Please take a few minutes to review the inimitable logic of one of the world’s wisest wisecrackers.
Please take a few minutes to review the inimitable logic of one of the world’s wisest wisecrackers.
DANGER TO HUMANS
Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has admitted that things are much more serious at their damaged nuclear facility than they have revealed in the past. Around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water has leaked from a storage tank; and there are 1,000 similar tanks on site. These 1,000 tanks are believed to be at around 85% of their capacity and every day an extra 400 tonnes of radioactive water are being produced by the ailing plant and added to the tanks.
In addition 270,000 litres per day are leaking into ground water beneath the site and then into the ocean.
The BBC quoted a reputable independent consultant as saying that radioactive water is also leaking out of basements and cracks all over the site and there are no accurate figures for radiation levels.
Japan’s nuclear regulation chief Shunichi Tanaka says he fears there will be further leaks. Japan needs help from the international community, but apparently it does not like to ask for it.
Once a nuclear plant is built it supposedly provides a lot of power very inexpensively, but the truth is coming out. The USA Congressional Budget Office says the actual cost of building 75 nuclear power plants in the U.S. exceeded industry quoted estimates by more than 300 percent (actual cost about $3000 per kW not including waste storage).
In 2007 Moody’s Investor Service increased estimates to $5,000-$6,000 per kW and Keystone Center researchers found surprisingly high operating costs of 30 cents per kW. A proposed new Florida project was quoted at $8000 per kW in 2008.
It takes something like 16 years from conception to operation, allowing costs to mushroom and making the whole exercise a bit moot in today’s accelerating energy innovation environment. Waste-to-energy, biomass CHP, big wind and huge solar farms are all more competitive and much quicker to build. Due to chronic overruns, investors stopped taking cost estimates for new nuke plants seriously around 1980.
REMOTE PARADISE FULL OF TRASH
Photographer Zak Noyle from Honolulu’s Surfer Magazine travelled more than 40 hours –8 hours by boat, 12 hours driving and nearly 24 hours flying– to reach what he was told was a pristine surfer’s paradise. He and his crew then shot these photos of surfer Dede Suryana (pictured) and of the shoreline area without Dede. Apparently Indonesian cities don’t have very advanced garbage collection and a lot of it just goes straight into the river. Noyle described it as a ‘wake-up call for us all.’ D’ya think?
Some 1250 high quality communicators from 70+ countries and all 50 USA States attended training in Chicago this week for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project (CRP). I was privileged to be among them. We will join an existing team of more than 5,000 Climate Leaders worldwide.
Gore announced that the international Climate Reality Project will significantly boost resources in the coming months behind campaigns designed to:
• Maintain the momentum of the world majority who want climate action
• Counter what Gore referred to as the state of paralysis in some areas created by the ‘Deniers Industry” (lobbyists) which now exists in just 4 countries: Canada, USA, UK and Australia.
Canadians returned Friday with renewed determination to turn up the heat on politicians, corporations and anyone else who chooses to ignore what scientists and other experts have been saying for years about
COST OF CARBON – BACKWARD COMPANIES WILL SUFFER
Gore also said a coming massive media blitz will focus on the true cost of carbon in our economy in dollars and cents. He pointed out the danger to companies who refuse to recognize this cost. When governments move to punish polluters these companies will be seriously devalued and their shareholders and directors will suffer. Share prices will drop and insurance companies are already urging companies to include climate change in their operating strategies or face coverage gaps.
CPR CEO Maggie Fox announced that the organization will widely promote campaigns to pressure deniers on numerous media and social media fronts; and will establish a new set of awards ‘recognizing’ the leaders in the climate change denial business. “We will name and shame,” any organization that engages in creating doubt about a reality that is accepted by 98% of the world’s scientists,” she said.
Please share these 3 videoclips with as many business people, shareholders and investors as you can. Trying to speak the language of people in different groups who can help accelerate change.
Venture Capital Investors http://youtu.be/jxjnp8G3ioo
Business people http://youtu.be/91X4Dr1Xn_0
If anyone is waiting to see whether it’s feasible for a country to depend heavily on clean renewables for its energy needs, the German model is now undeniably successful.
