This is not a drill

At my church our value and mission statement talks about how we ‘welcome without exception’.  This past weekend this statement was put to the test.  As a congregation we voted on whether or not to become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) community; one that explicitly welcomes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.  This vote was a true test of our mission statement and a timely moment to find out who we are as a congregation.  In a time when there is a lot of uncertainty for minority groups and emboldened hate crimes are occurring, knowing that my local congregation passed this with 95.2% of the vote brought tearful elation.

The results of a different vote the week prior brought me confusion, concern, and disappointment.  As someone who believes that the number one priority of every nation should be moving away from fossil fuels, the whole US election cycle was a disappointment.  The debates did not have any direct climate change questions and the topic was touched on for less than 2 minutes.  It appeared as though something that is incredibly important to me had virtually no prioritization with the candidates or moderators.  I empathize with Trump voters and agree that a shakeup in Washington would be beneficial.  It would be great to see term limits for politicians and having less “Washington insiders” in leadership roles.  To me, the views documented by Trump on his own website and his treatment of humans created a scenario where the ends would never justify the means.

The president elects website indicates that he intends to open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands for fossil fuels and “Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.”  I think it is generally understood that there is no such thing as “clean coal” and I truly cannot imagine any scenario where increasing our production and use of fossil fuels will be a long term benefit.  Despite being white, heterosexual, male, Christian, and born in the US, I am afraid of the president elect.  I can only imagine how an undocumented lesbian tree hugging minority must be feeling at the moment.

This is a critical moment in history in my opinion, one of those moments where I think about a futuristic conversation with my children and grandchildren asking me what I did to protect human rights as well as the habitability of our planet.  While I have day dreamed many times recently about moving off of the grid and completely escaping the society that seems to be gaining a voice, I realize that I need to help shape it.  I need to Testify.  One other great thing happened at church this last Sunday was a well-timed sermon that I strongly encourage you to give a listen to, you can skip to the 9:03 mark and go from there.  It is important that we as a society, as human beings with compassion, and as citizens of this planet recognize this opportunity to Testify and stand up for ourselves and others.  We need to ensure our elected leaders understand that they were actually elected to follow (the will of the people).  The wonderful and timely sermon concluded with a great rendition of Leonard Cohens’ Hallelujah which of course only added to the tears already rolling down my face.

Advertisements

Green germaphobe tips to keep you sanitary

I do not think there is an actual medical diagnosis of being labeled a germaphobe, the real medical definition lumps it in with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  I think of myself as a germaphobe in the sense that I generally try and avoid situations that are likely to spread germs, but (for the most part) it does not cause me to enter a loop of repetitive compulsive behavior.  As an environmentalists this presents some interesting conundrums like cloth or paper napkins, what types of household cleaners to use, whether to use the manual door or automatic one while entering Target, how often to run the HEPA filter and air exchanger at home, and more.  I have made clear decisions on those minor dilemmas and am comfortable with my choices.  Each side of the decision could be argued infinitely without a concise victor and in my opinion would be a waste of energy as the choices are not going to result in significant change to the environment.

In general, when presented with a choice between potentially getting my hands filthy with someone else’s germs and using a product to eliminate that chance, I will error on the side of the product use.  One example is exiting a restroom, if there is no way out of the restroom short of grabbing the door handle, you can bet I am going to use a paper towel to escape or if I am lucky, time my exit with someone else doing the door touching.  In my experience, about 10% of men do not wash their hands when exiting a public restroom even if someone else is there.  I would guess that percentage is higher when no one is around.  A place I work at frequently now has touchless toilets, sinks and soap dispensers, a touchless Dyson hand dryer, and motion sensors on the restroom doors.  I feel so clean leaving there that I could have on scrubs and be heading in to surgery.

The CDC states that you should wash your hands in the following circumstances.  I think there are a few clarifications that should be made to this list so I have amended it below for your reading pleasure in an effort to help keep you sanitary this cold and flu season.

