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News & Views Curation

April 30, 2007

A Guide For The Perplexed

The worst carbon offset schemes are like the sale of religious indulgences in the Middle Ages. Here's a report card on the carbon offset market in the Carbon Ages. A Consumer's Guide(1.1MB)

A Litany Of Can'ts

At a federal trial in Vermont, the Big Three automakers say they just can't slash CO2 emissions in order to meet state rules. Why is that?

Thumbs-Down On Geo-Engineering

The soon-to-be-released IPCC report gives us just 20-30 years to devise workable responses to climate change. Edgy geo-engineering ideas won't do. Stay tuned

What's Big And Green Down Under?

A new office tower in Sydney scores high on the Australian Building Greenhouse Rating with 30% lower CO2 emissions than any similar structure. Lead on

April 28, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Widespread failures and possible fraud found in carbon credit markets. Look into it

The Northwest Passage Revealed

With a new international sea lane emerging in the arctic, there will be geopolitical consequences. Find out

April 27, 2007

Rules Of The Game

The US utility industry is divided over defining rules for a national carbon cap and trade scheme. Learn more

And The Winners Are...

Environmental architects at AIA-COTE honor ten top high-performance buildings around the US. More, more

Up On The Roof

City College of NY students launch a green roof consulting firm to assist Harlem residents and property owners. Aim high

April 26, 2007

See You In Court

California will sue the EPA if it doesn't act soon to regulate GHG auto emissions. 180 days, snap!

Room To Shrink

Chinese leaders signal possible intererst in considering reduction of carbon emissions. Any bets?

April 25, 2007

Your Future In Weather Futures

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange will start trading weather futures as part of the world's first global warming index. What's that?

Big, Bigger, Biggest

China is expected to become the planet's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2007, 3 years ahead of schedule. Gee whiz

What, Me Worry?

In response to Congressional questions about a date for issuing carbon dioxide regulations, the EPA Administrator said,"I'm not going to be forced into making a snap decision." Snap snap

Global Summit-Global Climate

US opposition to concerted climate change action threatens summit meeting work on a post-Kyoto agreement. Just say no

April 24, 2007

Be A Greener Consumer

Don't mourn, organize yourself. Check it out

Uunartoq Qeqeroq

With Greenland's ice sheet melting away, a new coastal island has appeared. It's English name is Warming Island Imagine that

CAPs on Carbon

What do major corporations want to do about global warming? A. nothing B. cap it and trade it C. tax it. What they want will really matter. Take notes

April 22, 2007

PlaNYC 2030

The Christian Science Monitor

New York City's mayor wants to turn the city green.

"In an era in which New Yorkers have decided to have term limits on their elected officials with a maximum of eight years for everyone, if they want to do something with a longer shelf life, you need legislation or a lasting bureaucratic structure that is hard to break up," says Nancy Anderson, executive director of the Sallan Foundation, in the Christian Science Monitor.

Worldwide, New York is known as the Big Apple, but if Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets his way, it will become the Green Apple.

Under his vision for the city, there will be a park within a ten-minute walk of all residents. A million new trees will shade streets and filter out carbon dioxide. Anyone driving on those streets will have to pay extra if it's in congested Manhattan. And there will be new subways and buses, so New Yorkers won't mind taking mass transit.

Those are just some of the changes introduced Sunday, on Earth Day, by Mr. Bloomberg. His goal is to reduce the city's greenhouse-gas emissions 30 percent by 2030. He wants his town to have the cleanest air, the purest water, and the best land-use practices. The mayor's ambitious program of 127 separate initiatives has more than local ramifications, because New York represents 1 percent of total US greenhouse-gas emissions.

Experts in sustainability are enthusiastic about Bloomberg's initiative. They say it's easier to make changes at a metro scale than at a national scale. Plus, cities are where the most waste is produced and the most energy is consumed. Read Ron Scherer's article in full.

Earth Day in NYC

Although the local media's fixated on the congestion pricing proposal that is one part of the Mayor's new PlaNYC 2030, the playcalso has things to say about climate change. Here's a chance to think for yourself. Log in

Earth Day in MA

Massachusetts will require private developers to estimate GHG's linked new large-scale projects and take steps to reduce them. All projects in the state that undergo Environmental Reviews will have to take their GHG impact into account. Roll up your sleeves

April 20, 2007

We're Not There Yet

Spitzer's Pledge "15 By 15"

To combat climate change while keeping a lid on electric prices, New York's governor announced a plan to reduce demand for electricity while obaining new power from clean, renewable resources. Stay tuned

Oakland's On Top

Sustain Lane's 2006-07 sustainable cities report rates Oakland, CA. as best in class for using renewable energy. NYC doesn't make it to the top ten list. Plug in

April 19, 2007

Green! Affordable! & Redeveloped!

