Carbon neutral and CO2 emissions, etc

I agree with everything you’ve said here. The bus thing’s very interesting and there are a lot of good projects running that explore why people do and don’t use buses, and an idea I had here seems to already be a thing in lots of places: if you grow up with public transit, it’s an obvious thing to use, and while you’ll have to figure out some new things in a new place, transit works like transit pretty much anywhere with money. But if you grow up in a non-transit culture, it’s a mystery and can be forbidding. So as part of our efforts to get more in-town trips made in a sustainable fashion, I’ve started working with city people to create a Bus Buddies program: there goes the bus, you don’t know where it came from or where it’s going, you kind of want to start using the bus because you know you should drive less, but you don’t know how to do it. Just click through to Bus Buddies and a human will give you as much help as you want, all the way to meeting you somewhere and sherpaing you along, introducing you to the bus driver, showing you how to ride, read a schedule, get on and off the bus where you want, talk to the driver if you need help figuring out what to do or where to pick up the bus coming back, etc. until you can try it on your own and gain some confidence.

If you must replace a private car, then yes, I agree, electric is better. Better though to examine how your life is set up and ask what exactly you’re getting out of having the car, and whether it’s really worth everything you’re paying in terms of money, time, and environmental cost.

Why I think we can shift much more to transit: I think it’s got much less to do with infrastructure than with culture, and you can do a lot that doesn’t involve contractors and bids and policy through culture.

I’m a native NYer, but didn’t grow up in NYC. Even so, because my parents are native NYers, I took the bus on my own from the time I was a little kid; I didn’t bother learning to drive till I was out of college and had to so I could get to my job (where I stayed for ten weeks, in part because I thought commuting was stupid). I now live very far from NYC and my kid’s hardly ever been there. Never lived in or spent a lot of time in a major city outside a summer university program, and we live in the middle of an enormously strong car culture, with the minivan brigade outside the schools, kids driving the second they’re legal, etc. When she was 12, though, I taught her to ride the bus so she could get around on her own, so she learned to be comfortable using buses and trains, and could get around a major city on her own before she left high school. There was a bump as she got older and her friends were getting their permits – she was all about driving for a year or so – and then lost interest when she realized how expensive it is and was annoyed at that, though she learned to drive last year because she thought she ought to know how before she went to college. The other day, though, she left the house to go downtown, and she walked straight past the car her grandparents had lent her and went to stand at the corner for the bus. When she came back, I asked her why she’d done that, and she looked at me as though I’d lost my mind, and said “You can read on the bus,” and also said she hadn’t wanted to pay for parking.

Culture’s a powerful thing. Now that she’s got some experience, she’s also hella annoyed at how expensive cars are to maintain and how unreliable they can be, and can’t see why people would bother. When she comes home from college, she rides her bike or takes the bus, rather than finding a ride…just as I did over 30 years ago.

About the house temp variation: yeah, agree. I find that people freak about that until for some reason they have to forgo climate control for a while, and then, unless there’s an illness involved, usually they forget to freak about it afterwards. The seasonal thing also helps with electricity use: in summer the days are also long, and you’re likely cooking while it’s still pretty sunny out. So if you’re using solar panels and you have some pointed in the right direction, that goes a long way towards covering your a/c, even late in the day. (Similarly, in winter you’re cooking when it’s dark out and the temp has dropped, so if you’re using the oven, you can open the oven door afterwards and let the accumulated heat do something nice in the kitchen.) If you want to go deeper into it, you can also think more carefully about energy use at particular times of day, and energy costs of different kinds of, say, meal prep. I cook a lot, but I also do a lot of large-batch-and-preservation cooking, which means most evenings I’m heating up food in a microwave, not cooking on an electric stove for an hour. Again, this has more to do with norms and learned practices more than it has to do with infrastructure.

The only thing I’ll quibble about is the pocketbook argument, which I think most people will eventually see as pound-foolish if you’re talking at the level of monthly bills. (And if you’re poor enough for this to be make/break, that’s a whole other set of issues.) Again, which do you want, a world where you’re not wondering whether it’s flood or fire or tornadoes or snowmageddon or polar vortices that’ll get you this season, or adjusting how you live and paying around the same or possibly slightly more? Sure, over 20 years, I come out ahead a few thousand dollars living as I do, using the solar panels and more-expensive-up-front heating equipment. But that’s not why I do it. (I also totally horked an eco-rep-guy’s spiel in front of a bunch of apartment-dwelling grad students when he asked, “Who here thinks your heating bill is too low?” and I raised my hand and said for sure, we’re not paying for any of the externalities, this is all artificially cheap dollarwise for us and the damage costs get disconnected.) What I do think will matter quite a bit is whether people have to front the risk themselves for expensive efficient/renewable gear if they don’t know how long they’ll live somewhere and aren’t assured that they can get the money back in, say, a house sale. Rental properties, also an issue, especially at the low end.

