Is it getting easier to be green?

Holiday Cheers!

First, my apologies to my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and all future generations. I purchased something this holiday season we  really didn’t have to have – certainly a questionable use of Earth’s finite resources.

[ If the reader is in a hurry, just read the black text.  if you have more time read the black & blue text.   if you have more time read black, blue, red.   Lots of time, READ ALL COLORS ]


In my defense, I did wait until after Thanksgiving to make this commercial transaction.

Call me old fashion, but I refuse to join in on the buying frenzy now associated with our time honored holidays. Using the little power I still have as a buyer, I choose not to patronize any store that hauls out their Christmas merchandise before Thanksgiving has had an opportunity to be properly commemorated and completely digested.

I stopped at a local chain drugstore a week before Thanksgiving this year to get some AA batteries. 1/3 of the store shelves had already been stocked with colorful Christmas ornaments, lights, etc.

They say that obscenity is hard to define – but you know it when you see it.

In writing his opinion for Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 US 184 (1964) Supreme Court Justice Stewart noted the difficulty of defining obscenity with his now famous quote “I know it when I see it.

I know what I saw as I entered that store was obscene.

Not having eaten even a bite of turkey yet, that scene made me feel ill so I just turned around and walked back out. Ironically, our legal system places even higher standards on obscenity when children are involved.  I had to wonder if we are becoming desensitized to commercial porn.

And I did select an American brand.

Not that U.S. Corporations practice more sustainable manufacturing processes than other companies around the world. In fact this item with a U.S. company brand was actually made in the U.S. – unlike most of the things we Americans buy these days.  Most manufacturing jobs have been moved overseas so U.S. corporations did take full advantage of the lower wages paid to Chinese workers to produce this item.  The corporation’s profit and stockholder’s dividends are significantly higher than if the item had been produced here in the states. I tried to ignore the fact that this particular U.S. company (whose logo appears on the front of the item) paid zero corporate taxes last year. But the CEO received $25.8 Million in compensation last year – an estimated 500 times what an average worker in his company makes – that too is obscene.   To add insult to injury, only $7 million of his compensation (less than 1/3 ) was labeled as “salary” and subject to income tax.

 And what I purchased should last for the next 20-30 years so it can stay with the house and be used by the next owner.

And I attached a note to the back of the item asking any future owner to recycle what I just bought when they are done using it so that all the Earth’s resources that went into making it will be available for future generations.

So here’s my story.

We now drive a plug-in hybrid vehicle and consider that change in our behavior just one small step toward more sustainable living.

After a year and a half of using our plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt for transportation, including a trip from Colorado to New England and back, including several round trips through the mountains between Colorado and Nevada, and countless around-town trips totaling 15,000 miles, we still love driving this hybrid electric car.

There is always room for improvement when trying to live sustainably.

During the past summer months, we put over 2000 miles on the Volt and used 3 gallons of gasoline.

That figures out to be nearly 700 miles per gallon (mpg). That’s right, we drove around in the Volt all summer on electrical power produced by the Sun and never had to visit a gas station or put gas in the car. To quote Martha Stewart, “This is a good thing.” But we did burn 3 gallons of gasoline which we all now know is unsustainable human behavior.

We figured we can do better, even with today’s rather limited options as we’ll explain.

There were a few occasions where we used the Volt for relatively long local trips (30-40 miles) in the morning and then needed local transportation that same afternoon or evening but the battery had not fully recharged from our earlier use. So we had to burn some gasoline.

The Volt is a hybrid and runs equally well on electric or gasoline; it doesn’t care. But Gail & I care – and our children and grandchildren will care several decades from now.
Normally we drive the car during the day but rarely travel more than 40 miles around town. At the end of the day, we just plug-in to recharge the battery using the electrical energy generated during the day by the solar PV modules on the garage roof.

The energy used to charge the Volt’s battery is harvested during the day when the Sun shines and deposited into our energy account with Xcel Energy Corporation (The electric meter actually runs backward during the day). While we are sleeping, we withdraw energy from our account to recharge the Volt’s battery for the next day.

