Monthly Archives: April 2018

HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT

Ever since Al Gore sought out a new political stage and declared himself the champion of “global warming,” now more accurately defined as “climate change,” there has been an ongoing debate about setting national and international standards and goals for reducing emissions to alter the effects of changing weather, shrinking ice caps and unhealthy air.

In all this contentious war of words and data, there has been one outstanding party totally ignored—you and me, the individual.

Now we have a practical guide compiled (and excerpted) by N.Y. Times writer Livia Albeck-Ripka on how you individually can reduce your input to the global climate change problem.

Climate change can be an overwhelming challenge.  The science is complex and when it comes to measuring impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns.  While real solutions will require actions on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal contribution to the environment.

Let’s start with understanding our carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end of life of a product or service.  It includes carbon dioxide, the gas most commonly emitted by humans, as well as methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases which trap in the atmosphere causing global warming and climate change.  Usually the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your footprint by approximating:

  • How many miles you travel by car, bus, train and plane
  • The energy you use in your home
  • How much you spend shopping
  • The composition of your diet

No matter how you scored, this guide will provide some suggestions that will help you lessen your personal environmental impact.

On The Road and In The Sky

One of the most effective ways to begin thinking about how to reduce your carbon footprint is to reconsider how much and how often you travel.

Drive Less

In 2017, carbon dioxide emissions from transportation were more than emissions from electric generation even as generation has begun to shift away from the use of coal to more alternative sources and natural gas.

Going carless for a year could save about 2-1/2 tons of carbon dioxide according to a study by two universities—that’s a little more than a round trip transatlantic flight.  How can you stop using a car?  Try taking a train, a bus, walking or ride a bike.

To be realistic, you probably can’t give up your car completely.  So when you do, here are some tips to make your trips more climate-friendly:

  • Go easy on the gas and the brakes—driving efficiently can help reduce emissions. Drive like you have an egg under your foot, recommends the Oak Ridge National Laboratory which researches energy use.
  • Regularly service your car to keep it running more efficiently.
  • Check your tires, keeping tires pumped correctly can reduce emissions. Low tire pressure will hurt your fuel economy.
  • Air conditioning and intensive city driving can make emissions creep up. Cut down on these as often as possible.
  • Use cruise control on long drives—in most cases it will save gas.
  • Don’t weigh your car down with extra things to carry you don’t really need on your trip.
  • Carpool—anytime you can so that you’re splitting emissions among all the passengers in the car.

Buying a New Car

Shopping for a new car is a great opportunity to consider how you can reduce your carbon footprint.  When choosing between gasoline and electric, there are a number of factors to take into account, which will determine how “clean” your purchase is.  The following can help:

  • Weigh both production and use emissions.
  • Remember cars with lower emissions can often end up costing less to operate.

Fly Less

Taking one less long round-trip flight could shrink your personal carbon footprint significantly.

If you can’t avoid flying, one way of making up for emissions caused is to offset them by donating money to sustainable projects, such as supplying efficient stoves to rural homes, or projects which help farmers in India sell crop waste as a biomass.  You can check for suggestions from Atmosfair or Terrapair.

On Your Plate – Eat Less Meat

While food systems are complicated and research is still evolving on what the best environment diet is, experts agree that cutting down on meat—red meat in particular—is a better choice for the environment.  The production of red meat uses a lot of feed, water and land.  Cows also give off methane emissions, a harmful greenhouse gas.

Eating a vegan diet is likely to be best for the environment, according to experts.  A 2017 study told us red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant-based food.  According to some estimates, beef gives off more than six pounds of carbon dioxide per serving.  The amount created per serving by rice, beans, carrots or potatoes is less than half a pound.

Which diet to follow depends on exactly what you are eating and how much of it.  If you replace the meat with dairy, for example, your emissions could rise again.  Deep-net fishing can emit as much as beef.  Further deductions in meat, fish and dairy (similar to a Mediterranean diet) is a good option, according to the University of Oxford.  These diets can also have health benefits.

