The April 28 (2008) issue of MacLean’s had a great environmental article on Ten Ideas That Work that consisted of ten mini-articles that is definitely worth a read. Today we are going to cover the first five. They were:
- A Better Way To Catch Some Sun
Solar Power Farms
In Nevada, a 140-hectare concentrated solar power plant went on-line in June of 2007 and is currently producing up to 134 Million kWh of electricity per year. While this is only enough electricity to power about 14,000 homes, it’s renewable and with current oil costs, concentrated solar power, which concentrates the sun’s rays on a single point (that generates temperatures up to 1,500 C) to heat a fluid that drives turbines, is not much more expensive than alternatives. (It’s not even a factor of 2 anymore!) And with oil prices rising, and solar power technology falling, by the day, I expect it will be break even for countries with the right climate within a year! (Deserts or semi-deserts with lots of sun is perfect – which describes just about every country at or near the equator!)
- Turning Up The Heat in Japan
Turn Down the AC
In May 2005, the Japanese government changed the future of summer fashion by introducing Cool Biz, an initiative to lower carbon emissions from air conditioning that resulted in thermostats in all government offices being raised to 28 C (82.4 F) from June to September, with private companies urged to follow suit. Today, it’s the new normal for offices (with over 48% of companies complying) that have also taken up the new floral Okinawan shirt (which is the Japanese equivalent of the Hawaiian shirt) dress code.
I think North America should follow suit, and keep thermostats at 25 C (77 F) in the warm summer months, and more importantly, keep thermostats at 17 C (62.6 F) in the cold winter months. Let’s face it – these temperatures are less than 20% off from what most of us consider room temperature, and if it’s 30 C (86 F), 35 C (95 F), or even 40 C (104 F) outside, 25 C (77 F) is refreshing. And in the winter, when it’s 0 C (32 F), -10 C (14 F), or below -20 C (-4 F), with a suit jacket or a sweater, 17 C (62.6 F) is balmy!
- FreeWheeling in Paris
Last July, Paris launched a bicycle rental system and made 20,600 silver bikes in computerized stands available for rent by anyone. This is an idea that should be adopted by all small cities, urban-centers, and sub-urbs that are bike-friendly. But to make sure it takes off, I’d up the ante. I’d allow unlimited rentals for a small price per year (enough to cover the maintenance of the system and bike replacement). This would allow the program to quickly acquire, and maintain, enough bikes for everyone willing to use the system, and allow costs to be kept low. It would also deter thefts, because if anyone had unlimited use of a bike for a low price per year, who would buy one (and, hence, who would thievea sell to)?
- Electric Cars on the Monthly Plan
An Electric Car Network
Shai Agassi’s Project Better Place recently signed a 42.3M project with Danish Energy Firm DONG to establish a network of electric cars in Denmark by 2011 in partnership with Renault-Nissan. The project is going to build 20,000 recharging stations nationwide and subsidize the cost of the cars by selling the service (recharging and replacing batteries) on a subscription plan. Each battery will be good for about 150 kms (93 miles), and when they run out, they can be swapped for recharged batteries at recharging stations. The goal is 100,000 electric cars on the road by 2010.
This is another project that should be adopted world-wide, but the cars should be redesigned to hold 2 batteries (since much of North America lives in suburbia and 16-32 km (10-20 mile) drives to work and back are not uncommon), and get at least 320 kms (200 miles) per charge.
- A Tax on Flatulence
A Methane Tax on Farm Animals
The problem with agricultural animals such as cows, sheep, and goats is that they (constantly) burp and fart methane, a gas that traps 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide. This adds up fast — the world’s meat industry is responsible for roughly 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the total greenhouse gasses produced by transportation world-wide. In other-words, despite all the complaining by the grippies (green hippies), your SUV is not the problem (especially if it is less than five years old and has a kick-ass catalytic converter that insures that the air coming out is actually cleaner than the air going in if you live in cities like Los Angeles or Beijing). It’s your addiction to meat and the fact that North American’s eat more than twice as much meat as the global average! (Now, I’m not suggesting that you should be a vegetarian, as I’m not, but I am suggesting that you could eat less meat. Once a day is plenty. We have lots of protein alternatives, and many experts agree that you shouldn’t eat red meat more than three to four times a week.)
In an effort to deal with this problem, New Zealand introduced a “fart tax” on flatulent animals. It was eventually dropped after heavy lobbying, but I think it’s a great idea – as long as the price increases that will result are countered with price decreases (in the form of import tax reductions, production tax reductions, or just plain old subsidies) on alternative sources of protein. If we’re going to eat more than our fair share of meat, we should pay for the privilege, but the average working person, who is feeling the pinch of continually rising food prices, should not still be able to afford a healthy diet and, thus, alternative, greener sources of protein should be very affordable.
In addition, the animals’ diets should be altered to keep methane production to a minimum and nitrification inhibitors (which prevents nitrogen from leaking from the soil and forming the greenhouse gas known as nitrous oxide) should be used, and New Zealand’s lead in tackling this problem in this manner should also be investigated.
In our next post, we’ll review the last five.