While I applaud anyone who wants to reduce waste and
pollution, I was a bit taken aback by Nancy Taylor's approach. Her book,
Go Green, has some wonderful information in it. Unfortunately, it also
contains so much disinformation that I compiled four pages of brief notes
while reading it.
Some of her suggestions actually create more waste and
pollution, not less. This book can be valuable as an idea
generator, if you have the background (a science or engineering degree,
for example) to evaluate the various ideas on their merits.
It's not my intention to catalog and correct all of the
mistakes in this book. But I will mention several and explain why they
are mistakes. Having written hundreds of published articles (mostly for
the electrical industry) on energy conservation, and having collaborated
on several electrical standards, I have more than a passing knowledge to
bring into this review.
Her comments on coal and nuclear power generation are
way off the mark. Mine is not an uniformed opinion; I spent several years as a field
engineer working on the controls of coal and nuclear generating
stations. Here's something to think about before we actually get to that
part: There is more energy in the uranium contained in each lump of
coal than the energy you get from burning that lump. Coal power stations
spew radiation. Nuclear power plants do not.
Now, let's talk about the positives of this book.
This book's subtitle aims the book at the community level, but the first
two chapters (out of ten chapters) are aimed at what we, as individuals
can do. Individual responsibility is politically incorrect, today. But
it is the only responsibility that leads to actually solving problems.
The phrase "government solution" has historically been an
oxymoron. Related to "green," perhaps the most clear example is Daylight
Wasting Time. If we can set aside for a moment the fact that changing
our clocks causes a sharp uptick in industrial accidents [source: OSHA]
twice a year, as well as a sharp uptick in vehicular collisions, we can
evaluate whether DWT is worthwhile. Under the guise of "going green,"
the USA now has an earlier date for starting DWT. With this change, we
don't simply go to bed while it's still daylight, we also get up while
it's still dark and it stays that way for an extra hour.
How making us turn our lights on for an extra hour each
day would save energy nobody could explain, but CONgress insisted it
would. Well, the results came in and guess what? As would be expected,
the extra weeks of using lights for an extra hour each day actually cost more energy. Gee, imagine that. In
New Zealand, the same thing happened. So, let's not look to government
Taylor goes beyond just energy, talking about the
toxins in carpets (a very real problem, if you buy cheap carpet) and
other issues related to indoor air quality. But her main focus seems to
be on reducing one's carbon footprint--and that is typically a matter of
reducing one's energy consumption.
As individuals, we can, collectively, hugely decrease the
amount of energy wasted and pollution generated each year in this
country. And we can do that with little, if any, real sacrifice. If, for
example, Americans would cut their meals in half and consume 1800
calories a day instead of 3600 calories a day, the obesity epidemic
would end and the costs of transporting ourselves around would drop by
millions of barrels of oil per year. Taylor didn't bring that point up.
But she did bring up many others.
Some of Taylor's suggestions:
- Caulk and insulate your home. Seal air leaks.
- When replacing an appliance, buy an Energy
- Use a front-loading washer (saves water and
- Put entertainment gadgets on a power strip,
and shut it off when not using those gadgets. (Many people don't
want to put their DVD or VHS player on a strip, because they will
then "need to" reset the clock. You have other clocks, you don't
need that one).
- Put outdoor lights on motion sensors.
Many energy-saving concepts are are embodied in LEEDS, which she
refers to. One problem with LEEDS is it rates all energy savings
measures as equally valuable and if people cherry pick just to qualify
for LEEDS instead of using LEEDS to help them reduce their energy waste,
then the purpose of LEEDS is circumvented. LEEDS, in fact, has many
detractors for this reason.
Taylor makes several points that can help people
understand the total energy picture. For example, buildings are the main
users of energy and are the main places where energy waste takes place. Thus,
we should focus on buildings to reduce energy consumption (not exclusively,
though). So, Chapter 3 is entitled, "Building Green." Chapter 4 talks
about green hospitals and green schools.
When she talks about transportation in Chapter 5, she
mixes disinformation in along with good information. You would already
have to know the material to be able to sort it out. She does use an example of light rail, and that is
The way most Americans eat is ghastly. Examine the
contents of the typical shopping cart, and you can see why there is a
health care crisis in the USA (we are second to last for access to
health care among industrialized nations, precisely because of the
demands on services arising from horrendous dietary choices). In Chapter
6, Taylor talks
about growing your own herbs, and this is something people in high-rise
apartments can do. She talks about several things that reduce the cost
of growing and transporting food. So, some good information here.
Chapter 7 provides many good tips about saving
water. An important point Taylor that brings up is you can't rely on the
fact that you live near a river or a lake as an excuse not to worry
about water. If you doubt this, do some
research on Lake Baikal. It was once the largest lake in the world.
