Generate energy locally; recycle whenever possible

A Pollan-esque energy objective in six words … and then some

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do to drive up our energy efficiency, lower energy costs, and bolster the overall reliability of our energy infrastructure is to overhaul our electric sector's regulatory model to move generation away from big, remote plants and toward local generation. From solar to CHP, we have a panoply of technologies, fuels, and companies who would participate in such a shift. Less understood is that our regulatory model creates obstacles to all of these options, unwittingly causing us to burn too much fossil fuel and pay too much for energy. Back in January, David challenged us all to follow Michael Pollan's lead and summarize our objectives in seven words or less. Here's mine: Generate energy locally. Recycle whenever possible. Like Pollan, it takes a book to explain the detail underlying that summary. This particular explanation is limited to a blog post below the fold.

Who is a farmer?

Linguistic insights into agriculture

One of the problems people have discussing sustainable agriculture is the question of language. I was trained originally in English literature and hold as an article of faith that language matters -- deeply. That is, I believe that we can only come to an honest vision for the future with a shared language that accurately describes our world. Agriculture is in the news, obviously -- and the future of farming is a big question. But we keep running up against the question of what, precisely, a farm is. There's a lot of debate about where our farmers should come from, where they will grow, and who we will count as a farmer. Often, I find, even those who believe in the future of local food systems are talking past each other. That is, when we talk about "farmers," who are we actually talking about? What's "agriculture" and what's "gardening"? Where does "homesteading," "smallholding," "horticulture," and "subsistence farming" fall in the mess? Yesterday's Wall Street Journal article about suburban farmers is inspiring -- and it further enhances the need for a shared public language of agriculture.

If you’re building in L.A., you gotta build green

Los Angeles has become the biggest U.S. city to pass green-building laws. Under the regulations announced Tuesday, new commercial and residential structures of more than 50,000 square feet will have to be LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. The law also applies to major renovations. “We look toward the future through a greener lens,” says Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, “after decades of poor policies that neglected environmental concerns.” Some critics say the L.A. standards lag in comparison to San Francisco, which is considering a proposal that would require LEED Silver certification for buildings of more than 25,000 square feet. …

Fortune Brainstorm Green

Test driving a fully electric car

As I reported earlier today, electric automaker Think — in partnership with a couple of venture capital firms — will be opening a North American branch next year. I just got back from test driving the crash-tested, highway-ready (70 mph top speed) Think two-seater. Pretty damn sweet! Feels and handles exactly like a normal car — and I’m told it’s going to retail for around $20,000. You could have one next year. The one I drove looked more or less like this one: Quite roomy on the inside, but I prefer the looks of this one.

Waiting for a techno miracle: not the fastest way to cut emissions

Government-financed construction plus carbon pricing is the key

With NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof's seeming endorsement of Roger Pielke Jr.'s ideas about mitigating global warming, it seems that we have two main arguments developing: the "breakthrough" argument, which says we must have technology breakthroughs in order to solve the problem, and, as articulated (for instance) by Joseph Romm, the "just do it" argument that we have the technologies now to minimize global warming. Most of my posts have been an attempt to show how current technologies can move us toward a "zero emissions" society. The "breakthrough" people do raise an interesting question, but then they veer off into the wrong answer. They ask, effectively, Is there something the government can do to solve global warming, besides carbon pricing? Their answer: Spend $30 billion a year on energy R&D, hoping for a breakthrough. I will argue in this post that the answer to their question is, Yes, the government can do something beyond carbon pricing -- governments at all levels can, first, provide some of the finance capital to the private sector to build renewable energy systems, and second, governments can build the necessary transportation systems and in some cases the energy systems. And by doing so, support for and the effectiveness of carbon pricing policies will be improved. In order to make this argument, let's back up a little and ask, "What kind of society are the authors of the various plans for global warming mitigation envisioning?" I think that, at their core, most global warming initiatives embed a conception of what is practical, considering both political and cultural constraints.

Fortune Brainstorm Green: breaking news

Think all-electric vehicles coming to the U.S.

Ray Lane, the managing partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is about to announce some news. (He’s up on stage with Jan-Olaf Willums, CEO of Think Global AS, and Wilber James, managing general partner of RockPort Capital Partners.) Ah. He’s launching Think North America — bringing Think vehicles to the U.S. Hundreds of the cars will reach the states this year, mainly for use in fleets. After that they’ll be offered to consumers, first in California. (They’re in talks with utilities, too — they’re cagey about the details, but it sounds quite intriguing.) The car game is changing.

Oil hysteria

Let’s rebuild our national rail network instead of repealing the gas tax

At the rate things are going, any money that would be available for global warming mitigation is going to go into subsidizing the oil used by airplanes, trucks, cars, and heating oil so that most Americans do not become hysterical -- or am I being hysterical? From Michael T. Klare's latest article:

Don't celebrate this holiday

We need to be freed from gas, not the gas tax

John McCain’s proposal to institute a gas tax “holiday” during the summer driving season is as clear an example of a pander as one is likely to see during election season, but its inclusion in a major economic policy speech suggests that this is no easily ignorable one-off. As Joseph Romm notes, any hope progressives might have had that the maverick, straight-talking conservative could bring some principle to the table on climate and energy issues has now gone out the window. How badly does the tax holiday plan fail? Let us count the ways. First, it will offer consumers little …

Big urban parks sprouting across the U.S.

Four major cities are poised to create urban parks several times bigger than New York’s iconic Central Park, itself a not-at-all-shabby 843 acres. In Orange County, Calif., a portion of a former air station will become a 1,347-acre park; in Memphis, a 4,500-acre former prison farm has been snatched from developers by a conservation easement; Atlanta is trying to add enough parkland to attach nearly every neighborhood to green space; and a Staten Island landfill will become a giant park with amenities to attract bikers, boaters, and fishers. (No word on whether the Staten Island park will maintain the unsettling …

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