Archive for the conservation Category

My Conscious Consumer Birthday Present: A Made in the U.S., Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified, 97% Recyclable, SteelCase Think! Desk Chair

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, recycling, sustainability on January 4, 2011 by theseep

Whenever holidays and birthdays come up, we all get the “what do you want?” question from family and friends, to which we respond with the obligatory, “you don’t need to get me anything”, whether we mean it or not.  As a soapbox-mounting and somewhat garrelous ecovangelist, most people I know understand that I don’t want “stuff” just for the sake of giving a gift, and while making efforts to be a conscious consumer, I now have a hard time receiving a gift without judging it from an environmental, economic, and social standpoint.  I am, of course, very grateful for any gift as it truly is “the thought that counts”, but as I’ve held my own purchases to a higher standard, I’m always even more grateful and even flattered when others recognize this and put a little more thought into a gift than that initial one.  So, I have my Amazon wishlist of some gadgets (admittedly an eco-weakness), a wind turbine, a few books and blu-ray movies for some focused shopping for things that I definitely want, and then there have been a few larger items that I’ve developed a need for.

My desk chair came with the house when I bought it 7 years ago, and is an old, overstuffed armchair-style executive chair, with cracking maroon leather, mounted atop mismatched casters and massive, squeaky springs that allow it to recline and bounce around in a seemingly random pattern which I’ve mastered over the time I’ve spent in it’s worn-out seat.  I loved the style, but could no longer stand the numb legs from the front edge of the chair, now painfully apparent from the sagging and pokey springs and flattened cushioning.  So, for my 36th birthday, I collaborated with my wife, my parents, my in-laws, and saved 2 months of my own “gadget allowance” to choose a shiny new desk chair where I will spend many future hours in front of my iMac.  I looked at the options:  Used chairs, many of them grungy or beat up, begging the question – what was the former owner’s hygiene like?  Did they ever sit in it naked?  This branch alone in the thought experiment essentially ruled out used chairs.  There are sturdy, almost regal-looking chairs to be had at Staples, Office Max, and even Ikea for less than $200, but what are they made of?  Foam and plastic.  Where and how are they made?  China and who knows.  Then I went in search of sustainable office furniture worthy of Cradle to Cradle certification and was able to find a few models that fit the bill, particularly those from Herman Miller and SteelCase.

After trying to be cheap and looking at the refurbished options for these high-end engineering marvels, I sucked it up and decided on the Think! chair from SteelCase, made in Michigan out of 97% recyclable parts, with a Cradle to Cradle Gold certification.  This chair not only is designed to be much more ergonomic, comfortable, and durable than all of the chairs found in Staples, but purchasing it makes a statement that I value good craftsmanship, that I would rather pay more to buy a quality, well-designed piece of furniture that supports our nation’s economy rather than shipping more jobs overseas (I’ll admit that I felt a slight pang of eco-guilt as well as more of a sting to my bank account as I checked the $250 leather option when ordering, both of which were immediately soothed as I slid into the comfortable, more durable, easily cleaned, and supple seat).  While the $1000 cost for this chair may seem unreasonable to some, this chair to me is an investment.  This high-quality piece of home furnishing is better built, has more adjustments and ergonomic features than the vast majority of chairs, so not only do I plan to use it for years and hopefully decades to come, it also supports the once mighty and now anemic American manufacturing industry.  This concept, in case you haven’t heard of it, is called conscious consumerism.

