Saturday, September 27, 2008

Great satire

Bill Maher usually drives me nuts, but the second half of this is utterly fantastic. (There are some good moments in the first half, too.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Things I refuse to read: Gregg Easterbrook and Thomas Friedman

If you've never read Slate, allow me to sum up: what you think is wrong! And here are two anecdotes that prove it!

Okay, a grand overgeneralization. (They do employ some good writers--Dahlia Lithwick comes to mind.) But, inexplicably, they employ Gregg Easterbrook to write about science. This post from my old blog explains why that's a problem.

Today, Gregg Easterbrook has a review of Thomas Friedman's new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. (For all you need to know about why Thomas Friedman is a ginormous douchebag, watch this clip from Charlie Rose. Watch all three minutes of it.)

Theoretically, I agree with the central premise of Friedman's new book on the dangers of global warming, inasmuch as I've given roughly ten seconds of awareness to that premise. But when Easterbrook collides with Friedman, the resulting pomposity may split the world in two. But if there's anything amusing and worthwhile in Easterbrook's review, let me know, because I can't bring myself to read it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Weekly Word/Phrase: "Dependence on Foreign Oil"

We've been hearing about our "dependence on foreign oil" since gas prices began rising, but I think the phrase is misleading. It combines two crucial problems of the American economy and treats them as one:
  1. America's heavy dependence on oil and gasoline for our outmoded, single-passenger based transportation system.
  2. The loss of jobs and production from the United States.
First thing first. Since the auto industry destroyed rail lines in the 1940s and 50s, most Americans travel by car. Many see the "freedom" of car ownership as a signal American value. Once you've got a car, you're an adult; you own your destiny.

In fact, owning a car means constantly giving to a larger system run by automakers, oil producers and refiners, the insurance industry, and the government. It's a heavy financial burden that, in turn, takes an enormous toll on the environment as well as communities.

And since the middle part of the twentieth century, American oil finds have decreased and forced us to import the vast majority of our oil supplies. Not only that, but as labor unions have declined, especially since the 1980s, jobs and production have moved overseas. Oil is simply one of many products we import. Communities built around production have largely disappeared in the U.S.; travel grows, imports grow, localities fade.

So our so-called dependence on foreign oil is two dependencies, misunderstood to be one.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The danger of Sarah Palin

I really didn't want this blog to be too political because I don't think sustainability is, at its heart, a political issue, but I have to mention this: John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as running mate signals a swerve toward dangerous environmental policy. Consider this:
And this has less to do with global warming, but she's a creationist. Egads.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

McCain's lobbyist friends

I made this:

Thanks to Progressive Accountability for its main source work in tracking down all of John McCain's lobbyists.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Are Gingrich and Hannity stupid, lying, or insane?

This clip is a few days old, but behold:

Think Progress has detailed how demonstrably wrong Gingrich is, but I'd like to address a larger question: are they stupid, lying, or completely insane? Consider this:
  • Obama mentioned tire inflation not because it's his energy plan (it's not--warning, pdf), but because a little personal responsibility with our cars would effect the same change as drilling offshore for oil.
  • After a few days of poking fun at Obama for mentioning tire inflation, McCain acknowledged that he "doesn't disagree," an odd construction that means, essentially, he agrees.
  • For Hannity and Gingrich, high oil prices weren't an issue until they became a political issue, one that, unfortunately, most people aren't well informed about. Harping on the tire inflation "gaffe," which wasn't a gaffe, is simply noise that continues misinformation.
How could these wealthy people with immediate access to information possibly not know any of the above? And what's worse: knowing all of the above, as well as facing growing acceptance that global warming is real, they continue to advocate the worst kind of politics and energy ideas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hypermiling in a Prius

In the above video, I get the chance to hypermile in a Prius (my first time behind the wheel of a Prius). Thanks to my brother John for filming and editing the video, and to Becca for letting me drive her car. Enjoy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Weekly Word: Convenience

I'm going to borrow and warp a Stephen Colbert bit. Once a week (I hope), I'm going to write about a word that seems relevant to me about sustainability issues. I won't be as funny or sharp as Colbert; a lot of what I think about the language around sustainability is unclear to me. So I'm starting with this:


One of the most common words that comes up in resistance to sustainability measures is convenience. Usually, it's something like this: "why should I have to be inconvenienced to make some change?" Most technological changes in the past half-century--frozen and pre-packaged food, power steering and brakes, increased horsepower, inexpensive incandescent lights, air conditioning--have been changes toward convenience that expend a great deal of energy on the front end. To make these things cheap and convenient for us, industry had to create waste on both the front and back end; when you consume frozen food, you have to throw away a box (only recently recyclable in most places), an unrecyclable wrapper, and the unrecyclable container. But how convenient it is to have food ready and relatively tasty in just five minutes.

But is it really convenient? The implication, at least in the example of cooking, is that food preparation is an inconvenience. If you have kids running around and have been at work all day, it's probably easy to microwave a couple of things and pour a pre-mixed salad into a bowl. But meals used to be one of the essential family experiences, not an inconvenience.

Take cooking. When you make a flavorful meal with fresh ingredients, the effort takes time but rewards with pleasure--the food tastes better and is likely healthier, and you get to savor it with the family. Plus, if you can share the kitchen duties with a partner and with children, you're sharing that work. My neighbor has his children help with some aspects of preparing the meal. They clearly enjoy it, particularly knowing that they helped make the good meals they eat.

It's a strange balance of rewards, convenience versus shared pleasures. When people complain of inconvenience, I wonder what they would miss out on by inconvenience. What are the essential experiences of life these conveniences allow them to have?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Off the subject

This isn't exactly about sustainability, but it's worth sharing:

Welcome, Enquirer readers

If you've come here from Margaret McGurk's article on hypermiling in today's Cincinnati Enquirer, welcome. I'm Charlie Green. Cruise around the site for ways to save money on your electric bill, eat better, and do your small part in helping make Cincinnati sustainable. All questions and criticisms are welcome; feel free to leave them in the comments.

Update, 10:35--When I posted this morning, I'd only seen the online article, not the paper itself. So to those of you who hoped to have a nice breakfast with your morning paper but instead saw my bearded grin, sorry about that.

Also, some links about hypermiling:
  • My video of hypermiling basics
  • CleanMPG, a forum for discussing hypermiling techniques, dos and don'ts, etc.
  • Ecomodder's 100+ tips on how to save gas

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Energy vampires--what's at stake

I couldn't help the pun in the title. I'll whip myself mercilessly with a recycled hemp penance rope later.

But for now, a few words about energy. If you live in Cincinnati, you're getting your gas and electric bills from Duke Energy. You may have noticed that your bills have gone up since Duke took over, and you may have heard that Duke wants to raise rates. The good news: using less energy and saving lots of money is super easy. Plus, since Duke creates energy using coal, gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear, lowering your energy use helps the environment out in major ways. Plus, you can pay a little extra to Duke, and they fund alternative energy sources. (You still end up saving money.)

So here are the easy steps:

Slay the Energy Vampires

Even when most electronic devices are off, they're still using passive or active energy. Good Magazine's illustration points this out very clearly. When you're asleep, these things cost you money even if you aren't using them. Even if they're off.

So what to do? Surge protectors. We've got our TV, DVD player, and sound system plugged into the same surge protector, and it's off around 20 hours a day. (We don't watch much TV.) Same with our cable internet and network server and all our computers. We make sure everything's switched off before we go to bed, right after making sure the doors are locked. Becomes an easy habit.

Switch to CFLs or LEDs

Pick the three lights you use most and replace them with compact fluorescent bulbs or LED bulbs. (The former has some mercury, and the latter tend to be more expensive. In the long run, though, they both use an incredibly small amount of power.) The savings are instant. Plus, if you have a series of lights set up to a single switch, replace all those bulbs.

Example: in our kitchen, there are two recessed track lighting features. When bulbs started going out, we had two CFLs and two incandescent bulbs on one track, two CFLs and two incandescents on the other. But we use one track much, much more often than the other, so I switched the CFLs in the little-used row for the incandescents in the other. So four CFLs on a single switch. We saw our electric bill go down.

