Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Does Bernie Madoff have a low carbon footprint?

I bet you think the Green Machine cannot spell goal but I was not thinking of scoring today. The British word for Jail is Gaol and that is where Bye Bye Bernie will spend the rest of his life. The carbon footprint of inmates is far below the population at large. Inmates live in small cells with less heat and for sure fewer windows. They also do not have expansive lawns and hot tubs, so they are actually doing their part in the effort to meet the Kyoto Protocol goals. In fact if all of us were to live in a mere eight foot by eight foot space and not driving cars the US would be totally self sufficient in energy. It is therefore surprising that Rush to Judgment Limbaugh has not suggested this on his radio show.

Inmates do get three square meals and a two thousand calorie a day diet. The per person carbon dioxide footprint for the metabolism of this amount of food produced via exhalation is approximately one pound per day. Cooking their food, lighting the jail, heating the cell and other incidentals most probably amounts to another ten pounds a day of carbon dioxide emissions. This is a mere ten percent of the carbon dioxide footprint of the average free and brave citizen. In fact the prisoner’s carbon footprint is about half that of the average person in China. I do not know how Chinese prisoners are fed and housed but I would suspect these suspects are not exactly living in a Federal Country Club and in turn a prisoner in a Chinese jail has an extremely low carbon footprint.

This jail house rock talk is a Macabre subject, so let’s rather talk about goals than gaols. The word goal means that there is an end point and a purpose toward which an endeavor is directed. Therefore what is a realistic goal for us to set for the reduction of our collective environmental footprint. I believe that within a decade it will be pretty easy to reduce the per capita carbon footprint in the USA by fifteen percent. Less carbon emissions does not necessarily mean lower living standards. Much of the reduction will come about be the elimination of gross wastage. My own carbon footprint is down by thirty percent from four years ago. I now van pool to work, keep the daytime heating of our home down to sixty seven degrees and turn the heat completely off at night, and I have also shut down the hot tub as I never use it in the winter. I will restart the hot tub after the spring equinox as I do really enjoy soaking in the tub. I will however set the spa temperature to ninety nine degrees as I do not want to become a wilted green machine. Even though I have accomplished this level of energy savings, I still estimate my personal carbon footprint to be approximately seventy pounds a day of carbon dioxide emissions, or about a ton a month or twelve tons a year. At standard conditions of atmospheric pressure and room temperature twelve tons of carbon dioxide occupies a volume of approximately three thousand cubic feet, a space that is about six times the volume of Bernie’s new home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Should we all drive golf carts and save the planet?

Spring is here and all the golf enthusiasts are excited that a new season of clobbering a small white ball with an oversize driver named Big Bertha is soon to begin. What in the world does golf have to do with being green? Actually quite a lot as we will soon have numerous small super sub compacts that resemble golf carts. First we had the GEM electric car, now the Smart car and soon we will have a host of small cars that are propelled by electric motors, small gasoline engines, or a combination of motors and engines.

The Golf car I really like is the VW Golf. This model has sold over twenty five million cars since its inception and is one of Europe’s most fuel efficient models. The 2009 Golf Euro Star turbo-diesel with a 1.6 liter engine actually achieves better fuel efficiency than a Toyota Prius hybrid. It is a great little car and certainly is like putting a Tiger Woods in your tank. Does anyone remember the Exxon advertisement starting in 1959 for putting a tiger in your tank? Wow this was a dumb advertising campaign that started in Chicago and went worldwide. If you like, check out the Exxon Mobil website under corporate history and the whole story of the Tiger is there, including Exxon Mobile’s good corporate citizenship of donating one million dollars to “save the tiger fund”. Perhaps if Exxon Mobile would not have put fifty million tigers in tanks we would not need the save the tiger fund.

Golf is actually a great way to explain to students studying physics how the laws of conservation of momentum and energy work. The momentum of the Big Bertha is transferred into momentum of the ball. Momentum is the product of mass multiplied by velocity. Hence the more mass and the more velocity the club has the more momentum that can be transferred into the golf ball. The manufacturers of drivers, the club that is used to hit the ball the greatest distance, have increased the mass of drivers to the level of the 1959 Cadillac including the large tail fins. Perhaps it would be a brilliant advertising campaign if Callaway, Taylor Made, or Ping come up with an ad that says “put a tiger in your driver”. I doubt the young advertising executive back in Chicago in 15 ever dreamed that golf would be dominated fifty years later by a person named Tiger.

Golf is a sport that of course does have a large water footprint. I am not talking of the water holes but rather about the quantity of water that is used to irrigate a golf course. It is pretty wasteful of water to build a championship golf course in Phoenix, Tucson and now Dubai. The web site lists three championship courses in this arid country. One of the courses is called the Dubai Creek Club. I have to assume the creek is manmade just like the indoor ski run in the country. My advice to golfers everywhere is to walk the course so you can huff, puff, and duff and also hopefully avoid the ruff.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is the gazillion a really large number?

