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Terry Tamminen's Posts

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How the New Politics May Be Hazardous to Your Health

After the 2000 census, many states used politics and innovative mapping technology to gerrymander new electoral districts to lock in gains for one party or the other. California politicians, for example, drew new “safe” seats and the result was hyper-partisanship and politicians who didn’t need to pay attention to anyone that wasn’t singing from their sheet music. Unfortunately, the results may also be dirtier air and a less sustainable future. Alarmed by the partisanship and its resulting gridlock, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger led an effort to reform the system and convinced voters to put re-districting in the hands of a non-partisan …

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Should Walmart Write America’s Energy Plan?

Recent campaign stops by Mitt Romney and President Obama could not provide a more stark contrast of energy policies. Romney promises coal miners that he’s in favor of energy from “below the ground”, albeit preferring domestic sources of all fossil fuels. The President has repeatedly focused on “above the ground” solutions, such as wind and solar power, along with a money-saving emphasis on energy efficiency, but both men fail to put their energy plans for America in the context of one key ingredient - - a goal. Is there any country that gets it right? Well, Walmart may not be …

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Is New Nuclear Energy Just Mission Impossible?

Until headlines last week announced the end of his marriage to Katie Holmes, it seemed there was no mission too impossible for Tom Cruise to accomplish. But even his cool, Burj Khalifa-climbing character in the famous film franchise might refuse the Mission Impossible assignment facing global economies today - - powering growth with nuclear energy. The debate over nuclear has generally boiled down to the challenge of waste disposal. Of course there is always talk of safety, but proponents quickly point to the half-century of global experience with nuclear energy and the very few, albeit disastrous, incidents of the proverbial …

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Give Solar Panels a Break

When I helped Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger create the Million Solar Roofs Initiative in California a few years ago, we designed it to stimulate mass production of solar panels to bring down cost. What we didn’t anticipate was that the building industry would crater around the same time and that unemployed roofers and electricians would find new jobs installing those clean energy systems, which created competition and dramatically lower installation costs. In fact, about 60% of the cost of installing a rooftop solar powerplant is tied up in the American parts and labor other than the solar panels themselves. I emphasize …

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Waste not, want not

Waste can have a life beyond the landfill.

Consider the extraordinary efforts we undertake to secure a barrel of oil. Lives lost from wars. Oil-rig blowouts. Cancer clusters downwind of refineries. 100,000 premature deaths each year in America alone when we combust the stuff in our engines. Consider the 28 million tons of plastic waste we send to landfills each year, essentially re-burying the oil in the earth, but this time in places that make it virtually impossible to recover. Then we repeat the process over and over again.

What if we could mitigate at least some of this madness by putting those waste plastics to productive uses? What about the other 140 million tons of other types of waste that we send to landfills each year? Bottom line -- is a zero-waste society plausible and profitable, or just a pipe dream?

In 1989, California passed a law that mandated diversion of 50 percent of solid waste away from landfills by 2000. Reducing wasteful packaging and other materials, reusing as much as possible, and aggressively recycling any useful commodities like glass and aluminum resulted in California achieving that goal on schedule. This success led to the passage last year of a new target -- 75 percent diversion -- and inspired a lot of people to start thinking about a zero-waste society.

Around the world, communities, governments, and companies are beginning to dip a toe in the waters of the zero-waste movement, and the surprising results are that new technologies, businesses, and jobs are being created.

For example, old carpet remains one of the biggest contributors to landfills. In California, The Carpet Recyclers are actually disassembling old carpet into its constituent commodities (including harvesting the components in the glue) and selling the resulting materials back to carpet makers. Other building and demolition wastes are also disproportionate contributors to landfills, but Urban Miners in Connecticut has found a way to disassemble that debris and return it to the construction industry for remodels and new buildings.

