The Great Pumpkin

Linus said it best, "Welcome Great Pumpkin!"

Somehow we managed to farm our way through something like 200 feet of pumpkin vines, dozens of pumpkin flowers, and the attack of the leaf eating mold. The result...

A pumpkin...

There it is...

Just one...

Apparently the numerous vines were too busy trying to overwhelm our house and then fight off the mold to bother with lots of pumpkins.

Even so, it's a lot of fun knowing we grew this one.

Catalog Choice

A few weeks ago I came across It's a free online service that lets you eliminate unwanted catalogs! They have an easy to use website where you decline catalogs you don't want, and they take care of the rest.

Their site has useful info about the environmental impact of catalogs as well as how their funded and why catalog distributors like this idea.

I've started looking forward to getting catalogs in the mail so I can decline them. It's strangely reminicent of when I used to star wars cards as a kid.

Open Responce to Draft Carbon Tax Legislation

OpenCongress posted an article about energy policy noting that US House Representative John D. Dingell posted Draft Carbon Tax Legislation on his website. Dingell is making the draft available for public comment before he brings it to the floor.

The following is an open letter I sent in response.

Representative Dingell,

Thank you for making this draft legislation available for public comment. Overall the Carbon Tax Draft Legislation you posted looks like a good first step. I'd like to share four topics that stand out as questions, issues, or possible omissions.

1. Carbon Tax Numbers - Where's the math that explains $50 per ton?

I like the idea of the per ton carbon tax that places a dollar cost on pollution, but I'm curious how the $50 number was chosen. $50 doesn't pass my smell test because it is a neat, rounded, simple denomination sort of number. I'd like to see the formula that determines the value of carbon disposal and then phase in the tax to that value. If we impose a carbon tax that is too low it will fail to have the desired effect. If we choose a carbon tax that is too high it will artificially over-inflate prices and could hurt the economy. There's a balance needed and it we to make a data driven decision on the price point. Please reach out to the scientific and economic communities to develop a formula for determining the optimal carbon tax rate. We should be transparent about why we chose this price so that we can adjust it appropriately as circumstances change.

2. Bio Fuels - Why the carbon tax exemption?

Bio fuels are a complicated issue. While bio-fuels reduce our dependency on foreign oil, they raise the cost of staple foods and still contribute to pollution. I am not clear on weather or not bio-fuels reduce green house gases (I haven't taken the time to research this yet). What I have read is that bio-fuels have a serious negative effect on the land where they are produced and refined, and a serious negative impact on the air quality in areas where they are burned. What is the reasoning behind the exemption of a carbon tax on bio fuels?

3. Earned Income Tax Credit - We need to solve the cash flow problem

Phase out limits - I am fortunate to be ineligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIT), but from what I've read it appears only marginally effective at its original purpose. The phase out levels seem staggering low. As a father of 3 I can not fathom a way to raise a healthy family on $15,000 a year which is the highest number at which you suggest beginning to phase out the EIT. Moreover, 25% of it goes unclaimed each year. This is probably because tax law is to complicated and time consuming for a family that by my estimation is both struggling day to day to eat, and probably already cold at night.

A Problem of Cash Flow - Even if the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIT) reached more people, it doesn't really solve the cash flow problem created by higher energy costs. If a family is living paycheck to paycheck (which is a reasonable assumption even at $30,000) they will need cash on hand to cover the interim increased energy costs created by the carbon tax. Using the EIT to offset increased energy costs means that the family needs to front money for the increased energy costs for more than a year before they get the money back. For example they start paying increased prices in January of 2008 and you get some money back in April of 2009. At best this will lead to more predatory lending against expected tax rebates like we've seen in recent years.

Alternatively we could address the cash flow by reducing the costs for low income families up front. This could be done by creating a simple same day process for families to qualify (similar to the EIT qualifications for a rebate) and require energy companies to provide two payment options on the bill. One with the EIT qualification and the one without it. Bills should also clearly display information on how to get qualified for the lower cost. By showing the different values on the bill you create an obvious incentive to follow the qualifying process to immediately reduce costs to the family.

This moves the logistical and cash flow burden from low income families that don't have the cash flow or the time to navigate complex tax laws into the responsibility of the energy industry and IRS. These two organizations will be motivated by their P&L and law respectively to streamline the process without requiring anything from low income families.

4. Shifting Subsidies from Oil to Renewables - An Omission?

The one thing I see missing is subsidies for renewable energy. Specifically solar, wind, and wave power. Since the time of the new deal, large shifts in our countries infrastructure have always been subsidized by the federal government. We currently spend billions subsidizing the oil industry which is showing record profits while polluting the environment. Why not use the oil subsidies to stimulate the renewable energy market? I'd propose a 5 year plan to phase all oil subsidies over to renewable energy research and consumer cost reduction.

