Archive for the ‘news’ Category


Mandatory High MPGs: Shell’s Ex-Chairman Thinks We Need Them Now

February 4, 2008

The BBC today reported that Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former chairman of Shell Oil, says that the EU should mandate that all cars sold achieve at least a 35 mpg rating. While unfortunately it’s realization is a remote possibility, I think it’s fantastic to hear an industrialist propose something sustainable.

The two major adversaries to such a regulation are car companies and the public. This is true both in the EU and the US. Politicians don’t want to piss off the factory workers that build gas-guzzlers, nor the constituents that drive them. And let’s face it: as a Western culture we are addicted to big and fast. We want that spine-tingling pedaltothemedal zoom that you just can’t get in a Prius. And the movies never show Johnny getting Susie’s shirt off in the back of a Civic hybrid. It’s a giant van spewing the same amount of smoke outside that is *cough* “occurring naturally” inside.

Changing our attitudes about cars is tough. We’re romantically involved with the idea of limitless boundaries of speed, size, and distance. It’s hard to give those up in the name of a globally-conscious ideal that often just doesn’t have the same sex appeal. But starting to equate big=bad and efficient=sexy is the way to eventually make not only an mpg regulation a reality, but a culture centered on sustainability. Let that tingle your spine. With the public on their side, politicians would willingly tell the auto companies to step it up.

While breaking a cultural addiction sounds truly daunting (and near impossible) there are some easy ways to start changing both your mindset and those around you.

  • Next time you see a hybrid or high-efficiency vehicle, (even if it’s old or small or puke yellow) compliment it. To the owner or to your friend; demonstrate that it’s a quality you appreciate in the world around you.
  • Next time you see a jaw-dropping, souped up racer, keep your mouth closed. Even if it’s owner is begging for attention. There’s no need to be whiny or condescending and ask about the horrible gas mileage it gets, your silence will be enough to send the message.
  • When deciding which car to take (often an issue in my group of friends) always suggest the one with the highest mpg. Feel free to disclose your reasoning if asked, but just saying “oh I like Rachel’s car..” will make Rachel feel good and cause your other friends to think of her car in a positive light. Mind you, if you’re always suggesting Rachel’s car it’s a good idea to help with the gas money. It shouldn’t be much.

I try to keep this mindset when I’m at home. My mother drives a Prius, my father a Yukon, and there’s about a 30 mpg difference between them. If I have to borrow a car, my first choice is always the Prius. When we make long trips to visit family I try to suggest it as well, although it doesn’t always work. But me nagging about the “behemoth” is just going to make Dad tune me out.

The basic idea is to praise the sustainable while keeping mum about the less-so. Keeping a positive tone will do more than constantly worrying others about pollution. And while I would never encourage a girl to go to second base just because it’s a hybrid, maybe a second date is an option? After all, with the savings in gas money he can buy you dessert.

How do you support high-efficiency vehicles?
image via


Yes, It’s Wal-Mart, But At Least The Bag Is Pretty

January 3, 2008

Wal-Mart has just come out with a reusable bag for shoppers, and surprisingly it is devoid of any large logos. While the green typography is a little smug, I have to admit it has both wit and probably the ability to succeed in the mass market, especially since each bag is only $1 at checkouts of one of the nation’s largest retailers. I think the nice part is while they are twice the size of plastic bags, they’re still small enough to easily carry, unlike those monstrous IKEA bags. Is it greenwashing? Maybe. But either way, it looks like reusable bags are going to be the CFL’s of 2008. So pick your favorite kind, whether it be Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, or homemade, and jump on the latest environmental bandwagon. Just don’t let them be an excuse to over-consume!

(via C3Blog)


Legs To Stand On: Are Multiple (Weaker) Arguments Better Than A Few Strong Ones?

January 2, 2008

I was reading a post recently at The Sietch that discussed how the radioactive releases of burning coal (including the byproduct fly ash) and it’s potential detriment to our health is just another nail in the coffin for coal power. However, the radiation we could receive from coal isn’t really worth considering when you compare it to what we’re exposed to via naturally occurring radon and even medical x-rays: (via the USGS)

Coal doesn’t even make the pie chart.

Are “weak legs” like this one viable supports for arguments for sustainability or do they devalue the stronger ones they accompany? Is it worth it to even make the radioactive argument when issues such as greenhouse gas release, mountaintop removal, and air quality are so much more compelling? If the subject were being formally debated, an opponent could spend their entire time picking apart the weak legs and undermining your message, while completely circumventing any strong points you hoped they would have to concede.