Over the last half century or so, our culture has developed a conditioned obliviousness that has decoupled us from the production chain, allowing the quest for corporate profit and consumer bargains to transform what was once lovingly crafted by an artisan in a neighboring town into a stamped piece of toxic plastic made by a worker making $100 a month on the other side of the world. We have been trained by psychologically based advertising and the illusion of adequate safety standards to be unconcerned with the origins or underlying costs of the products we see on the store shelves.  Say you need to buy shoes, you go to WalMart or Target, or Amazon or whatever, and you see a label that tells you where those shoes came from, who made them, how their job’s healthcare program was, if their families had enough to eat every day, and if their towns had clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.  If you looked at the $10 pair of shoes and saw a label that described the poor working conditions, the meager wages, the environmental degradation, and other negative impacts of the production of those shoes, and you saw a $20 pair of shoes with a label that shows a healthy, American worker with healthcare coverage for his/her family, and sustainably and safely produced materials that support other domestic jobs, which one would you pick?  When you buy something cheap, with throat-burning VOCs offgassing from the packaging, that’s made overseas by a less expensive and likely oppressed workforce with less regulations on toxic materials and manufacturing processes, you support that system and you discourage companies from using responsible methods and give them no reason to bring manufacturing jobs back into the U.S., why should they?  Unfortunately because of this learned and reinforced obliviousness, people will happily and obliviously buy the cheaper items while they’re complaining about the economic recession and the lack of jobs.

Conscious consumerism is the solution to this problem, a way to slow down the depletion of our resources, the pollution of our lands and waterways, and the oppression of people around the world.  Conscious consumerism means we understand that in buying something, we directly support the way in which it was made, from resource utilization, to labor practices, to toxic byproducts, packaging, transport, and each step in the chain that brings a product to us.  It means that we choose to pay for coffee or chocolate from farmers that are paid enough to feed their families instead of those who are barely paid enough to survive.  It means that we choose to a pay a little more for vegetables and meat that was grown through healthy, humane, and sustainable practices instead of cruel and antibiotic laden concentrated animal feed lots or pesticide-soaked and petroleum-based fertilized monocrops.  It means that we save up enough money to buy a quality, responsibly made piece of furniture instead of the cheap, quick, and toxic solutions offered in most stores.  This entire concept is based on personal responsibility and the simple feat of considering the impact of our individual decisions.  It is a concept that should resonate across political lines, across cultures, creeds, and languages.  Conscious consumerism means that as individuals, we recognize that each choice we make has an effect not only on our own present and well-being, but also has a definable effect on others, including our friends, our families, our community members, our country, as well as the global community.  This tenant is based on the aforementioned principle of making logical decisions utilizing as much knowledge of the problem as possible.  Avoid basing judgements and actions on unproven dogma or previous prejudices.  Use best practices, the communal knowledge base and wisdom to solve problems.  Consider the health, prosperity, and happiness of all people and the world when making even small choices.

Update:  As a bonus, I used the box to make a free and recyclable indoor play house for our son, who continues to use it after 4 months!

Orion’s Xtracycle and Peapod Commercial

Posted in alternative fuel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, sustainability, transportation on February 13, 2010 by theseep


I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my Xtracycle over the last 3 years and it was time to figure out a mode of eco-friendly transport for Orion, so we opted to upgrade Laura’s commuter to an Xtracycle Radish model with the Peapod child carrier kit. They had a promotion that required us to make a video, submit a testimonial and some photos for almost $400 off the package!

At 7 months Orion is almost ready to take his first trip to Farmer’s Market on his new bike limousine! Of course, we’re still using biodiesel and vegetable oil for our vehicle transport, but cycling is still preferred when we can (you really pay attention to how much fuel you use when you make it yourself!).

26 Week Ultrasound Art and Treehugger.com’s Going Green Guide

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, sustainability on April 17, 2009 by theseep


For the latest installment of Orion’s ultrasound art, on Orion’s sustainable baby blog, I chose to completely rip off Andy Warhol’s techniques, right down to the colors! This is a pretty good 2D close-up view of his face and everything is going well so far.

In our continuing quest to have a “green baby” and with Earth Day coming up and all, I figured we could check out one of my favorite green blogs, treehugger.com, and their “Going Green Guide”. Many people aren’t sure where to start once their eco-consciousness has been raised, and the guide is a great place to start without being too overwhelming. It’s divided into many categories, so whatever subject you want to start working on, from dinner parties, to home energy, gift guides, personal care products, and of course, having babies, there is an incredible amount of information there. Right now we’re researching reusable diaper options, so stay tuned and have a great Earth Day!

