Better World Club

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What The Frack?!?!?

The Oil and Gas Industries are Pumping Millions of Gallons of Dangerous Chemicals Into the Ground, and Nobody's Regulating Them

Gosh, the EPA Must Be Too Busy Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Cars... No, Wait, They're Not Doing That Either

Well, Maybe They're All Too Busy Lining Up Jobs in the Oil, Chemical, and Mining Industries Before January 2009

Fracturing ("fracking") fluids are toxic chemical cocktails that companies drilling for oil or natural gas use to break up rock below ground. The ingredients that make up these fracking fluids are a closely held and unregulated secret, and can include almost any set of chemicals.

The EPA okayed the use of these fluids in 2004, deeming them safe for groundwater and the environment. In 2005, Congress exempted fracking fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act, due to the fact that they are usually pumped into the ground far below water tables.

Pumping millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground? Great idea! What could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty. Recently, an employee at an energy-services company in Colorado got caught in a fracking fluid spill (that was never officially reported). The worker experienced headaches and nausea and was taken to the emergency room. The chemical stench given off by the sick man was so great that the ER was locked down and hospital staff were ordered to wear protective masks and gowns. The nurse who attended the sick man got sick herself several days later and was admitted into the intensive care unit with a swollen liver, erratic blood counts, and lungs filling with fluid.

This incident was caused by a mere 130-gallon spill. Millions of gallons of fracking fluid are being pumped into the ground. With all of the new drilling permits being issued by our fossil fuel-loving president (in the Rocky Mountain region alone, 33,000 new wells have been approved since 2001), it's only a matter of time before a major spill occurs.

Also, what about the long-term effects of pumping unregulated toxic chemicals into the ground? Not to be a baby about this, but our food and drinking water come from the ground, too. You think maybe we should be paying more attention to what we're pumping down there?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Prius and Prejudice II: The Case Against the Case Against the Electric Car (and the Case for It, Too!)

Last month, Sunil Somalwar, a physics professor at Rutgers University, was kind enough to submit an article to Driving Change entitled "Prius and Prejudice: A Case Against the Electric Car". The piece generated a lot of responses, both pro and con.

This month, we're publishing these responses from our readers and asking others to post their own opinions to the comments section at the end of this article (this is a new feature!).

In case you didn't read it last month, or need a quick refresher, you can click here to read Mr. Somalwar's original article.

Here are our reader responses (in no particular order):

"Thanks so much for bringing up the facts about coal, and making us see that electricity is presently mostly made from coal. These are very important things to recognize in the discussion of alternative vehicles.

However, there are other ways to get electricity than fossil fuel use. Solar power does exist, solar panels are available, and for sale, and last a remarkably long time. If you set yourself up with solar panels for electricity, you'll never have to pay a utility bill again, either! It's not yet as easy to set up as a lot of things, maybe, but I already have some solar powered calculators and flashlights that just sit in my windowsills, and they were very easy to get. That looks closer to a permanent solution to me. What do other people think?"

- Becky F.

"I understand and respect Dr. Somalwar's concerns. I also agree that it is essential that we reduce the amount of pollution produced by our electricity generation systems. However, I disagree with his analysis. Dr. Somalwar makes a critical mistake by only considering the electricity produced by coal fired power plants in his analysis. According to the report by Edison Electric Institute, 48.6% of the electricity in the US came from coal in 2007. Thus, 51.4% of our electricity came from sources that produce substantial less CO2 than coal. Therefore, the amount of CO2 emitted per mile by an electric car on average in the US will be LESS than that produced by a gas powered car.

Furthermore, I recently attended the Plug-In 2008 Conference in San Jose, CA during which this very issue was discussed. Studies have shown that the CO2 emissions from electric cars charged from coal plants are less than those from gas powered cars and other studies have shown the opposite, as Dr. Somalwar suggests. After some discussion at the conference, it became clear that the different studies make different assumptions about the amount of CO2 released by coal fired power plants because at the end of the day, the utilities really don't know exactly how much CO2 is produced by these plants. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the utilities are under intense pressure to make the grid cleaner and greener. Thus, as the grid gets cleaner, which will happen in parallel anyway, the transportation system will get cleaner as well if it is fueled by the grid.

