3 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back

Steve Puma | Tuesday June 5th, 2007 | 0 Comments

While some of try to find ways to reduce our impact by changing lightbulbs, choosing better cars or using cloth bags, there are others of us on this planet who appear to be on a mission to single-handedly use up all the resources we’re trying to save via ridiculous consumption.
I had previously mused to some collegues about the potential impact of a single resident of my community, who owns this gigantic house, complete with Llamas and Emus. I had asked if it makes any sense for 100 people to conserve resources when one individual can so easily use up those resources himself. I certainly was not prepared for this news story, about the righest man in India, who is building himself a 60-story single-family house!
While the world has a long history of conspicuous consumption by the wealthy, the accumulation of massive amounts of wealth which is possible today gives a few individuals the ability to make impacts equals to thousands of private citizens, or even equal to one small corporation.
While the negative impacts of private jets, gigantic private yachts, massive houses and gated communities may be huge, are they offset by the equally huge impacts of wealthy citizens who are doing the right thing, and using their money to make a positive difference?
I wonder what, if anything, can de done about this. I do not personally believe that wealthy people are bad or evil. I would certainly like to be one myself. But I wonder if our instinct to accumulate and use resources as quickly as possible will win out over our intellectual battle to save our species for the long haul.
spuma@presidiomba.org
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Steve Puma is currently pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management while also working as an IT consultant in San Francisco. Steve’s interests include green building, New Urbanism, renewable energy and thinking about the big picture.
He is also a big supporter of the FairTax Act of 2007, which abolishes the IRS and replaces it with a national retail sales tax.

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AskPablo: OTEC Revisited

| Monday June 4th, 2007 | 1 Comment

arctic.jpgThis week’s question comes from Olle Holm, the editor of The Baltic Eye. “A question about ‘arctic OTEC’: I saw somewhere the idea to utilize the temperature gradient between arctic under-ice seawater (+1¬∞C) and the air above the ice (-40¬∞C). Would that be at all feasible for an OTEC-plant?” This question came in response to a column on OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) that I wrote a few months ago (read it here).

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Going Green: An Exercise in Irrationality

| Monday June 4th, 2007 | 0 Comments

OK, I am guilty.
As an MBA student in Sustainable Management at the Presidio School in San Francisco and an entrepreneur in Sustainable Business, I figured I better make certain that I was “walking the walk” before I began “talking the talk” to friends, family and business associates with regards to sustainability. Thus, I set out to “green my life.” Sure I drive a hybrid, recycle, compost and use cloth shopping bags, etc. in the name of reducing my impact on the planet. However, last year when my wife and I were looking at “greening” our home, the very first thing we did was look into solar power. This was a mistake. Please don’t get me wrong, solar power is a good thing. In fact, if one wants to get technical, it is the mother of all renewables, as it is ultimately the source of wind energy, wave energy and biofuels. The mistake we made in immediately looking to solar power to address our home energy consumption needs is that, prior to implementing any renewable energy technology, we should first have looked into reducing our overall home energy consumption through efficiency maximization and good old fashioned conservation efforts.
I am not certain what it is in our societal make up that tends to point us in the direction of the latest and greatest technology, but there does seem to be an element of “consumerism” even in well intended efforts to move toward sustainability. Maybe it is an element of keeping up with the “Jones’ of sustainability” or maybe it is an effect of successful marketing by the renewable energy sector, I am not sure. Whatever it is, it seems that the same phenomenon is true at the corporate level as well.
A recent story in the Economist suggests that,

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The “Fossilization” of Exxon-Mobil

| Saturday June 2nd, 2007 | 3 Comments

Exxon%20Dinosaur.jpgIn the great scheme of things, the dinosaurs did not fair so well in the end. By most accounts, it was their inability to adapt to a rapid change in the earth’s climate. Looking out at the road ahead, it seems that there is a possibility that Homo-sapiens may share a similar demise (along with a great deal of other species). Unlike the dinosaurs, however, we sapiens will be in the particularly peculiar position of understanding that climate change is happening and that it is detrimental to life, comprehending that our actions are the cause and making a conscious choice not to change.
Now…Take a breath, engage that “advanced brain” that we uber-primates all share and think about that for a moment. It is not an easy thing to grasp….even for a species endowed with so much gray matter.
Now consider the outcome of the Exxon-Mobil annual shareholders meeting in Dallas. Defying fierce opposition amongst the ranks of its shareholders to take action on climate change, the company decided to stay the course, saying that action was “important but premature”.
Ironically, in reading the AP article, I actually took comfort in one particular phrase:
“Exxon Mobil is a petroleum and petrochemical company”
While other giants like BP and Shell see themselves as energy companies, Exxon-Mobil sees itself as a petrochemical company. The world demands energy, not petrochemicals.

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Design: Rethinking our Needs

| Thursday May 31st, 2007 | 3 Comments

design%20image.jpgI should take time out to sit down and think more often. It is almost inevitable that when I do so, the clutter in my mind disappears and I get a better sense of what I need as opposed to what I think I need while I am caught in the hyper-pace of what has become my day to day.

