Monday, November 26, 2007

Green Experience

After more than three months of Monday morning blogging, my time with Cat Scan and this blog (as an assignment) is coming to an end. I plan to continue to update with information you may or may not find interesting. In the end, I do think it was a good idea. Not only did we have to find out another new thing about Green Living every week, it forced us to have to write a few hundred words or so. If you want to make it in writing, from what I'm told, you have to do a lot of it. It's cliched to say but I really did learn a lot and saw and did some things I would never have done on my own. Not because I'm lazy but because I never knew they existed. I'm thinking of the Segway tour and being at a Green Party Party on election night. Those two things stand out in this semester for giving me completely new experiences. Politics is just crazy, which is one of the reason I love it.

I just can't get over the fact how much spotlight the green movement is receiving right now and our little online publication is right in the middle of it. To be honest, in the beginning of the semester we had the options for this year's Cat Scan narrowed down to two choices: Green Living and Science, and I voted for Science. Not that I didn't think Green was important, I just envisioned writing articles about the Space movement at the UA if Science ended up as the theme. One of the reasons I didn't want Green was it felt, at the time, like our stories would not be newsy. I saw us writing a bunch of feature articles about conserving water. Yes, you can call me an Anti-Greenite, but I had no idea there would be as many story ideas as our class came up with, and they were definitely newsy. I'm talking about stuff "real" newspapers haven't even reported on.

The best part about the whole thing was how Tucson is near the edge of the Green movement frontier. I would never have thought that our city is doing things that many other, more popular cities are not. In terms of conservation, environmental awareness, politics, recycling, Tucson is near the forefront in American cities. It is great to see people that are passionate about changing the way we do things in order to help the Earth. I think if this blog, or even the Cat Scan as a whole, made one person Greener after reading it, than I think we have been successful.

Check out the Cat Scan for all your Green information.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Green Party Politics

I have been in contact with several Pima County Green Party this past week including Co-Chairs Claudia Ellquist and Andrew Spencer. I talked to them about the importance of having a third party in government elections and it really got me thinking about why the American public does not take true stock in third parties. There have been times when a third party has recieved a lot of nation-wide coverage, such when Ross Perot ran for President against Bush and Clinton all those years ago, but recently, especially in the 2008 Presidential race, it has been a publically accepted fact that the next President will be Democrat or Republican. This got me thinking. Why is it that Green Party, Independent or Libertarian candidates are not, and probably will never be truly considered viable as a President for the United States? I think Jon Stewart said it best, don't quote me on it, but he said something like Democracy is better than a Dictatorship because we have one more option to choose from.

Ellquist said what the Green Party needs to do is establish their goals and values on a broader scale that will attract the masses. There are probably quite a few reasons why we won't see a Green President or Independent President in our lifetime. One of the reason I can think of, and Spencer mentioned it to me as well, is the fact that the media does not give third parties equal coverage. If CNN or even local publications were to give the same amount of space or time to a Green as a Democrat, list values and goals of each, people might become more aware of their similarities and differences and establish them as a "real" political party, at the very least it would give us more to think about. Thinking is good, right? Ellquist told me that, as we as a nation are moving toward environmentalism and all candidates are being forced to identify their stance on things like conservation, people are beginning to realize what the Green Party has stood for for a long time now.

The best example is the past Tucson City Council elections. The word "sustainability" was used by candidates of all parties. Because we are in, especially Tucson, a time where there are a lot of questions to be answered about the future of water, growth and conservation actions, it is forcing politicians into awkward situations in which they must take a stance on where they stand on these issues. It is a tough place to be in, no question about it, but these are very important issues for our future and without proper planning it could turn out to be a disaster.

Look at the Atlanta suburbs for example. There was an article in the Daily Star this weekend talking about how these places are running out of good drinking water. They're are almost in crisis mode because the lake they were taking the water from is down "to the dregs," the organic-rich lake bottom. They can treat it but it is still poor quality. Where was the planning by these town councils?

There are many examples of this in today's news. We need politicians who know changes need to be made and have the backbone to get things done. That's why I am voting for Al Gore in 2008, he is running, right?.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Green Party Election Party

Last Tuesday was election night for the Tucson City Council. What other place would I rather be than partying it up with Green Party candidates Beryl Baker and Dave Croteau. Myself and three other classmates went to Croteau's house to talk to prominent green people of Tucson. There were quite a few people there to support Baker and Croteau, including Claudia Ellquist, the co chair of the Tucson Green Party, who talked a lot about sustainability, what the Green Party means to not just local politics but national politics as well, and she also told us her thoughts about alternative fuels such as corn-based ethanol. It was interesting to hear her thoughts because, if you have been following my blogs at all, you know that alternative fuels is something I have done a lot of research on. She said pretty much what I have posted about before, that using corn-based ethanol does do damage to the economy because instead of using it for food, it is now being subsidized for other things like fuel, which is raising the price world wide. She said that there are areas in Mexico that cannot even afford to purchase corn from the United States anymore because of how much the price has skyrocketed.