Finally, Dr. Somalwar made no mention of the fact that there simply is not enough oil available to sustain the world's automobile transportation at the current rate of consumption. If we continue to rely on oil, we will be forced to destroy the earth and our environment in search of more oil. In addition, the intense competition for this limited resource would likely lead to the next world war, one in which the US would likely be an aggressor because we use way more oil than we can produce. If we want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, mitigate global warming, and avoid raping our planet, we need to stop using oil to fuel our cars! People like Dr. Somalwar need to stop wasting their time spreading oversimplified, incomplete reports and start thinking about useful solutions!!"

- Mark A.

"Professor Somalwar's findings that plug-in electric cars are likely to increase emissions (Driving Change, July 2008) mirror that of my own, much smaller, and more personal investigation.

I had been considering a plug-in electric scooter primarily for use on my 20 mile round trip commute. I contacted my town's municipal electric power company to learn the mix of energy sources we use, which includes a surprisingly high percent from hydro, and estimated the kilowatts that would be need to recharge the scooter following a typical trip. I discovered that my existing vehicle (1997 VW Passat, averaging 45 mpg on an annualized average of 90% biodiesel, 10% petroleum diesel), has slightly lower atmospheric fossil CO2 contributions than the equivalent electricity the scooter I had considered would need. The figures I used to calculate were from the Argonne Laboratories GREET model.

But not to worry, I'm now bicycle commuting most days, and my wife's using the VW instead of her 23 mpg gasoline van."

- Jonathan B.

"Mr. Somalwar's article fails to recognize that after 11:00 PM there is a substantial amount of energy available on the grid that goes unused and unstored. Some components of our electricity generating systems do not or cannot get shut down at night when the usage declines dramatically. PG&E claims that there is enough unused electricity to charge 4 million cars every night in California alone. Although we still pay for electricity no matter when we use it, we make sure to plug our EV conversion in after 11:00 PM. We now drive our gas car less than once a week, and the energy we use to charge our electric is energy that would otherwise be wasted. Interested readers can get more information about EVs - and meet people who are generous with conversion tips by hooking up with their local chapter of the Electric Auto Association."

- Saundra H.

"As a member of Sierra Club's Climate and Energy Committee, I invite you to read my summary of more than 50 studies comparing the well-to-wheels emissions of gasoline vehicles vs. plug-in vehicles:

Your article about plug-in vehicles in A Better World Club's newsletter makes some important points about the crucial need to stop using coal (and other fossil fuels) for power and the need for more mass transit. You expressed misunderstandings, however, about the interface between plug-in vehicles and renewable power, and you seem to believe the fallacy that sequentially cleaning up the power grid and the vehicle fleet is an adequate response to global warming.

You're not alone. I find that these are common misconceptions especially among eastern U.S. residents who have not had first-hand experience with plug-in vehicles and home solar photovoltaic systems.

You're right that if the grid moves to 100% coal, driving on electricity would be a disaster. But if we move to 100% coal, it almost doesn't matter what we drive -- the planet will be toast. We agree that we must stop new coal plants and close existing ones. On today's 52%-coal U.S. grid, it already is cleaner to drive on electricity than on gasoline, and as we clean up the grid, plug-in vehicles get even cleaner. Your fear is that power companies will use plug-in vehicles as excuses to get more coal and nuclear plants approved. Of course they will try! Just as the oil companies will use the dwindling supply of gasoline to get offshore drilling approvals, etc.

That doesn't mean they will succeed. We need to clean up both the power grid and the vehicle fleet if we're to have any hope of meeting 2050 goals for reducing greenhouse gases. We can't do just one. It has to be both, and soon. One of my favorite studies in my summary (#3) points out that the decisions we make in the next decade will determine what kind of power our plug-in vehicles are driving on 30 years from now , because of the pace of the power industry -- so we have to stop coal permits now. It is equally true that the decisions we make about vehicle requirements in the next 10 years will determine what kind of power we're driving on 30 years from now, because of the slow pace of change in the auto industry -- so we have to start the switch to electric drive now. One third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions comes from gasoline-powered vehicles.

A few key points in response to your article:

- The electricity from solar panels does not go directly into plug-in vehicles, but goes to the grid to reduce the need for dirtier power. Plug-in vehicle drivers predominantly charge at night, while they're sleeping. That not only improves the efficiency of existing power plants, it opens the door to greater use of power from wind, which blows mainly at night in many areas of the country. And with existing vehicle-to-grid technology, plug-in vehicles can even serve as storage for intermittent renewable power, which would double or triple our access to wind power, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy. I invite you to see more about this in some of the slides posted on my website's The Works page.

