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[1THING] Blog: Archive for August, 2012

[ GM Again Temporarily Halts Volt Production Over Low Sales ]

In the same week that the Obama administration announced its new fuel economy standard, U.S. automaker General Motors announced it would halt production of the Chevrolet Volt electric car for four weeks, citing the car’s failure to meet targeted sales projections, according to Bloomberg news.

(Related Photos: Rare Look Inside Automakers’ Drive for 55 MPG)

GM sold 10,666 Volts in the U.S. in July. Global sales were targeted at 60,000 units, with 45,000 on the U.S. market. Sales for 2011 were also under target, and even though an investigation into vehicle safety concluded that the Volt did not pose a fire risk, the congressional hearings on the issue led to a slow-down in sales.

According to Bloomberg, citing Automotive News, GM will halt production at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant between 17 September and 15 October, though GM did not independently confirm those dates.

“In the past couple of months, the production of the Volt was running ahead of sales, but I thought that might be for this particular process because they’re bringing in the new vehicle, so they were intentionally trying to get ahead,” Alan Baum, principal of Baum & Associates, told Bloomberg.

This is not the first time GM has stopped Volt production because of weak sales: The automaker also did so earlier this year, just before the model was named European Car of the Year.

Charles Kennedy

This post is based on one from OilPrice.com and was republished with permission.


[ Isaac Drives Spike in U.S. Gas Prices Ahead of Labor Day Weekend ]

U.S. gasoline prices are getting worse before they get better, spurred by domestic refinery woes and Hurricane Isaac.


[ The Romney-Ryan Energy Plan by the Numbers ]

Oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, efficiency. Which are the Republican hopefuls’ priorities?

This week, it’s convention time for the Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees. Last week, the Romney-Ryan team rolled out its energy policy [pdf] for the nation. Entitled “The Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class: ENERGY INDEPENDENCE,” the new plan, running 21 pages, replaces Romney’s energy policy paper from September 2011.

The new blueprint is a mix of policy points and criticisms of the Obama administration along with “Did You Know?” sections comprised of quotations from sources ranging from the Manhattan Institute to the New York Times. It turns out that the white paper devotes more space to the quotations than to Team Romney’s own statements.

In the Clouds with Romney-Ryan

The plan’s goal of achieving energy independence, writ large in the report’s title, is a bold vision. Bolder still when it is understood that the goal is for North America by 2020. But of course the devil is in the details.

So what are the details? One objective way to get a sense of the plan is through a word count. After all, the prominence of a topic or term, such as oil, wind or energy efficiency, is a reasonable proxy of its import.

The word cloud shown below provides some interesting insights: “U.S.” and “energy” are front and center and “Obama” is pretty prominent — although it’s a safe bet that he’s not being mentioned or discussed in a positive light. In terms of energy sources, “oil” is by far the dominant player and “gas” is no slouch.

After that, slim pickings. “Coal,” “wind” and “solar” do show up, but finding them is a bit like the old needle-in-a-haystack challenge. And I never did find “nuclear.” Ditto “conservation,” “efficiency,” and “biofuels.”

Romney-Ryan energy plan word cloudA pictorial word count for the Romney-Ryan energy plan.

Big on Crude, Short on Green and a Little Nasty

Want to be a little more quantitative? Then take a look at the table below. Of the words we counted, “oil” is the winner, appearing 154 times. Averaged over the length of the document, that’s more than seven times per page.

You green types may be relieved to know that “environment” gets a fair showing with 24 appearances. For example, here’s one item that suggests that the Romney team would seek a balance between environmental protection and economic development:

“Implement measured reforms of environmental statutes and regulations to strengthen environmental protection without destroying jobs, paralyzing industry, or barring the use of resources like coal.”

But contrast that with this direct frontal attack on enviros:

“But statutes and regulations that were designed to protect public health and the environment have instead been seized on by environmentalists as tools to stop development altogether.”

