Friday, January 30, 2009

Arnold Flexes Environmental Muscle

Arnold Schwarzenegger is no poser. The California governor has been aggressively exercising the Golden State's right to address climate change.

Efforts to raise the bar on auto emission standards beyond the meager standards set by the federal government met with opposition from the former Bush administration, but President Obama recently ordered a review of that policy opening the way for its implementation.

The PBS program NOVA, in a program entitled The Big Energy Gamble, takes a look at California's sustainability agenda and ponders the question, "Will the US will follow?"

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I was attracted to a letter to the NYT editor this morning by this amazing Jim Frazier image.

Anthony Silver opines, "Cultures crumble when the balance is lost between the needs of the individual and the needs of the group."

That, articulately, sums it up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

BeauSoleil: Construction Begins

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website. And check out a short film about the project.

A report from the field:

It is a very exciting time for TEAM BeauSoleil. We started the framing of our floor today and are already near completion. The shop drawings for our NanaWall door system are almost complete. Our cypress is also almost here for us to see. We have many new faces that are already hard at work on the all aspects of our project. The new fourth year studio students have done a thorough research on what we have already designed and already started working on new design tasks and research. Many new students in other classes have also started their great contribution to the project with building, LEED research, material research, and design. All of our TEAM BeauSoleil officers have returned and have hit the ground running on material purchasing, public relations, research, building and continue designing every last detail of our home.

Many of us have been part of TEAM BeauSoleil for over a year, and yet we still have a sincere passion for what we are doing. We still believe in our mission of designing a uniquely regional work of architecture with a balanced technological hybrid of both passive and active systems that can serve as a marketable prototype for housing in Louisiana. We are reaching our goal of educating TEAM members about sustainable design, construction methods, and professional practice. We are also still working hard to increase awareness regionally, nationally and worldwide about the need for resilient and sustainable emergency housing in the form of readily available, long-term housing options that are sustainable and affordable, environmental responsibility, and our amazing Louisiana culture.

Please, stay in touch with us and our progress. There are many great things to come!

Gretchen LaCombe Vanicor - TEAM BeauSoleil

Gore Endorses Stimulus Plan

This morning, Al Gore is on Capitol Hill testifying on Global Climate Change. Among other things, Gore discussed and the United State's leadership role in the lead up to the United Nations' climate talks later on this year in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) asked an interesting question. Paraphrased, he asked Gore whether we should hold different countries to different standards when it comes to carbon emissions. Put another way, should we hold developing countries to a looser standard than industrialized nations in limits on carbon emissions?

The issue behind the question lies in arena of envionmental standards and their effect on business development, and the arguement that some make that renewable energy is cost-prohibitive thus placing an unfair burden on poorer populations of the world.

(Nothing I've heard from or read about Senator Feingold leads me to believe he holds this position. The question, I believe, was rhetorical.)

Gore's response was enlightening. He pointed out that just as developing countries in Africa have been able to leapfrog technology in areas like telecommunications - vast areas never wired for phone service now have wireless communication networks thereby transcending an entire layer of expensive infrastructure - and can do the same thing with renewable energies.

Localized solar and wind energy systems are feasible now and do not depend on large-scale investments in traditional (heavy carbon-emitting) power plants and the infrastructure to distribute it.

Gore pointed out, rightly, that renewable energies are even more financially attractive when "dirty energy" infrastructure does not exist.

The former Vice President called for the creation of a national, unified "smart grid" to move renewable energy around the country, and proposed that just as the US led the world in the post war economy (WW2), the United States can now lead the world in the development and implementation of renewable energies.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Green Light on Green Energy

If Congress follows President Obama's blueprint for the upcoming stimulus package, this spring will have a considerably greener hue.

From yesterday's Remarks by the President on Jobs, Energy Independence, and Climate Change :

"At a time of such great challenge for America, no single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy. America's dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation, and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation and sets back our ability to compete."

And he went on to say:

"Now America has arrived at a crossroads. Embedded in American soil and the wind and the sun, we have the resources to change. Our scientists, businesses and workers have the capacity to move us forward. It falls on us to choose whether to risk the peril that comes with our current course or to seize the promise of energy independence. For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change.

It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil, while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs. We hold no illusion about the task that lies ahead. I cannot promise a quick fix; no single technology or set of regulations will get the job done. But we will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is free from our energy dependence and empowered by a new energy economy that puts millions of our citizens to work.

