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Review of Break Through: from the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, by Nordhaus and Shellenberger

Friday, 23 October, 2009

Since their controversial article in Grist Magazine in 2004, the authors have been back-pedaling to explain themselves to the environmental community from whence they were “reared,” and in this book they have done so. Read the rest of this entry »

Right Wingers on the Attack, Fearing Socialism of Environmental Policies

Wednesday, 14 January, 2009

I am such a sucker for responding to the right wing blitz that seems to be occurring right now. I assume that they are trying to influence action with the upcoming Administration’s attempt to address a range of market failures that have resulted in the wholesale destruction of our planet. C-Span had a lengthy interview with the author, C. Horner of “Red, Hot Lies” and Lou Doubs had a slew of nuts speaking on the next Ice Age, and my email box is full of links to Libertarian and right wing think tanks. My God, do we need help.

The good news is that the fallacies they use are so obvious, and the rhetoric has shifted from complete denial, to the range of arguments, including scientists are bad, scientific data is bad, suppression of information, “environmentalist are socialists” or “liberal fascists” (ad Hominem), “they are undermining our Constitution,” etc. Granted, they have a point on some issues, but they are becoming better at articulating counter arguments that blur the issue and will keep us from acting. Fortunately, one does not have to make a stand on whether or not the climate is warming. Fundamentally, it is about process and the process of living our lives is full of impacts, externalities that keep us from properly valuing the world around us, and that are causing massive loss of ecological integrity necessary for survival.

What is so consistent with these right wingers is their fear of losing their lifestyles, and particularly, their ideologies.  Sadly, they are losing them not because of the environmentalists and scientists who work with little to no resources to make their case, (as particularly compared to the lobbying, marketing and junk science of corporate status quo), but to that very hyper consumptive “free market” model that has entrapped us. Perceptually, we are blind and desperately need experiential learning- to know is to understand, to understand is to care.

What are they afraid of? That we are going to save energy, by promoting energy efficiency, new technologies and jobs and reduce reliance on foreign fossil fuel? We will always use fossil fuel, to that there is no doubt because is so much of it, but we should be using it like the precious resource that it is. Are they worried about the cost? My God, the costs of burning fossil fuels have been and will be enormous, check out the childhood asthma data, talk about costs!!?? How about an aircraft carrier tooling around the Persian Gulf, that is a steep bill we don’t pay for at the pump. Right wingers should be loving environmentalists for the work we do. Our societies will be stronger, more healthy, more community oriented and create more sustainable wealth than the globalized system brought to you by the corporate elite and “right wing philosophers.”  We even may be able at some point to increase freedoms, access to natural areas, hunting and fishing, etc. once we get on the right path. Right now we are killing our planet, death by a thousand cuts.

As much as I love Libertarians and strict Constitutionalists (love The Federalist Papers), there are some serious problems with the rhetoric on these websites.

Case in point:
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Inquisition or Scientific Investigation?

This is full of fallacious arguments. I could take the time to pull apart each of the false statements, but prefer a more general discourse.

Embedded in these blogs are truths, but the arguments are made as if the environmental community is a bunch of socialists, fascists or communists, and want to take away our “freedoms.”

There are strengths and weaknesses to all forms of governance and political philosophy. The Founding Fathers, as beautiful as their legacy and work are, were oblivious to the intricacies of our natural world. The Scientific Revolution was just beginning and was dominated by the seeming power of Newtonian-Cartesian thinking and reductionism. Today we know that the world is amazingly complex and we have to understand that it is more governed predominately by quantum mechanics. That means everything is connected, the air you breath, the water you drink, the minerals you exchange in food and waste, all circulates. I breath in the same air you exhale, drink the water you pee (ideally after it has been recharged by nature). These resources exhibit certain renewable characteristics but energetically their flow reduces due to entropy, loss of order. All of these resources become available to us with sun’s energy (or from internal energy within the planet), and with the sun food is grown, or we supplement energy from other sources, like fossil fuels which are stored energy from the sun, to make the food we use to eat. Wind, water, solar all require the Sun. Geothermal, uses heat from the planets’ core.

