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Book Review of: Go Green

How to Build an Earth-Friendly Community


Review of Go Green (Softcover, 2008), by Nancy H. Taylor
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

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 for "help."

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 Star appliance.
  • Use a front-loading washer (saves water and energy).
  • 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 good information.

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 themselves:

  1. Move Earth farther away from the sun (it's now 90 million miles away, and Mars is 140 million miles away).
  2. 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 Earth).

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 bear mentioning.

  • 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 white.
     
  • 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.

 

While Go Green has quite a few valuable tips, it is also burdened with disinformation. The author parrots things she's heard or read, but doesn't understand the why behind some of her recommendations.

 


 

About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

The reviews I do will, contrary to emerging trends, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or not substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably another 6,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree undergrad and an MBA. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read to begin with.

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