Welcome to the Sierra Club Green Home’s Home CO2 Calculator! Just by answering a few simple questions about your gas and electric bills, we will help you understand your home’s carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint and what steps you can take to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide – an important greenhouse gas. Then, as you start to implement changes at home, come back and see how much you’re improving.
Tickell advocates biofuels as the answer. His message is “Change your fuel, change your world.” Over the course of two hours, Tickell takes a meandering route, weaving personal perspective with at least 50 insightful interviews recorded during the 11 years it took to make the film.
Ultimately, FUEL works, coming full circle to deliver the substance behind Tickell’s message of change. He is a passionate believer in sustainably-made biofuels. Watching the documentary might make Sierra Club Green Home readers believe too.
FUEL is delivered as a sort of stream of consciousness from Tickell. The film begins by depicting how oil reserves were originally formed and how oil is now the lifeblood of our society.
“It heats us, cools us, feeds us, takes us where we need to go,” Tickell says, then describes the numerous problems of our oil dependence, effectively poking a hole in the tank.
To explain why he’s spent his life searching for solutions, FUEL takes an autobiographical tangent. Tickell describes his youth in Australia and the stark differences, like oil refineries and toxic waterways, he found when his family moved to Louisiana.
Later, while pursuing his college degree, Tickell worked on an organic farm in Germany where he witnessed a farmer pouring vegetable oil into his tractor. The idea of alternative fuel ignited, and Tickell became obsessed with bringing biofuels to America.
One of the results of this fixation was a two-year Veggie Van USA Tour to promote biofuels. Tickell filled the van with cooking oil “harvested” from fast food restaurants. He gave lectures and appeared on talk shows. But no big culture change occurred.
Then 9/11 happened. In the film, Tickell asks the question: “Did our choice of fuel lead to this?”
Picking up the pace
To answer, FUEL ventures into the educational arena. The film describes the process oil companies use to create gasoline and explores what led the auto industry to rely on gas engines instead of ethanol. He also poignantly notes that diesel engines can run on vegetable oil without any modifications. So why aren’t we switching? And what will we do when our oil reserves run out?
FUEL gains speed to respond. The film reviews America’s reaction to the 1973 oil shortage and the Carter administration’s ambitious program to reduce oil dependence. This progress was followed by the about-face policies of the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations.
Tickell also notes that America isn’t the only country that suffers from an oil addiction. He looks at how people in other countries demanded energy from renewable materials, and their governments responded by investing in solar, wind, and biofuel.
Coming to a sudden stop
But even the government cannot control natural disasters. During the making of FUEL, Hurricane Katrina hit Tickell’s home state, spilling nine million gallons of oil. The film takes another detour as he talks to climate scientists about the effects of global warming.
Compelled to help, Tickell joined a relief mission for Katrina victims. Although he started the trip angry that government and industry refused to take responsibility for the oil spill, he was transformed by the experience of aiding hurricane victims, saying “It’s going to take everyone to fix this.” Tickell’s epiphany led to coordinated action through partnerships, including interviews with celebrities and politicians who appear in the film.
Then, in another unexpected turn, Tickell encountered a media-made disaster. Science Magazine published an article on the potential dangers of biodiesel, which essentially slammed the brakes on the biofuels movement. Tickell now asks: “Was everything he’d done harming the environment?”
Tickell answers this food versus fuel debate by describing how ethanol is created from corn for gas engines and biofuel from soy for diesel engines. He agrees that biofuel from monocrop corn and soy fields, which require fertilizers and pesticides, is not the answer.
Returning to the road
The remainder of the documentary takes a positive turn by covering how to make biofuels sustainable by producing them with waste, camelina, or even the original source of our oil reserves: algae. According to experts in the film, algae can double its cell mass in a few hours. When burned, algae-based biofuel doesn’t add additional CO2 to the atmosphere.
As FUEL rolls to a stop, Tickell acknowledges that biofuels are a critical part of solution, but not the whole solution. The film takes quick side trips to look at biomass, wind, solar, hybrid and electric vehicles, and energy conservation.