Environmentalists and scientists espouse socialist ideas only because they reflect the natural world, and solutions that may work for problems from which we suffer. What we know of free market capitalism is that it has very social Darwinistic outcomes. Darwin was right about a lot of things, but humans and many other highly successful creatures exhibit higher social structures influenced by compassion and care that have evolved as best adaptive strategies. Capitalism, left unregulated, externalizes costs on people and the environment, because we are uneducated, spiritually vacuous, greedy, power hunger, etc. Capitalism also causes huge disparities in wealth, which we don’t correct because we like to keep our money and power, and feel we can spend it better. Sadly, we think Americans are generous lot, but we are not, dead last in the western world for percent GDP given to development. Marx was right on this, but was wrong on our motivations.

We can do better, that’s why we create institutions to better govern ourselves and create equity. We can argue on how to do so, but if we don’t, expect the poor to arm themselves and take what they can’t get by other means. Of course the wealthy, arm themselves too and the growth in the military and security industries are testament to that. But what the hell are we fighting for?

If we were all enlightened we would realize that working in our self-interest would mean that we would work for and with each other. This particularly so as the resources of the planet are depleted and population increases. What the Right is so worried about is loosing their liberty. But you mistake liberty for freedom, and we are not free, but defined by our genes and the laws of physics and ecology. With whatever freedom we have, comes a great deal of responsibility and that has been severely lacking in this generation. We are over-consuming the planet’s natural resources at a rate which they can not be replenished, drugged by the abundance that has come from this destruction of the natural capital of the planet, and blinded by the greed and power that this conversion of wealth has caused.

The environmentalists see the natural world for the real value it provides us and scientists should be honored for their contributions in this understanding. We have to learn the natural world’s laws and live by them. Human economy is a subset of those laws. Until we understand this and change our actions and institutions to better reflect these truths, we are on the road to ruin, and those guns that sit in my closet that those First Amendment nut cases fight for may sadly be needed to defend myself from the insanity that is this human predicament. How ironic!

Join Us: TFF and Greenway Head to DC Inauguration

Friday, 2 January, 2009

Green Bus Inauguration Tour

Greenway will be offering a complete transportation package for The Inauguration, including a 100% biodiesel powered bus for up to 47 passengers, catered lunch, drinks, and dinner on the return at famous Bottoms Up Pizza in Richmond.  We will be leaving from Durham and its Green Oil Campus on January 19th at 8:00AM, arriving Franconia-Springfield Station Metro Station at 2:00PM.  And returning the 20th at 5:00PM, leaving Franconia-Springfield Station, arriving Durham… who knows when?!  Price for the complete package will be $200, which includes a $50 donation to The Forest Foundation.

For transportation and Inaugural details:


Greenway will not be offering official overnight accommodations, but some limited space is available for first come first serve.  Prices for accommodations that are Metro walkable (30 mins. to the Mall) vary from floor space camping, to couches, to bedrooms.

Pedicabs on the Mall

In addition, Greenway’s new Pedicab Manager, John Bair, will be bringing our two pedicabs up to service the Inaugural festivities on and around the Mall starting Jan. 9th.  He will be running multiple shifts and two of Greenway’s founders will be on hand to drive and to make policy suggestions to any errant decision-makers who decide to “Go Green” and ride pedal power!  If John is smart, he may be able to get in the parade and give us some real nationwide publicity!


The Bus and Pedicabs are looking for sponsorship for the Inauguration tour.  The Bus will have sign space on either side and on the rear, and the Pedicabs will have their back panel space available.  We expect hundreds of thousands to see us on tour, so given our high profile as probably the only biodiesel bus headed to DC and one of only a few pedicabs on the Mall, we think this will be a great marketing opportunity. Contact us for pricing.

Proceeds from the trip and sponsorship will help fund The Forest Foundation’s non-profit work.

Trip Stipends and Discounts

For those who can not afford the full price of the tour, but can show volunteer service and dedication to the cause will be provided stipends or discounts.  Other non-profit and environmental groups may also be offered discounts.  Two stipends of $100 each are available to students on a first come basis from Dr. Sandy Smith-Nonini of YIKES!  Contact us for details.

