News

What we Don’t Pay for at the Pump

Posted on June 22, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |

While we’ve already passed the longest day of the year, summer’s just getting started.  ‘Tis the season of road-trips, weekend jaunts to the shore, and enjoying the outdoors.  But most summer plans require some form of fossil fuel to get you there.  And as the average price for a gallon of gasoline tips over $4 , transportation costs are beginning to weigh more on Americans minds.   

 

However, a gallon of gasoline in the US is still far cheaper than in any industrialized country.  While many may think $4 is expensive, this price does not take hidden costs into account.

Hidden or external costs are costs that are not transmitted to the final retail price of a product and are incurred by a party who did not agree to the action causing the cost.

 

In the case of gasoline prices it’s the environment and human health that bear the burden of these external costs resulting from increased smog and air pollution and ecosystem damage from drilling and oil spills.  A recent study estimated that the cost of air pollution for the greater Los Angeles region adds up to more than $1,250 per person per year.  These are costs that are shouldered by individuals and not reflected in the price we all see at the pump.

 

Many European countries levy an “eco-tax” on gasoline sales in an attempt to account for external costs.  Proceeds from these taxes go towards supporting social programs and renewable energy development.  Arguments exist on both sides of the political spectrum with regard to adding additional costs to already painful prices at the pump –  but one thing is undeniable: the true cost of producing and consuming gasoline is much higher than what we’re paying.

 

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A Pig with Lipstick

Posted on June 8, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

We’ve all seen or heard ridiculous propaganda advertisements  by companies or organizations eager to tout their feel-good green attributes.  Often these attempts have proven pure marketing magic with little actual environmental weight behind them.

But what to make of companies that have made real commitments to sustainability and improving the environment, while simultaneously taking contradictory stances on climate change?

 

Big fund manager Calvert Investment Management (among other large investors) decided to tackle this such issue by sending a letter to 43 companies on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) asking them to explain how they reconcile their own greenhouse gas-reduction efforts with NAM’s efforts of stripping the EPA of its powers to regulate greenhouse gases.

 

The letter singles out companies such as Intel, Heinz, Pfizer, Verizon, CSX Corporation, Abbot Laboratories, and Dow Chemical for having industry leading sustainability efforts while also supporting NAM’s efforts to repeal authority of the EPA to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act.

 

The EPA was granted the authority to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases (namely CO2) in 2010, but efforts by private interests and (mainly) republican officials have been underway since then to limit its authority.  NAM’s claims that EPA regulation of GHGs would impose unreasonable costs on American manufacturing  have been refuted by leading groups that have countered that imposed costs are exaggerated and pale in comparison to future costs of consequences of climate change.

 

The fact that companies are playing both sides – pursuing sustainability goals while also funding efforts to stymie environmental legislation in Congress is only adding to the partisan stall our country finds itself in today.

 

This is why it’s imperative to know the full-story of how a company operates and what it invests its resources (time, money, lobbying effort) towards – in order to be a conscious and informed citizen and consumer.

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New Clean Currents White Paper: Update on Shale Gas Drilling & Hydraulic Fracturing

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: News, White Papers | Tags: , , , , , , |

Recent discoveries of vast natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale region (spanning PA, NY, MD and DE) and in other parts of the country are driving down natural gas prices and sparking a modern “gold rush” of companies seeking to cash in on new drilling opportunities. This abundance is leading many energy industry experts and politicians to tout the promise of natural gas as a major piece in meeting US energy needs and reducing dependence on foreign resources. Because natural gas typically has a lower carbon emissions profile than coal,  progressives (including President Obama and the Natural Resources Defense Council)  have joined more conventional allies of natural gas, calling it a ”bridge fuel” between coal-fired generation and renewable options. However, recent studies have found that shale gas may not be as an environmentally or climate friendly and a shift to this fuel source may actually lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Read the rest here!

Shale Drilling in PA

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China’s Water Crisis

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

Chinese worker cleaning polluted river

Chinese history is filled with environmental disasters. This stems from a myriad of sources, one being that the country maximized its usage of arable land as early as 1800. Environmental problems have been such a major issue in China that one of the key indicators of the fall of a dynasty was the inability of the emperor and his dynasty to prevent famine. Once famine became rampant, an emperor was said to be losing the “mandate of heaven,” social unrest would ensue, and a revolution would most likely oust the existing from power. The leader of the revolution would assume the roll of the Emperor and obtain the “mandate of heaven” by making sure his people did not starve. To this day, uprisings have been the key method of regime change in China. For example, after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was completely  reshuffled. For this reason, there is nothing that those in power in the CCP fear more than social unrest.

Linfen, China

Astonishing economic growth has helped China become a leading player on the global level, but there has been dire consequences. Rampant pollution as a result of immense foreign direct investment has caused serious environmental problems. The most pressing environmental issue for the CCP at the moment is the Yellow River. The Yellow River is called the birthplace of Chinese Civilization, but it has become so polluted because of poor regulation of industrial standards that the water is no longer safe for drinking. The river also happens to be the main source of water for most of northern China. The Chinese Government, however,has come up with a solution. It plans to redirect one third of the water from China’s largest river, the Yangtze river, 800 miles to connect with the Yellow river to essentially save the 440 million people living in northern China from dying of thirst.

