Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

When things went wrong with the American house

In A/C news on November 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm

In the December / January issue of Fine Homebuilding, Kevin Ireton has a fine article, “The American house: Where did we go wrong?”  (Look for the link to the pdf with its slick layout.) In the piece, Ireton traces the history of house design and construction in this country, looking for those crossroads where we always seemed to take the turn toward greater dependence on fossil energy. One of those fateful points was passage of that bright jewel of the New Deal, the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. Ireton quotes a recently published book by Craig Toepfer:

Toepfer argues that this nascent industry of off-the-grid power generation was destroyed, or at least “stifled and held irrelevant for the past 90 years,” by the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. He writes, “In a monumental act of irrationality, justifiable only by a lack of knowledge or understanding, the federal government decided to do what no investorowned utility would even begin to consider doing, extending the central station wires from the major urban centers to every rural and remote part of the nation.” Once wires reached a farmhouse, “the REA required wind and farm electric systems to be removed or destroyed before the agency allowed them to connect.”

Ireton also describes the transformation of the American house that came with the advent of central air-conditioning. It ensured that households would become increasingly dependent on high-energy cooling, bringing us to our current predicament.



Losing Our Cool in the news

In A/C news, About the book on November 23, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Stan Cox in the Washington Post on “D.C. without A.C.

Cox in the Los Angeles Times on how we live and work in the A/C world

New York Times: “No Air-Conditioning, and Happy

David Owen in The New Yorker on “The Efficiency Dilemma” (Dec. 20-27, 2010; sorry, subscription-only)

Chicago Sun-Times: Mark Brown tries to convince his wife to turn off the A/C

Hear an interview with Cox on NPR’s Marketplace, and read tips on keeping cool

Cox on the A/C life in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jason Zasky talks with Cox: Failure magazine

Interview (mp3) with Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock

More on keeping cool from Yes! magazine

The downside of A/C on Here and Now

Kevin Canfield on Losing Our Cool in the Los Angeles Times

Watch the KSN-TV report, also seen on the Weather Channel and NBC affiliates across the U.S.  

Hear “Life without Air-Conditioning” on The Takeaway

An interview with Ryan Brown of Salon.com

Tom Condon on Losing Our Cool in the Hartford Courant

With National Geographic News Watch

Hear “Chilling Facts About Air Conditioners“, a one-hour interview and call-in with Stan Cox on the NPR program On Point

Rob Sharp in The Independent (UK): Cold Comfort

Cox answers adversaries via CounterPunch

Does this A/C make me look fat?

The Wichita Eagle on Losing Our Cool

Losing Our Cool interview: video on MSNBC

A review by the Dallas Morning News

An article on Losing Our Cool in the Boston Globe.

Q&A on A/C in the business world, in the New York Post

KWCH-TV interview

A Minneapolis Star-Tribune interview

Glenn Beck doesn’t want to hear about turning off the A/C

Nevada shaped by fans of A/C: the Las Vegas Sun

TIME on the history of air-conditioning

An interview with the National Post‘s Joe O’Connor

Macleans: How Air-Conditioning Changed the World

An A/C  Q&A with Discovery’s Planet Green

How to stay cool without A/C even in America’s hot zones

A CBC Radio interview

Stan Cox in the Hartford Courant: Air-Conditioning is Sapping Our Society

Paul Cox: “Birth of the Air Conditioner

Read Chapter 1 of Losing Our Cool:

rightsideChapter 1 — reprinted in pdf format by ColdType

Read Chapter 1 here

Publisher’s Weekly reviews Losing Our Cool.

A review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

A Globe and Mail interview on staying cool in Canada

An essay written by Stan Cox for Powell’s Books: “In Making Our Own Weather, Have We Remade Ourselves?”.

A May 19 story in the Salina Journal.

Is Gas Really ‘Twice as Clean’ as Coal?

