New Emissions Measurements Show “Green” Consumerism Failing

Posted on June 9th, 2010 by ryan.

From Worldchanging:

As it stands now, most emissions data focuses on the production side of our consumer society. For example, the factory that makes your gadget in China contributes to China’s emissions count. When that same gadget is shipped to a UK consumer it does not count towards the UK’s emissions count. Barrett showed that the result of this approach has led to what he called “carbon leakage.” He said that as countries become more and more service based, with demand for products and services met by imports rather than production, the overall amount of carbon leakage goes up.

The truly startling revelation from Barrett’s data on the growth of UK greenhouse gas emissions from consumer goods and services was the degree to which strategies for “greening” consumption have failed:

  • “Green products” have less impact in reducing emissions than most people think. The growth of green consumption has not reduced emissions.
  • Gains in emissions reductions from technological advances have been wiped out by increases in consumption as people demand higher levels of affluence.
  • The UK’s 50-70% of gains from home energy conservation are lost when they’re redirected for other resource consumption, by people buying other goods and services with the money saved.

The big question then is: How can we drive systemic lifestyle changes broadly and more effectively than by telling people to stop consuming, or to consumer “greener” products? Barrett said that some economists are exploring one possible solution: a move toward a future of “steady state economics,” in which a high quality of life exists with no economic growth, since economic growth has (so far) driven growth in material consumption.

So many ‘big’ issues in so few sentences…

This is the first time I’ve considered the fact that if the houses we build use 50% of what a ‘typical’ house uses (let’s say $100/mo), what that really means is that the owner of our house has an additional $50/mo to spend on consumer goods.  Consumer goods which were probably made in dirty chinese factories and then shipped across the ocean to be eventually buried in one of our land fills.

The second big point that is casually tossed out is ‘steady state’ economics.  This is something I’ve been wondering about ever since I watched these thought-provoking videos about exponential growth.

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Austin Monthly Home

Posted on May 26th, 2010 by agustina.

Check out Peninsula House in this month’s issue of Austin Monthly Home Magazine!

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Security Brief: The Navy’s new secret weapon? Going green

Posted on April 27th, 2010 by dan.

It’s the new secret weapon fueling the US military. A hardy plant capable of growing in poor soil, camelina sativa produces a bio-fuel that’s now the focus of the US Navy’s drive for alternative fuels in its planes.

Last week an F/A-18 Super Hornet flew from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, Md., powered by a 50/50 mix of aviation fuel and camelina, also known as wild flax. It was the first supersonic fighter to fly on a bio-fuel mix. The event was celebrated by US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on the Navy’s new official blog, also launched last week .

Officials say that during the 45-minute flight the plane’s engines worked as well on the camelina fuel as on normal aviation fuel – at both subsonic and supersonic speeds.

“The fuel works so well, all I needed to do was just fly the plane.” the plane’s pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Tom Weaver said. Mabus describes the program a “significant milestone” toward operational use of bio-fuels by the Navy.

The Navy says it will take a few months before camelina can be certified as an alternative fuel source, but it has already received 40,000 gallons of camelina bio-fuel from a grower in Montana, at a cost of nearly $3 million. The humble weed is now being cultivated because of its high oil content – with farmers across the Pacific Northwest looking at its potential.

It’s not only the US Navy that’s interested in camelina. In March the US Air Force test-flew an A-10C Thunderbolt from Eglin Air Force base in Florida on the same mix; Japan Air Lines has also tested camelina.

The military program has attracted some of America’s top corporations, including General Electric (which tested the engines) and Honeywell (which blended the fuel), as well as smaller players like Sustainable Oils. But industry sources say it will only be feasible if the new fuel can “drop in” – without expensive aircraft modifications being necessary. It’s a big if – the Navy has a goal of meeting half of its energy needs from alternative sources by 2020.

Navy officials say the next step is to start testing bio-fuels in ships later this year, starting with algae-based fuels.

A new report by the Pew Charitable Trust says the US military is making good progress toward energy efficiency. It cites wind turbines on air bases and the growing use of solar farms in residential areas on bases. The Pew report concludes: “While work remains to be done, the military continues to build on its successful record in managing resources and investing in long-term innovations.”