Eating low down on the food chain means filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, grains and beans.  Swapping carbon intensive meats like beef and lamb with chicken can make a difference.  Better still, swap a few meats per week for vegan or vegetarian.

In Part II next week we’ll finish up on the eating part of your carbon footprint and explore the cost of waste, as well as the components in your home.

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ARE WE FOLLOWING THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE?

The similarities are amazing and somewhat frightening.  To explore this question further, we take a look at the history in an excerpted essay by Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education.

“Both Rome and America were born in revolt against monarchy—Americans against the British and Romans against the Etruscans.  Wary of concentrated authority, both established republics with checks and balances, separation of powers and protection of certain rights for at least certain people.  Despite shortcomings, the establishment of the Roman Republic in the sixth century B.C. and the American Republic in the eighteenth century A.D. represented the greatest advances for individual liberty in the history of the world.

“The history of ancient Rome spans a thousand years—roughly 500 as a republic and 500 as an imperial autocracy, with the birth of Christ occurring during the transitional years in between.  The closest parallels between Roman and American civilizations are to be found in Rome’s first half-millennium as a republic.  We can derive the most instructive lessons and warnings from that period.  The tyranny of the empire came after the republic crumbled—the truly awful consequences of decay, which America can yet avoid.

“Roman society at the time of the Republic’s founding was basically agricultural, made up of small farmers and shepherds.  By the second century B.C., large-scale businesses made their appearance.  Italy became urbanized.  Immigration accelerated as people from many lands were attracted by the vibrant growth and opportunities the bustling Roman economy offered.  The growing prosperity was made possible by a general climate of free enterprise, limited government, and respect for private property.  Merchants and businessmen were admired and emulated.

“Rome’s remarkable achievements in sanitation, education, banking, architecture, and commerce are legendary.  The city even had a stock market.  With low taxes and tariffs, free trade and considerable private property, Rome became the center of the world’s wealth.  All this disappeared, however, by the fifth century A.D.; when the world was plunged into darkness and despair, slavery and poverty.

“Why did Rome decline and fall?  Rome collapsed because of a fundamental change in ideas on the part of the Roman people—ideas which relate primarily to personal responsibility and the source of personal income.  In the early days of greatness, each individual looked to himself—what he could acquire voluntarily in the marketplace—as the source of his livelihood.  Rome’s decline began when the people discovered another source of income:  the political process—the State.  In short, it was a character issue.

“When Romans abandoned self-reliance and began to vote themselves benefits, to use government to put their hands into other people’s pockets, to covet the productive and their wealth, they turned down a fateful, destructive path.

“The legalized plunder of the Roman welfare state was undoubtedly sanctioned by people who wishes to do good.  Someone coined the phrase, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’  Nothing but evil can come from a society bent upon coercion, the confiscation of property, and the degradation of the productive.

“In the waning years of the Roman republic, a rogue named Clodius ran for the office of the tribune.  He bribed the electorate with promises of free grain at taxpayer expense and won.  Thereafter, Romans in growing numbers embraced the notion that voting for a living could be more lucrative than working for one.

“Candidates for Roman office spent huge sums to win public favor, then plundered the population afterwards to make good on their promises to the rent-seekers who elected them.  As the republic gave way to dictatorship, a succession of emperors built their power on the huge handouts they controlled.  Nearly a third of the city of Rome itself received public relief payments by the time of the birth of Christ.

“It’s frightening to consider how easily a sturdy people, when they let their guard and character down, can be bought and paid for by the welfare state.  And once they sell themselves for that mess of pottage from politicians, it’s not easy to turn back.

“Emperor Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D., tried to reduce the free wheat program by briefly introducing a means test.  He  was inclined to abolish forever the public distribution of grain the people had come to rely upon and had ceased to till the fields.  He had not proceeded further because he was sure that, from a desire to please the people, it would be revived at one time or another.’

“In response to a severe money and credit crisis in 33 A.D., the central government extended credit at zero interest on a massive scale.  Government spending in the wake of the crisis soared.

“In 91 A.D., the government became deeply involved in agriculture.  Emperor Domitian, to reduce the production and raise the price of wine, ordered the destruction of half the provincial vineyards.

