Archive for November, 2008

greener, sooner, cheaper: on ICEs vs EVs and conversions

cost of driving gas vs electric

Stuck with internal combustion engines (ICEs)? Starving for electric vehicles (EVs)? Read these numbers and weep.

American drivers spent $280 billion for gas last year, when the equivalent miles in an EV would have cost $66 billion. In 2000 these amounts were $143 and $46 billion, respectively. That's $1.2 trillion total savings since 2000 if GM hadn't killed the electric car.

Oh, and the EV advantage climbed from two-thirds to three-quarters saved versus the ICE from 2000 to 2007. And did I mention the associated emissions reductions (read on)? These notes are prompted by Lester Brown's update of the electric car advantage (via treehugger).

Published by Ken on November 30th, 2008 tagged Energy, Transport | 3 Comments »

that sinking feeling: on Hawaii GHGs and sucking up carbon

carbon sinks

For the first time, we have credible estimates of the 'carbon sinks' represented by Hawaii's forests and ag lands, and the results are fairly depressing.

After all, one might have thought that our island mountains were worth gazillions in carbon credits.

Fact is, our landcover offsets only 12% of our total emissions.

Either we transform these non-urban lands into much better 'sinks', or we'll need to grow lots of trees somewhere else to fully offset our contribution to global warming.

Of course, the more prudent option is to drastically reduce our emissions so we have less need for 'sinks'. Duh!

Published by Ken on November 25th, 2008 tagged Ecological Footprint, HI-specific | 1 Comment »

what happened on election day? Kauai’s visitor downturn

kauai visitor trend

Well into the Fall, Kauai was sailing along at unprecedented rates of growth in the number of visitors flying nonstop to Kauai.

Taken as a percentage of 2007 traffic, our 2008 numbers were up by double digits, while the rest of the state was down by an equal amount. As recently as November 3rd, Kauai was the only island with a projected growth in airline seats.

Then on November 4th, the growth went to zero and it's been heading south ever since.

I know this’s happening because I track these numbers and produce indicator trends for my newspaper column. Yet, I don’t know why.

Published by Ken on November 25th, 2008 tagged HI-specific, Transport | Comments Off

going green on Maui…despite Hawaii’s recession

maui greening

The last thing we wanna cut back during down-times is the 'green' stuff,  so it's great to hear about Maui's continuing progress on some 'green' projects.

As Harry Eagar writes, "Not all businesses on Maui are laying off workers, canceling projects and deferring investment" (via mauinews).

Some island businesses are "taking risks and looking for opportunities despite the gloomy news and gloomier economic predictions", reports Eagar.

For example, Whole Foods Market is on track to open its first Maui location next year and expects to hire up to 160 people. Lahaina’s Ace Printing Co. is going “greener" with re-equipment programs begun last year.

Published by Ken on November 24th, 2008 tagged Community Initiatives, HI-specific | Comments Off

‘green’ Army not just about camo: on sustainability reporting

green army

You might be surprised to discover that the Army's 'triple bottom line' looks better and is more transparent than most big corporations, and their sustainability report is the first from any federal agency to meet GRI guidelines (via soapgroup).

More worrisome is net operational impact, no matter how 'green' their management, as for example, facility water use dropped by 32% while hazardous waste generated climbed by 8% over the last 4 years.

Still, their goal of accomplishing the mission while maintaining healthy environments, stable communities, and efficient economies is commendable, and every facility now has environmental management systems in place. Yeah!

Published by Ken on November 24th, 2008 tagged Best Practices, Green Building | 1 Comment »

sustainability favors the color blind: on ‘green’ branding

peeling green

Doesn't matter if your purchasing pattern pegs you as pea green or evergreen...what matters is whether your lifestyle is sustainable.

So argues John Rooks, in a marvelous essay on the use of colors in sustainability marketing (via enviroleader).

Says Rooks, "green was an obvious color to hang the environmental renaissance on. It was a reclaiming of the old pejorative 'greenies' and 'treehuggers'”, yet 'green' has been co-opted as a shortcut to simply imply sustainability..."a thin varnish on top of brands and ideas."

On the other hand, true sustainability does not need color. It's "transparent, clear, open, void of obscuring color", says Rooks.

Published by Ken on November 23rd, 2008 tagged Best Practices, Sustainability Science | 1 Comment »

it’s official: Hawaii’s recession now 2-4 months old

boom-bust cycle

Carl Bonham has been closely watching the recent Hawaii economic indicators, and yesterday acknowledged that our recession officially began as early as July (via HNLadvertiser).

Using standard methods for defining recessions in terms of large employment declines and unemployment increases, Bonham pegged the “peak” at somewhere in the July-to-September period.

Now ya know! And, for those tracking the "boom-bust" cycle, this is Hawaii's 6th recession since 1980.

Sadly, island economists are better at pegging these historical measures than at forecasting what comes next. Bonham's UHERO forecast (echoing similar DBEDT and First Hawaiian Bank numbers) expects at least a year of declines.