Deadline for Deposits:

Jan. 16th

Email us at:, or

Tale of Two Cities

Tuesday, 30 December, 2008


Mary Katherine and Marc finally took a well-needed vacation (thanks to our parents support) at the end of November, visiting Prague and Bolzano in the Dolomites in northern Italy. Two of our friends’ decided to get married in Prague, MK had been before and Marc had heard of Prague’s Gothic beauty and attractions (i.e. beer), so it seemed a good idea to head for Europe. The trip couldn’t have been timed better, with the rising value of the dollar against the Euro and the pre-holiday celebrations. The Dolomites of Italy had been on their mind since their 2006 trip to Torino for the winter Olympics, and were a high priority as being one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Lots of cool environmental ideas came from the trip, as our green lenses are always on. There were a lot of things we learned from our European neighbors.

The Wedding

Our friends, Barbara and Shane, had decided to have their wedding in Prague after visiting early in their dating, and realizing what a magical place it was. Low and behold, after some good planning, communication and salesmanship, they were able to pull close to 70 friends and family to Prague. It was quite a crowd that made partying there all the more fun. We ran into each other on the streets, got ideas on places to go and shared stories after stories, etc. Drinking alone is not advised. The event was brilliant all around. Of course, MK and Marc started thinking about how one can run green events, like weddings, while critiquing the Prague event (See below). However, we avoided saying anything during any of the events, like “have you thought about mitigating your carbon footprint ….. ” as we thought it may be bad manners.

Barbara contacted the Prague Tourism office, which was extremely helpful in legal particulars surrounding the wedding, like English speaking ministers. But most of the leg-work was done by the couple, finding hotels, churches, caterers, musicians, etc. MK and Marc joked that the mayor of Prague was going to appear with the key to the city, given the huge economic punch the event provided. Granted the city is large, but 70 folks was a serious boost to the town center. The wedding likely cost less in Prague than in the US, even when including the airfares. Generally prices were slightly less, though downtown was expensive compared to rural regions of eastern Europe. Average Czech salary is $10K per year and the exchange rate was around 19 Crowns to the $1.

The wedding was held at St. Nicholas Church on St. Winceslas Square the center of Old Town. The square holds the famous cuckoo clock, and gilded and ornate buildings from many architectural periods line coble stoned streets and whined away from the center. It was a beautiful cathedral, and the English service was well choreographed in its simplicity. The reception was held at the jazz club, and the rehearsal dinner at the best micro-brewery, U Flecku, where we were served endless mugs of brilliant stout, traditional meat dishes and dumplings. Yes, meat, potatoes and bread are center to Czech food, but vegetarian meals were available. It seemed that much of the food was locally prepared or grown. After a typical meal, one felt the need to dawn armor and defend the parapet or head out to the potato fields! Sadly, Marc caught pneumonia before his trip and was limited in the full scope of his partying capacity.


Other features of Prague are the river, its beautiful bridges and the spectacular Prague castle, across the river from Old Town Square on a hill overlooking the city. Its nighttime lights reflected in the river and created a regal feel to the evenings. Prague also sports excellent micro-breweries, music scene and an alternative, arts culture astounding in its sophistication. There was a real sense of individuality, where clothing designs had a hip, hand made feel. Marc and MK found a couple a very cool, used clothing stores, some hip boutiques and local vegetarian and vegan restaurants, like Country Life and FX Café. These were great places to people watch. Our favorite “pivovars” were: U-Flecku, At the Little Bear and New Town Brewery, all of which had excellent food (sans the smoke). Our second favorite was Strahov Monastery at top Hradcany Hill across the river, overlooking the City. We ran into one of the monks in his PJ’s looking for the brewery, it was a hoot. The walk, to and from, will help work off the beer and you can duck into any one of the bars on the way back for a pee-break.

We had hit Europe during the famous town square craft festivals, where most large towns had vendors (they seemed exhausted) inhabiting kiosks, and selling lots of interesting hand made goods as well as local food. Birch bark ornaments, crystal, lace and the coiled bracelet cinnamon pastries were a must. Prague sported numerous glass and jewelry galleries (the area was a center for gold and silver smything in the middle ages and the reason it became so wealthy), as well as the second largest toy museum in the world, marionette theaters, a sex machine and torture museums (thank God not sharing the same building)! There was a lot to do for a wide variety of ages, and singing into the early morning echoed from the streets.


