Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Some Insight into the Costs of Smoking presented an excellent article on the environmental and social impacts of cigarette smoking. This, of course, has inspired a S.E.E.P.-worthy rant on the subject. Highlights from the Treehugger article are to follow.

In the ER, we see a skewed subset of the population: we see people who are truly sick, people who are injured, and a multitude of people who make themselves ill by their own personal choices and are allowed to abuse our medical system as a result. The interesting thing is, the majority of people of whom healthcare is paid for by our tax dollars seem to be smokers. Let's do some simple calculations: 1 pack per day of cigarettes at $4.50/pack = $135/month and $1620/year. It seems to me, that if you don't smoke, the money you save can buy you a reasonable personal health plan ($113 and up for a $0 deductable PPO policy on, thereby making you responsible for your own health. If we spend billions of healthcare dollars treating smoking related illness, the real question is, why do we allow those on public assistance to smoke? This is especially shocking considering that the money that these patients spend on cigarettes can pay for the majority of medical coverage that they demand from the state. This is in addition to the medical costs incurred by the habit of smoking - it is the #1 risk factor for heart attacks, significantly increases risk for stroke, blood clots, 95% of people with lung cancer are smokers, and nearly all patients with emphysema and COPD are smokers as well!

Our healthcare system is in shambles and is stressed beyond belief. The main reasons for this are unfair insurance practices, frivilous lawsuits, and abuse of the current system by many of those who utilize it. Besides passing restrictions on insurance companies and significant tort reform, we need to introduce accountability into our public health system. You are responsible for your health. If you choose to smoke, drink to excess, and participate in many other self-mutiliating behaviors, you do not qualify for public assistance. If you can show that you are responsible and deserve assistance, it shall be given to you. On the other hand, if you can afford to support multiple children, a tobacco habit, an alcohol or drug habit, etc. and you are paying for private insurance, then you have no restrictions to your American rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It's a very similar concept to living in your parents' house: "You live under my roof, you play by my rules."

Here are some highlights from the Treehugger article:

"Global cigarette production in 2004 was 5.5 trillion units, or 868 cigarettes per every man, woman and child on the planet . 1

There are around 1.2 billion smokers in the world (about one-third of the global population aged 15 and over). 2. Nearly forty per cent (39.4%) of Europeans smoke, (up from 1995, when a figure of 33.9% recorded.) 2a.

Each year nearly 600 million trees are destroyed to provide fuel to dry tobacco. Put in another way one tree is destroyed for every 300 cigarettes. 6

In 1995 worldwide tobacco manufacturing produced 2.26 billion kilograms of solid waste and 209 million kilograms of chemical waste. 7

Releases to the environment of Toxics Release Inventory chemicals by the tobacco manufacturing industry in the United States recorded for 1996 included (but weren’t limited to):
Ammonia 946,155 kg
Hydrochloric acid 407,371 kg
Methyl ethyl ketone 340,821 kg
Nicotine and nicotine salts 900,377 kg
Sulphuric acid 67,228 kg
Toluene 349,622 kg 3

Tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world. It is currently responsible for the death of one in ten adults worldwide (about 5 million deaths each year). If current smoking patterns continue, it will cause some 10 million deaths each year by 2020. Half the people that smoke today -that is about 650 million people- will eventually be killed by tobacco. 10

Cigarette smoke contains polonium 210, a radioactive element. One study shows that a person who smokes 20 cigarettes a day receives a dose of radiation each year equivalent to about 200 chest x-rays. 5

In 1999, tobacco-related medical expenditures and productivity losses cost the United States more than $150 billion—almost 1.5 times the revenue of the five largest multinational tobacco companies that year. 11

Tobacco and poverty are inextricably linked. Many studies have shown that in the poorest households in some low-income countries as much as 10% of total household expenditure is on tobacco. This means that these families have less money to spend on basic items such as food, education and health care. 10

Also see "More Insights into the Costs of Smoking."

Response to my Right-winged Friend's Email on Gore's Energy Use. Also, Presenting "Ecophasing", the "lazy environmentalist" Hobby.