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food, especially after leafing through an un-sanitized restaurant menu that has been touched by countless people before you
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick.  In addition, after someone in your home has been sick, it is recommended to sanitize every light switch, TV remote, Xbox controller, and everything used as a handle
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • When using a public bathroom sink that is not touchless, it is recommended to use your elbow or a paper towel to shut off the water.
  • After touching a public door handle or an un-sanitized shopping cart
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After interacting with a child or touching anything they might have come in contact with
  • After putting your families clothes in the washing machine
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage
  • After using someone else’s cell phone
  • After driving someone else’s vehicle
  • After using public transportation
  • After putting your fingers in a public bowling ball.  Note that bowling and eating should never be mixed.
  • Lastly and most importantly visibly cleanse yourself after contact with your employees and do not under any circumstances share your headset

Hope you enjoyed and got a smile

Hope or despair

When originally considering names for my blog, I had briefly considered ‘green man in a red circle’, a take on my tree hugger self being flanked by some conservative republican neighbors. I quickly dismissed the name as I wanted to stay away from politics as much as possible and not make it the backdrop for my blog. I continue to want to avoid making climate change a political issue, knowing that in order to take meaningful action on protecting the environment, we need action independent of political affiliations. However, after the recent U.S. midterm election results and the somber feeling I awoke with today, it seems worthy of some reflection.

As I have said previously, I do not consider myself to be a member of any political party but knowing that many of the politicians who were just elected continue to deny the science of climate change is disheartening. A few of the pre-election debate quotes are listed below for reference:

  • “I don’t necessarily think the climate is changing” Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • “97% of some of the liberal scientists polled believe that humans are doing this, this is not settled science.  Just like perhaps, many of those same scientists, 97% perhaps, believe there is no God.  But they don’t know, there is no science on that, so scientists like the rest of us humans can have beliefs but that doesn’t make it science.” Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN)
  • “Global temperatures have not risen in 15 years, so there might be climate change but we are not seeing that reflected in temperatures.” Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
  • “I, uh, googled this issue a couple of days ago and see that there are 31,000 scientists who say that human action is not causing the global warming at all.  And in fact the last 17 years there has not been global warming.  The temperature has been very stable for the last 17 years.” Steve Pearce (R-NM)

This list could go on but the point here is that the big loser in this recent election might very well be the environment. Even if the democrats had taken majority in this election, the same statement might still hold true. There has been very little meaningful action taken in the U.S. on climate change regardless of who has been in office.

This election fell on the heels of the most recent IPCC synthesis report which highlighted how the atmosphere is getting warmer as are the oceans, which are also getting more acidic. It outlined the causes (CO2 and methane) and added how natural forces have not contributed to temperature rise and how human activity is the primary culprit. It discussed in detail the impacts of sea level rise, thawing permafrost, global changes in weather patterns, plant and animal adaptation issues, human health issues, and food supply challenges. It concludes with data on what specific mitigation steps and what different levels of CO2 parts per million will mean in terms of warming and sea level rise.

So given what we know to be true about the current earth and political climates, how can we proceed with making any progress on climate change policy? The answer is the same regardless of who is in political power; stand up and speak up. No important issue in human history has ever been overcome with the shrug of the shoulders or by giving in to despair. As a people we must demand more from our leaders and this needs to be done by contacting them and ensuring your voice is heard.

The late Gaylord Nelson (Senator and Governor from Wisconsin and founder of Earth Day) once said “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around” and we need to keep that perspective and understand that the economy will mean very little should we continue to move our planet towards un-inhabitability. He also said “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” This is also very true and we need to speak up now so future generations do not loathe us.

Litigious Shenanigans

Anyone who knows me or has read some prior blog posts knows I am a huge fan of Tesla Motors (TSLA) and electric vehicles in general. The math of electric cars is undeniably compelling and will be the subject of a future blog post.