According to renewable energy world.com 22% of Germany’s electricity supply is supplied by renewables. The government estimates this will increase to 40% within 7 years. As impressive as this projection may be, some describe it as conservative. On sunny and windy days, wind and solar meet more than 85% of the country’s mid-day electricity needs.
By 2015, the report suggests, the total cost for power produced by wind and solar will be roughly 7–10 euro cents per kilowatt hour, about the same as electricity generated by new gas and coal powered plants.
Germany’s economy is the strongest in Europe, it exports electricity to France, and it shut down 1/3 of its nuclear reactors during 2011.
Germany’s renewables sector provides 386,000 domestic jobs, and a recent independent poll showed 93% of Germans support the clean energy switch. High levels of windmill nimby-based resistance have apparently been easing in most regions. See the full report at Germany.
On the other hand, the government has attempted to allow solar to survive on its own merits and reduced feed-in tariffs at perhaps an inopportune time. China has been flooding world markets with cheap panels, making it difficult for manufacturers elsewhere to compete. Solon, one of Germany’s biggest producers was forced to file for bankruptcy.
I hope you will agree this experimental (3 minute webisodes) online comedy about green people and sustainability is cool. Here are the first three webisodes of The World is Flat; about sustainable living at the Provincial Environment Ministry. Enjoy!
Please show your support by liking it, re-tweeting it or even crowd funding it at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-world-is-flat/x/293907
President Obama believed him, wealthy international investors believed him, even Wall Street believed him for a little while, but the house of cards built by the high priest of shale gas is all tumbling down now. A few weeks ago the poster boy for the USA shale gas miracle, Aubrey McClendon, was forced to retire as head of Chesapeake Energy; the fracking behemoth he founded, but could never make profitable.
His retirement was not likely caused by Matt Damon’s movie Promised Land, or numerous scientists questioning the environmental negatives of shale gas fracking. McClendon was skewered instead by his own industry. It turns out fracking cannot provide 100 more years of shale gas, but instead perhaps 20. But that will only be true if the industry can find a way to make itself profitable and thus keep its sugar daddy investors content.
These revelations made by energy experts and money people began a few years ago, but the Chesapeake PR machine seemed to achieve some success by discrediting decent people like Deborah Rogers and Arthur Berman. More recently Forbes and the Rolling Stone did highly detailed exploratories, which were followed by SEC investigations into borrowing practices at over-leveraged Chesapeake.
I’m an environmentalist, but equally a pragmatist. Fracking is almost certainly bad for chemistry in water and methane all over the place; and it might even be wrong to say natural gas is some kind of lesser evil than coal, but the most unfortunate sin Aubrey committed is pretending that fracking makes money, when it doesn’t. This has done, and will eventually do an incredible amount of damage to the increasingly battered fossil fuel industry. Sadly McClendon has hurt the rest of us too.
It’s a fiasco. Like the ethanol fiasco. Like some of the mistakes the wind industry keeps making. Because of the nature of change and innovation and free enterprise, these fiascos are to some extent unavoidable. But we need to work very hard to avoid them. They discourage investors and governments from trying ‘new’ things. They create a deadly state of paralysis.
Changing our energy landscape is hard enough without people letting excessive greed and pride and fear cloud the issues. We all know that in the long run our energy mix will change. The question from an environmentalist point of view is will it change in time to preserve some of the beauty and health that is still offered by our planet? The question from a capitalist point of view is can I make money while helping the planet?
In my world, both of these are reasonable questions from valued players. I’m a realist. It’s the people who know how to put money together, that really make things happen in this world. So environmentalists need to cool the rhetoric and guide our money people in the right directions, by speaking their language. Remind them over and over that clean tech will be a 4 trillion dollar industry in about 6 or 7 years (Pembina said recently 3 trillion -still big); that it has already outperformed almost everything else during the downturn. There is money to be made from the sun and the wind.
Remind them that their existing businesses can experience share price growth and bigger dividends in the short term, 3 years or less, just by hiring someone to look at corporate energy conservation. The savings are massive and it’s low hanging fruit!
Money people need our guidance and they are often as powerful or more powerful than governments in shaping change. Let’s steer them away from the fiascos, toward better investments. Let’s work on this together.
Not Enough Tories and Republicans Are Paying Attention
I just do not understand today’s conservatives. Why are many of you ignoring the modern way to make money? Clean tech represents one of the few guaranteed investment gold mines for capitalists, and conservation makes this a double whammy of Tory goodness.