Affordable housing on Staten Island-apartments and two-family homes-will be rebuilt as part of a LEED for Homes pilot program Cheers

Carbon Markets-Revenues Up, Profit Downs

The European Climate Exchange, which buys and sells carbon emissions credits in the EU and the US, is growing up. Green eyeshade time

April 18, 2007

O No! More Ozone

A scientific comparison of gasoline and ethanol E85 finds that E85 poses health risks, especially asthma, which are linked to elevated ozone levels in the air. Don't inhale

Another Way To Price Carbon

NYC, a center of financial capital and carbon emissions, has found a way to assign a dollar value to its trees. Get invested

Climate Conflict at UN

China and India argue that climate change is not a proper topic for Security Council debate. Who'll blink?

April 17, 2007

Carbon Tax-Yes

This pro-carbon tax essay makes it look easy. Read the comments too

Carnivorous Biofuel

Sallan's newest Snapshot provides a primer on plant-derived biofuels. Here's a companion piece on biodiesel from beef, pork and poultry fat. Dig in

New! Fast! Hot!

Last year we posted a Snapshot that argued the best way to market greener products was to be "transparently" green. That is, don't focus on the environmental virtue of the product, but instead on its conventional consumer appeal. Now Home Depot is leaping into the green market the old-fashioned way, by appealing to consumers' green conscience.

April 16, 2007

Picture A Farmhouse Up In The Sky

Forget the penthouse. Here's a new vision for 21st Century urban life. Going up

Plant-Based Heat for Your Home

As biofuels become a daily news topic, they entice readers with ‘warm and positive feelings’ about ‘green’ fuels. Unfortunately most coverage glosses over limits to such fuels, while ignoring clear benefits they might bring to urban settings. This brief primer may help frame the inherent constraints and the positive roles for biofuels use in green cities.

Biofuels (primarily ethanol and biodiesel) are derived from biomass or biomass by-products. In the U.S, ethanol is made from corn via a process yielding just under 3 gallons/bushel of corn and solids known as distillers dry grains, which go for animal feed. In Brazil and several Caribbean nations, ethanol is made from sugar cane at much higher efficiencies.

Biodiesel (BD) is produced either from virgin or waste vegetable oils, also yielding soybean ‘crush’ for use as animal feed. In the U.S., BD is made primarily from soybeans. The European Union uses rapeseed (canola) as a feedstock, although other crops (such as flax- and mustard-seed) can also be used. Rudolf Diesel‘s prize-winning engine at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair was powered with peanut oil.

Physics and engine design make BD a much ‘greener’ fuel than ethanol, although both are still net carbon sources (not sinks). Corn-based ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) over gasoline combustion by 12%, while BD reduces petrol diesel GHG emissions by 41%. Diesel engines can be up to 25-30% more efficient than gas-powered engines: in terms of stored energy, ethanol contains only half the energy (calories/volume) of either BD or gasoline. The current and massive conversion of U.S. cropland to corn for ethanol can therefore be viewed as a hugely subsidized method of producing ‘weak beer’. Although automakers earn hybrid credits for each E85vehicle, drivers tanking up with E85 (85% ethanol: 15% gas) will see there mileage drop by 20%, requiring five gallons of gas to go the same distance as four gallons of regular. It’s akin to a diner at the Carnegie Deli getting the combo sandwich and feeling good about the diet Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda that goes with it.

Such talk about corn and cars ignores the truly remarkable and immediate potential for biofuel use in New York that points a path toward a greener and healthier city. The real prize lies in BD use in stationery engines, especially the boilers that heat New York homes, apartments, commercial and public buildings. In the U.S., nearly 90% of all oil heat is used east of Pittsburgh and north of Washington, DC. New York is heated by steam boilers–fully half the City’s dwelling units (3 million in 1996) use oil-fired or dual fuel (interruptible gas) heat. Along with exposing the City’s building owners to an increasingly volatile international oil market, oil-fired heat and its remaining oil-fired power plants generate significant amounts of air pollution. The 23,500 tons of sulphur dioxide emitted in 2004 contributed to total mortality for NYC residents from diesel fine particles that was the highest in the nation, which translated into a per capita death rate behind only Beaumont, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana – both major centers of petroleum refining (See Diesel Health in America:The Lingering Threat).