Environmentalists shouldn’t have to grasp at straws here. We know things such as fossil fuels, over-consumerism, and habitat destruction are bad for the environment, and the people we need to convince know it too. So what’s the problem? Accountability and the bandwagon. It’s hard for individuals to see the environmental results of their shopping choices and energy use when the impact is hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s also difficult to change when it seems everyone else lives just as wastefully. But the strongest points for sustainable practices have elements of both accountability and individuality.

Consider the “Save the Rainforest” campaigns of the 1990s. They focused on highlighting a specific area that was being destroyed, and connected it to individuals in the Western World. The rainforest is supposedly the home of miracle drugs for cancer and all sorts of unsavory illnesses. Everyone knows someone with cancer. So not only is a parrot in Brazil suffering from habitat destruction, but your great aunt as well.

It’s easy to start analyzing the details when you’re in a group of like-minded sustainable people. But when going head-to-head with an ardent consumerist, stick to the basics. They’re on our side.


“Make Peace With The Planet”

December 10, 2007

add to :: Digg it :: Stumble It! :: add to simpy :: seed the vine ::

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (represented by Rajendra Pachauri) last night in Oslo. His acceptance speech was extremely well-written; providing several great quotes I expect to see circulating in the media for weeks to come. I’m including the full text of the speech below and encourage you to read it completely. However if you have limited time (as I expect) I’ll highlight the sweet spot:

“We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge. These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; that Providence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?”

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2007

This brings to mind the sentimental propaganda for the American “Home Front” during WWII. Once again we have a problem that cannot be solved by our governments or our soldiers alone. It will take sacrifice from all of us to avert disaster. Interestingly enough, some sacrifices we need to make are the same as those 65 years ago: victory gardens, recycling, and reducing consumption. But the key is that everyone must be mobilized for change. If only he were running for President…

photo by kangotraveler

Full text begins here:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen.

I have a purpose here today. It is a purpose I have tried to serve for many years. I have prayed that God would show me a way to accomplish it.

Sometimes, without warning, the future knocks on our door with a precious and painful vision of what might be. One hundred and nineteen years ago, a wealthy inventor read his own obituary, mistakenly published years before his death. Wrongly believing the inventor had just died, a newspaper printed a harsh judgment of his life’s work, unfairly labeling him “The Merchant of Death” because of his invention – dynamite. Shaken by this condemnation, t he inventor made a fateful choice to serve the cause of peace.

Seven years later, Alfred Nobel created this prize and the others that bear his name.

Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken – if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.

Unexpectedly, that quest has brought me here. Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment, I pray what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enough that those who hear me will say, “We must act.”

The distinguished scientists with whom it is the greatest honor of my life to share this award have laid before us a choice between two different futures – a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: “Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”

We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.

However, despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”

So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

Last September 21, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff.” One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.

Seven years from now.

In the last few months, it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter. Major cities in North and South America, Asia and Australia are nearly out of water due to massive droughts and melting glaciers. Desperate farmers are losing their livelihoods. Peoples in the frozen Arctic and on low-lying Pacific islands are planning evacuations of places they have long called home. Unprecedented wildfires have forced a half million people from their homes in one country and caused a national emergency that almost brought down the government in another. Climate refugees have migrated into areas already inhabited by people with different cultures, religions, and traditions, increasing the potential for conflict. Stronger storms in the Pacific and Atlantic have threatened whole cities. Millions have been displaced by massive flooding in South Asia, Mexico, and 18 countries in Africa. As temperature extremes have increased, tens of thousands have lost their lives. We are recklessly burning and clearing our forests and driving more and more species into extinction. The very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed.

We never intended to cause all this destruction, just as Alfred Nobel never intended that dynamite be used for waging war. He had hoped his invention would promote human progress. We shared that same worthy goal when we began burning massive quantities of coal, then oil and methane.

Even in Nobel’s time, there were a few warnings of the likely consequences. One of the very first winners of the Prize in chemistry worried that, “We are evaporating our coal mines into the air.” After performing 10,000 equations by hand, Svante Arrhenius calculated that the earth’s average temperature would increase by many degrees if we doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Seventy years later, my teacher, Roger Revelle, and his colleague, Dave Keeling, began to precisely document the increasing CO2 levels day by day.

But unlike most other forms of pollution, CO2 is invisible, tasteless, and odorless – which has helped keep the truth about what it is doing to our climate out of sight and out of mind. Moreover, the catastrophe now threatening us is unprecedented – and we often confuse the unprecedented with the improbable.

We also find it hard to imagine making the massive changes that are now necessary to solve the crisis. And when large truths are genuinely inconvenient, whole societies can, at least for a time, ignore them. Yet as George Orwell reminds us: “Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

In the years since this prize was first awarded, the entire relationship between humankind and the earth has been radically transformed. And still, we have remained largely oblivious to the impact of our cumulative actions.

