Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


November 30, 2010

Coal Needs a Clear Signal: Salem, MA Power Plant

Category: Climate Change,Companies – Tom Harrison – 9:04 pm

Let's Wait To See What Happens

If you are amongst the wealthy North Shore Bostonian yachtsmen, you’ll have a mooring in Marblehead harbor — if you are amongst the still wealthy-but-not-that-wealthy, you’ll have a mooring in Salem harbor, around the corner. You’ll have a view of the Salem power plant — one of the larger polluting and least efficient coal plants in the area.

Recently, the owner of the plant said it would shut down. Woo hoo!

They said, according to Mass High Tech:

We have announced that our two coal plants will shut down in the future when environmental rules are clear. The first is Salem Harbor in the Northeast

(emphasis added)

In other words … never?

Cap and trade would be nice. Carbon tax would be nifty. Acknowledgement that industry wants legislative leadership and is hamstrung without it would be (in the words of our local weather forecaster) ducky!

Photo credit: Christopher Swain/Changents

January 4, 2010

Social Contagion: Works Both Ways

Category: Observations,Policy – Tom Harrison – 7:59 pm

People bought SUVs because their friends did. They got big houses. They lived large. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was famous. Malcolm Gladwell coined the term “Tipping Point” and we all used it. Ideas and trends caught on, and took root and thrived as social contagion.

Now, we have washed our hands. SUVs and big houses are out. The rich and famous are mostly in jail. A tipping point of an entirely different kind tipped.

We’re a little aimless these days, as a country. There was a groundswell of recognition that Obama’s course was right, and he got elected. Like a diet, we all got psyched to buckle down and get in shape. But we’re not very good at keeping our resolutions, are we (even if we know they’re right).

Can the same phenomenon — ideas that spread because it’s the “in” thing to do — apply to things like restraint? Could it possible be cool to have a small carbon footprint?

I hope so.

December 16, 2009

Climate Change: Individuals Cannot Make A Real Difference

Category: Climate Change,Observations,Policy – Tom Harrison – 9:05 am

Can I, personally, make a difference in our attempts to reduce or mitigate climate change impacts? Or is this instead a problem that needs to be addressed through policy changes?

At a party last weekend, my friend Mike said he had just bought an electricity monitor based on my recommendation, and admitted it was a gift for his wife — he said that all of our little individual efforts add up to nothing significant. He didn’t really believe that personal action will affect things; his wife does.

I have written down my personal attempts to make change here in this blog, now in my fifth year. Much of what I have done involves making small changes that have indeed added up, so perhaps you might guess that I disagree with Mike’s view. Is it really true that all of the little things I have done add up to nothing?

Yes: the changes I have made add up to nothing.

Even our personal reduction of our energy consumption by almost one half of its former levels (probably more) over these years has resulted in a dramatic reduction of our impact, it means very little. The problem is that we need is to get the other several billions of people living in industrialized countries to make even modest changes. And our governments to concur and set in motion a new set of policies that lead us back to sustainable occupation of the planet.

So why bother making personal changes when a wasteful neighbor (not Mike) undoes our efforts five times over?

The answer lies in how big changes tend to happen. I see myself as part of a movement. I do what I can to make the movement progress.

Mike bought an electricity meter because I had one. Theresa and I have Prius’s now — we bought them to replace our older less efficient cars. We were the first on our street to have a Prius. But we told several neighbors and friends how much we like them (and that they really do get good mileage and are big enough for almost everything). Now our street has nine Prius drivers. Did I cause this — maybe not all of them.

But my personal efforts matter because:

  • By making changes, I learn what works and what doesn’t
  • My purchases and support of products that enable green choices help make their companies viable
  • People see and hear about what I do and a few might start doing things on their own
  • I have learned enough to participate in the debates with actual knowledge and facts
  • As more people come to see various realities, and understand, they influence their leaders

In short, my personal efforts affect others’. And their actions also affect others. It doesn’t take long to get to billions of people, actually.

I am actively participating in a movement that was underway long before I was part of it. Buying an electricity monitor is just one way that my actions affect others.

Oh, and I pay about $250/month less for energy than I would otherwise.

