Archive for the green living Category

Is energy consumption decreasing?

Posted in green living with tags , on 02/05/2015 by Fox

I have witnessed the tremendous energy of the masses. On this foundation it is possible to accomplish any task whatsoever.
~Mao Zedong

My utility company sends me a community blurb sheet every month with my bill. Usually events, it inevitably also has “tips for saving energy!” This month, it had a short, bulleted list that claimed (and I’m regretting tossing the thing now, as I paraphrase) that Texans were using less energy now than we were in 1965. No citation, of course.

So I went digging through the internets. Nothing specific to Texas, but American energy consumption was down for both 2012 and 2011, although still increased from 2002. No indication of what 2013 and 2014 were like, thanks, Outdated Wikipedia Page. Somehow I think Texas wasn’t down to pre-1965 levels.

Australia, too, has experienced decreasing consumption since 2010.

Part of me thinks this is pretty cool, while the other part of me reminds all of me that worldwide consumption is still on the rise as “developing” nations get on board with the cool kids. And there’s also the ugly fact that America outsources some production to countries that don’t have the energy standards they’d be forced to contend with domestically. I doubt outsourcing is to blame for the decrease in consumption, but it is something to remind oneself. My shoes were not made in America, and the energy consumed to produce them isn’t counted as American consumption.

Here’s hoping we continue to see decreases in energy consumption, and that we export efficiency along with our culture.


Toyota’s Scion iQ: The next generation of pretentious car ownership

Posted in green living with tags on 01/04/2015 by Fox

The cars we drive say a lot about us.
~Alexandra Paul

I’ve discussed smart’s fortwo before. I found it wanting, honestly, with a price and fuel efficiency that were only marginally better than the Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa. Not enough to justify tooling around in a two-seater that can barely hold your groceries.

But now Toyota itself is offering their latest conspicuously pretentious car, the Scion iQ. Don’t ask me how the guy in the promo photo is going to be able to fit those plants in that car. It’s basically the smart fortwo all over again, except that in keeping with the conspicuousness, it’s priced between two and three thousand more than the fortwo, the Versa Note, and the Yaris. It jumps to five grand more than the Versa sedan.

Like the fortwo, the fuel efficiency is pretty much on par with the subcompact class. The Versa advertises a whopping 40 mpg highway (my own Versa Note gets about 36 highway, with an average 30-33 combined), which is the highest advertised for any of these cars. Honestly, at this point the difference between the EPA estimate and the reality is greater than the mpg difference between the individual cars.

But ultimately, it comes down to a desire to look good over a desire to have a functional vehicle. I hauled an eleven-foot baseboard home in my Versa Note a couple weeks ago (yes, part of it was sticking out the back, but not much), and I regularly surprise people with just how much shit you can fit into a hatchback. I paid less, I get comparable efficiency, and I can haul shit like I’m rocking an El Camino. The only reason I see for the Scion iQ and the smart fortwo is the pretentious factor. They’re like giant, wheeled hybrid badges. LOOK AT ME, I GIVE A SHIT AND DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT PRACTICALITY.

Why I’m not throwing away the leaves in my yard

Posted in green living with tags , , on 12/26/2014 by Fox

I love the fall. I love it because of the smells that you speak of; and also because things are dying, things that you don’t have to take care of anymore, and the grass stops growing.
~Mark Van Doren

Here’s an idea. When searching for ways to compost when 90% of your compost is leaves, don’t search “leaf compositing.” Photoshop is a great tool, but it won’t help me with the leaf problem.

One of the downsides to having a yard full of trees is the fall leaf drop. I don’t have a single live oak, so all the bastards are dropping now. There are still a few water oaks hanging on fiercely, but the post oaks have all dropped. “Fuck this noise, we’re done for the year.” So am I, honestly.

I picked up some leaf bags, and I bagged up the leaves on the deck and the leaves (and assorted trash left by previous occupants) under the deck. I threw those out. But the rest of the yard is covered in leaves that the biologist in me will not allow to be sent to a landfill. I considered just raking them into the creek the day before a heavy rain, but then I came up with a better solution.