Yesterday, my day turned out to be another hectic scramble to meet the immediate needs of tasks that tend to arise faster than I can address them. Somewhere in the midst of the afternoon, I found myself in need of a quick fix meal and ran off to grab a Clif Bar. I inhaled the Clif Bar (along with a cup of coffee) and continued my foray into an ever escalating state of madness. Similar situations arise throughout the day and I often spend time and energy trying to quell one need after another. As I write, it is apparent that I did not need a Clif Bar (or the coffee) or any of the myriad quick fix solutions I pursue. What I really need is a better approach/system that will allow me the wherewithal to be proactive rather than reactive in my daily activities. However, I devote relatively little time and/or energy to satisfying my true need in this regard. Thus, it is important to note that needs which are derived from actions/situations/endeavors that are unnecessary in the first place are not needs. Rather, I would be best served by assessing the true nature of the desired outcome for any endeavor (large or small) prior to undertaking action. Doing so would not only eliminate unnecessary actions, it would likely decrease overall activity and reduce consumption of energy and goods.

If I look beyond the mundane needs of my everyday, this can be applied on an aggregate scale. A recent article in the NY Times suggests that the great majority of the world’s “design capital” is focused on developing the latest and greatest widget, widget label or widget promotion for sale in developed economies.

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Amory Lovins Has a New Blog on Yahoo! Green

Steve Puma | Thursday May 31st, 2007 | 3 Comments

amory_lovins.jpg “Enough about the climate problem. Let’s talk climate solutions.” Thus begins the new blog by Amory Lovins on Yahoo! Green. Prepare to have your assumptions turned on their heads as the co-author of Natural Capitalism and founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute shows us how “protecting the climate is not costly but profitable.”
Mr. Lovins has done pioneering work in the field of radical resource efficiency, which he sees as the first step towards a sustainable world. This YouTube video gives a great overview of the man and his work.
I think we are going to see some very insightful and optimistic writing here, and I’m very interested to see if he mentions any upcoming plans for his ultra-efficient Hypercar becoming a reality.
spuma@presidiomba.org
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Steve Puma is currently pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management while also working as an IT consultant in San Francisco. Steve’s interests include green building, New Urbanism, renewable energy and thinking about the big picture.
He is also a big supporter of the FairTax Act of 2007, which abolishes the IRS and replaces it with a national retail sales tax.

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Liquefied Coal: Defying Common Sense

| Wednesday May 30th, 2007 | 0 Comments

liqufied%20coal.jpgBrilliant. That is about all I can say regarding the latest news of the recent push in Washington D.C. subsidize liquefied coal as a potential fuel source for vehicles. In this case, there is no need to make any remarks rooted in partisan leanings one way or another, as the proposal, supported by Peabody Energy, has backers on both sides of the political aisle. In fact, given the fashionable status of “alternative fuels” among the mainstream, it seems the proponents of liquefied coal are seeking to include it alongside biodiesel, ethanol and hydrogen under the umbrella of the popular term. This is an abomination. Even if one were to ignore all of the ill effects of the coal mining industry on the physical landscape, the biological systems and the people who reside in the Appalachian regions of the U.S., one would have a difficult time defending the decision to develop a fuel that, when burned, is more green house gas (GHG) intensive than other fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel.
With the onset of climate change and the consensus among the scientific community that humankind must make drastic reductions in GHG emissions (due, in large part to the burning of fossil fuels) in the very near future to avoid catastrophe on a global scale, it is counterproductive (if not idiotic) to utilize taxpayer money in support of such a technology. Considering the magnitude and the gravity of the problem (no to mention the time and resources currently being spent to address the problem), it is ludicrous to invest time, energy and taxpayer money into a technology that contributes to the same problem we are attempting to solve. The idea is akin to dragging the garden hose into an already overflowing bathtub and turning on the faucet while simultaneously trying mop up the excess water from the floor.
One does not have to be an environmentalist, a climatologist or an economist to understand that investment in coal liquefaction technology defies the laws of common sense. Apparently, the afore mentioned “laws of common sense” do not apply in the District of Columbia.
******Joe Madden
Dir. of Business Development
DriveNeutral

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Robb Report Goes Green?

| Wednesday May 30th, 2007 | 1 Comment

robb.jpgThe Robb Report is a lifestyle mag for the ultra wealthy that often pushes the “tackiness” envelope well past the breaking point. Nonetheless, even they seem to be seeing green these days with the debut of an annual green issue on the horizon (it may have something to do with the somewhat more subdued Helium Report hot on their heels).
Anyway, hydrogen Hummers may still be missing the point, but improvement is still improvement and if the ultra-consumer class starts doing things a little bit greener, then everyone breaths (literally) a little bit more easily. Even if green is just another status symbol, perhaps its presence as such will instill enough sensibility in enough people to make a difference.