Published by Ken on November 21st, 2008 tagged HI-specific, Island Vulnerabilities | 1 Comment »

community organizing for renewable energy: cheaper is better

1 block off the grid

Pssst...wanna get yer home solar installation for under $3 a watt?

Sure, it's easy enough to imagine a buying club that puts households in the renewable energy game. Bulk purchase discounting, streamlined installation, and all that.

Now, 1BOG takes this bottom-up model a big step forward with collective bargaining power for renewable energy products (via triplepundit).

Bottom line: under $7k for a 2.5 kW system. What a concept! Click here to sign up.

Now, imagine 10,000 Kauai homes with a 2.5 kW installation. With something like the savings 1BOG has gotten elsewhere, our island could get 25MW of green energy for under $70 million.

Published by Ken on November 20th, 2008 tagged Community Initiatives, Energy | Comments Off

consultants compound confusion: on Hawaii’s energy options

bi-directional signs

Just because many of the top consulting firms have looked at Hawaii's energy situation in recent years doesn't mean we've got a clearer picture of our energy vulnerability and renewable options.

Why? 'Truthiness' in the numbers. A careful reading shows consultants' estimates of renewables’ potential tend to float around depending on the assumptions made.

McKinsey’s recent Greenhouse Gas Emissions Task Force briefing, for example, shows Kauai’s electricity at 83% renewable in 2030 with 1/3 coming from utility-scale solar, while Booze-Allen-Hamilton’s (BAH) KEDB conference presentation shows 70% renewables with half coming from rooftop solar. No wonder folks can’t decide which way to go!

Published by Ken on November 19th, 2008 tagged Energy, HI-specific | Comments Off

‘disruptive’ social entrepreneurs will shape future markets

disruptive ideas

Let's stipulate that the path away from business-as-usual begins with disruptive ideas.

So, the folks who most need our help these days are not elected officials trying to make policy that supports the transition to sustainability.

Instead, it's the 'social entrepreneurs' trying to make new ventures that respond to emerging 'green business' opportunities, says John Elkington.

Kauai offers a fascinating test bed for these entrepreneurs, because our 'pathways to scale' are the inverse of the standard. Rather than seeking to 'scale-up', we need to 'scale-down' America’s industrial method in new venture models that meet small town needs. That's disruptive!

Published by Ken on November 17th, 2008 tagged Best Practices, Community Initiatives | 1 Comment »

when half-fast sounds radical: on Google’s energy plan

googles eric schmidt

Try this scenario for 2030: there is no electricity from oil or coal, efficiency measures keep electricity demand flat, half of all cars are electric, conventional vehicles get 45mpg, and plug-ins add only 8% to the electricity load.

Plus, for every dollar spent in this energy transition, we get $1.23 back in energy savings.

Sounds way radical, right? Wrong, it’s Obama's green energy guru from Google, Eric Schmidt (via evworld).

Oh, and, Google’s plan is far less radical than either the Gore or Pickens plans. Still, pick Pickens, pick Gore, pick Google...doesn't matter which plan you pick for the post-carbon transition. Just pick one, says Schmidt.

Published by Ken on November 16th, 2008 tagged Energy, Transport | Comments Off

sustainability planners say “act now” on Hawaii’s “fragility”

peter arsenault

Architect Peter Arsenault led a merry band of planners into Lihue this week for a charrette on sustainable design, and presented their sustainability assessment last night to Kauai business, community and political leaders.

'Twas a treat to sit with other leaders in the energy working group for the last several days and help these visiting experts grasp and feed back to us the island's sustainability priorities.

Citing the "fragilities" of Kauai's isolation, size, inequity and dependence. the AIA SDAT team concluded that "business-as-usual may not be best."

For openers, Arsenault's team recommended that the County "institute a division of sustainability with an energy officer".

Published by Ken on November 15th, 2008 tagged Best Practices, HI-specific | Comments Off

Hawaii emissions growth slower than expected

HI GHG trend

Hawaii's updated GHG inventory shows better progress than expected toward meeting Kyoto reduction goals, according to a new study released yesterday.

Better bookkeeping for emissions is the key feature of the work by ICF international, which recalculated Hawaii's 1990 benchmarks and estimated current GHG's.

Compared with the preliminary estimate earlier provided by DBEDT's John Tantlinger, Hawaii's GHG increase since 1990 has been somewhat slower-- up 3% versus the 8% increase Tantlinger showed.

The bad news accompanies some of the new data, including first-ever estimates of our GHG "sinks". Turns out, Hawaii’s forests and fallow ag lands only offset 12% of our emissions.

Published by Ken on November 14th, 2008 tagged CO2 Emissions, HI-specific | Comments Off

UH scientist confirms Pollan math: fast food = corn

corn permeates US food chain

Starting at the retail end of the food chain, geobiologist Hope Jahren sampled 320 fast food offerings, using carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes to infer the source of feed to meat animals and the fat in your fries (via wired).

