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Carbon load

2006-08-26 19:43:17.756384+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

We recently went to a get together out here where the usual suspects were talking about things that we as the valley community can do to reduce carbon load, and I came away with a real sense of "wow, there's a lot of bullshit flying around here and I'm not sure what I can believe". The usual self-righteousness about what cars people drive, talk about changing lightbulbs, and of course we eventually went from "how can we reduce our carbon load" to "nucular is eeevil" from some woman who, when pressed, admitted that she was actually protesting against a conventional weapons test, but it was being done in Nevada, and all sorts of nuclear weapons tests had been done in Nevada, and that meant that this was going to kick radioactive fallout into the air...

Yeah. Ooooookay. Backing away slowly now, and returning to the more mainstream views...

A while back I linked to that CNW Marketing Research on energy cost per mile of vehicles, and then realized that they were claiming that many popular cars had a third of a million dollar lifetime cost, and that adding up all of those numbers started to come up with amounts that were several times the world's GNP. Didn't make sense.

We've tried the compact flourescents out here, and while we use standard flourescents for some of our lighting, we found that the compact bulbs had a half-life that was unacceptable, our house was getting dim gradually without us realizing it, and we ended up changing bulbs far more often than with incandescents. Bulbs that had to be disposed of as hazardous waste.

I'm enthused by "local agriculture", but is it really any more efficient for a farmer to drive a pickup truck 250 miles from the Central Valley to a "local" farmer's market than to move a semi-trailer or boxcar full of the produce to my supermarket?

Similarly, if buses and mass transit are so much more efficient than cars, how come they're often more expensive per passenger mile, even with huge tax subsidies (that, in the case of buses, build on top of the ones given to automobiles)?

Despite the computers in our house, our electricity bill is pretty low. We could probably switch to a propane water heater, and we could install a wood pellet stove (but pellets, not straight wood!), but...

Overall I'm thinking that there's a whole lot of FUD and crap flying around in this "carbon load" thing, and the fact that most of the carbon load calculators out there on the net either seem to be scams designed to get your marketing info, or just account for your direct energy usage.

So does anyone have sources for environmental impacts that they trust? Unfortunately, following any facts I can find about environmental impacts quickly leads to things that people just aren't willing to face, like negative population growth and more city living.

[ related topics: Politics Law Consumerism and advertising California Culture Automobiles Marketing Machinery Economics Public Transportation ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-28 09:00:56.200973+00 by: m

"So does anyone have sources for environmental impacts that they trust?"

Absolutely not. Pollution and energy cost audits are as hyped as war propaganda. Ridiculous numbers, as you have observed, are thrown around to "prove" a particular point of view. Nothing new, it has been going on at least since the major oil crisis of 1973. I do not specialize in the field, but having spent half my career as a chemist, I consider myself more knowledgeable than most. I KNOW that all sides in this debate lie outrageously.

I have seen a number of audits on the use of ethanol as a fuel. Some "prove" that this is energy efficient, others "prove" that ethanol has a higher energy cost to produce than is created. Without more specific knowledge than I possess, I can't discern which is correct. I do know that there are extremely powerful financial interests on both sides of that debate. Certainly the present hurah over hybrid vehicles is grossly overdone. Payback is typically five years even with subsidies.

For myself, I try to conserve as best I can. I have a large enough wood lot to produce most of the BTU's I need for winter heating, but the biggest attraction may be the excercise in cutting, splitting and stacking. Perhaps it saves gasoline by eliminating trips to a gym. The carbon load is fairly low. Gasoline for a chain saw and tractor cart as well as the annual trip of the chimney sweep.

Passive solar energy is a big plus in my home, but I would like to use solar energy more actively. More efficient methods of photovoltiac energy may help in the higher lattitudes, but we are not there yet. Calculations show that in this situation electricity generation and hot water heating are financial losers, which caries the implications that they are energy losers as well. And that is probably the most functional criteria that any of us can really use.

Doubling gas mileage is well within current technologies. It is done in Europe today. Political will is more important than the tech here. No muscle cars, no hummers. But that is not likely anytime soon.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-28 12:29:40.539074+00 by: meuon [edit history]

I envision a house electrical system of 48 volts DC and 110vac. DC taps will let you select voltages for things 9-48vdc. The DC is powered by solar panels and battery cells, the 110V AC either from the grid, or inverter fed depending on what the battery state and load is like. Induction motors are more efficient on AC, and until 'Fridge's and HVAC come with DC motors, they'll stay on AC. (Could they be refitted? Hmm..) everything else in my house works better on DC, computers, monitors, Stero, TV set.. The first thing every power supply does is convert AC to DC.

Then lighting gets redone in pure white Luxeon LED's and electrolumiescent panels.

But is it cost justified? Maybe, even though our electrical bill is usually under $50 per month.

But that's under a minute's worth of a large electrical power consumer (industrial) bill. It's almost ridiculous for me to think that it matters anywhere outside of my pocket, and my thinking 'that's the way it should be done'.

Unless of course, all future homes get built this way..

But people buying "miniature estate houses" of 3k+ sqft (seems to be the local trend) aren't thinking about carbon load, or even their energy bills.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-28 16:29:56.1183+00 by: petronius

For an intriguing look at environmentally correct agendas, Salon has a straight-faced piece on why locally produced and totally desireable organic farming depends on a) destroying Wal-Mart and b) open the borders to even more illegal mestizos. I have never seen Whole Foods and the Minutemen movement used in the same sentence before.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-28 19:55:35.55192+00 by: dexev

Some thoughts on car v. mass transit.

I live in the city, very near a bus line. If I worked downtown (I don't) and didn't already own a car (I do), taking the bus would be a good bit cheaper than insurance + depreciation + fuel + maintenance on my (older, 40MPG) car.

The biggest expenses with car ownership -- insurance and depreciation -- are fixed costs, whereas all of the costs of mass-transit are incremental. So if you already have and are paying for a car, you may as well drive it to work.

Which leads to the point you finished up with -- the big energy changes that are necessary will only happen with significant lifestyle changes.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-29 00:03:28.253461+00 by: Dan Lyke

The Salon article is a reiteration of what I've heard elsewhere, and it makes sense. Wal*Mart reduces all products to the lowest common denominator commodity. The "local foods" movement is trying to get people to treat food as something other than a commodity, to tell us that a tomato is not necessarily a tomato.

If it's cheaper to fly in organic tomatoes from Chile, then Wal*Mart will do that. Wal*Mart customers aren't generally concerned that the tomatoes have flavor (well, I don't know about that specifically, but I have bought meat at a Wal*Mart once...), so they can be picked early, acetylene ripened, and absolutely flavorless.

But they've got the "organic" label, so they must be better, right?

Kinda like what's already happening with organic at other stores, just on a larger scale.

On cars versus mass transit, I think that maybe subsidizing mass transit for the suburbs is the real problem. Population densities within a city make mass transit workable. In the 'burbs, except for high commute times, it just means you're moving around lots of mostly empty buses.

The problem is that subsidized mass transit makes the burbs more likeable because it does soften up those commute times, rather than making traffic so unreasonable that people choose to live in higher population densities.