One of my extraordinarily intelligent, yet inexplicably right winged friends, Beetel wrote:
"You guys need to get a new spokesman. This one's so full of shite you can smell it on his breath. Just gonna hurt the cause in the long run." then goes on to quote the information on Gore's personal energy use following An Inconvenient Truth's oscar. (also via hugg)

My reply:
Shame on you.
A. Stop trying to downplay the importance of the global warming message by attempting to discredit the spokesperson (a childish yet common political tactic sadly used by both republicans and democrats).
2. It's true that Gore should significantly decrease his energy use. However, although he is not "walking the walk", as skeptics say, with his everyday consumption, he is utilizing a great deal of this energy to "fight the fight" as we idealists say.
III. Make sure you look at the opposing side's retort prior to sending around fire-fueling propaganda - check this article and newcast out. There's another interesting article here.

I'll say "I told you so" in 30 or so post-apocalyptic years when you'll be piecing together blackmarket robot parts in an underground nanotechnology lab to arm a cyborg revolution and I'll be heading up the U.N. council on Biological Threats or some other such disaster management problem that will have surfaced by then.

I apologise, by the way, if I'm overtired and rambling, but I'm 1/2 asleep after an overnight shift.

Here's my extended but not complete take on the matter:
We really do have to stop the global energy crisis and it has to be a bipartisan and cooperative event. This is not just global warming, but also an issue that encompasses our resource use and our fossil fuel use and it's political ramifications; not to mention the global instability caused by American Imperialism in our search for more oil.
How do we start a solution?
As individual Americans.
One simple way to start a change is to realize that the choices that we make in our daily consumption lie at the heart of the problem. If a corporation's mass produced, resource-hungry, preserved, chemical-laden "food products"don't sell because no educated consumer in their right mind would eat them, then they won't make them anymore. If people refuse to wear sweat-shop produced, fertilizer-laced cotton shirts, then eventually they won't be produced either. If people choose to buy fair-trade, organic coffee, the poor village in Africa or South America can get paid for what their work is worth and their village will eventually get better sanitation, better healthcare, and better living standards.
I think that although personal consumption is "personal", and people should be free to live their lives as they choose, the true costs of goods, services, and resources need to be paid by the consumer. This means that cost will go up, availability will be limited, and resources will be expensive (as they should be). This means that yes, some people will lose their jobs, but at the same time many jobs will be made and new industry will form to improve renewable energy technology and manage our resources. Energy will eventually be just as, if not more plentiful than it is in the current oil-based energy economy, it will be more available to developing countries, and it will cause less harm and pollution to the earth.
All of this prosperity comes at a price, however. This means that many multinational corporations would have to lose power and lose wealth, losing a few jobs and making a miniscule percentage of our population slightly less wealthy. Wow, what a terrible sacrifice. For this to happen, local communities need to flourish again and cooperate to manage their allocated resources wisely. For this to happen, the individual person needs to start with simple choices in conservation and try to improve from there as they are able.

I can get downright evangelical can't I? Maybe that will be one of my future campaign speeches.

On a personal "green" note, my Vanagon is in Sacramento getting a Biodiesel/Vegetable oil conversion! So aside from the brush with death from an enraged Hummer driver (discussed in my blog), we'll be off liquid petrol within the next 2 months.
So far, by putting solar on our house last year, we have cut our home power use by 70% and are saving ourselves $1680/year in electricity costs. The biodiesel I'm making is costing me $1.40/gallon to make and after I make 4 more batches (3 months or so), the money I spent on my system will have paid for itself then it's all savings from there! Then we need to work on our natural gas furnace and hot water heater. That will take a few years I think, but the current thought is a waste oil furnace/hot water heater combo - I'm hoping to combine our waste oil collection, biodiesel production and home heating all into one source and one process in the corner of the garage. I also have a rainwater and greywater cachement system in mind, but that's further off.
Once we're done, it will take me 10 hours of labor and less than $200 a month to provide CO2 neutral fuel for our family including transportation, heat, hot water, and electricity (as opposed to more than $350/month with traditional energy sources). This "greening" of my lifestyle, or "ecophasing" as I'll call it, has actually been fun and become sort of a hobby. Rather than playing video games or stare at a television all day, everyone can try to stay up to date on politics, technology, and environmental news, trying to figure out how to spend the least amount of money and make our living as green as possible while maintaining a modern and convenient lifestyle. I think I'll start an "ecophazing" movement, or is that too "Sally" of a name? Whatever it can be called, It's a good and legitimate way to get people to decrease their footprint and conserve resources.
My latest project, besides the biodiesel vanagon, is a kick-ass commuter bike with cargo capacity and style. I'll be able to bike to the grocery store and if I'm feeling particularly frisky, could take my surfboard the 20 miles to the beach and 20 miles back (that would be fairly bad-ass (or is it "bad-assed") and I think that I'll have to build up to that. Using this frame (not in red), and mostly recycled parts, it will have an xtracycle attachment for carrying capacity (groceries, surfboard, etc), LED lighting, and a chalkboard paint surface for environmentally-friendly hippie propaganda, peace signs and other sweet drawings. It's going to be funky-fly-fresh. For extra eco-dork street cred, I'm considering a POV (persistence of vision) wheel kit, sporting an uber-geek bling-bling recycle symbol. You have to check the POV wheel out, even though I do recognize that it is using unnecessary resources and power, it absolutely is the coolest thing you can do to your bike for less than $50. I also might eventually wuss out and get one of these electric conversions, but for now I'll opt for the extra sweat.
Hope it's not too cold in the midwest. It's been raining here but fairly comfortable in the 60's and sunny today.
Not to rub it in or anything.
Later -