Today, I'm announcing the first steps on our journey toward energy independence, as we develop new energy, set new fuel efficiency standards, and address greenhouse gas emissions. Each step begins to move us in a new direction, while giving us the tools that we need to change.

First, we must take bold action to create a new American energy economy that creates millions of jobs for our people. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan before Congress places a down payment on this economy. It will put 460,000 Americans to work, with clean energy investments and double the capacity to generate alternative energy over the next three years. It will lay down 3,000 miles of transmission lines to deliver this energy to every corner of our country. It will save taxpayers $2 billion a year by making 75 percent of federal buildings more efficient. And it will save working families hundreds of dollars on their energy bills by weatherizing 2 million homes.

This is the boost that our economy needs, and the new beginning that our future demands. By passing the bill, Congress can act where Washington has failed to act over and over again for 30 years. We need more than the same old empty promises. We need to show that this time it will be different. This is the time that Americans must come together on behalf of our common prosperity and security.

Second, we must ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in the United States of America. Increasing fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks is one of the most important steps that we can take to break our cycle of dependence on foreign oil. It will also help spark the innovation needed to ensure that our auto industry keeps pace with competitors around the world."

From NPR: Green Energy Scores Big In Obama's Stimulus Plan

Monday, January 26, 2009

California Dreamin'

The State of California's proactive policies regulating the emission of CO2 is paying off.

Emissions per person are down even as the state's economy has grown. And the green sector of the economy has shown the most impressive growth rising 10 percent annually.

A new report by NEXT10 - a non-partisan organization focused on the convergence of energy, the economy, and lifestyle - exposes as myth the idea that "environmental stewardship comes at the expense of business."

The group's 2008 Green Innovation Index summarizes that "since the 1970s when the state government first started requiring more energy-efficient buildings and appliances, California has grown more prosperous and added jobs even as its citizens cut the amount of energy they use and the greenhouse gases they produce."

A focus on conservation along with higher standards for energy-efficiency in buildings and appliances means Californians are paying much less for energy than their the rest of the country. And aggressive incentives for developing and installing clean green energy systems has attracted record amounts of venture capital investment for green business start-ups. As a result, California leads the nation in patent applications for renewable energy and green products.

This morning, President Obama announced that he is ordering the EPA to reconsider it's opposition to states setting higher standards for auto emissions. Unconscionably, under the past administration, the Environmental Protection Agency prohibited states from raising local environmental standards higher than those set by the agency.

Check out the Los Angeles Times story: Obama clearing way for California emissions waiver

And just for kicks: The Mamas and the Papas

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Purpose Driven Stimulus Package

In his first weekly YouTube address as president, Barack Obama outlines the Administration's plan for the forthcoming stimulus package which he hopes will be signed into law within a month.

From the website:

"(T)he plan will update our electric grid by laying more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines; weatherize 2.5 million homes; protect health insurance for more than 8 million Americans in danger of losing their coverage; secure 90 major ports; renovate 10,000 schools; and triple the number of science fellowships."

A link to the full transcript and video:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sleeping Naked is Green

I recently came across a refreshing blog on living sustainably in a modern world by Toronto-based writer Vanessa Farquharson. Green as a Thistle is a cheeky take on the realities (and superficialities) of the exploding green movement.

A year ago, she challenged herself to do one new thing every day to "greenify" her life. She documents her efforts in a 366 point list (last year was a leap year) and in a book entitled Sleeping Naked is Green. No, I haven't read the book - it's yet to be released; you can pre-order here - but with a title like that, this tome deserves a closer look.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

BeauSoleil: DC Bound

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website at ttp:// And check out short film about the project here:

A report from the field:

Being a part of the BeauSoleil project has been such an exciting and stimulating experience. As a graduate student, being able to base my thesis on such a unique project is quite an opportunity. But this project is not solely for the graduate officers. The BeauSoleil home is a representation of our university and our architecture program, and we are interested in having all dedicated and willing students take part in the process.

Over the break, team officers traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with the U.S. Department of Energy’s organizers for the 2009 Solar Decathlon. During each session, we became more knowledgeable and prepared to compete at the highest level in this very competitive event on the U.S. National Mall against 19 universities from around the world. It was exciting to attend the pre-event workshop, once again emphasizing the magnitude of this experience. We feel confident that we are on track for success.