Clean Tech will be $4.4 trillion in about 6-1/2 years
There are a whole pack of people quietly raking it in with clean tech, which is a $2.2 trillion business worldwide right now, and is expected to mushroom to about twice that during the next seven years. Its growth has outpaced almost everything during the downturn, on average 12% since 2007.
According to Bloomberg and the United Nations, global investment in renewable power and fuels increased 17% to a new record of $257 billion last year. USA investment leapt 57% to $51 billion. In 2010 China was the leader, investing $48 billion.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says global wind power capacity increased by an average annual growth rate of more than 25% over the past five years. Photovoltaic solar has grown more than 50% each year since 2006. The IEA’s 2012 World Energy Outlook projects a 300%-400% increase in electricity from renewables by 2035, based on information from oil companies and its member states, the largest countries in the world. Eventually renewables are expected to provide half the world’s energy or more.
The Tree-Huggers Are Now the Fat Cats
The world’s largest producer of wind energy, Spain-based Iberdrola SA, blew way analysts’ expectations last year with a whopping $4 billion in profits. Year over year investment growth for solar in Canada was 65% from 2005-2010. In the USA, solar employed more than 100,000 people in 2010-2011 compared with 82,500 for the coal industry.
Renewables technologies are increasingly profitable. In 2011 PV module prices fell by close to 50%, and onshore wind turbine prices dropped by 10%. Through district heating and cooling projects, geothermal capital costs are dropping, making levelized costs for geo more attractive.
Conservation and Building Efficiency
Analysts all agree that mechanical system retrofits in existing buildings will be a huge business for the next 10 years at least. According to the UK’s Grantham Research Institute, increasing insulation, draft-proofing, installing good-quality double-glazed windows and switching to more efficient appliances and lighting will save at least 10% on energy in residential retrofits and 25% in non-residential retrofits.
This is very real, big money. The Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada can provide years of perfectly documented case studies showing millions in savings. If you want a piece of the action, conservatives need to first recognize that this is the new business era we live in.
Nuclear Should be Frightening for Conservatives
It’s time to tell the truth. Nukes just make the richest labour unions richer. The USA Congressional Budget Office says the cost of building the last 75 nuclear plants in the U.S. exceeded estimates by more than 300%. So, actual cost was about $3000 per kW not including waste storage. Basically, business cases for nukes are not what thinking capitalists should admire.
In 2007 Moody’s Investor Service increased estimates to $5,000-$6,000 per kW and Keystone Center researchers found surprisingly high operating costs of 30 cents per kW. A proposed new Florida project was quoted at $8000 per kW in 2008. It takes something like 16 years from conception to operation, allowing costs to mushroom, and making the whole exercise a bit moot in today’s accelerating energy innovation environment. There are a lot of options that conservatives should look at instead, which are now very proven, all more competitive and much quicker to build.
In Canada in the Province of Ontario, one study showed that for 50% of the cost of a new nuclear reactor we could instead retrofit 1.6 million homes and save the same amount of energy. How can a conservative ignore a saving of half the cost? The study also showed it would create 90 times more modern-skilled jobs for our young people.
Mayor Ford and the Best Business in the World
I worked as chief of staff for a Toronto city councillor and got to know the now famous or infamous Mayor Ford. I won’t comment on his political missteps, but I will say that some of his ideas are not bad. One day his chief strategist asked for a meeting, I guess because he heard we had some green cred. The strategist told me in the meeting that green is a conservative concept, because it saves so much money and it will continue to be the best business in the world for the next few decades. He’s absolutely right.
Toronto is in the Province of Ontario. Last year I was talking to the President of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Allan O’Dette. You would probably have to describe him as a conservative. He agreed that the best strategy to revive the suffering Ontario manufacturing sector is to encourage development of clean tech.
It’s time for the rest of the conservatives out there to wake up and get in on the clean tech gold mine.
Click here for a laugh. Then remember, it shouldn’t be.
“There are no innocent bystanders.” --William S. Burroughs
The new normal: It’s 13oC in Toronto in mid January, it’s 53oC in Australia, and it’s snowing in Jerusalem, for the first time in 21 years.
