We Need A Number

Go do a Google search on this phrase – “Target Atmospheric CO2” – and include the quotation marks, and you will find 2,400 links.  The links point to essays discussing a scientific paper by James Hansen and other scientists called “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”  The gist of the story:  The likely safe high range for CO2 in the atmosphere is 350ppm, and we’re beyond that at 385ppm.  Hansen is the NASA scientist that first alerted Congress to the global warming problem back in 1988.  Randomly read some of those essays reacting to the paper and you’ll save me the time paraphrasing it.  The paper itself is perfectly readable, if you’re patient, but it’s bumpy with scientific speak, so it might be easier to read the commentaries.

Many of the writers act like 350 is the magic number we need, and in some ways that’s true.  It gives humanity a very specific goal.  It tells everyone that if we want weather like the nice weather we grew up with, then everybody needs to go on a carbon diet and get the atmospheric CO2 below 350 again.  However, that does not convey the sacrifice needed to achieve the goal.

I think we need another number.  Scientists need to decide what is the fair share target number we all need to stay under personally to get the job done.  Recycling paper and buying compact florescent lights are not going to do the trick.  I think until we have a personal number to target, along with proper labeling on everything we buy, people won’t understand how much CO2 they need to cut out of their lives.

How much sacrifice do we need to make?  If the nations of the world had a crash program to switch to 100% solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear and other sources of clean energy, would that solve the problem?  Would that be one way to solve the problem without asking individuals to think about the details?  Or should governments just kill off some of the most polluting industries?  Do we need to give up the beef industry?  Or the paper industry?  Or the airline industry?  Or all of them plus more?  Or would it be better to ask the citizens themselves to take on their own share of global warming responsibility and let them make their own decisions on how to clean up their share of personal waste?

If we had a number to measure our personal use against, we could all decide the sacrifices we’d like to make.  Some people might be willing to dry their clothes on the line outside for a year to budget flying to New York City for a vacation.  Other people might buy high tech cars that put little CO2 in the atmosphere so they can enjoy living in a larger house.  Others might choose to walk to work so eating steaks wouldn’t break their personal greenhouse gas consumption budget.

Many people have suggested having a carbon tax to help fund a Manhattan style project to convert to clean energy power plants.  This would discourage waste and finance change.  Having a tax would be one way to quantify for the public their duty to humanity.  It could also simplify the decisions people make.  If gasoline with a carbon tax was $12 a gallon, then you’d think long and hard about wasting it.  If the price of electricity from coal went to 4x with a carbon tax, it would give utility companies income to build new plants and customers incentives to make their houses energy efficient.

This would be the easy route.  What if in the next ten years we screwed around and didn’t do anything and it became frighteningly obvious we need to do something drastic?   Would we make bigger sacrifices then?  What if we had to outlaw the gasoline powered car?  Or outlaw airplanes?  Or ration electricity?

There are thousands and thousands of things we can do now by freely making the choices ourselves before the governments of the world have to get heavy.  If we knew what our carbon allotment was, it would be easier to make those choices.

Take for instance paper.  I have no idea how much paper contributes to the problem of global warming, but I have seen one number that says that junk mail adds 114 billion pounds of CO2 annually.  My reaction is to give up paper completely.  I’m phasing out my magazine and newspaper subscriptions, I’m doing my best to never print computer documents, I’m working to reduce junk mail, and I’m finding ways to shop for products with less packaging.

If everyone thought this way, paper magazines would disappear from society and everyone would read electronic periodicals.  Is this good or bad?  That’s a lot of jobs lost.  Potentially, it could mean a lot of businesses would go under.  I’d hate to see that, but on the other hand, paper really isn’t needed in our computer networked society.  My local newspaper just started offering a weekly electronic edition that looks just like the print edition, but costs less than the Sunday only paper subscription.  I’m moving to a paperless lifestyle, but even though it’s logical to me, is it what everyone else should be doing too?

I draw the line at magazines and newspapers, but feel that books are worth their environmental costs because we preserve them and consider newspapers and mags disposable.  What if that’s wrong.  What if there’s a way to have environmental safe magazines?  Unless scientists tell us the values associated with all our consumption we won’t know how to make enlightened decisions.  If a National Geographic subscription form came with a number – 24 – for 24 pounds of CO2 added to the atmosphere per 1 year subscription then that would be a big step in understanding the problem.

However, unless I know my allotment number, say 1,000 pounds per year, I wouldn’t be able to practically use the 24 figure I got from National Geographic.  So Mr. Hansen, it you and your science buddies would be so kind, give us another number.  350 is cool for the world to know, but we all need another number, a number that would tell us how to live by so all 7 billion people riding on spaceship Earth pulls that 385ppm figure down to 350ppm.  That number is the maximum amount in pounds of greenhouse gases we can each safely add to the atmosphere in a year.