Walking and public transportation are wonderful, and we used the tram, metro and train system to get around, using roller luggage on cobbled streets, which created an annoying echo that let everyone know the tourists were coming. The city was ripe for pedicabbing, though taxis seemed embedded and horse carriages were available in the town square for about $100–what is their carbon footprint? We were surprised at how few bikes there were, but regulations, the cobbles and tram rails may have made biking somewhat difficult. Uniquely, the city requires helmets, lights and mudflaps. The hills above Mala Strana are a great place to exercise and catch a view. We used the metro and bus to return to the airport, which took about an hour from Old Town Center. We used the train to get to Munich and then transferred to a train to Bolzano, which took only 10 hours. The return trip was longer, requiring 4 trains and a trip through small towns of eastern Bavaria (Wald Bahn, “Wild Way”), a natural park and the Sudetenland in the snow covered mountains between the two countries.

Flying out of Prague we flew over Antwerp and saw a massive wind farm and an offshore installation. We also flew over Greenland and Hudson Bay and got our first view of icebergs, ice sheets and pack ice and the stark beauty of glaciated landscapes., wondering how well the planet was faring given record warming trends, loss of ice thickness as well as cover and reflectivity.

Though the Czech Republic was not as modern as other parts of Europe, its people and potential seemed great. Cigarette smoking was rampant and made Prague significantly less enjoyable, particularly to Marc’s compromised lungs. There was also a feeling of a Mafioso culture seemed to be developing and a slight seediness that tourist cities have. The influence of post Soviet era crime and corruption seemed to be waxing. One had this heavy feeling that the years of oppression and war was lingering, leaving one with the hope that the rest of the world would leave them alone, as the country has much to be proud of and should be left to develop at its own way and away from geopolitical manipulations.

The Dolomites

Taking the train to Italy from Prague we passed through into Germany and immediately noticed the number of solar PV and hot water panels and saw several large-scale, rotational PV fields. Lots of barns and businesses had commercial scale PV units. We changed trains in Munich and headed south over the pass into Austria, passing beautiful castles, alpine valleys and snow covered Alps, stopping in Innsbruck before heading south again over the Brenner pass at about 4000ft. Our Bolzano hotel had a very large solar hot water system and we passed a pumping hydro-electric plant several Kms north of town.


Watching the news in Prague we new the southern alps had received a major dumping of snow. Looking out the train windows we saw mounds of snow lining the tracks and hills. We had made a good choice, rather than going to eastern Slovakia or southern Poland mountains, which we had considered. We found that the Sudtirol area had received a two decade record of snow close to 30 cm early in the season, making the sunny days a warm wintry delight. The train line paralleled a major highway that wound its way through the mountains, along with the secondary roads and tiered villages, we were amazed at the level of safety engineered into these transportation systems. How much work over the years had been placed on building this infrastructure?!


The Dolomites are a unique geologic feature, essentially an ancient coral reef that uplifted to nearly 3000 meters, eroded, was glacially carved and created one of the world’s most dramatic landscapes. Bolzano sits at around 200 meters in the southwest corner of the Dolomites northwest of Venice and is a largest city in the Sudtirol region. It has excellent train and bus service and a beautiful, old town square within walking distance of the train and bus stations. Val de Siusi and Val Gardena were the destinations and took about an hour by bus to get to. Siusi is the largest, high alpine valley in the Alps and is ideal for its infrastructure for winter and summer sports and spectacular views of the Dolomites.


Our hotel room had a great view of the mountains. Castles lined the valley and the entrances of each side valley. This area was primarily German but was given to the Italians after WWI. Most folks speak German, but Italian was also spoken as well as Laden, an ancient language derived from Roman Latin and protected by law in the area. Each village had three names. The region’s beauty and ancient history conjure images of Tolkien, and indeed the ancient Laden fairy tales of people living under the mountains have influenced many authors. See these websites for more information:


MK and Marc’s favorite part of the trip, besides the food, beverages and spectacular views, was the Utzi Museum in Bolzano. Utzi was murdered back in around the 3rd millennium BC, immediately covered by drying snow and his body discovered in a melting glacier (can you believe that?) at the top of a mountain about 50 kilometers northwest of the Dolomites. His artifacts of survival gear make REI aficionados look pathetic, as he had to learn to hand craft and repair his gear from all natural materials. Extensive scientific investigation has been able to determine a great deal about this man’s life and livelihood, his origins and environment. His life was not easy and death sad, but a great gift to us all. One of the exhibits on Paleolithic life showed a rock that was the base structure for a community that lived in the Val Siusi. We cross country skied right by it! In one view from the mountain gazing down the valley 600 ft. we could see 5,000 years of human history, and 100’s of millions of geologic history.

