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A Storybook Tale in Greensburg

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

There is one storytelling device that, when used well, draws a reader (or viewer, or listener) deeper into a tale than any other, and gives it an immediacy: the story within a story.

Story within a story works so well because it authenticates by adding subtle layers of complexity – just like what we see in our own lives. It’s everywhere, from Nabokov to Kaufman.

What’s this got to do with the environment? Well, I was going to do another green story for this week’s blog entry, about the town of Greensburg, Kansas. It’s a true story but one that reads as though it came out of Hollywood: A small town is decimated by a tornado. In the aftermath, the community comes together determined to rebuild. They don’t sit back and wait for help, but take the lead by deciding to create a place that can serve as a model of sustainability for the rest of the country, and the world.

Compelling enough all by itself, right? But as I researched it, a story within a story emerged. And this one, too, sounds like it could’ve come from a screenwriter’s imagination but is a real-life account. And as I read it, I realized nothing I could say in my little retelling could approach the understanding you get of Greensburg upon reading about Emily Schlickman and Mason Earles.

Their inside story – and how lovingly it’s told by the writer – draws you in and makes you understand the overarching tale of Greensburg better than any statistics or interviews. The more cynical among you may find it hokey – on one of my particularly snarky days, I might be with you.

But today I happen to be feeling optimistic. And the tale of Emily and Mason is the story within the story that gives Greensburg immediacy, and should give us all hope.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

This week is Global Climate Week, which means we’re now inside 80 days before the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen begins December 7.

In a bid to ramp up support and enthusiasm for a climate treaty that is “ambitious, fair and effective in reducing emissions,” the UN has partnered with the likes of Siemens, Coke and SAP in launching Hopenhagen.org.

The goal is to get people just like you to sign a petition, which will be presented before the world’s leaders at the conference.

It only takes a moment, and the website is pretty cool in that you can put in a short message about what “gives you hope” and it shows up on a glowing global map.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon puts it, “World leaders will come together for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December and every citizen of the world has a stake in the outcome.”

Here’s your shot to claim that stake.


Surprising Stats About Solar

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Solar hot water system in NYC

The man behind Cash for Clunkers is taking on a new enterprise in hopes he can help you convert your home to solar power. (And make money doing so.)

The newly established Global Solar Center says it will assess your specific information (location, power needs, etc.) and give you an estimate on what it costs to go solar at your home or business, and hook you up with installers. The Center, headed up by Jack Hidary, has released survey results about the spread of solar energy in the US.

Mr. Hidary has a long history in the sustainability/efficiency realm. Among his accomplishments, listed at HidaryFoundation.org: He rallied for NYC taxis to switch to hybrids, he’s on the National Renewable Energy Lab board, he’s a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, and he’s chairman of the nonprofit SmartTransportation.org. It’s through this last connection that he ended up helping launch the popular Cash for Clunkers initiative. (Greentech Media has all the interesting details.)

Why list all this? To establish bona-fides. After all, this is a company that obviously has much to gain from the dissemination of their survey data. That doesn’t scream objectivity. But when you know a little about the founder, you get a sense that perhaps the Global Solar Center is not only about making money. It feels like they may be driven just as much by a desire to do some good in the world.

The main reason I wanted to post this is that the prospect of going solar really intrigues me as a homeowner. I figure there are many in the Captivate audience who feel the same.

The study – which is based on National Renewable Energy Lab solar potential analysis, the Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, and national utility average rates for residential and non-residential customers – concludes:

  • Though California is known as a renewable-energy leader, it is New Jersey that has the most generous incentives for solar power.

  • If you combine city, state and local incentives, residents in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Colorado can make all their money back from a solar installation in three years.

  • The new hot market for solar electricity is Pennsylvania, with incentives covering 60% of installation cost.

  • Solar hot water is now a one-year payback in Florida and southern Texas.

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Green News Roundup: Efficiency

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Here are some recent news items, all pertaining to favorite green buzzword “efficiency,” that probably affect you in some way but that you might’ve missed:

Using Energy Wisely
Consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s got a new report saying maximizing energy efficiency would save Americans $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. And that doesn’t even factor in inefficiencies in modes of transportation.

Doing things like manufacturing more-efficient products, educating buyers on the most efficient appliances available, and making products accessible to the masses can help reduce Americans’ energy consumption by 23%, the report claims. Why aren’t we just doing it, then? Why, cost and apathy of course. To get to that trillion dollar-plus gain it’ll take an upfront investment of more than half a trillion dollars and a whole lot of convincing people to actually, you know, care about how much energy they consume.

Greener TVs
The EPA is raising its minimums for qualifying Energy Star televisions. Starting next spring, TV manufacturers that want an Energy Star label will have to ensure their appliances use 40% less energy than standard sets (aka, dirty, no-good, energy-sucking boobtubes). And in 2012, that number rises to as much as 65%. Current Energy Star TVs use at least 30% less energy than standard sets.