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on this draft legislation and hope you are able to take these comments into consideration.

Paul Russell

Image Credit: Image:Uscapitolindaylight.jpg w:United States Capitol in daylight, taken by Kmccoy w:2004-05-04.

Blog Action Day - The Environment

This is one post in a series that started here, describing what I've learned while attempting to understand my ecological footprint.

Blog Action Day is a pretty cool idea. It aims to get lots of people (~15,ooo at present) to share their thoughts on one topic in the hopes of getting a discussion going. On the surface it may seem silly (a bunch of people sitting at their computers typing) but over the last year I've learned first hand that sharing and discussion is a powerful catalyst for change. Especially when you compare it to the result you get by
quietly stewing in a festering bath of contempt for the way things are... There is simply no contest.

Today the topic is "The Environment" which means my ecological footprint posts fit nicely with the theme. I was a bit stumped as to which topic to write about so I asked my brother. He
suggested that given the amount of time I've invested in the research for some of the my ecological footprint posts, recapping the series might be my best bet.

So with out further gilding the Lilly, and no more adieu, here are a few of the more interesting topics I've covered so far...

My Watter Bottle talks about the impact of bottled water and my experience getting over the marketing hype and switching to tap. This is my favorite post in the series because it resulted in change outside my immediate control. I never expected my sharing ideas to have any tangible impact but a few people sought me out to tell me that they read it and decided to switch to tap water. How cool is that!

What's the Deal With Recycling Pizza Boxes? was a lot of fun to research. Did you ever wonder why some recycling center employees get really angry if you try to recycle a pizza box? It's as if the pizza box was made out of some mythical cardboard that would cause puppies to die if it were recycled. Mystery solved...

The Scientific Method vs. Truthiness was born out of frustration for the fiction passes for reality in today's media (TV, Internet). At the same time that there is perpetual fountain of useless data on every detail of celebrity life we appear incapable of discussing more complicated issues, such as foreign policy or the environment, in anything more than bullet points or buzz words. Top that with the complete lack of fact review of the bullet points that get played on TV and you get a steady stream of half truths and outright lies that become part of the collective consious. Frankly the stuff that passes for facts in our public dialog is an embarrassment to our civilization. This post talks about how to separate fact from truthiness.

Other posts covered the positive impact of the fall of DRM, replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs, and stuff about batteries (One way to eliminate wasteful battery use, Fact Checking on the Hummer vs Prius Article, and details on Plug in Electric Cars).

As I've learned just a little bit, the way I look at everyday life has changed. I'm both amazed at what mankind has achieved and stunned by the staggeringly wasteful ways we spend our energy. The bottled watter in America one still slays me.

You can see an archive of all the posts in this blog under the my ecological footprint label or subscribe to the RSS feed for the my ecological footprint label.

Image Credit For each post I make an new logo by combining the GNOME footprint logo with other creative commons images. I read somewhere that images help to increase the attention span of readers. As a big fan of Peanuts I have to agree. Thanks to
David Vignoni and the authors of the artists who worked on the Crystal Clear icon set.

Great Environment Resources

This is one post in a series that started here, describing what I've learned while attempting to understand my ecological footprint.

I've found a lot of great online resources (blogs, podcasts, online libraries, communities groups, etc.) while researching my ecological footprint. All of these resources are free, and most of these have RSS feeds to you can get little information at a time via a feed reader.

Of all the different resources I found, a few really stand out. I'm a big fan of these because they are useful, interesting, and sometimes even fun! So here they are. My favorite environment resources...

NoImpactMan is a blog by Colin Beavan where he chronicles his yearlong project have no net impact on the environment. The philosophy and plan behind this project are very well thought out. Over the past few months, this has become one of my favorite blogs. Colin shares the good along with the bad as he and his family go through daily life striving for no net impact.

NPR Climate Connections is a podcast that is jointly produce by NPR and National Geographic. Episodes come out a few times a week and usually run just under 7 minutes. It "series takes you on a year-long global voyage, exploring how the Earth's climate shapes people, and how people are shaping the Earth's climate." It's a great source of information on a surprising range of topics. Best of all its in nice bite size pieces, and you can always visit their website for links and more information on any story.

Plugs and cars is a blog by Marc Geller, a well known activist and long time supporter of electric and plugin hybrid electric cars. This blog is updated irregularly but is a great source for news on the effort to make plugin cars available to the average consumer.

