Tag Archives: energy

Oil and Coal: Who Pays the Price?

The average price per gallon of gasoline in the United States is now $2.901; that’s almost double what it was in 2003 (Wolfram|Alpha, 5/1/2010).

The average price per kilowatt hour for electricity in the United States in January 2010 was 10.54 cents. That’s up from 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour in 2003 (U.S. Energy Information Administration).

Of course, this is nothing compared to Europe, where gas is often sold for $7-8 per gallon (due to heavy taxes), and Ireland, where electricity was going for about 22 cents per kilowatt hour in 2008 (also including taxes).

But what’s the REAL cost of this energy use? I’ve read that if you account for associated environmental and health costs, gasoline costs us about $12 per gallon. That’s from a 1998 report by the International Center for Technology Assessment, so I’m not sure how that translates to 2010, but it gives you an idea. It’s similar to the method the CDC used to calculate the associated costs of cigarette smoking.

I don’t think that takes all of the human costs into account, either.  How about:

We’re paying in human lives in order to have gasoline, heat, electricity, plastics, cheap food and more.

And no, I haven’t stopped driving altogether, gone off the grid, and started producing all of our own food. So I’m complicit too.

Earthtechling Covers the Green Technology News

I was intrigued when I read about Earthtechling on the Silicon Florist blog.

If there’s one thing we like in Portland, it’s the whole sustainable and green movement. If there’s another thing we like, it’s the whole shiny technology object thing. So why hasn’t anyone around here had the gumption to marry those two oh so Portlandy things into one great “you got your techie peanut butter in my green chocolate; you got your green chocolate in my techie peanut butter” you might ask?

That would be Earthtechling. Sounds like a good match for someone who dubbed herself TechnoEarthMama, yes?

EarthTechling, the place where Earthlings come to learn about green consumer technology, is a destination for readers seeking to better their lives and the world around them through the use of green technology

Do they deliver?  For starters, Earthtechling is a WordPress site. As a proud WordPress user and coordinator of the Portland WordPress User Group, I approve wholeheartedly.

On the front page are several feature articles and section links for Buying Guides, Previews, Interviews and How-To. There’s also a section of Recent Reviews and Latest News.  Recently reviewed products include the Vers 2X (a green iPod speaker system) and The Little Green Genie (a software program that is supposed to help offset your computer’s carbon footprint). Latest news stories cover electric bikes and the Water Cube building designed for the 2012 World Expo.

Not all of the gadgets and software programs covered are actually useful to the average person. I’m not likely to buy a Tesla car, and we don’t buy each other stuff for Valentine’s Day, even if it is green stuff. However, there are some really interesting products and companies, such as Green Plug, which is developing smart power adapters. Green Plug is working on adapters that would use less energy, but that would also be universal and could be used by multiple electronic items and appliances. This would eliminate a great deal of electronic waste; I know I’ve got a drawer full of power adapters at work that work fine but don’t go with anything we’re currently using.

Earthtechling looks like a great way to keep up on green technology news, even if you’re not in the market for new gadgets.


I’m wearing long underwear and wool socks, and I’m sitting under a red and blue fleecy blanket I’ve had since college, but I’m still shivering.  It’s 37 degrees Fahrenheit here (feels like 31 because of the wind), and the thermostat’s set at 68 degrees.

We could knock it up a couple of degrees, and occasionally do if we get desperate. What we really need is a space heater for the family room, because it tends to get colder than the room where the thermostat is. We’ve never gotten around to getting one.  So instead, we’re getting by with blankets and sweaters.

We could also knock it down a few degrees and add more layers. I know many people do, to save energy and money. We haven’t gotten to that point; I think where we are is pretty reasonable.

We do have a programmable thermostat to help make sure the heat gets turned off when we’re not here. And we’ve got separate thermostats for upstairs and downstairs, so we don’t need to heat space we’re not using. In fact, the heat rising from downstairs is often enough for both levels.