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2010 at 8:33 pm

The gas industry just won’t drop deceptive advertising. My view, from AlterNet:

Over the past year, the American Natural Gas Association has been running an aggressive public relations campaign. The central claim, widely heralded, is that natural gas is “twice as clean as coal.” With that, the gas industry has invented a new virtue for its product through the trick of inverting and slightly stretching one fact about gas: that its carbon dioxide emissions are 55 percent of coal’s emissions per kilowatt of electricity generated.

For an industry that wants to boost sales of natural gas, the “twice as clean” pitch is a much better slogan than, say, “Gas: It emits more than half as much carbon dioxide as coal, our worst greenhouse fuel!”

With its “twice as clean” claim, ANGA is venturing into previously unexplored public-relations territory. Will others follow? Will Burger King start touting its double cheeseburger (500 calories, 29 grams of fat) as being “more than twice as healthful” as a Wendy’s Bacon Deluxe Triple Cheeseburger (1140 calories, 71 grams fat)? Why not? With good news in short supply these days, it seems this technique could be employed in many areas of our national life to provide much needed good cheer. To make anything look good, simply find something that’s worse, turn a fraction into a multiple, and you’ve turned your liabilities upside down! For example:

Jobs: Coal-mining disasters in West Virginia, Chile and China this year reminded us that mining is one of the most dangerous occupations. But is it really so bad? Based on occupational fatality rates, mining is twice as safe as the agriculture/forestry/fishing sector.

Environment: Fresno, California has the fourth worst polluted air of any U.S. city, according to the American Lung Association. But look on the bright side. Air in Fresno is twice as clean as it is in the number-one polluted city of Los Angeles when you compare average ozone levels.

Health care: A prescription for Cerezyme, a drug for treating a dreadful condition called Gaucher disease, costs a patient $200,000 per year. That may seem outrageous unless you think of it as being twice as cheap as a $409,000-per-year prescription for Soliris (a treatment for an immune disorder called paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria that affects 8,000 Americans).

Of course, you can always go beyond “twice as good:”

Foreign policy: The war in Afghanistan is becoming more deadly all the time, but at an average of 150 U.S. troop deaths per year since 2001, the Afghan war is still almost four times as harmless to our military as the war in Iraq, which has killed 590 American troops annually.

Energy policy: The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which dumped about half a million barrels of crude oil into the sea, no longer looks so bad. We now know it was 10 times as eco-friendly as BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill.

Financial reform: To date, seven people have gone to jail in connection with a massive Ponzi scheme run by Minnesota business owner Tom Petters. He was convicted last year for cheating his investors out of a whopping $3.5 billion. But when you think about it, Petters was 18 times as honest as the now-imprisoned Ponzi artist Bernie Madoff, who took his investors for almost $65 billion!

The “twice as clean” fallacy also completely ignores other symptoms of our increasing natural-gas addiction. Methane, the chief component of natural gas, has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide; as a result, leakage from mining and distribution of natural gas has the annual greenhouse impact of more than 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Then there’s the crisis now brewing over massive water pollution caused by hydraulic fracturing, the method used to get gas out of lucrative shale deposits. Coal mining has its high-profile ecological and human disasters, and now the destruction caused by gas mining, especially in the shale deposits, is becoming apparent.

On the defensive and desperate, national environmental groups have been promoting gas as an antidote to coal. But America needs to be curbing or cutting its consumption of all fossil fuels, not encouraging greater use of some of them. ANGA would claim it wants the accelerated sales of gas in order to displace coal use (just as tobacco companies used to argue their advertising was aimed at luring current smokers into switching brands, not inducing young people to start smoking.) But history shows that increased consumption of one fossil fuel doesn’t bring decreased use of others. For example, U.S. Department of Energy projections show consumption of coal and gas rising in parallel between now and 2030.

If such trends aren’t reversed, temperatures on Earth could rise by as much as six degrees Celsius by the end of the century. But don’t let that bother you too much. We’ll still be 22 times as cool here as we’d be on Venus!