While enthusiasm over the increasing number of high performance ‘green buildings’ is welcome and warranted, there are still only 100 ‘green’ buildings a city with 950,000 structures. To make a difference, we have to pay equal attention to demand and supply, repowering the current built environment with newer and better fuels even as we retrofit, insulate and tighten up existing structures. BD burns more cleanly, has roughly the same energy content (Btu/gallon) and the price margin between B20 (20% biodiesel) and regular #2 heating oil has narrowed over the current past heating season so that the New York State tax credit for home and coop owners can find the B20 price post-credit often below regular heating oil.

BD can be blended with existing heating oil without replacing boilers or changing over burners: this process of adopting BD for heating is already underway. A fuel dealer in Newburgh, NY has been delivering to 100+ homes for three heating seasons, and Brookhaven National Lab researchers have heated Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill National Park Service site for several seasons. Schildwachter Oil, a pioneering Bronx fuel oil dealer has been delivering B20 to all Upper Manhattan, Bronx and Westchester customers since fall 2006, and Metro Fuel Oil in Brooklyn is now providing B20 to buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan under a demonstration project with Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Superintendents Technical Assoc. and Brookhaven. B5 to B20 is tested to an ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) quality standard for biodiesel as heating fuel.

BD use at the 20% level for heating fuel significantly cuts particulates, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide, and even higher blends are possible. New work is underway to assess BD blended with #6 heating oil, an inexpensive, ‘dirtier’ fuel oil compared with #2. ‘Big small users’ such as major universities and hospitals typically use large amounts of #2, #4 or #6 heating oil, often in dual fuel (oil and gas) systems, switching back and forth by price and/or season: for example, St. John’s University alone burns 2 million gallons of heating oil each year. Over 80% of the 170,000 NYC Housing Authority units use oil heat, with many developments located in City Health Districts (South Bronx, Morrisania, East Harlem and Bushwick, etc.) that show extremely high residential asthma rates, especially for children and the elderly. Immediate conversion of those developments to BD20 is an environmental and a public health imperative. Wide adoption of BD for bus fleets would further benefit residents in those communities of color where MTA bus depots are invariably sited. Cincinnati runs its buses on B30, and all school buses in Denver use B20.

“If biofuel use is such a good idea, why doesn’t everyone..?” Adoption of new fuel and technologies is rarely simple or direct, and barriers–both physical and psychological–need to be overcome to build an industry sustainable and supportive for user and producer alike. At present, there’s one refinery (as distinct from blending plant) using virgin oil operating in the New York region, Fuel-Bio, Inc. in Elizabeth, NJ. Others are in development, in Brooklyn by Metro Fuel (Newtown Creek), near Rochester (Northern Biodiesel), and near Fulton (Homeland Energy). A plant using waste vegetable oil (WVO) feedstock is being built in Red Hook, Brooklyn by Tri-State Biodiesel. Research by Cornell (2005) showed that 1.6 to over 1.8 million gallons of WVO is generated by retail food businesses just in Brooklyn, one indication of the potential biofuel resources generated within NYC.

Currently, renderers collect almost all WVO, which makes them potential future BD sources. If there were widespread adoption of B20 as a heating fuel for all apartments yields, overall NYC demand for B20 would take up 1/5 of all projected BD produced in the U.S. this in 2007! BD presently arrives either by rail (from the Midwest) or by barge (from Mid-Atlantic states). Suppliers need an economy of scale and delivery for their customers, as fuel trucks can’t readily switch fuels, and NY building owners.

A well-insulated and efficient building using B20 will reduce demand for oil by the same amount (20%), especially if the BD is refined as close as possible to the user (think local food), making fuel choice sustainable only if the scale and the life cycle costs are closely balanced. Such life-cycle standards should promote development of regional feedstocks and WVO use wherever possible, as cost-driven industry decisions are generating investment decisions and fuel source choices that are neither sustainable nor self-reliance. For example, as soybean prices rise in step with corn prices and the related shift to grow corn instead of soybeans, BD refiners are seeking out imported soya oil (from Brazil) and palm oil (from Indonesia) grown on cleared forestland and sensitive habitat. When lowland habitats are burned for use as palm oil plantations, that process releases 3 times more carbon than one ‘saves’ by using palm oil as BD: the climate effect is not positive.

European writers and environmentalists are clamoring for a ‘time out’ in biofuel production to assess long-range BD goals in light of these troubling global trends. In the U.S. Midwest, rising natural gas prices have even led some plants to power their ethanol refineries with coal, and the run up in corn production is increasing U.S. imports of fertilizer from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela While environmental costs of fuel production are often indirect and far away, we have to be mindful of the origin and nature of the fuels and the overall impact of crops grown to satisfy increasing international demand. A gatha or prayer, written over ten centuries ago and still recited by Zen Buddhist practitioners says, “Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the food behind in walking”. Supply and demand are just like that, and must be addressed in equal measure if a growing green fuel industry is to provide real and sustainable environmental and public health benefits.