- Plug-in vehicles will hardly make a dent in the price of gasoline, much less ''decrease price pressure on gasoline, leading in turn to less conservation and increased consumption,'' as you fear. The dwindling supply of petroleum and huge demand from multiple sectors of society will keep prices high, and it will take many years before a significant number of plug-in vehicles will be on the market to provide some relief to consumers by driving on cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity.

- Rather than reject the political backers of plug-in vehicles who haven't yet seen the light on global warming, I hope you will see this as an opportunity to make allies in society's move toward clean electrification of the energy and automotive industries. We must find common ground across political divides if we're to have any chance of dealing with global warming at the pace that's needed.

Our energy and transportation industries are converging around electrification. The sooner we get people thinking in those terms, the better are our chances of cleaning up both simultaneously. The Tackling Climate Change report released by Sierra Club and American Solar Energy Society last year gives us the data we need to convince people that we can do this without polluting sources of energy, and that we don't need to rely on fossil fuels or nuclear power. The link to the report from the Sierra Club page has an error, but you can find the report on this ASES page.

Let's use data and a positive call to action, not fearful speculation, to move us in the right direction."

- Sherry B.

"One thing completely not addressed in the article is the issue of local air pollution. In California, it's imperative that emissions be limited in certain areas where air pollution tends to collect, like the Central Valley and the Los Angeles basin. Where the pollutants are emitted does matter, and electric cars help with that. It's also, in theory, much easier to control emissions at one source-point than several million. Certainly, for now, the cost/benefit of electric cars is debatable, but eventually, we'll need to have the technology and infrastructure in place to produce electric cars. A few people driving electric cars is not going to make a significant dent in the levels of carbon, and it's important that they are developed for the future."

- Liz S.

"Regarding Sunil's electric car article, I agree that plug-in electrics are a step in the wrong direction because most of our electricity comes from coal. They may not have a tailpipe, but they are not "zero emissions". I consider this a feel-good technology that leads people to believe that they are helping the environment when they really are not. If we adopt feel-good "solutions", people will not make the lifestyle and attitude changes necessary to address our environmental crisis."

- Hal S.

"Sunil Somalwar may be a professor of Physics, but his analysis of electric vehicles is very flawed. No matter what energy source is used, electric motors are and will always be more efficient (95%) than internal combustion engines (15% or 20%). Therefore, electric vehicles will always be a more efficient form of transportation.

The next question is, what source of energy will be used? Coal and oil are bad choices due to global warming. MIT published a study saying that Geothermal is the way to go for constant energy production 24/7 with no Global Warming. I didn't want to wait, so I installed Solar Panels on the roof of my house. I produce electricity during the day and pump it back into the grid when the utility needs it to run other peoples air conditioners. At night, when the utilities have excess capacity, I charge my electric vehicle.

This is a win-win-win situation. The utilities win because they do not need to build new peak production plants to power peoples air conditioners during the day. People win by getting the power they need to keep cool without creating more pollution. And I win by selling my power during the day for 3 times what I pay for power at night to charge my electric vehicle.

Everybody wins, except Sunil. Follow Sunil, and everybody will lose. Please tell the automakers you will not buy a new car until it has a plug on it."

- Stephen W.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Energy Crisis Raises Questions: Do Conservatives Believe In America?

When Everyone Wants to Be Prudent, Which Policy Is?

Should We "Drain America First"?

One of the many slanders exchanged by liberals and conservatives is that conservatives believe in America and liberals don't.

Well, liberals believe that our technological ability is so great that we could soon have alternative energy technology available. If so, why waste money and generate environmental damage on an outdated technology like fossil fuels?

Conservatives have so little faith in American know-how that they don't think we can develop alternative technologies in the near term.

OK, we don't really mean this. This is the overstated way of taking a sliver of truth and using it to slice up the other side.

In fact, on various issues, each side gets accused unfairly. Often, the opposing side will parry the attack by saying that they are just being...prudent.

This enables conservatives to use the same rationale to advocate drilling that liberals use on global warming: the future is unknowable. Conservatives believe the downside is greater if we put all of our eggs in the new technology basket just as liberals believe the downside is greater if we ignore oil and coal's devastating potential for global warming.

However, there is another argument that falls under "prudence" that should enter the oil vs. new technology debate: Should we drain America first?