Today, it's much smaller and it is more of a chemical depot than a lake.
Chapter 8 is full of disinformation. Many of the ideas
recommended here consume more energy than they produce. She ignores the fact that electricity has to come from somewhere.
Currently, most of it comes from coal. Factor in the transmission losses
and storage losses and that hybrid plug-in car doesn't look so good. It
is vastly more polluting than its regular combustion engine counterpart.
It also consumes vastly more energy.
Chapter 9 gets into solar, and after Chapter 8 it
was good to get back into non-fiction land. This chapter is informative.
In Chapter 10, she ties things together and gives
us her final recommendations. Those recommendations are, however, in
conflict with many of the other things she said.
For example, on the second to last page, she says,
"...we ought to be able to put our hearts and minds together to solve
this global warming crisis." Just what would a solution entail? To
answer that, we must first look at the cause. There is some debate as to
why we are having wild weather swings (with record cold in the Midwest
and record cold in Antarctica) and some debate as to whether this planet
is actually warming up.
If we look at the shrinking ice caps as our
reference point, I think we can say the planet is warming up. We know
the ice caps are shrinking (I have personally met with many of the
researchers). Now, so much for Mars. What about Earth? Did you catch
that? Mars and Earth are both experiencing "global warming," as measured
by the loss of polar ice.
Since we know there aren't SUVs on Mars, what
could be causing the warming there? And on Earth at the same time? The
sun contains 99.86% of all the mass in our solar system. 1.3 million
earths could fit inside the sun. A few years back, it got really hot
here on Earth one August after the eruption of a solar flare that was 50
earth diameters across.
The sun is common to
Earth and Mars. Bingo.
Over the millennia, Earth
has gone through several warming cycles. Based on historic trends, we
are due for one now. And it looks like it's here. So, now that we know the cause of "global
warming," what are we going to do about it? Only two solutions present
- Move Earth farther away
from the sun (it's now 90 million miles away, and Mars is 140
million miles away).
- Mash up the moon into a flat "sun shield" and
use it to reduce the amount of solar energy coming to Earth (we
don't have enough materials to construct one from stuff here on
Earlier, in her book, Taylor complained about
genetically modified food (conveniently ignoring the fact that corn has
been genetically manipulated for 5,000 years to render large, juicy,
sugar-filled kernels). So, it's OK to destroy
the moon or--assuming we obtain the technology to do it--move the earth
millions of miles out of its orbit but it's not OK to modify plants that
are evolving anyway?
Or, consider the banana. The banana that existed a
generation ago was wiped out, but banana growers anticipated the loss of
this plant. As the banana was
heading toward extinction, banana experts tinkered with the plant to
render something similar to it. Those of us who can remember the
original banana flavor know it's absent from today's banana. We have a
fruit that is close, however, because of this tinkering that Taylor is
so alarmed about.
Demonizing the modification of food plants is
simply untenable, whether we use modern genetic methods or ancient
genetic methods. We have been playing with our food (ha!) for thousands of years and are
still around to talk about it. Most likely, we are still around because
of it. I'm not saying it's all good, I'm just saying Taylor is making
much ado about nothing.
In any case, mankind does not possess the
resources to solve the polar ice melting problem, either here or on
Mars. And, with all the money people can save by living more
efficiently, scaring us with this kind of fiction isn't needed as a
motivator. For example, if you live in a drafty home and spend $4 on a
tube of caulking you will probably reduce your winter heating bill by
$100. Try putting $4 in an interest-bearing checking account and see if
it will make you $100 a year.
Some of the mistakes
Now, let's look at some other errors. Most are not as profound as her concluding one, but still they
- Page 3. Taylor recommends CFLs. I have
written several articles on lamps (for electrical industry
publications) and did energy calculations as a practicing electrical
engineer. Here's the short version of this whole subject. Every lamp
has some inrush current. With incandescents, it's low--considered
negligible. With fluorescents, it's significant.
Turn on a CFL, and it takes time to recover the additional energy
used in doing that. For some types of fluorescents, this can be
several hours. In the home, lamps are not typically on for long
periods (as opposed to 10 hours in an office or 24 in a factory).
Whether a CFL saves energy when used in the home is a function of
how long you are lighting a given area. In most cases, it will
actually consume more than an incandescent.
The solution is not to use CFLs blindly, but to use them where you
will not be turning a light off for some time. Other measures net
more energy savings: turn off lights when not using them, use lower
wattage lamps, use task lighting, use dimmers (not possible with
current CFL technology).
