Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Last Night for Fright

Chris Leyerle made up for Halloween
Last night to see Western Washington's premier indoor/outdoor haunt, the Nightmare at Beaver Lake.

Bring a can of food for $1 off your ticket.

Happy Halloween everyone; stay safe until you can get to the haunt. After that...

...I will be looking for you...

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Sustainability Management

David Horsey cartoon on auto industry financial problems
Ignoring any stakeholder will
 damage the business and in time

cause problems for all of them
As part of looking for my next role, I was in Portland recently having lunch with an entrepreneurial colleague who advises and invests in start-up companies. We were talking about company leadership, on which subject writers have produced vast libraries of turgid prose peppered with the occasional insight. To me, however, leadership decisions are generally simple to make: it's all about the stakeholders.

Much lip service is given to stakeholders and their importance, but as with any bromide there's truth behind it. Who are the stakeholders?

Friday, October 29, 2010


Draining Our Energy

Energy Secretary Steven Chu as a vampire
Energy Secretary Steven Chu
Energy vampires are pieces of electrical equipment that use electricity even when "off." Such equipment is not really off, just in some kind of stand-by, like TVs, so they can power on in less than a second rather than with a lengthy warm-up (like TVs of my childhood.) Some of these vampires are rather puzzling, such as the fat transformer block at the plug or mid-cord between wall socket and device that uses electricity even when disconnected from the equipment. Why can these not be built to be truly off?

More on this and other engaging energy topics at Secretary Chu's Facebook Notes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Even More Mileage II

Hybrid Locomotives for Rail

Warren Buffet says that his railroad can move a ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel. That's good, but it could be even better.
Rail locomotive
Pike [Research] estimates that by 2020, the use of hybrid locomotives will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.4 percent. At the same time, gensets will expand by 6.7 percent over the next decade.

"Hybrid locomotives will have a strong return on investment, as a result of their ability to use low-cost batteries," Pike senior analyst Dave Hurst said. "In addition, the market will receive a boost from new diesel locomotive emissions regulations scheduled to go into effect in the European Union in 2014 and in North America in 2015, which will require diesel locomotives to receive substantial changes or exhaust treatments."

“In addition, railroad infrastructure is growing rapidly in India and China, and emissions concerns will drive hybrid demand in those markets as well."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Where's It Wednesday V

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Even More Mileage

Fuel Standards for Large Vehicles

Aerodynamically styled 18-wheel truck
Not content to boost automobile mileage standards, the Obama Administration has now proposed to institute the first ever standards for buses and long-haul trucks, which had previously been exempt.

The administration said the proposal, to be made final next year, will eliminate nearly 250 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and save 500 million barrels of oil over the lives of vehicles produced within the program's first five years.

The rules will apply to the largest vehicles on the roads, including semi-trucks, buses, delivery vans, garbage trucks and heavy-duty work trucks.

"These new standards are another step in our work to develop a new generation of clean, fuel-efficient American vehicles that will improve our environment and strengthen our economy," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.
Lisa Jackson is one of the few people in the Obama Administration who has a spine. One wonders why such things haven't been in place for years. It's not as if the technology doesn't already exist. Nor will it be another supposedly burdensome and costly regulation, as it will pay for itself:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Climate Change Cooperation

Mediterranean Countries Reach Agreement

Map of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea

Many of the hard details remain, but political leaders from Greece, Turkey, Malta and the Palestinian Authority, joined by delegations from many other coutries, signed the Mediterranean Climate Change Initiative. The agreement
aims to accelerate environmental cooperation in the region, protect the fragile ecosystem and promote and implement low-carbon development projects in the region.
It's amazing Turkey and Greece can ever agree on anything after the decades long war and ensuing squabbles over Cyprus, yet on climate change, they find both agreement and the urgency to act.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Climate Change Ignorance

Majority of Americans Flunk Basics

Yale University's Project on Climate Change Communication
Yale University Project on
Climate Change Communication
In a survey by Yale University's Project on Climate Change Communication, 52% of Americans fail the basics in their understanding of climate change. The ignorance, however, does not stop many Americans from holding strong positions on what climate change is, whether it is happening, the extent it is caused by human activity, and whether scientists are credible. Worse still is the faulty belief that there remains a scientific rather than opinionated controversy:
...39% of people believe most scientists think global warming is happening while 38% believe there's a lot of disagreement between scientists. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in the field of science where it matters most: climate science. Poll after poll has shown that almost 100% of climate scientists accept the evidence of climate change and believe we're the main cause. This shows a deep failure by the media to show the true nature of the debate.

The two percent of researchers who aren't in agreement deserve to heard. But they do not deserve equal time in the media. Imagine if you owned 98% of a business but your less-knowledgeable partner with only two percent had as much sway as you. It's a ridiculous way to approach business and a ridiculous way to present such an important issue.
Among other findings of the study:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tax Cut Insanity

Different Results—This Time For Sure!