Is this an argument against ever drilling anywhere again? No. But remember, each barrel of American oil that we use today is one that we won't have available tomorrow. Few believe that the U.S. has close to the deepest untapped reserves. Some research concludes that the U.S. has as little as 3% of world oil reserves. So, if we do tap them and no new technology comes along, then one day, maybe in twenty years, maybe in thirty or forty, but one day, we are going to find ourselves in much deeper trouble than we are today.

So, let's put as much effort as we can into developing alternative energy sources. And let's take careful steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But if our well-being depends upon using up American oil reserves, just keep in mind that as our oil runs out, we will be dependent once again. Just more dependent than ever.

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Pelosi Wants to "Save The Earth"

Hmm...How About Wanting to "Save Our Economy and Defend Our Country and the Environment"?

We're all for Nancy Pelosi being attracted to the title of "Environmentalist-in-Chief" as reflected by her comment that she wants to "save the earth". But she must do a much better job of educating the American people that her desire to get off fossil fuels reflects concerns about the economy and national security as well as the environment.

The Speaker could start by teaching the American people that environmental damage is an example of marketplace failure. The market does not require business to internalize the cost to the environment. Just the opposite, it encourages them to externalize these costs and impose them on others--whether it is global warming (which is just another form of pollution), oil spills, impact on health... whatever.

Product prices should reflect all of their costs. Otherwise, businesses are receiving a form of subsidy, hardly the only hidden oil subsidy given the amount of military spending to protect its delivery.

But these subsidies hide the real cost of fossil fuels--as well as impede the development of new technologies. Gasoline, like other products, should be priced so that the environmental and other costs are internalized. Of course, gasoline prices would be higher than people desire--and other policies should then be adjusted to help people cope. But Americans need to be wedded to economic rationality, which includes full internalization of costs.

This argument also should be built on the fact that there is no "marketplace", at least as we think of it, in oil to begin with, as the supply is controlled by a cartel.

The Dems have also been pointing to the disconnect between the oil companies holding "unproductive" leases yet wanting more. But the case has not been well made. How can there be predictions of over 100 billion barrels of untapped oil reserves on US property, when so many leases are unproductive? This seems to mean either that the oil companies are holding back on exploiting productive leases or that the reserves aren't nearly as great as the oil industry claims. Which is it? This loop needs to be closed.

Finally, if U.S. oil is so valuable and if we hold only a fraction of the world's reserves, should we be running to use all of it? Should we be draining America first?

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La Anita Rainforest Ranch

BWC Members Receive a 10% Discount!

Nestled in a small valley between the Mirravalles, Rincon de la Vieja, and the Santa Maria Volcanoes, La Anita Rainforest Ranch is surrounded by an incredible explosion of biodiversity.

In the heart of this remarkable rainforest, the ranch grows and harvests macadamia nuts, cacao (chocolate), heart of palm, taro, cardamom, organic tropical fruits and vegetables, medicinal herbs, and tropical flowers.

Guests of La Anita have the opportunity to tour the ranch and indulge in gourmet cuisine prepared with ingredients picked fresh from the ranch's gardens. Your hosts will guide you through rainforest trails, teach you about the flower and macadamia orchards, and show you how to make La Anita's extraordinary chocolates.

Learn more by checking out the La Anita Rainforest Ranch website. Better World Club members can save 10% by using the code LARR-BWC1000.

La Anita also offers attractive discounts during Costa Rica's "green season" - May through November - for guests staying three nights or longer (15% for BWC members using the code LARR-BWC1001).

This offer is valid on individual or group reservations. Cannot be used in combination with other discounts or on retreat packages. Blackout dates: Semana Santa (Easter Week) and December 24-January 1.

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Proper Auto Care and More

BWC Members Receive a 10% Discount!

Classic Motoring accessories, Inc specializes in bringing you the finest in car-care products, tools and accessories.

The majority of its products are VOC compliant in all 50 states.

The company prides itself on educating vehicle owners on the best products and the proper application of products for their vehicles.

Better World Club members receive a 10% discount off any purchase at any of Classic Motoring Accessories' sites.

Please visit,,, or and enter the coupon code BWC10 at checkout.

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Best Bookstore in U.S Joins Best Auto Club in U.S. to Discount Books to Members

Save 7.5% Shopping Online for Books at!

Better World Club has teamed up with the famous Powell's Books to offer its vast inventory of over 1,000,000 volumes at a discount to our members and visitors nationwide. Beside the typical mystery and travel books you'll find at any website, offers 120 different subject areas, including Academic, Scientific, and Home+Garden.

