Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Good for Britain

On the Seattle Times front page, a sight for sore eyes. "British turn up heat on U.S. over global warming, By William Neikirk."

I still don't much like Tony Blair, but I like it that he hired Gore. I also like it that the companion article to this one says being green is seen as good by all parties in Britain.

If it weren't for the Iraq war, I think we'd be exactly there. We need to be. That means its up to us - the electorate.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What we affect

According to an AP article by Thomas Wagner, "global warming could cost the world's economies up to 20% of their gross domestic product if urgent action is not taken to stop floods, storms, and natural catastrophes."

Read that sentence again. Think about the words "urgent action is not taken to stop floods, storms, and natural catastrophes." Us. Humans. Even when I grew up, even ten years ago when my son was growing up, floods and droughts and hurricanes were things that happened to us. Depending on your viewpoint, they were accidents, acts of god, or acts of nature. They were bigger than us; grand mysteries.

They were not things we affected directly.

And now, we are not only the probable cause agent for many of these events, but we are also the only entities (spiritual choices aside - handy, that. Hope it works.) able to mitigate it. Yipes.

Friday, October 27, 2006

An Animal Post: Penguins on Thin Ice and Animals Migrating

I’d mentioned the Penguins on Thin Ice benefit I heard about last weekend. Here’s a link to it. It’s a fair distance away, on San Juan Island. But a nice destination and the Washington State Ferry lines are not too bad this time of year (I know - I've been on four of them in the last week, or more accurately, on the same exact boat, the Yakima, four times last week). It’s a climate change musical, and I’ve heard good things about it. It was created by Sharon Abreu and Michael Hurwicz (links to various pages on the benefit flyer I linked to).

I came home, having survived my last trip on the Yakima for the week, and found today's Seattle Times sitting on my doorstep. The Seattle Times runs Earthweek every Friday on page three, a sort of diary of the planet that highlights weird and interesting things, and events of note. Among this week's entries is one on warming migrations. Note that Glen Hiemstra, my futurist colleague, predicted that we would see the first large-scale migrations resulting from global warming beginning this year. I think he meant human migrations. This article suggests that 80 percent of a group of 300 animal species "have abandoned habitats they occupied for thousands of years to move to areas 40 to 60 miles further north."

In addition to being syndicated in newspapers like the Times, Earthweek can be found at www.earthweek.com.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Work to do with Local Elected Officials

I tend to talk about how well cities are doing with global warming. I mention (and admire) Mayor Nickel's stance on it, and how our own Council in Kirkland is stepping up.

I'm at a conference full of City and County IT people, and I heard a story that reminded me there is still work to do. The story goes something like "We were at a Council meeting, talking about how poor the water quality is getting, and you know, our Council - only one of them even thinks global warming MIGHT be happening and MIGHT affect us, and so he suggested we start a program to plant trees..." Insert roll of eyes here...

So talk to the people you elect.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cool Tool: Sea Level Rise Map


An overlay on Google Earth where you can set how many feet of sea level rise you want to look at. I found it doing research to answer a question about my next book. "Will global warming flood the Yucatan peninsula?" Not if I control my future sea-level rise to about 4 meters. :)

If only the real world were as easy to control as a fictional one.

Monday, October 23, 2006

What if the bicycles are traffic?

What if we treated bicyling and bicycles as if they had as much right to the road as cars do? I know we're, sort of, legally supposed to do this. But I also ride my bike to work once in a very rare while, and I know many car drivers don't treat bicyclists equally. I'm sure some of them find bicyclists downright annoying. But if we really want to change our carbon expenditure, more bicycle commuting is one sure way to come down on the positive side. I've linked the title of this post to a great article in Pacific Northwest Magazine. A quote from the article (by Paula Bock) is "...you could see our city at a cultural crossroads — the conflict, really, over how to deal with congested streets, global warming, an obesity epidemic." If you are a bicyclist, or a driver, or like me, both, I recommend at least skimming the article.

I also recommend riding your bike more. I'd like to do that myself.

No posts this weekend because I was attending a songwriting workshop on Shaw Island, where some discussion of global warming occurred. No one doubted it, or failed to worry about it. Now, this was a naturally liberal group of all women. But more and more, I have the experience that almost everyone, everywhere I go, believes that global warming is happening. During the discussion, one woman mentioned sticks in the ice that show how much ice pack we're losing every year. Another commented on the large ecological footprint of cruise ships. I found out about a show called "Penguins on Ice." I think. I couldn't find information about it on the web, so maybe someone can fill me in? The show is supposed to be somehow about global warming.