But now it’s time for bed, and it’ll be warm there. Remember in The Long Winter, how they would go to bed early to save fuel? Totally seeing the benefits of that now.

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Getting Back on the Bike

I haven’t ridden my bike since well before the Portland Snowpocalypse started (around December 15).  You see, I stupidly gave myself a flat tire, and then was unable to add more air.

One morning, the rear tire looked a little low, so I thought I’d better put a little extra air in before I left for work.  However, I’d been having trouble with our pump.  It had developed a crack in its hose.  I really needed to get going, though, so I decided to put a piece of tape over the crack and give it a try.

The pump ended up taking half the remaining air out of the tire, so that I could not ride it.  Oops.  I ended up on the bus.  Later, I could have either taken the bike to a gas station for air, or bought a new pump, but the first would have required me to remove the child seat from the bike in order to fit it in the car, and the second would have required money.  So I left the bike in the garage and took the bus for the rest of the week (although later in the week I also bought a 7-day bus pass, so the money thing doesn’t make a lot of sense in retrospect).

Then the snow hit, and I didn’t even want to ride my bike.  So it’s been sitting in the garage for the past month or so altogether.  This week, I finally bought a new pump, a new set of lights, and a front basket which allows me to carry things while my three-year old rides in the back.  I just need to inflate the tires and attach the lights and basket, and I should be ready to go again.  We’re in the middle of intense rain right now, of course, but I’ve got gear for that.

Enough about me.

The story on bikes since summer 2008 has been that bike businesses are doing well, because the high price of gasoline has been turning people to bicycle commuting.  However, the New York Times (who talked to Portlander and Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves) says that  businesses have seen a slow-down since the cold weather began, and some are wondering whether the cyclists will return when the weather warms up again.

The New York Times also has an interesting graph showing that bicycle unit sales actually surpassed automobile unit sales in the early 1970’s, and that they had the potential to do so in 2008 as well (data for 2008 was as yet incomplete).

Meanwhile, an Associated Press article gives us a good reason to get back into more active forms of commuting:  it lowers obesity rates!  Well, duh — but the article does give statistics comparing obesity rates in American commuters with those in countries where walking and biking rates are higher.

And finally, Peter Nierengarten of Southeast Portland writes an excellent letter to the Oregonian detailing his ideas for keeping a new I-5 bridge in Portland from increasing car commuting and urban sprawl.  Scroll down to the fourth letter, “Improve bridge, limit sprawl.”

Sustainability Links

Right now, I’m breathing in the scent of fresh applesauce made from 15+ pounds of Liepold Farms apples.  That’s my contribution to sustainability for today.  Here are links to some other people’s stories:

From the Oregonian:  Sure, you want it, but do you need it? This article profiles several households living simply and buying less — and still sounding like they have great lives.

Renee from Enviromom is making the move to growing food in the front yard!  They’re actually converting part of the lawn for this purpose.

Colin Beavan, AKA No Impact Man, is planning to expand his blog to include other writers.  He’s looking for writers who are “interested in individual and societal approaches to improving our lives and our habitat through novel ideas in the management of trash and materials, food production, transportation and land use, consumption, spiritual and humanist approaches to environmentalism, water use, energy production and efficiency, and offline and virtual activism.”

Crunchy Chicken is starting a new Freeze Yer Buns Challenge for 2008.  Participants are challenged to turn the thermostat down, or to use less fuel to heat their homes.  The Chicken herself is planning to set the thermostat for only 62 during the day and 55 at night.  How low can you go?  I’m not having much luck with this so far.  My husband cannot deal with keeping the thermostat down, and insists it really doesn’t matter.  We do have programmable thermostats, though, so I can at least make sure he doesn’t leave the heat on all day when no one’s here.

If you’re a bus rider, you may want to find out more about the PDX Bus iPhone app over at TriMetiquette.