Word or term (and its derivatives) Number of times used
Oil 154
Energy 148
Environment 24
Energy Independence
Solar 23
Clean energy
Alternative energy
Green energy

Alternative Energy Not Much of an Alternative

Making brief appearances, cropping up once or twice in the plan, are “clean energy,” “alternative
energy,” “conservation,” efficiency,” “green energy,” and “biofuels.”

Climate. What Climate?

And get this. The number of times the word climate appears in the Romney-Ryan plan: 0.

So the Romney team’s energy plan is huge on oil, big on gas, and everything else is pretty much an also ran. Drilling down (sorry, couldn’t resist), it’s pretty clear that the plan’s path to North America’s energy independence is to … drill — to exploit domestic sources of oil and gas as quickly and as comprehensively as we can.

A number of analysts (see here and here) have pointed out that even if such an approach for North American crude allowed the United States and its would-be Mexican and Canadian partners to meet their domestic needs for oil, it would still not free us from international price instability or dependence on politically unstable nations. Why? Because oil is fundamentally a global commodity and even countries that are net exporters of oil (think Canada) still suffer price swings due to unrest and other volatility elsewhere. And so in that sense, the whole notion of energy independence when it comes to petroleum is illusory, and the real issue should be energy security.
(See here and here.)

And when it comes to energy security, many — including George W. Bush — have argued that that is achieved by reducing our consumption of oil, a move that would begin to decouple our economy from unstable, oil-rich parts of the world. And how would we do that? By growing our use of renewable energy and becoming more efficient. (See here and here.) Clearly these goals are not central to Team Romney’s plans, at least at this point in the campaign.

And then there’s the whole problem of energy and climate. How do Romney and Ryan plan to solve that conundrum? Apparently, for now at least, by ignoring it.



An interesting bit of trivia related to the energy plan can be found in the PDF of the plan under the “properties” menu. There, Anna Gatlin, the Romney campaign’s domestic policy advisor who has a master’s degree in education policy and management from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, is listed as the author.


[ Be a friend of the Forest ]

How does that old saying go, “you can’t see the forest for the trees?”

It’s good to know there’s an organization that not only sees the trees and the forests, but realizes how important they are.

The National Forest Foundation was founded by Congress in 1991, and works to conserve, restore and enhance America’s 193-million-acre National Forest System.

Through community-based strategies and public-private partnerships, the NFF enhances wildlife habitat, revitalizes wildfire-damaged landscapes, restores watersheds, and improves recreational resources for the benefit of all Americans. The NFF’s Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences national conservation campaign is getting the public and private sectors to work together restore forests and watersheds on a large scale, in order to revitalize ecosystem resiliency in iconic National Forest System sites around the nation.

The result adds up to thousands of acres protected and revitalized, ensuring clean water, vital wildlife habitat, and quality recreation resources for all Americans. Here are the numbers:

3,095,179 trees and shrubs planted.
8,035 trail miles repaired, improved and maintained.
79,3941 acres of fire-risk reduction.
61,527 acres treated for noxious weeds.
106 capacity-building processes supported.
71,524 volunteers engaged.
1,069,729 volunteer hours contributed.

Want to get involved? There are numerous ways for individuals to do your part for the forests,  including becoming a Friend of the Forest at www.friendsoftheforest.org.


[ Helix Collapse Fails to Crush Hope for Vertical Wind Turbines ]

The failure of “rooftop” wind energy’s most trumpeted start-up underscores the technology’s challenges, but believers insist vertical turbines have their place.


[ Befriending the Wild in Outdoor Survival Class ]

Befriending the Wild in Outdoor Survival Class

Text and Photos by Erica Flock, EarthShare Online Manager


If you found yourself lost in the wilderness without a phone or water or food, could you survive? Would you know how to keep yourself warm and avoid illness? Despite the sense of superiority conferred to us by our many modern gadgets, most Americans (myself included) would be sorely ill-equipped to tough it out in the woods the way Native Americans did for thousands of years.

