My current non-energy project…

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                          May 31st, 2016

Marbletown Environmental Conservation Commission (ECC) Tackles the Problem of Plastic Checkout Bags With Film Screening and Workshop, Hopes To Catalyze County-wide Action

CONTACT:  

  • Tom Konrad, Ph.D., 845 687-7210, 
  • Tracey A. Bartels,  845 255-0804,
  • Jordan Christensen, 516 390-7150, 

The film Bag It: is your life too plastic? will answer the questions most people have about plastic bags and help bring the problem into focus.  The workshop will build on this foundation.  The events are part of TRASH FEST, a free arts-and-waste reduction festival in June in Marbletown.  See Trash Fest Ulster on Facebook for more details.

Where: Marbletown Community Center, 3564 Main St, Stone Ridge

When: Wednesday, June 15th and Wednesday June 22nd, 6:30-8:30pm.

Who Should Attend: Marbletown shoppers, retailers and residents

How to get tickets: The events are free and open to the public

The purpose of these events are to build consensus around the best way for Marbletown to tackle the problem of plastic bags.

Bag It follows “everyman” Jeb Berrier as he tries to make sense of our dependence on plastic bags.  Although his quest starts out small, Jeb soon learns that the problem extends past landfills to oceans, rivers and ultimately human health.  The average American uses about 500 plastic bags each year, for about twelve minutes each.

Free popcorn and filtered water will be served at the event.  Attendees are encouraged to bring their own bowls and drink holders to cut down on waste.

The Bag Legislation Workshop will bring together Marbletown retailers, shoppers and officials to build consensus on how to tackle the problem of plastic bag waste in Marbletown and beyond.  The event will begin with background information from plastic bag legislation expert Jordan Christiansen of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Ulster County Legislator Tracey Bartels on checkout bag legislation.  

Participants will be asked about their goals and concerns about possible retail checkout bag legislation in Marbletown.  Legislative alternatives will be judged by how well they address these goals and concerns.

The Chair of Marbletown’s Environmental Conservation Commission, Tom Konrad, Ph.D., CFA said, “Passing effective checkout bag legislation in Marbletown will improve our Town’s scenery by reducing plastic bag litter, cut costs for retailers, the town’s transfer station and the highway department, as well as set an important example for Ulster County and New York legislators.”

More info: Bag It:  http://www.bagitmovie.com/press_kit.html

                 TRASH FEST: https://www.facebook.com/TRASH-FEST-Ulster-484856678376272/

The Marbletown Environmental Conservation Commission (ECC) is a commission to the Marbletown Town Board, advising the Board in the development, management and protection of the natural resources and environment of the Town of Marbletown, and promotes community awareness and raises the visibility of such issues and activities.   http://bit.ly/MarbletownECC

TRASH FEST is a series of art-made-of-trash exhibitions and public education events in Marbletown, Ulster County, NY in June 2016.  http://bit.ly/TRASHFEST

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Why The Whitehouse Diaper Plan Stinks

The Whitehouse launched a new initiative to tackle the “Diaper Divide” today.

The goal is commendable (making diapers affordable to all) but the approach runs contrary to Obama’s environmental goals.

Instead, the focus should be on affordable and accessible cleaning services for reusable diapers, as well as reusable diaper loan programs. Most sources agree that there are significant cost savings for reuasables, and these would be increased if the (cleaned and sterilized) diapers were passed on to younger babies as the older ones grow out of them.

While there is some debate about the climate impacts of reusable vs disposable diapers, this case for disposables hinges on the assumption that washing diapers is done in inefficient home washing machines. Centralized, commercial cleaning of reusable diapers could easily make it a win for reusables.

While there are likely to be many places without the baby density to make this sort of central reusable diaper ‘library’ practical, at least in dense cities, this approach should be preferentially pursued. Since large cities almost all have problems finding space for municipal waste disposal, this scheme would have the added benefit of helping to tackle the problem of municipal waste disposal.

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Beyond the Clothesline – Five more tips for efficient clothes drying.

It seems like “using a clothesline” makes every top-10 list of energy saving measures you can make at home.  But clotheslines are lousy at getting out wrinkles, and in humid climates often give clothes a chance to mildew.

If and when you use a dryer, there are a few things you can do to use as little energy as possible.  I found these in the study “Are We Missing Energy Savings in Clothes Dryers?” by Paul Bendt of Ecos, which was part of ACEEE’s 2010 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings.

