July 28, 2006 – Volume 10, Issue 9
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Heat Wave

The current heat wave sweeping California and the nation, and many parts of the world is historic, but hopefully not a sneak preview of things to come. Imagine concurrent rotating power outages in Calgary; record temperatures in the Szechuan Province and much of Europe; air conditioner sales in the Arctic; and over 100 heat-related deaths in California alone.

Is this a freak incident? Or, as many of us suspect, could our climate possibly be changing so rapidly? Have we reached a tipping point where the effects of global warming -- ice melt, more open sea for solar absorbancy, then more extreme weather patterns -- cycle ever faster? Is Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth squarely on target? What do you think? Write and let us know.

I’m concerned about the severity of the heat wave. Extreme temperatures’ control over our lives is enormous, causing each of us to seek refuge. Life support systems are stretched. Cooling stations are being established; cattle are dying; power usage is off the charts. This week California’s grid of power plants and 25,000 transmission lines managed to deliver 50,270 MW, up 11% from last summer’s peak, 21% above the California Power Crisis levels in 2001, and a level predicted for 2011. In Los Angeles, peak demand rose to 6,164 MW, up 9% from last summer’s 5,667 MW peak.

What caused the global heat wave? Was it a “perfect storm” or a harbinger of things to come? Without question, atmospheric CO2 concentration is a factor. If the Earth were a basketball, painted with a coat of varnish, the atmosphere would be the thickness of the varnish. Close your eyes and imagine some major form of pollution, get an image from your mind of a power plant, or a dirty exhaust pipe, or oil refinery along the 405 or Jersey Turnpike. Now relate that to the varnish- thin shroud of atmosphere. The metaphor provides a compelling case of the incompatibility of these realities. And they provide the EcoMotion Network – see Member Heat Wave Actions, right -- with far more than ample impetus for concerted and consistent eco-action.

Apple Computer's Take-Back Program

Apple is now offering U.S. customers in all 48 contiguous states recycling of their old computers – regardless of manufacturer -- when they buy a Mac. Customers receive an e-mail from Apple with instructions and a label for free shipping and recycling. Apple asserts that all received equipment is recycled domestically; no hazardous material is shipped overseas. Apple continues to offer a free iPod recycling program, providing environmentally friendly disposal of any unwanted iPod and a 10% discount on the purchase of a new iPod. The company also operates a free drop-off recycling service at its headquarters in Cupertino for used computer systems and home electronics.

More EcoMotion News Readers:

"I saw 'An Inconvenient Truth' and am all jazzed about having a more energy- efficient lifestyle.” Nicki Marshall, Dancer, Brooklyn, New York

“Great work. Just love this news letter.”

Casey Coates Danson, President, Global Possibilities

“Thanks for including me on your EcoMotion mailing list. Feel free to add me to the non-celebrities driving Priuses!”

David Nemtzow, former president, Alliance to Save Energy

“If you need help, I'll recruit my family and friends to help EcoMotion’s very worthy cause!”

Dion Strombotne, Owner, Orion Printing
Member Heat Wave Actions

(These responses were edited for length and, in some cases, general viewing!)
We don't use much power to begin with. My wife tells me that our monthly electric bill is always under $35. George Reis, CA

I live in a fairly humid area where A/C is important during heat waves or mold starts popping up everywhere. I cool the house way down to 68-70 after midnight which dries it out nicely, cools while it is cool out, and saves money because of cheap night rates. Stephen Jay, NY

The Vermont Military limits its thermostat settings to 75 degrees F. for AC We run around and turn off lights and restrict large, industrial process motor use. Peter Tousley, VT

Hello, George W. Cutting III here in Glenwood Springs Colorado. I'm helping with the heat wave energy crisis by only running my home theatre once a week, and keeping all unnecessary lights off.