If You’re Not In The “If It’s Yellow Let it Mellow” Crowd: $150 Toilet Retrofit Will Save You Thousands of Gallons of Water!

Posted in conservation, sustainability on February 8, 2009 by theseep

In the bathroom in our bedroom, Laura and I generally stick to the “If it’s yellow let is mellow, if it’s brown flush is down” mantra.  Instead of flushing the toilet, say 12-15 times a day, we only flush 4 or 5.  At 1.6 gallons per flush, just doing this on one toilet saves us over 5000 gallons per year of water.  We tend to flush the downstairs toilet regularly, as we don’t want to gross out our guests, plus for some reason that bathroom has an uncanny amplification of smells (tmi, I know).  Many people are uncomfortable with not flushing every time, especially in more public restrooms, and we’ve started to see some businesses install dual-flush toilets such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Now there is a solution for the home!  Rather than replacing your entire toilet, Brondell is releasing the “Perfect Flush” retrofit that can be installed on nearly any standard home toilet and can save about 50% of the water you would normally use if you’re an “everytime flusher.”  At $150, it’s also affordable and looks to be fairly easy to install yourself.  Although we should be seriously rethinking our water use in general, (ie: how much sense does it make to contaminate millions of gallons of water from showers, kitchens, washing machines, sinks, etc, with a few hundred gallons of blackwater?)  this is an easy and affordable first step until you can get your composting toilets and greywater systems in place!

via Gizmodo.

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, green energy, sustainability on December 10, 2008 by theseep

EcoGeek Compares CFL Incandescent and LED Lightbulbs

EcoGeek just posted this is a great and quick comparison of the light output and quality from incandescents vs. CFLs vs. LEDs, as well as discussion of efficiency.

Although we did the conversion to CFLs a few years ago, we’re on the second phase and slowly coverting to LED bulbs as the CFLs burn out. The technology has already come a long way in the last 2 years and LED bulb prices are starting to come down. At this point, if you haven’t changed out your incandescent bulbs, you might as well skip the CFLs and go straight to the LEDs! With 1/4-1/3 of the power use and 10,000-50,000 hour lifespans, LEDs are certainly the way to go.

via treehugger.com, ecogeek.com

Obama Understands Our Environmental Problem: “We can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house.”

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability on November 16, 2008 by theseep

Newsweek picked up this off-the-record comment by Senator Obama prior barack-obama1to the debates:

“I don’t consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, ‘You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.’ So when Brian Williams is asking me about what’s a personal thing that you’ve done [that’s green], and I say, you know, ‘Well, I planted a bunch of trees.’ And he says, ‘I’m talking about personal.’ What I’m thinking in my head is, ‘Well, the truth is, Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective’.”

The beauty of this unscripted, honest response to climate change is that it demonstrates that Barack Obama isn’t just about the superficial, pop-media responses to the crisis, he has a deeper understanding of the work we have in front of us.  He realizes that this isn’t something that a few token efforts will solve, it will require sweeping changes in how we live, how we utilize energy and our resources, and massive changes in our fuel and energy infrastructure.  He knows that it’s not about the effing light bulbs.

via treehugger.com

Insulate Yourself Against Recession With Renewable Energy and Urban Farming

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, green energy, politics, sustainability, transportation on October 18, 2008 by theseep

Like it or not, we’re in at least a recession and possibly heading for a depression.  The federal government can bail out banks and throw money into the system without having any real inkling as to whether it will actually work or not, but there’s no denying that we will all be affected.  Some will lose jobs, some will take a hit on retirement, some will lose their homes, and some might even have to sell their second yacht.  Regardless of where you stand, as we approach peak oil, energy, food, and transportation will continue to become more costly, and as finances become tighter, we will all have to take a good look at how we use our money and our resources.

