Friday, February 27, 2009

Green Boost: Obama's Energy Budget

The Associated Press is reporting on Obama's proposed 2010 budget changes ....

Energy budget promotes 'green' projects

Government Agency: Energy

2010 proposal: $26.3 billion

Change from 2009 estimate: 0.4 percent decrease

Highlights: A dramatic shift away from support for fossil fuels to new "green" energy is at the core of Obama's first proposed budget.

The Energy Department's spending plan would pay for "significant increases in basic research" into developing clean and renewable energy including solar, wind and geothermal sources, and to make motor fuel from plants.

Overall spending for the department would change little from what Congress is providing now, but would be about 5 percent higher than what President George Bush proposed a year ago. Compared to the Bush budget, it proposes a major redirection of spending to reflect Obama's strong support for renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.

While the budget summary provides few specific numbers, it would pump more money into:
  • Creating a "smart" electric transmission grid.

  • Loan guarantees to bring solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources to market.

  • Determining commercial viability of capturing carbon from coal-burning power plants.

  • Helping low-income families improve the energy efficiency of their homes, a program the Bush administration wanted to eliminate.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BREAKING INFO: What the stimulus will do for you

THURSDAY AM UPDATE: The New York Times reported this morning on how the stimulus package will also help state governments and people with low incomes --

At least $20 billion in the stimulus bill was earmarked for programs like improving the efficiency of government buildings and the homes of poor people, and trying to find better ways to save energy. That is far more, advocates say, than any bill in history. Within a few months, the money is likely to start landing in the bank accounts of thinly staffed state and city agencies that are accustomed to scraping for a dime here, a dollar there...

For advocates of [a program to weatherize low-income homes], “it’s like they finally got to the other side of the desert and it’s pouring rain,” said Seth Kaplan, a vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group...

The stimulus package also contains $4.5 billion to modernize federal buildings and $2.5 billion for research into energy efficiency and renewable energy. The biggest chunk, $6.3 billion, will be distributed by the Energy Department in grants to state and local governments, which can spend the money on things as diverse as thicker window panes for state capitols and rebates for homeowners who change their light bulbs.

Additionally, the article quotes an interesting statistic that homes and commercial buildings make for 39 percent of the U.S.' energy consumption. With that figure to potentially be reduced to 20-30 percent through this energy efficiency measure, that is a huge money savings and offers significant positive impact for the planet in relatively short order, along with all the jobs potentially created in the process to process and install these measures.

ORIGINAL POST: The Alliance to Save Energy has just sent me a new link to how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) ... aka stimulus bill ... will help you, relating to energy efficiency and tax credits. Says ASE --

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) extends, expands, and simplifies the federal income tax credits for homeowners who make energy efficiency home improvements. The law extends the consumer tax benefits for another year, through 2010; triples the total available tax credit from $500 to $1,500; and increases the tax credit to 30 percent of the cost of each qualified energy efficiency improvement. The law also removes the cap on geothermal heat pumps and solar water heaters through 2016.

You can get all the details here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Organic Farming Would Significantly Cut Greenhouse Emissions

According to a report by Dalhousie University in Canada, "large scale environmental benefits can be achieved by a wholesale conversion of Canadian corn, wheat, soy and canola production to organic farming methods.

“We estimate that such a conversion would result in a 4.8 million tonne reduction in total green house gas emissions annually,” said Nathan Pelletier, lead researcher and Ph.D. student in the Faculty’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies, who added that “such a potential reduction is incredibly important given the enormous toll that climate change is likely to have on human societies and ecosystems.”


More ...

ECO WORD TO KNOW: Locavore

In 2007, the New Oxford American Dictionary chose the word "locavore" (also known as "localvore") as its word of the year. Locavore is defined as a person who seeks out locally produced food.

If you frequent farmer's markets, you are a locavore because nearly all food sold at a farmer's market is produced within less than 100 miles of that market. Additionally, if you produce some of your own food, like with a backyard or patio garden or fruit trees, then you are also a locavore.

For additional history and info on the locavore movement, you can read up on it at --



Is your pet care toxic?

The Natural Resources Defense Council is wanting to educate consumers about choosing non-toxic pet products because toxic products can harm not only pets but also humans. One such potential hazard is the typical flea collar, or flea-killing product/treatment.

Says the NRDC --

Each year, Americans purchase and apply to their pets a vast array of toxic chemicals intended to kill fleas and ticks. These include collars, sprays, dusts and more. Other pet owners take their pets to veterinarians to be dipped in chemicals. Many consumers probably assume that the products they and their vets use have been subjected to rigorous testing, and must, by virtue of their very ubiquity, be safe. After all, how could the government let deadly poisons be sold on grocery store shelves without applying stringent standards?

The simple truth, however, is that the poisons in many of these products are not safe, either for pets or humans. Government regulation of these products has been sketchy, and testing of their impact in the home has been inadequate. The result is that many of the products sold by the millions in grocery, drug and pet supply stores, even when applied as instructed on the box, can cause serious health consequences to pets and humans.

The main culprits are ... click here for the rest of the article and solutions.

Power Down University Campaign

The Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a consortium of organizations and Energy Star headed by Google and Intel, has a new Power Down for the Planet campaign for universities --


Power Down for the Planet brings together college campuses across the nation and around the world to make a shared commitment to sustainable computing practices. The challenge includes a month long competition to see which university can recruit the largest percentage of their campus community to pledge support to Climate Savers Computing. The challenge winner and the collective results of all participants will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, 2009.

In addition to the pledge challenge, students have the opportunity to create and submit a video that tells the Climate Savers Computing story. The winning videos will be selected based on a combination of content and relevance, as judged by Climate Savers Computing representatives. The winners of the student viral video challenge will receive technology prizes.