Luckily, city slickers can empower themselves with fundamental survival skills by taking courses from one of the many wilderness schools around the country. I signed up for Earth Connection’s “Primitive Survival Crash Course” in rural Virginia and showed up a few weeks later in barely used hiking boots and ratty Dockers to see if I could learn to feel more “at home” in the outdoors.

When I arrived, a handful of students were gathered around instructor Tim MacWelch as he went over the basics of survival and the importance of having a positive mentality in difficult situations. I was quickly struck by Tim’s geniality, humor, and his almost encyclopedic knowledge of nature, history and wilderness medicine. He knows the name of every tree and bush on his property, how the human body responds to various kinds of hardship, which plants and animals are edible and which are best avoided.


Tim demonstrates how to make a dogbane rope

We started the day by breaking into groups and building twig and leaf shelters capable of housing one person. Some students would be staying overnight in these shelters, but as I was only taking the “crash course,” I wouldn’t have the honor this time. The huts were easy to construct and surprisingly warm when you slipped inside. It can get really cold in the mountains at night, even in the summer, so staying warm is vital.

In the afternoon, we learned how to chip rocks into various shapes to use as tools. The youngest student found a little ring neck snake and wolf spider and carried them around on his arms while the class took target practice at a stuffed squirrel Tim had dubbed “Rocky II”. Only one person managed to knock Rocky II over at a distance using thick, short branches.

Tim led us into a patch of Dogbane to harvest for making rope. We peeled the reddish-brown stems into long threads and twisted them together in a way that reminded me vaguely of knitting until we had a tough little rope we could potentially use to secure tarps, bind bandages or build a trap among other possibilities.


Water is at the top of the list of priorities for survival, but unfiltered water from most surface sources contains potentially harmful pathogens like Giardia. To purify water without the help of a filter or even a metal pot, Tim placed smooth rocks in the fire, carefully removed them with stick tongs and placed them in a wooden bowl filled with water. The rocks were so hot that the water boiled and became safe to drink.

Tim’s point about the importance of having a positive attitude at the beginning of class came into play when it was time to practice building a fire. He showed us how to work the bow and drill until a small ember appeared. The class watched spellbound as he carefully placed the ember in a nest of dry plant material and blew gently on it for several seconds until the nest caught fire.


For the rest of us, starting a fire would prove less straightforward. After my drill popped off the bow for the umpteenth time, my inner voice said simply “you can’t do this.” I was burning up all my calories, which would be a problem were I actually lost in the wilderness. Sweat dripped down my face, my knees were hurting from kneeling on the ground, my language turned colorful.

Finally, after what must have been 40 minutes, two women who had successfully started their own fires came over to provide advice and moral support. It worked: moments later my own drill started smoking and I blew on my nested ember, giggling happily as it burst into flame. I made a mental note that ignoring the “I can’t” voice might be useful not just in survival situations, but life in general.

Enclosed in our temperature-controlled buildings day after day, it’s easy to forget that the basic necessities of life still come from the ground beneath our feet, the water falling from the sky and surging in our rivers, the precise chemical composition of the air we breathe. Getting out in the woods for a while is a great way to reconnect with that reality.

EarthShare member organizations can help you get outside too. Here are some resources to get you started:

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics*

Serve, The Student Conservation Association*

Get Outside, National Wildlife Federation*

Outings, Sierra Club*

Travel with National Parks Conservation Association, NPCA*



[ Green Quiz: National Parks ]

Green Quiz: National Parks

Harlequin Lake

Flickr / Bill Gracey


The U.S. national park system covers more than 83 million acres and nearly 400 sites around the country and U.S. territories. Since its establishment, the system has inspired similar programs in nations around the world.

Unfortunatly, our national parks are facing serious challenges with cutbacks in funding. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the system, it's become more important than ever to protect these truly global treasures.