Hi Virginia, I'm getting rid of one extra refrigerator, making sure lights are off when no one is in the room, and cutting back on the length of time we use our swamp cooler! Susan Tribble, CO

We left town for a month!!!!!Just kidding, although we actually did, but not because of the heat. Dennis and Erma Hanks, CA

Gosh Virginia, about all we can do is to run the swamp cooler on low (doesn’t work anyway with all this humidity), turning off computer monitors when unattended, and just sweating like pigs (if pigs could sweat). Matt Tritt, CA

Well it's not as hot here as it is there but we just shut off lights, TVs and anything else that throws off heat!!!! Mary Henahan, NH

Hi, Virginia. I generate 3 kW of power from my PV panels and reverse-meter it back into SCE's electricity grid. Then I send my family to temperate central Mexico for July. Richard Henrikson, CA

Here's what we do. We keep the thermostat at 84 degrees. Given the outside temp at 115 anything lower would feel like a meat locker when you come back inside. In addition, we have an industrial strength floor fan (about $60) that we run at night. Really does help. Given the humidity we are experiencing right now, a swamp cooler would be utterly useless. Tony Barton, CA

Hi! Virginia et al: Except when I have house guests or tenants I fling open all the doors & windows and do without air conditioners & fans. Ditto with turning off lights, machines. Best to you, Patricia Sands, NY

I'm trying hard to do less laundry and/or do it at night. Hermine Szanto Flanigan, CA

Bar b que out doors. Cheri Carroll, CA

The City of Santa Clara's municipal electric utility, Silicon Valley Power, responded to the power emergency by working with our customers to conserve energy and participating in a variety of statewide initiatives: Investing up-front in higher capacity transformers; circuit cleansing, inspection. We are also supplying people, trucks and transformers to PG&E under mutual aid. Joyce R. Kinnear, CA

I turned off my air conditioning completely - and invited several members of a Native American tribe to perform a "Sweat Lodge" ceremony at my house. Not only did I save energy, but we saw visions and made some new friends ! I'm looking forward to the next Texas heat wave! Todd Noyes

Worked at home so I could share AC with the dogs and leave the office AC turned off. Mark Shirilau, CA

I’m trying to club my coworkers into submission to turn off task lights and room lights when they leave their desk/a room. Astonishingly, even in the middle of energy crisis with pending rolling blackouts, it’s difficult to get people to turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. Anonymous [his choice]

Nothing. Anonymous [editor’s choice]

I'm the Superintendent of the City of Thousand Oaks' Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant. We regularly shut down solids handling processes and other high energy using pumps from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. In addition, our City Council recently approved 1 mw of renewable fuel projects here at the treatment plant - cogeneration and solar - that will be online in early 2007. Next year at this time, we will at times be creating all the power we need during the times in which the grid is most taxed. Chuck Rogers, CA

We're working early in the morning, and leaving work early in the afternoon, this is helping save on our power by cutting back on the AC. Dion Strombotne, CA

Walking the dog in early evening rather than run A/C. Ralph Dutra, CA

Here at City Hall we have turned off half of our lights and any unnecessary machines. As a side note, we have solar panels on our covered parking spaces that generate up to 60% of the electricity used at City Hall. Jane Stanley, Palm Desert, CA

Alternatives to Styrofoam

Several members have expressed interest in the alternatives to Styrofoam. Our preliminary research reveals that foodservice products (plates, cups, spoons, napkins) are now being made from a variety of agricultural by-products: sugarcane bagasse (the solids left after the crushing), bamboo, soy oil, palm oil, corn, corn starch, tapioca starch and potato starch. (In fact, EcoMotion has cornstarch cups on every desk thanks to Southern California Gas.) We interviewed a number of suppliers with these questions.

What does it cost? The reality seems to be that it DOES cost more to take an environmental stance. A simple Styrofoam cup, for example, may cost as little as $.02-.03 each; a bagasse cup $.06 - .08; a clear PLA corn plastic cup (cool liquid only) may cost more like $.07-.10.

It it reusable? recyclable? Some corn and cornstarch products, and bio-plastics made of potato starch, will tolerate boiling water and thus can be reused. The vast majority of bio-plastic foodservice products, however, is simply tossed in the trash and ends up in the landfill.

Is it biodegradable? A compost pile, with plenty of light, air and heat, offers a great place for micro-organisms to do their work. The paper-like sugarcane bagasse, for example, breaks down completely in a compost pile within 180 days. Other bio-plastics may need to be shredded to kick-start the process, but they too biodegrade into their original building blocks. Despite their potential, all of the bio-plastics will take years to biodegrade if they are buried in an airtight, dark landfill. And Styrofoam, like most man-made petrochemical compounds, doesn’t biodegrade at all. (Microorganisms just can’t digest it!)

Despite the costs and constraints, a number of companies here in California have committed to replacing Styrofoam with environmentally friendlier products. The list includes Google, Getty Center, Monterey Bay Aquarium, University of California Berkeley, Marin County Civic Center, Mammoth Mountain Ski Association and the Sunday Farmers Market in Santa Monica.