2012 was the hottest year, ever, in the United States. In Brazil a heat wave killed 32 people in two days. Temperatures hit 43oC, the highest temperature since 1915. In Eastern Russia and in China temperatures hit -45oC, for China the coldest winter in 28 years. Sicily and southern Italy had snow storms for the first time since World War II. Four hundred people died in unexpected flooding in Pakistan. Britain’s weather service declared 2012 the wettest year in England.
Snow in Jerusalem
According to the New York Times, the first eight days of 2013 were among the 20 hottest on record in Australia. “Every decade since the 1950s has been hotter in Australia than the one before, said Mark Stafford Smith, science director of the Climate Adaptation Flagship at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.” See http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/heat-flood-or-icy-cold-extreme-weather-rages-worldwide-316370
Eerie dust storm off the west coast of Australia
“It’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once,” said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Association, in Geneva.
Lakiya Culley, an administrative assistant at the U.S. State Department and mother of three, just moved into one of the most innovative, energy-efficient houses in the U.S. – in a rather unlikely location.
Culley lives in Deanwood, a working class, primarily African American neighborhood of Washington, D.C., that has recently struggled with foreclosures. She is now the proud owner of an Empowerhouse, a home that produces all of its own energy, a feat made simpler by the fact that it consumes 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a conventional home.
Empowerhouse, which uses “passive house” technologies, was designed by students at the New School and Stevens Institute of Technology as part of the Solar Decathlon design competition, which was held on the National Mall in 2011. Developed in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, the house marks the first time in the Solar Decathlon’s history that a team partnered with civic and government organizations to make a house a reality in the District.
Solar Decathlon organizers added a new category so that teams could earn points for affordability after some criticism that homes were getting out-of-control-pricey and therefore weren’t realistic real-world models. A home from Germany, for example, cost upwards of $2 million. Each unit of the actual Empowerhouse in Deanwood (there are two apartments in the mini-complex), cost just $250,000, making it affordable in that neighborhood, according to a spokesperson at New School. The model, which was built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers, has been such a hit that six more are being planned for Ivy City, another inner-city neighborhood in the District.
The “net-zero” home is a marvel. The bright, bold exterior lights up the whole block. The healthy, light-filled interior is built out of sustainable, recycled materials. And the landscape architecture was integrated into the project from the beginning, said Professor Laura Briggs, faculty lead of the project at the New School. The result is stormwater management solutions that address the truly local environmental problems: the heavy runoff that impacts the already polluted rivers.
Each unit has terraces with green roofs and small plots for urban agriculture that are designed to capture some water. In the rear of each building is a rain garden that captures any rainwater that escapes from the roof gardens. Each unit also has its own underground cistern, where rainwater is collected and then used to water the property.
At the sides of the house, the parking space is made of permeable pavers that allow stormwater to sink into the underlying soils. And out front, there’s the District’s first residential green street, a deep trough filled with dirt and plants designed to soak up street runoff and deal with the oily pollutants that collect on streets. The landscape work was done with a the local organizations Groundwork Anacostia and D.C. Greenworks.
Both the homes and landscape were co-designed with the community. Students met with community members, local organizations, and Culley, the owner, in a series of design charrettes. The result of all that outreach and collaboration will be more projects in the neighborhood, including a new community “learning garden.” The designers say this was all part of creating social sustainability, a piece often left out of the puzzle.
Empowerhouse is a powerful model for how to bring sustainable, affordable, community-based housing to inner city neighborhoods, and there’s this: Habitat for Humanity now knows how to build these uber green homes in a low-cost way. No doubt we’ll be seeing more of them in unlikely locations in the future.
I received a request recently from one of Ontario’s top colleges asking if they could distribute a version of the energy story below to their students. These excerpts appeared originally in Canada’s oldest and perhaps most conservative plumbing & heating magazine, Plumbing & HVAC. Both its publication and the college’s request are achievements for the alternative version of the truth about global energy economics.
The Changing World of Energy Economics
By Bruce Nagy
Today: As of now about 80% of homes and businesses in the world are heated by oil & gas. About 67% of the world’s electricity comes from coal, oil and gas. But even the most optimistic prophets don’t predict more than 100 years supply of any of these fuels, and most admit it’s more like 30-50 years at affordable prices. That likely includes the current shale gas celebration in the USA, which investors are now seeing as a bit of a sham. Consumption of fossil fuels is still increasing. If Asia keeps growing at the current pace, the energy landscape will have to change a lot in the next 20-30 years. What will take the place of oil and coal?