John S. Nettleton, Sr. is an Associate at the Cornell Co-operative Extension in NYC.

The Climate Allies

The UK and Germany will press the US and Canada to join the battle on climate change at June's G8 summit. Stay tuned

To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required

A panel of retired senior military officers and national securiy experts spell out links between national security and the threat of climate changes in this must read report. (1.2MB)

April 13, 2007

Chinese Statements

The Chinese government states its willingness to participate in future negotiations about global warming for a post-Kyoto Protocol world. File this

Worst Of Times/Best Of Times

For Jay Insleee, a Congress member from Washington, the big issues are clean energy and climate change. Now, they're climbing the federal legislative agenda. What's in store?

Shrink That Oily Carbon Footprint

ConocoPhillips, breaking rank with its global Big Oil brothers, is calling for climate change legislation and it's putting money into a range of GHG reduction plans. Get the news

In Praise Of Granite Gardens

Take a moment to imagine the kind of city you want to live in. Aspire higher

April 12, 2007

Fuzzy Math

If carbon markets are part of the climate change solution, then erratic price signals are a big problem. Is that clear?

Too Hot, Too Dry

Israel, known for its arid climate and hot summers, is concerned about climate change impacts. Read on

A New Northern Light

Ontario, New York's northern neighbor, will be joining RGGI, the nine state cap and trade program to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The initiative goes into effect in 2009. Plug in

April 11, 2007

Something's Happening Here

Billed as the great debate on global warming, when John Kerry met up with Newt Gingrich they didn't argue - they agreed. Only their positions on cap & trade or taxing carbon divided them. What next

April 10, 2007

Growing Or Groan?

The European carbon cap and trade scheme is being eyed by Congress as a model for US legislation, but does the European carbon market suffer from something more than growing pains? Look into it

The Inventory Of NYC Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Did you know that the Big Apple emitted 58.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2005? Of these, 79% were caused by the consumption of energy by buildings. And did you know that the average NYC resident is responsible for 7.1 tons of carbon emissions every year, while the average American is responsible for 24.5 tons of the same emissions? Read it now.

April 09, 2007

IPCC 4 Report-Impacts The Scientists' Version

In light of the controversy between scientists and diplomats over language in the latest IPCC 4 Report, here's what the scientists wanted to say. Compare & contrast

IPCC 4 Report-Impacts The Final Version

Here's a link to the Summary for Policy Makers of the IPCC's second report on Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability

Electric Kills

Cities are host to and a migratory flyway for millions of birds and they can be blinded and killed by electric light pollution. The UK view

Global Warmng, Standing & States' Rights

Last week's Massachussets v EPA 5-4 Supreme Court ruling reflects a split on the legal doctrines of "standing" and "states' rights" Take notes

April 05, 2007

Court Ruling Kicks Off EPA Review

With US EPA reopening its review of California's rules on CO2 tailpipe emissions, the impact of the Supreme Court ruling starts to be felt. Check it out

These Happy Few

While only a tiny number of new US homes are green, a survey finds owners are an enthusiastic lot and that home remodelers are going greener too. Get happy

April 04, 2007

EU Carbon Emissions Up, Not Down

Generous caps on EU carbon emissions imperil the entire cap and trade climate change strategy. Read the latest

Find The Right Word

Acting on climate change is hard, but even talking about it isn't easy. Listen up

NYU To Get Clean Heat and Power

With community approval, this mega-university will build a combined heat and power (CHP) installation in Greenwich Village. Plug in

The Barely Green Apple

Are government and the utility industry the obstacle to high performance building in the Big Apple? Find out

April 03, 2007

Offsetting or Offputting?

Buying carbon offsets is chic - but what do offsets offset? Buyer beware

April 02, 2007

Build A Cooler Planet

Making high performance building the world's new normal will go a long way to fight global warming. Read Buildings and Climate Change-Executive Summary

It's Official-C02 is a Pollutant

In a landmark 5-4 decision in Massachusetts v EPA, the US Supreme Court found that the EPA has the legal power to carbon under the Clean Air Act. Read it here

What's The Rush?

Michigan Congress member Dingell won't set a time frame for global warming legislaton. Read more

The Carbon Solution-Trade It

And in this corner of the carbon contest... Trade

The Carbon Solution-Tax It

The carbon tax or trade debate is heating up. In this corner... Tax

High Performance Ideas Needed

Innovation and access to a new generation of enegy efficiencies are must-haves to combat climate change. Earth Institute Report