Do you know any bio-plastic food service users in your neighborhood?

Greening Wal-Mart

Just days before Al Gore’s visit to Bentonville, Arkansas a few weeks ago to speak at a Walmart convention, the giant retailer – the largest private electricity consumer in the world – announced a series of steps to mark its commitment to environmental reform.

Walmart’s Chief Executive Lee Scott plans to make the world’s largest retailer – with over 6,500 stories in 15 countries -- a leader in cutting emissions, energy use and solid waste and selling more environmentally friendly products. New stores will be 25-30% more efficient than today's stores, with a longer-term goal of being 50% more efficient.

Wal-Mart has 1.9 million “associates” worldwide. Its 14 working groups on environmental change – called “sustainable values networks” -- have been meeting since this past October to outline steps already taken and new greening efforts ahead. The teams have been addressing issues from transportation to packaging.

Meanwhile the company disclosed its CO2 figure for the first time. It emitted 20.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year. To put this in perspective, the Coca-Cola Company produces about 5 million metric tons a year while utility American Electric Power emits about 160 million metric tons.

Wal-Mart already counts among its environmental achievements:

• two experimental stores – in McKinney, Texas and Aurora, Colorado
• switching to energy efficient lighting in all its 3,700 U.S. stores
• selling fresh fish caught using environmentally- friendly methods
• cultivating thousands of acres of organically grown cotton
• giving preferential treatment to suppliers (it has 60,000 of them!) who show they're fully engaged with sustainable practices.

On the transportation side, Wal-Mart has issued a no- idle policy for its truck drivers. By putting alternative power units in rigs this year, the rigs can stop idling engines during loading or breaks. As a result Wal-Mart has cut fuel use by 8% in its fleet of 7,000 trucks saving $25 million in fuel and cutting 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Wal-Mart has an overall target of cutting fuel use 25 percent by 2007 and will buy 1,000 more efficient vehicles in the coming year.

Some claim that the “whirlwind of eco- consciousness” is part of the corporation's year-old effort to improve its tarnished image. Wal-Mart has faced mounting scrutiny for its effect on the environment, as well as local communities and the nation's labor force. Specifically, claims focus on the company’s action that seem to be aimed at ameliorating opposition to building new stores in places like California. NRDC President Frances Beinecke wrote that, "Lee Scott himself admits that the initiative was begun as a defensive strategy, but as they have begun implementing the program, they have found win-wins that improve both the environment and Wal-Mart's bottom line."

Household Energy Tips: What's Up With Ceiling Fans?

Thinking about buying a new ceiling fan? Some of the benefits might be:

• reduced air conditioning and heating costs
• improved comfort (moving air feels 5 degrees cooler
• increased circulation, improving heating efficiency (de-stratification)
• improved efficiency as a replacement unit
• great look!

Before you buy, check out the new generation of fans available. They have come a long way.

The improvements to ceiling fans started in the commercial sector with huge 20 foot, 10 blade units used to cool large barns, warehouses etc. Now the residential market is getting on the bandwagon.

The biggest improvement has been the research and development into the aerodynamics of the blades. The new fan design can produce a much larger air flow with the same speed. This, in turn, means that the horsepower of the motor can be reduced, and its speed, making it less obtrusive and quieter. These two things alone – the blade design and the smaller motor -- can improve efficiency by up to 53%.

Other new features to look for: fully dimmable compact fluorescent lamps – longer lasting and considerably cooler than traditional incandescents, and each worth $50 in energy savings; remote switching and speed control; temperature controls; 360 degree infrared occupancy sensors.

For your home the cost of these units is dropping. Home Depot sells Hampton Bay’s “Gossamer Wind Series” (Windward or Calloway Models) with aerodynamic blades for around $190.

For your business, two brands to look for are Big Ass Fans and MacroAir. These units, while quite costly ($3,500-7,500), have good payback times and can vastly improve performance in the workplace.

Additional Resources: Energy Star (www.energystar.gov) and Consortium for Energy Efficiency (www.CEE1.org).

Do you bring home a half-dozen plastic bags each time you shop?

And do they ultimately end up in the trash? Go to www.ecomotion.us and get a tote, perfect for that quick trip to the grocery store, to the library, to the pool. Unlike a plastic bag, it's even biodegradable when you've worn it out!