The heartbreak is chocolate. Still getting my head around that one. Don’t @ me about carob, it tastes like 70s.


Regarding buses (and other mass transit), one of the problems they encounter is the spacing of the stops. Closer spacing accommodates people who are unable or unwilling to walk farther, but slows down the bus, which can be a significant deterrent to using it. Greater spacing speeds up the bus and encourages riders to get more exercise walking to the bus stop, but can exclude those who have difficulty walking that far and deters those who do not want to walk that far.

Your examples are about up front spending for energy efficiency, but there are other measures that save energy (saving money in the process) without additional up front spending. Accepting more temperature variation at home is one example. Setting the water heater temperature to what is actually needed (rather than heating hotter than is ever needed) is another. When driving a car, driving technique matters a lot in how much fuel is used (and fuel efficient driving tends to wear out the car less as well).


Lots of “former” this’s and that’s. I’m a “former” this and that too. :grinning:

What counts is the RIGHT NOW. Today! Not years past. What are people doing tomorrow?

Not only do we have have nutrition problem in America, we also have a consumption problem. We consume too much food. And that food is generally wrapped and/or bagged in containers.

But that’s nice you’re trying to help.

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Au contraire, mon frere! Whaddaya think education’s for? You plant the seed, you water it, you see it sprout, and ten years later the student comes back and says, "Remember when you said – " and of course the answer is “No,” but then they tell you what they remember and what it’s meant.

I just did that last night, actually. A guy who was here a decade ago gave a very weird Rosh Hashana sermon-ish light rant about light bulbs. He just urged us for what felt like an hour to go get rid of our incandescents. I’d never heard this guy talk about environmental anything before. But it made an impression, and I went home and changed out my light bulbs, even though I had no freaking money and it was before there were these wonderful “green for poor” programs around here. And that was really what got me moving on energy conservation here. I went from that to monitoring house usage with a near-real-time indoor meter to a first pass at looking at solar, deciding it was too expensive and that I’d see what I could do through conservation first, and many experiments later, here I am. And I thought he ought to know what his talk did – the talk and his unexpected urgency.

Every day grows a whole string of tomorrows. There, stitch that on a sampler.

You have got me thinking, though, about what I was teaching when I taught aerobics way back in leg-warmer days. Some of it was actually about music – I tried to introduce people to many kinds of music. (Some of those tapes got good. “Tipitina”, then an acapella band I can’t remember the name of, and the Communards in there, too, and then some trashy Europop stuff – Samantha Fox, like that. And Motown. If I’d known “Sing, Sing, Sing” at the time it for sure would’ve been in there.) But when it came to exercise, it wasn’t about GO GOALS MORE HIT THE NUMBERS or anything like that. It was about trying to help frightened 30something people feel comfortable enough to come in and join in, and trying to calm down people who were going to hurt themselves if they went at exercise the way they were doing. I didn’t talk about nutrition unless people asked, and I definitely was not about weight loss, though of course there were many fewer obese people at the time. After a certain point, when classes started getting formulaic and these class-in-a-box things started showing up, I wanted to show people that a good workout didn’t have to mean a frenetic workout, so I introduced slow motion to the routines. Can’t remember what song but I think there was something of Linda Ronstadt’s on that tape. In the end, I suppose, it was all about “have fun, you’re normal and fine, move your body and get all sweaty, know and love your body, listen to something terrific, come back again.” We had a good aerobics director; she was all about education, and the certification at the time taught a good bit of anatomy and sports medicine, which you could then use in helping club members.

Later on, I was more about noticing barriers to exercise for girls and women and trying to get something better – where were the big girls’ sports bras that were worth anything, what is this nonsense with $70 sports bras that stop at a 40DD? Where were poor women supposed to work out, and how does that girl get to be allowed to go for a run? What about that mom with the stroller, how dare you shoo her off your track, where else was she supposed to walk in the middle of winter?

I’d forgotten. A lot’s changed; not enough.

The biggest problem in all of this how many people leap without looking, and try to impose irrational solutions that simply don’t work for everyone. It’s great to have alternatives to fossil fuels. But we don’t have a widespread cost-effective alternative at this time. Battery power produces zero emissions in cars, etc, but the battery manufacturing itself creates more pollution than the gas cars they’re replacing. Solar and wind work fine in desert and warm regions, but they don’t work in snow and ice. Hydroelectric is great, but not every region has access to large rivers. Geothermal is great, but most of us don’t live in volcanic regions.

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I think these are arguments worth turning over for a second look.

First, there’s not much in the way of imposition except to tell industry, for instance, that it must find ways of reducing certain emission types, or reach certain efficiencies. How they do that is up to them, and some solutions are heftily subsidized. If you look at CCS, for instance, that’s a massively expensive way of using fossil fuels: you spend nearly half the energy you generate capturing the carbon, and then you have to figure out what to do with it, store it somewhere. So there are massive federal subsidies for this. Of course, you’re also free to figure out how not to generate that much CO2 in the first place. An answer I’m starting to see some companies reach, surprisingly enough, is “make less money”. They still make money. But they accept making less money, at least in the near term, in order to find a less destructive way of doing business.

