Southern California environment news and trends

Song of the Week: 'Shame,' by the Avett Brothers, for social proof and your electric bill

This song of the week goes with a conversation I'm having with The Madeleine Brand Show tomorrow morning about a new way some utilities are using to encourage people's energy use. Which is shame.

So the song is Shame, by the Avett Brothers.

Technically, it's a song about being wrong and apologizing to someone, something these boys do often, well, and for a variety of wrongs (though none are, in substance, energy efficiency). But listen to the chorus. It's right on point:

Shame

Boatloads of shame

Day after day

More of the same

In the last three years, academics have found that shame works. Though the guys in the field call it "social proof." It's a phenomenon by which people assume that other people are doing the right thing, and so they compare themselves, find themselves lacking, and experience a range of emotions, including shame.

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4 quick tips to green your laundry routine

Our occasional tips for an easy, green lifestyle

It is summer in the Southland, which means it’s harder to stretch out the days between loads of laundry. Think about it – with desert-style temperatures hitting you upon leaving the house, how many times do you want to wear that sweaty t-shirt before giving it a dip in the wash? There are some easy ways to make your laundry routine a little more energy efficient, in turn lightening your wallet while greening the planet.

Use eco-friendly laundry detergent. Reliable green cleaners are free of synthetic fragrances and are often biodegradable. Best of all? They are easy to find. I’ve used Seventh Generation cleaners for over a decade, which are available at Whole Foods and other area health stores. A more recent addition to my green cleaning routine is the Ecover line. Made with some plant-based ingredients, these products are also biodegradable. You can find Ecover at area Whole Foods and even at some area Ralphs Supermarkets.

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Global Green counts (and cuts) Rust Belt carbon

Santa Monica-based Global Green USA has focused in recent years on projects like rebuilding in New Orleans: working to help that city back, and make it thrive. Now they've turned their attention toward cities that aren't thriving in America's Rust Belt: specifically, Youngstown, Ohio. 

I talked to Global Green's Walker Wells about the project late last week. He told me that Jack Scott, the former head of Parsons in Pasadena, grew up in Warren, PA and went to Youngstown State. WIth the idea of giving something back, he held an engineering and energy conference in Youngstown - and Matt Petersen from GlobalGreen went. That's how the Santa Monica based group that's the US arm of the Gorbachev-founded Green Cross International found its way to the city alongside the Mahoning River.  

"It's one of the few places in the rust belt that seems to have determined that the past is not prologue for is future," Walker Wells told me. "A lot of these places are still in this kind of anguish and nostalgia for lost industry and the glory days of the lost smokestacks and brown skies will somehow be revitalized."

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Green building in the 9th Ward

Twice last month, I went back to my old home, Louisiana - the second time pretty much for vacation, to New Orleans. I checked in on my usual spots: not just my favorite neighborhood restaurant, or my favorite new chicken place, but the outfall canals, some pumping stations (run by the city on a different system than the Corps-run gates and pumps), and the 9th Ward.

Today I'm watching with trepidation as the US Army Corps of Engineers considers how to manipulate the vast plumbing of the Mississippi River to try to minimize flooding in south Louisiana. On Monday they pulled 72 teeth out of the 350-some bays that make up the Bonnet Carre Spillway and let the water run toward Lake Pontchartrain. Now river parishes are ordering evacuations; opening another spillway, Morganza, will still flood the Atchafalaya Basin and threaten thousands of homes, while avoiding potentially worse damage. Even still, earthen levees, floodwalls, and built levees are stressing. My experience with some components of the flood protection system makes me nervous about that. 

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Looking closer at utilities' energy efficiency programs

Not all energy efficiencies are created equal. At least, that's the argument of consumer and environmental groups lobbying the California Public Utilities Commission - and those advocates are increasingly frustrated with the quality of those programs at the investor owned utilities. 

Back in December, PUC commissioners voted to give PG&E, SDG&E, and So Cal Edison 68 million dollars for energy efficiency programs the utilities ran between 2006 and 2008. That was on top of nearly 144 in incentives already paid to utilities for the same underperforming programs. And it was in direct opposition to an administrative law judge's ruling that not only did the utilities fail to meet their goals and should receive no payments, but that they should actually pay money back to consumers.

Actions like that have raised scrutiny on the state's energy efficiency programs - and all the savings they boast about.  

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