Friday, October 20, 2006

More Carbon Offset

Last weekend, I bought a copy of the October 11-17 issue of Real Change, the Seattle homeless newspaper, meaning to read it since it had a green headline. Well, I was looking for a charger that had buried itself deep in my briefcase, and found the newspaper.

A front-page article by Amy Roe wrote about a single Seattle neighborhood that is working to cut carbon dioxide and offset what they can't, or don't, cut. They're using NetGreen, which looks similar to the company I wrote about yesterday, terrapass.

Even better, there's a button right on the front where you can buy carbon offsets for others as a Christmas present. Pretty cool!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Terrapass, and the actions of a kid

My partner and her daughter are flying to Kansas for Thanksgiving. Toni handed me a blue sticker with the words "terrapass flight" on it. She bought essentially 1,000 pounds of offset for thier flight expenditure in CO2 - as she bought her flight ticket. "Just a few dollars," she said, and "You might like to blog this." So I looked it up. Terrapass said that to offset driving my CR-V would cost me about $49 a year:

Your car emits 8,158 lbs of CO2 per year.
You should get a Standard TerraPass.
A Standard TerraPass offsets 12,000 lbs of CO2,
enough to balance one year of your driving.

How does it work? Terra pass funds go fund building renewable energy alternatives like wind farms. So it's a way to offset the amount of carbon expenditure we use for living. It doesn't let us off the hook for using less energy, but it's a way to give back.

A clever thing -- I can assuage some of my guilt for a trip by donating the carbon cost of that trip to a a company that aggregates those funds and plows them into some part of the solution. This is a great example of a business model that supports being green.

And the conversation? The ten-year-old in our house asked about the terra pass, which we explained. Then we went on to talk about how we were trying to find ways to help with global warming. So she got up and wandered around the house turning off unused lights. Let's hear it for the next generation! Of course, she still sleeps with a light on, but every step matters.

And why didn't we notice which lights we weren't using?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

An endorsement

The City of Kirkland City Council supported initiative 937, which requires utilities to provide more 'alternative' energy. See my earlier post.
Formal endorsements are refreshingly wide-spread, from elected officials to non-profits to faith-based organizations and public utility districts. There's a full list on the web.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A conversation with staff, a really nice local site, and a disappointment

Two weeks ago, I posted that I dropped a "green computing" thought bomb on my staff (the computing folk at the City of Kirkland). Well, we did our brainstorming on it today and came up with a bunch of good ideas. Unplugging chargers (did you know they're called wall moles? I didn't), turning of monitors, more incentives not to print, information scrolling on the TV about energy conservation...

More on those as we implement them. Best of all, nearly everyone was engaged. A lot of the ideas will take some change in business practice. For example, we run all kinds of programs at night so we have people leave their computers on so we can sneak virus pattern file upgrades into them at 3:00 AM when no one is looking. Can we do that differently? It would save a lot of power. And I could turn my computer at home off - I only use the desktop once or twice a week, but I leave it on all the time. So many bad little habits.

I found a very cool local site today - http://www.worldchanging.com. They have at least a few new articles every day. If you are reading this, read that, too.

The disappointment? The King County budget came out today (King County is the home of Seattle and various other cities, like where I live and where I work). Here is a quote from the Seattle Times article: "The 2007 budget would cut back another initiative Sims had suggested in May: hiring three or four people for a "strike force" that would plan local responses to climate change. The global-warming office would now have a staff of one." The entire article, Sims' '07 budget proposal trims child-health project, by Keith Ervin, can be found online. It would have been nice to have our tax money paying for four people to work exclusively on climate change. I mean hey, we're paying for a bunch of people to fight a war that probably isn't good for climate.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An Article Finds Me, Final Train Report, a Stray Thought

When my mom showed up, she brought a copy of MIT Technology Review from August, 2006.
Essentially, most of the issue is a special report titled "It's Not Too Late" and subtitled "The energy technologies that might forestall global warming already exist." Almost all of it is available online. Worth reading.
It also gives me another global warming hero to add - Jim Hansen, of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Mark Bowen wrote the article about Hansen, and the Hansen quote he begins his last paragraph with is fabulous: "No court of justice or court of international opinion will forgive us for what we are doing now, because now we know the problem and we're just pretending we don't understand it."

