Click on the headline (link) for the full text.
Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
How many Earths?
Jamais Cascio, Open the Future
... Assertions that we'd need three (or five, or ten) Earths to support our now-unsustainable lifestyles may make for nice graphics, but miss a more important story. The key to sustainability isn't just reducing consumption. The key to sustainability is shifting consumption from limited sources to the functionally limitless.
Broadly put, there are three different kinds of resources:
These are resources that have a finite limit, and once used, would be difficult or impossible to reuse. The most visible example would be fossil fuels, but most extractive resources would also fit this category. For some resources, the limits may be extended through recycling, but this has limits as well.
These are resources that renew over time, but face a limit to total concurrent availability. These are largely (but not exclusively) organic resources: food, fish, topsoil, people. Water arguably could be included here, as well. These resources can be over-used or abused, but absent catastrophe, will eventually recover.
These are resources that renew over time, but where the limits to availability are so far beyond what we could possibly capture as to make them effectively limitless. These run the gamut from energy (solar and wind) to materials (environmental carbon) to abstract phenomena (ideas). No current or foreseeable mechanisms could fully use the total output of these resources. Economically, they're both non-rivalrous and non-excludable.
Where the limited-subtractive resources make any use non-sustainable, given enough time, with unlimited-renewable resources, all uses are inherently sustainable.
... Another response to this model is that it's essentially an argument for a techno-fix. Despite appearances, it's not. What I'm arguing for is more of a design framework, a guide for decision-making.
(16 May 2008)
Chasing Utopia, Family Imagines No Possessions
Ralph Blumenthal and Rachel Mosteller, New York Times
AUSTIN, Tex. - Like many other young couples, Aimee and Jeff Harris spent the first years of their marriage eagerly accumulating stuff: cars, furniture, clothes, appliances and, after a son and a daughter came along, toys, toys, toys.
Now they are trying to get rid of it all, down to their fancy wedding bands. Chasing a utopian vision of a self-sustaining life on the land as partisans of a movement some call voluntary simplicity, they are donating virtually all their possessions to charity and hitting the road at the end of May.
“It’s amazing the amount of things a family can acquire,” said Mrs. Harris, 28, attributing their good life to “the ridiculous amount of money” her husband earned as a computer network engineer in this early Wi-Fi mecca.
The Harrises now hope to end up as organic homesteaders in Vermont.
... Though it may not be the stuff of the typical American dream, the voluntary simplicity movement, which traces its inception to 1980s Seattle, is drawing a great deal of renewed interest, some experts say.
“If you think about some of the shifts we’re having economically — shifts in oil and energy — it may be the right time,” said Mary E. Grigsby, associate professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri and the author of “Buying Time and Getting By: The Voluntary Simplicity Movement.”
“The idea in the movement was ‘everything you own owns you,’ ” said Dr. Grigsby, who sees roots of the philosophy in the lives of the Puritans. “You have to care for it, store it. It becomes an appendage, I think. If it enhances your life and helps you do the things you want to do, great. If you are burdened by these things and they become the center of what you have to do to live, is that really positive?”
(17 May 2008)
On Climate, Symbols Can Overshadow Substance
Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post
... Such tension between substance and symbolism runs through the modern environmental movement. After years of conflict with climate-change deniers and a White House that has resisted mandatory efforts to address global warming, the movement has become a crusade that is partly moral statement and partly fashion statement. Earth Hour, Earth Day and the Miss Earth beauty pageant -- "saving the planet, one pageant at a time" -- generate lots of publicity, but they also tend to prompt people and companies to choose what looks good over what works.
"There is a real problem in teaching people not to do something that appears to work, but that actually works," said Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California's Energy Institute, which studies ways to save energy and address climate change. Borenstein said it is hard to persuade people to do things that yield the biggest energy savings, and not necessarily the biggest returns in self-satisfaction.
"It is very difficult to get people to invest in home insulation and energy efficiency, which are much more effective than putting solar panels on your roof," he said. "Solar panels are popular because you can see you are doing something -- and your neighbors can see it, too."
... Leslie Aun, vice president for public relations at the World Wildlife Fund and the person with overall responsibility for running Earth Hour in the United States, agreed that getting people to turn off their lights for an hour has no discernible effect on the climate. What the event does, she said, is give neighbors an opportunity to share candlelit dinners, encourage churches to hold services about the environment and spur schoolchildren to start family conversations about what they have learned about climate change.
Photos of darkened cities raise the visibility of environmental issues and make people feel empowered, Aun said. Campaigns that raise awareness through symbolic acts of personal sacrifice, she added, are not at odds with programs that produce tangible savings.
"You are not going to get people to change what people do by engaging their heads; you have to engage their hearts," she said. "You need symbols to spur action. You are not going to get people to take action unless you get them to care about the issue. You are not going to do that by pulling out the U.N. report on blah, blah, blah."
(17 May 2008)
Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What It Means to Be Green
... Winning the war on global warming requires slaughtering some of environmentalism's sacred cows. We can afford to ignore neither the carbon-free electricity supplied by nuclear energy nor the transformational potential of genetic engineering. We need to take advantage of the energy efficiencies offered by urban density. We must accept that the world's fastest-growing economies won't forgo a higher standard of living in the name of climate science - and that, on the way up, countries like India and China might actually help devise the solutions the planet so desperately needs.
Some will reject this approach as dangerously single-minded: The environment is threatened on many fronts, and all of them need attention. So argues Alex Steffen. That may be true, but global warming threatens to overwhelm any progress made on other issues. The planet is already heating up, and the point of no return may be only decades away. So combating greenhouse gases must be our top priority, even if that means embracing the unthinkable. Here, then, are 10 tenets of the new environmental apostasy.
Live in Cities:
Urban Living Is Kinder to the Planet Than the Suburban Lifestyle
A/C Is OK:
Air-Conditioning Actually Emits Less C02 Than Heating
Organics Are Not the Answer:
Surprise! Conventional Agriculture Can Be Easier on the Planet
Farm the Forests:
Old-Growth Forests Can Actually Contribute to Global Warming
China Is the Solution:
The People's Republic Leads the Way in Alternative-Energy Hardware
Accept Genetic Engineering:
Superefficient Frankencrops Could Put a Real Dent in Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Carbon Trading Doesn't Work:
Carbon Credits Were a Great Idea, But the Benefits Are Illusory
Embrace Nuclear Power:
Face It. Nukes Are the Most Climate-Friendly Industrial-Scale Form of Energy
(19 May 2008)
Mmmm. Seems to be a combination of things that are already known, industry propaganda, and some interesting insights.
For example, about organic food: "Organic produce can be good for the climate, but not if it's grown in energy-dependent hothouses and travels long distances to get to your fridge. What matters is eating food that's locally grown and in season." Not bad... but already well understood by food activists.
Problem is, the ideas here aren't part of a coherent analysis, but rather an attempt to be paradoxical and unconventional. Might be a good articles for a discussion group or seminar. Not very good to accept without question. -BA