Tomorrow: For install trends of mechanical equipment used to heat and cool North American buildings in the next few decades, a lot will depend on natural gas. Natural gas powered equipment continues to improve its efficiencies, and given most of the current load requirements, the capital cost for gas appliances has not yet been matched by renewables. Affordability of natural gas and building efficiencies will be the key factors.
Shale Gas Realities
Forget about Matt Damon’s movie the true fiction related to fracking may be its business model. American politicians would rather not create panic by talking about shrinking oil reserves, and they have used trouble in the Middle East as a rationale for discovering new USA energy sources. So it’s not surprising that something like shale gas might suddenly become a miracle cure. The shale gas revolution is based on newish technology that right now creates a higher cost model than traditional extraction. American investors jumped in because they were told it was profitable, but according to several petroleum industry analysts, the business cases that were used to prove this made questionable assumptions about gas field yields.
Now many shale projects are reaching peak production after just a few years, with dramatic fall-offs after that. This is a serious problem for investors, unless extraction becomes more effective and costs go down. If mistakes have been made then the statement ’100 years of cheap natural gas’ contains two inaccuracies. It might not be cheap and there might not be a 100-year supply.
No. The economics of nuclear energy are in even worse shape. Once a plant is built it supposedly provides a lot of power very inexpensively, but the truth is coming out. Due to chronic overruns, investors stopped taking cost estimates for new nuke plants seriously around 1980. The USA Congressional Budget Office says the actual cost of building 75 nuclear power plants in the U.S. exceeded industry quoted estimates by more than 300 percent (actual cost about $3000 per kW not including waste storage).
In 2007 Moody’s Investor Service increased estimates to $5,000-$6,000 per kW and Keystone Center researchers found surprisingly high operating costs of 30 cents per kW. A proposed new Florida project was quoted at $8000 per kW in 2008. It takes something like 16 years from conception to operation, allowing costs to mushroom and making the whole exercise a bit moot in today’s accelerating energy innovation environment. Waste-to-energy, biomass CHP, big wind and huge solar farms are all more competitive and much quicker to build.
In the 1960s and 1970s the USA and Germany tested another kind of nuclear that uses thorium rather than uranium as a fuel. There has been some recent interest in resurrecting its possibilities. India has some reactors under construction and continues to conduct research. China has started a program. Thorium is less expensive, much more efficient and safe, and more abundant, especially in the USA, India, Australia, Turkey and Canada.
There are some who say that thorium nuclear is far better than uranium nuclear because it leaves very little radioactive waste behind that must be stored for thousands of years, and might even be able to burn up the stockpiles of waste we have now. With thorium reactor designs available, meltdowns are reportedly easy to avoid and the likelihood of a terrorist (or country) using the technology to make a bomb is almost zero. Thorium reactors might even be less expensive. The problem is, we don’t know. We are just starting detailed, costly research. We could have started in the 1940s when R&D was affordable. Why didn’t we? Because you could make a bomb with plutonium and power a nuclear submarine for war efforts, so that’s where the research dollars went.
Several kinds of wood products, waste products and agricultural biomass are making a huge impact on the generation of electricity and are also gaining in popularity as fuels for heating buildings. Theoretically biomass is one of the only base load renewable energy sources with widespread availability, considered by some as inexhaustible. It currently supplies about 14% of global primary energy with technologies now spreading from Europe to every corner of the world. Traditional biomass products like ﬁrewood, charcoal, manure, and crop residues provide the main source of household energy use for 2-3 billion people worldwide. It now involves grasses and woody plants, leaves, wood, wood chips, rice husks, peanut shells, sugarcane fiber, garbage, and waste. It is also now much more common as a fuel in many kinds of electric power plants (and large institutional or district heating plants). According to Pike Research, worldwide biomass power generation capacity will grow to at least 86 GW by 2021, from 58 GW in 2011. That represents a total investment of $104 billion. The main ecological concern is greed and breaking rules. For example making wood pellets from beetle kill lumber or from forest slash that would normally be burnt wastefully in the open air by foresters are both environmentally sensible, but clear-cutting forests is not.