Cut through all the malarkey of supply-side economics and just look at what tax cuts have done for us.

Or you could look at what tax cuts haven't done for us.

The U.S. economy has expanded at a healthy clip for most of the last 70 years, but by a wide range of measures, it stagnated in the first decade of the new millennium. Job growth was essentially zero, as modest job creation from 2003 to 2007 wasn't enough to make up for two recessions in the decade. Rises in the nation's economic output, as measured by gross domestic product, was weak. And household net worth, when adjusted for inflation, fell as stock prices stagnated, home prices declined in the second half of the decade and consumer debt skyrocketed.
So why exactly should we expect a different result if we elect more of the same politicans wanting to enact more of the same policies?

Something else I've been wondering, if tax cuts are always the right policy prescription for any economic diagnosis, how do you know when to stop? Even if you could cut all taxes to zero, then what?

I'd like to see the wingnuts politicians who robotically advocate ever-more tax cuts tell us what the "right" tax rate is, i.e. when would taxes be cut enough, and how will we know?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Soil Remediation in Toronto

Cleaning and Reclaiming the Waterfront

Waterfront Revitalization Area of Toronto, Canada
Toronto Waterfront
showing the Revitalization Area
At long last the waterfront in my hometown of Toronto is being cleaned up from a century-old legacy of industrial contamination. The shoreline in the heart of the city, from Bathurst Street to the Don Valley, has vast potential beauty that has not been fully realized, but now may yet be. As a kid growing up in Canada's largest city I had almost no experience with Lake Ontario. One could go east to The Beaches, or take the ferry to Toronto Island, or have glimpses from Ontario Place or High Park, but the center of the city may as well have been in Saskatoon for all the advantage it took from the province's namesake lake.

The technology to perform in-situ separation and processing of contaminated soils will, if it proves out, have great application in many places.

One hopes that they can use it effectively at the ongoing environmental horror which is the Athabasca tar sands.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where's It Wednesday IV

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

An iconic Seattle location. Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Super Angels

Realigning the Startup Investment Landscape

Archangel Michael
Slaying the old
investment dichotomy?
Fascinating essay from the must-read Paul Graham on how the emergence of a new class of investor—the super-angel—is changing the challenges and the rewards of funding startups. Money quote:
The fact that super-angels invest other people's money makes them doubly alarming to VCs. They don't just compete for startups; they also compete for investors. What super-angels really are is a new form of fast-moving, lightweight VC fund. And those of us in the technology world know what usually happens when something comes along that can be described in terms like that. Usually it's the replacement.
When an incumbent gets ossified and inflexible, and starts regularly failing its stakeholders, the conditions are ripe for a nimble new competitor to come along and eat their lunch. VCs in particular have had many years of awful performance for their limited partners. They have also been of increasingly limited help to an very tiny number of startups. Super-angels are poised between the angels and the VCs in the funding spectrum and offer investment amounts that better align a growing company's funding needs. The emergence of such a hybrid competitor is a welcome development to founders and early stage company executives. Super-angels will also force both angel investors and especially VCs to be better, and this can only help the future of innovation and its commercialization.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Nightmare

Something Disturbing in the Woods

It is the season of spooky and scary. Fear stalks the land. Frights assault us everywhere we look.

But political ads are also disgusting, obfuscating, tediously repetitive and deeply insulting to the intelligence. So, take a break from the political asshattery and tomfoolery!

Instead, choose frights that are creative, surprising and fun at The Nightmare at Beaver Lake, the premier Western Washington outdoor haunted attraction.

The Nightmare at Beaver Lake

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peak Soil

Historically, Soil Loss Presages a Civilization's End

The world's population is depleting too many things. While it may be possible to develop alternatives for some materials, it will not be easy to replace the substrate that nourishes us:

Dust storm, Texas 1935
The thin layer of topsoil that covers the planet’s land surface is the foundation of civilization. This soil, typically 6 inches or so deep, was formed over long stretches of geological time as new soil formation exceeded the natural rate of erosion. But sometime within the last century, as human and livestock populations expanded, soil erosion began to exceed new soil formation over large areas.
Topsoil is eroding away in much of the world, exacerbated by climate change and the increased plowing and livestock raising necessary to feed an ever-growing population. Wind and water are taking it away in the Middle East, in many parts of Africa, in the Amazon, and in many other places.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's Lovely

Gadding About

After a very busy week, including travel to Corvallis and Portland, and slogging through the annual torment of tax filing, how pleasant it is to enjoy an uncharacteristically sunny and warm mid-October day with a walk in the woods. The leaves crunched underfoot. The streambed was dry. Had a few of what are likely the last of this year's wild blackberries. Heard, then saw a squirrel working a pinecone.

