Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Freezing Rain and Melting Ice

My front steps after I shoveled

Today is a pretty miserable day to be outside. It started out snowing and quickly moved to freezing rain. We were running out of ice melt at my apartment and I wanted to go and get some more. We have treacherous stairs and a driveway in the best conditions, getting in and out in this weather is very tough. Of course I didn't know what the least environmentally disastrous type of ice treatment was. I went with Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) because it claimed to work at the lowest temperatures.

When I got home I did a little research. I'm satisfied with my purchase. CaCl2 is pound for pound worse for the environment than regular salt (NaCl), but it is far more effective, you don't have to use as much. However, you might have to reapply it. The most important environmental concern is proper use and application of whatever you use. Use only as much as you need to, and center it on the surface you are deicing. As it melts it will spread. If it has snowed and starts to freezing rain, you are better off waiting to shovel so that the snow acts like a buffer from the freezing rain and a hard shell of ice forms on top of the snow instead of on the sidewalk. And always remember to shovel before you apply any ice melter. You don't need to melt snow, just move it.

If you can find it, Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is the environmentally friendly solutiotion, but it costs thirty times as much as salt in bulk. You can often find it blended with CaCl2 or NaCl which is a good choice. If it has at least 20% CMA, then corrosion can be greatly reduced.

Further Reading:
An Environmental Program Manager for the USPS sums up all the options
Road Management Journal on Deicing

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pay As You Throw, Fiscally Conservative & Socially Progressive

CC image on Flickr by Bill Ward

Tonight the Brattleboro Selectboard is likely to reverse a previous decision which rejected Pay As You Throw (PAYT) garbage pickup. Brattleboro, like many towns, doesn't charge you directly to pick up and haul garbage. Instead garbage collection and pickup is part of the town's general budget and is therefore payed by property owners based on their property taxes.

It's an unfair system. I have no reason not to throw out large amounts of garbage every week. I have no reason to recycle. And anyone who does limit their trash and recycles what they can is actually paying more so that I can do whatever I want. PAYT makes the system fair. If I want to be wasteful, I still can. But now I will have to shoulder the cost of the waste myself. People have controll over their expenses.

A likely scenario for PAYT in Brattleboro will be that every 30 gallon trash bag you throw out will cost $2. Over the course of a year, if you throw out one bag a week (which I average) it will cost you only $104. If on the other hand, you have no interest in sorting your recycling out, composting, or reducing your waste, you will pay significantly more. I will not have to support your bad habits when my landlord would raise my rent because his property taxes increase.

The great things about PAYT are that you the consumer are in control of your expenses, you do not have to subsidize other people's wastefulness, and it encourages everyone to conserve, recycle, and compost.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Culture of Poverty

CC image on Flickr by A.M. Kuchling

Barack Obama wants to build a clean energy future and he's got his work cut out for him. We the people of the United States are a very shortsighted group. The idea of paying more now to save more later is anathema to most. His energy policy plans are a good start, but we need to be sure that national policies have local backup.

Focusing on the consumers, he plans to weatherize one million low income homes a year for the next decade. That's ten million homes in ten years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 80 Million houses in the United States and a total of more than 128 million units. Weatherizing ten million homes is a significant step towards energy efficiency, but it only hints at what needs to be done.

Currently money is being spent primarilly to support the energy costs of low income users. A cynical but technically correct translation is that every american supports the energy utilities so that they allow the poorer of us not to freeze.

We need to commit to efficiency on a grand scale rather than just paying off debt and defraying costs. The LIHEAP heating assistance program has received a much deserved budget increase for 2009, bringing funding up to $5.1 billion for the year. For Every dollar spent in this way we must spend another dollar to actually fix the heating situation. Every new home should be required to meet current Energy Star standards (or at least all homes in developments of x houses or more) and new energy star standards need to be set close to zero net energy.

Armory Park Del Sol's rooftops

While I was in Tucson in december I came across Armory Park Del Sol, which is an excellent example of what every new development should be. It is downtown Tucson infill. The lot was undeveloped and probably planned originally for warehouses, now it is residences in a style similar to the historic neighborhood it borders. Of course they actually have high tech offerings as well:
All Armory Park del Sol homes are now built with a solar electric system of at least 1.5 kWh (earlier homes were built with a 1 kWh solar electric system) and a passive solar water heater that meets approximately half of a family's water heating needs. The Net ZEH has a 4.2 kW solar electric system and an active solar hot water system that is designed to provide almost all of a family's water and home heating needs.
I applaud President Elect Obama on his energy plans, but we need more projects like Armory Park Del Sol and Efficiency Vermont. And I think that we need some very well crafted regulation to encourage it.

Further Reading:
Energy Aid Still Available - The Brattleboro Reformer
Sustainability: Community scaled ideas are needed - Ralph Meima
Vermont's Seasonal Fuel Assistance Program
The State of Vermont's Weatherization Program
LIHEAP Clearinghouse: Vermont
The Census Bureau's housing Statistics

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year 2009

Image CC Ryan McD from Flickr

This last year brought a lot of progress for the green movement. Green has entered mainstream American thought. It's been at least fifteen years since people have thought about their impact on the planet and the environment so much. Americans elected a new president who actually plans to address environmental issues and stop the systematic dismantling of policies which have protected both humans and habitat for many years.

While the economy is generally in a tailspin, green sections of the economy are still expanding. Gas prices went above four dollars a gallon and for a short time more people bought cars than SUVs. The big three automakers are still unwilling to change their methods enough to really make a difference in how cars are made, marketed, and sold. Toyota also had its first operating loss in 70 years, but they are still making sound investments and actually turned a profit when everything in their business is calculated.

For New Year's Eve Katie and I went to a party at a farm that is now being rented by a number of twenty-somethings who are working the land there. They have a cow which they share, some sheep and planted garlic this fall. We hardly knew anyone there, but they all live around here many making some living off the land.

This year will hopefully bring real progress in both the world and people's minds. We are at the point where humans can probably continue to exist as a significant species, but If we really want to stick around without losing everything we know and love in the process now is the time to act.

Further Reading:
New York Times about the Toyota operating loss