Ethanol received a lot of attention a few years ago as a transportation fuel until it was realized that the energy input coefficient didn’t make much sense and neither did displacing USA food crops to make it. Nonetheless it’s still big business in some areas. In Brazil where it is made from sugar cane it is very successful, but sadly they reportedly clear-cut boreal forest so they can have room to grow the cane.
Investors now are excited about the prospects for algae. Algae absorbs CO2 while growing, can be generated pretty quickly using comparatively little acreage in controlled circumstances, and converted to a relatively clean burning transportation fuel. The economics and energy coefficients are all good; and although the process requires large amounts of water, the water is recycled, re-used and not polluted by the process. There is a lot of secrecy around this currently, but there are two key technologies still being taken seriously by investors. At least one of them is likely to succeed, primarily because the military is investing very heavily in its commercialization and it is a natural fit for their operations. It is expected to save a huge amount on air and ground transportation fuel costs. There are other possible applications, but we’re still four or five years from significant implementation.
Tipping point: Investors are now really committing to electricity from renewables. According to Bloomberg and the United Nations, global investment in renewable power and fuels increased 17% to a new record of $257 billion last year. USA investment leapt 57% to $51 billion. In 2010 China was the leader, investing $48 billion, while rooftop projects in Germany and Italy together reached $60 billion-worth of investment, up more than 90% from 2009.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) global wind power capacity was 238 Gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2011, up from 18 GW at the end of 2000, including an average growth rate of more than 25% over the past five years. PV was roughly 67 GW at the end of 2011, compared with just 1.5 GW in 2000, growing more than 50% each year since 2006. The IEA’s 2012 World Energy Outlook projects a 300%-400% increase in electricity from renewables by 2035, based on information from its member states, (the largest countries in the world). Eventually renewables are expected to provide half the world’s energy or more.
Hydro creates 17% of the world’s electricity. Due to long pay back periods, high capital costs, and environmental disruption, development of large-scale hydroelectric facilities has stalled in North America. Small-scale and micro-scale hydropower, however, show great promise for further development and expansion in the coming years. Only 2% of the more than 75,000 dams in the USA are currently used to generate electric power. And researchers are studying advanced turbine technologies that will help maximize the use of hydropower and minimize adverse environmental effects.
The German government commissioned a study which reported in September 2012 that even during the horrible years since 2007 while every other business suffered, clean tech has grown consistently, 12% per year, and is projected to double, becoming a 4.4 trillion in the next 7 years.
Are renewables profitable? The world’s largest producer of wind energy, Spain-based Iberdrola SA, blew way analysts’ expectations last year with a whopping $4 billion in profits. Canada’s energy guru and author Tom Rand reports that year over year investment growth for solar was 65% from 2005-2010, (and that in the USA solar employed more than 100,000 people in 2010-2011 compared with 82,500 for the coal industry).
Renewables economics should continue to improve as technologies are refined. In 2011 PV module prices fell by close to 50%, and onshore wind turbine prices dropped by 10%. Through district heating and cooling projects, geothermal capital costs are dropping, making levelized costs for geo increasingly attractive.
Conservation and Building Efficiency
HVAC in general is predicted to enjoy healthy growth in North America for the next few years. Analysts all agree that retrofits will be a huge business for the next 10 years at least. According to the UK’s Grantham Research Institute, increasing insulation, draft proofing, installing good-quality double-glazed windows and switching to more efficient appliances and light bulbs will save a minimum of 10% on energy in residential retrofits and 25% in non-residential retrofits.
As we all know for new construction, current savings are between 30% and 50% with contemporary thermal-bridge-minimized envelopes; except with the Passivhaus standard (now in the code in Germany) which saves about 80%-90%. Needless to say when all buildings are built to the Passivhaus Standard, the HVAC-energy discussion will be much different.
Bruce Nagy writes about sustainability and energy for several national magazines, an online webisodic green TV show, some ethical organizations, the Leader of the Green Party of Ontario and his blog http://NewEnergyAge.wordpress.com. See also @BFNagy on twitter, Bruce Nagy on facebook and http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=169790088&trk=tab_pro
The World is Flat is the name of an online comedy TV show of very short webisodes about some funny people working for a fictional environment ministry. It’s in production now and will be released to the public in the coming months. It is primarily entertainment but it also promotes a greener planet.