  1. A natural gas dryer is cheaper to operate and has lower environmental impacts than an electric dryer.   (Note: this assumes an average electricity mix – if most of your electricity is renewable, you’ll likely have lower impact with an electric dryer- but it still won’t be cheaper.)
  2. High washer spin speeds are more efficient than evaporating the water in the dryer.
  3. Drying full loads is more efficient than a larger number of partial loads.
  4. A “low heat” setting is more efficient than higher heat settings (I had a hunch that this was true, and found the study with a little Googling to find out if my hunch was correct.)
  5. A “less dry” setting is more efficient than “normal” or “more dry

One frequent tip that doesn’t work:

  • Cleaning the lint trap has little effect on energy use, although it does speed drying time.

Now you know what I’m doing with my Easter Sunday afternoon… maybe I’ll celebrate Earth Day by enjoying the just-arrived spring with a clothesline.

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Electric Trucks, Renewable MLPs, and Heat Pumps

A few more of my pieces have run on EarthWise, a 2 minute radio program on WAMC radio in the Northeast.  Here are links:

All are read by the Cary Institute’s Bill Schlesinger.

I got involved with this by volunteering with the Institute.  If you’re near Millbrook, NY, the Cary Institute has regular free lectures on the science of the environment that are well worth attending.  But make sure to get there early- not only for free cookies and coffee, but because they tend to fill up pretty quickly.

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Peak Oil on the Radio

peak_oil2[1]Another EarthWise piece I wrote aired on WAMC Wednesday.  This one was a very basic introduction to the concept of Peak Oil, which is pretty much what it had to be, since it was a 2-minute piece for a general radio audience which might not have even heard of peak oil.

You can listen to it or read the full text here:

What Do We Mean By Peak Oil?

If you’d like something with a bit more meat, check out my in-depth look at the economic implications of Peak Oil, The End Of Elastic Oil.

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The Elasticity of Electricity Demand

In an attempt to rebut economist Ed Dolan’s support of a carbon tax, I came across a RAND Study done for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which estimasted the short term elasticity of residential electricity demand at -0.2 and the long run elasticity of demand a -0.32.

This is a very inelastic market ( |elasticity| << 1 ), and so supports my argument that regulation is likely to be the most economically efficient approach to reducing residential electricity use.

Dolan compiled some numbers that put long run elasticity of gasoline demand at around 0.5, which also implies that regulation has a role to play in reducing gas usage, although it’s high enough that carbon taxes are also likely to be somewhat effective; a combination seems the best approach to me.

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Making Carbon Pricing Work Better

When it comes to the most economically efficient way to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions(GHG), the economic consensus is that a carbon tax, or, failing that, a carbon trading scheme is the best way to go. The idea is that a price for carbon will raise the cost of carbon-producing activities, nudging people and companies towards less harmful behavior.

I have a problem with this line of reasoning, since it rests on the false assumption that price signals are the most effective way to change behavior. That’s true is an economist’s ideal efficient market, but a moment’s reflection shows that the markets we want to affect are far from efficient.

Electric utilities are regulated entities, and hence insulated from market forces. Consumers don’t respond well to price signals either, because most don’t understand where they are wasting energy. If they did, there would be a run on caulk to air seal homes, since the payback from air-sealing can be a matter of weeks. If a 1000% annual return from air sealing is not enough to get people to spend a little time with a caulk gun, is increasing the return to 1200% with a carbon tax really going to make a difference?

Compact fluorescent bulbs are another excellent example of how the energy market often fails to be efficient. The payback on CFLs is usually on the order of months, but uptake was very slow until recently, now that higher wattage incandescent bulbs are being phased out. By regulation.

The adoption of CFLs is a concrete example where the most economically efficient outcome is being achieved by regulation, after years of failure by market forces.

I had just finished making the above case to an economist at a mixer at The Cary Institute in Millbrook, NY when I was asked to write for a public radio program sponsored by the Institute.  Earth Wise logo I had been talking to the Institute’s volunteer coordinator about opportunities that make use of my skills, and she hit on helping them write some segments for Earth Wise, a daily 2 minute radio program on WAMC.

So I went home and wrote up my ideas, outlined above, on carbon pricing.  The first draft did not work for them, since they had aired a program in favor of a carbon tax, so I re-wrote it with a focus on making carbon pricing more effective by making the energy market more efficient.   The result aired on July 3rd, and you can listen to it or read it here: http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/?p=2668.

With only two minutes, it’s an interesting exercise of packing my ideas into just 280 words, especially considering that for me, 600 words is what I consider a short peice, and it’s not unusual for me to write several thousand.

For future episodes, I plan to tackle less complex subjects.

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