AskPablo is on vacation this week. I would like to wish you and your family happy holidays and all the best for the new year. May you be safe, happy, and sustainable.
Recently I have been getting more and more questions regarding my very first AskPablo post. Michael and Phil both asked me about paper cups, which were not included in the initial analysis, and I also received an e-mail from Anna. So this week I will recap the results from my very first post and will incorporate an analysis of paper cups as well.
Car-pooling is so 1990′s… The eco-conscious politicians of today are sharing their private jets in the name of protecting the climate. This week Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen reportedly flew together to sign the Lisbon Treaty. Another private jet transported the leaders of Estonia and Finland to Portugal and the leaders of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium are also rumored to be traveling together. But don’t expect this sort of altruistic behavior from US politicians anytime soon. Too many people here still believe that there even is a debate in the scientific community about the human causes of climate change. Until that changes the politicians will continue to drive their black suburbans and fly in their own planes…
The mainstream media doesn’t seem to understand the potential magnitude of changes currently underway in the sensitive international monetary balance. On December 8th Iran decided to no longer accept the US dollar in exchange for its oil. Since the mainstream media did not cover it either, you may not remember that this was one of the last actions of any international significance done by Saddam Hussein before he once again caught the attention of the US (and incidentally, it is one of the first things to be undone after Baghdad fell). It looks like Iran is switching to the Euro rather than the basket of currencies that OPEC is considering in the wake of the US dollar’s recent weakness. An exodus from the dollar would effectively mark the end of the Bretton Woods agreement under which the US currency was established as the currency of oil and therefore international banking.
When hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast it not only uprooted and killed citizens, but it also killed millions of trees. In fact, Tulane University researchers estimated the number at 320 million. Not only does this loss decrease the amount of CO2 sequestered from the atmosphere, but the trees will actually contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as they decay. I will examine just how big this problem is and explore some possible solutions.
This week a frequent reader presented me with a common dilemma. “Does the fuel economy improvement of a hybrid really justify paying the price premium?” I’ll take a look at several different car models that are available in both hybrid and standard versions in order to come up with an answer.
I began by researching the prices and fuel economy of five hybrid vehicles and their non-hybrid counterparts: Ford Escape, Honda Civic, Nissan Altima, Saturn Aura, and the Toyota Camry. The Saturn Aura Hybrid is not priced much higher than the standard model but some research showed that this vehicle is a bit of a joke in the hybrid vehicle world. It’s mpg increase is not impressive, the electric motor is weak, and the vehicle can apparently only run in fully electric mode up to 3 miles per hour. For these reasons I have excluded the Saturn Auro from the results. The Toyota Prius is also notably absent, a decision made due to the fact that the Prius is a hybrid specific vehicle and there is no non-hybrid baseline vehicle to compare it to.
Now that turkey day is behind us the holiday season is in full swing. Despite my annual Grinch-like attitude, it once again looks like Christmas threw up inside my house (thanks to my wife — she says its an addiction she’s had since childhood) and there is no shortage of holiday lights. We all have a love/hate relationship with our 100-bulb strings of green wire that always seems to have one burned out bulb, rendering the whole tangled mess out of commission. This year there is an economical solution to the failings of the traditional holiday lights and our concerns over energy use: LED holiday lights. This week I am looking at the benefits of these energy efficient replacements.
This week Jamie asked me about the climate change impact of her company’s vehicle fleet and the options for reducing it. Her company has a vehicle fleet of 738 vehicles that average around 30,000 miles per year each. That adds up to 22,140,000 vehicle miles per year, or 0.00131% of US annual passenger miles (22,140,000 miles / 1,689,240,950,000 miles).
We will assume that the average fuel economy of this fleet is 30 mpg. This means that the company uses around 738,000 gallons of gasoline per year (22,140,000 miles / 30 mpg) at a cost of over $2.2 million (at $3/gallon). In a previous AskPablo I determined that a gallon of gasoline results in 19.56 lbs, or 8.87 kg of CO2 when combusted. So that vehicle fleet is responsible for roughly 6,546 mT of CO2 each year!
On Friday, June 16, 2006 Samuel Brittan wrote in the Financial Times (page 11) that “the most likely trigger for a dollar collapse would be a US housing market setback.” I read this with gratitude that someone was actually addressing this important global threat but I had to respectfully disagree. The greatest threat to the role of the US dollar as the international reserve currency, and indeed the global economy itself, is a sudden end to petrodollar hegemony.
Many people have asked me about the feasibility of “clean coal” paired with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a genuine option for a more sustainable future. In a previous article I wrote about coal-fired power plants (see AskPablo: Coal-Fired Power Plants) so I won’t beat that dead horse too much. However, I will discuss coal-to-liquids as well as the feasibility of CCS.
Some politicians will have you believe that coal-to-liquids is a viable and sustainable alternative to our dependence on oil-based fuels. Whether or not these politicians are from coal-rich states, or which party they belong to I will leave up for you to explore.Here is how a liquid fuel is made from coal:
When we read the words “Water, water everywhere, nor a drop to drink [sic]” from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” we can almost feel the maddening thirst that a shipwrecked sailor must endure in the middle of a salty, salty sea. Equally maddening, but sadly far more common, is the fact that millions of people around the world do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. A great deal of the world’s potable surface water is polluted with man-made chemicals, dangerous pathogens, or in the worst cases, completely absent altogether.
It has been said that the issues surrounding water will be the next big thing after climate change. We can be certain that the awareness of climate change will continue to grow, but combine it with growing global resource struggles and the future is anything but bright. Currently over 1/6th of the world’s population routinely lacks access to safe and clean drinking water, that’s about 1 billion people. Meanwhile, western cultures shamelessly extract and transport water over great distances for convenience and novelty (See my previous article on the impact of Exotic Bottled Water). How much do we spend on bottled water annually? How much would it cost to provide clean and safe drinking water to 100% of the world’s population?
Despite its name, Greenland is anything but green (which I can appreciate since my name is also a bit misleading because I am not even remotely Hispanic — I was born in Germany…And no, you may not AskPablo about this, ask my mom). In another bit of irony you will also find that Iceland is more green than icy (which makes me think that perhaps there is a Spaniard out there with a really good German name like Fritz, Dieter, or Wolfgang…). This week the decidedly French Jacques asked me about sea-level rise. Is it really possible for the oceans to rise by 20 feet if the entire Greenland ice sheet were to go away?
Kristina recently needed new car tires so she asked me where the old ones go. She wasn’t referring to the big tire pile seen in the Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield but where the tread on the tire goes. In order to answer that question we first need to learn a little bit more about car tires…
This week’s question comes from Richard. He asks how the price of Carbon Dioxide is determined. Unfortunately for me this is not an easy question to answer since there are many different prices for carbon. I will give it my best and hopefully you will be satisfied…
This week I was asked by Craig how many trees his office kills each year. In order to give him an answer I had him collect some basic information, like how many reams of paper they use each week. His office uses around 60 reams per week, an average of 100 sheets per person and 30,000 sheets in total (a ream holds 500 sheets). Over a year the office would use 3000 reams, or 1,500,000 sheets! But how many trees gave their lives to make it possible for old people to print every e-mail they get? Well, let’s find out…