Green Tours and Vacations

Given MK and Marc’s global touring and event planning experience, it would made sense to offer advise/services on how to create “completely green European tours,” like Barbara and Shane’s Wedding. For the most part, Europe and its hotel and tourism infrastructure are already hands down one of the best places to conduct green events, particularly if folks want to make the commitment to going overseas. The biggest issue is our carbon footprint, specifically traveling there on planes. This of course can be mitigated through a dozen organizations, from methane capture to tree planting. But once there, travel by public transportation is a breeze even for large parties. With many of the European countries approaching 20% of their energy from renewable sources, this makes green travel and living by far easier than any place except maybe Japan. Biodiesel is available, but to find sustainable bus or car transport is more challenging, though the compact size and diesel engines tend to get higher mpg, high biodiesel blend stations are limited.

All the hotels we visited had signs asking folks to turn off the lights, reduce water consumption and towel washing in several languages, though few had low flow shower heads, LED or compact florescent lights. This may because the electricity is 220 and manufacturers have not focused on this market yet. Our Bolzano Hotel had a massive hotwater solar panel right outside our window, and showers were definitely warmer in the evening than in the morning. Generally, recycling was found everywhere and waste was minimized in many ways, including food. Localism is already a strong movement in Europe so finding local vendors and particularly caterers who use local foods is not a problem. Veganism and vegetarianism is on the rise and many gourmet options exist.

Prague and nearly any medium size town in Italy make ideal places to hold weddings, retreats or events that have a feeling class, uniqueness and a connection to history. The 12th Century chapel in Tuscany next to where we stayed on our first trip to Italy markets itself on the internet to couples from around the world, so global sophistication is not lacking. There is so much to do and for the most part everything can be done within short distances, though “spoke” trips to larger attractions can be added to itineraries.

Opportunities abound to link with local green organizations and to participate in “give back to the community” projects, essential to make any tour more special and should be apart of any sustainable event. Accommodations exist for nearly any size party and generally costs can be kept to a minimum. Or one can go way upscale, depending on your budget. Greening high end facilities may be a task, but some may be on Eastern Europe and rural western Europe offer incredible deals with some surprisingly exceptional infrastructure.

Green tours to Europe can be a fun way to experience and to give.

San Francisco mandates grease into fuel

Monday, 9 June, 2008

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 |

  By Carolyn Tyler

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 20, 2007 (KGO) (KGO) — On the day the “no plastic bags” law goes into effect at large grocery stores in San Francisco, the city launches another effort to protect the environment. What is apparently the nation’s first citywide program to collect used grease and turn it into fuel is officially underway.

It takes a lot of grease to make the calamari at Puccini & Pinetti, an Italian restaurant near Union Square. The oil, five 50-gallon drums a month, won’t be dumped down the drain. The city is picking it up free of charge and turning it into biofuel.

“People still can’t come to grips with the idea that grease and waste can fuel a vehicle. We’re so consumed that it’s gasoline or some hybrid of gasoline,” says San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

San Francisco has a city fleet of more than 1,600 diesel trucks, buses and other vehicles. The mayor has mandated they all be retrofitted to run on biofuel by the end of the year. This new program, called SF Greasecycle, should help provide a steady supply — an estimated one-and-a-half million gallons a year.

San Francisco began collecting the fats, oil and grease on a trial basis a few months back. About 60 restaurants signed on before today’s official launch.

“Recycling and biodiesel are things in our restaurant goals, our eco-goals that this restaurant holds,” says Keira Moritz of Puccini & Pinetti.

Restaurants and residents who aren’t so environmentally conscious are clogging the city’s sewer system. San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission says half the emergency calls crews respond to are connected to grease problems.

“It’s pretty much like our sewer has a heart attack and that’s a problem. That’s a problem close to four million dollars a year,” says Susan Leal with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The city is not only reaching out to its 4,000 restaurants, but to hotels, businesses, and even schools. Stanford has already committed to the program.

There is no plan in place yet for residents, but if you’re frying a turkey or have other Thanksgiving grease, you can drop it off at the Costco on 10th Street and the city will pick it up starting Friday through Monday.

If you own a restaurant and want to sign up for this free city program, visit