Green Science: Facts Are Facts

“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”–U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

When it comes to Climate Change discussions, things can get awfully….heated.

Global leaders met in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum last week to talk about, I would argue, how to share the world’s resources.  Some of us are using more than our share, to the detriment of others.  That’s a hard truth.

You know what’s even harder? Getting those of us with more to change how we live, consume, and drive.

It’s an aggravating truth that some people refuse to be swayed by reason to reconsider their positions, even when their current choice doesn’t serve their own best interests. Part of the problem is that people tend to shut down–and do nothing–when bombarded by too many choices. (See: Decision making theory)

I would also argue that a misapplied concept of Face –maintaining or losing social dignity–plays a powerful role as well. To admit we are wrong and take action to make things right, requires a significant cognitive shift.

A Davos participant wrote about this conundrum, and some paths forward, in this Harvard Business Review blog post yesterday.

To this point, a new article reports on erroneous science reporting and what happens when climate change skeptics cover their eyes to the hard, scientific, facts that the globe is getting hotter. Why is this a problem? Because keeping a mental door shut to scientific facts allows people to perpetuate and protect their social, economic and political positions.

I believe we can all be in agreement about basic facts. We know the world is getting hotter, based on the replicated, peer-reviewed scientific findings by the overwhelming majority of the world’s experts.

For those who are having trouble getting there, let’s build bridges by teaching, learning and practicing analytical skills.  At the end of the day, I believe that when we know better, we do better.

Then we can get down to the business of what we’re going to do about our hotter-than-ever world.


Every once in a while a spasm of easily debunked but headline grabbing climate change denial splashes across the mainstream media. The last couple of days was one of those times, with a simply factually incorrect piece in the Wall Street Journal and another one in the Daily Mail repeating the tired meme that there hasn’t actually been any recorded warming on the planet in over a decade. Never mind that NASA released data showing quite starkly the exact opposite earlier in the same week.

Read the article.


Green Politics: Environmental Bills in NJ Senate

Politics is often compared to sausage-making, for good reason. It’s always complicated and often controversial.

But it’s important.  We elect officials to run our state and represent our interests.

Here’s what’s being discussed today in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee: water safety, school clean-ups, land ownership, storm water run-off, state forestry resources, and renewable energy.

Weigh in on what’s important to you.

I’ll add the transcript once available.

More via Enviropoliticsblog: Energy and Environmental Bills in Committee Today in NJ


Green Shift: “Sustainable” Jumps the Shark?

Click to view larger

Randall Munroe, the brains behind XKCD* (the very-funny, very-on-the-pulse cartoon site), pops the Sustainable meme-bubble  with his characteristic sarcastic wit. Click above to view larger.

I really appreciate his point, as I see it, to skewer corporate efforts to be All Things Green in thoughts, words and…..what was that again? Oh right. Actions. Embracing a set of strategic goals that honestly and truly incorporates People and the Planet is all talk until it’s expressed in positive, measurable, truthful actions.

Until then, it’s Greenwashing. A simple example of Greenwashing are repackaging campaigns that use nebulous, unregulated language like “natural” and “green” to appeal to consumers. That’s simple and obvious semi-truthful advertising.

Once you get past the easy low-hanging Greenwashing fruit, it gets murkier. For instance, how about a recycling campaign that diverts waste instead of decreasing it? Has anything really gotten better, or has the problem just moved downstream a few steps? Is that still a good thing, or good enough?

At worst, Greenwashing is fraudulent and deceitful. My newest example is the stack of  green-labeled “recyclable” batteries I spied in the supermarket last week. The packaging gimmick is that the  manufacturer will supply a postage-paid envelope to the consumer to mail the spent batteries back for earth-friendly recycling.

What are the chances that the average consumer, after popping the batteries into whatever device required them, is going to keep the packaging and take-the-steps required to secure this envelope? Nil.

The packaging is meant to make people feel better about buying these particular batteries, to get a tiny little green boost for doing the right thing, even if they don’t follow through. Even though there is nothing special about these one-use-only batteries.

(By the way, check with your municipality how to to recycle standard household-use batteries. In Essex County, New Jersey, batteries are accepted as part of regular household waste.)

(While I’m parentheticalizing, go buy some recyclable batteries, a charger, and put them in a drawer near wherever you charge all your other devices. Do yourself a favor and get enough rechargeable batteries to always have fresh ones ready to go. Think of your rechargeable batteries like socks. It’s always a good idea to have an extra clean pair. )

The important thing, in my mind, is to get under the easy surface issues and dig into the complicated, messy operational chains where real money gets spent on shared, finite energy and resources.  It’s a conversation worth having.  I, for one, am not tired of talking about Sustainability.