Participating universities will be featured on this web site, where they will be able to see in real time how many of their students, faculty, and staff have committed to using power management tools and the overall collective impact of the Power Down for the Planet challenge.

Timeline
The Power Down for the Planet pledge challenge will kick off on March 23 and conclude on April 17, 2009. Challenge results and winners will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, 2009. The video challenge will kick off on March 2 and conclude April 17.

The Pressure for Eco Extremism

While I consider myself an environmentalist, I consider myself part of a new wave of eco conscious -- I'm more practical about how I save the planet. But there are hard-core treehuggers like the folks listed in this February 4th New York Times article who got rid of their refrigerator in the name of eco -- now they're sort of "camping" everyday. Should you feel pressured if you're in the non-camping crowd?

No.

And I don't.

But, that doesn't mean you shouldn't look for ways to reduce energy usage and wasteful consumption.

In the case of the refrigerator, if you throw yours out you're running to the store more often, having to buy or make your own ice (with a freezer), running the food safety risk of not cooling your food sufficiently, a limited use of leftovers, having to babysit your cooler 24/7, and in the end really not saving energy. Matter of fact, with all those extra trips to the store, you're probably using more energy while (says the NY Times article) "refrigerators do not use all that much energy. Marty O’Gorman, the vice president of Frigidaire, said an 18-cubic-foot Energy Star-rated Frigidaire refrigerator uses about 380 kilowatt-hours a year — less than a standard clothes dryer — and costs a homeowner $40, or about 11 cents a day." And downsizing to the "smallest minifridge would result in only about $6 in energy savings over a year." You could argue that lack of a fridge reduced the consumption of raw materials (metal, plastic, etc.), but that perceived advantage is probably also overshadowed by the energy required for more runs to the grocery store.

So, if you want to dump the fridge, fine. But if you don't, then choose an Energy Star appliance, recycle old appliances, keep the refrigerator out of the garage so that it uses less energy, and don't leave the refrigerator door open longer than needed.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Utah Just Doesn't Get It - Organic Certification

This is a report from Beyond Pesticides that chronicles the alarming decisions at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) to not certify organic foods and suggests big business may be involved in tearing apart gains for organics and hormone-free milk. Read on ...

(Beyond Pesticides, February 13, 2009) The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) has ended its organic certification program, which was established in 2000, two years before federal organic standards. The state’s effort to save itself an unknown amount in its budget will force organic farmers to pay significantly more for out-of-state certification. Larry Lewis, UDAF spokesman, said there was not enough time after Governor Jon Huntsman called for spending cuts to determine how to run the program profitably.

As of January 29, UDAF’s website carried a message from Clair Allen, director of UDAF’s Plant Industry department, saying, “The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s Organic Certification Program is in a state of flux at this time. Its future is dependent on action by the Utah Legislature as they consider which programs to continue funding during out economic downturn. Please do not download or send in documents relating to our Organic Certification Program until the issue is resolved. We expect to have this issue resolved by the end of the 2009 Legislative Session.”

Since the shuttering of the program, organic farmers have had to pay up to 10 times as much for private certification, often from California. UDAF typically charged between $50 and $2,500, and the tenfold difference is making a significant difference in farmers’ budgets. Mr. Allen showed little sympathy for affected growers, saying, “If all farmers went back to organic farming, we’d be starving by now, and that’s the reality. As far as organic certification is concerned, I’d rather cut programs than people.”

The loss of the organic certification program also ends the state’s law enforcement of its organic standards, which insured the integrity of UDAF certified products. “Utah’s program is a complete package,” said Miles McEnvoy, president of the National Association of State Organic Programs. “The difference with Utah’s program and that of other states is that only Utah has the authority to enforce national organic standards, providing more oversight to protect the integrity of the organic product.”

These developments may be a sign of the times at UDAF. Last year, it proposed making it illegal to list milk as free from artificial hormones, which was backed by rbST-manufacturer, Monsanto. Consumer input to UDAF is important in preserving policies and programs that protect human health and the environment. To comment, contact Larry Lewis, Utah Agriculture Department, at larrylewis@utah.gov, or write Mr. Lewis at 350 N. Redwood Road, Salt Lake City, UT, 84114. You can also contact your state representatives and senators.

Looking For A Local Place to Recycle Electronics?

Best Buy is helping you recycle your electronics --

Best Buy will bring its electronics recycling program Feb. 15, 2009 to all of its 1,006 stores nationwide. The program will expand sometime in fiscal 2010 to Puerto Rico stores. The program is the latest addition to the comprehensive programs offered by Best Buy to help consumers find easy ways to recycle, reuse, or trade in products at the end of their life.

Starting Feb. 15, consumers can bring up to two (2) units per day, per household, for recycling at any U.S. Best Buy store. Best Buy will accept most consumer electronics, including televisions and monitors up to 32”, computer CPUs and notebooks, small electronics, VCR and DVD players, and phones, as well as accessories such as keyboards, mice, and remotes.

A $10 recycling fee per unit will be charged for items with screens, such as televisions, laptop computers, and monitors. The consumer will instantly receive a $10 Best Buy gift card in exchange for the recycling fee. (This fee does not apply for units recycled in California stores, and does not apply for any of Best Buy’s Exclusive-Branded products, such as Insignia, Dynex, and VPR Matrix.)

... more specifics here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

On Display: Cinematic Works About Our Environment

The 2009 Environmental Film Festival is taking place March 11-22 in Washington, D.C. this year.

The health and sustainability of earth's oceans and sea life is a major theme of the 2009 Festival, which features cinematic work from 34 countries.