From Nytimes.com

The plan is elaborate, lucrative, and insanely expensive. However, the $62 billion dollar price tag (twice that of the Three Gorges Dam) does not come with a guarantee. The 800 mile canal that would have to be built would run through several industrial zones and some Beijing officials have voiced skepticism as to whether the water redirected from the Yangtze would be safe for drinking when it reached northern China anyway.

Along with these problems, several hundreds of thousands of people have begun to be displaced by the Government to build the canal. This has caused several protest and uprisings since the compensation received for the requisition of land by the CCP has been, more often than not, inadequate. However, the Chinese government hopes that these protests will be less severe than the millions that would most likely rise against the government if northern China does not find a rapid solution to its water crisis.

There are several things to be taken away from this situation. Most importantly, almost everything in life is based on incentives. Local officials have a motive to bring in foreign companies and allow them to pollute, even though there are strict standards set by the central government. This happens for several reasons; 1) local officials are not paid directly by the central government, 2) local officials are rarely ousted from power, and 3) up to 70% of a local officials income can comes from selling foreign companies land. To attract more foreign companies, a official will provide more slack in terms of pollution so the companies can cut more costs. China will have to change this incentive structure if they ever want to combat pollution that continues to be unregulated.

This system has allowed for incredible amounts of foreign direct investment and bolstered China to become an economic power that may soon rival the U.S., but the Chinese governments shortsightedness in terms of the environmental impact of its economic policies may very well be the CCP’s downfall. The short term economic value of something may, in the long term, be much more expensive as a social cost. As the Chinese government is finding out very quickly, social costs do add up, and they can become very expensive. Unfortunately the impact of some policies are measured not only in dollars or RMB, but also in lives.

Doing the right thing and paying more for something that adds social value can be much less expensive in the long term. Clean wind power is and example of a product that does not harm the environment through practices such as mountain top removal. To not end up like the Chinese in terms of pollution, we have to remember that the incentive to purchase a product or run a business a certain way has to have more than monetary value, it also has to take into account the social good.

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It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here!

Posted on June 1, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |

I would not suggest that you touch the surface of an asphalt parking lot this week.  As summer temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic soar, effects stemming from the phenomenon called the urban heat-island exacerbate and become much more pronounced.

The average high air temperature in Washington, DC during the month of June is roughly 85 degrees.  But surface temps of black asphalt (parking lots, driveways, and roads), which absorb energy from the sun, can exceed 40 degrees over the high air temperature.  This means that on an especially swampy day, you could literally fry an egg on the asphalt (although a solar cooker would aid that process immensely)!

Leading climate scientists have come out with studies showing that large American cities could be in serious danger if climate change and increased urbanization continue unabated.  Cities like Chicago have begun to enact long-term climate change adaptation into their city plans as city leaders realize that smaller changes now can save huge amounts of effort and money in the future.  Changes such as increasing tree cover and green roofs, using lighter/more reflective surfaces for asphalt, and replacing non-porous concrete and road surface with permeable pavement could all help to alleviate worsening urban heat-island effects.

Phoenix, known for its blistering summer temps, recently approved the installation of a “cool-surface” parking lot to help battle its own urban heat-island effects.  Emerald Cities Cool Pavement, the company installing the lot in Phoenix is utilizing high performance solar reflective coating to achieve its goals of decreasing surface lot temperatures, reducing smog, and sealing/preserving asphalt cover to prolong lot life.

Seemingly simple innovations such as cool-surface parking lots can go a long way in helping our urban areas confront and adapt to climate change.

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A Clearer Guide for Greener Rides

Posted on May 26, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

The Federal Govt. unveiled new fuel economy window stickers this week for vehicles starting with the 2013 model year.  

Replacing the familiar MPG ratings are new labels which will include a greenhouse gas and a smog rating, comparing a vehicle’s emissions with those of all other vehicles. 

The new, more comprehensive labels take into account both pollution impacts and operating costs for all new vehicles.  The new labels will also include an estimated annual fuel cost based on 15,000 miles traveled at a fuel price of $3.70/gallon.

The EPA hopes that the new gallons-per-mile metric, combined with estimated fuel costs will provide consumers with more accurate measures of efficiency and expense than the traditional miles-per-gallon figure.   

Read the full article HERE

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A Doe, a Deer

Posted on May 26, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

 

Here at Clean Currents we are animal lovers.  Dogs, cats, hampsters, fish, you name it and at least one of our staffers have owned them.  And while nobody at Clean Currents has owned a white-tailed deer, we hold a special place in our hearts for Bambi.  

 

But we also recognize that eastern white-tailed deer have caused a fair share of consternation in our region – from collisions with vehicles, to nibbled-on gardens, and the spread of ticks.  