- Page 4. Taylor says CFL light is similar to
incandescent. This is patently false. There are metrics by which you
can compare the lighting types. One of those is the Color Rendition
Index. As a rule of thumb, you need a CRI of about 80 for
residential applications. LEDs are currently achieving numbers in
the high 70s, while fluorescents hit 51 in warm white and 65 in cool
- Page 5. She mentions cost as the barrier to
implementing LED lighting. Cost is a factor, as is the quality of
the light. But the main barrier is that LEDs are very directional.
You cannot use them to, say, light up a room.
- Page 6. Taylor recommends putting a blanket
on your hot water heater. Do not do this without first contacting
the water heater manufacturer. It is very likely they will recommend
against it. Such a blanket does work well with some
constructions of hot water heater, but can be a disaster for others.
Slap on that blanket, and odds are you will be looking higher
energy bills, not lower--and you'll be replacing that water heater
many years ahead of schedule.
There are many solutions superior to destroying your water heater.
For example, optimize your usage patterns to account for the fact
that a great deal of the heat is lost during transmission--getting
the water to your various points of use. Turn the temperature down.
Replace your water heater with a high efficiency model, such as one
made by Bradford White. Consult with a reputable plumbing company to
see what can be done about your specific application.
- Page 21. Insulate your roof? That is counterproductive. Most single-family and
duplex homes have peaked roofs. A peaked roof on a home is part of a
system, and it works in conjunction with your insulation that
is above your rafters. The roof keeps your insulation dry. A
properly-designed system will use temperature differential to create
a cooling airflow across the top of the insulation (bringing that
air up through the soffits). You want that outside air flowing
across the insulation. The most critical thing is to keep your
insulation dry. The hotter that roof gets, the more airflow you will
get. Insulating the roof lowers this airflow. Further, it causes a
temperature differential that could lead to condensation, thus
causing the R-value of your attic insulation to plummet. Ask any
reputable roofing specialist abut this.
- Page 22. Taylor talks about windows, but
fails to mention the most important aspect: installation. If
you replace your current windows with the best windows on the
planet, but don't follow the recommended installation practices,
your windows will leak and you may be worse off than you were before
you started. The typical "budget-friendly" window contractor hires
illegal aliens or other unqualified people to install the windows.
Paying a qualified workman who has been trained by the factory rep
in the installation process does cost more. But why are you
installing the window to begin with? While you're at it, look at
low-e windows and other high-tech solutions.
- Page 55. So much heavy pushing of CFLs, with
a light brushoff of their heavy-metal content. There are other
lighting solutions that do not involve providing a huge jump in the
amount of mercury in our landfills, atmosphere, soil, and streams.
- Page 57. Pavers are good, but not for parking
areas. They make snow removal much more energy-intensive and
time-consuming. Paved strips and green strips, plus construction to
storm water runoff standards would be a better approach.
- Page 62. The plug-in electric car (often sold
as a hybrid) has none of the advantages Taylor mentioned, except it
reduces pollution locally. It does that by incurring the pollution
elsewhere. Electricity must be generated. We do that presently by
shoving tons of coal through each coal plant every day. Coal is
radioactive, and has many other problems. Taylor mentions that
mining uranium leaves big holes, but she says not a word about the
holes for coal. Electric cars create more pollution than their
internal combustion counterparts, because there are huge losses in
the transmission lines to get to that receptacle. Then, you have
storage losses on top of that. Electric cars are more polluting, for
a long list of reasons.
- Page 69. Biodiesel requires more oil to
produce than you save by using it (if you get your biofuel from
grain). At least, with current technology. Taylor talks about
sustainable food production without considering where all the grain
for biodiesel will come from, or how we are going to get big
agriculture to give up its oil-based fertilizers and other
chemicals. Jonathon Goodwin runs an engine shop in Texas, and his
shop is building aftermarket biodiesel engines that don't require
grain fuel. Governor Schwarzenegger owns one. Fast Company ran the
article Motorhead Messiah about this in late 2007.
- Page 72. Taylor applauds an airline for not
starting its engines until the plane is away from the gate. There is
a reason for starting the engines at the gate. It's called cabin
air. In the summer, you either roast a plane full of already
distressed passengers in an aluminum tube, or you run the engines. I
have sat through the roasting scenario, and it's brutal. What we
need is an energy-efficient way to cool the cabin. Subjecting people
to tortures prohibited by the Geneva Convention is not the answer.
- Page 89. Taylor talks about critical water
shortages, but elsewhere applauds growing biofuels. You can't have
the latter without the former, unless we make it illegal to obtain
biofuel from grain.
- Page 110. Taylor says wind energy has not
received subsidies. This is patently false. Actually, wind energy
has received substantial subsidies. This has been a topic of
intense consternation and debate in the IEEE (engineering community)
and in the Power and Distribution world.
