#1 Party school. Get #1 in beer cooling. [Updated]

Let's face the reality here. Penn State has been called the #1 party school. The title even prompted public radio's This American Life to do a show about it. For some, this has been a black eye, a blemish, an embarrassment. But maybe...just maybe...it's an opportunity to understand something about energy use.

Look at this low-tech solution to refrigeration.

Go that? All you need is two sizes of clay pots, sand, water, and towels to cover your pots. As a fan of many Pennsylvania microbreweries, I will surely try this out.

What else should we use this for?


Here is a picture of my own. I put in some fine Pennsylvania Victory Brewery beers and at the end of the day...They were cool. Not icy cold, but definitely cool. And you know, not having to pay additional refrigeration costs is kind of nice.


Climate change and population

Demographers predict that Earth's human population will reach 7 billion by Halloween of 2011. Global development seeks to to increase the affluence and health of the world's underdeveloped populations. With increased affluence comes more purchasing power to consume anything from toys to bottled water to cell phones to cars to pets.

In their book, Healing the Planet, Paul and Anne Ehrlich proposed an equation I=PAT. It's a heuristic, or cognitive short cut, to represent environmental impact.
Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology
Like any heuristic, it has some shortcomings, but it's useful because it gets us to glimpse the unseen. Impact can be expected to increase if there is a net increase of P, A, and T. If affluence and technology remained steady but more people use them, impacts increase. If the population and technology remained steady but affluence increased, then more purchased stuff by the population increases impact. If population and affluence remained steady but technological impacts went up because of proliferation or size, then impact increases.

Today, we have all three. There are more people with more purchasing power buying more pieces of technology that net more material and energy use than ever before. Today's I=PAT is much larger than 1950's I=PAT even though we have had so much progress in that time.

So when we get to an issue like climate change, it's been easy to talk about energy efficiency or renewable energy. Environmentalists in the United States generally laud wind power and eschew coal. In a world with lots of poor people it's been important to laud global development efforts that afford people the ability to meet their daily necessities of food, water, shelter, community, and healthy environments. Beyond that, most people hope that people can meet more than the necessities but be comfortable and happy. There's the rub.

What's a necessity, or as the Brundtland Commission called it in their report Our Common Future, a "need"? If we all "need" to have heated or cooled housing, cars, and electronic gadgets, how can we expect to stop a problem like climate change if development mandates increased affluence and technological dispersion for 7 billion people later this year and 9 billion by 2044? With no appreciable reduction in fossil fuel demand by efficiency, are we on a collision course with the climate?

Get some insights on it from Lester Brown and Robert Engelman on Hard Ball. This is a hard nut to crack and it's impressive that MSNBC took it on at all.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Groundswell for environmental rights

Want an environmental bill of rights in your area?

Braden Crooks thinks communities need them. Until August 8th, he's working in State College, Pennsylvania to get an Environmental Bill of Rights on the popular ballot in the borough this fall. Groundswell believes that state and federal government are unduly influenced - some might say polluted by - industrial corporate power brokers who damage land, ruin air, toxify water, and reap enormous profits at communities' expense. The best option is to declare this "a civil rights issue as much as an environmental problem. As we move toward environmental and energy crises on a global scale we will build sustainable places where we live. We deserve the right to do so." State College? A more sustainable place to live?

According to statecollege.com,
The measure, if approved through a popular vote, would revise the borough home-rule charter to underscore borough residents' rights to clear air and clean water -- rights already prescribed under the state constitution.

It also would say that residents have a right to sustainable energy; that ecosystems have the rights to clean air and water; that future gas drilling is banned within the borough; and that any "non-sustainable energy production" would be persona non grata in State College proper.

The effort has already gained support from borough Mayor Elizabeth Goreham and some Borough Council candidates, including incumbents Peter Morris and Theresa Lafer and challenger Sarah Klinetob. But to get on the November ballot, Crooks, 23, and his Groundswell colleagues will need to gather just more than 700 petition signatures by Aug. 8.

Only borough residents may sign the petition.
Have you signed yet? If you haven't, why not?

Learn more about Groundswell at their website or their Facebook page and contact them to learn more.

24 Hours of Reality

An enormous act of public education is in the works on the largest ecological sustainability crisis out there - climate change. On September 14th, Al Gore's new Climate Reality Project will launch a massive 24-hour piece of education on the scale, scope, depth, and ramifications of this problem.

How will you get involved?


Increasing fuel efficiency

This morning on my walk to the bus station in Pine Grove Mills, PA, I saw gas at $3.69 a gallon. It's been higher than that recently and analysts predict that in coming years it will continue to climb over $4 a gallon. No doubt, filling the tank in our Honda is now a $60 endeavor. What's it like to have a Jeep or an Escalade? It's expensive.

Expense doesn't just go to families. There's the cost of obtaining, extracting, shipping, refining, and shipping all the petroleum to do all that. Obtaining all that oil and securing it has no small part in the wars in the Middle East which are in the trillions of dollars in taxpayer expense. We have record breaking oil disasters to deal with and their years of side effects. Later, there's the cost to air quality because of particulates and fumes. And don't forget the growing and ever looming costs greenhouse gases like CO2, and CO. That's a lot of consequence from just filling up your tank to get to work, take your kids to a baseball game or piano classes, or go on vacation.

But they are there: wallet to war and gulf to greenhouse.

Short of cutting individual car use what's to be done? The Pew Environment Group is calling on President Obama to increase fuel efficiency standards. They are asking you to help by signing on and telling the President to increase fuel efficiency to 60 miles per gallon for light trucks by 2025. They say in a press release, "With a 62 MPG standard, vehicle owners could see an average net savings of $6,475 over the lifetime of the car." That's nothing to ignore for most people in today's economy. Sectors of industry and so-called "consumer choice" will and have decried these standards as draconian and unrealistic, but the interconnected realities of peak oil, increasing global oil consumption, and climate change will make oil much more expensive and the cost of using it increasingly pressing as well.

So it looks as though we might aim at fuel use reduction as a goal. Reduce is the first of the "three R's" after all: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle

But if reduction is a genuine goal, then why not push even harder for even bigger reductions through bigger changes? In the same Pew press release they write, "[R]ecent polls show that Americans want to drive farther on a tank of gas, including one survey on behalf of Go60MPG, a coalition of advocacy groups seeking higher fuel-efficiency standards, which revealed 74 percent of those surveyed supporting 60 MPG by 2025." This is confusing.

Many people want more efficient cars which would reduce environmental and personal economic woes if they drive the same amount. More than doubling fuel economy could more than halve your gas payout if you drive the same distance. But if you double your driving distance you have neither saved fuel, money, nor the effects of burning that gas. Do you smell a Jevons Paradox?

What do you think? Should we go beyond fuel efficiency standards?
Should we go beyond transportation to urban or national planning?