I worked on it with a wonderful group of people and as I did so, I realized that like many cities, Toronto enjoys a wealth of talented people, capable of producing first-class entertainment. I also realized that unlike other cities, Toronto is uniquely positioned to lead the world in very positive directions in the twenty-first century. This may sound like a grandiose declaration but I assure you I have reached this conclusion based on what I perceive to be factual evidence, while wearing my cynical, skeptical journalist’s hat.
ONLY IN TORONTO
I had my first inkling of this belief a few years ago when I was writing a story about Toronto’s deep water cooling project. It’s a system that brings the cleanest possible water from the deepest depths of Lake Ontario into the city’s drinking water network, while also helping to air condition about 100 downtown office towers. The City pays theoretically extra to pump from the best available feasible source. But it saves by partnering with the private sector Enwave Corporation, which helps defray the cost of warming this 4oC water enough for domestic use, by extracting its coolness for A/C, in an exemplary feat of modern engineering. Toronto is not the only place in the world where something like this is achieved, but its system is more than twice the size of its nearest rival (Hawaii) and easily the most advanced.
Why is this important? Because as it was explained to me, the coincidence of the right geographic, technical, financial and political conditions to make this possible are rare indeed. My source laid particular emphasis on the human element. Where in most cities such an achievement would almost certainly be scuttled by bureaucratic or political squabbling during it’s very long development process, it somehow survived and has since thrived in Toronto (Evidence of success -major pension plans own stakes).
ONLY IN TORONTO
When green author and investor Tom Rand decided to build a hostel-hotel near Kensington Market to show off green building technology, he realized that a key goal would depend on a completely new city planning precedent. He wanted geothermal heating and cooling, which means drilling deep wells into the ground to extract warmth in winter and coolness in summer.
Except he couldn’t easily drill because he was renovating an existing building that covered the whole lot. The wells would best be drilled on city land in the alleyway. There were sewers, water lines, gas lines, and communication lines beneath the pavement; a horror show of permits and opportunities for someone to say “NO”. Planning departments in most big cities would have nixed this idea fast, but not in Toronto. Not only was it approved and built, but Toronto created a policy that will allow others to complete similar projects more smoothly in the future.
ONLY IN TORONTO
Coming back to the actors and crew of The World is Flat web TV comedy; this group produced 10 episodes with almost no budget. They agreed to come together and work very long hours with people they didn’t know for no pay on weekends. They borrowed and rented some equipment. Tonya Surman a the Centre for Social Innovation on Bathurst and Rob Angeloni at a small local ad agency (CVC Communications) let them film scenes in their offices for free. There were a lot of sacrifices made. Any one of the 20 or so people involved could have said “NO” or just given up in the middle of the project. But they didn’t. Because this is Toronto.
As one of the continent’s biggest cities, Toronto brings together a lot of talented and intelligent people, like other places do. But the people here are also uncommonly decent and caring. They agree to do things for a higher purpose. They are proud of their moral fibre and they should be. And they are uniquely positioned to lead the world into the best possible directions in the twenty-first century.
The world is changing the way we heat and cool buildings, but we are all a part of that change. We may say cynically that too many decisions in the world are based on money, but the reality is we have to pay our bills, and we therefore have to choose green technologies that make economic sense. How much is the install (capital) cost? Or more to the point, how much is the financing and resale bump? Most important how much is the utility (operating) cost savings each month?
Lots of inventions turn out to be not as good as others; and although in general green tech is not a new invention and has decades of proof, it is being refined all the time with claimed improvements that might be untested. Heating & cooling is saving a ton of money right now, but every building and its variables are different. Before you commit enthusiastically to a new green heating and cooling system, start with an accurate fuel cost comparison. It’s not just how much the fuel costs per BTU, but also how efficient the mechanics are, both the appliances and the distribution within your building. With your green tech heating and cooling guy sitting next to you go to http://www.BuildingGreen.com/calc/fuel_cost.cfm and get him to honestly estimate some numbers to put into the calculator to make sure you are making a wise decision. (Then get 2 more quotes and do the same exercise with those heating and cooling people) Then go get a good deal from your bank manager on the financing.
