to record our non-drive-alone trips. That which gets measured gets improved. I’m going to use it!

Tell your Congresspeople you don’t want food used as fuel. Say that we should be using less fuel, instead. Here’s an easy place to find their contact info.

When you have to drive, drive the most fuel-efficient car you can. But, even then, don’t use that as an excuse to drive more than necessary. Tomorrow I’ll write about the new hybrid we just bought. Is your money on the Prius or the Honda Civic hybrid?

Photo courtesy of “CaptPiper”, graphic added by Hanmi Meyer.

Food For Biofuel? Wrong.

 While President Bush and the biofuel industry are happy with the growth of biofuel, Columbia economics professor Jeffrey Sachs is not. Neither, it seems, are millions in the world currently starving who weren’t starving prior to the push for biofuel. The food riots in at least eight countries over skyrocketing food prices may have been our first clue.

A full third of U.S. corn is now being used not for food but for fuels like ethanol. This is not about classic capitalism, the free market and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The U.S. government subsidizes the growth of that corn.

President Bush and the biofuel industry deny a cause-effect relationship between subsidizing vast amounts of food crops to make fuels like ethanol and sharply increasing worldwide food prices. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has determined there is a cause-effect relationship between food-based biofuel, rising food prices and starvation.

Who is more objective in their assessment: a highly profitable industry and the politician subsidizing it, or a world-renowned economist and expert on poverty — a person not being subsidized, elected or paid by special interests to say or do anything in particular?

Sustainability has a triple bottom line: environment, economy and equity, as in social equity. Growing food for biofuel violates social equity altogether (and isn’t good for the environment or economy, either). In my view, growing and using food for fuel is wasteful, greedy and plain wrong.

Note that I said both growing and using. The greed is just as much on the part of consumers as producers — and we can climb out of our greed and consume fuels with more integrity and more joy. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, remember that biodiesel made from recycled restaurant vegetable oil is a different animal from the biofuel discussed here. See Heating Our House With Biodiesel.

Also coming up soon: our final decision on which hybrid car we’re buying.