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Is Barack Obama’s new-look cabinet sufficiently green?

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Barack Obama is reshuffling his pack ahead of his second term as US president. Charlie Wood assesses how the new-look cabinet will fare when faced with the energy and environmental challenges that lay ahead.

President Obama took many by surprise in giving a large and prominent portion of his second inauguration speech to combating climate change. He set aside a full paragraph to the issue, pledging to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” The president also slammed climate deniers, citing “the overwhelming judgement of science” and the “devastating impact” of recent natural disasters across the country.

This was a markedly different speech to the one Obama gave in November last year, shortly after he was re-elected.

The President’s time in office has been quite good for the environment (pragmatically speaking) but his words at that time seemed to signal a shift in political direction, and a shift in the flow of political capital towards economic policy. The normally Obama-leaning Slate magazine seemed to have summed up the mood with a piece entitled Obama Makes It Clear He Isn’t Willing To Fight For Climate Change.

Cynics will say that one speech, no matter how important, does not a comprehensive clean energy policy make, but such criticism may be tempered by the make-up of the administration’s new cabinet, which is subject to senate approval.

As it stands, the cabinet is in a state of flux, and the president is far from getting things all his own way. Much of the cabinet will be unchanged from Obama’s first term: the office of vice-president and departments of justice, education and health all stay the same.

Housing, agriculture, veterans and homeland security are also unchanged, leaving vacancies at treasury, labour, commerce, interior, transportation, energy and the state department.

British-born US citizen Sally Jewell – an oil engineer and head of REI outdoor equipment stores – has been nominated to take over as interior secretary – a post that mainly involves managing the open spaces of the US. Although the nomination came somewhat out of the blue, Jewell’s multi-faceted experience of energy and the environment marks her out as a highly qualified candidate.

On nominating Jewell, Obama said, “She is an expert on energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future. She knows the link between conservation and good jobs.”  Her senate confirmation hearing is expected to pass without much incident.

The transportation and energy departments have been left somewhat rudderless following the announced resignations of their respective secretaries, Ray LaHood and Stephen Chu. LaHood worked tirelessly to enforce regulation within the automotive and aviation industries, ensuring tougher emissions standards that directly benefit the environment. He will be hard to replace, as will Chu, whose championing of renewables has helped take the US a long way down the very long road towards energy independence.

There is much speculation as to who will fill these important roles, but the current consensus seems to be that Deborah Hersman, chair of the National Transport Safety Board, is the favourite to take over transport, while science and energy advisor and MIT nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz is the likely pick for energy.

Hersman would seem to be the continuity candidate having been nominated for two two-year terms by the president in her current role. She is staying tight-lipped on the subject, but the fact that Obama has to fill an imaginary quota of more-women-than-he-has-now, allied with Hersman’s obvious experience and qualification, makes this appointment seem inevitable.

Moniz is not such a shoe-in, and his appointment would signal a controversial departure from Chu’s approach towards energy independence. Moniz is a champion of utilising the country’s vast natural gas resources in an attempt to eradicate coal-powered electricity production.

So far so clean, but the environmental risks associated with the controversial hydraulic ‘fracking’ method of extracting gas are as yet unknown. Moniz has described these risks as “challenging but manageable in the past, and there is a certain inevitability about fracking in the US at this juncture.

If Moniz can balance this risk with environmental gains from reductions in coal pollution, as well as continue to focus on developing renewables with a medium- to long-term view, his potential appointment could be seen as a boon for the environment, however counter-intuitive that seems right now.

However, the big news for the green lobby regarding the formation of this cabinet is the appointment of John Kerry as secretary of state. Kerry has been a self-styled “passionate advocate” of environmentalism for over 20 years, and the news of his nomination was rapturously received by diplomats across the world, especially within the EU.

His nomination hearing went through the Senate without a hitch, thanks in most part to his many years of service in the upper house, but one has the sneaking suspicion that the way Kerry was treated during the 2004 election meant that few would dare come between the senator and his deserved big job.

He will keep climate change on the global agenda, and his mere presence at the next summit should lend gravitas to an occasion that often lacks big personalities. The Keystone XL pipeline will also fall under his remit, as it involves transportation of raw materials across the border with Canada, and if it is the natural disaster waiting to happen that many believe it to be it will not go ahead.

Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defence Fund, remarked recently that Obama had “put climate change at the heart of his second-term”. This is deliriously wishful thinking; let us not forget that another highly significant speech, the state of the union address, is coming up this week.

Combating climate change has probably reached its peak in political and polemical usefulness for Obama for the moment, but the events of the past few weeks have proved that it is impossible to tell what this president is going to do or say next regarding the environment.

Charlie Wood is a 30-year-old recent graduate of English literature at Leeds Metropolitan University, from Fleetwood, Lancashire, and West Cork, Ireland. He intends to pursue a career in politics and writing.

Further reading:

The president, the 113th congress and climate change

It’s the election, stupid: why the US is lost to a serious debate about climate… for now

Obama v Romney: the sustainability debate rages on

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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