update: A reponse by my friend has proposed "enviro-ninja", or "econinja" as a more stylish and tougher name for the environmental hobbyist. This, of course, referring to the the ninja's legendary ability to "leave no trace" and blend in to the environment without being seen.
Plus, the costumes are fun.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

AMD brings "The Green Grid" to Computing

AMD, the computer processor manufacturer, has organized The Green Grid, a consortium of tech giants brought together to address the server industry's power consumption.
It seems that the world's energy use for servers and ancillary computing equipment doubled from 3.1 billion dollars in 2000 to 7.3 billion in 2005. AMD took the lead in tackling this problem, but it has superpowers Hewlett-Packard Co., International Business Machines Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., and Dell Inc., even recently adding Microsoft Corp. as well as Intel Corp., AMD's processor-making nemesis.
The group plans to standardize the measurement of computer efficiency and performance as well as pushing for greater power supply efficiency. They claim that with standardization, it will be easier to assess power use and facilitate steps toward reducing it.
You can take steps now to reduce your computer's footprint: An LCD monitor uses 60% less than a CRT, use "smart power strips(product link)" to turn of peripherals when not in use, and install an Antec Earthwatts super-efficient power supply. Also, tweaking your Windows power management settings can significantly reduce your computer's power consumption.
There are also a variety of "Green PCs" getting out there by companies like NEC, Dell, Computer Technology Link,
This conservation step is crucial across the board to prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants as a quick and literally dirty way to meet growing energy needs.

via Engadget, full article at the Wall Street Journal.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Parking Incentives for Alternative Fuel Cars!

In doing some research on alternative fuel grants, I was browsing the U.S. Department of Energy's "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" site. It has listings of grants and special programs for renewable energy. Under California's "Exemptions from Requirements/Restrictions" section I found a great parking deal if you're an alternative fuel or electric car driver!

For being a treehugging, progressive, forward-thinking, doomsdayist biodieseler or EV-1 Zealot, you get free meter parking in: Sacramento, Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, and L.A.! Hybrids get free metered and metro lot parking in San Jose! Some people in the Bay Area might qualify for reduced or free tolls and HOV lane privileges! Of course, you do have to apply for them, display emblems, and jump through some hoops, but free parking in L.A. while driving Laura's homebrew B-100 burning, hippie-chic silver Jetta TDI Wagon? Sweet!
Check out these programs for alternative energy and put some of our government's money to good work!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