President Elect Obama, you could help with this too.  Instead of offering another general economic incentive package, offer us tax breaks on buying specific clean energy products and services.  That would be another way to quantify a solution.  Tax what’s bad for the environment, and subsidized what’s good.  Get the U.S. to do more than it’s fair share to get the world below that 350ppm number.  We owe the rest of the world.

JWH 11-9-8

Going Paperless 6 – Zinio

I started this series about Going Paperless back in February and I’m slowly progressing towards my goal.  My initial plan was to give up paper editions of newspapers and magazines, and in theory replace them with editions for the Kindle or on audio for my iPod, but Zinio electronic publishing was also recommended to me, and that turned out to be third path to going without paper.  I haven’t renewed any of my paper magazines yet, and I’m still reading paper editions because many subs haven’t expired.  As they expire I’ve got to find a paperless solution, thus giving me the incentive to subscribe to Zinio editions.

Even though I haven’t yet subscribed to a magazine through Zinio, I have gotten a number of free subs and issues.  Today I discovered a major change in how Zinio delivers magazines that makes a vast improvement over their old solution.  The previous method centered around a software reader installed on your machine, and magazines were saved on your hard drive, in the “library” as the program calls it.  The new method is entirely web based, and what’s amazing, the online reader is better than the fat client!  Web software programs are making quantum leaps in quality these days – it’s just mind blowing compared to just two years ago.

One thing I hated about the old reader was how it dealt with photographs.  Photographs didn’t handle magnification like text.  Text got bigger and stayed sharp, but magnified photos just got pixilated and jaggy.  If you want to see a photo in a real magazine better you hold it up closer to your face and you can see more details.  Now, with the online version, you can magnify the photo almost like you have Photoshop.  Sure images will eventually deteriorate, but it’s good for three levels of blow-up.  This is great for reading magazines like Popular Photography.

And there’s more!  The online version is quicker and easier to scoot around within a page.  Onscreen reading is greatly improved.  The online program tries to be intuitive and guess what you want, so it has fewer controls.  It takes a little getting used to, but I attuned to it fast.  In full screen one click magnifies to 200%, another full click de-magnifies back to 100%.  At 200% a hold-down click allows you to grab the page and slide it around.  There’s a -/+ magnifier icon for 100% 200% 400% and 800% magnifications, so only mouse clicking is needed for quick reading and page turning, saving you trips to the top menu.  On my 22″ LCD monitor I can read the magazine in full two-page view with no scrolling, but it’s easy and quick to magnified and read in large print.

Zinio isn’t perfect yet.  You have to read at the computer, but net reading has gotten me used to that.  What I’ve always wanted is a way to build a personal periodicals library that also had a search feature.  Now this would work in two ways.  I want full-text word search on all the magazines I own in my digital library.  At the next level I’d want a full-text word search for all magazines published and be offered a chance to buy a magazine with an article I needed.

I like having an online library.  Not only do I not have to save my paper copies, but I don’t even have to clutter up my computer with digital copies.  Boy, I wish I had my years of back issues of Sky & Telescope and Astronomy Magazine stored away in the Zinio library – I’d gain enough shelf-space for a hundred books.

Since I started my going paperless quest I’ve learned some limitations about being perfectly paperless.  Magazines like F&SF and other short story periodicals are something I’m going to read in a chair, and they are fine to get on the Kindle.  I didn’t like Time on the Kindle.  Magazines that I want to save like National Geographic or Sky & Telescope might justify their tree killing ways if I do keep them for years.  I feel books are worth their ecological paper costs if we keep them for decades or centuries, and the same would be true for magazines we want to preserve.  And since I want to sell a story to F&SF someday, I want to subscribe to the paper copy, just in case I ever get a story printed.  I can read most of my favorite magazines online with no trouble.  Something like Popular Science which has very busy layout, would be easier to read as a Zinio edition.

Zinio still doesn’t offer all the magazines I subscribe to, nor is the pricing on most journals what I think electronic editions should cost.  If the publisher can skip printing, postage and distribution costs, then the electronic subscription should be significantly cheaper than buying paper, and in most cases it’s not.  12 issues of Popular Mechanics for $7.99 is A-OK.  12 issues of PC World for $19.97 means I read the free web version.  And I’m not even offered magazines like Scientific American, Discover, Seed, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and most of my regular reading.

Strangely enough, I can find many of my favorite magazines online offering their content for free – this makes me wonder if Zinio might be undersold by free web content.  For companies like Zinio to succeed will require a new way of thinking about how magazines are priced. 

