On this day 20 years ago, June 23, 1988, James Hansen, head of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that it was 99 percent probable that global warming had begun. With 20 years of lost opportunities behind us, the need for definitive action is growing ever greater. So what better time to answer your question?
When I saw Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the 700-page “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” give a talk at the University of California at Berkeley in March 2007, he was asked this same question. I liked his answer because it didn’t start with changing your light bulbs for the curly ones. In his opinion, the most important impact that individuals can have on climate change is by expressing our concerns and opinions to our elected officials. Individuals’ actions are important but are almost symbolic if not widely adopted. Only government policies, applied across various sectors of our economy and society, can bring about the sort of wide-scale action required.
Continue reading at: Salon
With gas prices breaking new records every day I am wondering, is it better for the environment to fly or drive to my summer vacation?
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the quick answer is that driving is far better than flying. But let’s see why that is.
According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the internationally accepted process for quantifying greenhouse gas emissions, the emissions from a long-haul (less than 1,000 miles) flight are 180 grams per passenger mile. So a nonstop flight from San Francisco to Boston would create 487 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per person (2,708 miles x 180 g/passenger mile), or almost 1 ton for a round-trip. For a family of three, the “carbon footprint” of your vacation would already be almost 3 tons! Generally, larger airplanes are more efficient per mile, so short-haul flights release even more emissions.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/ask_pablo/2008/06/09/ask_pablo_summer_travel/index.html
A friend just found out that he has major termites in his house. He has no choice but to take steps to get rid of them. That said, what is the least environmentally offensive method of doing this? And on a purely theoretical note, if he had the ability to not do anything and eventually rebuild the house, is it easy to assume that fumigating would do less harm on a large scale than building an all-new house?
This is a common dilemma for homeowners, particularly those in warm coastal regions such as California, Texas and Florida. According to the National Pest Management Association, termites cause $5 billion in damage each year. Eradicating termites by fumigation involves flooding your house with toxic gas, but inaction can lead to structural failure of a timber-framed building. Luckily there are alternatives to turning your house into a gas chamber so that you can protect your investment, your health and the environment.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/ask_pablo/2008/05/19/ask_pablo_termites/index.html
AskPablo: LED lights are amazing but expensive. By switching to them, will I save energy and money over the long run?
I would like to use LED lighting to replace all my existing lighting. Over the long run, will I be reducing energy consumption and pollution, and even saving money?
I have written a lot about the environmental benefits of compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs in the past, but never about LED light bulbs. LED stands for “light emitting diode” and is a semiconductor diode that emits a narrow frequency (color range) of light. To put it simply, think of it as a solar panel in reverse: Electricity goes in and light comes out. To answer your question, I requested LED light bulb samples from LED Waves, and received a high-power 7-watt LED bulb that emits 500 lumens, has an anticipated life span of 50,000 hours (that’s almost six years, 24 hours per day), and retails for $59.95. Since LEDs are directional — they emit light in a focused beam rather than in all directions, like a conventional light bulb — it is difficult to compare them exactly to CFLs or conventional incandescent light bulbs. But I will try to provide a comparison of their light output, energy consumption and cost-effectiveness.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/05/05/ask_pablo_leds/index.html
Is it environmentally better to keep my 1986 Mercedes-Benz W126 or buy a new hybrid?
This is a question I have gotten a lot, and one that I have wondered about myself. You see a modern-day tie-dye aficionado puttering along the highway in his VW van with black smoke spewing out the back, and you have to wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off if he traded it in for a Prius. The consensus among some environmentalists — perhaps ones who drive late-’60s Mustangs — seems to be that driving your old car creates significantly less pollution than the manufacture of a new car. I wish it were that easy.
The Argonne National Lab, a U.S. Department of Energy research center, has analyzed the material intensity and energy consumption of manufacturing vehicles and vehicle fuels. Their work is packaged in GREET models (for greenhouse gases, regulated emissions and energy use in transportation). According to the models, the average conventional internal combustion engine vehicle is made up of 61.7 percent steel, 11.1 percent iron, 6.9 percent aluminum, 1.9 percent copper/brass, 2.9 percent glass, and around 13.6 percent plastic/rubber. This information helps determine the energy required to produce a vehicle.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/04/21/ask_pablo_cars/index.html
I’ve read in more than one place that 100 square miles of solar panels in the U.S. would meet all our energy needs. Wondering if you thought this was accurate and, if so, achievable?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could completely switch from being a carbon-based economy to being a solar-based economy? The answer shouldn’t be too hard to find but the conclusions might surprise you.
Solar photovoltaic modules or panels convert beams of energy from the sun — photons — into electrons, which we can then use as electricity. According to Dan Berger, senior project designer at SPG Solar, we receive about 6.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per square meter of solar energy per day, or 2,373 kWh per square meter per year. At 12 percent efficiency, the solar panels generate 285 kWh per year. The average American used 12,000 kWh in 2003, so each person would need around 42 square meters of solar panels (about 450 square feet).
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/04/07/ask_pablo_solar/index.html
The great diaper debate of disposable vs. cloth now has a new dimension thanks to gDiapers, flushable nappies that are cradle-to-cradle certified. But is it really environmentally sound to flush each diaper? The gDiapers Web site says it’s OK to throw them away since they biodegrade within 60 days, but it also points out that poop in landfills is generally a bad idea because of all those nasty bacteria, and that “the best way we currently have for treating human waste is in our existing sewage facilities.” What say you?
