Saturday, April 26, 2008

San Diego Earth Day 2008... meh

Like any good green-type would do, I attended the San Diego Earth Day 2008 event on the 20th of this month (4/20, get it?). It was held in Balboa Park along the museum walk, a beautiful place to have any type of outdoor event. I heard about it from a friend who described it as a popular San Diego event that was not to be missed (not those exact words). The girl and I decided to spend a bit of our minimal free time mingling with the locals and seeing what this whole E-Day thing was about. By the end of it, we were glad to get out of the house but the whole thing was basically a let-down.

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - Stilt Walker
We got there right about when it started so, thankfully, we missed the bulk of the crowds (and the parking nightmare). There was a parade gearing up with all sorts of things ranging from cute little kids dressed in random, unrelated costumes to the stilt-walker above (a early-teens girl who appeared to have unnaturally long legs to begin with). We made our way down the promenade and saw booth after booth with everything ranging from organic lotion to investment options to window coverings. I was immediately struck by how unrelated to the earth and the green movement that these booths were. To give you an idea, check out this list of Earth Day exhibitors that were at the Park that day. Just a few generally non-green-related groups were:

AIG Financial Advisor
Animal Protection & Rescue League
Animals Asia Foundation
Atheist Coalition
B "N" B Kettle Corn
Back Country Land Trust
Baha'i Faith

Listen, I like atheists and kettle corn just as much as the next guy but they really have little to do with Earth Day.

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - a strange succulent plant that I affectionately nicknamed the cockplant... but I digress...

We made our way down the promenade and ended up in front of the MoMA. We paused for a moment, just long enough to be accosted by the "are you registered to vote" crew. I gave my rote "..mumble, mumble..." and moved on.

EDCO waste management had a neat eye-catcher...

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - mini EDCO garbage truck
San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - mini EDCO garbage truckAfter chatting with a nice woman about some premium acai juice (bottled deceptively but creatively in wine bottles), we decided to make our way toward the west end of the park, hoping to run into the friends we were supposed to be meeting. On the way, a big, colorful sign caught my eye. No surprise that this happened because it was the same old "shock and awe" anti-choice assholes with that tired picture of the mutilated baby's head held with tongs (I tried to find the image but then I realized that I didn't really want to link to their site). Truth be told, this was the second ridiculous display of poor taste we had seen that day in just 30 minutes.

With no booth and no tact but an equal right to be there, a group of anti-choice sign-holders had invaded the Earth Day event. Holding giant images of late-term aborted fetuses in an attempt to sicken everyone into making a social and political choice is a boring, asinine way to make an unnecessary point. I'm really going to fly off-topic here so I'll say this: they were not harming anyone and they were not screaming and shouting but there should have been some kind of exhibitor restriction. If they want to spread their message they need to do so with their own booth, not upstaging the efforts of the people around them who are working towards a different cause. Maybe we could have a "Ban Legal Medical Procedures Day" and they can show up and wave their silly signs at like-minded people.


Right after that, we stumbled upon the San Diego recycling department who had this hilarious recycling bin costume on display (but no one to wear it... Anna said no):

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - San Diego Recycling department recycle bin costumeI had a few questions about residential recycling and talked to a very helpful guy who explained the process and how it's going to be mandatory in 2010 for all housing units in San Diego to have recycle bins. What I didn't know is that landlords have to pay to have recycling picked up. I thought the materials that get picked up were finally as valuable as the cost required to pick them up. It shines a light on the reason why we don't have recycling bins (our landlord said that before we moved in, our apartment complex [of 12 units] had "lost the privilege of having recycling bins because people were throwing away the wrong things." hrmmmm). I guess that's yet another bill to look forward to when we have a house.

After that we made our way past a few more anti-choicers and security guards who were trying their damnedest to thwart their plans; the whole scene was ridiculous.

We signed a petition to raise diesel truck efficiency (relating to interstate transport), saw a neat both on green remodeling, and then made our way to the Aircraft/Automobile museum section. I was expecting a really great display of eco-vehicles, both home-made and manufactured. After our experience that day and my disappointing volunteer experience previously (at the Automobile Museum), I'm not sure why I had my hopes so high.