Is a gazillion a real number? No it is not, but it is used euphemistically as an indefinitely large number. With our national debt standing at about ten to the power thirteen dollars I say we have reached a gazillion of debt. The French word for Gas is Gaz, so perhaps we are not out of gas quite yet as we can invent the engine that runs on gazillions of paper money.

Talking about numbers, I just read in the Sacramento Bee that in 2008 the number of new vehicles sold in the State of California totaled 1,447,460 down from 1.881,030 in 2007. This means that 433,570 fewer vehicles were sold last year than the year before. In fact the sales of new vehicles in 2008 were the lowest since 1993. The California New Car Dealers Association is predicting some 15.1% fewer new car sales in 2009 with an expected figure of 1,229,000. With all the closures of new car dealerships in Marin County I would estimate that the sales of new vehicles in our county will plunge even further.

Superficially this is good news for the environment, fewer vehicles means fewer carbon emissions, excepting that we need new more efficient vehicles and need to get those fool size SUVs off the road. Also the county as well as the state depends heavily on sales taxes collected from new vehicle sales and the diminished source of government revenue is causing all sorts of ripple effects on the level of basic services we expect from our governments. The ripple is getting so pronounced we may all have to trade down to drinking ripple. Fine wines are also no longer selling in the volumes previously produced. People are trading down to less expensive wines, however on aggregate wine consumption in California is still increasing. Production volume of wines in California increased by 2.5% in 2008. Oregon had us Golden Staters way beat by increasing their wine production by 9.3%.

All these numbers are making my head spin just as if I had drunk a jug of ripple. We are trading down on wine and we are not trading down on the size of our vehicles. My solution to this is the “ultimate stimulus package” of a free Corolla with the purchase of ten cases of Corona. My friend Dave who is my co-host on blog talk radio each Wednesday, bought a brand-new Saab now that that this GM company is in bankruptcy in Sweden. Dave is a very bright MIT engineer and he is willing to risk that parts and service will be hard to get for the substantial discount he received in buying the new Saab. I just hope Saab does not stand for Send Another Able Body when the car breaks down and I have to help push it. It also seems that another of the Generals in the DOW Industrials has drunk too much ripple. Just this week General Electric’s market capitalization dropped to a low of 89 billion dollars and they cut their dividend by two thirds. GE had a market capitalization in excess of 500 billion dollars or almost a gazillion back in July 2000. I just remembered the Y2K ad that was “yes to KIA”, if only we had bought those small cars we would not have today’s headache.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Are goats really green?

Has the green machine lost his mind thanking old Billy for helping save the planet. I started thinking of goats a couple of weeks ago when I received this email at work that a company in Framingham Massachusetts has received FDA approval for a biological drug that was recovered from goat’s milk in genetically modified goats. The drug is a protein called Antithrombrin and is used to untangle blood clots. There are approximately one in five thousand patients in the USA that have a genetic disorder of not producing antithrombrin and are at high risk during surgeries or pregnancy. The company chose the route of using genetically modified goats rather than modifying ecoli or Chinese Hamster Ovary cells to express the protein. Ecoli and Chinese Hampster Ovary cells are commonly used to make biological drugs that Genentech, Amgen, J&J and other sell.

A herd of one hundred and fifty genetically modified goats in Massachusetts express the two hundred and twenty pounds of Antithrombrin protein that otherwise would otherwise have to be produced from every drop of blood that is donated in the USA each year. These are very special goats and I bet you they have special herders who make sure they do not escape from their farm where they are fed better food than your average goat. A female goat produces about eight pounds of milk a day and will do so for approximately three hundred day during lactation. Therefore a single goat will produce two thousand four hundred pounds of milk a year. The herd of one hundred and fifty goats will therefore produce three hundred and sixty thousand pounds of milk a year. The concentration of the Antithrombrin protein in the goat’s milk prior to purification is therefore 0.061 percent or about 0.6 grams per liter. Goats were chosen over cows, sheep and rabbits because of their productivity in producing milk. Goats also are far lower emitters of methane gas than cows.

I recently co-authored an article in Biopharm International that compared the carbon and water footprints of traditional stainless steel biological drug manufacturing facilities with single use plastic alternates. The single use plastic systems had significantly lower water usage and moderately lower carbon footprint. Now that the goat method is FDA approved I will have to research the data, but my hunch is that this method will be hard to beat as goats thrive in arid climates even though they have sweat glands. Goats are raised for their meat as well as their milk. Goat’s milk is naturally homogenized and the cream remains suspended in the milk and does not rise as does cow’s cream, hence we do not have goat cream but we can produce goat butter.The meat from young goats is called kid, while older animals yield mutton or chevon, not to be mixed up with Chevron.

Goat meat is low in cholesterol and is comparable to chicken. The digestive system of goats is able to breakdown just about any organic fodder but they do prefer the tips of trees and woody shrubs. Their favorite hay is alfalfa and therefore goats would vote for Gore over any other politician. As global warming starts to convert Texas into Sudan we may have to start eating more chevon and chevre. If Texas does become Sudan, its capital will be called car-tomb and the state name will change to Sedan.