Of course, not all waste has quite so obvious a path from “cradle to cradle.” For example, Americans dump over 3 million tons of used disposable diapers into landfills each year, but may learn something about turning, uh, “waste” into wealth. U.K.-based Knowaste recycles soiled diapers and converts them to energy and recovered fibers and plastics.

Electronic waste is another category of opportunity. Everything from fluorescent light tubes to vacuum cleaners to computer monitors once clogged the nation’s landfills, but in many states today they are collected and broken down into plastics, glass, metals, and precious metals. Some states charge a small fee on the purchase of new electronics, which is used to jump-start recycling businesses. In California alone, hundreds of new businesses were started since the e-waste law took effect in 2005, as is amply demonstrated on a searchable database.

With a global population that now exceeds 7 billion and a rapidly growing middle class, especially in developing economies such as Brazil, China, and India, resources are becoming increasingly scarce, and we can no longer afford to waste anything. Many communities are also running out of practical places to bury waste, and neighbors fight expansion of existing landfills.

More than a decade ago, this was already becoming obvious in the Los Angeles area. Over objections of my colleagues in local environmental organizations, I defended the rights of Waste Management Inc. to expand its Sunshine Canyon Landfill, because the alternative was to truck garbage out to the desert some 75 miles away, a practice that turned my community’s waste into someone else’s problem, while generating more air pollution from thousands of additional truck trips each year.

A better solution is to make landfills a thing of the past by challenging our imaginations and ingenuity to devise more zero-waste strategies that convert garbage into gold.

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Finding your force multiplier

Zhongwei “Wally” Jiang is a multicultural entrepreneur with more 24/7 activity than the Energizer Bunny. His WesTech Solar Energy company in China and green city developments in Texas make the most of what nature and efficient technologies can provide. His secret to success is stitching together people, technology, and ideas that might not normally interact, a process he calls “1+1=11.” Like Wally, we can all find these force multipliers that leverage our assets beyond what many might think is possible -- but only if we look for them.

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Three things that will cost more in 2012 — and one that will cost less

What’s trending in Q1 of 2012? Three things that will cost more going forward and one that will definitely be heading down -- and the causes behind all four are the same. GOING UP: Insurance. California, New York and Washington recently mandated that insurance companies report how they plan to handle growing claims from extreme weather events related to climate change. No, a little extra paperwork won’t cause your premiums to rise, but rather the record-setting damages and consensus by meteorologists that a year like 2011 won’t be an anomaly in the future -- because of measurable impacts of climate …

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Top five New Year’s resolutions for planet and profit

It's that time of year when someone at a holiday gathering inevitably asks about your resolutions for 2012. Feel free to plagiarize mine: 5. Grow more of my own food. China's biggest dairy admitted that some of its products contained a toxin commonly found in corn and wheat, transmitted to the milk of cows eating the tainted crops. Maine residents were sickened this month when contaminated beef carried the salmonella "superbug" that had already sent many other Americans to hospitals. Wood shipping pallets have been suspected of transferring the bacteria from one place to another. McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco …

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A New Obsession

"This obsession with a legally binding treaty [to tackle climate change] is an obstacle for countries achieving targets they have committed to," declared Paul Bledsoe, a climate change advisor to President Clinton. "What we need is national will to reach stated goals." Given that the only international agreement so far, the Kyoto Protocol, expires in 2012, and greenhouse gases have been rising instead of falling, we clearly need a new obsession - - or a way to pay for the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. In a world facing economic meltdown, the question for many is not "how" but …

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Give Thanks for Regulations

In the Broadway hit musical, "Book of Mormon," a woman from Uganda envisions paradise as a place where warlords are benevolent and the Red Cross hands out as much flour as you can eat. In other words, the things that inspire hope and gratitude in any part of the world are in the eye of the beholder.    In this season of Thanksgiving in the US, I am grateful for clean air, water, and a productive landscape. Oh sure, we still suffer from too much pollution and degradation of these shared resources, but compared to Uganda or many other parts …

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