Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Some of you might already know about my work at Duke Energy on a solar photovoltaic distributed generation project. But even if you don’t, the program recently got covered by good ol’ Faux News. Actually, Fox finally put out a story I can’t bash. Proving that in the holiday season, miracles can happen.

This video doesn’t exist

If you are potentially interested in becoming a host site for one of these systems (and you are interested in pulling down a yet un-negotiatied lease payment from Duke for hosting the install, likely in the $50-200/year range) then visit this site to sign up,


Feel free to send the link to your friends and family in Duke’s service territory. We’ll start picking sites in spring 2009 and installations will begin soon after.

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As I was reading at the car inspection place waiting on my two month overdue inspection to finish, I couldn’t help but overhear Fox News on the waiting room televisions. John McCain was talking at his rally in Indiana about how it was the definition of the American Dream to own your own home. (And just to let you know that I’m not targeting McCain on this, Obama says similar things all the time).

At the exact moment when I heard McCain say that, I read in Master of Mysteries by Louis Sahagun (the biography of 1920-50s LA spiritual leader Manly Palmer Hall) the following excerpt,

‘A nation is an inert mass also if it has no appropriate and adequate idealism, any culture that is materialistic cannot survive because it lacks vital principle.’ 

And while I enjoyed the biography because it was a carnival side show of the wacked out new age beliefs that some of these “spiritual leaders” had, it is impossible for me to blanket judge these early century philosiphers because of their looseness with science. They did have some valid insights into human nature and American idealism. But Sahagun added some interesting notes of his own in the following paragraph which truly allowed the passage to register with me,

“But no sooner had WW2 ended than Americans with dependable union jobs… became absorbed with single family tract home and automobiles for no money down.”

An interesting insight delivered through the vehicle of synchronicity. 

That revised American Dream of the 1950s which embraced rampant consumerism has become the bane of modern society. As other cultures gain economic prosperity they seek to emulate our non-sustainable lifestyle. I’m far from a neo-malthusian thinker, believing that all resources are finite and that price plays no factor in human decisions, yet there is a fundamental physical truth to reality. Entropy will eventually change our forms of energy into less usable states. 

The problem with the current American Dream is clear to me: rampant consumer driven materialism and a desire to own too much.

Now I don’t fault the poor or the rich for seeking a more stable lifestyle. That is their right and an acceptable one at that. Yet, the means by which we have sought out that stability has resulted in a plethora of problems. Environmental degradation, externalities passed on to third world nations, a “need” for all these ridiculous electronic gadgets and such. A belief that simply being American means a right to cheap energy and world domination is meeting its end. And justly so, it simply was an illusion. 

I hope that Americans take this opportunity of financial crisis to look upon themselves and to examine their place in this global society. Are the ideas that we hold about our nation valid, or a mirage sold to us by generations of manipulative “patriots”? 

The idea that every American should own a home is problematic on many levels, it limits economic redistribution, keeping labor away from the jobs that need it. It also drives many people to volutarily enlist in slavery, running up debt that can never be paid. 

An interesting insight from my recent trip to Austria was the number of co-family homes and renters. Austrian home ownership is usually only for the most wealthy and those that can truly afford it. Why are these countries having the same problems we are? They either tried to emulate us or invested in our housing market from abroad. A move which has revealed itself as a fatal mistake. 

Let’s prepare for a new America, maybe not even one offered by either of the major political parties, where we can break free of the materialistic shackles that bind us. 


An example from Austria of multiple families living on the same property

An example from Austria of multiple families living on the same property

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Just so everyone doesn’t feel like it is just economists that are railing on the suggestion of a gas tax holiday, I’ll chime in to say that its a horrible idea.

I don’t have to be an economist to realize that price truly does change the behavior and choice patterns of individuals. The price increases are a result of many things: supply and speculation included. However we must acknowledge that the failure of the supply of light sweet crude to meet the demand of the US economy for light sweet crude is one of the main reasons that gas prices are increasing.

The situation will only get worse if we try to manipulate the price even more through Federal controls (worked great in the 70s? … not really) A higher price also increases the opportunity that people will make new choices when it comes to transportation.

The real problem at hand is that the Federal Government has failed over the last 20 years to develop quality transportation alternatives and incentives for public transit development in city centers. Because of that, Americans have become OK with living in isolated subclusters of housing units (we usually call them suburbs). These suburbs cause people to drive everywhere for everything. It isn’t that we need more fuel efficient cars and substitutes for gasoline engines, although we do need those things, its that we simply drive too much as a society because we want to but mostly because we need to.

And while that sounds like the old stodgy environmentalist line of “conserve, conserve, conserve”, it encapsulates the problem that we have developed ourselves into. We need a focus on urban development policy to make gas price concerns a thing of the past. That reasoning doesn’t even begin to address the importance of price internalizing the externalities generated by mobile pollution sources… I’ll leave that one to the economists.

As you can see, the .40 a gallon won’t go that far when you are talking about $1 increases… sounds like another demand increasing scheme that in the end, will only benefit stockholders

[Chart from the WSJ via Greg Mankiw]

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I had to steal the title of this post straight from TreeHugger because it is so awesome and so true. This photo of Moscow definately makes me happy to live in the US and not Russia or China which have horrible air quality. The US has a long way to go in environmental justice, but at least we aren’t smog nation.

Moscow, Russia, like Sauron's Kingdom

Yes this is Moscow and not a CGI movie set

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Unscrew America!

This is one of the better website designs around! Unscrew America tells you how to save the world by changing your lightbulbs.


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