As I See It

Green is not going away

In my February 2011 editorial in CONTRACTOR magazine, I recapped some of the anti-green sentiment that was dredged up by a November 2010 letter to the editor by contractor Michael Gray. A number of correspondents said that green was bunk. I acknowledged that and then told my readers that I disagree with them.

When I first started receiving letters along the line of “Michael Gray for President,” I was stunned. How could I be so wrong? Then I thought about for a while and realized that if I were wrong, so were tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people devoted to green and sustainable construction and service.

One of the groups I mentioned was the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-conditioning Engineers, authors of Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High Performance, Green Buildings. Standard 189.1 has been adopted as the building standard by that radical leftist group, the United States Army, which also has the goal of building Net Zero buildings by 2030.

I took my concerns to a meeting of chief editors here at the company and asked them if any of them had ever told their readers that they were wrong. Yes, said my bud (and fellow White Sox fan) Glenn Bischoff, who is the editor of a telecomm magazine. Glenn had predicted that the future of telecommunications was Voice Over Internet Protocol. He was pilloried, a “human piñata,” which created a strange mental image of the rather robust Mr. Bischoff dangling in mid-air. He was called a moron. Today, VOIP is the de facto standard. The phone next to me on my desk is VOIP. If you buy phone service from your cable company, it’s VOIP. Sending phone calls through wire is a thing of the past. Glenn urged me to stand my ground and I will.

In my February editorial, I said that high prices and short supplies of water and energy can’t be wished away. Oil prices this month (February 2011) have risen above $100 per barrel for the first time in two years and last week rose above $103 per barrel because of the escalating political protests in Egypt.

I’d like to call your attention to a couple of news items that I came across recently.

The first is from The Economist, Democracy in America blog, February 7, 2011, written by M.S. (articles in The Economist are typically written anonymously and collectively under the belief that what is said is more important than who is saying it.) And take note that The Economist is not written by Democrats or liberals or progressives or whatever; it’s written by Englishmen who have no stake in the American political system.

The blog addressed the issue of rising global commodity prices as a permanent trend and ended with this observation.

“To me, the main point here is just how crucial it is for Western economies, and particularly the United States, to reduce their use of commodities, and particularly oil. The capacities of human ingenuity are limitless; the amount of crude oil on planet Earth is not. If you build an economy that's entirely dependent on a non-renewable resource, you are guaranteeing yourself a nasty encounter with stagflation sooner or later when the stuff starts to run out. The idea that sustainable-resource use and renewable energy is some kind of socialist hippy hobby is incredibly naive and frivolous, and extremely damaging to the American economy.”

At the bottom of the article, one commenter noted that the illegal drug trade is the number two source of funding for terrorism. What’s number one? Large private donations from individuals who often obtained their wealth from Mideast oil.

The second news item is an Associated Press story that ran in the Chicago Sun-Times, February 8, 2011. It reads:

"Feds: Great Lakes could face water shortage over time

"Scientists are sending a warning that the Great Lakes region could experience water shortages because of climate shifts and surging demand, despite being the world’s largest freshwater system.

"The report by the U.S. Geological Survey, released Monday, says the Great Lakes have so much surface and groundwater that heavy use and development haven’t greatly affected the overall supply so far.

"Yet groundwater levels have plummeted about 1,000 feet in the Chicago-Milwaukee region because of pumping for municipal supplies and could drop an additional 100 feet over the next three decades if withdrawal rates jump as expected, according to the five-year study by the federal agency.

"The 2.1 billion gallons that Chicago diverts from Lake Michigan daily has lowered Lakes Michigan and Huron by about 2.5 inches, according to the report.

"The total amount of water in the Great Lakes? Six quadrillion gallons — enough to spread a foot-deep layer across North America, South America and Africa — and the volume of groundwater surpasses that of Lake Huron."

You’ll note that was from the U.S. Geological Survey, not exactly a bunch of nutballs. That brings to mind a recent quote from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, that science is always true whether you want to believe it or not.

In her Tea Party response to the State of the Union address, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) took a swipe at compact fluorescent light bulbs. Apparently some people like incandescent bulbs and view the changeover to CFLs as some sort of assault on their individual liberty.

Some people see their personal choices as unconnected to society as a whole. I say everybody is connected whether we want to be or not. So let’s consider the light bulb example.

According to the March/April 2011 AARP Magazine, page 30 (yes, I’m old), a 60W incandescent bulb costs $22.32 a year to operate, based on first cost, national average electric rates and eight hours of use per day. A CFL costs $5.29 a year. That’s a big difference in electric use.

According to an estimate by the Census Bureau, there are nearly 115 million households in the U.S. Let’s say each household uses 10 light bulbs. That’s 1.15 billion light bulbs using around four times the electricity as CFLs. How are we generating all that electricity and at what cost? What about the air pollution from burning coal in power plants? And from a purely selfish standpoint, why would anybody want to pay his electric utility more money? Commonwealth Edison in Chicago already makes plenty of dough and they don’t need additional help from me.

We can’t click our heels together three times and make this all go away. The plumbing, heating and cooling industry has the products available now to save our customers water and energy. Think utility prices are not high enough to justify these products? They will be.