And we can do something different. An earlier quote from the article says ""Green" building codes, combined with energy-efficient lighting and appliances, would be sufficient to hold electrical needs -- and the number of power plants -- constant for many years."

The train ride back was great - although we got in a half hour late. We had a LOT more fun than driving, didn't have to feel guilty for traveling, walked more than usual on a trip (around our destination city, Portland). Amtrak security is not as personally intrusive as the airlines, and so it also seemed somehow very civil.
The downside? The train was too wobbly for easy reading or typing.

My stray thought for the day? We're talking about rebuilding a major road in Seattle - the Seattle Viaduct. It has be done, or scrapped, and it carries a LOT of traffic. So the discussion is build a tunnel (think big dig) and get the ugly road below our waterfront, giving us a chance to do nice things with the waterfront, or rebuild what we have. Both choices are expensive; the tunnel is more expensive. So I was thinking that maybe we wanted to do the tunnel anyway, since the Seattle waterfront is deplorably ugly for such a pretty city. But I can't help but wonder, if we get a sea-level rise from global warming, which seems likely, is the tunnel going to flood or the above ground viaduct going to be undercut by the waters of Puget Sound? Have we accounted for sea level rise in the engineering? It seems like we should.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Train Report, Small Conversation

Thankfully, the day was spent with a lot more attention to my mom's birthday than to global warming. The train ride down was great, and Amtrak honored the coupon I found, saving me $50. The staff were great. This made it a touch cheaper than driving even with the $25 overnight parking fee at the garage. Maybe next time I'll take the bus to the train depot....

Nice views of the sound and the Columbia River.

After dinner, my little brother asks me "What do you think is happening with global warming?"
This didn't come out of the blue - I mentioned this blog. I say "I think it's happening, and we should pay attention."
He asks "So you don't think it's just a hiccup?"
and I say "no."

and that's it...no real opinion from him. Just those two questions, followed by silence.

Waiting to Act on Global Warming Will Cost More

According to a new study published by the Global Development and Environment Institute of Tufts University (PDF), waiting to act on global warming will cost trillions by the end of century. In fact, according to their analysis, even leaving out such catostrophic possibilities as a shut down of the Gulf Stream, or accounting for species loss, the costs to individuals, companies and governments of mitigation and crisis reponse could be as much as 22 trillion dollars per year by 2100. This would represent as much as 8 percent of global GDP at that time.

Critics of action to avert global warming always conclude their argument with the idea that it would be too costly, that it would "wreck the economy." This study demonstrates that inaction now will more costly later. Wasn't there an old advertisement that said "Pay me now, or pay me later."

By the way, according to a report on this study, on the same day it was released, James Smith, the Chairman of Shell Oil, was quoted as saying, "For business, tackling climate change is both a necessity and a huge opportunity. We have to step up to the challenge."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Global Warming Heroes, NPR, Coffee, and a Train Ride

I just posted an article titled Heroes of the Future at Futurist.com. I included AL Gore for his work on global warming, but I have one more that fits global warming particularly. That's Kim Stanley Robinson, who write a trilogy of books about global warming. Those include Forty Signs of Rain and Fifty Degrees Below, and the upcoming Sixty Days and Counting. Kim Stanley Robinson does detailed research and a lot of that research finds it's way into his books. They are a good read, if a little slower than some books because of the information feed, but I love his work. It's a great way to understand at least one plausible take on the facts that has some scientific backing. I'd love to hear your ideas about other global warming heroes - I know they're out there.

NPR had a show today that highlighted one very likely outcome of climate change: No snow in the Pacific Northwest ski areas. Of course, that also means less snow pack for regional water and a tougher life for the already threatened salmon species that use snow melt streams to spawn in.

I had coffee with Glen Hiemstra today in Redmond, and we kicked around ideas for his next book which included thoughts about integrating global warming among other ideas. He mentioned that an amazing amount of the audiences he talks to still discount global warming. That's pretty discouraging since there are so many signs of it all around us.

