The Weekly Carboholic

Posted on January 2, 2008

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resimg.jpgIn a new twist to geothermal energy, Dutch company Ooms Avenhorn Holding BV has developed what they’re calling the Road Energy System (RES). According to the Associated Press, RES embeds pipes under roads and parking lots and fills those pipes with water. As the water heats up over the summer months, it’s pumped down into aquifers where it’s essentially stored until the winter, when it’s piped back up again to heat buildings, help melt snow off roads and bridges, and generally reduce both weather-induced wear and tear and accidents. In addition, RES claims that this same system also cools the asphalt so that it suffers from fewer rutting problems due to heavily loaded trucks. And combining this system with a heat pump and a second, cold aquifer storage area enables both heating and cooling of roads and buildings both, saving wear and tear on the roads and heating/cooling energy costs for the buildings. (image from RoadEnergySystems.nl)

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According to the Guardian Unlimited, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) sent nine missions to Latin America and 14 around the world. And to what does OCHA blame for the higher than usual number of global missions? Global heating. Specifically, the OCHA statement said “Fourteen missions in one year is a higher number than usual for the emergency teams. Moreover, 10 out of the 14 missions, or 70% of the total, were in response to hurricanes and floods–possibly a glimpse of the shape of things to come given the reality of climate change.” Given that there’s an established Atlantic hurricane cycle that is unrelated to global heating, it’s a stretch to claim that hurricane relief is even possibly related thereto. Flooding may or may not be related, but one of the few things we can claim fairly is that a burgeoning global population demands a more robust national and international response to natural disasters of all kinds, whatever their ultimate cause may be.

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On December 28, Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe wrote a column entitled War and peace with the environment in which she proposed that “In 2007, consciousness rose with the thermostat. Scientists layered one set of facts on another. Gore wrapped these facts into an attention-grabbing movie. After Bali, the world’s leaders are just waiting for this presidency to pass. But we are still waiting for the renewable energy to fuel election-year politics.” The renewable energy Ms. Goodman was talking about is not wind energy or biofuel, but rather political will. Just because 2007 is the year that global heating finally stepped to the forefront of our collective minds doesn’t mean it will ultimately matter. As Ms. Goodman pointed out, the EPA used the passing of the latest energy bill to refuse California their carbon dioxide pollution and regulation waiver, global heating is in 12th place in the discussions of Democratic presidential candidates, President Bush’s envoys to the Bali conference did everything they could to torpedo the conference at the last minute (and nearly succeeded), and China is using the U.S. as an excuse not to do anything about their growing air pollution and carbon emissions problems. If our politicians need a renewal of political will, perhaps its time we voters force-fed them some.

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Just before Christmas, 180 United Methodist churches in north Texas gave themselves a present – a requirement that they all purchase 10% of their total electricity needs from renewable sources. The 10% usage for all of the churches combined adds up to about 4.2 million kW, or about the amount that a small subdivision would need over the course of a year, generated by nearly clean wind power (Texas is the national leader in wind power). The North Texas Conference voted in 2006 to become more environmentally friendly, and they used the renewal of their electricity contracts to push for more renewables. And because the North Texas Conference bargained as a unit, they anticipate that the cost to the conference will be flat or even reduced below the cost for standard nuclear or coal power. With a little luck, the success of the United Methodists will begin to be replicated around the United States.

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Globalization came under attack from a slightly different direction this past week in an AlterNet environment blog by Les Leopold titled Globalization Is Fueling Global Warming. In his post, Mr. Leopold points out that the “externality” of transportation. After all, does it make sense for a globalized world to manufacture compact florescent light bulbs for consumption in the U.S. in China, where the CO2 cost of shipping them could totally offset the reduction from coal plant emissions? Mr. Leopold’s main complaint, that globalization has led to the hyper-development of previously undeveloped nations and economies, is a strong argument for changing the policy of free trade that has brought us to a world where hundreds of high carbon emission coal plants are fired up every year just to serve the “needs” of first world consumers. Unfortunately, Mr. Leopold’s suggestion that some technologies must be manufactured at home because they’re too inefficient to make elsewhere and ship here sounds a great deal like protectionism reshaped. And his solutions to hyper-development don’t provide a means to enable the developing world to continue to develop, focusing on arresting their development instead of ensuring that their development is fueled with carbon neutral energy sources. Mr. Leopold has come firmly down on the side of consigning developing nations to be “developing” in perpetuity, a stance that is as immoral as consigning developing nations to drown under floods or starve due to global heating-driven droughts. We must challenge ourselves to come up with moral solutions to our energy and global heating problems that benefit everyone and bring along developed and developing nations alike, not fall into failed either-or dichotomies.

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