How can you protect yourself against this downturn?   Become as self-sufficient as possible.  With the renewed and expanded tax credits, and more payment plans available, residential solar installations are now within reach of many Americans.  Solar hot water and solar ovens to cook your food will decrease your gas or electric bill.  Plant a garden for cheap, fresh vegetables and herbs and some free exercise instead of a gym membership.  Compost your kitchen waste for free fertilizer for your plants and garden.  Look into a commuter bike or an electric bike or scooter for fast, nearly free local transportation.  Find out what public transportation is available to you and take the bus or the train to work, or find other commuters to carpool with.  Perform an energy audit of your home and replace incandescents with CFL bulbs or even better, energy-sipping LEDs.  Turn off unused lights and electronics with power strips to combat phantom power loads.  If you’re upgrading or changing appliances, make sure that your new ones are Energy Star certified, particularly your computer, refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer.  Reinsulate your home and seal doors and windows against drafts.  Plant fruit trees and berry bushes around your property for year after year of seasonal food that can be canned for use later or given away as inexpensive but creative and sustainable gifts.  There are hundreds of other small changes that you can make that are not only rewarding and will decrease your impact on the planet, but will save significant amounts of money for you and your family as food and energy prices rise.  This is not only a conscientious thing to do, it’s fiscally responsible!

Sarah Palin is a Self-Proclaimed “Energy Expert” Because There’s Oil in Alaska, Just Like She’s a Foreign Policy Expert Because Russia is Next Door.

Posted in clean energy, conservation, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability on October 9, 2008 by theseep

I hate to keep harping on Governor Palin, but unfortunately she deserves it.  It is imperative that the middle America that she somehow appeals to understands how utterly inappropriate she is as a Vice Presidential Candidate, making the otherwise reasonable McCain ticket a no-deal (I’d still vote for Obama, but McCain isn’t a bad guy).  In the vice-presidential debate, Palin called herself an “energy expert”, which, it seems, is a moniker earned in a similar manner to her supposed foreign policy prowess. By her reckoning, she is close to Russia, making her a foreign policy expert, and there’s oil in Alaska, making her an energy expert.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, none of our candidates fully understand the dire nature of our global energy crisis.  It’s not just climate change that we should be worried about – it’s peak oil.  Just like the economy taking a downward spiral in a “perfect storm” of deregulation, risky mortgages, bad decisions on consumer’s behalves, industry greed, and bipartisan legislative ineptitude, climate change and peak oil are intimately intertwined and we are heading straight into the eye of yet another perfect storm.   By nearly all estimates, peak oil, or the time when we cannot pump anymore oil from the earth in a day, is either happening now or will happen within the next 5-20 years.  What this means practically is that as daily oil extraction levels off and starts to decline, as long as demand continues to rise, we will see an astronomical spike in oil costs and worldwide shortages.  Let me repeat – if we continue to use oil as we do today, within the next few years to few decades, we are guaranteed to see huge oil shortages and massive price increases.  This is not supposition, it is supported by oil industry insiders, geologists, and energy experts alike and if we do not shift to alternative forms of energy quickly, starting right now, civilization as we know it, fueled by oil, will grind to a halt.  Not only that, but once the oil is gone, if we haven’t prepared ourselves, we’ll likely fall back on the other, dirtier fossil fuel that is still plentiful – coal.  This, in turn, will accelerate the already unstoppable threat of climate change.

The fact is, that offshore drilling and drilling in ANWR will give us a few measly percent of our annual oil use. The rest must still be bought from unstable Middle Eastern dictatorships, some of whom continue to funnel oil money into the hands of the very terrrorists that we are trying to defeat. We can pour money into drilling for more of a dying paradigm and building multi-billion dollar nuclear plants, neither of which will yield any power for a decade. Or, we can focus our efforts and resources on researching and building a renewable energy infrastructure for our entire country, which will protect us from the global economic collapse that will occur as peak oil hits. We will be actively fighting climate change, we will generate domestic jobs, we will wean ourselves off of foreign oil, and we can reclaim our role as a leader and innovator in the world.