Last, in the same spirit as the laundry yesterday, my mom and I are going to Portland, OR, to celebrate her birthday. I decided to take the train instead of driving, assuming it would cost about the same and be easier on the environment since whether or not we were on it, the train would go, and this way we'd be off the road. Well, my experience is that the train came in more expensive in actual dollars (although I found a half-price coupon in the Chinook Book AFTER I bought the tickets - figures). Anyway, in direct cost, the driving trip would be about sixty dollars in gas in my CRV. If I use the IRS rate, which accounts for wear and tear on the car and all that, it would be 153.97. The train, in coach, would be $112, but with seats we can actually use (with power etc.) it's over $166.70. So for a little over $10, plus whatever transportation charges we incur on the other side, I get over 7 hours of NOT driving, when I can read, or write global warming blog entries or write fiction. Not a bad deal. I'll report on the actual experience when we get back. I haven't been on a train in a long time!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A clean energy initiative and a small choice

In Washington State, where I live, there is a ballot initiative (I937) to require mid-sized and larger utilities to get at least 15 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2020.

See the Yes on 1-937 page, a Seattle Times article, Does clean energy initiative promise more than it delivers dated today, and the No on I-937 page. Oops - there isn't one, at least not easily visible. The closest I could find was opposition from the Marysville/Tulalip Chamber of Commerce. It made me feel good that there's at least less organized opposition than organized support (a Google search reveals a lot of support).

I'm generally leery of initiatives, but I hope this one is supported. Sure, it probably has some problems, but it's a step in the right direction. Initiatives from the people to drive cleaner energy are a good thing in this day of lackluster federal attention to the same subject.

If any of you out there know of similar initiatives in your states, I'd be interested in hearing about them.

On the small choices front, I dropped our clothes off at a green cleaners today. Tough choice, actually, since I've been using the same dry cleaner for years and we have a great business relationship. They know me by name and get our clean clothes out and ready when my car pulls up. I'm just hoping these new folks do a good job. But I figure I need to change even more things I like to really get better at this. Today, I noticed out washer has an energy sticker on it that suggests it uses way closer to the "most" possible energy than the least. Budget says wait on that after the 25K worth of energy efficient windows we just ordered. But I'll start researching soon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Seattle Metropolitan

Picked up a copy of Seattle Metropolitan magazine at Whole Foods on Sunday, after I noticed it was their "green issue" full of ideas about how to save energy etc. I also found articles on people selling green products and eco-friendly homes. Nice issue - none of the ideas were brand-new, but all well-presented and sensible. Unfortunately, they don't seem to make their content readily available on-line. But if you're in the Seattle area, it's worth grabbing a copy.

There is already a lot of success and money flow occurring as awareness of climate change intensifies (and for lots of other reasons). So last night, an odd thought crossed my mind. How can I use this to make a win-win - what product or service would be interesting to people?

As a speaker, I'm willing to do talks on the topic, and should put together some advertising for that. But it feels like other possibilities are right out there. I can almost taste them.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Air Conditioning in Alaska

The Seattle Times ran an article today: Arctic town isn't so hot on warming, by Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune. The Candian Inuit now need air conditioners in public buildings and have to shop for groceries. The ending quote in the article, from Kalluk, the village elder, is "I think there is global warming because snow that has never melted before is starting to melt now."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

No news, so I went to find some.....

Global warming only showed up in my life in a comic, but interesting, discussion at work about the new scooters the City bought to provide eco-friendly short-distance (and slow) transportation between buildings (but good for us, or more accurately, our Public Works department), and a picture of a bicycle called a "conference bicycle" that looks fabulously fun, but not very good for getting anywhere. So I decided to look for other people blogging.

Real Climate - Climate Science from Climate Scientists Looks like a good spot to drop by for news from people who are actually studying climate change and have a few real credentials.

Climate Ark Nice mix of news, commentary, and thoughts. Feels a little like a bigger version of what I'm trying to do here.

Mark Lynas's Blog Another personal blog designed to spur conversation on global warming / climate change

And, vaguely unrelated except to the conversation at work, but worth a look:

The Conference Bike - I want to try it!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

It's now a risk management problem

I came across an article from an unusual source today. Since I'm in technology, I spend a little time on C|Net every day perusing the news. There's a global warming article there, of all places, that came up while I was looking for news about a vendor merger that might affect my workplace (let's hear it for the random results from search terms). The article is entitled Climate demands rapid energy conversion, experts say, by Martin LaMonica, a C|Net staff writer. So it didn't even creep in from AP or anything - it was written for the geeks like me who frequent C|Net.