Better World Club members receive a 7.5% discount. Log on to Better World Club's member login page to look for books and take advantage of the discount.

Not a member of Better World Club? You can still search and purchase books from Powells (without the discount) at our website.

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Better World Club Wins Co-op America's 2008 People's Choice Award!

Well, the Winner isn't Actually Decided Until this Fall, but We Will Win if all of our Intelligent and Good-Looking Members Vote for Us!

Everyone who Votes for BWC will Receive a Complimentary Tesla Roadster!*

Our good friends at Co-op America have started the nomination process for the 2008 People's Choice Award. Individuals (like you - hint, hint) can vote for their favorite green business. Thus, for example, one could nominate the company that makes their favorite organic oatmeal (boring!), or one could nominate the green company that saves them when they're stuck on the side of the road (great idea!).

The ten companies that receive the most nominations will take part in a run-off election. The final winner will then be announced at one of Co-op America's Green Festivals this Fall.

We at BWC haven't won anything since our 7th grade science fair, so we're hungry (i.e. desperate) for some sort of validation. Please help boost our self-esteem by voting for Better World Club.

[*NOTE FROM THE SEVERELY OVERWORKED BWC LEGAL DEPARTMENT: Better World Club will not actually be giving away Tesla Roadsters for votes. However, if a few "fall off a truck" and come into our possession, we'll cut you a great deal on them.]

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

BWC is Proud to Partner with BetterWorld Telecom

Despite the Similar Company Names, We're Not Related

We Have, However, Been Trying to Swap BWC President Mitch Rofsky for BetterWorld Telecom's Office Coffee Machine and $75 Cash. So Far, They're Not Interested.

BetterWorld Telecom, LLC is the only nationwide, full-service voice and data telecommunications carrier focused on serving businesses and organizations that support social justice and sustainability. BetterWorld provides business-grade telecommunications solutions to thousands of customers in more than 40 states. Its products include local, long distance, toll-free, conferencing, Internet access, VoIP and unified communications products. BetterWorld is the first certified carbon neutral carrier in North America and offers an on-average savings of 28% over the competition, a 100% service guarantee, and donates 3% of revenues to causes that benefit children, education, environment and fair trade.

BetterWorld Telecom was formed with a strong social mission to support children, education and the environment that is neither politically nor religiously biased. It supports such diverse and critical organizations as The Nature Conservancy, Room to Read, Appalachian Voices, the Fair Trade Federation, Brooklyn Center for Urban Environment and the Social Venture Network. BetterWorld Telecom's social mission and environmental commitment are key differentiators and provide mission-oriented organizations with a compelling reason to do business with BetterWorld Telecom.

BetterWorld Telecom offers solutions-based sales focused on small, medium and large organizations with social and sustainable "green" missions. Its products include
- Switched Local, National and International Long Distance / 800
- Dedicated Long Distance and Toll Free – DS3, T1
- Dedicated Data/Internet – DS3, T1, DSL
- Unified Communications, VoIP, SIP Trunking, MPLS

BetterWorld Telecom's footprint allows origination in all Lower 48 States, terminating anywhere in the USA and over 230 countries. It features full vertical integration of products on one BetterWorld bill with personalized, one call, "single necktie" support.

Learn more at BetterWorld Telecom's website,

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Readers of 'Kicking Asphalt' Can Now Comment on the Stories They Read

Comment Suggestions: "Brilliant", "Funny", "Life-Changing", and "Didn't Make Me Want to Puke"

We've finally caved to both our need for positive reinforcement and our masochistic tendencies and have enabled 'Kicking Asphalt' readers to leave comments on KA stories.

Remember all those times you've thought to yourself, "How dare they offer me discounts on environmentally-themed children's books?" or "Tips on how to save gas? Not on my watch!"? Well, now you don't have to lock those opinions away in a place deep within you where they'll slowly burn until one day you flip out and attack the guy reading your electric meter.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can make your opinions known right away. Think of all the money you'll save on therapy! All you have to do is read a 'Kicking Asphalt' article in its entirety (that's the hard part), then click on the "post a comment" link at the bottom of the page. It's so simple that even an enewsletter editor can do it!

We want to hear from all of our members (except for Jennifer Allen from Wilmington, NC, we've already heard plenty from her). So if you're not Jennifer Allen, we ask you to leave comments on all of our articles, starting with this one.

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