“Following the lead of Rome, many cities within the empire spent themselves deeply into debt.  Early in the Second Century, municipalities in financial difficulty received aid from Rome and lost a substantial measure of their political independence in the bargain.

“The central government also assumed the responsibility of providing the people with entertainment.  Elaborate circuses and gladiator duels were staged to keep the people happy.  One modern historian estimates that Rome poured the equivalent of $100 million per year into the games.

“Late in the Third Century, Emperor Aurelian declared government relief payments to be a hereditary right.  He provided recipients government-baked bread (instead of giving them wheat to bake their own bread) and added free salt, pork, and olive oil.

“Rome suffered from the bane of all welfare states, inflation.  The massive demands on the government to spend and subsidize created pressures for the multiplication of money.  Roman coinage was debased by one emperor after another to pay for expensive programs.  Once almost pure silver, the denarius, by the year 300, was little more than a piece of junk containing less than five percent silver.

“Prices skyrocketed and savings vanished.  Businessmen were vilified even as government continued its spendthrift ways.  Price controls further ravaged a battered and shrinking private economy.   By 476 A.D., when barbarians wiped the empire from the map, Rome had committed moral and economic suicide.

“Romans first lost their character.  Then, as a consequence, they lost their liberties and ultimately their civilization.”

We can hope we have the moral courage and strength to recognize we’re on the same path as the Romans and take the difficult steps needed to avoid the same fate.

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15 GREAT MUSEUMS NOT TO BE MISSED

As you know, we’ve had the opportunity to do a fair amount of traveling in the last twenty some odd years.  In these wanderings, we’ve discovered a few gems in mostly small museums which offer an outstanding overview of some history and culture of a specific area.

I’d like to share a few of these gems that are not the first thought in these destinations.  Certainly the Metropolitan Museum of NYC, the Louvre in Paris, the Victoria & Albert in London or the Prada in Madrid are outstanding and well worth the time to visit.  They’re all great, but you’re in for some enjoyable surprises if you’re willing to go off the beaten path a bit.

We can start right here in So. California, where the L.A. County Museum is terrific, but don’t miss out on:  The Norton Simon Museum on the west end of Pasadena or the Huntington Gardens on the other end.

Then there’s the Bowers in Santa Ana and a real sleeper, the Frederick Weisman House in Beverly Hills.  Here, one of America’s landed gentry has accumulated a trove of art and furnishings to create a wonderful museum.  You need an advance reservation, so call (310) 277-5321.

In Century City there is a special museum called The Annenberg Space for Photography.  They change exhibits about every three months so you can keep going back.  Never been disappointed!

In Washington, D.C., all the buildings are a huge museum unto themselves.  The Library of Congress, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, all of the Smithsonians are not to be missed.  Two special visits are the Portrait Gallery and the Spy Museum.

In NYC, the Art & Design Museum on Columbus Circle is special.  MOMA (the Museum Of Modern Art) is probably my all-time favorite.

London has a trove of historical sites and museums, but my favorites are the Wellington House on Hyde Park and the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square.

By the way, in back of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is the Royal Albert Hall.  If you get a chance to see a musical presentation there like the military guards or the philharmonic, don’t miss it.

The Wellington House is the former home of the Duke of Wellington, one of England’s more prominent military leaders.  The home features quite comfortable living quarters, specialized colorful dinnerwear and a robust armory.

The Wallace Collection is a rather large townhouse sumptuously filled with all the comforts of home for a family who lived at the turn of the century.

Paris, of course, has the Louvre, but a little out of the way is the Marmottan, another interestingly furnished home for the gentry.

The Weisman House in L.A., the Wellington and Wallace Collection in London, and the Marmottan in Paris are historic manor houses filled with a treasure trove of furnishings, artifacts and art from a past era.

The city of Victoria on Vancouver Island is a great place to visit by ferry or seaplane.  The Empress Hotel is a great museum but the star of this charming city is the State Museum of Victoria.

It’s well organized with creative displays and a truly delightful place to visit.  It’s within walking distance to the Empress Hotel, which is a glimpse of another era.

