Cities

Governors drink the Kool-Aid

State govs embrace the range of ‘alternative fuels,’ from nukes to clean coal to biofuels

The National Governors Association has linked up with “a team of Wal-Mart energy experts” to “green the capitols.” That’s fantastic — and I’m sure it will draw well-deserved huzzahs in certain green circles. (It’s touching to see Wal-Mart giving back some of what it has been siphoning off in state taxes!) But read a little deeper into the press release, and you see what the National Governors Association means by “green.” Turns out that when it comes to energy, the govs love some pretty dubious stuff. I’ll let Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell take it from here: [I]t’s clear that charting …

No country for thirsty men

In North Carolina’s Triangle, a severe drought has leaders stumped

North Carolina’s Triangle — Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh — counts as the state’s economic, educational, and political engine. It’s also very quickly running out of water, parched by a severe drought. Are the area’s leaders doing anything constructive to respond to the situation? So far, the signs aren’t encouraging. I’ve been following the story in the excellent daily Raleigh News & Observer. On Monday, the N&O reported that Raleigh has exactly one agreement with another local entity to buy water in case of an emergency. The agreement is with Durham — and there’s a problem: Durham’s is perhaps the …

Percentage of 16-year-olds licensed to drive has dropped

The percentage of 16-year-olds with a U.S. driver’s license has decreased sharply in the last decade, from 43.8 percent in 1998 to 29.8 percent in 2006. Rising insurance costs, expensive driver education, and an increase in indoor pastimes are more likely to be driving the trend than environmental awareness — and sure, most yoots still get around in four-wheeled transportation, chaffeured by parents and friends. But at the very least, we suspect that fewer kids with a license means fewer cars idling for hours while teens grope in the back.

Deep thought of the day

As rising energy prices and better urban planning push the affluent back to city centers, the poor and working class will be pushed out to the suburbs. Soon, we’ll see blight, crime, the drug trade, and other social pathologies where we have been accustomed to seeing the American Dream. “Inner city” and “outer suburb” will flip their cultural connotations. It will be confusing.

Cities worldwide will turn off lights for Earth Hour

Mark your calendar for March 29, when cities around the world will switch off non-critical lights at 8:00 p.m. for an awareness-raising Earth Hour. At present, 24 cities — with a total population of some 30 million people — plan to participate in the energy-saving symbolism, from Toronto to Tel Aviv, Bangkok to Brisbane, Canberra to Copenhagen, and first Earth Hour participant Sydney to copycat event holder San Francisco. Thousands of individuals and businesses have also signed on to come to the dark side.

Let buildings heat and cool themselves

How to kill coal in 10 years

We know that coal is the enemy of the human race, what with carbon emissions, deadly air pollution, and unsafe and destructive mining practices. The supply of coal is becoming more problematic as well: recently, a Wall Street Journal article described a "coal-price surge," and Richard Heinberg has warned that coal may peak much sooner than most people expect. So what's to like? Not much. But since coal-fired plants provide almost half of our electricity, we can't get rid of coal unless we find either a way to replace it or a way to reduce the use of electricity. Recently, Gar Lipow has discussed how friggin' cheap it would be to replace coal, and Bill Becker has pointed to several studies that show how renewables could replace coal. I will argue in this post that if buildings could produce all the space and water heating, air conditioning, and ventilation that they need, we wouldn't need any coal. Heating and cooling buildings and water now consume 30 percent of our electricity and 32 percent of our natural gas. If, for instance, geothermal exchange units (also known as geothermal heat pumps) were installed under every building, and an appropriate amount of solar photovoltaics were installed on roofs in order to power those units, we wouldn't need to burn 60 percent of our coal because we would not need 30 percent of our electricity. And because we could redirect our natural gas from warming and cooling into electricity generation, we could get rid of the remaining coal, replacing it with natural gas. In other words, the buildings would both destroy electrical demand and free up natural gas, until renewables come online and replaced natural gas in turn. If we did this within a 10-year timeframe, we could generate millions of green-collar jobs, create new industries, and help the rest of the world kill off the rest of coal. All of the data that I use in this post is available online in a spreadsheet I created called "EnergyUse." It has tabs for electrical use, natural gas use, my calculations concerning coal, and some notes on the data, all of which comes from the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA). So let's get electricity literate, and take a look at how electricity (and natural gas) are used in this country, so that we can figure out how to kill coal:

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