Not one of our presidential or vice presidential candidates has even mentioned peak oil, and we’ve barely heard a peep about the environment or climate change. None of these people are energy experts, especially not Governor Palin, who continues to spew her “Drill, baby, drill” mantra. She will not bring you lower gas prices, nobody will. If you calculate the true cost of a gallon of gas, including extraction, refining, transport, and environmental impact, it should be around $12/gallon. For the better part of a century, we have enjoyed cheap gas subsidized by government tax breaks, political power plays, and even war, and now that we’re starting to see fuel prices rise towards what a true and fair market price would be, Americans have cried in outrage rather than taken action to become part of the solution.

At least Senator Obama and Senator McCain recognize the importance of climate change and renewable energy, at least they have an inkling of the true crisis at hand. Governor Palin is still in denial about climate change and is proposing to waste more of the taxpayers dollars on what will become a nearly obselete energy source within our lifetimes. Sorry, but this “Joe Six-Pack” needs a leader who has the intelligence and foresight to set aside their preconcieved notions, objectively evaluate the evidence and take steps to lead us into a prosperous and sustainable future, and Sarah Palin is not that leader.

Fossil Fuel Free Concert Series: Ben Harper and Jack Johnson Shows in Santa Barbara

Posted in biodiesel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, sustainability, transportation on September 15, 2008 by theseep

Last month Laura and I were fortunate enough to make it to see two of our favorite artists, Ben Harper at the Santa Barbara Bowl on August 22nd, and Jack Johnson at UC Santa Barbara on August 27th. Each of these trips are about a 220 mile round trip and to save money and relieve our eco-guilt, we of course drove our biodiesel vehicles in another installment of Fossil Fuel Free roadtrips. For the Ben Harper show it was just me and Laura, so we took the 2003 Jetta TDI wagon which gets 37+ miles/gallon on our homemade biodiesel. The show was fantastic, Santa Barbara Bowl is a fantastic venue, and watching Harper rock out on his slide guitar will drop your jaw in amazement as he melts your face off with his ridiculous musical talent.

For the Jack Johnson show, we carpooled with some friends and took the Vegfalia for some straight used vegetable oil transport. The Jack show was fantastic as always and as a bonus, he has the “All At Once” initiative in full swing. His mellow musical stylings always get the crowd swaying and bouncing to the beat, listening to his honest and heartfelt lyrics.  The show was a bit festival-like, with the All-At-Once tent and a circle of tents housing various environmental groups as well. Impressively, the entire concert tour is striving to be carbon neutral, through biodiesel-powered tourbuses and generators and CO2 offsets. Also, there were water stations to refill your reusable bottles, discouraging bottled water, there were recycling bins next to every trash can, the concert T-shirts were organic cotton, and if you collected enough stamps from refilling your bottle, carpooling, and visiting the environmental non-profits there, you were entered to win a JJ skateboard or to get up on stage with Jack. Also, any donations to the non-profits were matched by the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation. Basically Jack Johnson is demonstrating by example that large events and tours can have minimal environmental impact and he it seems that he is successfully converting fans to be more mindful of their consumption.
Go Jack!

Continuing Right-Wing Shortsightedness on Oil: Drilling Won’t Bring Down Gas Prices!

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, politics, sustainability, transportation on August 19, 2008 by theseep


In the continuing media campaign to get Americans to want to drill offshore and in the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Hannity and Gingrich are shown here once again making fun of conservation techniques and attempting to discredit the real solution: DECREASE OIL CONSUMPTION AND TRANSITION TO ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES. It’s really that simple. The “drill, drill, drill” philosophy might get us a little more oil in the relative short term (3-5 years before we start seeing any actual oil), but by staying with our current infrastructure, demand will continue to rise, and the future result will be the same – rising oil prices and the continued “addiction to oil”.

