Thursday, March 31, 2005

Money for the Trees

I have just been informed by Hans that we will be able to use $1000 to purchase trees for our carbon sink. That is excellent news!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Energy: Crisis of Dependency

Editor's Note:The following is a paper by Kyler Robinson. The footnotes are not included but can be obtained by e-mailing for a complete copy.

In the most recent years we have seen oil production increase rapidly at nearly the same rate as the growing demand. Oil is obviously the most widely used form of energy as it propels nearly every economy. There is thus an intricate link between oil and economy growth. Without energy, markets will not grow. Oil has also become a hot topic given the war on terrorism that surrounds the Middle East who has around two-thirds the total oil reserves in the world. By several accounts their oil reserves are much lower than posted and the world is headed for an oil peak within the next decade or as soon as a year. While there are many studies finding that oil is going to peak soon, or that oil will peak in over a hundred years, it seems clear that our basic understanding of the world with current technologies is far to great to fully comprehend. While it stands clear that oil is a finite source of energy that can be used up, energy policy has proven time and again that it is the market that drives energy trends. It is therefore most important that the market has multiple opportunities for new technologies so that any imminent threat of a decrease in energy production can be averted. Foreign oil is only going to be a possibility for a set amount of time. While scientists may argue over how long that time period is, the economy must turn itself to more renewable sources of energy, not solely because of sometime in the future, in order to have more control over their energy: the most important part of any companies foundation.

The rise of the dependency on oil can be chronicled with the rise of the industrial revolution and, in America, the rise of suburban lifestyle that is supported by industry moving throughout the country. While the documentary film “The End of Suburbia” discusses how suburbia has increased the need and use of oil, for commutes and to provide electricity to “McMansions,” the rise of oil also has a lot to do with the United States’ Military. Perhaps the most important part of a military is to have the energy to run it. This comes not only in the form of troops, tanks and bombers but also the fuel that is needed to keep them going. In the current war in Iraq, each Abrams M1 tank requires its own fuel truck to tag along while the fighter jets above burn through thousands of gallons of jet fuel each mission time they go on a mission. We also see that the military was a main part in the case for an interstate highways system that indeed encourages the type of urbanization and suburbanization sprawl that tends to follow interstates. With the military being a large consumer of oil it the rationality for controlling the Middle East becomes much more important in our foreign policy regardless about the politics surrounding the invasions. It is clear that this is very important for the future of the United States in that it gives us the upper hand when it comes to supply, mainly against the rising demand by China and India, so that the U.S. controls the source of power. Thus by squeezing a country out, they are unable to fight to control for more. However this oil still remains in a foreign country, but the principle of control remains the same.

While this is a rather cutthroat concept, control of ones energy is a necessary component to a successful system that is independent from other countries for its most basic necessity: energy. Though the last seven presidents have maintained that they will ease dependence of foreign oil, their energy policies have been largely ineffective in the main problem. It is instead the market that controls the trends as we have seen during these presidencies and it should be assumed that either radical new policies, which would most likely hurt the country economically term, or coerce the market into a better independence. Like the military controlling the Middle East oil for their energy companies should look to producing their energy at a much more local level by various renewable sources of energy. With or without the so-called oil peak, dependency must stop allowing them to cut down on bills that tie them to a currently unstable energy market so that their future does not depend on the cost of building their product. Even in a limitless oil supply, any interruption or price hike by OPEC means lower profit margins for millions of companies and economic devastation that often has led to recessions. In a market place with millions of companies, worldwide, it is appalling that “fewer than 500 global companies control most of the economic activity.”[1] By this pure fact it should be the obligation of these companies to each produce enough energy within their region to power their company forward.