The article describes a session held during a the Emerging Technologies Conference held at MIT, and the most striking conversation reported sums up to something like "stop wondering whether or not this is real. Treat it as real and go to the next step, which is to understand the high risk and act." My emergency management duties at work refer to this as mitigation, the most effective part of emergency management. That's the part that says if you don't build your house in a flood plain, you don't have to prepare for or respond to floods.

A lot of people might be living in new flood plains pretty soon.

On the personal side, I priced switching from my CR-V to a Prius, and in light of the cost of the energy efficient windows we're getting soon, I'm going to need another strategy for the next year or so. Besides, the Prius and a few smaller cars excepted, my car gets gas mileage roughly equivalent to a lot of the hybrids, which seem to be missing the mark on gas mileage as a key driver. Maybe walking or riding my bike to work a little more, although with winter coming maybe the bus will do some days. At least it's not far, even for those many days I have to drive to make off-site meetings and stuff.

I should have started getting serious about this a lot sooner. The more I read, the more convinced I am the speakers at the MIT conference are right - it's time to act.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some action on my part

Generally, I've been recording the ways global warming bubbles up in daily life. When you're sorting for something, you think about it a little more. So I dropped a thought-bomb on staff today. I run the Information Technology department for a City that has signed up for the US Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement.
Other departments have been shifting fleets, as appropriate, to hybrids and buying electric scooters. But the most we'd done so far was assure the purchasing department that we're following energy star standards. And we're a big part of the problem - computers don't recycle very well, and we use a lot of power in our server room, etc. We have one vehicle in our fleet - an old van with the seats pulled out so we can carry around computers.
So I asked staff to think about what we could do. We didn't actually talk about anything -- just promised that we would. A thought bomb needs a little time to prime. A few staff came up afterwards and said they're really excited about this idea. I thought cool - some positive action!
Watch this space for the results of the discussion in a few weeks.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The topic pops up in weird ways every day

Today, I was part of a panel doing job interviews. One of the candidates made a point of caring about global warming and ecological friendliness, clearly hoping that would help him get hired, and clearly hoping for a job where that mattered, and he could do good. I liked him more for it, although whether or not he gets hired will be related to other issues.

The news article of the day is on CNN...although there were plenty available to pick from in other venues.

The title is Alaskan Storm Cracks Iceberg in Antartica, Study says....

Think about that for just a moment. Talk about the chaos of butterfly wings in one place, or for that matter about how small and precious the world is. Alaska is not exactly close to Antartica. The article suggests global storminess (fed by global warming) may cause more similar events. The article quotes Douglas MacAyeal of the University of Chicago as saying "The iceberg shattered like a gracile wine glass being sung to by a heavy soprano."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Beach and the Bering Sea

Two pieces for today...but I think I'll start with the beach. We spent the weekend in Ocean Shores enjoying great fall sunshine and playing on the sand with the dogs. Often, on vacations, we see cute getaway cabins for sale and fantasize about buying one. We passed homes with fabulous castle-like turrets looking out across grassy dunes to the sea, silly-looking half-an-A-frame houses with the sides made of roofing material, and simple weathered-wood cabins that fit exactly with the surrounding ecosystem. But this time, when the fantasy subject of "Which one would you like?" came up, the answer was, "None of them. They'll probably all be underwater." The three of us on this trip are all smart and college educated; two CIO's and a Human Resources person for Amazon.com. I study global warming, at least at an educated lay-person level. We decided that we didn't understand whether the tipping point for sea-level rise from global warming would be in a year or six years or even later, but we did decide the risk made investing in beachfront property a bad idea.

After we shook the sand out of our shoes at home, I opened the Sunday Seattle Times to find the headline "Ecological Upheaval on the Edge of the Ice," by Sandi Doughton. The article explores dramatic shifts in species based on the receding ice in the Bering Sea. Nicely done. The Seattle Times has done a lot of thorough reporting on various topics, and this is part one of a series...
The article does a nice job of noting the significant change, and that it has cost some species while benefiting others. Most importantly, it points out the fragility of the area.