Read XKCD.

*Randall said I could use his image.

Green Living: Yes, You Can Keep Your Incandescents

Let’s clear up a few things. No one is coming to your house to confiscate your incandescent bulbs and force you you install twisty compact fluorescent bulbs.

There is no need to stockpile or horde them like tulip bulbs or canned milk.*

Even though CFLs are vastly more energy-efficient, last 10 times as long, cost less to operate and provide just as nice light.

We know, you think the light is weird or you have concerns (legitimately!) about the potential health risks if you break one. (For the record, here’s how to clean up a broken CFL and why and how to recycle  CFLs responsibly and safely.)

And maybe you just don’t like being told what you can and can’t buy for your home.

For now, at least until 2014, you can have your incandescent bulbs.


A Congressional spending deal made late last night includes a provision that prevents the Department of Energy from enforcing the incandescent light bulb ban set to go in effect in January for another nine months.

The first phase of the ban, which still remains on the books but just can’t be enforced, includes higher efficiency standards for 100-watt bulbs.  By the end 2014, all incandescents will be phased out.  and this delay may now cause them to lose money to foreign competitors still selling the cheaper bulbs.

In the meantime, American light bulb makers are hot on the task of making the change from incandescents to more efficient bulbs like halogen, CFLs and LEDs that customers will love.

New out of the gate are Philips’ energy efficient EcoVantage incandescent bulbs, available exclusively at Home Depot stores and online via


Philips Lighting is launching a new line of incandescent light bulbs designed to meet federal energy efficiency standards that will take force in the US over the next few years.

While not as efficient as compact fluorescent or LED bulbs,  EcoVantage bulbs will likely appeal to people who are unhappy with the quality of light delivered by the more energy efficient technologies.

The new bulbs, which use halogen elements, provide energy savings of about 28% compared to conventional incandescents. That meets or exceeds efficiency standards established in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. Wattage options are as follows:

According to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), lighting alone accounts for 22% of electricity use in the US, and there are over 4.4 billion medium screw-based light sockets.

Yes, you can keep your incandescents. But I hope you’ll consider upgrading to more efficient lights–with plenty of choice for which and how much–when you can.

Green Shift: Is It Right?

In the spirit of this Martin Luther King, Jr. day, here’s a thought to consider for how we live and work:

“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”
-Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As applied to Sustainable practices, asking “Is it Right?” is a compass heading for making the best choice in any situation.

What are the short-term and long-term impacts of your action? How does this decision play out locally and globally? Does a choice I make today have a negative or detrimental impact on others or the planet we share?

Learn more about Dr. Martin Luther King’s Life and Enduring Legacy for Nonviolent Change

Green Business: GM Charts Sustainable Future

My years of experience as a sea kayaker in commercial waterways taught me an inviolate truth about big ships. They move inexorably slowly at first but are practically unstoppable once up to speed.

What does Sustainability mean for one of the world largest manufacturers of fossil-fuel burning, GHG-emitting, resource-consuming products? For GM, sustainable business practices mean nothing short of survival as a leaner, more efficient, more customer-responsive enterprise.

The auto maker is putting Green front and center with its first sustainability report as a new company, claiming 2011 wins that align profits, people and the planet.

I’m more intrigued by GM’s environmental stewardship goals for the next decade.

  1. Reduce energy intensity from facilities by 20 percent.
  2. Promote use of 125MW of renewable energy by 2020.
  3. Reduce carbon intensity from facilities by 20 percent.
  4. Reduce volatile organic compound emissions from assembly painting operations by 10 percent.
  5. Protect water quality and reduce water intensity by 15 percent.
  6. Reduce total waste from facilities by 10 percent.
  7. Promote existing landfill-free facilities while working to achieve 100 landfill-free manufacturing sites and 25 non-manufacturing sites.
  8. Promote and engage in community outreach on environmental and energy issues by completing one outreach activity per plant on an annual basis.
  9. Secure Wildlife Habitat Certification (or equivalent) at each GM manufacturing site where feasible by 2020.

As a new member of the 2012 Rutgers Environmental Stewards class, it’s all I’m thinking about.  If each of us took even one of these sustainability goals for our business and home, we’d all come out ahead. Which ones appeal to you, are doable, measurable and would make a real difference in your life and communities?

Visit GM’s Sustainability site

Read the press release

Green Links: Grasping Green Tech

Here’s the good news: green energy is a complex, evolving, competitive global industry.

It’s also the bad news.

