Saturday, March 27, 2010

A guide to eating "safer" fruits and veggies

As part of the process of becoming more aware of how our consumption can hurt us, it is usually good to get back to basics. The following is a list of common fruits and vegitables with a scoring based on the number and frequency of finding pesticides on them.

This is not a measure of the toxicity of the pesticide, just the presense of the pesticide (some of the items at the top of the list can have multiple different pesticites present).

Still we really need to make some changes to how we grow our food when 94% of apples tested had pesticides present, 82% of apples had multiple pesticides present, the highest number of pesticides in a single apple sample was 9 and over 50 different pesticides were found on apples.

And fruits and vegitables are (supposed to be) good for us!

Under the heading of "What can I do to reduce my risk?" the EWG says

Addressing the risks of pesticide exposure first and foremost requires
information, which is frequently made unavailable to the general public by the
government agencies. To counteract this trend for secrecy, EWG believes that:

People have a right to know what's in their food, so they can choose foods with less pesticides.
The government can and should take steps to dramatically reduce the number and amount of toxic chemicals, including pesticides, in the food supply.
Each of us can opt for food safety today by choosing to purchase produce low in pesticides and by buying organically-raised fruits and vegetables as frequently as possible. With this first step we can protect our families' health and preserve our own future and the future of the environment from the harmful effects of pesticides.

I should say so!

Monday, March 22, 2010

"The Story of Stuff"

I saw an interview with the author of "The Story of Stuff" on the Colbert Report a couple weeks ago. The interview was ~5 minutes long, but the author (Annie Leonard) did such a good job summarizing the fix we are all in, that I ran out and bought the book.

Apparently Leonard made a 20 minute film (including line drawn animation) and released it on the web a couple years ago leading to ~10 million viewings, and some controversy (as reported last year (5/11/09) in the New York Times). The video even has its own wikipedia page.

I am really glad Leonard wrote the book. "The Story of Stuff" lays out in clear and simple terms just how unsustainable the current US culture of consumption is.

She picks everyday examples of consumption and describes exactly how the materials in our stuff are extracted, produced, distributed, consumed, and disposed. She illustrates by numbers (and copious footnotes) and vignettes from her life exactly how harmful each of these steps actually is, and how little of the true cost of these processes actually show up in the price we pay at the register. Yes--to the last free market fundamentalist out there--there are "costs" that do not show up in the "price" we pay (a.k.a. externalities). The book has several very scary "sidebars" that should cause everyone to think twice before their next purchase of virtually anything from shampoo to anything with PVC (polyvinyl chloride)--Leonard really has it in for PVC.

But more than being about "the stuff" the story of stuff is really about a flawed system that hurts the health and/or well being of almost everyone involved at any stage in the current process of making, using or disposing of stuff. For all our modern progress and global trade volumes, logistics and financially "efficient" markets, the things we make and use today, don't last as long as they did even a generation ago. Leonard takes care to note serious efforts to fix things all along the "consumption supply chain" and how people can get involved. But the bottom line is that we need change on a major scale..."a shift in the paradigm". We need to fundamentally change how we think about "stuff" if we have any hope of surviving (let along thriving) as a society.

As Annie Leonard herself admits "a lot of this information was already out there"--she has simply put it together into a compelling narrative that will hopefully make us all more mindful of everything we make/buy/discard.

Thoughts on health care reform the day after...

I think Ezra Klien has a marvelous post today at the Washington Post (actually he has several on the subject) "How big is it really" about the relative cost of the health care bill--in this case the graph says it all. [go ahead click on the link--its free!]

But for those that want to see everything spelled out Ezra writes: "the bill's spending is equivalent to about 4 percent of what we'll spend in health care in a year, and it will be covering 30 million people ."


I actually woke up today feeling better about the way our country treats its citizens...and that is priceless!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Insurance Reform passes.

Congratulations to America--Health care (insurance) reform passes. (again)

219 to 212...the Democrats made it happen.

This will improve the life of millions of Americans, and I'm very proud that they did. (That is not to say this is a perfect bill...far from it--I would have much prefered if it had a public option and/or not included a mandate. I think the mandate could still bite the Dems on the butt.)

Will the Republicans be forced to pay a political price for all their shameless lies on this topic (and obvious obstructionism)?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

200 MW of PV panels, not a big deal?

I am sometimes fascinated by the markets, and what makes them tick, or in this case yawn.