Don't Dry with Machines

Hang all your clothes out to dry, and set your washing machine to let your dishes drip dry. Drying takes a little longer, but again, the money and emissions savings have been incredible in our house.

Wash Your Clothes in Cold Water

Whether your water is heated by gas or electricity, it's costing you. Thanks to detergents that work well with cold water, we really don't need to wash anything in warm or hot water.

Get Energy Star Appliances

Our furnace and A/C were dying, so we got new ones. Energy Star. (Cue image of Molly Shannon.) You'll see the results below.

Here's a screenshot of our gas and electric use for the past twelve months.

You can see in April and May where our gas usage went way down: that's around when we stopped washing clothes in warm and hot water. The electric spike in June had to do with heat, but we actually used our new Energy Star A/C more in July and used less electricity (and we didn't change any of our other electric use).

We can do more, and I'll update in later posts what we're doing. Maybe with video. (Which, of course, means I'll need to clean the house.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Green in Arkansas--the Natural State isn't big on recycling

For both of you who've been checking for updates: sorry. I was away in Arkansas for a week, visiting my family and annoying them about hypermiling. A number of interesting sustainability issues stuck out to me, not the least of which being that Little Rock is like a smaller version of Cincinnati--hugely sprawled with few mass transit options, downtown redevelopment with mixed success (though, generally speaking, LR has been more successful than Cincy with the latter).

A note about recycling: my parents live in Maumelle, a suburb of Little Rock and North Little Rock, and the only things they can leave for curbside recycling are newspapers and aluminum cans. There's a drop-off location, which isn't always a great option. Little Rock has much better curbside recycling, much like Cincinnati. They are, in fact, exactly the same (unless my bleary eyes overlooked one or two things):
  • "Clear/green soda, water and juice bottles; Translucent milk jugs; any plastic item with neck having diameter smaller than base
  • Newspaper with inserts; Corrugated cardboard boxes, flattened; Brown paper grocery bags, junk mail, magazines
  • Aluminum cans; Steel beverage & food containers
  • Clear green or brown food and beverage containers"
The above is quoted from Little Rock's Public Works website. I'm curious how many Little Rockers recycle; Cincy Mayor Mark Mallory's been pushing for greater recycling here. We'll see if it gets traction.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Eating green: some basic principles

One of the most basic ways to make a positive impact on both the environment and on your personal health is changing the way we eat. Just as global temperatures have risen over the past 20+ years, so have obesity rates in the U.S. Check out the links below.
More time spent in cars and less walking or biking, more time spent indoors watching television and using more energy per household. Adds up quick. So here are some easy ways to start changing your eating habits to help Cincinnati.

Eat local

The average grocery-store produce travels 1,500 miles just to get to the store. So when you get it, its carbon footprint is huge. Plus, sellers must spray produce with chemicals to keep them looking fresh longer.

The good news: buying local gets easier in Cincinnati all the time. The website Local Harvest helps you find nearby farmers' markets, as does Cincinnati Farmers' Markets (the latter has more coverage). so in addition to Findlay Market in OTR, there are lots of great nearby options. For example, my wife and I stop regularly at the Lunken Airport Farmers' Market, where we get blueberries, garlic, onions, tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini (when our garden's empty), scallions, peaches, and potatoes. And that's just the beginning. We also have a nearby Thursday Farmers' Market in Mt. Washington, a Saturday Farmers' Market in Anderson, and a Sunday market in Hyde Park. Good people, good company, good food.

Also, Cincinnati Locavore is a great resource for all things local-food related, including restaurants that source local food.

Choose fresh, not frozen

Frozen food has gotten better tasting over time, and sales have gone way up as well. Plus, thanks to better living through chemistry, much frozen food has the same nutritional content as its fresh counterparts (think of individual items here like blueberries, not Swanson's Angry Man dinners). However, creating meals, freezing them, shipping them across the country, and continuing to store them in freezers causes environmental havoc because it requires so much more energy. I know that frozen foods are time savers for parents with children (the rise in frozen food sales corresponds to the rise in the number of families where both parents work), but fresh food tastes better, sustains local farms, and makes cooking more fun. It's pretty amazing to eat a dinner of salad and herbs from your garden along with potatoes, green beans, and collard greens you bought from a farmer in Northern Kentucky.