I picked up an inexpensive black garbage can at Lowe’s. I’ll borrow a drill bit at work to put holes in it, and as soon as the leaves dry out some, I’m going to run the bastards over with a lawn mower to shred them. I’m then going to try my hand a composting (as opposed to compositing or composing) the little fucks.

Most everything I’ve read regarding composting stresses the importance of layering “brown” and “green” waste. But I’m more interested in what this guy is saying, especially since it makes more sense biologically. If I can compost just the leaves, I can pick up a worm bin for the kitchen scraps and not have to fool around with this layering shit. I have far more leaves than I do kitchen scraps.

I have my garbage can. I have access to a drill bit of appropriate size. I have a lawnmower for the shredding. And I have a fuckton of leaves.

Let the experiment commence.

I bought local garbage bags

Posted in green living with tags , on 12/02/2014 by Fox

You can take the girl out of Texas but not the Texas out of the girl and ultimately not the girl out of Texas.
~Janine Turner

It seems the regional grocery chain HEB has obtained Go Texan certification for some of their products. I saw it on some tortilla chips, which was cool, and then I bought a box of garbage bags with the logo on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that logo on anything that wasn’t edible in some way.

It was kind of surreal. We’re at a point in society where I can buy locally made garbage bags. Of course, HEB is the same company that put out the funny-because-it’s-true Texas Myths commercial. They seem to have the same sort of deranged pride in Texas that I myself suffer from. (The trash bags are “Texas Tough,” by the way.)

I started shopping at HEB because it wasn’t Wal-Mart. I continue because their store brand is excellent, and the employees seem well-treated and decently paid. The fact that said store brand appears to be sourced, when possible, from within the state is a huge plus to me.

It’s honestly unexpected. I’m sure the amount of automation in a garbage bag factory is high, and thus domestic production is affordable. But it’s still a little thrill to still see an occasional “Made in the USA” or Go Texan logo on a product…even if it’s followed by the dubious “from international parts.” And there are probably enough deranged, prideful Texans out there that gaining the Go Texan certification was a good move. Although who knows, the execs at HEB may just be pridefully deranged enough to do it just for the hell of it.

The Dallas to Houston high speed rail project is doomed

Posted in green living with tags , , on 10/22/2014 by Fox

When I was a kid, I went to the store and asked the guy, Do you have any toy train schedules?
~Steven Wright

So after no more was heard about the San Antonio to Dallas via Austin high speed rail project, Someone apparently decided to spend a lot of money to propose a Dallas to Houston high speed rail project, which lacks the fundamental flaw of the previous project. Namely, Houston is a bigger and more important metropolitan area than San Antonio, or even San Antonio plus Austin (let’s face it, the old project was really Austin to Dallas, with an extra leg to just connect San Antonio because why not). This new project is so far underway that I actually received a little DEAR OWNER OR CURRENT RESIDENT card in the mail informing me of a public input meeting that I won’t be attending because I will be drinking beer in Terlingua and giving absolutely no fucks about anything, much less a doomed high speed rail project.

And why, exactly, is the project doomed? Well, for starters, we’ve got the same problem I discussed with the SA-D rail line. There’s a lack of good intra-city transport in Texas cities. There’s the sad beginnings of intra-city transport, but it’s not going to be the first thing most white and/or affluent people think about when they think of transportation. Sure, if this is built you can get to Houston from Dallas or vice versa and quickly. But unless you’re a salaryman moving only from one downtown to another, or willing to waste a lot of time with crappy “mass transit,” you’re hosed.

From looking at the maps, this high speed rail is not even remotely interested in stopping anywhere along the way. Sure, it might stop in Teague (if there was anything in Teague worth stopping for), and if one of the alternative routes is the Chosen One, a stop may appear outside of Bryan/College Station (only slightly more interesting than Teague), but more likely than not, this sucker is not stopping for anyone, Aggie or not.