This morning I noticed that SPWRA was up about 65 cents (~3%) on low volume. SPWRA can trade up/down 10% in a day so this was not a big move, but at least it was up! There was a news item--so I clicked on it and up pops a major news story:

SunPower wins a 200MW order for PV panels from Southern California Edison.

I did a double take...a 200 MW order?

"SunPower Corp (SPWRA.O) will supply 200 megawatts of solar power capacity to Edison International"

Yup that says 200MW. And I found a few other new services confirmed the report.

The two largest solar plants in the US are located at Arcadia FL ~25MW (finished in 2009) and at Nellis AFB ~17MW (finished in 2007?).

This one purchase is 5 times as big as the two largest plants currently in the US combined! (The largest international solar plants are about 50MW.)

The panels will be put on various SCE customer facilities in 1-2 megawatt installations over 5 years.

SunPower's total sales in the most recent reported 12 months were $1.4B, and this order is worth at least 0.4B or 30% of last year's will be spread over several years but this still strikes me a major win.

Considering that SunPower is trading only ~10% above its 52 week low, I'd expect a win like to really move the stock...I keep checking the stock throughout the day. It drifts slowly upwards ending the day plus $0.92 (up 4.5%) on volume ~1/3 less than average.

Talk about a fizzle...and a yawn. Did other people just not see this?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

What are climate skeptics afraid of?

I’ve noticed a fantastic increase in the number of postings in recent months by people that claim to be “skeptics” of climate change. Perhaps they were always there and I just didn’t run across their posts, but I’d wager that that others have noticed an increase also.

Is it a coincidence that this increase comes in the lead up to the US Senate considering a major piece of legislation (cap and trade) that will raise the cost of carbon emissions? Actually the increase started shortly after the hacking of the East Anglia Univ. email accounts in the lead up to the Copenhagen climate summit—but the two events semi-overlap.

I therefore draw the conclusion that climate skeptics are mainly afraid of an “external” form of carbon pricing. I say “external” because there wasn’t a similar increase in climate skeptic postings when oil prices hit a series of record highs in 2008 as a result of “market forces”.

It is especially hard to pin a climate skeptic down as to what they do believe and why…beyond vague (laughable?) conspiracy theories and the need to question everything “establishment” scientists say and why they say it. Oddly they really latch onto whatever quackery an untrained (in the field of climate science) armchair geologist or meteorologist spouts—no matter how thoroughly or repeatedly that idea has been debunked. As near as I can tell the closest thing to a universal belief among “hard” skeptics of climate change is that all observed warming is “entirely natural” (in that the planet has warmed and cooled repeatedly in the past so warming and/or cooling is quite evidently “natural”) and therefore cannot be blamed on human activity. “Soft” skeptics will admit that human activity may contribute but then argue that the contribution is minor or potentially even advantageous—and claim more research is needed, while simultaneously casting doubt and aspersions on the whole body of work accumulated over the past 50 years. Note that only “deniers” will actually admit that they don’t believe the planet is actually warming. Deniers are quite literally modern day “flat earthers” and deserve to be called out as lacking basic climate perception. I wonder if there is measureable correlation between climate change deniers and creationists/religious fundamentalists. If there were it might explain the blatent urge to refute well establish scientific theories—and I mean theory in the strict scientific definition.

Obviously there are times when a scientist outside the mainstream is able to contribute an idea that while initially greeted as quackery, over time shows merit and gains acceptance. I’d say this occurs in several fields of science at least once a generation. Therefore it is somewhat healthy on balance for people to generate alternate theories that explain what we may be observing. But for the alternate theories to contribute to the body of science they need to do a better job of explaining what is happening/what we observe than leading institutional theories. Skeptics have offered no such alternate theory.

All of this might be simply amusing except for the fact that in order to avert catastrophic climate change this century, I believe we need to establish a price on carbon emissions that will allow “market forces” to—within my lifetime—replace high carbon energy sources with very low/zero carbon energy sources.

If there is a single activity that our society needs to accomplish--and the sooner the better--it is to put a price on carbon emissions, sufficient to change our collective behavior. I don't even think it needs to be very high...for example, just a $0.05 charge per grocery bag seems to have had led to a major shift in consumption of grocery bags in places it has been put in effect. That said, it is substantially more attractive to set and modify up or down one carbon price society wide than to implement a million individual taxes on products or services. Talk about big brother!