Eat organic, and eat green

Bad news about meat: most of the commercially produced beef in the U.S. is full of fat and antibiotics. Same with poultry, though to a lesser extent. The good news: eating vegetarian, or at least cutting your meat habit way down, has never been easier. (Well, at least not in our lifetime.) Great vegetarian cookbooks abound, and more grocery stores sell organic tofu, tempeh, and beans. Cook them well, and they're great. Plus, restaurants offer more and better veggie options all the time.

And about organics: they don't contain pesticide residues, and they just taste better. The following twelve fruits and vegetables are the biggest carriers of pesticides when grown "traditionally":
  • peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, spinach, potatoes
The good news is that I've seen organic options for all these in local bigg's and Kroger stores. They're a little more expensive right now, but greater demand will bring down the prices. Plus, you're not filling yourself with chemicals that damage your body.

So start there. It's easier than you think.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Reusable materials

New feature: every once in a while, I'm going to post a few things together worth looking at. Links, videos, photos, etc. I'm calling this feature "Reusable materials." I hope you enjoy it.


I'm way behind on this, obviously, but the video of Al Gore's recent challenge is definitely worth watching. The general consensus about his plan seems to be that it's highly unlikely that we could achieve it but that shooting for 100% sustainable energy and reaching 60% would be well worth the effort. It would require quick action from the Federal government along with the agreement of most (if not all) state governments, but that's not too farfetched. And there's no good reason not do follow Gore's plan. Check out the website, too.

This week, CinWeekly features green housing projects in Cincinnati. I don't see many faults in the articles (though I don't think they mention population density and housing density). Check them out. (There are three different links.)

Finally, we forgot to check on one of our zucchini plants this last week. Result below. (Wine bottle for scale.) Not sure what we're going to do with it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I admit I've never understood car names (Stanza, for example), but today I saw my new favorite: the Jeep Liberty Freedom Edition! In 2003, Jeep put out a Freedom Edition of each of their vehicles, but nothing can beat the Liberty Freedom for pure redundancy. Other examples I hope to see:
  • Happiness, Joy Edition
  • Depression: A Melancholy Tale
  • The Phantom Menace: Nostalgia Wrecker

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Go rent King Corn

As an experiment, next time you're at the grocery store, read the label of everything you would normally pick out. Check the ingredients for "high fructose corn syrup." If it's there, put it back on the shelf.

The recent documentary King Corn does a whimsical and surprisingly powerful job of exploring how corn came to be the dominant crop in the United States. Two college friends, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, move to Greene, Iowa after graduation to grow one acre of corn. They learned, largely by accident, that both their great-grandfathers grew up in the same small county in Iowa, and they both want to connect to their lost heritage. For the sake of the film, the gimmick of growing a single acre of corn sets them on their way.

The tone of the movie is especially impressive for two reasons. One, we watch the two friends encounter their ancestry and discover how distant even Iowa has become from its oldest traditions (for example, one hundred years ago most Iowa farmers ate the crops they produced; now, very few of them can). Two, they approach the issues surrounding agriculture and health with admirable restraint and deftness. Whereas Michael Moore would be aggressive, they are calmly humane. Still, they manage to produce a pretty stunning indictment of corn production in the United States.

The short version: before the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid farmers to underproduce their crops. But in the mid-70s, Nixon's head of Agriculture changed the system; the government began paying farmers to overproduce. That led to an excess of corn production. In turn, the government subsidizes alternate uses of corn, including ethanol production and the creation of high fructose corn syrup, which is a cheap substitute for sugar but adds calories without adding nutrients. (When Ian and Curt make high fructose corn syrup in their home, we see just how vile it is.)