You are not the first to ask about disposable diapers and, lucky for you, my editor wants me to work on this smelly subject this week. And what topic could be more fitting after my last article on the environmental impact of bringing an additional child into the world. Honestly, I don’t know much about diapers — and those who wear them — but hopefully we can learn something together this week and find an environmentally friendly solution to this mess.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/03/24/ask_pablo_diapers/index.html
I am trying to decide whether to have a second child. I am wondering about the environmental impact that an American/U.S. person will have over the course of his/her life. Our home is very green: veggie oil car, organic foods, mostly used items are purchased — but I am wondering if you can possibly give me an answer. Sometimes I think that it would be wonderful for my son to have a sibling when the oceans are rising, and they can be in it together, but then I wonder if, by having a second, I am contributing to the oceans’ rising?
So, are you somehow complicit in the coming climate apocalypse if you bring one more child into the world? In fact, your question is more philosophical in nature and does not lend itself to a black-and-white analysis. The answer is both yes and no.
On the one hand, the little one would be entering a model household in environmental consciousness. The fact that you are asking me this question is evidence enough for me. The upbringing of your child would, no doubt, be less environmentally harmful than that of his or her American peers. Large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions would be spared by your veggie-fueled cars, agricultural lands would be enriched, not degraded, by your consumption of organic produce, and the biodegradable diapers would harmlessly decompose in the landfill or compost pile. Maybe your progressive-thinking household would raise the next Nobel Prize-winning climate change crusader, or the scientist responsible for a breakthrough in cold fusion technology.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/03/10/ask_pablo_kids/index.html
Should I discard my still-working standard incandescent bulbs and replace them with compact fluorescents, or wait until they die a natural death and then replace them?
There are several reasons to get rid of those incandescent bulbs and replace them with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Incandescent bulbs turn less than 5 percent of the electricity they use into light; the rest is wasted heat. Besides being annoyingly inefficient, this can increase summertime air-conditioning costs and present a higher risk of fire. CFLs, on the other hand, are over three times more efficient, meaning they put out the same amount of light but use one-third as much electricity; they also put out much less heat.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/02/25/ask_pablo_lightbulbs/index.html
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I feel I should get my significant other some flowers. But I’ve read that flowers, especially in winter, have to be shipped from South America and other places. What’s a responsible Cupid to do?
Yes, Hallmark Day is upon us and it’s time to give our sweethearts sappy cards, chocolate and little heart-shaped candies that taste like chalk. Aside from the commercialization, I do appreciate the intent behind the holiday and intend to brighten my wife’s day with some flowers. You are right, though: With most of the nation in the midst of winter, there is little chance that those dozen roses are coming from your neighborhood rosebush.
The United States imports between 60 and 80 percent of its cut flowers, and most of them come from greenhouses in Latin America, or even as far away as Africa or Europe. Up to 90 percent of the roses sold for Valentine’s Day are from Colombia and Ecuador; in 2006, the wholesale value of imported roses was over $300 million.
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Dear Pablo, Assuming that one can’t break the habit of drinking pop, what kind of container is more environmentally friendly, aluminum cans or plastic bottles (2 liter)?
Aluminum cans take a great deal of energy and natural resources to process and transport. Aluminum begins as bauxite ore, is refined into aluminum oxide, and ends up as blocks of aluminum, a supply chain that can take it halfway around the planet. Next the blocks are heated and turned into large rolls of aluminum before being transported yet again. The sheets are stamped and manufactured into cans, which are then filled and distributed to stores. After weeks or months of travel and processing, the aluminum can is used for maybe a few minutes and discarded.
Continue reading at Salon.com
I keep hearing that bottled water is the scourge of the Earth. But it sure is convenient. So what’s so bad about it? And do you have any good alternative recommendations?
Without a doubt, the vilification of bottled water has gained momentum over the past year. It’s a frequently discussed topic in the news and at city council meetings. The city of San Francisco has put a moratorium on the use of city funds to purchase bottled water when tap water is available, and the TV show “Boston Legal” recently featured a courtroom monologue on the environmental drawbacks of bottled water. We all know exotic bottled waters are built on clever marketing, but let me dive into the numbers.
We’ve done it. We’ve finally reached the psychologically important $100/barrel oil. The recent surge that got us there is more likely due to the plummeting dollar than other factors, but nonetheless will ultimately impact the price paid for gasoline at the pump. But even as the price goes higher, there are additional costs that are not paid at the pump. What are they, and who’s paying them?
In addition to the internalized cost of fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel we must also consider the many significant externalized costs. Of these externalized costs some are internalized by tax-payers (oil industry subsidies, military patrols of oil shipping lanes, etc.) while others are left for the global population and future generations to bear (climate change damages, global health effects, etc.).
Let’s take 2005 numbers because that’s what I have available (the thought process is what matters):
The average US retail gasoline price during 2005 was $2.240. During that same time period the retail price of US No. 2 diesel (on highway) was $2.402. Additionally, the subsidized rate for agricultural (off highway) diesel was $1.65 in 2005. Since agricultural diesel is essentially the same as on-highway diesel (except for the addition of red dye), the US government (i.e. taxpayers) subsidizes $0.752 of every gallon ($2.402 – $1.65).
This week I got the following question from Barb:
My community as well as all other surrounding cities here in Ohio only accept plastic with a #1 or #2 to recycle. Why can’t the other numbers be recycled? Is there any effort among businesses to use the most oft recycled plastics (i.e. only use #1-4) or an effort in the “green” community to encourage the use of a select type of plastic so that eventually it’s economically feasible for recycling centers to recycle all plastic containers?