Indeed, without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on the earth itself. Now, we and the earth’s climate are locked in a relationship familiar to war planners: “Mutually assured destruction.”

More than two decades ago,scientistscalculated thatnuclear war could throw so much debris and smoke into the air that it would block life-giving sunlight from our atmosphere, causing a “nuclear winter.” Their eloquent warnings here in Oslo helped galvanize the world’s resolve to halt the nuclear arms race.

Now science is warning us that if we do not quickly reduce the global warming pollution that is trapping so much of the heat our planet normally radiates back out of the atmosphere, we are in danger of creating a permanent “carbon summer.”

As the American poet Robert Frost wrote, ” Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice.” Either, he notes, “would suffice.”

But neither need be our fate.It is time to make peace with the planet.

We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge.

These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; thatProvidence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penaltiesfor ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?

Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with what he called “Satyagraha” – or “truth force.”

In every land, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free.

Truth also has the power to unite us and bridge the distance between “me” and “we,” creating the basis for common effort and shared responsibility.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to go far, quickly.

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step “ism.”

That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.

This new consciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity. The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy for pennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world.

When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, “It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.”

In the last year of that war, you gave the Peace Prize to a man from my hometown of 2000 people, Carthage, Tennessee. Cordell Hull was described by Franklin Roosevelt as the “Father of the United Nations.” He was an inspiration and hero to my own father, who followed Hull in the Congress and the U.S. Senate and in his commitment to world peace and global cooperation.

My parents spoke often of Hull, always in tones of reverence and admiration. Eight weeks ago, when you announced this prize, the deepest emotion I felt was when I saw the headline in my hometown paper that simply noted I had won the same prize that Cordell Hull had won. I n that moment, I knew what my father and mother would have felt were they alive.

Just as Hull’s generation found moral authority in rising to solve the world crisis caused by fascism, so too can we find our greatest opportunity in rising to solve the climate crisis. In the Kanji characters used in both Chinese and Japanese, “crisis” is written with two symbols, the first meaning “danger,” the second “opportunity.” By facing and removing the danger of the climate crisis, we have the opportunity to gain the moral authority and vision to vastly increase our own capacity to solve other crises that have been too long ignored.

We must understand the connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger, HIV-Aids and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must be their solutions. We must begin by making the common rescue of the global environment the central organizing principle of the world community.

Fifteen years ago, I made that case at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. Ten years ago, I presented it in Kyoto. This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions.

This treaty should be ratified and brought into effect everywhere in the world by the beginning of 2010 – two years sooner than presently contemplated. The pace of our response must be accelerated to match the accelerating pace of the crisis itself.

Heads of state should meet early next year to review what was accomplished in Bali and take personal responsibility for addressing this crisis. It is not unreasonable to ask, given the gravity of our circumstances, that these heads of state meet every three months until the treaty is completed.

We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.

And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon – with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis.

The world needs an alliance – especially of those nations that weigh heaviest in the scales where earth is in the balance. I salute Europe and Japan for the steps they’ve taken in recent years to meet the challenge, and the new government in Australia, which has made solving the climate crisis its first priority.

But the outcome will be decisively influenced by two nations that are now failing to do enough: the United States and China. While India is also growing fast in importance, it should be absolutely clear that it is the two largest CO2 emitters – most of all, my own country – that will need to make the boldest moves, or stand accountable before history for their failure to act.

Both countries should stop using the other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.

These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must. No one should believe a solution will be found without effort, without cost, without change. Let us acknowledge that if we wish toredeem squandered time and speak again with moral authority, then these are the hard truths:

The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.

That is just another way of saying that we have to expand the boundaries of what is possible. In the words of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, “Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk.”

We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision of two futures – each a palpable possibility – and with a prayer that we will see with vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures, and the urgency of making the right choice now.

The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, wrote, “One of these days, the younger generation will come knocking at my door.”

The future is knocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: “What were you thinking; why didn’t you act? ”

Or they will ask instead: “How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?”

We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource.

So let us renew it, and say together: “We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act.”

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2007


Dreams Do Come True…When they’re about Whale-Naming

December 5, 2007

Greenpeace is holding an election to name a whale in order to raise awareness for it’s Great Whale Trail. Most of the names mean “love” or “peace” in different languages. Only 3 are worth mentioning:

– Humphrey


And currently with over 75% of the vote…

wait for it…

-Mr. Splashy Pants!

Thanks to The Sietch Blog for getting the word out and for his amazing rendering of Mr. Splashy Pants.