Jahren found that 80% of the beef and chicken was corn-fed, which is totally predictable, yet it confirms assertions made by Michael Pollan that the fast food industry is based on cheap, unsustainably grown corn. In effect, we're subsidizing obesity.

Brandom Keim notes that "corn requires large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, which in turn require large amounts of fossil fuel to manufacture".

Published by Ken on November 11th, 2008 tagged Food, HI-specific | 1 Comment »

3 of 5 ain’t bad: on Hawaii’s economic stimulus plan

lingle econ stimulus

Governor Linda Lingle has been working overtime to reassure island consumers and investors that "our fundamentals are sound" (via KHNL).

We can maintain economic stability by investing in island infrastructure, attracting green energy investment, and leveraging federal dollars and partnerships, says Lingle.

So far, so good. What's worrisome is the other two elements of Lingle's "Five-Point Plan".

While acknowledging that "business as usual" (BAU)  is not an option, Lingle serves up the BAU-line on tourism and taxes.

On tourism, Lingle advocates increased outreach and marketing, and also promises to lower business fees and taxes...which gets a zzzzzzzzzzzzz in these quarters.

Published by Ken on November 11th, 2008 tagged Best Practices, HI-specific | Comments Off

my kind of bike guy: Obama pulls nexgen cycling

obama cycling

The Obamas went cycling along Chicago's Lake Michigan shoreline back in August, just after Barry sowed up the Demo nomination, and all us cyclists went "YEAH!" (via huffpost).

Perhaps our next president's intimate knowledge of cycling's fun and frugality will ensure that human-powered options come up on the feds' alternative transport radar.

Keen observers will note the trailer hitch (with an Obama daughter cropped out...Kewl!), and regular readers know I'm a recent convert to ebike + trailer for around-town transport.

Then again, Bush was also a cyclist, yet didn’t go out of his way to promote cycling for recreation or transportation.

Published by Ken on November 11th, 2008 tagged Best Practices, Transport | Comments Off

new tricks for old dogs: teach-in on sustainability solutions

teach uncle same sustainability solutions

Eban Goodstein believes that " historians will look back on these days—stretching from Obama’s election through the first years of his administration—and say that this was humanity’s finest hour."

Why? "Because in 2009, America will pass sweeping legislation that initiates a clean energy revolution, inspires global cooperation, and stabilizes the global climate." Or we won’t.

Last Tuesday, President–elect Obama called our earth a planet in peril. Still, I'm worried that without the voices of millions of Americans demanding solutions next year, history will fail to be made...So, I've joined the National Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions.

Published by Ken on November 10th, 2008 tagged Community Initiatives, HI-specific | Comments Off

walking backwards from the problem: on climate strategy

pull a 180

Were it possible to move environmentalism's agenda-setting beyond myopic "bumper car play by mini-coalitions", as Ken Ward puts it, we might also want to turn on its head the process by which enviros derive strategic priorities in an aggressive climate change agenda (via grist).

Especially as we contemplate how to push back on Obama's "centrist" tendencies, it might be helpful to contemplate "bringing the nation to a point of decision between two radical viewpoints, eliminating all comfortable and illusionary middle ground", says Ward.

Fact is, "the fabric of our 'be worried, but not too worried, we've got solutions!' story is starting to fray".

Published by Ken on November 10th, 2008 tagged Best Practices, Climate Change | Comments Off

offsetting behavior: on greenwashing your conscience

carbon offsets as indulgences

We've satirized carbon offsets as indulgences, yet some folks insist on missing the point.

Take Fox, for example, which commissioned the animated series called “King of the Hill” to lampoon the whole concept of carbon offsets.

And, never mind that this show is foxtypically blustery and ill-informed, as David Roberts notes (via grist).

The point is that making offsets “honest” requires real behavior change on the part of buyers, says Yale's Richard Conniff (via greeninc).

“If we accept that global warming is a serious threat, then the use of offsets makes sense only within the context of a carbon cap”, says Conniff.

Published by Ken on November 2nd, 2008 tagged Best Practices, Ecological Footprint | Comments Off

eco-nomics spotlights asset values outside the market

natural capital

Never mind that market values have diverged from actual values in the economy. Most of our valuable ecological assets aren't even on the books, says Robert Costanza (via commondreams).

That's because large parts of the natural world are usually viewed as "free", says Costanza, including wetlands that purify water, oceans that produce fish, and trees that soak up greenhouse gases...among other 'ecosystem services'.

Costanza sees the current financial crisis as a chance to put price tags on nature in a radical economic rethink to ensure that the depletion of our planet's biocapacity gets figured into conventional measures of wealth. Now that’s eco-nomics!

Published by Ken on November 2nd, 2008 tagged Ecosystems Research, Sustainability Science | Comments Off