Yet a switch as I suggest is not an easy concept to realize. Today there are many different renewable energy sources that are being debated, everything from hydrogen fuel cells to methane gas from corn and also more familiar sources of energy such as solar panels and windmills. How can one sort through these technologies and decide what is going to be the most advantageous? And how do you force a company to adapt when so many energy policies have failed? These questions are critical for anything to happen concerning the energy crisis of dependency on the Middle East. As I previously stated it should be the obligation for all of the big companies to reduce their use of oil by making guidelines for a certain percentage of total energy to be produced onsite or locally using renewable resources. Large corporations always have a business agenda and by having a quota to gently ease them off of oil and become dependent themselves the battle between the types of energy will be highlighted and better understood. Today many of the technologies are only affordable by the very wealthy and many of the nicest homes have been retrofitted with the latest technology to be self-sufficient. The reason isn’t about being a green friendly person when you are the person buying the $45 million dollar property[2] recently sold in the Hamptons with an 18,000 square foot main house that featured some of the latest energy smart technology. With the recent price hikes and blackouts it comes down to being independent for many of these people never even see their energy bill. In the same way that the rich are plunking down tens of thousands of dollars to become independent, so must companies. With a mandatory self-powering requirement, these technologies will become more competitive and at a lower cost as they now are part of this required sufficiency plan. Thus like many of the formerly expensive industry technologies, the average person will also be able to access and implement these technologies thus making the entire region more self-sufficient.

Enforcing this is of course essential to the success of such a plan. While many policies such as the Kyoto Protocol are good for some but not advantageous for the entire economy, competition with China being a key reason that the US didn’t sign on, there needs to be a cost-benefit supplementing the independence that economy will have. Why isn’t self-sufficiency enough? Because companies and people require incentives and reasons for drastically changing their current practices. Of the many ways to make sure that people follow guidelines of a self-sufficient energy society, the Department of Energy must be bolstered in terms of budget and manpower in order to maintain and help the switch. A step up program of percent dependency must be aligned with a multiple strike rule and hefty fines that after so many times results in large payouts and the risk of being shut down. It must be recognized that this is a plan that is not made by none-committal environmentalists and instead businessmen who want to save the economy billions over a period of time. It is important to stress is that this is not about a possibility of the oil running dry, however by this scare is a way to market the problem. As with the deforestation in Europe as they switched to coal and then oil and out of pure scientific standpoint, things change for survival.

As with many things, there are multiple answers for what energy source to turn to depending on the location. Windmills won’t work where there isn’t wind just as solar panels are useless to Alaskans in the middle of winter. Instead using different technologies catered to the given area is important. Solar panels work by collecting energy from the sun and extracting electrons from the radiation that allows this electricity to be used. The sun’s energy is one of the very few things that enter our ecosystem called earth and everything was impacted by it. While we use a very limited amount of the energy, its light, the other energy potential is enormous and after the initial set up cost minimal maintenance is needed. Because they have been used for a comparative long time the prices range from under $600 to over $30,000 for a single panel. Wind power is also a viable and old technology that has been used for many years. On the previously mentioned $45 million dollar home, they used a new heating and cooling technology called geothermal heating. The basics of the system (see figure below from for cooling involve hot air from the building to be pushed in a cooling refrigerant area. Water is pumped deep [3]into the ground where it is naturally cooler and then brought to this area to cool down the air. The newly heated water (from the air) may then pass back into the system or some may be used to heat water for the house. This system is quite a brilliant use of the energy that is stored in the ground and cuts down the use of other energy for cooling, plus it has the added benefit of not requiring unsightly air conditioning units.

Perhaps the most exciting technology that will appear in coming years is hydrogen. “Hydrogen is the lightest and most ubiquitous element found in the universe. When harnessed as a form of energy, it becomes ‘the forever fuel.’ It never runs out, and because it contains not a single carbon atom, it emits no carbon dioxide” such as burning fossil fuels. The first step of a hydrogen economy are already coming as BMW has committed to producing a hydrogen version of their flagship sedan, the 760Li, whose V12 engine will be able to run on either gas or hydrogen. In a partnership with several other companies including General Motors and several oil giants they look to a hydrogen future. BMW argues that using energy from solar technology to in the process to get hydrogen, it becomes clear that this is a very good energy carrier. It is a very exciting and viable renewable energy source with water being its only byproduct. With their pledge for bringing hydrogen powered car to market within the current generation’s lifespan, comes experience with hydrogen from their first hydrogen-powered concept in 1979 up to last year’s hydrogen car that set nine FIA-certified worldwide records[4]. In addition their partnership has created several hydrogen fueling stations throughout Europe. While BMW focuses on hydrogen used through a combustible engine, allowing for backwards compatibility with gas, many other companies focus on hydrogen fuel cell technologies, which converts the energy stored in hydrogen into electricity to power an electric motor. While hydrogen represents a great future there are several strong disadvantages to it such as liquid hydrogen, one of the forms to store it, requires temperatures of 423 degrees below zero and the fact that each pound of liquid hydrogen requires about six kilowatt hours of electricity, with current technology a coal plant would produce the same amount of pollution as gas.[5] Thus hydrogen cannot be the soul solution as it is an energy carrier rather than a straight source, such as gasoline. Instead it must accompany other technologies such as wind and solar power. In future years and with a competitive market, it should not be unrealistic to expect another mass producer of energy to arise and trump all current technologies. Although the hippy-movement has cast a bad light onto nuclear power plants, they serve their purpose of generating high levels of power although uranium is still a necessary resource for their energy.