TSLA has been on the receiving end of countless lawsuits in recent years by automobile dealer associations and others. Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Virginia and others have lawsuits in various stages of flight and appeals trying to completely block TSLA from selling to consumers, limiting how many vehicles they can sell, etc. In fact, it is currently illegal in Arizona, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas for TSLA to sell directly to consumers. Despite this TSLA has stores in many states (see map above) including those that block the direct sale, where consumers can get more information, see and drive the car, and then go home and order online. The core argument of this litigation is that the direct sales model TSLA has violates state automotive franchise rules and that the TSLA sales model would set a precedent that ‘threatens the way independent franchises have sold and serviced vehicles for eight decades’.

This type of argument is so monolithic and predictable, with obvious$ motivations. It is unclear to me how this is a different approach than a local grocery store trying to block a farmers market or girl scout from selling cookies. It was not too many years ago when the big three sat with their hands out asking for a bailout simply because they were unable to adapt to the changing needs of consumers and watched competitors like Toyota make record profits by selling efficient and reliable cars. You would think that the auto industry would be watching the success TSLA is having and implementing options for adapting their sales model and products to compete, similar to what big box retailers had to do to compete with Amazon. The auto industry should also be reveling in the fact that TSLA recently made their patents public.

In his “All Our Patent Are Belong To You” blog post, CEO of TSLA Elon Musk wrote: “Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.” Of course the release of the patents initially scared Wall Street who thought perhaps Elon was having a Tony Stark (Ironman) like moment but despite all of the obstacles and naysayers, TSLA stock has had over 1000% growth in a few short years. At a time where numerous other companies are fleeing for tax inversion benefits or cheap overseas labor, it appears as though later today TSLA will officially announce that Nevada will be the site of the new 5 billion dollar battery factory which will create 6,500 jobs in northern Nevada. Seeing a CEO with the passion, vision, and ethical fiber to put environmental stewardship in high regard is refreshing and I look forward to the continued innovation.

Earth day Every day

Image

Earth Day is a tradition of bringing environmental concerns in to our consciousness.  While we no longer accept air pollution as ‘prosperity’ or use leaded gasoline like we did 44 years ago when Earth Day began, there is still plenty of room for improvement.  As a collective society, we still have not completely accepted our role in climate change nor have we made serious efforts to improve our behavior.

Thinking about the current dependencies we have on fossil fuels is astounding.  In one quick example; we step in to a car which (likely) burns oil and gas, many components of the car are made from plastics which are derived from oil, the street we drive on is oil based, the tires are oil based, the food we are going to pick up at the store is encased in plastic and goes in a plastic bag and we pay for the stuff with, you guessed it plastic.

While eliminating fossil fuels from our everyday lives might seem impossible, we need to make more significant iterative steps towards changing.  The greenhouse effect has been well understood since the late 1800’s and any peer reviewed science article will tell you that pulling resources out of the earth and burning them is not a long term sustainable practice.  Our planet and our atmosphere are not limitless so we need to stop treating them like an infinite toilet bowl.  Thanks to my good friend Tim for letting me paraphrase and plagiarize much of the detail below.

Recent reports by the world’s best scientists stress that the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans.  Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and people’s livelihoods.  The observed impacts are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest – nobody is untouched.  More intense and frequent weather events such as flooding, drought and fire have occurred and will become worse.  Unchecked carbon emissions put at risk agriculture, global security, human health, water resources and the economy.  The reports also conclude that there are opportunities to respond to these risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage if we wait much longer to implement policies to deal with them.

I have three requests of you.

First – If you don’t know about climate change or are unsure about it I hope that you would take 30 minutes to read the first two documents below (the third is bonus material).  The papers in the following URLs are derived from the best climate scientists we have in the world and all are rooted in peer reviewed science.

  1. The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change – This 20 page report is one of the best, easy to read summaries, that I have seen.  It is written by the American Association for the Advancement of Science who is the group behind Science magazine and one of the world’s largest non-governmental science organizations.
  2. A Discussion on Climate Change: Evidence and Causes – This summary paper is from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council is designed to summarize the science of climate change for general audience consumption – it too is excellent.
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report – this is a detailed report (warning it’s long) with lots of “in the weeds science” on climate change and the risks associated with it.