Tickell sums his filmmaking trip with: “We have an infinite abundance of resources that can sustain every living human being. The choice is ours. The rest of the journey is up to you.”
For a review of Fuel‘s sequel, Freedom:
Will Oil Alternatives Free Us?
By Debra Atlas
If predictions are correct that climate change and rising sea levels will create greater numbers of urban dwellers, the need for greater local food resources will be critical.
Back in World War II, a large percentage of Americans had gardens to help supplement their food. This tradition, which continues today, has spread to the middle of some of our largest urban areas. Volunteers work to transform what many times were vacant lots full of crumbling concrete or overgrown weeds into thriving, colorful, sustainable, agricultural landscapes.
These small farms share common themes:
Urban farms come in all shapes, sizes, and locales. More than 800 urban farms are spread throughout the United States and abroad, in places such as Newark, New Jersey; Chicago; Detroit; St. Louis; Denver; Boston; and Los Angeles. Here are a few stellar urban farms:
One of the more unusual urban farms is the 2011 World Challenge finalist, Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm. Set atop a six-story warehouse in Long Island City, Queens (New York), this 40,000-square-foot farm (almost 1.25 acres) is thought to be the largest rooftop garden in the world. Started in 2010 by four entrepreneurs, the farm grows and sells organic produce to restaurants and delis across Manhattan. They have proven so successful that a second site is being constructed to meet the demand for organic veggies, eggs, and honey. According to co-founder and head farmer Ben Flanner, they have created a model that can be reproduced on other rooftops around the country.
Another model urban farm is Alemany Farm in the southeast part of San Francisco—a decades-old,4.5-acre, organic farm run by volunteers. Growing produce such as tomatoes, peppers, ground cherries, and basil, they promote “ecological-economic development.”
Known as the Motor City, Detroit plans to expand its reputation agriculturally. Incorporating more than 70 acres of underutilized vacant lands and abandoned properties on Detroit’s lower east side, Hantz Farms intends to create the largest urban farm and sell sustainably grown fruits and vegetables.
Another urban farming project embodies community involvement. The Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, California, cultivates organic produce and flowers while providing homeless men and women and those close to being homeless with job training and transitional services. They teach basic life skills and the principles of economic and ecological sustainability. The Project provides organic fruit, vegetables and flowers for the community through its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
These urban farms bring together adults, kids, musicians, artists, and corporations who are committed to creating unique and viable farms for the community, and bringing color and excitement to the urban landscape. These farms are helping to reduce carbon emissions and are providing opportunities and job skills that are helping to train a new generation of farmers in our cities.
Check out more articles by Debra Atlas.
© 2011 SCGH, LLC.
Republished with permission from Recology.
10: Compost is a good alternative to chemical fertilizers, because compost does not pollute groundwater, wells, or waterways.
9: It keeps organic materials out of landfills, which reduces methane gas emissions.
8: It sequesters carbon deep in the soil, especially when used to grow cover crops like mustard or beans.
7: It promotes healthy microbial activity in soil, providing micronutrients to plant roots and discouraging soil diseases.
6: It improves soil structure, thereby protecting topsoil from erosion.
5: Soils fed with compost retain more rainwater, conserving this precious resource.
4: It helps grow plants rich with nutrients that sustain your good health.
3: It’s easy and satisfying.
2: Compost collection programs support green jobs.
1: The process turns food scraps into fruits, vegetables, and fine wines. Bon appetite!
For related article, see:
City-Wide Program Composts 1 Million Tons
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series looking at Panasonic and its ecological strategies and technological developments.
By E.Q. Lam
November 16, 2011
Incorporating the strengths of SANYO into Panasonic undoubtedly puts the latter company closer to achieving its quest to be the leading green electronics company by its 100th anniversary in 2018. Panasonic Group recently gained full control of SANYO Electric, thereby acquiring SANYO’s technology in solar and battery power systems.
Interestingly, in 1918 Konosuke Matsushita started what would become Panasonic with his wife and brother-in-law, Toshio Iue, who later set off on his own and founded SANYO. Today, the two companies are back in the same fold again.
