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F&V is green!

Of course, that subject line is no surprise at all. Ladera Frutal proudly grows its fruits only with natural methods, the house has a solar water heater, and our green leanings when it comes to votes are well advertised. But, thanks to the virtual orchard’s host, we are greener still. I received the following from PowWeb:

Dear Matthew,

Looking to bring green practices to the Web? Good news: by hosting with us, you already have.

How We Went Green
Since we’re not able to generate wind power onsite, we offset our energy use by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).

The energy grid must maintain a full supply of power without overflowing. When wind power is added to the grid through RECs, the amount of energy produced by fossil fuels is reduced.

As a result, our offices and data centers are 100% powered by renewable energy, which means your site is completely green.

Our commitment prevents the release of 2,660 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. That’s equivalent to planting nearly 2,390 acres of trees, or removing 510 cars from the road.

Read more about our efforts »

UCSD solar

Just got this announcement:

Beginning June 23, 2008 and lasting through September 15, 2008, the top levels of the Gilman and Hopkins Parking structures will be closed to all parking due to the installation of photovoltaic (solar) parking canopies. In addition to providing shade for parked cars, these solar energy systems will provide over 400 kilowatts of clean renewable energy to the campus..

Spectacular! Can’t wait to park the hybrid under one of these. ((Though it’s not very near my office, to which I seldom drive anyway. And Jordan drives the hybrid, leaving me with the decidedly ungreen 4WD official Ladera Frutal pickup on those unfortunate days when I do have to drive to campus. But maybe he’ll let me drive it one day after 15 September!))

More on my employer’s good work here.
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Pigovianism

I did not even know it, but apparently I have been a Pigovian since my first year of eligibility to vote in presidential elections. It was 1980, and I backed John Anderson. ((Not only with my vote, but as a petition coordinator in my city for his petition drive to get on the general-election ballot.)) The main plank in his campaign platform that I still remember 28 years later was a 50c/gallon gas tax. This was at a time when the nominal cost of a gallon of gasoline had just passed 50 cents (though the price in 2007 dollars was about $2.00).

Last October, in the WSJ, Greg Mankiw gave the case for a large (but gradual) increase in the gas tax, which he reprinted at his blog under the title, The Pigovian Manifesto.

John Anderson got 7% of the vote in the general election in 1980, and as far as I know no candidate who advocated a large increase in the gas tax has beaten that percentage since. As Mankiw concludes with:

don’t expect those vying for office to come around until the American people recognize that while higher gas taxes are unattractive, the alternatives are even worse.

Indeed. Count me in as a self-declared (and, in spirit, adult-lifelong) member of the Pigou Club, along with Mankiw, Al Gore, Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker, Paul Krugman, Andrew Sullivan, Greg Easterbrook, Joe Stiglitz, Gary Becker, Nouriel Roubini, Arthur Laffer, and an evidently growing list of economists, pundits, and other social commentators. Are political scientists/orchardists welcome to the club?

Planet to Australian voters: Thanks

No, I have not appointed myself spokesperson for the planet. But I agree with John Quiggin (a political social scientist and also an Australian) at Crooked Timber, as well as at his own blog, that the recent government change in Australia was significant to producing a better-than-expected deal in Bali.

Until his [i.e. new Labor PM Kevin Rudd’s] election, Australia, as the only other significant country not to ratify Kyoto, was Bush’s most important supporter. After the switch, Australia was able to pursue a negotiating strategy which sometimes seemed to accommodating to the US, but ultimately produced an excellent outcome.

Of course, there are also some losers, who did all they could to stop this happening, and failed. But they know who they are, and there’s no need to dwell on them today.

Indeed.

The linked posts (especially the one at C.T.) also have very interesting comment threads. Contributions in light of the discussions there are very much welcome here.

More fundamental than the climate

The thing that Greens care about more fundamentally than anything — perhaps for some Greens it matters more than climate — is that we fix the voting system.

So said Elizabeth May, the leader of the Canadian Green Party. She was commenting on a “non-compete” agreement that she recently struck with Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, in which the latter has agreed to explore reforms to Canada’s electoral system.

I can’t argue with the green priority: Addressing the fundamental environmental issues of our time, including climate change, would be advanced significantly by addressing the fundamental democratic deficit of countries still mired in first-past-the-post politics, such as Canada, the U.K., and the USA. Greens have rarely won seats under FPTP in national, state, or provincial-level legislative races.1 However, when they have been in parliament under proportional-representation systems, they have sometimes been able to be in government (as in Germany, 1998-2005, and the Czech Republic currently) or to influence policy even in the absence of executive positions (as in New Zealand currently).

The importance of PR to a party like the Greens is evident from a nationwide Canadian poll from early March. It showed the Green Party polling at 13%, compared to the 4.5% it won in the 2006 election. When asked on CBC whether that support would translate into electing a member of parliament, Greens leader May correctly noted, “We are not a regionally-based party, and as such, the first-past-the-post system does tend to work against us.” Indeed, the Quebec Bloc won only 10.5% of the national vote in 2006, yet won 16.6% of the seats. The FPTP system is biased towards smaller parties with regional support and against those of about the same size with more dispersed support.