The other topic that was referenced many times that night was the local media's coverage of the election. Many people thought the Citizen, Star, and Weekly were all biased in their reporting coverage. The biggest gripe was that the Ten Key Green Party values, which is prominent on their website was not even mentioned in articles by those three papers. A couple guys there were really hating on Nintzel of the Weekly for his Election 101 coverage a couple weeks ago. It seemed, from their perspective, that he said something like Croteau thought Tucson did not have a big meth problem. They told me that what they thought should have been said was how Croteau did not think Tucson's biggest problem was meth, but rather crimes against humanity, certainly meth would be a part of that. I do not really have an opinion on it because I have not read the article in question.

One other thing was that in these articles, the other party candidates would use words coined by the Green Party, the biggest one being sustainability and it was interesting to see how the other candidates incorporated it into their own campaigns.

Just a side note, there were a lot of people there drinking beer and wine and having a good time. It was an experience I have never had before and something I would do again in the future.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

BMW Hydrogen 7

BMW makes great machines. Period. The M3, 5,6, and 7-series are powerful, sleek, but made pretty much just for those of us with extremely well-paying jobs. When you watch Cribs or any other show that feature celebrity's rides, there is always a BMW in there somewhere. Now, you hear a lot about Honda, Toyota and Chevy as being at the forefront of lessening our dependence on foreign oil through electric vehicles, biodiesel-powered or ethanol-powered vehicles, but not so much as automotive companies that stranglehold the pricey market. BMW is trying to change that with the introduction of their Hydrogen 7 car. With a 7-series body, this car can run on both liquid hydrogen and gasoline. The switch can be made with a push of a button, according to BMW. Although there are only five hydrogen fueling stations worldwide with two more coming to the US, along with 100 Hydrogen 7's, BMW thinks hydrogen could be a great way of turning away from petroleum.

Photo from Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Sachi Gahan

This could very well be true if improvements are made on the current standing of the vehicle. As it stands now, the car has a 12-cylinder engine that puts out 260 horsepower. Here you can read BMW's thoughts on the car, including this arguable statement, "[hydrogen] is the only fuel that can allow for a reduction in the overall emission cycle, while meeting our energy needs in a sustainable way. Besides, not many fuels can be produced from renewable sources such as sun, wind, water and biomass." I do not know how they can say hydrogen is the "only" way to reduce the overall emission cycle, but they do and I argue that because, as I have talked about in previous posts, biodiesel looks much better at this point than hydrogen, especially the algae type. Maybe when we are in "I,Robot" times and can fuel our Audi's easily with hydrogen at specified locations will hydrogen take over. But think about how much work and research will have to be done to get us there. A lot. As of now, being able to get hydrogen to a point in which a car can convert it, as in hydrocarbons, for energy produces more emissions than gasoline-powered vehicles.

Here is Wiki's article on hydrogen powered cars which has a lot of great information about the whole process. It talks about the negative impacts including the fact that producing hydrogen uses fossil fuels.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tucson City Council Elections and Going Green

I want to start this blog off with an encounter I had with Ward 2 candidate Rodney Glassman. I was serving Tuesday night at Outback Steakhouse and he came in with a friend of his to eat. It was such a weird coincidence because on Monday I chose the Tucson City Council elections as my Special Project topic for the Cat Scan. He ordered a side salad but went on to tell me that he wanted it in a big bowl. I told him I could do it for him, but he wanted me to make sure it wasn't just the same amount of salad you would get in a small bowl just put into a bigger bowl. I brought out the salad, in the big bowl, and he wanted to test to see if there was indeed more salad. I then brought out a small ball and he proceeded to pour the salad from the big bowl into the small bowl to measure just how much more he was getting (I didn't charge him any extra for it anyway). He was happy because it filled the small bowl much more than normal. Anyway, he talked to me a little about his career, he has received four degrees from the UA, and I explained to him the project I am working on and inquired his ideas about a greener Tucson. He said he was endorsed by the Sierra Club, a green organization that I was embarrassed I had not heard of, and talked about Prop 200. He seemed like a nice guy and one I would consider voting for.