Panasonic made SANYO and another company, Panasonic Electric Works, subsidiaries in April and is undergoing group-wide reorganization. In the past couple of years, Panasonic’s operating profit and net sales have dipped (both down about 15 percent from 2008 to 2009), and the company posted losses in 2009 and 2010. But the 2011 annual report shows that Panasonic is returning to black. The shutdown of nearly all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors (which accounts for about a third of Japan’s energy resources) after the March 11 earthquake has helped to draw greater consumer and government interest in Panasonic’s energy solutions. And the consumer-electronics giant is embracing comprehensive green technology solutions as part of its new growth strategy.
SANYO adds to Panasonic’s wide-ranging technology with the latest developments in solar panels, including bifacial photovoltaic modules with HIT technology that can be mounted vertically instead of lying flat on a roof, so that sunlight hits both sides of the panels. Panasonic also acquired SANYO’s Solar Ark facility in Gifu Prefecture, Japan—a gallery, museum, lab, and community center of sorts.
But one of the most exciting acquisitions is Kasai Green Energy Park, a massive testing site for large-scale, renewable power storage systems located near Osaka. “This is Panasonic’s answer to how our group will supply power,” says Fumitoshi Terashima, general manager of SANYO’s Smart Energy Systems Division. “After various tests, we set up this facility to develop the best products—safest, low cost, long life span—to meet our customer demand.”
The year-old Park generates, saves, and stores all of its power from a mega-solar power system (for daytime) and the world’s largest, commercial lithium-ion (li-ion) rechargeable battery power system (for night-time). The smart energy system can cut energy costs significantly; for example, in Japan the daytime energy cost is five times that of the night-time rate. The facility features a one-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic (PVC) system and 1.5 megawatt hours (MWh) and can produce 1,060 kilowatts (kW) annually. That’s enough power for 330 standard households in Japan—or, as facility tour guide Motoko Scott puts it, enough power to drive an electric vehicle to Spain. The battery system is designed to last at least 10 years using the same rechargeable batteries.
As part of the facility’s energy management system, eight 42-inch screens are located at the main entrance to the administration building, displaying real-time visual information on energy usage throughout the Park—and translating the numbers into more meaningful quantities, such as the equivalent number of trees saved. The company combines technology with information to instill in its employees a green mindset, which Panasonic hopes transfers into eco-conscious behavior at home and elsewhere.
SANYO concluded that li-ion batteries as ideal in comparison to lead-acid and sodium-sulphur (NaS) batteries, taking into account size, weight, lifespan, safety, and cost. The batteries have a charge/discharge efficiency of 98 percent, compared to 90 percent for NaS and 85 percent for lead-acid batteries, Terashima points out.
The li-ion power storage system is scalable for homes, schools and other buildings, and industrial use. “We can arrange or make this system from small one to large one. That’s unique about this system,” Terashima says.
Although the Kasai Green Energy Park facility has strict security, Panasonic opened its doors for a press tour of the world’s largest use of solar and lithium-ion battery power:
For related articles, see:
Novel Japanese Recycling Plant
Technology for Smart Homes, Smart Cities
Double Energy Savings With DIY Tips and Technology
Panasonic Makes Eco Innovation Central Focus
Exclusive Interview With Panasonic Vice President
Travel and accommodations provided by Panasonic Corporation.
Check out more articles by E.Q. Lam.
© 2011 SCGH, LLC.
Yellowstone National Park, along with countless other natural preserves, is at risk of permanent ecological damage from climate change. Disruptions in the natural ecological balance can have devastating effects on biodiversity, animal habitats, and individual species. Threats to natural areas include toxic chemicals, plant and animal diseases, and invasive pest species.
Both environments and species have developed mechanisms to respond to environmental changes and make adaptations needed for survival. Sometimes changes occur much too fast, however, for organisms to adapt to their surroundings.
Carbon dioxide emissions from residential, industrial, and motor vehicle sources are contributing to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The atmosphere is a fluid and free-moving global insulator and, as part of the climate regulation system, it transports masses of air all over the planet. As a result, greenhouse gases that are produced in one part of the world can have adverse effects on a location on the other side of the world. This has come to be known as climate change.