Acronym Central: RSS and NBC

November 9, 2007

As a new blogger, I’m trying to acquaint myself with the sustainability and design blogospheres.  Not surprisingly, blog-surfing can be a time-gobbler and bedmate to procrastination.  To help keep blogging blogging and not turning into full on web-wikipedia surfing I’m trying out RSSOwl.  So far it seems to be a pleasant way to keep up with all the blogs I am discovering.  Since it has such a similar interface to email I already have a working style with the program, and am continuing many of my email habits, namely deleting as much as possible as soon as possible and keeping only what truly piques my interest.  We’ll see if it cuts down on the extra surfing.  If you know of any excellent blogs I should be reading please let me know! (no self-promotion on this one please)

NBC’s “Green is Universal” week is coming to a close.  I still have to agree with my earlier post that shipping camera crews all over the globe was a little extravagant, but I have to admit I enjoyed some of the green cameos in their programming.  Detective Crews purchasing a solar farm has to be my favorite.  Let’s hope he doesn’t sell it next week!  Hopefully the integration of their message into plot as well as commercials has penetrated the minds of Americans who might hear the message on the news but fail to consider becoming more sustainable.


Get your Daily Fix- Online!

November 5, 2007

As a continuation from The Daily Paper Challenge, we’ll be looking today at where you can find all the elements of your standard daily paper online.  There are many sites that offer different aspects of your daily news, some more than others.  If you mix and match a bit you can optimize both your time and the relevant news you receive.  Here are some of my favorites:

The first place I would look is the website for your local newspaper that you already receive. Growing up in the Central Ohio area, I’m pretty familiar with The Columbus Dispatch. They offer all their articles online for that day’s news. The only things we would have to find elsewhere are comics. They also have an “electronic edition” that you can subscribe to that is an exact image of the printed paper, and this version includes the comics. I also quickly searched for the online sites of Austin, Jacksonville, Burlington, and Portland’s newspapers, and found very similar offerings.

National news websites.  I usually check the BBC and CNN each morning for my national news. Each major news outlet is going to have its own bias, so if that’s a concern for you, it’s better to draw from two or three different organizations. CNN also has feature articles that are similar to what one might see in the “Life” section of a newspaper.

Your local tv news channel’s website.  This will normally have the most up-t0-date local news, as they don’t limit themselves to the same daily schedule as newspapers.  They also generally have all the weather, traffic, and school closing information as well.  If you’re one of those people that gets ready for the day with the tv on, try spending just a couple minutes on this site a day instead.   The rest of the morning can focus around something you enjoy, like a steaming cup of coffee, a good book, or catching up with a partner or child. has nearly every comic you could be looking for.  It used to be that you could get one comic emailed every day for free, and more if you subscribed, but this may have changed.  All comics can be viewed for free on the site.  If you can’t find a comic there, it’s probably on
Individual comic sites  I’ve found that out of an entire newspaper full of comics, there were only a few that I looked forward to every morning and really made me laugh.  I visit the individual sites of those comics instead of a complied site like because it actually saves me time in navigation.  I’ve also discovered some new favorite web comics, which aren’t always offered on

Puzzles Google it.  They’re easy to find; most can be printed out or played online.  Example sites include,, and .

Sports. and are my go-tos when I need to know what BCS ranking my football team has.  As I’m not a sports nut so my interest pretty much stops there.  If you’re looking for a more in-depth profile of a local team, or last Friday’s high school scores, try the first option on this list.

Features. I actually enjoy blogs for this.  While CNN offers some feature articles, I enjoy the content on blogs far more.  If you’re getting a few blogs a day via RSS feed or visiting their sites, you should be getting plenty of feature content.

Why is online news better? It’s customizable.   I have a few websites bookmarked that I visit every morning.  I go to BBC for my international news,  CNN for domestic, then I visit my favorite comics: For Better or For Worse, One Big Happy, and Questionable Content.  After that I visit a few blogs and check up on facebook depending on time.  Every once in awhile I visit my old city newspaper to catch up on home, but with a lifetime subscription to the “mom-news-network” it’s often unnecessary.  My favorite part about this system is that if I read something that peaks my interest, I can immediately look it up on Wikipedia for more information.  The tough part is managing my time.  If I get too wrapped up in browsing from blog to blog, or trapped in the black hole of wikipedia european history, I can easily spend over an hour checking the news.  This is time better spent elsewhere…like on my architecture thesis.

Overall, the best reason for getting your news online is this: When you read the paper, you only get the news the paper decides to print.  When you go online, you seek out only the news that interests you.

If you have any other sites that you visit for news….add them!