- Page 112. Taylor's remarks on nuclear waste
show zero knowledge of the nuclear industry. She makes false
assumptions, and extrapolates from there. Our problems with nuclear
waste are 100% political, 0% technical, thanks to misguided
activists and irresponsible politicians.
- Page 113. Her comparison of coal to nuclear
is wrong. Period. I won't get into it, here, as it would feel like
arguing that, yes, the world is really round and not flat.
- Page 116. She recommends calculating your
carbon footprint. Any reader of this book would have to wonder why
she doesn't tell us the carbon footprint of her role model and
source of much of her (dis)information, Al Gore. His personal carbon
footprint is orders of magnitude larger than that of the typical
American. Do a Google search on Gore's Rio farce, and read about the
amount of fuel consumed to get there, and the mountains of waste
generated. Is this, "Do as I say, not as I do?"
- Page 119. The Kyoto Treaty contains several
eco-unfriendly requirements. For example, the diesel requirement.
The concept is that diesel cars use less fuel than gasoline cars, so
we should all drive diesels. Let's try an experiment. Go stand
behind a bus or other diesel vehicle an inhale deeply. See how long
you can do this before developing emphysema. And why go diesel when
you can get 40MPG now with a Toyota's Camry? A manual transmission,
synthetic motor oil, and careful driving, and there you are. If Al
Gore and his fellow fuel wasters would trade in their land barges
for Camrys, we could just forget about diesel.
There are more
errors. I just didn't have the time to write about all of them.
Where the mistakes came from
How can somebody make so many errors of fact? We
can get a sense of why, by reading the acknowledgements. For example, she
mentions a work by Hillary "pinned down by sniper fire" Clinton, "It
Takes A Village." This was Hillary's attempt to show she understood
the struggles of motherhood.
Yet, Hillary, who always lived in homes paid for
by the government, never had to make a mortgage payment. Nor did she
have to make a car payment. She didn't have to worry that her child
would be hauled into some whacko's van, either. Her child received the
protection of armed guards, at the government's expense. Hillary, it
should be noted, has actively worked on passing legislation that ensures
criminals will be protected from their victims rather than the other way
around, while not objecting to the fact that gun-toting security
personnel were protecting her free of charge.
Taylor also praises NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
This is a guy who believes criminals should be protected from their
victims, rather than the other way around and he's pushed whacko
legislation toward that end. He's also tried to put a square peg in a
round hole with his car tax idea. What works in one place doesn't
necessarily work in another. Jumping ahead without analysis may feel
good, but it doesn't make the action necessarily correct. Bloomberg
seems oblivious to the fact that NYC is a very big city that can't just
copy other cities.
Where Taylor appears to have been led astray the most, however, is in
her gushingly positive view of Al "I like to fly in a private jet and
drive a gas guzzling land barge to and from my energy-inefficient
mansion" Gore's fraudumentary, "An Inconvenient Truth" which was
inconveniently filled with half-truths, falsified data, nonsequitors,
non-existent relationships between facts, illogic, and outright lies. From this, she
has bought into the nonsense spewed by opportunists who decided to put a new spin on the
1960s "coming Ice Age" mania and try using "we are burning up the
planet" to get rich. Al Gore, it should be noted, has made millions
of dollars peddling his particular line of malarkey.
Taylor conveniently overlooks the overwhelming body of evidence to
that shows Gore, et al, for the frauds that they are. Earlier, I mentioned Mars has the same ice-melt problem.
There is also the geographic record, which shows Earth has had many
cycles of warming and cooling over millions of years. The carbon data do
not present a cause and effect, here. Yes, we have an increase in carbon
and yes, we have an increase in the average temperatures of our
concrete-intensive cities. But the relationship is incidental, not
causal. Is there a "greenhouse effect?" If so, it's incorrectly named
because greenhouses don't work that way.
That isn't to say we have plenty of other reasons
to waste less, pollute less, and simply do things more intelligently. If Taylor would strip out the pseudoscience and
remove the errors from this book, she'd have something that people could
use to help reduce waste and pollution. Living frugally is one reason to
adopt a waste-reduction lifestyle, because then you have more money for
what matters. And there is quite a long list ahead of "joining in with a
charlatan like Al Gore or Hillary Clinton."
There are many other books that provide good
information on saving energy, reducing waste, and reducing pollution. I
have read dozens of them, and I apply the principles. It saddens me that
Taylor and I, who both value the practice of sustainable lifestyles, are
apparently in opposite
camps. What she's done with her home serves as a model for us all. She
might be angry after reading my review, but maybe she'll learn from it
to check her facts before offering advice that undermines the very goals
she wants others to reach.
Another comment on this book is it is loaded with
misplaced modifiers. So, in addition to needing the services of a
fact-checker, it needs the services of a copy editor.