There were things to see, no doubt, but it was maybe 9 or 10 vehicles, most of which did not have their owners/builders nearby. There was nothing from Zap/Zebra (one of which attended the previously mentioned event), no Smart car dealers (there is one in San Diego) and no plug-in hybrid exhibits (like the one at SDSU and the Santa Monica event I went to).

I liked the blue Toyota converted to all-electric...

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - Toyota truck converted to electric drive EV
San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - Toyota truck converted to electric drive EV
... and the German-built "Twike" was very interesting...

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - German-built Twike vehicle
San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - German-built Twike vehicle
San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - German-built Twike vehicle
San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - German-built Twike vehicle
...and I had to have love for an EV rabbit convertable ("Da Lectric Spidey")...

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - VW Volkswagen convertible Rabbit converted to electric drive EV
San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - VW Volkswagen convertible Rabbit converted to electric drive EV...but the others were just unremarkable. A "bamboo van" (powered by bamboo somehow, I guess)...

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - bamboo van
San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - bamboo van... an electric-converted relic...

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - old school car converted to electric drive... and this:

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - strange space-craft looking thing
San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - strange space-craft looking thingPhoenix showed up with a little utility truck that was neat:

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - Phoenix utility truck... but it was really a let-down.

Events like this are a perfect way to get the attention of a big group of people. Not just any people, though, people who might be open to changing their lifestyle a little (or a lot) to make the right choices for our planet. This is a VERY important opportunity, one that shouldn't be taken lightly. The event was set in a great location and the turn-out was really big, even in the morning. But, in the case of sustainable transportation, people were left empty-handed. There is no action to be taken, nothing to do about it, nowhere to go. There were a million and one products to buy but nothing you could do to change your MPG or method of transportation (that's not entirely true... there was an MTS booth as well).

It's hard to say who to blame for this - if that's what needs to be done. Maybe EarthWorks busted their butts trying to get people out there with no response. Maybe they trusted someone else would do it. Maybe they did nothing. Whatever happened, this was a lost opportunity. At the very least I would hope a few green-conscious car dealers in the area would be available to ask questions and hawk their hybrids or sub-compacts. Instead, there were a few tinkerers and their projects drowning in a sea of exhibitors that may or may not have anything to do with saving the environments.

All I know is that I came there for the green cars and left with a few fliers, a sample of Sun Chips, and a nice tan.

Oh, and a picture of a Rolls Royce parked on Park Ave with a bottle of Grey Poupon in the console. Bravo!

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - Rolls Royce Grey Poupon

San Diego Earth Day 2008 at Balboa Park - Rolls Royce Grey Poupon

Friday, April 25, 2008

Do this please

After you're done reading the very informative interview below, please take the time to fill this little guy out.

This IS the scientific community (episode 2)

Hey, look! I talked another professor into doing work for me! I guess it's only appropriate since I'm doing work for him, right?

Dr. Laurance G. Beauvais, Assistant Professor of Inorganic, Bioinorganic, and Materials Chemistry

Dr. Beauvais is my research adviser at San Diego State and I've been in his group for almost a year and a half. The research is concentrated on creating crystalline solids that will, hopefully, assist in gas storage (particularly hydrogen).

The (virtual) interview:

What is your honest opinion regarding the state of our environment and the existence of global warming? Do you believe that this is a serious issue to address or a misinterpretation of data?
Wow, that is a very broad question. Regarding the state of our environment, I would say that we (meaning the United States) have made great strides in some areas but we have a long way to go. For example, recycling programs are ubiquitous and we do a good job on metals and paper, but too many plastics are not being recycled. Combine the poor recycling of plastics with the use of plastics in packaging, and that generates a large amount of waste. We need to either re-use more plastics, most of which are produced from fossil fuels, or move to renewable plastics made other sources. I think that we have done a good job reducing sulfur and nitrogen oxides but we have not done enough to reduce mercury emissions.

Regarding the existence of global warming, I would have to say that all of the reports I have seen from credible scientists and scientific organizations has supported global warming. I am not a climatologist, so I am not ready to argue the minute details of global warming. However, I can do a quick calculation of the amount of CO2 released from gas combustion in this country per year and the number is staggering. The US consumes 400 million gallons of gas per day which results in the release of 884 gigagrams of CO2. Consider that CO2 cannot be removed from the atmosphere rapidly and that the carbon obtained from petroleum sources has been sequestered underground for millions of years. Thus, we will increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by burning oil. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Add these facts up, and global warming does not seem so far-fetched. Therefore, I consider global warming a serious issue.