The alternative is to change how we use oil now by conserving, and continue to develop battery and alternative fuel technology so that in the next 1-5 years your next new car will be electric or fueled with cellulosic ethanol or algae-based biodiesel instead of oil. In the same time it would take to see anything from drilling new wells, we’ll be well on our way to kicking fossil fuels to the curb.

What kills me is the continued lack of professionalism and blatant skew put on this type of reporting from Fox News and many conservatives. They scoff at inflating your tires, where in fact, keeping your tires at proper pressure can improve mileage by as much as 3.3%, which is not bad for such an easy solution. Combine that with people using public transportation, riding bikes for local trips, carpooling, and other basic, money-saving conservation strategies, and a solid plan for renewable technology implementation, and we simply won’t need to drill.

We can only hope that our future and current leaders have the foresight and wisdom to guide us there rather than staying with the reactionary, short-sighted status quo.

video via treehugger.com

White House Strongarms EPA Into Lying About Climate Change . . . Again

Posted in clean energy, conservation, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability on June 26, 2008 by theseep

NY Times article here

It seems that once again, the Bush Administration has taken to distorting facts and even outright lying in order to further their agenda.  Here’s the story:  In 2007, the Supreme Court made a ruling requiring the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases were a danger to human health or the environment. In December of 2007, after gathering data and consensus opinion, the EPA had prepared a report concluding “that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled” and that it would be cost effective to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as well as tough fleet mileage requirements, producing an estimated 500 billion to 2 trillion dollars in economic benefits over the next 32 years. The report says basically what the entire rest of the world has embraced and started taking action about: climate change is happening, it is due to man’s actions on our planet and the burning of fossil fuels, and unless we act quickly to control it, we will see significant global economic, health, and environmental implications.  Sounds pretty on target, right?

Interestingly, this report was sent via email to the White House in December as requested by the Supreme Court. The Bush Administration, however, in an act of childish negligence, has buried it’s head in the sand and has flatly refused to open the email. Because of this and other pressure from the administration, the EPA has “been forced” to water down the report so that it only “reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant, ” rather than actually addressing the issue. This whole kerfuffle is being reviewed by Henry Waxman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as well as by Representative Edward J. Markey of The House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, and the Bush Administration has already once again evoked “executive privilege” to avoid handing over incriminating documents on the matter.

All I can say is, WTF? Why can’t the EPA simply hand over the original report to the Supreme Court and let the Judicial Branch get involved. Or better yet, release it to the public so that we can all see the true reports that our tax dollars pay for rather than a document full of irrelevant discussion and half-truths? I think that Mr. Johnson of the EPA needs to stand up and do what the American people have hired him to do: protect them from environmental hazards with integrity and honor, not bowing down to criminal political pressure. Send out the Global Warming report to the Supreme Court, every Senator and Representative, and the New York Times. I’ll take a copy as well.

What’s worse, it that this report doesn’t even have any revolutionary information in it, the U.N.’s Panel on Climate Change has pages and pages of documentation on the subject and whether or not global warming is real is no longer up for discussion. What is up for discussion is what we will do about it and if we will be a leader, or act like we’re 5 years old and hold our hands over our ears, kicking and screaming, because we don’t want to be told to clean up our mess. This type of attitude by our government simply slows down the necessary changes to deal with climate change and further discredits our country in the eyes of the global community.

Here is a link to the EPA director, Stephen Johnson’s email address and phone number, let’s all drop him a line to let him know that these types of shenanigans will not be tolerated.

via: NYT

treehugger

The Story of Stuff: An Excellent Short Movie For Kids And Adults Alike

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, politics, sustainability on June 19, 2008 by theseep

I had heard about Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” a while ago, and recently finally watched it. Only 20 minutes and 40 seconds long, it delivers a clear, easily followed path of, for lack of a better word, stuff. From the resource use and depletion, to the manufacturing process and toxic chemical use, to the political manipulation by corporate entities, to the disposal (or lack thereof) of “stuff”, this story is a must see for everyone. Simplistic enough for a child to understand but sophisticated enough and stylish enough to keep an adult’s attention, it is clearly designed to spread it’s message to the masses. The Story of Stuff should be standard curriculum in every home and school, reminding us that what we buy had to come from somewhere, has to go somewhere when we’re done, and every action carries some sort of consequence. Whether we choose to acknowledge these consequences and how we act on this knowledge is up to us and our own consciences.