High fructose corn syrup has been linked to the greatly increased incidence of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. Unfortunately, it's in many pre-packaged foods and sodas, and most people have no idea of its effects. Thanks to King Corn, the message is spreading. With any luck, the Department of Agriculture will shift its emphasis on overproduction, and the vast excess of corn can shrink.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hypermiling basics: the video

Above is a short movie I made with five basic hypermiling techniques. These are all safe, legal, and efficient. I'll have more video posts about hypermiling later, but there's a lot to think about. I didn't want the video to be overwhelmingly long.

In the meantime, here are some very useful hypermiling links.
Leave suggestions and thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ass transit

Back in the day, before auto companies convinced the city to rip it up, Cincinnati had a great streetcar system downtown, complete with funiculars that went uphill to great neighborhoods like Mt. Adams. Now, though, Cincinnati has terrible mass transit. Like most major urban areas in the U.S., Cincinnati has seen whites and capital flee the city's center for the suburbs. Ideally, the city would have multimodal mass transit, since downtown hosts many jobs but relatively few homes. Instead, we have a bus system that isn't bad but can't serve as the only mass-transit system for a metro area that serves roughly three-million people. (Only about 300,000 of the people live in the city proper.) Help is on the way, but slowly, as is Cincinnati's wont.

I like riding the Metro system here, especially since its acronym is SORTA, while Northern Kentucky's is TANK. Those seem appropriate, since Northern Kentucky has taken advantage of development possibilities, while Cincinnati has lagged behind. Also, though I live in Mt. Washington, I can walk one block to the bus stop, and route 24 drops me off at UC's campus. For me, that's forty minutes of reading. If I want, I can put my bike on the front of the bus and ride once I get off. It's an effective system but not nearly enough for a city.

Below is a map of Metro's bus routes:

I've overlayed that with an image of Cincinnati's population density:

Set aside for a moment the fact that I suck at Photoshop. (Technically, I don't, since I don't have Photoshop, but still.) It's pretty clear that the bus routes serve the most populous areas but drop off pretty significantly after that. If you don't live near a bus stop, or if you need to transfer, you don't have much choice but to drive. In terms of energy efficiency, we might as well be riding asses. (Hence the title of the post; get your head out of the gutter.)

Imagine rail lines going up and down I-71 and I-75, with Park & Rides that correspond roughly with interstate exits. Imagine a rail that follows the Columbia Parkway, continuing up North through Mariemont and Milford. And a rail that goes along the Norwood lateral. Not only would those cut down on the horrible traffic in the city, but they'd also help people save money on gas and support development throughout the city. Plus, we have a bad smog problem thanks to the river valley; cars only make it worse.

These aren't pipe dreams. (I hope.) But they aren't happening anytime soon, so in my next post, I'll write about how my wife and I are getting the most gas mileage out of our car.

Looking for a green house?

(As opposed to a greenhouse.) There are two LEED-certified houses in Northside (more on the way), and you can check out the listing for one of them. It’s a beautiful home, inside and out, and not too expensive, especially in the long term, considering energy savings. I don’t live in a LEED-certified home, but I wish I did. If I were moving, I’d put a bid in on this one. Great house, neighborhood with lots to do, nearby buses (a rarity round here).

Welcome to Green in Cincinnati

Welcome to Green in Cincinnati, one local citizen’s guide to greening your life in a city it’s not always easy being green in. (Cue Kermit.)

Quick about me: I’m a Ph.D. student in English at UC, and I’ve lived here for four years. Recently, my wife and I decided to make our lives more sustainable. More organics, more local, less pollution, etc. I’m not going as far as No Impact Man, though I’d like to get as close to that as possible.

Quick about the blog: This blog exists for two reasons. One, I want to show people what my wife and I are doing so others in Cincinnati (and elsewhere) can take part and green their lives. Two, I know I’ve got lots of room for improvement, and any and all suggestions are welcome. My goal is to post a minimum of twice a week, with one video post every two weeks. I’m aiming for the video posts to make some of what I’m doing more transparent; in other words, I’ve seen some greening blogs that are hard to follow and can be condescending. (Note: I can be a little smug, too, and probably will be in some of the posts. I’m working on it.)

So here we go. Knock on FSC-certified wood.