Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Cars Rob You of Your Time

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I claim that even if you don’t “believe” in global warming, you should ditch the car. I’ve reached this conclusion by calculating the effective speed of driving, vs. the effective speed of biking. This argument was initially made by Ivan Illich in the early 70’s, but I put in numbers for 2009 and my own situation. The effective speed is the time it takes you to travel where you want to go + the time it takes you to earn the money needed to afford that mode of transportation. In the case of the bike, we also subtract some time, since it doubles as physical exercise and you really do need about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day to avoid serious health issues down the road.

These are numbers for Ontario, Canada based on CAA’s annual driving costs model and actual marginal tax rates for 2009.

Assuming a cheap-ass car (the Cobalt LT) and a high annual salary of $100K, you need to drive more than 15 900 km a year for a car to make sense. With my own transportation needs of ~10 000 km (a little less, actually), the cheap car will have an effective speed of a meager 23 km/h, while the bike runs at 31 km / h. Clearly I’m getting around at much higher speeds than those sluggish cars.

But if you make $40K / year and drive a Dodge Grand Caravan (the more expensive vehicle in the CAA example) the same distance, you’re humping along at an abysmal 12.3 km / h.

Feel free to copy my spreadsheet and play with your own numbers. And yeah, ditch the car and take an extra day off every week!

Oppdatering: Om du er interessert i norske forhold, kan du se disse i dette regnearket. En norsk lønnstaker med årlig inntekt på 450000 kr jobber ca. 500 timer årlig for å dekke de årlige utgiftene til en medium bensinbil med nypris 349000 kr. Om den årlige reiselengden er 10000 km, er den effektive hastigheten til bilisten 15,6 km/t. Sykkelen er ca. dobbelt så rask, med effektiv hastighet 30,4 km/t.

Vekst eller miljø? Ditt valg!

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Det er valgår. Partienes programmer finner du her:

Til sammen er dette mer enn 600 siders herlig sommerlektyre. Merk også at der partiene har både prinsipp- og handlingsprogrammer, har jeg valgt handlingsprogrammene. Action speaks louder than words.

Forrige stortingsvalg stemte jeg på SV, som endte opp i regjering. Hvilken nedtur! Jeg oppdaget at ikke alt som står i programmet er partiets hjertesaker. For meg var miljø og rettferdig fordeling viktigst. SV skrev riktignok at dette lå deres hjerte nær, men etter fire år med “shop så det svir” og mer eller mindre åpenbar plyndring av vår felles formue til fordel for finansfolk og bankmenn, vet jeg bedre.

I år er min tese at man i beste fall kan håpe at et parti har én hovedssak, som de er villige til å sloss for. De resterende 100 sider av partiprogrammet er flesk som er lagt til for at alle skal finne noe de liker. Etter å ha skummet igjennom programmene over, kan jeg si at jeg finner mye jeg liker. Samtlige partier har en miljøpolitikk, til og med FrP. Og hvem er ikke enig i at vi skal “kombinere økonomisk vekst med reduserte utslipp av klimagasser” (Ap)? Eller at “det enorme forbruket av energi- og naturressurser kan reduseres dersom vi klarer å utnytte avfallet bedre” (KrF)? “Norge må gjennom teknologioverføring til fattige land bidra til mer klimavennlig økonomisk vekst” (SV). Så og si alle partiene har formuleringer som dette, der de sier ja takk til både økonomisk vekst og reduserte utslipp.

Hva om økonomisk vekst hovedsaklig er i konflikt med miljøet? Selv fornybare energiprosjekter har negative konsekvenser i form av materialutvinning, transport og inngrep i naturen. Og, vil ny fornybar kapasitet hovedsaklig erstatte mer miljøfiendtlig kraftproduksjon, eller bidra til enda høyere forbruk? Jevons paradoks tilsier det siste. Hvis vi må velge mellom økonomisk vekst og et relativt stabilt klimasystem, der forbruk og ressurstilvekst er i balanse, vil jeg velge det siste.