I figure the NetFlix or Rhapsody Music model of pricing would be a better system.  I pay $10 a month to each of those services and have unlimited access to their entire libraries.  Rhapsody Music provides subscription music to nearly everything that’s for sale on CD for one monthly fee and I can listen all day long.  NetFlix will send me one movie at a time from their vast library or let me watch a growing list of films on my computer any time for their monthly fee.  Zinio, and other companies should offer a similar service for online magazines.

Some of my magazines have expired like The New Yorker, PC Magazine, PC World and Maximum PC, Time and Linux Journal.  I don’t know if I should say this, but free web content has filled the need completely over these paper editions.  I’m tempted to get The New Yorker on Audible.com, but I don’t miss the others.

My subscription is about to end for Entertainment Weekly, a zine my wife and I both read and enjoy.  Susie is not on the path to paperless living, and I don’t want to renew.  Much of EW’s content is online, but reading their website is like running a gauntlet of ads, and EW paginates the hell out of their stories forcing you to see page after pages of the same crappy ads.  And their RSS feeds aren’t much help either.  The paper copy is the easiest of their distribution methods to read.  If it was available for a reasonable price, Entertainment Weekly would be perfect to get on Zinio.  Because it’s not on Zinio and I want to stick to my paperless philosophy, it means I have to give up reading EW.


Too Many Paper Towels

I’ve become a semi-bachelor this year when my wife had to take a job out of town.  Because of this new status I have to do my own shopping, and I’ve always hated shopping.  When we first got married over thirty years ago, I volunteered to do the laundry if Susie would do all the shopping.  Learning to shop properly is hard to do, as I’ve discovered late in life.  And with the current climate of shopping to save money while also being green, I feel like I need to buy subscription to Money Magazine, Consumer Reports and The Economist to effectively make a foray to the grocery story.

Susie always bought large bundles of paper towels that we had to squirrel away in all our closets that would take years to use.  Well, the last batch ran out this past week, and since we have a couple of cats that love to groom and puke, paper towels are a necessity.  Of course this could be a green issue.  I could wipe up my feline family member’s hairball regurgitation with a rag that I could wash out, but that’s time consuming and messy, so I take the easy paper route of buying towels.

When I got to the store and the isle with the paper towels I made a troubling discovering – there are dozens of choices.  I didn’t remember which brand Susie bought.  I stood staring at the selection for several minutes not knowing what to do.  I considered asking one of the many women passing by but worried they might have considered my genuine ignorance as feigned male stupidity for a pick up line.  There were so many brands, so many styles, so many patterns, so many bundle choices, and I figured I’d needed a laptop and a spreadsheet to calculate which was the cheapest if I figured for length of roll, number of sheets, number of plies, and number of rolls in a bundle.

And even more confusing was trying to figure out quality.  Some looked pretty cheap and were cheap, and others looked cheap and were not.  And none of them claimed to be good for barf removal from rugs.  I stood there totally befuddled, not knowing what to do when I saw the name “Brawny.”  Hey, I remembered that from the TV, and it sounded manly, and I’m a man, so I figured that was a sign from God.  I bought one roll, thinking I’d give ole Brawny the vomit patrol test.  When my wife got home this weekend, all she said was, “I like the kind that have the half-sheet tears.”  Well, they do clean up after Nick and Nora just fine.

The question now is did I get a good buy?  I have no idea.  I don’t know how much I paid for that Brawny roll.  In my panic to select I didn’t look.   Just now, I jumped on Google and started studying the problem.  First off, I found that there are paper towels promoted as being green because they are made from recycled paper and less chemical processing.  And there’s toilet tissue also made from recycled paper.  This sounds like a no-brainer, so the next time I buy I’m going to look for recycled paper products, but I don’t remember seeing that at my store.  GreenDealsDaily also recommended 100% biodegradable sponges, but that sounded nasty when I imagined how all those cat crunchies expanded with digestive juices would clog up its pores.

There’s lots of confusing information on Google, but after looking at several links, I found Paper Towels and Napkins vs. Cloth.  Melissa Breyer rates various types of cleanup solutions by their friendliness to the Earth.  I’m sold on recycled paper products, but she also makes a good case for cloth napkins and towels

If I go with cloth I’ll have to wash them, but I won’t have to shop for paper towels anymore – a relief that saves money.  I wonder if I can live without them?  Since I hate shopping, this decides the issue for me, and it gets me out of the math of figuring out which paper towels are the best buy.  However, if I spot some of those green recycled paper towels I might buy them to keep for fast cleanups like when I hear the lovely call of a retching cat when I’m trying to run out the door to work.


Rethinking the Kindle

Tonight I was reading on my Kindle and I decided I’m not completely happy with it.  I love reading on the Kindle, that is, seeing the large print, reading screen by screen with a press of a button, and having a narrow line width to scan with my eyes.  What I don’t like about the Kindle is the Home directory.  I also discovered I no longer like reading Time magazine on the Kindle, although this might not be completely the fault of the Kindle.