All ecosystems are connected through the atmosphere, whether on the frigid Antarctic polar ice cap or in the sweltering tropical rainforests of Indonesia. Everyone and everything shares the same atmosphere.
Scientific data indicates that greenhouse gases are responsible for increasing the daily global temperatures. In Yellowstone National Park, climate change is causing unusual and devastating effects on some of the native species.
Population Shifts and Species Loss
In the 1930s and 1970s, surges of warm weather resulted in mountain pine beetle population booms. The population levels receded after the temperatures dropped to normal. In recent years, increasing temperatures have resulted in mountain pine beetle population explosions, which are wreaking havoc on massive stands of whitebark pine trees in Yellowstone. The beetles bore into the tree to feed on phloem, which is the tree’s own food source. Female beetles lay their eggs in the tree, where they hatch and the larvae feed on the phloem. Eventually, the trees die from the inside out.
The whitebark pine is the dominant tree species above 8,500-feet (2,600-meter) elevation. Several animal species depend on whitebark pine for survival, including grizzly bears. The grizzly bears, particularly pregnant females, rely on the the high-calorie seeds of the whitebark pinecones as a food source. Prior to hibernating, grizzly bears must consume massive quantities of high-calorie foods to build fat reserves. If the whitebark pinecones become scarce, grizzlies must seek other food sources or face hibernation ill equipped to survive.
The Future of Yellowstone Forests
Rising temperatures already damaged whitebark pine forests in Yellowstone National Park. While the full effects on Yellowstone’s eco system are not yet known, the tree loss is likely to affect grizzlies and other species in the park.
This is just one small example of an ecosystem being disrupted by human activity and climate change. Yellowstone National Park is merely a microcosm of what is happening to our world.
Looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint? Check out:
Mike Brandolino is a research biologist and agricultural/environmental issues writer.
© 2011 SCGH, LLC.
By Gustavo Grad
November 5, 2011
In a world first, Air France recently completed the lowest CO2 emissions flight anywhere. To achieve the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the flight used a 50-percent mix of sustainable biofuel, optimized flight procedures, and airplane design to reduced on-board mass.
The flight was from Toulouse, France, to Paris, which takes about one hour and 20 minutes nonstop.
Air France directly addressed the main source of aircraft CO2 emissions by using a mix of conventional kerosene and bio-kerosene made from hydrogenated used vegetable oils. Emissions on this flight amounted to 54 grams (1.9 ounces) of CO2 per passenger-kilometer, half that emitted on a conventional flight, according to the airline. The company said that the bio-fuel used constitutes a renewable energy source which does not compete with the food chain nor does it deplete water resources.
The pilots, in conjunction with traffic controllers, also applied the most fuel-efficient procedures in each flight phase. For example, after touchdown, the plane taxied with one engine shut down—a daily procedure at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris to save fuel.
Concerning design, reduced on-board mass consists in lightening the aircraft. Every kilogram of weight removed represents a savings of 80 metric tons (more than 176,000 pounds) of CO2 per year. This optimization process included new seats with 40 percent less weight. This helps to save 1,700 metric tons (more than 3.7 million pounds) of jet fuel a year. In addition, all cabin equipment was reduced by an average 15 percent, including serving equipment (containers, trolleys, and storage).
The airline’s vision is to reach a sustainable balance between aviation growth and the control of CO2 emissions, and Air France aims to mobilize the airline industry in reducing the environmental impact of air travel.
© 2011 SCGH, LLC.
Story and photos by Kathleen Haley
September 13, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — Fleurette Sevin spent part of her weekend on a rooftop in San Francisco. But Sevin wasn’t there to admire the view of the San Francisco Bay. Rather, she was among roughly 200 volunteers and job trainees who installed solar panels on homes as part of a September 10 Solarthon event.
“It’s fun working with other women, and it’s really empowering,” Sevin says.
Sevin was a member of an all-women’s group that readied a home for solar energy. The all-women’s team did the same kind of heavy lifting that the other 12 groups did throughout the day: They scaled ladders and lifted and installed solar panels.