Another facet to smart energy is using more efficient products. In the Department of Energy’s recent press release they honor fifty companies that during the past year alone have saved consumers $10 billion dollars through their Energy Star program.[6] This is a powerful example of how energy reduction, with still good quality products, can save the consumer money. Paired with renewable energy, this dynamic duo will not only save consumers money but also reduce the dependency of on foreign fuels.

While there are more possible energy sources for the future the energy crisis is a crisis of our dependency on foreign oil. As prices become unstable and the rich turn to self sufficiency so must the rest of the economy starting from the top, the corporations, and then leading down to lowered prices that the average consumers can buy. This dramatic change will reduce our dependency on foreign regimes in an area of the world that dislikes us and most important gives us the ability to have a greater control of our domestic economy. This is a revolution that has all of the requisite benefits: a greater control of our economy, less dependency as a nation, less pollution, and cleaner energy. Oil was great for a period of time, but the era of oil is over, it stands clear that a competitive market with government support is necessary to fix a problem that has gotten worse and worse each year. A renewable economy allows for infinite growth and positive feedback from the environment and stability for society. It is thus the responsibility of this super-power nation to take the first step of dependency allowing so many positive products to arise as well.

Trees are good

Trees are good because they keep our air supply fresh. By keeping our air supply fresh they take in carbon dioxide and store it. Trees keep our environment fresh. I found this really interesting, in one year, a tree can absorb as much carbon as is produced by one car that has driven 26,000 miles. Think about how much carbon hundreds of trees have absorbed in one year or even a month. Two full-grown trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four. One tree can produce nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year.

Trees are good in other ways too. Trees lower air temperature by evaporating the water that gets on their leaves. So the air temperature would be hotter if we didn’t have as many trees. We need trees or our air supply wouldn’t be fresh.

Amy 7th Grade

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Ecological Footprint

To undertake the task of cutting down a family’s carbon emissions, or that of a school, or even a business, it is important that the concept of the ecological footprint is understood all around. An understanding of the different aspects of this concept will allow future energy conservationists to pick out a solution to their individual problem. At the Vermont Commons School we have picked out a way to cut down our carbon emissions, through the concept of the ecological footprint.

The ecological footprint is just a term for the destructive impact humans have had on the planet. It is important to understand that before mankind was thrown into the ecosystem and began to pollute, the world had a stable system that functioned well. The 10% Challenge and the Carbon Emission Project are only a small component of the goal that environmentalists have set to decrease the impact of the ecological footprint.

Our plan is to calculate the carbon emissions at Vermont Commons. We are going to gather all of the information from our bills and input them into a carbon calculator found online. Right now we have people looking up the most efficient calculator and when we have all the info, we will use it. We plan to neutralize our carbon emissions by planting some trees on property provided by a parent at the school. We will also find out how many trees we need to plant, and the right kind of trees that absorb the most carbon.

This is only one part of our plan as we all agree that planting trees may not take up the total amount of carbon emissions at the school. New plans and actions that happen concerning this issue will posted in the next several weeks.

Efficiency Vermont

Efficiency Vermont created a list of energy saving suggestions that we could improve on in the school. Some of these suggestions were out of the price range of the school, so we looked at the less expensive improvements that we could go out, purchase, and install. We surveyed the school for the lights that needed improvement and with this survey we were even able to make further improvements on top of what Efficiency Vermont had originally suggested (like eliminating too many lights in one area). After, we researched online for the prices and where we could buy this new energy saving equipment; which was primarily more energy efficient lighting items. Some of the items we found easily, others took extensive searching; we even needed to call the people at Efficiency Vermont for the location of one the new lighting items. From our research we came up with this list of minor changes in the schools lighting that would reduce electricity costs and would be inside the school’s price range. Eventually we found all the parts and with these small adjustments combined, such as changing incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs, we are hoping save over approximately 8000 kWh per year.