What is the most important thing that the average earth inhabitant can do to improve or avoid any current or future environmental impacts? Is there anything you do personally?
Are you considering wild animals, pets, and other living organisms as inhabitants or only humans? For now, let’s focus on humans.

Of course, there are many things that people can do to reduce their environmental footprint. I recycle as much as possible, I purchase locally produced items/foods whenever possible, I have a 10 minute commute, I carpool, etc. Consider the 400 million gallons of gasoline that are used everyday in the US. A good portion of that must be devoted to transporting manufactured goods, food, commodities, etc, and a good portion is probably transported by trucks. The more efficient means of moving goods is by rail, but the rail system in this county has deteriorated. If people purchased locally sourced items, we could reduce fuel consumption while at the same time improving local economies. Why do people want to live an hour away from work? Sure, I understand the desire for more space and bigger homes, but do you really enjoy sitting in traffic and paying $20 a day for gas? In most of the county, we do not even offer commuter trains that parallel major highways.

I would love to install photovoltaic cells on my house, but the prices are too high and the efficiency too low. I believe that we should see improvements on both of those factors in the next few years as alternatives to silicon-based systems are commercialized. If a large portion of the country generated their own power, it would go a long way to reducing one of our major sources of various emissions and fuel consumption–power generation.

How important is a move toward sustainable transportation, in your opinion? Do you think it is worth the effort that it will take? Is it a waste of time or an absolute necessity?
It would be great to retrofit our sprawling cities with mass transit systems. However, I do not think that works. You really need to have the transit in place at the same time you are developing a city. As an alternative, I think it worth the effort to produce cars that are as fuel efficient as possible and to target cleaner fuels such as hydrogen. Ignoring the environmental issues, we need to find an alternative transportation fuel to replace gasoline for reasons of national security. Our dependence on gasoline means the continued support of repressive totalitarian societies, such as Saudi Arabia. In addition, as people in China and India seek a lifestyle similar to that of the developed world, the demand for oil can only increase.

In terms of research, where do you think the most money and time should be spent? Are there any important global problems that you believe should be addressed immediately?
We need to determine how we want to address the future energy needs of our country and the world. We can estimate how much energy we will need, and we need to have a plan for supplying that energy. We will have to revisit nuclear energy because it has zero emissions, as long as we have the correct regulations and a permanent waste storage facility, but there is a limited supply of uranium. Ultimately, we need to improve photovoltaic cells so that we can generate power at the point of use and reduce the need for large power plants. We need to couple the power generation from solar cells to a power storage mechanism because solar power is limited to specific times and places. For example, use solar energy to pump water uphill during the day and recover the power at night by using hydroelectric generators. Or, use solar power to split water to generate hydrogen and then use internal combustion or fuel cells to generate electricity.

If you had the power to do so, regardless of your opinion on the state of the environment or petroleum, what technology would you pick to power our society? Why?
Solar power. It’s clean and renewable. Power can be generated where it is needed or converted to a storage medium. But, we need to develop solar cells with better efficiencies and costs. It would be nice to not need silicon because of the energy required to generate pure material. The solar cells will need to be flexible and easy to integrate into building materials.

If you could do one thing to improve the state of transportation in America, what would you do?
Get rid of the upper speed limit on highways and apply a well-enforced minimum speed limit.

Or, increase the average fuel efficiency by 10 mpg.

Do you think that public transportation development is important for major cities? What do you think about the system in San Diego?
Public transportation is important but I think it is nearly futile to build systems in cities like San Diego, LA, Houston, etc. The cities are spread out, land is expensive, and the resulting transit systems take too long for most uses.

Thank you for your time, Dr. Beauvais!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Update on VW diesel hybrid

An unfortunate update to a previous post. Autoblog says:

The word came down yesterday from Auto Motor und Sport that the Volkswagen TDI hybrid Golf concept that debuted in Geneva wouldn't make the transition to production. According to the print edition of the German rag (translation courtesy of TTAC), the "forward-looking diesel-hybrid is already a thing of the past." That came as a surprise considering how well the concept was received and rumblings we heard from VW's people on the floor that the 69-mpg (European cycle) Golf was destined for the road. We shot off an email to a Volkswagen exec here in the States who responded by saying that, "It was just a concept. No plans to produce were announced." Too bad. Guess we'll have to make due with the gasoline-hybrid Golf that's due out in the next few years.