A Transportation Report, September 5

It’s amazing how much LESS exhausted I feel today.  The difference?  Well, I only worked (outside the house) for about two hours today (although they were an action-packed two hours), and I did not bike there and back.  I drove.  I stayed home with a sick kid today, and since my husband is a school bus driver, he has time off in the middle of the day, so I went in to work for a couple of hours because I have a LOT to do right now.

Will I quit commuting by bike, then?  Well, no.  My choices are fairly limited right now.  My husband needs the car to get to work, as the Tri-Met buses don’t run early enough, and the bike trip would be more difficult for him.  The bus costs money.  Another car would cost a LOT of money.  Biking is the most cost effective right now, although bikes do cost money, too.  In fact, I’m quite frustrated with my yucky old J.C. Penney bike and would really like to get another one (Electra Townie 7D, please, Santa).

In other transportation news:

According to the New York Times, the federal government is running out of highway money, because people are driving less and buying less gas, so the government gets less gas tax money.  The president blames Congress.

BikePortland.org reports that Oregon is the fourth most bike-friendly state in the U.S.  Washington, Wisconsin, and Arizona are ahead of us.

For those interested in long-distance bike traveling, a United States Bicycle Route System is in the works.  U.S. Bike Route #1 will be in Georgia and Florida, but BikePortland has a map of what the entire system could look like.

Safe travels, everyone!

More Car-free News

Willamette Week reports on a family on a low-car diet, courtesy of ZipCar.  They’re not totally car-free, but they’re not using their personal car — just bus, bike, feet, carpool, and the occasional ZipCar.  

This is really appealing to me.  I’d like to be car-free.  We don’t, however, have any ZipCars near us.  So far, ZipCar hasn’t seen any need to serve East County.  So I’m still hesitant to actually sell the car, as there probably will be times when we need/want one.  I will also have to convince my husband that we can do it.

Anyone have a car-free story to share?  Or a link to a good story?

I-5: Bridges, busses, bikes, and I can’t think of a b-word for light rail

Non-Portlanders, bear with me — this is a local issue, but it’s probably the sort of thing that may come up in your area too (or perhaps it already has).

Summary of the situation:  I-5 crosses the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.  The bridge there (actually two side-by-side spans) is in need of repair/replacement/expansion due to age and increased traffic. The current Locally Preferred proposal (so designated by six local partner agencies) would “replace the existing Interstate Bridges to carry I-5 traffic, light rail, pedestrians and bicyclists across the Columbia River. The new bridges will not have a bridge lift. They will carry three through-travel lanes and up to three auxiliary lanes for entering and exiting the highway in each direction. Like today, northbound and southbound traffic would be on separate bridges.”

Problem:  Naturally, not everyone agrees with this plan.  Some think it will just encourage more car traffic and urban sprawl.  Some think we shouldn’t bother with light rail, just cars.

Why am I thinking about this today? President Bush has just designated the I-5 bridge replacement as a high priority project, which will make it happen much faster.

What I think:  I’m strongly in favor of alternative transportation.  I think we need to get out of our cars — and yes, I need to do better with that, too.  However, we aren’t going to eliminate all car and truck traffic.  In fact, one of the main reasons for fixing the I-5 bridge problem is that I-5 is a major truck route, transporting goods up and down the west coast.

We also need to have a safe crossing for the cars, trucks and busses that are on the road.   We don’t need a bridge collapsing into the Columbia River.

So, I think we do need a new bridge, along with the promised pedestrian/bike/transit upgrades.  As far as preventing increased congestion and sprawl goes, I think that’s another matter entirely.  We do need major lifestyle changes — but we’ve got to convince people in some other way, not by bottlenecking traffic or by allowing a bridge to fall into disrepair.

However, the issue is even more complex than thatOther potential problems include contamination of Vancouver, Washington’s drinking water resulting from bridge construction, air and noise pollution affecting residents near the construction site (many of them low income), and possible effects on endangered species of fish in the Columbia River.

After reading all of that today, I’m still somewhat reluctantly in favor of the current proposal.  I think it best balances the needs of area residents.  I do think the project managers should be required to take all possible measures to protect the environment and area residents, though.