List of More Efficient Lighting Suggestions

• Cost for replacing incandescent bulbs to lower watt usage with Compact fluorescent bulbs- (6-11) $8 ea. from home depot
• Cost of replacing T-12 ballasts with Super T-6 Technology$15-20 ea. from home depot
• Installing occupancy sensors that will shut lights off after certain amount of minuets of no motion for offices and bathrooms- $20 ea. from
• There are currently 26 non-glare fixtures that were used by a company that had occupants using computers under te lights when the school owned only half of our building. The solution is to replace 13-20 of those non-glare fixtures with lensed troffers which broadcast more light- $50 ea. = home depot

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Market Solution to CO2

Market based techniques to reduce global carbon emissions are centered the buying and selling of pollution credits. Could this be implemented on a local or individual level? Is it possible to assign a set amount of carbon that an individual can dump into the atmosphere? If an individual exceeds that amount, they have to buy a credit from somebody who has used less then their quota. The conservationist makes money and the polluter must pay extra. If you lower the quota each year then emissions will go down. There are some major problems with this approach. Implementation would be a very difficult thing to accomplish. First, the problem of measuring emissions consumption is a huge hurdle to the modification of the behavior. Then you must have an efficient way to set price and exchange the carbon credits.

There are other approaches to the issue. A carbon-based tax just punishes consumption but does not directly reward conservation. You need to reward good behavior by giving people the ability to directly make money on their conservation of resources. In addition, it would punish others for bad behavior by forcing them to buy credits to pay for their extra pollution. How could we make this a binding legal agreement that people could not drop after they have agreed to participate?

While I see that the 10% Challenge is a good idea, it is voluntary and does not provide an incentive other than to “feel good” about what your doing. While you can save money implementing these steps, the average person needs to see some kind of direct economic benefit in order to change a very big part of their behavior. Consciousness must be raised, but tree hugging will not solve the problem for us.

Monday, March 21, 2005

10% Challenge

The 10% challenge is a goal set by environmentalists and politicians who have researched pollution and the depletion of the ozone, and become disturbed by the excess displayed by the human race. The goal is to cut all emissions by ten percent, and continue to decrease emissions so that by 2010, global emissions are ten percent less than those in 1997. This is an optimistic goal, because as simple as it sounds it is much more difficult to put into effect than it seems. This is because all of the various ways to decrease emissions require the person undertaking this task to alter their lifestyle significantly, something that an organized adult fears more than almost anything else. Yet this should not deter anyone from facing this challenge, for the problem can be conquered if you look at the goals separately. If your family has been motivated to sign on to the ten percent challenge, but you do not know the different steps, or if you would like more information on the different aspects of this goal, the website is an outstanding source that offers detailed information and local events related to the subject. Visit this website if you need to obtain information on the steps included in signing on to the challenge, or if you are curious about the groups involved in setting it up. They also give an account of the effects that pollution has had on the world, and what could happen if nothing is done about it.

by Frances

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Information about Kyoto Protocol

Through a simple Google search, we were able to find 21 printed pages of the Kyoto Protocol. Through all of the mess called bureaucracy we found this:

  1. Several main countries agreed to lower their emissions levels to their 1990 levels.
  2. Companies who put pollution into the atmosphere are allowed a certain number of “emission reduction units”.
  3. Other companies are allowed to buy and sell these units to fit their pollution needs.
  4. Approved by 141 nations including entire European Union, but without the United States. Targets carbon dioxide (CO2) and five other gasses that cause global warming.
  5. No financial penalty to those countries who failed to meet the standards required by 2012.

Based on several different assumptions, President George W. Bush decided not to sign this treaty. Because of this, the United States has received fire from global environmental experts for this lack of action.
Even though our government hasn’t taken the hint, that doesn’t mean that the people of the United States can’t do something about the pollution of the earth we all share. Several organizations have risen to the challenge of unifying the country to lower it’s emissions.
One such organization is called the 10 Percent Challenge which helps area people to reduce their carbon dioxide levels by ten percent. This helps to fulfill the terms of the Kyoto treaty not signed by the United States.

By Roby

The Corporation Review

The movie, The Corporation provokes anger and emotion towards corporations in general. Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan did a great job showing the negative effects that Corporations have on the environment and the economy. The New York Times stated that the movie was “...thought-provoking doc... [The filmmakers] wrap their end-is-nigh warning in an entertaining package, and the coolheaded delivery increases its impact.”

