Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Amazon overpackaging

Amazon overpackaging
Originally uploaded by bonbayel.

I got a very lightweight large box from Amazon today. The contents? The very thin blue book you can see sticking up out of it. Since we are among Amazon's biggest customers, we have recycled many tons of cardboard. We'd actually prefer to be able to recycle less - and I'm sure the mailman would have been happy to be able to put this particular package into the mailbox!

I just searched Flickr for "Amazon package" and found 676 results! Some of these are actually good, some are damaged (probably not Amazon's fault, but many are as wierd as this one!

Then I thought I'd google the same, and found a number of interesting blog commentaries (Results about 7,720,000 for amazon packaging) with lovely pictures, like these:

You get the idea! Any more examples?

You'd think Amazon would be interested in saving money (on cardboard and shipping costs) as well as trees and their CO2 emissions. The strange thing is that they actually have very good packaging materials that can be folded to fit the book. I wonder if it's a training problem - that the packagers take whatever container is nearest?

On a Flickr group called Ridiculously overpackaged products, I found a great article from the English newspaper, the Guardian, about overpackaging in general, which starts like this:

One family, one month, 50kg of packaging. Why?
It started with a shrink-wrapped coconut. Then, as we delved further into the murky depths of the packaging industry, we discovered some startling facts. How much energy does it take to produce the yogurt pots, carrier bags and plastic bottles that end up in your bin? We asked four families to collect a month's worth of rubbish and our experts put their waste to the test. By Lucy Siegle

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Choices - a fable

My sister sent this fable to me. I thought I'd put it here for the rest of you.

The Great Benefactor had a sad but resigned expression on his face as he looked up from his check book. He picked up the phone and summoned his beneficiary for an urgent discussion.

"As you know," he explained, “I have endeavored to give you whatever you have desired, but the time has come when even my vast resources are inadequate to accommodate all of your desires, so you will have to give up something. After much reflection, and really not knowing what your priorities are, I have concluded that I will let you select what you wish to keep and what you wish to forgo."

The donee was uncomfortable making decisions. It was an entirely new and unforeseen experience having to give up anything. But finally, he agreed to the process and the Great Benefactor began.

"You can have clean rivers or dead rivers."
"I'll take the clean."

"You can have clean air or polluted air."
"I'll take the clean."

"You can have a live ocean or a dead one."
"Give me the live one."

"You can have peace or you can have war."
"Man, I'm all the way with peace."
"Now, wasn't that simple?" inquired the benefactor.
"Easy as pie," answered the beneficiary, feeling very comfortable with himself.

"Good, so let's get a little more specific. You can have clean rivers or indoor plumbing."
"Did you ever sit on a cold toilet seat?"

"Perhaps that choice is a little too difficult. We'll get back to it later. How about clean air or automobiles."

"My heavens, where would I be without a car? I'd have to walk to the club, and besides I own all that Automotive stock."

"Let's try another one, something a little easier, solvency or a bloated military?”
“That’s a toughie? Can we come back to it?"

"Certainly. How about choosing between peace and nuclear bombs."
"No bombs? You mean it, really, no bombs? The Russkies or the Arabs would take me over in two minutes if I didn't have all my bombs."

"Perhaps I'm being too severe. We'll try some really easy choices. How about clean rivers or bubble baths."

"But how will I enjoy my bathing? That's an impossible choice, besides Procter and Gamble is my favorite growth stock."

"Let's try clean air or mopeds."
"I gotta get around."
"But you'll have autos and airplanes and trains."
"Yes, but my moped is special. It gets me down bicycle paths."

The Benefactor was getting visibly exasperated. "Then how about a living ocean or an electric tooth brush."
"I've got tennis elbow. No way can I return to regular brushing."

"Then choose between peace or your beebee gun."
"Give up my beebee? It's what I started with when I was a kid. It's part of me. It's what made me appreciate the bomb. No way can I give up my beebee."

"The Great Benefactor threw up his hands in despair. "I really don't know what you're willing to forgo but I'm serious, you have to give up something. I just can't afford it any longer. You're going to have to choose. I'll give you this evening to think about it and tomorrow morning, I'll come by for your answer. I know it's going to be difficult but I also know that you can do it."

The next day, the Great Benefactor appeared before his beneficiary's home and rang the bell. There was no answer, so he tried the door which was unlocked. He walked in and proceeded to the living room where he found his donee hanging by his neck from the chandelier. There was a note pinned to his jacket which read, “You gave me no choice."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Baseload Electricity from Geothermal

The LA Times had this picture across the top of the Business Section yesterday, for an article entitled

Companies harvest Earth's heat

Proponents of coal, NG and oil keep saying we need their dirty energy to provide baseload electricity when the sun's not shining and the wind isn't blowing. (Turns out that the 2 together do a pretty good job a lot of places anyway.) Geothermal does just that, and there's a lot of it available all over the world. Locations along faults have great (somewhat) easy access, but as I wrote earlier, anywhere the earth is warmer than the air, you can use the difference to generate electricity, as they are doing in Denmark. Here is an interesting quote from the beginning of the article:

Tucked into a few dusty acres across from a shopping mall, it uses steam heat from deep within the Earth's crust to generate electricity. Known as geothermal, the energy is clean, reliable and so abundant that this facility produces more than enough electricity to power every home in Reno, population 221,000.
Geothermal plants don't pollute like coal or oil well. Evidently the initial construction isn't cheap, but then neither are nuclear or new so-called "clean" coal-fired plants. And after that, they just run. No extra fuel needed. How wonderful is that!

There is a great graphic on the website which tells how Geothermal energy is harnessed, and where the best locations can be found. China isn't indicated as a possible location on the map, but the large earthquakes there might imply otherwise. We need to get the technology really going, and then export it to China and India ASAP to stop the destructiveness of coal!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The hype—and hope(?)—of clean coal

If you click this space, it will bring up the picture. Be sure to come back again!
The latest The Week magazine has an article, Briefing: The hype—and hope—of clean coal (from which the picture is sourced.) Now usually this is one of our favorite magazines. They include exerpts from news sources both right and left, American and foreign, so that in a short time, you can feel pretty well informed, or know where to look for more information.
I think, however, that they failed miserably on this article, so I told them so in a comment on the website. Unfortunately there are no Letters to the Editor in the magazine itself, but the website provides the opportunity. Here is my comment:

There are 2 things you forgot in this article, that make it entirely impossible to ever make "clean coal:" the "cradle" and the "grave."

The "cradle" part is that you have to get the coal out of the ground in the first place.
You mentioned swing states Ohio and Pennsylvania as two states with a lot of coal. Have you ever been there to see the coal mines , or in Kentucky or West Virginia, which are even harder hit? Try looking at www.mountainroadshow.com/ or www.ilovemountains.org/ to get an idea. These are organizations of the people who live there.

The "grave" is that CO2 has to be stored.There are 2 major issues here:

  • In large quantities, CO2 lies below the oxygen of the atmosphere if it escapes. That means, that if a bubble of CO2 should escape, it could lie as a deadly blanket over the earth, asphyxiating all animal life (that includes people) in the area. This has already happened at least once, in Africa. See 1986: Hundreds gassed in Cameroon lake disaster.
  • Not to mention the fact that we would need enormous secure cavity volume to contain all the CO2 that is produced.

Like nuclear, the "grave" part of the lifecycle hasn't really been solved yet, and it will prove extremely difficult. The "grave' could easily be not only the grave of CO2 or spent fuel, but of thousands of people (and other life!)

Feel free to write a comment on their site as well, or add it here, and I'll add it to their page.