My partner and I decided that we are going to focus our special project around the Green Party candidates Dave Croteau and Ward 1 candidate Beryl Baker. If all goes according to plan, we will each be with the candidates on election night taking video and interviews as the votes come rolling in. Croteau is running for mayor against incumbent Bob Walkup. He is running under the 10 key values of the Green Party, is strongly in favor of sustainability and mentions more than once on his website the harsh realities of global warming and centralization. He, and all Green Party candidates are for Prop 200, which is a tricky propostion to sift through in order to understand exactly what would happen if it passes. Passing the proposition would repeal the $14-a-month garbage fee, but it would limit the use of reclaimed water. The Daily Star breaks down all the parts of the proposition here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Searching for an alternative fuel vehicle

As my days as an undergrad wind down, I'm beginning to realize that my days in Tucson are probably numbered. Wherever I end up living next year with a new job, I want my first indulgence to be on a vehicle that can run on alternative fuel. While a new Benz might be a little out of reach for an entry-level reporter, an older model would certainly work just as well. Clean Air Choice lists vehicles that can run on E85 and there are certainly quite a few tantalizing choices. A search on eBay Motors will bring up a list of flex fuel cars and trucks ranging from under $1,000 to over $40,000. While the Yukon is quite nice, that Taurus seems like a steal at just $500 right now. It has a V6 that puts out 155 hp, and 185 lbs. of torque. Not too shabby at all. Because E85 is so efficient in engines, it would allow SUV-driving Americans to drive their huge vehicles without feeling so bad about it (I really don't know if they do or don't, actually). This Suburban gets 15/19 mpg while putting out around 300 hp. It's true the thing probably does weigh around 6,000 pounds or more, but it only uses imported petroleum as 15% of it's fuel intake.

While there are not quite as many options for someone looking for an alternative fuel vehicle as opposed to regular, gasoline fueled vehicles, there is probably something for everyone. We covered the SUV and sedan drivers, but for those speed demons, like me, there are BMW's and turbo diesel Volkswagens that can run on biodiesel. Check back to my blog in a couple months and I'll update on what cars have been catching my eye and if any purchase has been made.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Algae ethanol

I read an online article on the New York Times that discussed how ethanol production might harm the water industry. Well, not all ethanol, just corn-based ethanol. The article said that because so many companies are now beginning to jump on the corn bandwagon, my guess is because of the subsidies our government is now paying farmers, it is having negative effects on water in this country. The author wrote that in a report the National Research Council, financed by the EPA and National Science Foundation, claimed that more ethanol-production plants are contaminating ground water at higher levels and using a lot more water that would have been used as "drinking, industry, hydropower, fish habitat and recreation." The author did not explain how or go into any great detail about fertilizers and their impact on ground water contamination, but I checked out the actual report itself to find out. The report says, "corn has the greatest application rates of both fertilizer and pesticides per acre, higher than for soybeans and mixed-species grassland biomass."

The UNH said in report how efficient algae is at producing biodiesel. The report talks about the hurdles that would need to be overcome for algae to work as a mass-produced biofuel, but the author said the problems are already in the process of being solved. The article starts out by talking about how much land is used for corn production in the United States and how we could eventually rid ourselves of our dependency on foreign petroleum. The second section describes algae production and the problems that could arise. What caught my attention first is the fact that we are currently using 450 million acres for crop farming and 550 million for farm animal grazing. The author than says that only 9.5 million acres of algae producing land would satisfy every single persons and cars need for petroleum! 140.8 billion gallons to be exact.

It gets better though. THe author writes, "algae farms could also be constructed to use waste streams (either human waste or animal waste from animal farms) as a food source, which would provide a beautiful way of spreading algae production around the country." He also says that it could create a loop because a high-in-nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer. So by using algae, one can recycle fertilizer as well. And where is a good place to start this wide-spread algae production? The author says none other than the Sonoran Desert. He said it would be a good place due to the amount of sun we get every year. If a plant is built, than he said it could go around the Salton Sea in Southern California.

Financially, there is no question we should embrace this biofuel. He said to produce enough algae (pay employees, run plants, land) to run every car in America, it would cost a total of $46.2 billion per year. We distribute $100-150 billion to foreign countries every year for petroleum. So not only are we no longer harming the environment, we are also creating more jobs at home and all the money is going back into our economy.

The next couple of years could be quite interesting in terms of when and how we realize that we have alternatives to petroleum readily at our disposal and how fast we choose to embrace them.