Which of the below was the first official U.S. National Park?

A. Grand Teton National Park

B. Yosemite National Park           

C. Great Smokey Mountains National Park

D. Yellowstone National Park


Answer: D. Yellowstone National Park.

From the National Parks Conservation Association:
"Yellowstone National Park is America's first national park. It was established
in 1872. Yellowstone extends through Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.  Within the massive park boundaries, you can
find mountains, rivers, lakes, and some of the most concentrated geothermal
activity in the world. The park has 60% of the world’s geysers as well as many
hot springs and several mud pots. Perhaps the most famous feature of the park
is the geyser Old Faithful."


[ Record Heat, Drought Pose Problems for U.S. Electric Power ]

This summer’s scorching heat and record drought in the United States have pressured the water-dependent electricity system.


[ Energy from the Earth ]

Have you considered heating or cooling your home with geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy originates from the heat retained within the Earth since the planet was formed, from radioactive decay of minerals, and from energy absorbed from the sun. Humans have used geothermal heat since the Paleolithic era, and in many countries it’s a popular alternative to fossil fuels.

Approximately 70 percent of the energy used in a geothermal heat pump system is renewable energy from the ground. The earth’s constant temperature is what makes geothermal heat pumps one of the most comfortable, quiet and efficient heating and cooling technologies available today.

The folks at www.proudgreenhome.com have put together a list of reasons you should consider installing a geothermal system to heat and cool your home.

•You can save 60 percent compared to oil.

•You can qualify for and Energy Star 30 percent tax credit (through

•Electricity costs are more stable than fossil fuel costs

•No combustion = safer (fire, carbon monoxide poisoning)

•Less yearly maintenance

•Longer life expectancy (25 years vs. 20 for furnace)

You might ask, “Isn’t geothermal expensive to install?” While it may be more costly to install initially than standard heating systems, geothermal can produce lower energy bills (usually 60-70 percent), according to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Maintenance costs are often lower since outside parts of the system are below ground and protected from the weather.And when compared to other heat sources, geothermal will pay for itself typically in 3-5 years.

Click here to calculate how long it would take for geothermal to start paying you back.


[ School’s In for the Fall ]

Chocolate Peanut ButterJust when you were running out of your schools building, arms in the air, singing “School’s Out for the Summer” by Alice Cooper, boom: Fall is almost here again. And you can “stay green” when going back to school!  (You can ALWAYS be green, by the way, no matter what the occasion!)

For me, the most expensive part of college was purchasing all my text books!  As most college students know, text books are extremely expensive.  I’ve done my research over the years to try to find the most beneficial way to not only save money, but help the environment when purchasing my books.  I just recently found a really interesting website.  Chegg.com is a site that you can rent text books from, so naturally they are cheaper from renting versus buying.  The best part is that the site plants a tree for every book that is rented! It’s almost like the Tom’s shoes concept where you buy a pair of Tom’s and they send a pair to a child in need.  I love ideas like this that help out.

From pens and paper to backpacks and lunch boxes, there are always eco-friendly supplies that you can get for school.  TheUltimateGreenStore.com is an amazing website for green shopping.  Not only is there a “kids” section, there is also a “teen/college” section for school supplies, as well as dorm supplies.  They have everything on this site.  If ordering online isn’t really up your alley, there are eco-friendly school supply options at most stores.

Walk or bike to class.  It’s simple, healthy, and safe for the environment.

One of the most important things about your day, no matter what you are doing, is that you always eat breakfast. It isn’t a myth or a lie your parents told you growing up.  When you eat a healthy and hearty breakfast, you are much more productive throughout the day. I was always running late for early morning classes, but it is simple to make quick yet filling breakfasts.  One of my favorites right now is organic chocolate peanut butter on either a banana or an English muffin topped with oats or flax seed.  It’s delicious, healthy, and keeps me full until the afternoon.  Try it!