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Delving Into The ‘Lost’ World

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Dharma Initiative skateboard
We’re departing from the usual green stuff today to dip our toes into the world of TV blogging.

This post was moved to the Captivate 'Out and About' blog -- click here to read the review in its entirety, and to follow Captivate's other ventures out of the elevator!

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Center For Inquiry’s Credibility Project

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

There is a pretty substantial amount of opposition to the Waxman-Markey bill (the Democrat-penned global warming legislation passed by the House and waiting in the Senate, probably to be taken up next month). So much so that there are strong doubts it and its cap-and-trade provision will ever become law.

There are many different rationales for Waxman-Markey opposition, but they can all be categorized under either of two general headings: “I don’t agree with the premise,” or “I don’t agree with the details.” We’ll get to the detail disagreers at another time. Today we’ll deal with the hardcore dissenters – those who aren’t behind Waxman-Markey because they think manmade global warming is a bunch of hooey.

The hooey-ists are led by Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee who for 15 years has been the Senate’s loudest global-warming skeptic. (To give you an idea of where he’s coming from, he lists a “Lifetime Service Award from the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association” and an “A+ rating from the National Rifle Association” among his accomplishments.)

Sen. Inhofe put together the United States Senate Minority Report on Global Warming, a collection of 400 (700, in its latest iteration) scientists who question or outright reject man-made global warming. Basically it’s intended as a retort to the IPCC, and it’s often cited by global warming skeptics, as in, “look at this; there are tons of well-educated, highly qualified professionals out there who don’t believe the global warming hype.”

But in a retort of its own, the Center for Inquiry – a non-partisan nonprofit that “advocates for science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values” – released its Credibility Project.

The Credibility Project concludes that 80% of the Minority Report’s “dissenting scientists” haven’t published peer-reviewed climate research, an indication that the vast majority of the skeptics the Minority Report considers authorities are, in fact, not.

The Project also found 8% on the list not only aren’t climate scientists, but they’re not scientists of any kind. It also shows 11% of those on the list aren’t truly AGW skeptics.

If the Minority Report is pretty much a “best of the best” argument against there being a consensus on AGW in the scientific community, and the Minority Report doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, what do skeptics have left?

Applying the Center for Inquiry’s math, about 120. About 120 climate scientists skeptical that global warming is caused by human actions, compared to the roughly 2,000 scientists who contributed to the latest IPCC report.

So where does that leave us re: opposition of Waxman-Markey? It means if you’re against it, it probably should be because of the details, not the premise.

We’ll cover the rationales of those who buy AGW but don’t like Waxman-Markey in a soon-to-follow post.






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The Story Behind Volt’s Staggering MPG

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 by Kyle Scribner


GM came out yesterday with the news that their Chevy Volt, due for sale late next year, will get 230 mpg.

To quote one of my favorite old-school Howard Stern soundbites, “whaaa whaaaa whaaaaaat?”

How exactly is Chevy of all carmakers going to effectively quadruple the mileage record for a standard-production vehicle? Is this just a massaging of the figures or could it actually be legit?

The EPA told Edmunds.com’s Green Car Advisor it hasn’t confirmed the 230 number, but that it “does applaud GM's commitment to designing and building the car of the future.” Hmm. That’s not very definitive sounding.

But it’s apropos, because there’s nothing definitive about the method apparently used to come up with the 230 number. In fact, it’s pretty arbitrary. Let’s start at the beginning.

The Volt is powered off an electrical charge, which comes from plugging it into a regular wall socket, that lasts for the first 40 miles. After that, its electricity is generated by a good old-fashioned internal combustion, gas-powered engine.

GM’s calculations – according to Volt project manager Tony Posawatz, as cited by Edmunds.com – don’t include whatever mpg equivalent the electric motor uses. (Mpgs for electric vehicles like the Volt are conversions, equivalents, computations of computations. They’re not the same as for standard-fuel vehicles, because their fuels are measured differently – you don’t have gallons of kilowatts, after all. But forget about all that, because GM isn’t even taking that into account for their 230 number. Yikes!)

This is how I imagine GM’s simple (disingenuous?) logic went (anything in parentheses is my editorial voice butting in on my pretend GM voice. Get it?): OK, here’s the mileage our motor gets when its electricity is gas-generated (let’s call it 40 mpg, based on reports that the gas tank is 8 gallons and it’s expected to be able to go 300 miles). Now, only a certain percentage of the time will a driver even need to use the gas-generated aspect, since the motor can go 40 miles on a plug-in charge (so the more often a driver goes fewer than 40 miles before plugging back in, the higher his mpg will be). And the Dept. of Transportation tells us the average American drives 29 miles a day. So let’s say our typical Volt driver will do this five days a week. Then on the sixth day, he rests; he only goes like 5 miles. And then on the seventh day he’s ready to really take off, so he’ll go like 80 miles. So let’s call it 230 mpg, since our typical Volt driver goes 230 miles (5 x 29 + 5 + 80) using one gallon of gas.