For my personal use and taste, I’ve decided I like the Kindle best for reading a single book at a time.  The Kindle is great for reading on a book you’re hooked on and you’re ready to sit and do some serious reading.  I can read screen after screen with little eyestrain.  The Kindle is a comfortable magnifying glass.  Whenever I used to try to reading normal books and hold a magnifier it was never comfortable.  For me the Kindle has become a tool to make reading easier on the eyes.

I don’t like managing books on the Kindle.  The computer makes for a much better librarian.  I wished the Home page only had unread books on it, and I could hide all my read books in another directory.  Really all I want is to turn on my Kindle and start reading where I left off, so I’m not even sure I wouldn’t be happy leaving my library of books on my computer or on Amazon.

The whole thing about carrying 2,000 books around in one little device isn’t as interesting in practice as it was in theory.  In other words, I like the Kindle as a book replacement, but not as a library replacement.  The Kindle’s software and hardware interfaces are clunky when it involves more than reading.  PREV PAGE and NEXT PAGE are perfect concepts for reading – all those other buttons, not so much.

I could handle a much simpler Kindle, but I don’t know if my tastes would make other Kindle users happy.  Amazon should sell two kinds of Kindles – a streamline reader with few buttons, no broadband connection, and have it managed from a computer, for about $100, and then the more expensive Kindle with all the bells and whistles for $399.  I would be happy with three buttons: an On/Off switch, and a Next and Previous page buttons, along with a USB port.  Yeah, and it would need some kind of home button with a trackpad or other cursor selector device – but ultimately I’d prefer a touch screen.  I wondering if something like the iPod player control would work with ebook navigation. 

I’d like this simple Kindle to be super hardened so I wouldn’t be afraid of taking it places, include the bathtub or beach.

My 4gb iPod Nano can hold many unabridged audio books but if I put more than a few on it then it becomes a pain to find things.  My iPod and Kindle just need room for 1-3 books – at least that’s how I feel.  I’m trying to simplify my life.  My iPod Nano is the perfect tool for listening to audio books.  The Kindle is still too swiss-army knifey to make me happy.

I love that the Kindle is Green and I can go paperless, but I’ve decided that general magazines aren’t suited for it.  My fiction magazines are okay, but modern magazines have too much content, with lots of little sidebars and snippets of facts mixed in with the articles.  That busy layout doesn’t translate well to a pure reading layout of the Kindle.


Going Paperless 5

Over at Discover Magazine they have an article “How Big Is Discover’s Carbon Footprint?” that is a perfect justification for going paperless.  At the end of the essay they campaign for the reader to recycle her issue of Discover Magazine, but I can’t help but wonder why they aren’t promoting electronic editions of their magazine.  Sure, if you read the paper copy, do recycle it, but also consider switching to a paperless solution.  Please read the article and try and imagine the impact that thousands upon thousands of magazines produced around the world has on the Earth.

Now that we have so many alternatives to paper I can’t help and wonder if the print publishing industry isn’t unethical.  The linked article above does give an excellent picture of what goes into producing a magazine.  I am currently a subscriber, but I plan on not renewing my subscription.  Don’t get me wrong, Discover is a fantastic science magazine.  I don’t want it to go out of business – in fact, I wished it was many magnitudes more successful because it provides valuable knowledge about our changing world.

Like I have pointed out, there are many ways to read a magazine other than by holding a paper copy in your hands.  I discovered and read this article through an RSS feed I have for the magazine.  I hope the publishers make plenty of money off the web edition because it easy and free to read.  If there was a Zinio or Kindle edition I’d consider them too, or even an audio edition from Audible.com. 

Zinio is an excellent way to read a magazine on your computer and have it look exactly like the paper copy.  On my twenty-two inch Samsung 2253bw LCD monitor, the standard magazine requires no horizontal or vertical scrolling to view a two page spread.  If I hold a paper magazine up to my monitor, it fits within the screen area, so the Zinio reader is perfect for the modern LCD screen.

What I would really like from Discover Magazine, or any other magazine for that matter, is a service rather than paper.  Publishers should offer two methods of delivery:  the free web based system paid for through advertising and a pay-for subscription service with extras.  If I paid extra I’d want easy to read electronic editions, full access to all the back issues, freedom from online ads but get to see the original print ads, the right to email full-text articles to friends, and other imaginative marketing bells and whistles.

I have to say though, the free RSS feed is a pretty groovy way to read Discover Magazine – I just need to figure out a way to put a LCD next to the porcelain seat in the smallest room of the house and I’d really wouldn’t ever need a paper copy.


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