Increase Your Public Transit Use With Google Maps!

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, green energy, sustainability on June 6, 2008 by theseep

Google has done it again with a new feature added to Google Maps Mobile – public transit directions and schedules. We have the NYC subway and the Boston T system wireds, but If you’re like me and don’t live in an area with a lot of public transportation, using transit systems, especially buses, when you’re visiting other places can be daunting – unfamiliar stations, unknown schedules, figuring out destinations when you’re not sure where you’re going in the first place. Unfortunately it ends up being easier sometimes to drive and use a map or a GPS.

Google has now solved that problem with the new release of Google Maps Mobile, where a second tab has been added under “directions”, allowing you to choose between “driving” and “transit” options. You can enter your location and your destination and get step by step walking instructions to the bus stop or transit station, schedules for departure, directions to your final destination, and even search ahead for the latest return trip! This should work on iPhones, Windows Mobile, Palm, as well as a good number of regular mobile phones. As a bonus, if you have a “location aware” phone with GPS, you’ll be able to use your current location to start and follow your little blue dot as you go towards your destination.

This is really exciting as it opens up the possibility of using public transportation to an incredible number of people that wouldn’t otherwise, so whenever you can, leave your car behind and get on the bus/train/bike!

via Lifehacker

News Flash: Gas Prices Will Continue to Rise! Stop Whining and Start Acting!

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability, transportation on May 31, 2008 by theseep

We’re all tired of hearing everyone complain about gas prices. Besides the everyday complainers, we have truckers protesting, middle class families in suburbia going broke driving to work, and now McCain and Hillary are pushing a summertime “gas tax holiday”. Although it is unfortunate that so many people are being effected by the rising prices of fuel, the reality is that our days of cheap, government-subsidized cabon-based fuels are at an end. To put it in perspective, Germany just hit $8/gallon as the already expensive fuel prices throughout Europe continue to increase.
Peter Schwartz, PhD., a local Cal Poly Professor of sustainability calculated that the true cost of a gallon of gas, when you factor in extraction, refining, the environmental impacts, transport, associated human and health impacts, and every other estimatable cost, is around $12/gallon. As we approach this true cost, people will be forced to reconsider how they are utilizing energy resources.

Because we have manipulated the market for so long and fought wars for “energy security”, the U.S. has enjoyed falsely lowered fuel prices for half a century. This cheap gas market allowed the expansion of suburbia, the cheap transport of goods and services, the rise of the unparalleled American car culture, a booming vacation and travel market, and an incredible number of other unsustainable luxurious activities. It has also allowed us to waste an incredible amount of energy and resources because they have been so cheap. We have built grandiose, inefficient stick houses with poor insulation, installed energy-sucking appliances, and we drive down the street in our image-conscious, 12mpg SUVs, all choices based on what many people call the “free market”, but what is in reality a subsidized, racketeered, bastardized version of capitalism. The oil subsidies unto themselves are incredible, with an estimated $17.8 billion in tax subsidies and between $38 billion and $114.6 billion in government program subsidies, according to an article on treehugger.com.