Environmentalists give a lukewarm welcome to the programs, but say the military should be focusing on other ways to reduce its ‘footprint.’ “Does it really need all those post-WWII military bases in places like Germany and Japan? Does it need to keep all that cold-war hardware in operation? “ asks Michael Graham Richard at

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Edward Durrell Stone house in Dallas

Posted on April 26th, 2010 by powei.

 AMOA ( Austin Museum of Art) recently hosted their Art Trek event at the  Edward Durrell Stone house in Dallas. Built in the 50′s and lovingly restored to its full glory by our gracious host. This modernist residence was modeled after the US Embassy in Delhi, India.

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Roadmap 2050, Carbon Neutral Europe

Posted on April 26th, 2010 by powei.

Here is a link to the recent report produced by McKinsey & Company; KEMA; The Energy futures Lab at Imperial College London; Oxford Economics and the ECF. OMA & AMO also contributed to the graphic narrative.

Its an interesting approach especially towards the end of Volume 3, where AMO graphically illustrated the ideal scenario for what could happen in the next 40 years.

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Bill Gates and Climate Change

Posted on March 16th, 2010 by ryan.

As much as I’d like to hate Mr. Gates for foisting that other operating system on the world, I have to respect what he’s chosen to do with all his cash.  Pouring money into disease prevention and treatment (as well as his earlier attempts to ‘save’ our educational system) seems like the type of thing people should do when they have more wealth than many countries.

It seems he’s finally started to think about the effects of climate change, and seems to have come to the conclusion that climate change poses a more serious threat to the world.  He gave a talk at TED in which he outlined his analysis of the problem:

CO2 = P x S x E x C

Meaning this: the climate emissions of human civilization are the result of four driving forces:

* Population: the total number of people on the planet (which is still increasing because we are not yet at peak population).

* Services: the things that provide prosperity (and because billions of people are still rising out of poverty and because no global system will work unless it’s fair, we can expect a massively increased demand for the services that provide prosperity).

* Energy: the amount of energy it takes to produce and provide the goods and services that our peaking population uses as it grows more prosperous (what some might call the energy intensity of goods and services). Gates believes it’s likely cutting two-thirds of our energy waste is about as good as we can do.

* Carbon: the amount of climate emissions generated in order to produce the energy it takes to fuel prosperity.

Those four, he says, essentially define our emissions (more on that later). In order to reach zero emissions, then, at least one of these values has to fall to zero. But which one? He reckons that because population is going to continue to grow for at least four decades, because billions of poor people want more equitable prosperity, and because (as he sees it) improvements in energy efficiency are limited, we have to focus on the last element of the equation, the carbon intensity of energy. Simply, we need climate-neutral energy. We need to use nothing but climate-neutral energy.

To do that, we need an “energy miracle.” We need energy solutions that don’t yet exist, released through a global push for clean energy innovation. That, in turn, demands that a generation of entrepreneurs push forward new ideas for renewable energy, unleashing “1,000 promising ideas.” He described one of his own investments, but went on to note that we need hundreds of other ambitious companies as well, and he plans to put his own efforts into this arena.

This is a very accessible way to approach the problem; it comes with a handy acronym, presents the problem as a simple equation that needs solving, and makes intuitive sense.  Framed in this way I have to agree with him; developing net-zero energy sources seems like the best way to zero out the problem.

So after reading this I felt all warm and fuzzy; Bill Gates is on the case, and he has tonnes of cash to throw at it!  Surely we’ll have this engineering problem solved in the next decade or so right?

Then I read this response written by Joe Romm (former Acting Assistant Secretary at DOE and current senior fellow at the Center for American Progress), which basically shreds both Gate’s premise and his solution.  Here’s the basic problem; quantifying ‘Services’ distorts reality beyond utility, developing ‘energy miracles’ will take too long to work, and even if it didn’t we already have all the technology we need to fix the problem.

So I have thought a lot about whether Gates is right that we need multiple “energy miracles” developed through a $10 billion-a-year government R&D effort to stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm.