Renewable energy’s also come a long way in the last couple of decades. My modest solar array generates more than my house uses in a year, and it gets mighty darn cold where I live; winter days are short. Winter days don’t have air conditioning, though, and my electricity use in winter is much lower than it is in summer. Over time, the panels pay for themselves plus a bit extra, so yes, even if my fear was that I’d have to pay slightly more to avoid contributing to all the exciting weather we’re having and leaving the kids on a hot planet, I’d be assured. My boss, who insisted up and down for years that renewables made no financial sense, now has both solar and geothermal for her very large property, and again, we’re very far from volcanoes. (The main problem you run into with geothermal is oversaturation of an area, plus afaik you need a lot of land for the loops.) That’s the cottage-industry take, of course; electricity generated industrially from renewables doesn’t have to stay in the region where it’s produced.

Frankly, I’d prefer it if the utilities would work with the feds to organize this better. The only reason I’ve got panels on my roof is that it’s clear my local utility’s not going to let go of coal anytime soon, so I’ll reduce demand for it along with all the other people and organizations sticking panels up on their roofs. But I had no burning desire to mess with a grid and a grid connection that were working fine. As a country, we’ve got a lot of renewable resources, and can use more of them in a more sensitive way. Would it mean that owning a util wasn’t Midas-touch territory, maybe. But we used to have highly-regulated utilities in which part of the deal was that you got to make money. You just didn’t get to make all the money. I don’t see a problem with that.

Genuine curiosity, not JAQing: do you have a citation for that claim about battery manufacturing and cars?

I think one of the biggest problems right now is that there are so many potential solutions, all with different costs and payouts, so the amount of research and analysis it takes for any individual to do is just too much. You can help that somewhat with sherpas, like you see for ACA, but infrastructure that’s just there and does the job needs to happen in a lot more places. It doesn’t have to be technologically complex, either. The other day I was thinking about the issue with older people and bikes, and of course in places where old people routinely ride bikes for transport they’ve done it all their lives. And their towns are set up for that. We aren’t. Currently we have a quarter-mile string of minivans idling away every weekday waiting to pick up kids outside the schools; we could get rid of a lot of that if we had bike paths going from the neighborhoods to the schools, separated from traffic and clearly marked for children’s use, with lollipop guards at difficult crossings. You’d wind up with a mob of kids on bikes every day that wasn’t terrible weather, and even the worried moms would eventually let their kids ride, like they were begging to do because their friends did. The kids would grow up with a sense of independence and ability to get themselves around, would ride after school to each others’ houses, and would expect such infrastructure to be available when they got older.

A common way of funding such projects: block grants. Make them to municipalities, let local people come up with solutions that suit the locality.

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Petroleum-based liquid fuels are convenient, especially in transportation contexts, but mining petroleum is messy, and petroleum requires imports that increase the trade deficit and lead to entanglements in foreign policy problems. Natural gas may be great for many uses, but leaks are a big problem, and mining it with fracking consumes water and can pollute ground water. Coal is a traditional energy source, but mining it has various problems, including health problems and hazards for the miners as well as unquenchable coal mine fires, and puts up fly ash pollution (including more radioactive materials than nuclear power plants’ waste).

Utilities look at it from a finance aspect. In the windy plains areas of the US, utilities are putting up wind turbines because collecting the free “fuel” (wind) is now cheaper for them than shoveling coal or piping natural gas, despite the cost of the wind turbines themselves.

Electric vehicles have higher costs at manufacturing and disposal / recycling at the end, but lower costs during use (much like nuclear power plants). In general, the lifetime costs are lower for electric vehicles, but it depends on the comparison liquid fuel vehicle and the source of electricity that the electric vehicle is charged from. Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave | Union of Concerned Scientists has a map showing how electric vehicles compare based on the electricity grid in various parts of the US.


They’re also doing it because of favorable tax treatment, and end of day, the finance aspect has to live within the regulatory/tax/legal regimes created by the government. Personally, tbh, I’m not done being worried about the amount of energy being removed from a very narrow slice of atmosphere; that energy was doing other things before, and the nature of the system is not such that we can put things back as they were if we figure out that this was a bad idea. You get the “it’s only tiny in the scheme of things” argument, but this argument’s failed spectacularly in several other contexts already. But hey, I don’t make the decisions.

Interesting link, thanks! Some of the US map numbers are surprising at first glance… I’ll need to study it more.

Actually, on a second look, the estimates in that map are from 2012, which is probably pessimistic compared to now, since there has been a shift toward wind and solar electricity generation in some states over the past several years*. Battery technology has also improved so that smaller and less expensive batteries are needed for the same amount of electricity storage now compared to then.

*For example, Colorado Profile says that Colorado generated 68% of its electricity from coal in 2010, but 36% from coal in 2020.

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