February 17, 2009

Obama. Hope Springs. (Eternal TBD.)

Category: Political,Rants – Tom Harrison – 7:53 pm

No guarantees. No certainty. No proscriptions. A nice little stock market plunge in response. Nope — hope is not something you can take to the bank. But maybe it’s something we can work with.

The stimulus bill is a messy, ugly, sloppy, horrendous thing of beauty.

For in all of its compromise, and stupidity, and waste, the core of the really important things survived. It’s pretty much a sure thing that you know there’s a lot of pork stimulus for green jobs, green energy, and environmental … whatever, when the virulent, progressive community is shouting loudly at how it was us who made all these great green giveaways stimuli happen. And the shouting is loud. Man, the Republicans must be stewing in their own formaldehyde plotting how to undermine any progress we might actually make indignant.

I wrote a few months back that Bush’s legacy might indeed be a novel way to solve global warming … by throwing our country into a massive recession. As it turns out, the recession has indeed been a rather effective and immediate way to mitigate our climate change and energy security issues. We’ll see if Obama’s more … conventional, progressive, liberal methods for solving the issues are equally effective (and who knows, perhaps without all the pesky side effects). No guarantees, of course.

Obama won this round, and it was a big, big, big one. Sure, the press had nearly written him off last week, but as the magnitude of this victory has become evident … and as Obama has taken back control of the message, we’re seeing what we voted for. Damn, he’s good. Heck, he might be as good as Bush was, and what’s more, using an almost entirely different way to manipulate the message. Who knew we could be manipulated in so many different ways. I’ll take mine this way, thanks.

This is not an issue about the economy. This isn’t an issue about education. Or science. Or health care. Or, dare I say it, about the environment. This is an issue of who is best able to direct the message, and how pragmatism makes it all work quickly (if not purely). Why even bi-partisanship isn’t dead!

Next stop: the banks. God help him.

I have hope.

February 10, 2009

Obama: The Simple Logic of Efficiency (NOT BORING!)

Category: Conservation,Editorial,Energy Independence,Household,Policy – Tom Harrison – 10:34 am

President Obama highlighted the benefits of efficiency in his press conference last night, in several different cases. For example, he said

When people suggest that, “What a waste of money to make federal buildings more energy-efficient.” Why would that be a waste of money?

We’re creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings or weatherizing 2 million Americans’ homes, as was called for in the package, so that right there creates economic stimulus.

And we are saving taxpayers when it comes to federal buildings potentially $2 billion. In the case of homeowners, they will see more money in their pockets. And we’re reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East. Why wouldn’t we want to make that kind of investment?

Why not indeed?

Even my hero Jon Stewart on The Daily Show showed clips of Obama talking about weatherization as Stewart pretended to nod off. Next, they played a clip of one of Obama’s rousing speeches about grand ideas and asked “Where is that guy?” Weatherization sounds so … boring, I guess. It doesn’t sound grand, or bold.

We continually seek grand “silver bullet” solutions to our problems. Instead we need smart solutions, and lots and lots of them, boring or not. (more…)

January 7, 2009

Can Obama Be The Environmental President?

Fire ChiefAfter so many years of yelling “fire!”, it may be hard for us environmentalists to accept that we have the leader we need; we must now help put out the fire.

I get a lot of emails from the various environmental, energy, green, progressive and other organizations I follow. It’s no surprise that after the election, there was much jubilation. But lately, there’s a bit of a sulky, mean-spirited feeling to some of the emails I have been getting. One I got today from Environmental Action started with “So far, President-elect Obama’s appointments to top environmental positions have ranged from mediocre to disappointing.” I don’t mean to pick on this fine organization — there are plenty of other cases of people who are feeling let down. But come on, let’s take a careful look.

Disappointing? Really? Mediocre? Really?

Sure, there’s one guy that many environmentalists are not happy about: Ken Salazar, designate for Secretary of the Interior. I wasn’t thrilled with Tom Vilsack, for Agriculture, either.