A recent story by WAMU environmental reporter Sabri Ben-Achour highlighted just how damaging our neighborhood deer can be to fragile ecosystems.  Back in 1990, scientists at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., enclosed 10 acres of forest with 8-foot high fences, locking deer out.  Twenty-one years later the difference between the ecosystem within the enclosure and the surrounding habitat is as clear as night and day.

Native flora and fauna species are flourishing within the enclosure, and the vegetative cover is markedly denser than outside of the enclosure, which is populated with mainly short grasses and mature trees with little in between. 

The results of the Smithsonian experiment were surprising – showing that deer allow invasive species to flourish by consuming less hardy native flora.  The presence of deer also led to a sharp decrease in the density and diversity of plants and animals … read the full story HERE

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Chicago Faces the Climate Challenge

Posted on May 25, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

While the rapture may not have come last weekend, there are cities across the globe that are not taking any chances.  As our Federal government continues to argue the very existence of climate change, cities like Chicago are integrating climate change preparedness into their long-term plans.   

Chicago may be known for its bitter winters and stiff wind, but climate scientists reported that if global carbon emissions continue apace, Chicago could expect a climate similar to that of Baton Rouge’s within seventy years.

The implications of such a dramatic climate shift in Chicago would be huge.  Climate modeling shows increased summer temperatures, increased precipitation, and more violent weather in general.

By implementing relatively inexpensive adaptive measures such as transforming paved surfaces and creating and expanding green corridors and roofs to prevent flooding and decrease heat-island effects, the city is positioning itself to avoid more costly climate disasters in the future.

Read the full article HERE

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Love Cakelove!

Posted on May 4, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

This week’s Clean Currents customer spotlight is on CakeLove in Washington, DC.  Warren Brown (owner) answered our questions below:

1.  Why did you think it was important to support clean, renewable wind energy?

I’ve followed issues of climate change for years, but was moved to tears when I watched Inconvenient Truth. The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere scare me and I wanted to begin working to change my habits to reduce what I’m responsible for. Wind energy makes sense to me. In the bakery we have a lot of ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, but we have to have refrigeration, so clean energy helps me live up to my responsibility to the planet and my community.

2.  Why do you care about global warming and clean energy solutions?

Climate change threatens the existence of the human race, much more than it threatens the existence of the Earth. The planet will survive, but we won’t–certainly not as we know it with more unchecked and uncontrolled global, carbon based, industrialized growth. Caring about global warming is as much about saving ourselves as it is about saving other species. And our goal shouldn’t be just to survive or barely get by with acceptable levels of pollution. A neutral impact ought to be our standard.

3.  Why did you pick Clean Currents?

Gary Skulnik – he made a compelling case for Clean Currents years ago and helped make the switch easy. Clean Currents represents the heart and soul of the Green Revolution. Thoughtful community activism focused on a clear need with a very reasonable solution.

4.  What are actions in your personal or professional life have you taken to reduce your climate impact?

We recycle at work/home. We unplug unused fixtures often – at work and home. I changed to a 35mpg car instead of a 15 mpg pick-up truck. We switched bulbs at home and some at work. I use mass transit when I can (although it never seems to work as well as its touted to).

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Spotlight on Zia’s Cafe

Posted on April 14, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

This week’s Clean Currents commercial customer spotlight is on Zia’s Cafe of Towson Maryland:

CC: Why did you think it was important to support clean renewable wind energy?

Zia’s: As a cafe & caterer of wholesome, cleanly produced foods, our passion and dedication is offering health-conscious foods that are also earth-conscious, minimizing our impact whenever possible.  So, for us, green power is kind of a no-brainer.  Clean Currents has helped us come full circle in our dedication to the planet by providing clean, green energy!

CC: Why do you care about global warming and clean energy solutions?

Zia’s: It’s so easy to ignore or push aside these kinds of problems because it’s not a sexy, sensationalized kind of story, which seems to be what gets the attention of the everyday American.  The human race destroys our environment a little bit each day and it’s difficult to see this quantitatively, particularly one person or one business’s impact.  But it is a international tragedy that knows not race, ethnicity, economic or social status, creed or religion, whose effects will begin to rear their ugly head more and more as the majority continues to live in ignorance and/or apathy.  However, we’ve all heard it before (hopefully), all YOU can do is YOUR part and support/encourage others to do the same.  That’s what we plan to do.

CC: Why did you pick Clean Currents?

Zia’s: Clean Currents offers competitive rates while understanding the importance of marketing and promoting our company’s choice to go 100% wind powered.  CC’s attention to detail, support and customer service have been extremely impressive, professional and pleasurable, making us proud to be affiliated with them and what they are doing.

CC: What are actions in your personal or professional life have you taken to reduce your climate impact?

Zia’s:  We use 100% recycled paper when we print documents.  We obsessively monitor our use of energy and our whole staff is dedicated to making sure we don’t waste energy.  We offer zero waste catering as well as compostable paper products.  We obviously do all the other little things like recycling and using green cleaning products, etc.

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