Friday, October 28, 2005

Treehugging Tendancies

What follows is an enviro-rant, so skip it if you're not in the mood, I won't be offended. I'll probably come back and edit it in a few hours after I calm down...

So, one of the things I noticed in Greece is that just about every roof I saw had a passive solar water heater on it.

In fact, the only homes and buildings that didn't have these were the ones that very obviously belonged to rich people, which illustrates how Greece (and, indeed, much of Europe) has an energy economy that is the complete reverse of ours.

Here in America, of course, we've kept all of our energy prices artificially deflated over the last two decades, out of some misguided belief that it is every American's God-given right to own a Hummer, keep their houses at 80 degrees in the winter, and live wherever they want in relation to their work, no matter if it causes them to have a 100+ miles round-trip DAILY. So, yes, of course we're going to have a collective aneurysm when our energy prices shoot through the roof.

In much of the rest of the world, energy prices are much more realistic. Gas prices in Europe have created a new category of cars, "Eurostyle", subcompacts that get good mileage and, indeed, often run on diesel instead of gas. High electricity prices and lack of a natural gas infrastructure have given rise to the dominence of the passive solar water heater, which now supply a large amount of the hot water used in many countries.

Passing through the new airport in Athens, I came upon this display...

...which is an output monitor for the photovoltaic (PV) electricity grid that was built into the airport. This grid will never pay for itself in a monetary sense, but they didn't do it for that reason. They did it because Greece is trying to clean itself up. Meanwhile, NASA recently scrapped plans to convert an old aircraft hanger into a PV generating plant that would supply power into the local grid of a decent-sized town. We do nothing in this country unless we can perceive an economic benefit. It pisses me off to no end.

As I wrap up my rant, I would like to point out a news story I picked up from AutoBlog this morning. Honda has announced that they are going to move sales of their Civic GX, which runs on natural gas, across the nation. Now, this car is completely impractical as a long-haul cruiser, since you can expect to get a little over 200 miles to a full tank of NG. Customers will have to buy a filling unit to put in their garage, which will fill the car overnight, unless they're lucky enough to live in an area with NG filling stations (California is the only state with widespread alternative fuel stations at this point). There are tax incentives, but they basically offset the higher costs, so you end up still buying a Civic, cost-wise. All in all, there's no positive monetary benefit to be had from purchasing one of these vehicles.

I want one. I can't have one, since I don't have a garage right now, but I will certainly build my desire for alternative fuel commuter vehicles, be they electric, hydrogen, NG, or other, into my future home purchasing plans. Why? Because I sleep a little better at night, knowing that I'm making a difference in the world. Because I feel like a good person when I drive around in my car that produces 80% fewer emissions than a comparable sedan. Because I have to do something, just like I am compelled to smile at strangers on the street, hold doors open for people with heavy bags, donate to local charities, volunteer with arts groups, and treat my fellow humans with the respect I feel they deserve.

This is no longer a choice for me, but a compulsion.

posted by S.C. @ 11:18 AM |


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