We submitted our construction documents and project manual which includes narratives and specifications to the DOE on Dec 16. We are still continuing to raise money for the project, but our most exciting current news is the start of construction. There are approximately 40 students helping to build this semester, and we are looking forward to having the shell shipped to our warehouse in approximately one month! At that time we will have a commemoration event to celebrate the construction. I encourage you all to attend!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at or visit

Catherine Guidry
TEAM BeauSoleil

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New and Improved

Change has, the official website of the US President. The new tech-savvy Administration posted a newly designed site yesterday as Obama took office outlining policy positions and Administration activities.

An excerpt:


The energy challenges our country faces are severe and have gone unaddressed for far too long. Our addiction to foreign oil doesn't just undermine our national security and wreak havoc on our environment -- it cripples our economy and strains the budgets of working families all across America. President Obama and Vice President Biden have a comprehensive plan to invest in alternative and renewable energy, end our addiction to foreign oil, address the global climate crisis and create millions of new jobs.

The Obama-Biden comprehensive New Energy for America plan will:

* Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.
* Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.
* Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars -- cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon -- on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America.
* Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
* Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Energy Plan Overview

Provide Short-term Relief to American Families

* Crack Down on Excessive Energy Speculation.
* Swap Oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to Cut Prices.

Eliminate Our Current Imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 Years

* Increase Fuel Economy Standards.
* Get 1 Million Plug-In Hybrid Cars on the Road by 2015.
* Create a New $7,000 Tax Credit for Purchasing Advanced Vehicles.
* Establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
* A “Use it or Lose It” Approach to Existing Oil and Gas Leases.
* Promote the Responsible Domestic Production of Oil and Natural Gas.

Create Millions of New Green Jobs

* Ensure 10 percent of Our Electricity Comes from Renewable Sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
* Deploy the Cheapest, Cleanest, Fastest Energy Source – Energy Efficiency.
* Weatherize One Million Homes Annually.
* Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology.
* Prioritize the Construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline.

Reduce our Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80 Percent by 2050

* Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
* Make the U.S. a Leader on Climate Change.

Click on for what promises to be an interesting and engaging (and ever-changing) update on Administration activities and policy initiatives.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Today, its' all about the presidential inauguration. Full coverage on C-SPAN.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Brother, Can You Paradigm?

This week's newspaper article:

What’s all the fuss about renewable energy? And what is renewable energy anyway?

We can start with some definitions.

Renewable energies are energy sources that naturally self-replenish into perpetuity without harm to the planet’s ecosystem, and they give off no toxic byproducts in the course of their capture or usage. Let’s call this clean energy.

Non-renewable energy is characterized as being derived from a finite earth element such as coal or oil - probably extracted from the earth at the expense of the ecosystem. These resources are generally messy to extract, and produce toxic waste that humans must clean up or somehow sweep under the rug. Let’s call these dirty energies.

The sun and wind are pure examples of renewable energy; neither must be “extracted” and they don’t pollute.

But what about clean coal? Is that renewable?

Not so much.

Coal - now popularly characterized by the industry as “clean coal” - does not replenish itself. We could bury more dinosaurs (if there were any left around) and wait for a few million years to get another several decades of energy, but that’s not what I call sustainable. And so-called clean coal technology may emit fewer toxins than your grandfather’s coal plant, but toxins are emitted nonetheless, albeit in smaller quantities.

Meanwhile, the coal-burning process creates millions of tons of toxic waste.

Recently in Tennessee, almost two million cubic yards of fly ash - a byproduct of coal incineration containing toxic heavy metals - broke through an earthen dam spilling onto hundreds of acres before making its way into a tributary of the Tennessee River polluting the drinking water source for millions downstream.

That’s the great risk of dirty energy.

Proponents of clean coal will argue that being less bad is good. Is it?

Consider this. If you’re driving to New York, but you’re headed in the direction of Los Angeles, will driving slower ever get you where you want to go?

Scientists expect the sun to pump life-giving rays to our planet for billions of years before it dies out. And wind will be around as long as we remember not to blow up the planet.

Contrast that to projections for dirty energies, which tend to be predicted in denominations of years or decades.

Decades versus billions of years? Imagining that comparison on a graph, the clean energy line would be off the page and the dirty energy line would be a tiny, tiny blip.

Moving as fast as possible to implement renewable energy is a progressive AND a conservative approach. Conversion from dirty to clean energy will create home-grown jobs and will result in greater security and predictability in our energy markets. The idea of renewable energy is not left or right, it is decidedly forward.

Staying with the current system - one that will run out of gas, so to speak, within the lifetime of our grandchildren - is a truly radical approach.