LighterFootstep is a blog that has short posts with suggestions on how you can reduce your negative impact on the environment and improve your positive impact. The posts are usually short and contain simple ideas on things you can do right now.

The Massachusetts Climate Action Network maintains a list of local climate action groups, organized by town. I've recently gotten involved with the Harvard Local and Groton Local groups. Their motto is Solutions for a Sustainable Community. They bring together people interested in environmental topics. They coordinate seminars on sustainable energy, group mailers for sharing information, and farmers markets. The thing I find the most fun is that group members often kick off community activities like cider making or building a solar powered house water heater. Most of the time people are trying this for the first time so its a learn by doing experience.

QUEST is a TV, radio, web, and education series by KQED that explores science, environment and nature in Northern California. I've been listening to the podcast which is short (5-7 minutes) and always interesting. Its a lot like climate connections except its specific to Northern California's environment.

CMARS is a website that provides access to all of the public, academic, school, regional, and special libraries in Central and Western Massachusetts. With a library card you can go online and reserve any book, CD or video in the network and have it delivered to the library of your choice. They email you when it arrives. From both from a cost and a footprint perspective, it's a great alternative to buying books that I'm only going to read once. (image credit)

Tree Hugger has both a blog and a . "TreeHugger is the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream. Partial to a modern aesthetic, we strive to be a one-stop shop for green news, solutions, and product information." Treehugger about page. The blog is a bit like drinking from a fire hose. They average ~33 posts a day which is sometimes more environment news that I can stand. Still its interesting stuff. The Radio Podcast comes out a little less than once a week. Its a bit overproduced, but has interesting content.

"ecoTumble is a companion site for Lighter Footstep. It’s a quick read: bite-sized pieces of green news, tips, and trivia." - their about page. It's a fun blog that doesn't take a lot of effort to follow.

The Garden of Dr. Moreau

The other day I found this red pepper growing one of my bell pepper plants. It was a little wrinkly and smelled a little bit like a hot pepper.

Working on the assumption that I had planted green bell peppers (they were green in the picture at the store), I stared at my garden in disbelief. How did I get a red bell pepper?

And then I saw it... My Red Hot Chili Peppers (yes the ones that almost killed me) were right under the bell pepper plant. If a bee had cross pollinated the chili pepper and the bell pepper, a red spicy smelling bell pepper seemed like a logical result.

And so I started thinking about all the ways I was going to revel in my unintentional, and yet monumental, genetic manipulation success. Just think about it! In the midst of a global pandemic of pollinating-bee colony-collapse I managed to create new strain of pepper!

Thoughts of grandeur floated about my subconscious. Watson and Crick were a couple of melodramatic hacks! Mendel was a number fixing punk! And don't even get me started on Mephisto and his four assed monkey.

After a few days I decided to do some research on peppers to determine if there was any precedent for cross pollinating peppers to achieve new characteristics. The search was cut short by the following discovery.

To quote from the wikipedia page on bell peppers:
The color can be green, red, yellow, orange and, more rarely, white, purple, blue, and brown, depending on when they are harvested and the specific cultivar. Green peppers are unripe bell peppers, while the others are all ripe, with the color variation based on cultivar selection.

Ugggghhhh.... While very unlikely I guess it's still possible the pepper was the result of a cross pollination. Fortunately Alex had the forethought to save the seeds after we ate the pepper.

I guess next year we'll have test our pepper seeds Mendel's way.

Trip to Drumlin Farms

Alex and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. They were having their fall fund raiser festival just down the road from Walden Pond.

Alex and I went on a nature walk through the woods (twice), took a hay ride, saw a sheep herding demonstration with a real sheep dog, listen to a live dixieland band, painted a pumpkin, used a hand powered drill used for building barns, toured the gardens and did a bunch of other stuff. It was a blast.

Drumlin Farms uses electric cars on their farm. We passed a few while we were walking around and we both mentioned how quiet they were. They make as little noise as a tire rolling on the ground!

The most memorable part of the day was during the nature walk. Throughout the walk there were casts of different animal footprints on the ground. Each one had a barely legible name of the animal that made the print carved into the cast. We slowly sounded out the word FOX and then moved on...

The next one was labeled RABBIT. Seeing another opportunity to sound out a word I asked Alex what the footprint was. He instantly replied. "Thats a bunny rabbit!" Surprised by his certanty and accuracy I asked him how he knew. Without missing a beat he said. "Because I'm so smart!"

We saw rabbit prints 3 times and he recognized them instantly each time. It's a strange feeling when your kid tells you something and you don't know where he learned it.