Many conservative economists, would like us to “stay the course”, saying that this “free market” will direct where our money goes, ie: as consumer demand for renewable energy, efficient and electric cars, and sustainable business increases, we will see more of these products available. Although they are correct in basic theory, their entire paradigm of capitalism has been so twisted by political deals, unfair trade agreements, the aforementioned fuel subsidies, and a lack of accountability for the impacts of industrial production, that the basic tenets of the conceptual free market no longer apply. If not for these modifying factors falsely lowering the prices of certain goods and services, opening access to unsustainable development, as well as the effect of psychologically based marketing to sell us wasteful, often toxic products and foods, we would have likely been well on the way to being sustainable 30 years ago with the first energy crisis. If we had been paying European energy prices as we should have been, we would be living efficiently in closer communities, with less waste, public transportation, and more local food production, the very direction that we need to move in immediately if we are to decrease the looming effects of our self-induced climate change.

I recently saw a few minutes of Glenn Beck on a near-sighted, unthoughtful rant on why we should start drilling in Alaska to get us more cheap oil. This is the same lunacy that brings us the gas tax holiday and the “economic stimulus package”, maneuvers that don’t even prolong the inevitable, they don’t even actually help anyone, except that they make some of the more oblivious public feel like something is being done. For us to actually make any progress, each individual must first take responsibility for their energy use and carbon footprint: If you haven’t dumped your SUV yet, do it! Change your lightbulbs, install solar, bike more, compost, start your garden, stop buying things from China and overseas, buy local, organic foods, consume like you give a damn!

We also need to pass sweeping changes in legislation, here are a few examples:

1. Immediate moratorium on new coal-fired or nuclear power plants with required emissions-reducing equipment on all existing plants.

2. Home and industrial efficiency requirements to meet LEED certification on ALL new construction and a program to require and assist in efficiency retrofitting on existing homes and industrial buildings.

3. Increased support for renewable energy research and infrastructure with

4. Standardization in electric vehicle battery and/or charging units to allow for swappable battery packs and the deployment of universal charging stations.

5. Better subsidies for residential solar and electric/plug-in hybrid vehicles with significantly increased fees/taxes on non-industrial/non-farming vehicles getting less than 25mpg (this should quickly increase to 30+mpg)

6. Integrated waste management systems with greywater recycling, green waste reutilization for biomass digestion and composting, extensive recycling programs, and increased tariffs for waste and refuse.

With significant conservation initiatives and continued development of existing renewable energy technologies, we can negate the need for new coal power plants, we can avoid drilling in the arctic, and we can decrease some of the effects of climate change. I doubt that any of our current legislators have the courage to make many of these changes, so it is up to us, the citizens, to first do our part, then support our leaders in taking the steps needed to protect our society, our people, and our environment.

Biofuels Comparison Study – Conclusion: Properly Planned Biofuel Is A Great Transition Fuel, Poorly Designed Is Superbad.

Posted in biodiesel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability, transportation on May 11, 2008 by theseep

The results of a study by University of Washington and The Nature Conservancy are shown in the chart below, detailing the efficiency and impact of various biofuel production strategies.
Basically it shows what we already know about corn ethanol and soy biodiesel, and other “food-for-fuel” crops – they are extraordinarily inefficient, using large amounts of fossil fuels, water, pesticides, and fertilizer to produce, and directly detracting from food sources. Because of the recent food shortages, these biofuels are getting another look as a potential part of the problem. Unfortunately all biofuels are being vilified by this media hype, and even efficient processes like sugar cane and cellulosic ethanol or waste oil and algae-based biodiesel are getting a bad name as well.

One of our biggest problems is the lack of foresight – the U.S. government has been supporting corn ethanol extensively due to lobbying and special interests even though it is though it actually uses more resources than it produces. If we can put our resources toward developing technologies like cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel, we will have bridging biofuels that will allow us to continue to use existing combustion technology as we reach peak oil. This will be a critical phase for further development of the next generation of renewable energy production and infrastructure.

In 20 years, after peak oil has been reached and fossil fuel prices are ridiculously high, our combustion technology will be mostly obsolete and electric cars powered by next-gen battery technology. Once again, for this to happen smoothly, we need strong and wise leadership that will resist corporate and lobbyist influence and be able to encourage the most efficient and promising technologies.

via treehugger and Seattle Post-Intelligencer