Christin Eales, GRID Alternatives construction manager for the Bay Area, was in charge of Sevin’s group. Eales noted that all-female teams help women gain construction skills without interference from men.
“It’s really important for women to be in a group of people where we can facilitate learning among each other,” Eales says.
The event drew more than 200 volunteers and job trainees, who set up solar power for 13 homes, according to GRID Alternatives development officer Maura McKnight.
The volunteer ranks included individuals as well as members of companies such as Google, Wells Fargo and Salesforce.
Erica Mackie, executive director and co-founder of GRID Alternatives, says the message of solar jobs is a key goal of the Solarthon.
“I think what GRID Alternatives is trying to do is bring together the entire community: volunteers, corporations, the homeowners themselves, to show that solar is a technology that can benefit everyone … It can give jobs to people who need jobs.”
Volunteers had a variety of reasons for spending their Saturday in garages and on top of roofs. Sevin, and Charles Hanna, a volunteer from Santa Cruz, both say they are interested in pursuing careers in the solar industry.
Meanwhile, Sam Stearns, a volunteer from Oakland, says he wants to bring solar installation skills to Peru next year. He says he’ll be constructing a medical facility in that country, and he wants it to run on solar energy.
At the Solarthon, Stearns was interested in electrical work. “I want to learn more about just how the electricity links up to the system (and) to the house,” he says. “It’s pretty complicated.”
The work of the volunteers pleased Cynthia Lewis, the owner of the home on which the all-female group installed solar panels. She will not have to pay the costs of the energy system’s installation.
“I know it’s going to bring my electricity bill down,” Lewis adds.
The volunteers and job trainees finished work on all 13 solar energy systems on the day of the Solarthon, says Lara Edge, GRID Alternatives communications manager. Edge says a few more steps remain: a city inspector and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will review the volunteers’ work. If the reviews go well, the solar power systems will be activated by PG&E. Then Lewis and the members of the other 12 households will be able to benefit from the power of the sun.
GRID Alternatives is holding four more upcoming Solarthon events in various parts of California. Information about volunteering can be found on the organization’s homepage.
Kathleen Haley is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco.
© 2011 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.
Times are tough, there’s no doubt about it. We’re facing a convergence of multiple crises, from a warming planet to dwindling fossil fuel reserves to a stumbling economy. Reducing our energy consumption won’t make all these problems disappear overnight, but it can make a big difference.
The key is to take action now. To fire you up, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite energy-saving tips, starting with ones that won’t cost you a penny.
Homes account for a whopping 21% of all U.S. emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide. And that’s just from powering furnaces, air conditioners, lights, appliances, and gadgets. It doesn’t take into account the energy that goes into building, furnishing, and maintaining our homes.
So your home is a good place to start if you want to help slow global warming. It’s basically a two-step process. First, you figure out how to use less energy. That means choosing energy-saving light bulbs and appliances, insulating and air sealing, and taking other low- or no-cost steps to make your home energy efficient. The second step involves considering “renewable” energy. The Earth can provide a finite amount of fossil fuels such as oil and coal–and then they are gone. But if your home can harness the inexhaustible energy of the sun or the wind, you can help the United States transform the way it produces electricity and create a brighter future.
Solar electric systems, which are also called photovoltaic (PV) systems, convert the sun’s energy into electricity. PV systems are made up of semiconductor cells manufactured in thin layers and grouped into larger modules. They need to be installed in a south-facing location (typically on a roof) that’s not shaded by trees, buildings, or other structures.
Content provided by the Sierra Club.
We’ve put together these basic frequently asked questions to give you a starting point in your global warming education. When you’re done reading up on the basics, check out our site to learn more about how you can do your part to lower your contribution to global warming.
Global warming is caused by the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which form a sort of blanket over the Earth, trapping in heat that would normally escape the atmosphere. Most human-generated greenhouse gases come in the form of carbon dioxide, a pollutant emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. While it is true that there has always been some natural climate variability, record levels of carbon dioxide are spurring far-reaching changes in our weather, sea levels, and climate.
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