Hillside trail through the woods

The late afternoon sun cast a gorgeously golden hue which this lame Droid picture doesn't capture, alas.

The dog and I both enjoy having this great network of trails just a half block down the street from our house. He chased a few rabbits. I mused on some of life's imponderables. Neither of us accomplished anything, but each enjoyed not doing so.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reusing Water

Hydropower Only Borrows Water

Old West whiskey drinker
Water is an increasingly stressed resource. Demand is relentlessly increasing and supplies are subject to an ever-broader spectrum of competing and conflicting uses. Should water be dedicated to drinking? For irrigated agriculture? For animal husbandry? For extracting energy from oil shale?

Whatever the use, hydropower has great appeal because it merely uses the water literally as it is passing through. Flowing water turns turbines to generate electricity, but all of it continutes through, albeit slowed, and can then be put to whatever other use.

Hydropower potential remains huge. A study by the National Hydropower Association projects that the US hydropower industry will add 60,000MW of capacity by 2025, enough to power 17,000,000 homes. It will also create 700,000 new jobs.

"Hydropower offers tremendous potential for America to double its renewable energy production, provide reliable electricity for American families, and create thousands of new jobs," said NHA President Andrew Munro of Washington State's Grant County PUD.

Hydropower has significant impact on the United States economy, producing about 7% of the nation's electricity, more than any other renewable source. Here in Washington State we get almost 70% of our electricity from hydropower. US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu observed that hydropower offers "an incredible opportunity" to help solve simultaneously the nation's energy, economic and environmental needs.

Worried about fish impacts? Don't be.

This blog post is part of Blog Action Day 2010 by more than 5,000 blogs in 140 countries.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Mileage

Boosting CAFE standards

Blank diamond road sign
We can write our own future
Transportation is the largest user of energy and the largest contributor to global warming from burning fossil fuels. So increasing the average fuel economy of US vehicles to 62 mpg makes lots of sense. The target isn't until 2025, and is currently no more than a proposal.
We must, and we will, keep the momentum going to make sure that all motor vehicles sold in America are realizing the best fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions possible," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
Predictably, industry is wary:
A trade group representing the biggest auto companies, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the proposal was based on "very preliminary and incomplete data."

The group's chief executive, Dave McCurdy, said the biggest carmakers, including government-owned General Motors, Ford Motor, Toyota Motor, and Volkswagen would closely review the administration's assumptions on technology, gas prices, and alternative fuels.
Diesel, hybrid electric vehicles and all-electric vehicles would all be critical components in such a scheme. All-electric vehicles would do a lot to boost the numbers. Cars needn't be small, just efficient.

Big car, small car

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where's It Wednesday III

Somewhere in Seattle...

If you're new to Where's It Wednesday, the object is to identify the location in the greater Seattle area shown in the picture below. Answer next week. Solution to last week's picture after the jump.

Where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Myth, Legend and Reality

Are Electric Cars for Real?

Tesla Roadster plugged in and charging
220V at home is all most need.
Cars easily charge overnight.
Are electric cars a false promise or a panacea? Actually neither, but myths get in the way of understanding the role that they can and must play in solving our future transportation needs. These myths include:

1. Electric Cars Are Glorified Golf Carts

90% of my driving is between my house and one of three close-by park-and-rides. For most of my needs a glorified golf cart would serve very nicely. However, electric vehicles are increasingly indistinguishable from their fossil-fueled brethren on styling, performance, creature comfort, safety and reliability.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Standing Out

Republicans Reject Science

New Gingrich showing his inner muse
Any real thinkers
left in the GOP?
Americans admire strong independent thinkers unafraid to stake out their own position. Taking positions that defy reason are another matter. We respect thinkers--there's little to admire about ignorant adamance, or about sycophants that all agree with another due to peer pressure or an unthinking urgency for tribal identification.
Republicans in this country are coalescing around a uniquely dismissive position on climate change. The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones


Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is "no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of."
All credible reviews of the science come to the same conclusion: climate change is real, human activity is a key cause of it, and the damage being done is serious and warrants urgent attention. Conservatives all over the world accept this and are seeking solutions, yet here in the US our conservatives pretend there isn't even a problem to be solved.

Standing out? Outliers from the realm of reason.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


A Day of Global Action
Congratulations to for an awesome day of action. And congratulations to everyone who made today a truly global statement. People all over the world, in 188 countries, in 7347 separate events, showed that they want action--on climate change, on clean energy, on creating a better world. Check out the pictures to see what mass action in the 21st Century looks like.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Wanted: Business Leadership

The Climate is Changing—Are Our Leaders?

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers
Duke Energy has had a dubious history on the environment, on labor relations and on civil rights.