I know, kinda whacked. But it appears that’s the kind of approach going on here. And as arbitrary as it is, it still makes some sense, still seems honest in a way. What seems dishonest, though, is that they’re discounting whatever equivalent of mpg comes from charging via the plug-in. Once that’s included, it changes the calculations quite a bit. In the above scenario, for example, those six days when no gas is used currently amounts to an infinite mpg, but with a fixed, definable mpg equivalent, it would count against the 230 significantly.

Plus, there’s the emissions aspect. As I wrote when Chevy first announced the Volt, there are still emissions coming from somewhere; just not your tailpipe.















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Kimberly-Clark Responds To My Calling Them An ‘Eco-baddy’

Thursday, August 6, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

So I gave paper-product king Kimberly-Clark a backhanded compliment in my last post, praising its inclusion on the EPA’s on-site green power usage list while ragging on its sustainability track record.

Apparently I struck a nerve. Here’s the new news: “Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Kleenex, Scott and Cottonelle brands, today announced stronger fiber sourcing standards that will increase conservation of forests globally and will make the company a leader for sustainably produced tissue products.”

Yep, when Green Among Gray talks, people, and humongous conglomerates, listen.

Or, Kimberly-Clark’s change of heart could have something to do with a little Greenpeace campaign called Kleercut, through which the highly respected environmental organization has been rallying since 2004 for changes in K-C’s forestry practices.

But let’s not quibble about the ‘why;’ it’s the ‘what’ that’s really important: “Kimberly-Clark has set a goal of obtaining 100% of the company’s wood fiber for tissue products, including the Kleenex brand, from environmentally responsible sources,” Greenpeace says.

Well I say to Kimberly-Clark, in totally forward-handed fashion, “Job well done.” And to Greenpeace: Thanks for chipping in. Your work helped - even if just in a small way - Green Among Gray affect real change.






Making Their Own Energy

Wednesday, August 5, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

The EPA, through its Green Power Partnership, recently recognized companies and organizations that are producing their own green electricity. And the names may surprise you.

From major corporations to municipal departments, groups all over the U.S. are implementing solar, wind, hydro and biomass power more often, representing greater percentages of overall energy consumption.

In fact, the EPA says, the green power consumed by just the top 20 organizations generating renewable energy on-site is 736 million kWh annually – enough to power 61,000 homes.

I was surprised to hear some of the big-time companies on the list. Guess I figured their PR machines would’ve made me aware of their green do-goodness already. These are household names, like BMW, Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Kohl’s.

But the big daddy, No. 1 on the EPA’s list, is none other than traditional eco-baddy Kimberly-Clark. Perhaps they’re compensating for a lack in other sustainability areas. Or perhaps it’s just convenient and economically prudent to use biomass energy because they’ve got so much tree refuse lying around. No matter the reason, it’s pretty cool that a massive conglomerate like K-C gets 7% of its annual energy consumption – nearly 193 million kWh a year – from on-site renewables.

Suhas Apte, Kimberly-Clark’s VP of Environment, Energy, Safety, Quality and Sustainability (kinda sounds like a ministerial position out of 1984), says, “Kimberly-Clark’s number one ranking on the EPA’s On-Site Green Power Users List is a reflection of our commitment to sustainability in our operations. Our teams around the globe are continually working to reduce our environmental footprint, and we are very proud this work has been recognized by the U.S. EPA.”

The biggest surprise to me, though, was Kohl’s. You never hear about them being green. Wal-Mart, BMW, those guys you hear stuff about. But did you know 50% of Kohl’s energy comes from solar power? Most of it is bought from other providers, but 2% it actually produces itself at its stores and distribution centers. That’s pretty neat.

Dominating the list are government organizations, and even entire cities. The Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant, and Alameda County, CA/GSA Facilities are joined by the likes of San Diego; Nassau County, N.Y.; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Gresham, Ore.

San Diego stands out as getting 27% of its power from methane, solar and hydro plants right in the city. This blows away other major metro areas and shows the city of more than 1.25 million people is well on the way to its goal of becoming “energy independent.” (Though it looks like it’s got some friendly competition from a northerly neighbor.)

How does your city, or your favorite company, compare? Check out the entire on-site green power usage list. And let us know how you feel – should we be celebrating companies for being 7% green, or be outraged it’s that low – by commenting below or e-mailing us at kscribner@captivate.com.





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About

Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.

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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.