Using the 110 V charging system provided with the car takes about 8 hours for a full recharge of the battery; however, a 220 V charging system is now available that shortens a full recharge time to around 4 hours.
Because the car carries a tank of liquid energy (gasoline) as well, the range is always extendable at any time to around 400 miles just like any other car on the road today.

If we had a faster recharging station, we would have burned less than 3 gallons of gasoline this past summer. You can see where this story is going.

As electric vehicles are becoming more mainstream, one can now purchase a “Class II” (i.e. 220 V) charging unit from a number of retailers including Lowes and Home Depot.

So does it make sense economically to invest in a Class II charging station for one’s home?   Using the example we cited above where we have the potential to save 3 gallons of gasoline every 6 months, and assuming the unit lasts for 20 years, the money saved in gas would pay for the charging unit even if the price of gallon of gas does not go above $4 per gallon during that timeframe.

It is highly unlikely that the price of gasoline will not increase over the next 20 years.   In fact if we hope to avoid irreparable damage to our global climate and want to continue to live comfortably on our planet, we must “put a price on carbon” that encourages us to transition away from burning one-time-only ancient hydrocarbons and move toward inexhaustible solar/wind/hydro/geothermal energy sources.      There is a grassroots movement underway to initiate a correction to our broken economic system and put a price on carbon (i.e. a Pigovian Correction).   Such an initiative will result in increasing gas prices over at least the next decade – from $4 to at least $5 per gallon.  
(See for more info about a carbon fee-dividend program)

So with this recent holiday purchase, we now have a “Class II” charging unit for the Volt to maximize the amount of driving we can do next year on electrical energy  (harvested sunlight) alone.





Unfortunately, as you can see, the story doesn’t end with just a  “Generic Charging Unit.”

Thanks to American creativity, the free enterprise system, and the profit motive, a secondary company has jumped on this new bandwagon and is offering an accessory for the generic charging station – a customizable “skin” that covers the face of the unit.

So no, there is really no justifiable or logical reason for adding the “Green Skin.” None. Nada. Ninguno. But I did. We will just say it is this year’s Christmas present from Santa. I did get to select the image and position it as it appears – so it is probably the only unit on the planet that looks as it does. The customized image reminds me of all the plant and animal life we humans depend on for our own well being – even though we may not always show our gratitude.

So instead of pulling up to the gasoline pump and sticking the nozzle in the gas tank, we now can pull our vehicle into the garage at home, plug-in the electrical connector, fill up the battery with juice made from sunlight and skip the part about burning ancient hydrocarbons to get around town.

With the new “Class II” charging station, we can drive 30-40 miles in the morning, plug-in and 3-4 hours later be ready to take another 40 mile trip purely on zero emission electrical power – energy made in the USA – energy made from an inexhaustible source – Sunlight.

Tell you what, it is a good feeling to know that we are reducing our carbon footprint, reducing the amount of CO2 we are dumping into the atmosphere, and that we are saving this precious one-time-only resource of ancient hydrocarbons for future generations.

When you do the math, my two step great granddaughters born this year will live to see the end of oil, natural gas, and coal in their life,UNLESS we today change our behavior and stop burning these valuable resources and transition to the inexhaustible energy sources that are available (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal)

Future generations will need these hydrocarbons for applications that are recyclable/sustainable – for example: to make iron into steel, to produce plastics, to make carbon fibers for light weight materials, etc.

For  the record, Uranium is not one of those inexhaustible energy sources – besides being a nightmare for future generations, the supply of yellow cake Uranium ore is estimated to be less than 200 years – then what?   Don’t go there until you have internalized all the Real World costs of nuclear reactors – including decommisioning retired plants, management of radioactive waste material and the real cost of inevitable disasters, and replacing this finite energy for future generations.    What happened in Fukushima will happen again and we will claim it too was unforeseen and an unavoidable “act of God.”  In any case, include the reparation costs for Fukushima and Chernobyl, etc. in the cost of electrical power made from nuclear.  Then compare that cost to the cost of electrical power from the inexhaustable sources.   I know what is going to end up being the less expensive solution and it’s not nuclear.  

So yes Kermit, “It’s not easy being green” but it is getting easier because today we have more and more choices that are  sustainable (and greener).

Happy Holidays.

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