Obama’s Environmental Picks are Excellent

But come on, all you greenies out there — let’s get real. First, Salazar and Vilsack both fall into a category of being damned by association, for the most part. I mean, these guys are “pretty good”, at worst. That leaves them several heads higher than the very best appointments of the Bush administration. And perhaps a little clear leadership will help these guys use their influence for good.

But the other top positions are stunningly great, if you ask me. (more…)

November 8, 2008

What Happens at a Green Festival?

Category: Climate Change,Companies,Political,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 7:23 pm

Co-op America

Co-op America

A while back, I decided I needed to wrench myself away from the computer and see what was going on in the world; I am here now. I have traveled to Washington DC to attend “greenfestival”. Frankly, I had no idea what I might find. After the first day, I am very impressed at what I have seen and heard. And a green festival is a lot less frivolous than it might seem.

The event is run by greenfestivals.org which is a joint project of Co-op America and Global Exchange. Any event using the word “festival” makes me a little worried — I told my wife that I expected to see a lot of hemp blue jeans and other earthy-crunch stuff. I was right, but that is far from all there is to offer.

Today, I heard several talks, including one from Lester Brown, and another from Bill McDonough. They were both fabulous. (more…)

October 28, 2008

Making a Real Difference: Inspiration From My Nephew

Category: Climate Change,Sustainability,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 1:52 pm

My nephew, Andrew, has been in Togo with the Peace Corps for more than a year, with another left. He is providing not just his work and labor, but is now helping a group of farmers learn about self-financed sustainable farming practices. If they are successful, it may be a model for the whole village of 200 people.

And perhaps other villages.

Andrew reports having plowed fields with oxen, planted crops, and trees.

But what I find most interesting is not that his actions may help for the coming crop harvest, but his perspective on how to get things done.

He writes:

What is really exciting to me is that now I have a year left to make some serious impact. I have the respect of the community and the Togolese people in general. I am no longer the “white guy”

It is with his year of service that he earned that respect, and from which he is able to have a serious impact. It may have helped that Andrew is an exceptional young man, with strength of will, passion, and a strong sense of duty.

But there’s no doubt that a lot of sweat and deprivation were involved.

A Letter from the Corps

I am also struck by the parallels to this letter from my nephew in the Peace Corps one might find in a letter home from one of our country’s soldiers.

Each may have a serious impact, each has stepped beyond their own self-interest to do something important, faces danger, and which takes great effort and deprivation. Each has thrust themselves into a completely foreign environment and culture. And each has done this voluntarily. It’s also true that neither has any guarantee of success. I have nothing but respect for them. (more…)

October 21, 2008

Is Gasoline at $2.79/gallon Good?

Category: Big Things,Climate Change,News,Observations,Political – Tom Harrison – 4:21 pm

On Sunday an article by Roger Lowenstein, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, appeared in the New York Times titled “What’s Really Wrong with the Price of Oil?” It’s pretty long, and thorough. He dispassionately describes the various forces affecting the price of oil, especially its price over the last year or so, in economic terms.

He’s pretty economically conservative, in my estimation, which is why I was surprised to see the following:

The way to avoid a repeat is to dust off an idea that Gerald Ford once proposed: a tax on oil. Ideally, it would kick in only if the price fell back to, say, $70 a barrel. The beauty of this tax is that, very likely, no one would have to pay it. The tax would merely serve as a floor — a new lower bound.

What? A tax on oil? Wouldn’t that make it even more expensive?

Then today, the Times has an article reporting on OPEC’s response to the slumping price of oil (which is nearly the same price as it was last year at this time). And then, an article on how alternative energy is going to have a hard time competing against these low energy prices.

All of these are related.
(more…)

October 17, 2008

Energy Independence, Global Warming and the Economy

Category: Climate Change,Conservation,Political,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 1:24 pm

As the US Presidential election draws near, I have renewed hope that we’ll finally get serious about energy independence. In a moment of (uncharacteristic) optimism, I also think it may be the case that the financial crisis will provide the opportunity for us to take exactly the right kind of actions to address energy independence and a host of other issues.

(Of course, it could go the other way)

As I have argued before, energy, global warming, the economy, consumption, conservation, and even the Iraq war, obesity, disease, global food, and water issues are not separate. In so many ways, these issues are all linked. (more…)