During the movie, I learned about how the workers are treated in sweat shops and their wages. The footage showing the camera crew trying to enter the facility was shocking. The owners of the shop obviously didn’t want people to know the truth about how bad they are. The crew tried to host a meeting between the workers and the film crew but spies from the company came in and canceled the meeting. Before all of the workers left, some of them put pay stubs into the crew leader's hand. I was astonished about how they were only paid around 17 cents per coat they make in the shop, but the coats they made sold for hundreds of dollars.

The movie also covered another interesting issue about growth hormones. They focused on an rBGH put out by one company in particular. The movie stated that when the rGBH was created, corporations said to be completely harmless to humans and cows. But when further research was conducted by other people the tests showed that rGBH in fact made the cows suffer unnecessary pain and could cause birth defects in children. I was completely unaware to this. The only information I had ever seen before this was about how rGBH’s are good for the cows and increase the cow’s production.

The movie was long but never boring. They used video clips to make all of their interviews relate to the topic or concept in the movie. Some of the speakers in the film consisted of Michel Moore (Film Producer), Charles Kernaghan (Director, National Labor Committee), and Noam Chomsky (Institute Professor, MIT). All of these speakers thoughts came to the same conclusion “We'd better do something fast to put a net underneath this global economy, or else we're all going down." The movie itself is two hours and fifteen minutes. One of my favorite quotes in the movie is “we are like the early philosophers who jump off the cliff with wings tied to our arms and when we are falling the wind is blowing in our face, so we then draw the conclusion that we are flying but really we are just falling. The bottom is just below the clouds but we are going to hit the ground.” If you are going to see any documentary this would be the one to see. It changes the way you will look at you milk, farms and corporations.

by Griffen

Monday, March 14, 2005

Energy Audit by Efficiency Vermont

The Vermont Commons School has been given an energy audit by Efficiency Vermont with the hopes of conserving energy. The following is a list of the components that we at the school could or would eventually like to adjust. Hopefully with these improvements we will be able to reduce energy output. Thus, enabling us to make a profit as well as reducing our distribution of toxins into the environment.

Energy Conservation Ideas Suggested by Efficiently Vermont
Update Heat/Cooling System
1. Some of the heating and cooling equipment in the school is over 20 years old and would save energy if it was updated(This is not quite realistic for the project we are doing)
2. Install a insulated blanket on gas water heater improving its efficiency · Change the timers on the exhaust pipes so that the are not running continuously
3. Increase insulation in exterior walls and ceilings as well as heat distributing ducts in the attic so that less heat is lost
4. Seal potential air leak paths from the occupied spaces to the attic so that the warm air that is being brought into the occupied area is used fully(This is not quite realistic for the project we are doing)

Change certain bulbs to more energy efficient bulbs
1. Replace T-12 Ballasts Lamps with “Super T-8 technology.”
2. Replace Non-glare Fixtures in the student hall lensed fixture.
3. Change incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent.
4. Change the switching arrangement of some light fixtures to take advantage of use patters and daylight Install occupancy sensors in restrooms and offices. Train students and faculty to turn of light switches

written by Ian and Andrew

Introduction to the Project

The Commons Co-op was created to empower students to reduce electricity consumption at the Vermont Commons School. Each student is given one share in the Commons Co-op, the value of the share being determined by amount of money saved divided by the number of shares. Students were encouraged to reduce consumption because it is to their economic advantage. Determining the energy saved over the year is quite complicated. Students looked at the electricity bills from the last year and compared them to this year. If the school spent less money during a billing period then last year, the Commons Co-op was rewarded ½ of the savings. Conversely, if the school spent more money then the Co-op was forced to pay ½ of the difference. In addition, students developed a set of protocols for monitoring electricity, determining the energy usage of various appliances, and changes in behavior.

During the fall, the Co-op also held several meetings with the entire student body on the following proposals.

1. Elimination of several appliances to lower electricity consumption.
2. Institution of a new computer use policy.
3. Push to turn off lights in all classrooms during sunny days.

In the fall the Co-op ended up making a small amount of money. However, given that the school expanded its space by almost 30% the Co-op was a huge success. This spring we are increasing the scope of our project to engage people outside of our immediate community to get them to lower their energy consumption.