EPA says the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the higher efficiency is equivalent to the emissions of 3 million cars. I love those equivalents. It really brings it home. If I extend the math to the individual, it works out that my purchase of a new Energy Star TV next year will keep a half of a side-view mirror off the road. (Yikes – that could be dangerous!)

Greener Churches
Speaking of Energy Star, the EPA is expanding its super-successful program to allow houses of worship – churches, temples, mosques, etc. – to use its Portfolio Manager tool to track energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Schools, hospitals and hotels already are eligible, so adding the nation’s 370,000 (wow!) houses of worship seems like a natural progression.

If you’re a regular house of worship attendee, it only makes sense to bring Energy Star for Congregations to the attention of whoever’s running the joint. After all, saving natural resources is something that would make any god smile.

Water Consumption
It’s easy to forget when you live/work in a big city in North America, as we Captivaters do, but water is a precious commodity. Scarcity affects 40% of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization. So we need to make sure we use it wisely.

And if you have any ideas on just how to do that, you could be in line for a nice wad of cash and prizes. Submit a viable water-efficiency business plan through the just-opened Imagine H2O Prize competition, illustrating “breakthroughs in the efficient use and supply of water,” and you could pocket $70,000.

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Green Happenings Across The Captivate-Sphere

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Did you know Captivate’s Office Tower Network airs in 27 North American cities? (Though with our new Web site, we’re totally global now).

Yes, dear viewer, your building is just one of 940 among the Captivate family. You’re part of a wide-reaching, yet – we like to think, anyway – close-knit group. And like any family, we like to share. And argue. And borrow each other’s stuff. And argue about borrowing each other’s stuff. But for today, we’ll just focus on the sharing.

As in, sharing how you can get involved in green happenings, wherever you do your elevator riding:

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra Presents Green Masterpieces – Hit the green grass of the Esplanade tonight for this free Hatch Shell concert featuring nature-themed works from the likes of Mozart, Debussy and Mendelssohn.

Prudential Center Farmer's Market – Nothin’ like getting all country smack dab in the city. Pick up fresh fruits, vegetables and other earthy goodies from producers including Drumlin Farm, Sel de la Terre, Taza Chocolate and When Pigs Fly Bread. Runs Thursdays through October.

The Homeowner’s Guide to Green Remodeling – This hourlong class at the Decatur Library the night of September 8 teaches how greening your home can save you money.

Living Green Festival in the Park – Go through the garage and see what you can dig up to bring down to this giant recycling shindig at Chastain Park Amphitheater. The September 19 event will feature recycling of electronics, metal, toner, printer cartridges and orthopedic equipment, as well as a living green market, an organic farming exhibit, hybrid vehicles and kids’ activities.

“NextNew: Green” Conversation with the Artists – Check out contemporary art that comments on climate change and other environmental issues, and get the straight dope from the exhibition’s nine Bay Area artists. You can speak with the artists September 10, and the show runs through the 20th.

Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival – The 14th annual celebration of “writers,
nature and community” will be held September 26 at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley. In addition to readings from the likes of former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, this free event will feature interactive nature and art activities, book signings and a guided walk around Strawberry Creek.

“No Impact Man” – This film, which screened at January’s Sundance Film Festival, documents “guilty liberal” Colin Beavan and the effects on his young family as he abruptly decides to live a truly environmentally friendly life. It debuts in NYC and LA September 11. Screenings continue in various cities through next month.

SOKHOP – This two-day charity event emphasizes the importance of sustainable living practices for children’s health. The Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet festival runs September 12-13 and includes interactive exhibits, kids’ activities, organic food and “25 presenters in the fields of preventative pediatrics, nutrition and green living.” Kids under 15 get in free.

Edgewater GRalley – It’s just in its second year, but there’s already a lot of buzz about this music fest with a green edge. The Edgewater block party features a dozen bands, plus environmentally friendly activities that include a kickoff bike parade with State Rep. Harry Osterman. The party goes noon-10 pm on September 19.

Chicagoland Car-free Day – Ditch the jalopy for public transit – or, even better, your own two feet – for this day that celebrates auto-free transport. Active Transportation Alliance, RTA, Pace, Metra and CTA are teaming for the effort on September 22. If you commit to the day, you get a Caribou Coffee coupon. And you can then put that caffeine jolt to good use by scurrying around the old-fashioned way: bipedally.

And if you’re too busy to head out, or there aren’t any events near you, you can always participate in the comfort of your own home. The United Nations has a new campaign, “Seal the Deal,” that aims to prod countries into coming to terms on a global pact on climate change. Sign the petition and help spur action as we get closer to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

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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.