If it were to make two stops along the way, let’s just say Teague and BCS, I could see salarymen moving their suburban asses to one of these towns and just taking the train to work. Most people who work in Houston commute from Fucking All Over anyway (some as far as Brenham and no, I am NOT joking). This way, they wouldn’t have to drive or fight traffic and they can have that wonderful small-town lifestyle where their children get bored and do meth and the cops don’t care because their own children are in on it.

But it doesn’t appear to be stopping nor does it appear to actually be taking the human equation into account at all, for all they’ll sell it as a people-mover. Like most of the high speed rail projects out there, this thing is meant to move cargo, not people.

What do you say when your co-worker is the idiot of the year?

Posted in green living with tags , on 10/15/2014 by Fox

Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.
~Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today one of my co-workers informed us that oil is a renewable resource that replenishes itself naturally without taking thousands of years and thus we will never run out of oil.

For a moment, we thought he was being sarcastic. Then the horror sunk in.

Yes, there are people that seriously believe that oil is a renewable resource, just like there are people who seriously believe that atheists don’t exist, and that the Beastie Boys aren’t rappers.

None of us said anything, which answers the question of what you do in this situation. This guy is known to be full of shit, and we’d already used up our Arguing With Each Other Instead of Working quota on Monday when we discussed institutionalized racism. (Pro tip: Saying that everyone can rise above their situation when your white ass cannot rise yourself out debt is called “irony,” and this will get you laughed at. Loudly.)

Sometimes you just let them be idiots. My mother and I have this sort of relationship. She’s allowed to foam at the mouth for up to five minutes, and I don’t say shit. More than five minutes, and I walk out of the room. You gotta pick your battles.

To be fair, he didn’t say anything earlier in the day when I said that no, we wouldn’t run out of oil, but it would get to a point where the cost to extract it exceeded its value or alternative sources became advanced enough to be financially competitive. But he made his statement with such conviction that I actually had to double-check to make sure there wasn’t some new piece of information that had somehow passed me by. But then I realized Answers in Genesis agrees with him, and thus I knew he was yet again just full of shit. I haven’t found a correct piece of information on that site yet.

Mountain gorillas, poverty, and incongruity

Posted in green living with tags , on 09/21/2014 by Fox

Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them.

I was invited last week to a free screening of a documentary about Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Such films are a solid reminder that while I’m not wealthy by American standards, I am wealthy by world standards. I have a 1,200 square foot house all to myself. I have my own car. I have air conditioning. It’s hard for me to watch something like that and not feel privileged, grateful, wealthy, and wasteful.

It’s almost a form of pornography for white, affluent, first-worlders. You feel better about yourself, but guilty, too. And you feel better about yourself for feeling guilty.

At one point in the film, someone mentioned that each of the groups wrestling for control of the area had their own agenda. My immediate thought was “And what is your agenda?” It’s impossible to claim that everyone but you has an agenda. That everyone but you is lying.

And then I went to the after party and listened to someone connected to the park talk about the work they’re trying to do while a bunch of college students ignored him and drank the free beer. It was hard to watch. There are people in Africa making illegal charcoal on park land, and these guys were chatting and drinking without a care in the world.

I wondered how much was spent that night, on free alcohol and travel and electricity, and why it didn’t go directly to the park instead. My friend wondered what she could do to help, claiming to be poor. I tried not to get snappish. She’s better off than I, and we’re both far beyond some Americans and almost everyone in the film.

What is the point of such an event, though? They didn’t appear to be soliciting donations, and if they were, why offer free booze? My only guess is that they were “raising awareness.” Hoping, maybe, that by spreading the word someone with enough money to make the free booze and travel expenses and the rest worthwhile. An elaborate setup aimed at the few with the money. The rest of us are left to the beer and the guilt.

What is there for my friend to do in such a situation? Nothing, I fear. The Congo is far from Texas. Aside from offering what money you can, there is nothing to be done, unless you wish to give Virunga part or all of your life. Some have, most won’t.

It was a difficult night. My friend’s distress, my doubts, the atmosphere contrasted with the content. I didn’t feel moved, I felt nauseated. The only awareness raised was the awareness that I need to stop doing these things to myself. I need to stick with first-world problems. I’m not affluent enough to deal with the third-world ones.