FUH2: The Story of Anti-Hummer Road Rage Retribution

Over the past year, I have taken to the simple and self-satisfying habit of flipping off any H1s or H2s that I see on the road. This was inspired by the site, a collection of submitted photos of other Hummer-haters demonstrating their disdain for these vehicles. To many environmentally conscious people, myself included, the H2 in particular is a symbol of the excessive American consumption, waste, inconsideration and obliviousness that has lead to our current climate crisis and contributes to injustices around the world. This may sound like rhetoric or an overly-dramatic representation, but this is the utmost truth. H2s get 9-13mpg, comparable to shipping trucks and light duty construction equipment, that is, half (yes, 50%) of the abysmal U.S. average of 21mpg (2006 EPA data). They are poorly designed to fit on our highways, our parking lots, and have less storage and seating capacity than the average crossover vehicle or minivan. The worst part is, they are most often driven in the city by one person and rarely, if ever, do any type of the towing or off-road functions that it was purportedly designed for. H2s also carry an childish, introverted "machismo" with them. GM's latest ad campaigns with "get your girl on" or "reclaim your manhood" appeal perfectly to the short-sighted, selfish, wasteful, immature Americans with self-confidence issues and superiority complexes that actually would purchase these monstrosities.
The point of this post, however, is to describe my latest experience caused by my FUH2 philosophy. My wife and I drove down to L.A. this weekend on a mission - she went to a meeting for a master's program, we saw some family, and we picked up a few diesel engines that will allow us to convert our '87 VW Syncro Westfalia campervan (Sally is her name) to biodiesel/vegetable oil!
As we drove, we saw a ridiculous number of L.A.-style Hummers and my finger was getting tired. While one was passing us, I lifted my weary finger, managing a bored and nonchalant flip through the window. He saw this, and with an angered, maniacal gleam in his eye, slammed on his brakes and swerved into our lane, forcing us (a borrowed Jeep Cherokee towing a trailer with 2 engines in it) to maneuver to avoid him! Luckily we didn't get injured, but it made me think.
I said, "Self?" (because that's what I call me) "Self, why do you feel a need to flip off hummers? What does it accomplish?"
I have always felt a little bad about it, I mean, although the middle finger has many meanings, at its worst, it is a pretty solid symbol of disdain, anger, and hostility. Not a very Zen thing to be waving about town. However, in the back of my mind, besides giving me some self-satisfaction, I had hoped that if Hummer drivers get flipped off enough, they might think, "why is everyone so mad at me?" "Maybe this choice of vehicles is inappropriate considering our current climate and energy crises, maybe I should get another car?"
The experience of being nearly killed by an enraged, irresponsible, self-absorbed, hyperconsumer with no accountability showed me that this is likely not to be the case. The mindset of someone who actually thinks that it is a good idea to buy a Hummer, that it makes them more powerful, gives them status, makes other people envious, etc, would not allow for a realization of this magnitude. They are much too self-absorbed. Here's but one of many examples of an comment battle between Hummer and anti-Hummer fans - notice the lack of grammar, insight and overall intelligence reflected in the pro-Hummer postings. Very telling.
"But Clint," you say, "If flipping Hummers off won't save the world, what will? What do we do about this terrible overconsumption?"
Well in an ideal world everyone would get over their complexes, selfishness, and greed, and do whatever they can to help in stopping and reversing our current global crisis. People would simply "Do the right thing" and cut back their consumption. This can start with simple but significant things like selling your Hummer, replacing your bulbs with CFCs and maybe even buying some solar panels with the money you made off your H2. The effort can then continue to improve from there in small, inexpensive steps. Unfortunately, our society has much too much invested in purchasing, commerce, ego, and money. It has lost interest in civility, honesty, and respect for their fellow human. If we cannot entrust the future of the entirety of human civilization to the "Individual American"; asking them to make the "right choice", starting simply by conserving energy, minimizing your carbon footprint, and curbing your wreckless consumerism, then to whom can we turn?
If the "Individual American" can't be trusted to make the right choice, then we need to initiate a tax, a monetary disadvantage, or a compensatory payment that will counteract the desire and ability to own a Hummer or other similar mechanical behemoth. What can be initiated politically is the formation of a "Luxury Vehicle CO2 Tax". Basically anyone driving a vehicle that gets less than 25mpg or so and can't show that that vehicle is legitimately used for their profession (ie. farmers, contractors and the like) need to pay the true costs of their vehicle choices. In order to affect the market, this would have to be on the order of $2000-$5000/year of the life of the vehicle. The money generated can go directly to CO2 offsets for the calculated emissions for the year and the remainder can fund alternative energy products. Everybody wins! Also, our government needs to remember that since it is expected and reasonable to place laws to stop people from hurting other people, it can also place laws to stop corporations from hurting people. We cannot allow auto manufacturers to sue the state for limiting emissions and increasing mileage requirements. These companies cite unfair profit loss and unfair competition from foreign manufacturers (who have been meeting the proposed standards for years!) as a reason to halt government action that is intended to protect the average American. The corporations should not be seen as having the same and sometimes more rights as the American citizen.
Any takers in congress that aren't in the oil companies or auto manufacturer's pockets?

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