Lavere materielt forbruke betyr ikke nød. F.eks kan materielt forbruk byttes mot mer fritid. En bil er en luksusvare dersom du har normal bevegelighet og ikke bor i grisgrendte strøk. Uten utgifter til bil kan du unne deg en ekstra fridag – hver uke! Da blir det god tid til å sykle til butikken, og du kommer i god form. Kutt ut impulskjøp, og du slipper at livet ditt fylles av ting istedenfor opplevelser. Dermed kan du bo mindre, bruke mindre på bolig, oppvarming osv. Enda en fridag der, og plutselig er antall fridager i uka doblet! Bruk ekstra tid på frivillig arbeid, trening, tur i skogen, spill eller hva du måtte ønske.

Riktignok nevner både Ap, SV og Rødt reduksjoner i arbeidstiden (mulig flere nevner dette, jeg kan ha oversett, i så fall er det ikke særlig prominent), men gir ikke inntrykk av at dette er et miljøtiltak eller at det er noe de faktisk vil prøve å få til. Kun Miljøpartiet De Grønne vier dette god plass i sitt program, med overskriften “Redusert arbeidstid framfor økt kjøpekraft”. Det at programmet kun har 27 sider, det desidert minste partiprogrammet, gir også håp om at miljø ikke også her må vike for økonomisk vekst.

Miljøpartiet er et småparti som fikk kun 0,6% av stemmene i 2007. Stemmer du for dette partiet stemmer du i beste fall for å få inn én representant på Stortinget, eller for å øke troverdigheten deres i neste valg. Med de andre partiene stemmer du uansett på halvhjertet miljøpolitikk, som aldri vil vinne frem når den kommer i konflikt med andre deler av programmet.

Repair Your Old Mac Cheaply

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

The display of my almost three year old MacBook Pro went black a few weeks ago. I was unwilling to send my MacBook Pro to the landfill* just yet, so I started looking at repair opportunities. I did not buy the $349 3-year AppleCare support plan when I purchased the computer. The scary part is that had this happened a few weeks later, the AppleCare plan would have done me absolutely no good anyway.

I suspect that getting the repair done by Apple would cost a small fortune. This is impossible to know however, since Apple does not post typical repair prices. On various message boards, the prices quoted are in the $700-800 range for LCDs, and up to $1500 for logic boards.

It is possible, but potentially hard, to fix it yourself. iFixit is a company that offers manuals, tools and parts necessary to make repairs to Mac products yourself. There are two problems with this however: Correctly diagnosing the problem, and customs if you live outside the USA. As far as diagnosing the problem goes, I knew the backlight was the culprit, since I could vaguely see the picture on the display even after it went black. But as I quickly found out, the backlight not working is a symptom of multiple conditions. One is that the lamp is broken. This requires replacing the screen. Another is a problem with the connector cable. This is a cheap part, but quite a tough repair. The third, and most costly possibility, is a problem with the logic board.

Unable to correctly diagnose the problem, I turned to third-party repair. I found Vfxroom, a small company in Toronto that does MacBook Pro repairs. They also fix most other Apple products. Anything from spill damage to logic board errors can be fixed. Kevin, the owner, correctly diagnosed my problem as a logic board failure. He pointed out the component that was damaged, and was able to fix it without replacing the logic board. There is no way I would have been able to do that myself!

In the end, the repairs came in at a modest CAD $385, a meager 20% of what would have probably been the cost of replacing the logic board by Apple professionals. Now, I have a perfectly good 2.16GHz MacBook Pro that will likely last me another few years.

(*) Laptops are e-waste. They may contain dangerous materials such as mercury, cadmium, lead, brominated flame retardants, beryllium oxide and many more. These pose severe health risks to humans and animals if disposed of improperly. Many of these accumulate in animals and propagate up the food chain, causing e.g increased risk of birth defects if pregnant women eat fish. Some substances accumulating in fish are known to be carcinogens, such as dioxins and PCBs. Be sure to return e-waste to a certified handler WHICH DOES NOT EXPORT THE WASTE TO DEVELOPING NATIONS! The people who repair laptops so you don’t have to buy a new one quite as often are environmental heroes in my mind.

