Professor Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture

For those of us who don’t watch Oprah, here’s a segment that transcends TV talk shows. The link to the video is at the bottom.

Link: Professor Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture

Randy Pausch is a married father of three, a very popular professor at Carnegie Mellon University—and he is dying. He is suffering from pancreatic cancer, which he says has returned after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Doctors say he has only a few months to live.

In September 2007, Randy gave a final lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon that has since been downloaded more than a million times on the Internet. "There’s an academic tradition called the ‘Last Lecture.’ Hypothetically, if you knew you were going to die and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?" Randy says. "Well, for me, there’s an elephant in the room. And the elephant in the room, for me, it wasn’t hypothetical."

Video Video: Randy’s famous "Last Lecture

Do Renewable Energy Credits really reduce pollution?

The cover story of BusinessWeek‘s October 29 issue addresses the issue of renewable energy credits (RECs). The key question is whether RECs are really a viable way to reduce pollution or just another greenwashing strategy for companies to appear politically correct. The article suggests that RECs provide a way to look green but do not result in substantial pollution-reducing benefits. I commend BusinessWeek for shining a light into this dark corner. Excerpts below.

Link: Little Green Lies

Introduced at the beginning of the decade, RECs (renewable energy credits) are supposed to marshal market forces behind wind and solar power. Developers of clean energy sell RECs, usually measured in megawatt hours of electricity, to buyers that want to counterbalance their pollution by funding environmentally friendly power. But often the REC trade seems like little more than the buying and selling of bragging rights, rather than incentives that lead to the construction of wind turbines or solar panels.

The trouble stems from the basic economics of RECs. Credits purchased at $2 a megawatt hour, the price Aspen Skiing and many other corporations pay, logically can’t have much effect. Wind developers receive about $51 per megawatt hour for the electricity they sell to utilities. They get another $20 in federal tax breaks, and the equivalent of up to $20 more in accelerated depreciation of their capital equipment. Even many wind-power developers that stand to profit from RECs concede that producers making $91 a megawatt hour aren’t going to expand production for another $2. "At this price, they’re not very meaningful for the developer," says John Calaway, chief development officer for U.S. wind power at Babcock & Brown, an investment bank that funds new wind projects. "It doesn’t support building something that wouldn’t otherwise be built."

Auden Schendler learned about corporate environmentalism directly from the prophet of the movement. In the late 1990s, Schendler was working as a junior researcher at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a think tank in Aspen led by Amory Lovins, legendary author of the idea that by "going green," companies can increase profits while saving the planet. As Lovins often told Schendler and others at the institute, boosting energy efficiency and reducing harmful emissions constitute not just a free lunch but "a lunch you’re paid to eat."

Schendler, meanwhile, has become a prominent critic of RECs, a potentially confusing role, since his employer buys them. In an April letter to the Center for Resource Solutions, a nonprofit group in San Francisco that certifies credits, he said that RECs have as much effect on the development of new renewable-energy projects as would trading "rocks, IOUs, or pinecones." That statement, which inevitably whizzed around the Internet, stung some in the ski industry who interpreted it as an attack. Schendler’s immediate boss, General Counsel Dave Bellack, has heard from competitors asking that he stifle Schendler. Bellack has declined.

Now simultaneously an insider and an outsider in corporate environmental circles, Schendler relishes the notoriety. "I don’t think I’m seen as a team player in this industry," he says, "but I don’t care. This issue is so much bigger than just the ski industry." In March he told the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources that companies won’t make serious progress without regulation of carbon emissions—a departure from his earlier faith that abundant, profitable green projects will transform the way business operate.

His former mentor Lovins says Schendler could find further cost-saving energy efficiencies with more support from his superiors. But this mind-set, Schendler warns, could influence companies to pursue exclusively projects with quick payoffs: "The idea that green is fun, it’s easy, and it’s profitable is dangerous. This is hard work. It’s messy. It’s not always profitable. And companies have to get off the mark and start actually doing stuff."

Rain and Drought

I am listening to the first hard rain we’ve had here since the end of July. It’s a wonderful sound.

For almost three months, every patch of rainy weather coming east across Alabama into Georgia has either not dropped rain or veered north or south of northern Georgia.

We depend on a well for our water. We are concerned — I’ve been taking short showers lately.

I hope our next home will have a plumbing system to provide gray water for the plants in the yard.

All of us in the United States are going to have to get smarter about water use. We can’t continue to use water (or energy) unwisely.

Trip to Floyd – Day 4

We started the day with a healthy breakfast from our hosts. After we packed the car we walked from the farmhouse up to operations center of Miracle Farm, Ed and Karen’s house.

We were greeted by Pris, the friendliest cat I’ve ever seen. The first time I saw Pris, three days prior, he had rubbed against my legs, purring loudly, and then plopped down on my feet, relaxed and comfortable.Miraclefarmstream

I took some photos of the cats,the organic gardens, and the river (see photo); then the batteries in my digital camera ran out. The camera is several years old and seems to be an energy hog. It really hurt because I missed two scenes that I would have liked to have recorded.

Pris the cat was sitting in front of me, offering to shake hands like a dog. When I bent over to pet him, he jumped onto my left shoulder! Then he stretched out around my neck with his front paws on my right shoulder and relaxed. That’s a friendly cat.

Ann discussed composting with Ed. Advanced gardeners like to share tips and stories about their successes and failures, which often involve composting and mulching.

We said goodbye and drove into Floyd on Laurel Branch Rd. As we traveled east, we saw a sight that was eerie and strange. On a wooden fence that connected to an old shed, a flock of buzzards (turkey vultures) was catching the morning sun. About 30 of these big birds were on the fence and ridge line of the shed, about three feet apart, with their wings open, gathering sunlight. And the batteries in my camera were dead. It was such a unique sighting and I didn’t get to capture it — very disappointing. (Now I know why professional photographers like Doug Thompson carry two cameras.)

We bought some batteries in Floyd, took some photos, and jumped on the Blue Ridge Parkway, headed towards Roanoke. It was a beautiful drive (except for the new houses visible from the Parkway near Roanoke — is nothing sacred?).

In the Roanoke airport waiting for our flight to Atlanta, we reflected on all that we had experienced on the trip. Floyd is truly a unique place.

Trip to Floyd – Day 1
Trip to Floyd – Day 2
Trip to Floyd – Day 3

Trip to Floyd – Day 3

This post describes our third day visiting Floyd, Va, on Oct 6, 2007. Here’s the Day 1 and Day 2 posts.

We met Skip Slocum of Live Where You Play real estate at Cafe del Sol on Saturday morning. He took us on a tour Floyd County and showed us some property. I was looking forward to riding in the country — it’s been a tradition in my family since I was a small boy. (Every Sunday after Sunday school my father would take my sisters and me riding through rural Virgina. Most often we explored the Axton, VA area, but we sometimes left Henry County and ventured into Patrick, Franklin, or Pittsylvania countries. Even as children, we enjoyed seeing beautiful farms and the critters that lived on them. My sister Billie, when she was a little girl, saw a "yellow" turkey, which no one else saw. We tease her about it to this day, and she still insists she saw it.)

Skip took us out Franklin Pike to the east and then up 221 to the north. We saw a lot of beautiful land and a few places that we’d like to live. It was great fun just riding around, seeing new places, and sharing stories about life and experiences. We saw a number of places that would be great mountain bike tours.

After several hours of touring northeast Floyd County, we returned to Cafe del Sol and had lunch. Soon after we arrived, Doug Thompson came in and we invited him to join us. From the time I spent around him, Doug seems to know everyone who lives in Floyd. We had a good lunch and said goodbye to Skip and Doug.Fred First photo

We walked down to the Floyd Country Store. I had a $20 gift certificate to spend — from winning the Friday Night Jamboree raffle the previous evening. I knew exactly what I wanted to buy with it. It took me a while to find it, but I finally located Fred First’s book Slow Road Home. I had been waiting for the right time to get Fred’s book, and I knew this was it. The karmic circle was complete — my first awareness of Floyd came from looking at Fred’s photos (his photo to the right) on his Fragments from Floyd blog several years ago, and I get to buy Fred’s book at the Floyd Country Store. The only part missing from this story was Fred — unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet him on this trip.

We hopped in our rental car and drove south to see the Jacksonville Center. There’s some interesting art being created there and I wish we had had more time and energy to explore. I was intrigued by the Sustainable Living Educational Center and the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals office on the grounds. Perhaps I’ll spend some time with them in the future.

Our next stop was the Great Oaks Country Club. I have resumed my golf habit in my later years (in place of backpacking, racquetball, and white-water kayaking, for various reasons), and I wanted to see the local golf course. We pulled into the parking lot, and I walked onto the putting green and looked at  the ninth and eighteenth holes. It looks like a good golf course.

We were running low on energy, so we picked up some groceries and headed to our farm house to have dinner. After dinner, we decided to stay in and relax. Later in the evening, we stepped outside to look at the stars. The night was quiet and dark, and we could see thousands of stars. The Milky Way was obvious, and shooting stars flashed by every few minutes. We really miss quiet nights and starry skies — in the mid-1990s we could see stars from our back deck and the traffic noise was minimal. Since then our area has been transformed from rural to Atlanta suburb, and we no longer have quiet nights and we can’t see many stars. We fought a good fight to preserve the rural character of our area but Atlanta’s growth is an unstoppable force and real estate developers have been getting rich throwing up stores and subdivisions all around us. It doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Another full day — we needed sleep. Sunday was travel day — return to Atlanta.

Trip to Floyd – Day 1
Trip to Floyd – Day 2
Trip to Floyd – Day 4

Beautiful Image: Capitol Peak Evening

Link: Earth Shots » Capitol Peak Evening by Tad Bowman

Capitol Peak

Tad Bowman says:

This photograph was taken during the Fall season of Capitol Peak near Aspen, Colorado. The sun was filtering through the clouds warming the foreground while a snow storm was approaching quickly in the background.
Equipment: Canon 1dsMII, tripod, 70-200mm lens