COFFIN NAILED SHUT ON CLIMATE DEBATE
You would never argue that smoking is good for you, because everyone knows someone who has died early from smoking. It’s right outside our door. It’s hardly a theory. Now NASA scientist James Hansen has published a study proving that the planet is too hot, and it’s not a theory. Hansen has continuously made accurate predictions about droughts, extreme weather, Arctic melting and climate science for 30 years. This illustration from his study makes it very real.
Hansen says that: “Our analysis shows… a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications…for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change…When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988…I painted a grim picture (and still) I was too optimistic.”
See Hansen’s summary in the Washington Post:
Are you different? You are. I’ve discovered that you and many others want to do more than talk about a better future. You want to take action. It seems hard some days, but don’t let it get you down. It’s actually quite easy and we have everything we need. Read on.
On those darker days we ask, are we making any progress? What are we up against? Reading the news can be demoralizing and changes our view of the world. The stories about murder, mayhem, bad ideas, scandal and salaciousness grab the headlines. The people with power seem inaccessible and busy with immediate crises. I often feel powerless to help change things. But actually things have changed a lot lately. We’re beginning to turn the corner.
“WE’RE DIFFERENT, RIGHT DAD?”
Back around 1999 I felt powerless and was trying to explain to my 5-year-old son that there was plenty of talk about helping with climate change, but precious little action. He said innocently, “But we’re different, right Dad? We’re helping.” He looked straight into my eyes. I had nothing but lame responses. That moment has never left me. It changed me. It focussed me.
I was caught up in family and professional pressures. I think I lacked humility and saw myself as successful, having spent some years writing ads, PR and journalism for money. I’m not overly qualified to do other things, so since then I’ve been looking for people like you. People who are different. People with simple, positive stories. Our stories might not be salacious or scandalous; but we can make them fun and uplifting.
WE NEED TO COMPETE WITH THE MISINFORMATION & MISSED INFORMATION
As I have gathered and shared your stories in the last 12 or 13 years, I’ve learned that we are making more progress than I ever imagined. Ironically, we don’t talk about it enough. These tales don’t often create juicy daily headlines partly because the people who became wealthy the old way are spending a lot of money spreading their version of the truth; to prevent advancements that work against their wealth on one hand; and to monopolize and manipulate the new energy age for their future gain on the other.
So we need to share our great green stories. We need to compete with the misinformation and the missed information. We need to motivate each other. We need to provide how-to info. We need to help everyone benefit from our changing world.
By interviewing experts and researching stories for newspapers, magazines, politicians, reports, and documentaries, I’ve learned in minute technical detail that science has already created, and is currently refining, pretty much everything we need, (more than we need), not only to fix the planet environmentally, but economically too. There have been hiccups as expected, but on the whole these new energy businesses are now being commercialized and making plenty of money. The proof is that now investors are beginning to wake up to the opportunity (We’re turning the corner). I’m not saying any of this tentatively anymore. I’ve never been so sure about anything in my life. Read this blog for complete, hopefully digestible details. I have more material about great people than I can ever publish. I can connect you with scientists, energy specialists, investors, financiers, manufacturers, designers, builders and on an on. They know more or less what the future holds. And they know that you and I have a role to play. We need to share our stories and give change the push it needs.
THE ACTION IS AT THE LOCAL LEVEL
People like you and I, and local and regional government people, people in businesses big and small –We’re much more active than we even realize. The nightly news reports what national governments and country leaders are saying. But these individuals barely participate in change and do so at a snail’s pace, building consensus, managing messages and people. They rarely say anything bold, or act on long term planning, right? Too risky for them. They’re trying to keep all the balls in the air, react to the latest crises, not offend the voters or the wealthy, the campaign contributors.
IT’S EASY TO SEND A LINK OR A FEW SENTENCES – AND IMPORTANT
Are you different? You are. You are ready to act. Please send me stories about sustainability and great people. I collect them all. Then I spread them. Any story. One sentence or a lot of sentences. A photo or video or link. It’s pretty easy. A few clicks. A few minutes.
My answer to my son’s question in 1999 is that yes, we’re different. We’re helping. We’re uncovering and spreading the really spectacular, juiciest news in our world. Please help me do it. Please send me great green stories.