In recent years, however, there have been signs of better corporate citizenship. Duke was a founding member of the US Climate Action Partnership. It quit its membership in the National Association of Manufacturers in large part because of that organization's refusal to be serious about the impacts of climate change. More recently, CEO Jim Rogers has resigned his position on the board of the US Chamber of Commerce.

A recent interview with Rogers in suggests he is an executive who dispassionately addresses threats and opportunities to his business, avoiding the robotic Kool-Aid swilling of too many of his peers and their trade and lobbying organizations. A sampling:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Trade, IP, Creativity and Civilization

Will Mercantilism Destroy Civilization?

"The world is just beginning to get it on trade."

Mark Anderson speaking at the Bellevue Club 10/6/10
Mark Anderson 10/6/10
So said Mark Anderson in thought-provoking remarks at the Bellevue Club in honor of the Puget Sound Venture Club's 25th birthday. The criteria on which trade decisions are made is about to change. Today, trade decisions are based on money. Tomorrow, trade will be governed by intellectual property (IP) protection instead. This change arises from the braided strands of IP, creativity, civilization and prosperity. The economic implications are profound.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Clean Energy Matters

Largest Greenhouse Gas Reduction

It's a significant part of the greenhouse gas emissions problem that exacerbates climate change:

World greenhouse gases by sector
Graphic by Emmanuelle Bournay, UNEP/GRID-Arendal

What part of this surprises you the most?

Learn more about the UN Environmental Programme here.
Download high-resolution versions of this graphic here.

This is a repost from the Hydrovolts blog, originally posted on 2/1/10.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Where's It Wednesday II

Last week I made the first post in a series: Where's It Wednesday. Every Wednesday I'm posting a picture from somewhere in the Seattle area. Your challenge, if you want, is to guess (or deduce) where it is, and post in the comments.

The location of last week's picture is after the jump.

For this week, something a bit harder:

Somewhere in Seatle...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Government Funding for Cleantech:
What Other Countries Do

The Race is On

Around the world, more countries every day are instituting policies to promote domestic development and adoption of cleantech. Plenty of politicians are using high-minded rhetoric to exhort consumers and businesses to act, which more are, reaping real benefits. Not words, however, but deeds characterize the emerging winners in the competition for global cleantech leadership. The actions that speak loudest, and which attract business and investor attention, entail financial support from government that lowers costs or boosts revenue for cleantech development. Such support can take many forms, and various countries and governments are trying myriad approaches seeking the most effective in realizing the benefits of stimulating the cleantech industry.

Many things have been tried, and an enormous number of countries' governments have made investments in developing cleantech industry within their national borders. Approaches run the gamut: relaxed regulations, expedited permitting, market development, research and development clusters, demonstration centers, low-interest loans, loan guarantees, subsidies, feed-in tariffs, tax breaks, mandates, import/export restrictions, renewable portfolio/energy standards, direct investment, and grants. By one estimate, 15 governments committed $188B of green stimulus funding in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, 45% from the Asia-Pacific region.

Cleantech investment by governments through 2009
Cleantech Investment through 2009
 Here's a partial look at what some governments have been doing:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Climate Peacocks

Venal Political Reasons Trump Sound Policy

Laws and sausages. And it took energy policy down with it.

Peacock display
It's all about the optics—nothing more

Sunday, October 3, 2010

We're All Guinea Pigs Now

No Exit: Corexit in the Foodchain

Corexit is claimed, without benefit of much proof, to be safe. But do we really know what it's doing to the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico? Judge for yourself:

It'll be a while before I eat the seafood.

Also sickening: Nalco, the maker of Corexit, is a new addition to the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Oiling the Machine

Oil Lobbying Gets the Government it Pays For

Chart showing lobbying spending by fossil fuel and renewable energy interests
President Obama has finally admitted the obvious: there will be no climate and energy bill until 2011. As another example of his tendency towards unilateral compromise, he now suggests that legislation may be done in "chunks" rather than as part of a comprehensive, balanced effort.
What he doesn't admit is that there may never be a climate and energy bill of any ambition, that departs from the status quo, and that undertakes the sometimes difficult but nonetheless critical steps to make real the vision of a better future for energy and for the economy.

Nor can Obama or really any politican admit the obvious reason, that they, as players in this game, have been bought off. Follow the money:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Choosing Ignorance

Not Everyone Wants to Learn Lessons

National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling co-chairs William K. Reilly and Bob Graham preside over hearing
William K. Reilly (L)
and Bob Graham (R)
We need to identify the causes of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Drawing the correct lessons and crafting better regulations and processes to prevent a recurrence require a careful examination of the facts and circumstances. The work of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, appointed by President Obama, aims for just this result. Yet the co-chairs of the Commission have declared that some of the "parties" to the disaster are "hindering" their probe and have requested subpoena power from Congress so that they can complete the full report on time by January.

The House agreed, voting 420-1 in June. No surprise, the Senate is another story: