Archive for February, 2009

Systems Thinking and the Recession

Posted: February 4, 2009 in Thinking

This morning I heard an interview with Robert Reich (former US Secretary of Labor) on one of our local Public Radio stations on the program, Marketplace Morning Report. Mr. Reich notes:

“But what’s intelligent for an individual does not necessarily translate into what’s good for the economy as a whole. The only way to create or preserve jobs is through additional spending. And unlike tax cuts used to pay down personal debt or add to savings, every dollar of government spending flows directly into the economy and adds to overall demand.”

Optimizing your personal financial situation in the short term sub-optimizes our country’s economy in the long term and probably hurts you as an individual in the long term too. We have to think systemically when it comes to repairing our economy and keeping it healthy. Pursuing individual wealth without thinking about the whole is what got us into the condition that we currently face.

It is Easy Being Green

Posted: February 4, 2009 in Being Green

My wife and I are fans of the television show, Living with Ed. Ed Begley, Jr. is kind of a nut on the show, but if you think about all of the things that he does to minimize his family’s impact on the environment, you’ll find that you can do many of them with relative ease. Some are easy, but require an investment. Others you can do inexpensively and with a relatively quick payback.

Here is a list of things that my wife and I do (the kids are another story) to try to be better citizens on this little blue ball:

  • Solar panels for generating electricity: During the day we make electricity for the neighborhood using the sun and we save a lot of money on our electric bill. There are a lot of cash rebates and tax credits associated with the purchase and installation of electric solar panels.
  • Computers and computer accessories plugged into electrical surge suppressors with on/off switches: A lot of your computer peripherals, like external hard drives with AC adapters and monitors, continue to draw power even when they are “off.” Flip the switch on the surge suppressor to off after you’ve turned off your computer. Be careful with ink jet printers and your high speed internet modem. Those items may need to be plugged into a continuous power source.
  • AC power adapters for cell phones, hand-held games, MP3 players, etc plugged into a simple power strip: Similar to the computer, these adapters draw power even when they aren’t hooked up to anything. Turn them off completely by switching off the power strip. Remember, if you see a glowing LED, the item is drawing power.
  • Recycle everything that the city will take and everything that you can bring to the local recycling center: Don’t throw anything into the trash that you can recycle. Our goal is to always have at least twice as much recycling (by weight) as we do trash each week. Just be careful not to put non-recyclables in with the recyclables. Certain items can ruin a batch of recycling if they get into the recycling mix.
  • Use compact fluorescent bulbs instead of standard incandescent bulbs: This is pretty much a no-brainer, when your standard light bulb burns out replace it with a compact fluorescent. If you remember the days when fluorescent bulbs made you look green, don’t worry, they give off light that looks very much like an incandescent now.
  • Don’t buy or use bottled water: I don’t know how many studies we have to conduct to see that our municipal water supplies provide water that is of similar or better quality than bottled water. Purchase a small, washable, and reusable water bottle so that you can bring water with you when needed.
  • Use recycled paper in your computer printer: For almost all uses these days (business or personal) recycled paper works just fine.
  • Better yet, don’t print: There are already too many jokes about people who print their emails — just don’t do it.
  • Turn off lights: Your parents were right — sort of — it’s a good idea for saving money, but it’s also a good idea that reduces our need to produce electricity from coal-burning electric plants.
  • Water your lawn less: Lawns are some of the biggest uses of water for most homeowners. You can actually get away with less watering and still have a green lawn.
  • Reuse plastic sandwich and freezer bags: We definitely use plastic bags in our household, but we try to reuse them as much as possible in a variety of ways.
  • Neither paper or plastic: Bring a cloth bag or a bag made from recycled materials with you when you go shopping. Or you can be like Ed and just carry your purchases out of the store in your hands.
  • Drive a hybrid or electric car: If you need a new car and can afford a hybrid, then buy one. I predict that all cars will eventually be hybrid or all electric within 20 years. It’s not just about saving gas. Think about all of the tailpipe emissions when your sitting stuck in traffic. A gas-electric hybrid turns of the gas engine when the car is stopped. When the engine isn’t running there are no hydrocarbons coming out of the exhaust pipe.
  • Walk or ride a bike for trips less than one mile: Especially where we live, Southern California, mass transit is not always convenient. However, you’d be surprised how often you drive less than a mile. Walking distances less than a mile doesn’t take a lot of extra time and it’s good for you.

I’ll be adding to this list over time as there are a lot more simple things each of us can do to make the planet last a little longer for the generations after us.