The Shanghai Museum fits into that same category.  There is a lot to see in the fabulous city, but the museum should definitely be on your list.

Yad Vashem in Israel is more than a museum.  It is the most dramatic, impactful memorial I have ever witnessed.  Located in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem tells the story of the holocaust better than anywhere else.

Certainly there are more gems you can discover in your own travels.

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FOUR APPROACHES TO STEMMING GUN VIOLENCE

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across the nation performed admirably on the “March For Our Lives” (MFOL) protests on March 24th.

Inspired by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, an outpouring of kids and adults transformed into a sea of people awash in homemade signs, blaring music and anti-gun chants.

The hue and cry and the shouting of the demonstrators were demanding something must be done.  It is important to remember, however, that what must be done represents a divided minority on exactly what it is they want done.

I am not sure there is much agreement or even meaningful discussion among the marchers and protestors about what is the ultimate goal and objective to curb the violence.

Chicago joined in the MFOL protests to highlight the national movement, as well as their own local problem.  In the last six plus years, nearly 20,000 have been shot in the windy city; 5,000 dead.  About twice as many Americans have been killed in Chicago in the last six years as died in 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

As a backdrop to a meaningful discussion of what must be done, let’s look at some basic facts, according to Gallop:

  • 55% say laws on gun sales should be more strict
  • A majority do not favor a ban on handguns
  • 43% of Americans have a gun in their house or on their property.

The NRA lobby, as effective as they have been, are not the only obstacle to effective gun control.  The demographics and opinions of so many gun owners here in this country are a big deterrent to achieving any curtailment of free choice in gun ownership.

It would appear there is not an overwhelming majority of Americans who favor much more to what I call the Tinkering Approach; raising age limits, increasing background checks or limiting sales to some extent, expanding gun laws in the somewhat naïve hope it will do anything meaningful to reduce what seems increasing violence.  Tinkering is worth doing, but we’ve been doing this for some time and I’m not at all sure it has or will do much significantly to curb the violence.

Most people believed there would be some serious gun reform after the 2012 Sandy Hook School incident in Norwalk, Connecticut.  There appeared to be major support, but nothing much happened.

A second approach would be to Amend/Repeal the entire Second Amendment, the so-called “Right to Bear Arms” article in the Constitution.  This is an approach recently proposed by retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens—a significant voice from a Republican appointed by President Gerald Ford.  Serving on the court, it should be noted, Stevens mostly voted with the liberal faction.

Based on the existing demographics, the approach would not appear possible; however, if some discussion on this action can be started and encouraged, over time it could have a chance to gain acceptance.

You could, obviously, not just throw the whole Second Amendment out.  That would leave a vacuum that would be hard to fill quickly.  You would need a waiting national law outlining what kind of guns could be available and supersede all state laws which would otherwise be a chaotic disaster.

For example, some form of law or change in the Second Amendment could limit the ownership to a rifle and/or a pistol that holds no more than five cartridges.

The penalties for violation would have to be very tough.

A third approach is to make all schools and public places safer, i.e. Safer Places approach.  More attention and more energy are needed in this area.

Yes, it costs money, but it can be effective at least as a short-term solution.  It will cut down on the effectiveness of the perpetrators.  It may not do much to solve the fundamental problem, but it will certainly discourage would-be assassins from their violent action.

The fourth approach is a Legal Challenge to the Second Amendment and the way it has been implemented over the years.  I’m surprised there has been no activity in this area to try and get the Supreme Court to interpret that amendment in modern times.

When the Constitution and the Second Amendment was drafted, the arms it offered citizens to bear were a single cartridge musket and a one-shot pistol.

Today, we’re awash in a plethora of mechanized guns with multiple cartridge capacity.  The framers of the Constitution could not have envisioned this development.

We have tried to offer four approaches to try to stem gun violence:

  • Tinkering
  • Amend/Repeal
  • Safer Places
  • Legal Challenge

Personally, I believe we have to take action on all four approaches.  The first and third approaches may have the best chances of short-term results, while the second and fourth offer better chances for long-term success.

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