As beneficial as stand-down (no-compete) deals and an eventual move to proportional representation would be for the Greens, there is less to this deal than meets the eye. The deal calls for the Liberals to stand down in May’s riding (electoral district), where the Liberal has no chance of winning.2 In exchange, the Greens will not compete in Dion’s riding, which is entirely safe for the Liberal party, anyway. The agreement thus has no promise of actually helping Greens get into parliament, from where they would be able to hold Dion and his party to the promise to begin serious discussion of electoral reform and to action on climate change should the Liberals form a minority government after the next election.

The deal is much more about Liberal-NDP and Green-NDP competition than it is about representation for the Greens or a process of electoral reform. The NDP and the Greens, to a significant extent, share overlapping voter bases, while the NDP and the Liberals are also in competition with one another in many ridings across Canada. For example, the NDP won about 17% of the vote in 2006, but in the poll that put the Greens on 13%, the NDP was also at 13%, while the Liberals were at 27% (compared to just over 30% in the 2006 election). The Conservative vote, on the other hand, appears relatively unaffected by the votes of the Green-NDP-Liberal segments of the electorate.3 In the 2006 election and the referenced poll (as well as many other polls in the past year), the Liberal-NDP-Green combo represents a majority of the votes. And, while the parties disagree on many things amongst themselves, a PR system would translate these parties’ recent levels of support into a majority in parliament.

However, under FPTP, these parties are in competition with one another in a way that could benefit the Conservatives, unless the Liberal party can persuade more potential NDP or Green voters to vote for it than for one of the smaller parties. More votes for the Greens will hurt the NDP the most; moreover, a Liberal party seen as out-greening the NDP may be able to retain some environmentally conscious votes that would otherwise go NDP, if not Green. Finally, in several ridings, drawing votes away from the NDP, whether they go to the Greens or the Liberals, could boost Liberals against Conservative competition.

As Stephen Maer, in The Chronicle Herald notes:

Ms. May’s endorsement should help Mr. Dion, but the advantages to Ms. May are not as clear, except that she seems to think it’s the right thing to do. […]

Ms. May is a bigger threat to the electoral prospects of NDP Leader Jack Layton than to Stephen Harper…

Jack Layton, NDP leader, suggested he sees the threat to his party when he posed the rhetorical question, “If Ms. May thinks Mr. Dion would make the best prime minister, why isn’t she running as a Liberal?” Of course, she is doing this to raise the profile of a party that will always struggle to survive under FPTP. And that takes us full circle, back to the fundamental importance of electoral reform in order to elect blocs of legislators committed to climate-change policy. Thanks to the deal, Canadian papers for several days have given quite a lot of coverage to electoral reform and the Green Party. A short-term success, at least!

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1. I know of two FPTP races won by Green candidates, both in mixed-member proportional electoral systems. The NZ Greens co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimmons, won the single-seat district for Coromandel in 1999. (In that election, it was not clear the party would pass the party-list threshold and if it had not, the party’s presence in parliament would have depended on the district win. The party has not held the seat since, but has remained above the threshold nationally.) Hans Christian Stroebele won the constituency of Kreuzberg in Berlin for the Green Party in the 2005 German federal election. A Green came close to winning a riding in BC’s last provincial election, but there is no value to being “close” under FPTP! (Some Greens have been elected in single-seat districts in France, where a two-round system is used and the party has benefited from cross-district cooperative arrangements with left allies.)

2. The riding is Central Nova, in Nova Scotia. It is currently held by Peter MacKay, a minister in the current Conservative federal cabinet who won 40.7% of the vote in 2006. Then NDP came in second, with 32.9% and the Liberal third, with 24.6%. A different Green candidate in 2006 won 1.6%, or 671 votes. In a wonderful twist, the Liberal candidate who now won’t be running is named Susan Green! (Thanks to Idealistic Pragmatist for that tip.)

3. Other polls around the same time show the Greens with less support. Most of those other polls also show the NDP very marginally higher and the Liberals also somewhat higher. The Conservative vote appears a bit more stable, though it has reached 40% in the occasional poll. The site linked in this note shows a graph of polling trends.

Got sun?

Ladera Frutal’s south-facing slope is blessed with abundant sunshine (at least outside of May Gray/June Gloom season), so why not take advantage?

solar panels of Ladera Frutal.JPG

No, this does not let us go off-grid. It does not generate any electricity. But it does make the water really hot, without using electricity or gas to do so. These panels are connected to a water-circulation system and hot-water tank, so that any time the sun is shining we have hot water without using any electricity or gas. (The rest of the time it is on electric back-up.) Electric water-heating is expensive, and this area has no gas utility. We preferred not to have any gasoline bombs (a.k.a propane tanks) on the finca, so this was the perfect solution for saving on the bills, avoiding a fire hazard–and conserving resources.

Look closely near the bottom of the photo and you can see the patch in the driveway where our contractor put in the pipes between the house and the panels. (It was done in 2002; by now the new concrete has faded and is much less visible than it was at the time.)

Well beyond the white wooden fence is a neighbor’s Hass grove that had almost no freeze damage. At this elevation on the north-facing slope, groves were badly damaged. Here on the south-facing slope, we fared much better. And we get lots of sun for solar panels.