Put more quantitatively, the question is — What are the chances that multiple (4 to 8+) carbon-free technologies that do not exist today can each deliver the equivalent of 350 Gigawatts baseload power (~2.8 billion Megawatt-hours a year) and/or 160 billion gallons of gasoline cost-effectively by 2050? [Note -- that is about half of a stabilization wedge.] For the record, the U.S. consumed about 3.7 billion MW-hrs in 2005 and about 140 billion gallons of motor gasoline.

Put that way, the answer to the question is painfully obvious: “two chances — slim and none.” Indeed, I have repeatedly challenged readers and listeners over the years to name even a single technology breakthrough with such an impact in the past three decades, after the huge surge in energy funding that followed the energy shocks of the 1970s. Nobody has ever named a single one that has even come close.

I don’t know why the energy miracle crowd can’t see the obvious — so I will elaborate here. I will also discuss a major study that explains why deployment programs are so much more important than R&D at this point. Let’s keep this simple:

  • To stabilize below 450 ppm, we need to deploy by 2050 some 12 to 14 stabilization wedges (each delivering 1 billion tons of avoided carbon) covering both efficient energy use and carbon-free supply (see here). The technologies we have today, plus a few that are in the verge of being commercialized, can provide the needed low-carbon energy [see "How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated)"].
  • Myriad energy-efficient solutions are already cost-effective today. Breaking down the barriers to their deployment now is much, much more important than developing new “breakthrough” efficient TILTs, since those would simply fail in the marketplace because of the same barriers. Cogeneration is perhaps the clearest example of this.
  • On the supply side, deployment programs (coupled with a price for carbon) will always be much, much more important than R&D programs because new technologies take an incredibly long time to achieve mass-market commercial success. New supply TILTs would not simply emerge at a low cost. They need volume, volume, volume — steady and large increases in demand over time to bring the cost down, as I discuss at length below.
  • No existing or breakthrough technology is going to beat the price of power from a coal plant that has already been built — the only way to deal with those plants is a high price for carbon or a mandate to shut them down. Indeed, that’s why we must act immediately not to build those plants in the first place.

For better or worse, we are stuck through 2050 with the technologies that are commercial today (like solar thermal electric) or that are very nearly commercial (like plug-in hybrids).

I have discussed most of this at length in previous posts (listed below), so I won’t repeat all the arguments here. Let me just focus on a few key points. A critical historical fact was explained by Royal Dutch/Shell, in their 2001 scenarios for how energy use is likely to evolve over the next five decades (even with a carbon constraint):

“Typically it has taken 25 years after commercial introduction for a primary energy form to obtain a 1 percent share of the global market.”

Note that this tiny toe-hold comes 25 years after commercial introduction. The first transition from scientific breakthrough to commercial introduction may itself take decades. We still haven’t seen commercial introduction of a hydrogen fuel cell car and have barely seen any commercial fuel cells — over 160 years after they were first invented.

The article goes on to discuss how technologies move from lab discoveries to commercial energy sources – the gist is; it takes a really long time and we should be spending the next 40 years trying to push existing technologies into wider use rather than trying to develop brand new ones.

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Billboards in LA

Posted on March 12th, 2010 by dan.

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Full-color holograms

Posted on February 15th, 2010 by ryan.

These are incredible:

They’re made by an Austin company called Zebra Imaging.  I really want to drop by their office and look at some of them in person…

via Landscape and Urbanism

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BIG’s Danish Pavillion Shanghai Expo 2010

Posted on February 11th, 2010 by tom.

Another nice video from BIG as well.

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This is why God invented 3d printers

Posted on January 18th, 2010 by ryan.

via BoingBoing

Bathsheba Grossman is a sculptor who uses cutting-edge technology to render math- and science-inspired shapes in three dimensions. You can buy 3D-printed laser-cut metal ones, or order them in plastic at lower costs from ShapeWays. That sound you hear is my jaw scraping my keyboard.

Borromean Rings

120 Cell

Along these same lines – check out the renderings on the Minimal Surface Archive, and for some background on what it means to project a 4-d dodecahedron into 3 dimensions, this video explains how to think in 10 dimensions.  If you really want to blow your mind, try parsing this article on the Lie Group E8, which has been proposed as a fundamental model of physical existence.

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