Some people have the general opinion that climate change is a “naturally occurring event”, a “hoax”, something conjured up by “alarmists”, is a “conspiracy” or something similar.  If you know someone like this encourage them with an open heart and mind to watch the PBS Frontline report “Climate of Doubt” and/or read the peer-reviewed Drexel University study on the climate change countermovement.

Second – Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S. House of Representative on a quarterly basis and let them know you’d like to see congressional action, now, to address climate change.   Climate change has been made to be a political issue – it is not.  Thermometers don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat.  Climate change is a moral, economic, and national security issue and Congress should be implementing policies on how to solve it.  Waiting has not and will not help anybody.

Third – Please speak to friends and family about this very important topic and/or forward this link to them.  The great news is that we have the technology to meet the challenge.  However, we have a short window to invoke policies that will allow the greatness of the United States to be innovative and be a world leader in staving off the greatest risks of human caused climate change.

Finally, I used to think that climate change was something I was concerned about for my kids as they got older – this was false thinking.  For 29 years in a row global temperatures have been above the 20th century average and 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in in the 21st century.  Climate change risks the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, the planet we have been entrusted to care for by God, our economy, our own families health, and our kids/grandkids future(s).  We have the solutions to avoid the risks and damage.  Please join me in having respectful conversations with those you know and with our elected officials about climate change.

The beeping bleeping hummer

Once each winter my son has an out of town hockey tournament and this weekend was it.  There are few things he looks forward to more; as a pre-teen boy what could be more desirable than playing an excessive number of games of a sport you love in a shortened time frame while getting to spend every waking minute with your friends swimming, eating pizza, playing Xbox, participating in general shenanigans, and getting out of school early to make it all happen.

At about 1:10am we were both awoken by the sound of a car alarm going off.  It would silence for an intermittent amount of time, sometimes 20 seconds, sometimes a few minutes and then sound again for another half minute or so.  Eventually the sound became unbearable and I went down to the from desk to inquire what they could do as the sound was clearly coming from a vehicle in their parking ramp.  They dispatched their security officer to investigate and I returned to my room after a brief unsuccessful investigation myself to find the vehicle and ensure it was not mine.

As the sound went on and on I called back to the front desk and they said they were still trying to locate the vehicle but could hear it.  I went back out to assist and found the vehicle one floor up from my room and within 75’ of my rooms window.  The security guard arrived to the vehicle at the same time.  He was about 6’5 and 250# which I found impressive for a hotel security guard.  At first glance I thought he might just rip open the hood and pull the battery out with his bare hands but he opted to take a more diplomatic approach and wrote down the license plate number and went to call the local police department so he could get a registered owner, cross reference it to the guest list, and get the owner to address it.

I noticed two things while in the ramp.  First, the vehicle was a residential Hummer which is a vehicle I have a general negative stereotype about being someone who cares about the planet.  Second I noticed that the dome light was on.  As I returned to my room and let my son who had his head under four pillows know it would be addressed soon I began to wonder if it were possible that the alarm was sounding to warn that the dome light was on.  Could this vehicle which I stereotype as arrogant be so bold that when the dome light is on it feels a need to warn its owner?  Was there some logic in re-designing and marketing of this big dumb residential American vehicle where someone thought that the dome light being left on was so potentially hazardous to the battery that sounding the horn and flashing the exterior lights for hours was warranted?  I began to fear for our troops overseas and hoped that the military version did not have this same logic.  My brain racing I decided to do some quick research and learned that this is a known condition with the hummer and the reason the dome light was on is because the vehicle had gotten wet (rain / snow mix here) and the door sensor (which had also gotten wet) thought the door was ajar.  Apparently this warrants the alarm sounding.  The reaction to a wet door jamb is another condition I hope is different on the military version.