That is all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Social Action Through Career Choice

My last post on Friday (Introduction to Link Love posts with examples) had an article on MSNBC/Careerbuilder about "green collar jobs". I would like to, again, reiterate the fact that I am rue to link to anything on Careerbuilder but you're not likely to be inundated with spam by simply clicking on the link (like you will by signing up for their loosely titled "service") so I'll make an exception.

First off, it's important to point out that this article is about as far from me, with respect to intent, as it could possibly be. The point of this article is to point out that there's this great new sector that's likely to grow based on sound-bites from our presidential candidates. The article says nothing about personal responsibility, purpose in life, or altruism through self-sacrifice. Careerbuilder is certainly not going to help you find meaning in your work by guiding you in a direction to make a difference in any way. But I digress; this post is not meant to inaugurate "Bash CB Day."

The article talks, first, about the possibility of new jobs appearing based on forward-looking statements by Obama, Clinton, and McCain. I'll just quote the one that makes any difference whatsoever:

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama -- "We've also got to do more to create the green jobs that are jobs of the future. My energy plan will put $150 billion over 10 years into establishing a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades."

Brilliant! Hopefully it's clear to you why I'm excited about that but why should you care?

I have seen an interesting phenomenon with my own eyes time and time again and have even participated in it myself. People find it quite easy to remove the responsibility of their own participation in an industry or company by simply explaining to themselves (and others) that "it pays the bills." What can you do? You're working for the man, they pay your rent, it's not really your responsibility to ensure that your job is environmentally responsible or kind to humans and animals or even legal. Does this sound familiar? Is this logic rational? Do you even think about what you actually do at work and what you're contributing to?

Just so we're clear, if I'm pointing any fingers, there are certainly a few pointing back at me. At my last job, animal testing was done on-site. I found myself in a very uncomfortable moral and financial situation, one shared by a colleague. It all came to head (sorta) when a company memo was circulated that advised employees to be aware that animal rights activists might show up on-site. I asked myself if I could casually walk past a group of like-minded people picketing my building and report to my job. I knew the answer was no and I'm no longer employed there (for other, more pragmatic reasons as well).

Your contribution(s) to the job you hold play(s) a part in the success of whatever entity to which you belong. Your good job, good ideas, and hard work will, generally, have a positive effect on the structure above and below you. If this innovation, perspiration, and motivation is sold to a corporation/company/person who strives for environmental sustainability, community improvement, and/or financial equality than you also own a piece of those good deeds. If, on the other hand, your great work belongs to a company that exploits both people and nature, you, in turn, own a piece of that victimization. It's only fair that it works both ways.

As usual, there is an obstacle to making a career choice like this. There always will be ethical ambiguity in all the choices we make and actions we take. Maybe you decide to take a job with Ford Motor assembling Hybrid Escape SUVs. Every bolt you put in, every battery you connect, and every gauge you install moves this vehicle closer and closer to helping someone fulfill their desire to use less gasoline. On the flip side, every Hybrid Escape sold puts money in the pocket of a company named as one of our country's biggest polluter. What's a conscious citizen to do?

Adding "the fate of the known world" into your considerations for a career is a pretty heavy burden to absorb; you're not going to reverse global warming because you chose a company with fleet cars that had better MPG. You're also not going to feel very socially conscious if after talking up your new Prius purchase you have to admit the monthly payments come from Chevron's pockets.

My overall point is this:
Every choice you make has a potential social, cultural, and environmental impact. The first step is being truly aware of this, the next is actually doing something about it.

From the article, here are a few green career options that have my stamp of approval:

- Furniture making (there are some amazing examples of sustainable furniture designers out there)
- HVAC (if you pick your company wisely)
- Green landscaping (something I'm planning on really getting into when I buy a house [soon] and something that I imagine to be very fulfilling and relaxing)
- Green building (again, you have to be company conscious
- Part-time Chemistry student, part-time marketing coordinator, part-time freelance Technology Coach (not sure I would recommend this route).