The Corporation

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Here’s a great documentary: The Corporation. It should be well worth your time.

The Most Effective Thing any Environmentalist can do

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Here are some things you can do to ease your load on the environment:

  1. Drive less
  2. Fly less (I’m a sinner on this one, though…)
  3. Wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat
  4. Use a clothesline instead of a dryer
  5. Carry your own shopping bags
  6. Avoid bottled water and over packaged products
  7. Cancel cable TV (really, it’s complete junk)
  8. Change to energy efficient light bulbs and turn off the lights you don’t need
  9. Recycle your trash
  10. Buy local

Aside from the obvious positive effect this has on the environment, it will make you healthier and save you money. Now, you’ve probably heard these suggestions a million times, so if you’re still reading, you likely care about the environment and wonder if there is something else that you can do. You didn’t think I would write a post with a bunch of old, off-the-shelf actions that you already knew of, did you?

Provided you have money in the bank, which you should have, since you’ve been saving money on the above actions, the most effective thing you can do is simple: Withdraw it.

The money in the bank is not just sitting there. It is continuously fueling someone else’s consumption and causing environmental mischief around the world. The bank takes your deposit and lends it to some schmuck, let’s call him Joe, who wants to buy something, say a car. Joe then takes the money and gives it to the seller of that car. The seller, James, deposits the money in the bank. Both you and James think you own the money in the bank now, but which one is it? The answer: The fastest one of you. Of course, you will have to outrun many others as well, since the bank takes James’ deposit and lends it to Jill, who hands that money over to Jack, who puts it in another bank and so it goes on.

The only thing that limits this monetary game of musical chairs, is the fraction of each deposit the bank is required by law to hold as a reserve. If the reserve requirement is 10%, then the bank can only lend 90% of your money to Joe. The total amount of money that can be created is 0.9 + 0.9^2 + 0.9^3 + … = 1/(1-0.9) – 1 = 9. That is, 9x the original amount. So while you may think you’re saving the environment by your frugal lifestyle, your savings account is hard at work wrecking environmental damage to the tune of 9x the amount you put in there.

Well, 9x is a very conservative measure. In the USA, the reserve requirement for checking accounts is 10%. The reserve requirement for savings accounts is 3%. So if you want to earn some small amount of interest on your money, it is wrecking damage to the tune of thirty-two times the amount you put in there. There are 32 James out there who think they own the same money you put into the bank. There are 32 Joes out there who are buying Hummers, constructing McMansions or are otherwise living beyond their means, courtesy of your nimbleness.

In most of Europe, the reserve requirement is 2% for checking and savings accounts. You get 50x the wasteful spending. If this makes you feel sick, let’s look at this system in another way: It’s a giant amplifier for your voice. By taking your money out of the bank, you also force all the Joes and Jills out there to live within their means and adapt the same frugal ways that the environment so craves. You destroy the wealth of the James and Jacks out there who sell crap that you (and they) can easily live without. The same excessive leverage that fueled this consumerist monster, is also making it extremely vulnerable: If only 1% of deposit holders in Europe did this, half of the credit-based over-consumption would stop.

Where do you store money if not in a bank? Well, you can put it in the bank’s safe deposit boxes. There exists a popular misconception that this is somehow illegal. It is not, as long as you report it on your tax return. The banks, earning most of their money on the crazy money expansion they do, are not particularly happy to store cash in their boxes (conflict of interest, anyone?). They usually have a clause that you may not store cash in the box in the lease agreement. This does not matter, because the bank does not have the private key to the box, and they don’t want to know what is in your box anyways. If you have very large sums, you can get a safe instead.

With the cash safely stored in a vault, enjoy your new fifty times greener conscience. Your hard-earned savings are no longer speeding around cutting down rainforests, enabling fifty Jills to drive gas-guzzlers or buying already filthy-rich CEOs palaces, yachts and learjets.