I was tempted to go back to the parking garage and lay eyes on the person that would be coming to fix their car and give them a piece of my mind as I stood safely behind the security guard.  Common sense prevailed and I decided that I also did not want to shatter my stereotype of the owner of this vehicle.  I picture him as a middle aged male who has a full head of hair with product in it and was likely a little groggy from all of the Lowenbrau he had earlier, he likely works in sales and whatever he is selling has some sort of slime / predatory factor where he takes advantage of people.  In my vision, he is staying at the hotel with his son who is on a competing hockey team, his son is a marginal skater and ends up in the penalty box often by trying to make up for his lack of skill and trying to live up to his big dumb American dad’s expectations.

Imagination, stereotypes, and pre-conceived ideas can be powerful things and I could be way off of the mark but I am guessing my vision is closer to the truth than it being owned by an elderly widowed woman who is in town for the birth of her first great grandchild.  On a separate note I would like to add that the Holiday Inn staff responded wonderfully to this issue and my scan through the parking garage also revealed that the hotel had four electric vehicle only spots with charging stations; two of which were occupied (a Volt and a Leaf).  That was simply wonderful to see and kudos to the owners of those vehicles and the hotel for its progressiveness to provide that service.  This entry may have offended a few but I hope it was found humorous to more as that was the intent.  Time to get back to sleep.

The good, the bad, the ugly: phone books

Image

My “No Soliciting” sign has been effective at keeping most door to door sales people away but much to my dismay, last week I was greeted to a phone book lying on my front step.  Historically when a phone book arrives I grumble and then move on.  This time, I decided I wanted to see what options exist to prevent this unsolicited delivery and to learn what the real environmental impacts are of phone books.  To me, receiving an unsolicited phone book is the equivalent of a stranger leaving their broken electronics on my front step.  Neither are something I want and both require some care to recycle appropriately.

The Good:  In the last 10+ years phone book companies have responded to the public pressure to evolve their practices and reduce their overall environmental impact.  Hibu is one of the major players in phone books and have helped create the opt out website for those that do not want to receive phone books.  Hibu also has an entire environmental sustainability plan and publishes their emissions data and more.  In addition, many phone book manufacturers have shifted to soy based ink, non-toxic glues, paper suppliers with sustainable forestry certifications, and to using a high percentage of post-consumer recycled material.  Some cities have also put their own ordinances in place to help address the issue that include things like having the phone book company have to manage and opt out website and pay per book recycling fees and penalties for inappropriate deliveries.  In San Francisco they have implemented an opt-in system where only residents registering to receive one get one.  Shifting the costs of the issue back to supplier is generally an effective means of invoking change.  In short, the phone books themselves have become much more environmentally friendly and the options available for recycling have improved dramatically.

The Bad:  While there has been much progress, there are no national standards and as a result many manufacturers of phone books will only change when they are forced to or when it makes economic sense to do so.  For many, environmental sustainability is not high on the priority list.  When faced with scrutiny some companies will make arguments about how a phone book not recycled has a much smaller environmental impact than an computer used to look up the same information not being recycled.  While an accurate argument, it is clearly not apples to apples.  It is like saying it is okay to pour oil down the storm drain because it has less of an environmental impact than the Exxon Valdez did.  In Minnesota, phone books have been banned from being placed in municipal solid waste since 1992.  Despite that statute, telephone directories remain a problem for waste managers as only about 55% of Minnesota phone books are recycled.

The Ugly:  In the U.S. it is estimated that 4,680,000 trees are used annually for phone books, that is the equivalent of 14 football fields of forest per day.  On average, only 40% of the content in phone books is from post-consumer recycled material.  Nationwide over half of phone books were sent to landfills or combustion facilities with recycling rates for them only at 44%.  There are enough phone books created each year in the U.S. to measure 106,700 miles when lined up end to end. This means they would circle around the earth about 4.28 times.

While phone books clearly have some value as the college kids in the picture demonstrate with their make shift couch, there are opportunities for optimizing their sustainability and making the distribution more targeted.  For now, if you do not want to receive phone books you can register at https://www.yellowpagesoptout.com/ and pick and choose what phone books you want to receive.  In the U.S. you can also go to https://www.catalogchoice.org and select which phone books and junk mail you do not wish to receive.