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The Lazy Environmentalist Book Launches

| Tuesday May 29th, 2007 | 1 Comment

green-chair.gifIt’s always nice to see a lot of hard work come to bear fruit. Josh Dorfman is a friend of mine and also the founder of Vivavi.com. Additionally he’s been hosting a weekly radio program called The Lazy Environmentalist which has recently become a book by the same name. It’s a pragmatic look at the realities of human nature combined with the awareness to improve the environment. To borrow from the introduction:

“Designers are saving rain forests. Fashionistas are clearing toxins from the soil. Architects are rolling back global warming. A new wave of eco-conscious activists is stimulating fresh approaches to environmental challenges. The market is their arena. Organic cotton, bamboo, and certified sustainable woods are their materials. Hybrid engines and solar power are their technologies. Stylish, high-performing products and services are their tools of change.
These innovators make it easy for us to integrate environmental awareness into our lives. They understand that while so many of us are concerned about the environment, we don’t always have the time, energy, or inclination to do something about it.
We are lazy environmentalists. This is our moment.”

But don’t take my word for it… check out the reviews and give it a read.

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EcoLanguage Presentations on YouTube

| Tuesday May 29th, 2007 | 1 Comment

ecolanguage.jpgLee Arnold has put together some nifty little animated descriptions of various economic situations on YouTube. They all fall under the title of “EcoLanguage” because all make an attempt to include integrated-bottom-line thinking into their explanations of everything from Social Security to Waste & Pollution.
The animation is a little hokey, but the explanations are solid and worth your time – to help you understand the relationship between economics and ecology, as well as something to send to friends. Check it out.

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Free Webinar: “The Consumer and Sustainable Supply Chains

| Tuesday May 29th, 2007 | 1 Comment

supplychain.jpgProfessionals for Responsible Supply Chain Management (PRiSM) will present a free “webinar” tomorrow at 10AM pacific time. PRiSM is an affilliate of Net Impact and will share recent survey findings of consumer attitudes to better understand how people perceive and value better practices within the supply chain, and how company and product brands relate to supply chain activities. Also, three graduate research teams will share their findings on sustainable supply chain innovation across 3 product categories:
1. Food & Beverages: Jessica Lin, The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment
2.Tobacco: Shay O’Reilly, The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business
3.Personal Care Products: Valerie Nibler, The Presidio School of Management

Click here
to register for the free educational web seminar, or visit www.aravo.com.

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AskPablo is taking a break this week

| Monday May 28th, 2007 | 0 Comments

In honor of memorial day I will be taking a carbon-neutral trip to the mountains. I will be back with answers to your sustainability questions next week. If you have a great question please send it to pablo.paster(at)gmail.com.

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Wal Mart Videos to Peruse this Weekend

| Thursday May 24th, 2007 | 2 Comments

logowalmart.jpg
I’m taking off for the long weekend and I highly recommend you do the same. All work and no play ya know. But here’s a Wal Mart Video featuring Andy Rubin, Adam Werbach and others talking about CFLs, along with a whole host of others. It’s a veritable youtube of options. The one about skylights in Kansas City is noteworthy.
It’s basically a bunch of advertisements, but some of them are very well done and worthy of merit. Of course the question is, what’s going on behind this propaganda? For the most part I’m still giving Wal Mart the benefit of the doubt as there is clearly a lot of sincerity behind many of their efforts. But I’m stuck wondering – is the big-box model itself inherently flawed in terms of the context of either environmental or social sustainability? That’s my thought for the weekend.

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The Greening of Trafalgar Square

| Thursday May 24th, 2007 | 4 Comments

green-traf.jpg
It’s amazing the difference a little green makes. Perhaps inspired by San Francsico’s PARKing project, but with a much grander scale in mind, a group promoting tourism in London has temporarily ‘greened’ Trafalgar Square.
It’s not a permanent installation (I can only imagine how quickly that grass would be trampled) but it really looks great. Trafalgar Square has always been grand, if a little stoic, but that grass really looks great and livens up the place in way almost no human-made object can.

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What’s Holding Back Windpower?

| Wednesday May 23rd, 2007 | 7 Comments

wind8883.jpgEvery time I see a major windfarm in California, regardless of the wind conditions it seems that half of the turbines are not spinning. I attribute this to the age of the windfarms around here (30 years or more) and an apparent lack of maintenance budget. But it’s still puzzling that we’re not doing more with windpower – Popular Mechanics notes that we’re using 2 million times *less* that our potential output of wind energy in the United States. They also outline three main reasons for the setback along with solutions:
1) Cost of transmission lines from relatively remote locations where wind is best. Solution: Small, local turbines, including personal sized ones that augment the grid with diffuse power generation and negligible transmission costs.
2) The inevitable windless day. Solution: Hook up generators to batteries that store electricity for peak demand and low wind conditions.
3) Difficulty of offshore construction. Solution: This is a tricky one, involving technology that’s not yet here at as-yet unknown costs.
Check out the whole article here.
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