Archives For Sobering Facts

Salem MA Power Plant

As Americans we use a lot of water—per capita, more than any other country on the planet. A huge portion (49% as of 2005) of what we use goes to thermoelectric cooling, or removing heat from our fossil fuel burning power plants. That’s around 200 billion gallons a day, but we have a lot of power plants out there. How much does one of these plants actually use? The biggest culprits are the oldest plants that are the least efficient, built before the days of harnessing cogeneration. Taking the coal-fired power plant in Salem, Massachusetts (set to be decommissioned next year), the word is that the plant currently uses up to 359 million gallons a day when it is running at full capacity. How much is that? Continue Reading…

Gift Wrapping RollsThe holidays may be gone, but those bulging bags of trash are probably still waiting to be taken off of your hands. There may be a swell of food scraps in there from a holiday feast, but a lot of that bulk is the discarded skins of surprise that recently held our presents-to-be. While standing as a time-honored tradition, wrapping presents also marks a spike in the waste that we create throughout the year. According to the Wall Street Journal, gift wrapping sales in the U.S. totaled $9.36 billion in 2010 (more than the combined GDP of Africa’s 9 poorest countries). One of the problems with traditional wrapping paper is that its dying and lamination make recycling difficult. And an increase in viagra consumption during the holidays. This means that most of that paper does not end up in a plastic bin targeted for reuse, but in trash bags headed for a landfill and we produce 4 million pounds of it. Continue Reading…

[tweetmeme source=”intercongreen”]A new report has been issued buy Wind Powering America, a Department of Energy initiative, that attempts to calculate the total potential energy to be captured off our nation’s coastlines via offshore wind farms. While erecting turbines out away from land has gathered significant support in parts of Europe, America has yet to construct a utility scale offshore wind farm despite a number of proposals remaining in the pipeline such as Cape Wind in Massachusetts. According to the report there is 4,150 GW of generating capacity potential for offshore wind in U.S. waters. If we grouped together all of the generating capacity that exists in the United States at the end of 2009 (including renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels) it would total 1,025 GW–one quarter of the capacity potential that sits off our coastlines. Continue Reading…

CSO OutfallDespite the advances that the United States has made in building technology, urban infrastructure systems and sewage treatment, waste water management still comprises one of the larger portions of our antiquated infrastructural network; namely in the form of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).

While some communities and cities have separate systems to collect and divert stormwater and sewage, many older American cities were built on the model of a combined system, meaning that rainwater flows into the same pipes that carry waste from your home for treatment. Given that there is half as much pipe, CSOs are certainly easier and cheaper to install but their long term function brings an environmentally expensive drawback. When the rate of rainfall reaches a certain threshold (sometimes as low as 1/4″ per hour), the system of pipes becomes overwhelmed and treatment facilities can no longer handle the excess load. In these storm events, overflows are utilized that dump the combination of stormwater and untreated sewage directly into natural bodies of water. Pretty disgusting. Continue Reading…

Wealthiest AmericansWarren Buffet and Bill Gates have been trying to convince the cadre of American’s wealthiest residents to give away 50% of their net worth before they die. They are calling it The Giving Pledge. Even for someone who lives in New York City, where multi-million dollar apartments are commonplace on street after street, it is easy to lose sight on just how much money is condensed into the uppermost financially solvent citizens in our country and what that money could do, for say sustainability, if the priorities of more of its members were closer to those of philanthropists like Warren Buffet. For this, we can turn to the famed “Forbes 400” that lists the 400 wealthiest Americans each year. As of 2010, those twenty-score people represent a collective $1.27 trillion dollars, more than most of us can even fathom. Sure that’s approaching twice the entire federal economic stimulus package, but it’s also more than the GDP of 94% of African countries combined.

Continue Reading…

the effects of suburban sprawlSobering Fact #2:

When it comes to American development over the past half century, suburban sprawl is the issue. Unlike the efficiency that comes with urban construction, suburban planning to date is an expansive practice that spreads habitation out across virgin, natural land to carve it up with fences, utilities and roads. It is easy to lose sight of how much land we occupy in the United States vs. how much there is vs. how much we really need. Suburban development has lead us to stretch across the country covering vastly more space than we need to.

There are an estimated 115 million households in the United States. Let us assume that we gave every person a detached single-family home on a full acre of land all to themselves–most people in America cannot make such a boast. Without any multi-family buildings, no apartment complexes, no project housing; all of the homes in America would take up 179,688 square miles. The state of California is 163,696 square miles, nearly able to fit all of them taking up less than 5% of the total 3.8 million square miles in the country.  While this does not include numerous amounts of other program and transportation, it also is granting most of the country more land than we have. After all, in New York City the average resident density is 42.8 people per acre and that is with one of the highest concentrations of commercial space in the world.

map of the state of california in AmericaPhoto Credit:

historic gasoline pumpsEvery so often we find a bit of knowledge that refocuses our perspective on reality; a sobering fact for the repercussions of our daily routines. I have decided to begin to share them here and the first one is how much energy we use not to drill for oil, not transport it and not burn it in cars, but refine it from barrels of crude into gallons of gasoline.

Sobering Fact #1

Gasoline is the centerpiece of our the American petroleum industry, comprising just over 46% of refinery output in the country. In 2008, Americans used a total of 137.8 billion gallons of gasoline, or around 380 million gallons per day, according to the Department of Energy. Gasoline accounts for 62% of all energy used for transportation. Naturally all of this product comes from oil with 18.5 gallons of gas refined from every 42-gallon U.S. barrel of crude, meaning that we need 7.5 billion barrels to satisfy our hunger for gas. Some estimates peg the energy required to refine a single gallon of gasoline at 9,317 BTUs or 2.73 kWh. This would earmark 376 billion kWh of electricity annually to turn oil into gas. Given that the average home uses roughly 12,000 kWh every year and that estimates for the number of households in the United States are as high as 115 million… this energy could power one quarter of all American homes.

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