How many times have your conversations about green energy spun out to irrelevant generalities, dead-end roadblocks or inconsistent conclusions depending on who you ask? Or worse, devolved to the dangerously ignorant single data point?

“My cousin in Topeka said that recycling costs more energy than it saves so I’m going to do it.”

I’m on a mission to pin down reliable, relate-able, relevant facts.

Here’s a great 20-pack of slides that help frame the green tech discussion, courtesy of

20 PowerPoint Slides that Shook the Earth


Green Politics: NJ Playing Fields Act Fails Because It Never Got a Vote

Bills supporting clean water, land and air for NJ citizens failed to pass last week as the 2011 NJ legislative session came to a close. In the end, worries about the other Big E–the Economy–won out this round.

Among them were a number of bills that simply weren’t posted and never got to a vote, including the Safe Playing Fields Act. This bill enjoyed wide support and sponsorship and would have protected NJ children by banning toxic pesticide use on school grounds and playing fields.

I find this outcome an eminently political move by legislators who had previously supported these bills.  They can’t be blamed for voting for or against something if the vote never came up.


There were a number of good bills that were never even posted, [NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff] Tittel added. They included a bill to limit children’s exposure to pesticides at playgrounds, a bill increasing the state’s target for renewable energy from 22.5 percent to 30 percent, and a bill that would have prevented the governor from withdrawing New Jersey from a regional program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a letter sent to supporters, Northern NJ Safe Yards Alliance asks for renewed grass-roots commitment to get the Safe Playing Fields Act passed in February:

We are disappointed.

Despite thousands of letters of support from residents & health advocates, 19 senate co-sponsors and 27 assembly co-sponsors, the NJ Legislature failed to pass the Safe Playing Fields Act (S2610/A3782) before the end of the legislative session on January 9.

We got the bill as close as we could to passing without getting it done. The bill now has to go through committees again.

We are also optimistic. Since it was so close to being passed into law, we want it to be posted to a vote during the first 2012 legislative session in February. Whether we are successful will be dependent on enough grass-roots support to counter the well-financed chemical industry who is opposing the bill.

Read NJ Spotlight’s coverage.

My post on the Safe Playing Fields Act

NJ Northern Safe Yards Alliance website


Green Living: January Garden Joys

January lettuce in the cold frame

The poet Shelley asked, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” My answer to that question is that it will be here before we know it.

Most of my garden to-do items this month are indoors. All will help make spring clean-up and planting much saner. Hopefully one or more of these items will spark you into spring activity as well.

Learn from last year: Review notes and photos from last year’s garden. Pledge not to repeat any of last year’s mis-steps. Top on my list is planting more intensively for maximum production.

Dream a little or a lot: There’s nothing like a few hours of armchair gardening with colorful garden catalogs and websites.

Sketch out goals: What do I want to start, plant, move, build and divide? I’m thinking about new fences, flower boxes and plant supports as well as plantings and lawn repair.

Make a list: What do I need to buy in terms of seeds, pots, potting soil, and tools? What plants do I intend to sow from seeds and what will I buy as seedlings?

Take seed stock: Early, easy spring sowing options include radishes, lettuces, and peas. Toss your old seeds or test their viability. Order soon for best selection. Two mail order providers to try are Johnny’s Seeds and Fedco.

Check coldframe:  To-do tasks include covering it at night if the temperature will dip below 20 degrees, uncovering it the next day and harvesting greens weekly. I’m sowing new spinach and lettuces indoors this week so I’ll have transplants for February planting.

Fill feeders: The titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, house finches, juncos, and woodpeckers coming to feeders depend on us. Keep fresh water in the birdbath for bathing and drinking.

Tend houseplants: Keep up regular light watering. Remove browning or dead leaves. Regular up-close inspections help catch insect or scale issues before they get out of hand.

Enjoy winter’s blossoms: I try to have at least one house plant in flower every month. Currently, a foot-tall Snow Rose (Serissa japonica) pruned into a standard is bearing delicate tiny white flowers. If you don’t have a blooming house plant, ten dollars will buy you one.

Sharpen tools: Prices vary but figure on something like $5 per item to bring rusty dull tools back to useful service. Call your local hardware store.

Clean and organize: Scrub out last year’s pots and dry thoroughly.

Be inspired: Breathe in tropical scents with a day trip to the greenhouses at the New York Botanical Garden or Wave Hill, both in the Bronx, N.Y. The New Jersey Flower & Garden Show is coming up Feb 12 – 15 at the New Jersey Convention Center in Edison.

Get ready gardeners. While it is the depths of winter, spring is on the way.

Deprecated: Function get_magic_quotes_gpc() is deprecated in /services3/webpages/k/a/ on line 4826