Everywhere you look these days you see someone going “green”. Car makers are developing solar powered cars, people are practicing water conservation and recycling services are common place in many states. Everyone seems eager to do their part. But it is true that some cities are moving faster than others and there are areas where recycling is still not offered and people everywhere who haven’t even thought about it. But the cities and peoples who have gone above and beyond in “going green” deserve some recognition.

In my search online to discover which cities rate highest, I saw that everyone from Treehugger to MSN, from Mother Nature Network to Move have done a rating of their own, based on available data. What I did was obtain data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Green Building Council and the National Geographic Society’s “Green Guide” to compile my own. These findings are varied in some ways but overall pretty consistant. You will see each of these cities somewhere on everyone’s list. My list is based on everyone’s research of each cities’ resource conservation, waste emissions, public transportation use, recycling habits, number of eco friendly buildings and overall green space offered to determine which one goes where on the scale of 1 to 10. However, you could not go wrong by moving to any one of these lovely places, as they are definitely way ahead of the rest of us.

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Now, here’s the thing. I’ve always wondered if the solutions to all these problems might be simple. After all, that’s the way it works in my own life; I spend endless hours and energy running through mazes and jumping through hoops only to discover that the solution was down a straight and simple path. Perhaps this is what we are doing to ourselves in the matter of planetary warming. Perhaps there is a lot of money in making it complicated. And be it not me who would deny people work and income. Yet, I can’t help but think about something I heard.

The sad part about our abilities to move ahead on this problem is the global economic crisis, which has taken precedence. The cost of proposed green initiatives is becoming a huge factor as world governments consider drafting environmental policies. This shift in priorities was evident in the last round of U.N. climate talks in Poland. After a full two weeks of negotiation, it looked as if participants were no closer to consensus on the terms of the treaty that will replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol. The current treaty, created in 1992, requires most developed nations to reduce their carbon emissions. But, currently, overall cost is one of the main reasons for this persistent stalemate on emissions caps.

But there was one interesting solution presented. The IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued a report that notes that if governments worked to exploit the natural capacity of forests to absorb carbon dioxide and deliberately aimed to increase the carbon sink that forests create, as much as 40 to 50% of human carbon emissions could be offset. I think this is fantastic and should be done like now. Please refer to my previous post on carbon sinks. Still, to my mind, the even more astounding fact is that this extraordinary possibility has been largely ignored.

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Duke Energy’s Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle (IGCC) plant in Edwardsport, Ind. is taking a significant step forward in the use of cleaner coal technology. Notice that I say “cleaner coal” and not “clean coal” because the former is possible while the latter is not. But in the noble effort of creating the former to help meet the country’s future energy requirements, the first major pieces of equipment have arrived. Using GE IGCC technology, the plant is expected to be the largest cleaner coal IGCC facility of its type in the world when it is complete. An Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, is a power plant using synthesis gas (syngas). This gas is often used to power a gas turbine whose waste heat is passed to a steam turbine system, also referred to as a combined cycle gas turbine.

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Better Place, an electric car company just starting to really expand, is developing a $200-250 million network in Hawaii, with 50,000 to 100,000 electric-car recharging stations to be in place by 2012. The $100 million project comes as a three-part effort to radically overhaul the state’s energy diet. Hawaii has an “extreme oil addiction,” according to Gov. Linda Lingle. Ninety percent of her state’s energy comes from imported oil, costing about $7 billion a year. A third of that oil makes its way into automobile tanks as gasoline. With gas on the islands still hovering around $2.65, Hawaiians spend more money on their cars (taxes, insurance, and fuel) than Americans on average in any other state.

Shai Agassi, founder and chief executive of privately owned Better Place, said the cost is an estimated “ballpark” range and that investors have yet to be lined up for the all-island project. Better Place has signed a memorandum of understanding with Hawaiian Electric Companies. Power spots will be first to pop up all over the island, including parking lot locations and stations in the downtown areas.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “Under the plan, consumers would buy or lease electric cars, and Better Place would supply recharging services and batteries. Consumers would have a choice of buying mileage plans — which would include recharging services and battery swaps — or being guests on the network and paying for each battery charge”.

The company will continue to work with automakers to design electric cars that fit Hawaii’s driving and traffic patterns. They are saying that Nissan-Renault has already signed on to make vehicles compatible with the proposed network. The other automakers may soon join in. The clever upstart plans to offer electric transportation as a service with drivers paying to access a network of charging stations, much in the same way they pay for access to mobile phone service. Better Place has been selected as one of the “Fifty Best Tech Startups” by Business Week.

Nissan-Renault has said they will build the electric cars, and mass market availability in Hawaii is expected in 2012. According the map on their website, the company is now operating in the United States, Israel, Denmark, Australia and Japan. Find out more about Better Place here.

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Everyday choices are the foundation of our energy usage and financial expenses. You already know that if you make wise choices in the grocery or department store you can save money and get what you want. The same is true of energy choices. You don’t have to go without air in the heat of the day or stop using your dryer. Although cutting back when it’s least painful is not a bad idea. If you are motivated to get this done, then I have some suggestions.

The government website, Energy Awareness, offers a number of materials and resources. When you go there, ask for the CD Rom “Power Kit of Energy Awareness Resources,” which is instructional and helpful in the real world. They also offer a book, “Go Green”, which gives some great ideas for saving energy.

In a nutshell, here’s what they suggest (with a few of my own thrown in):
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I am sure you have been hearing a lot about water conservation. Nearly every state in the union has been talking about conserving water and for various reasons, the foremost of which is the drought conditions in many places. Here in Florida our fire danger alert system is always on red. There just isn’t enough water on the ground to reduce the risk of fire and the water table is always too low. We are currently on restricted sprinkling schedules with some of us watering on even days and others on odd. This is all because there just isn’t enough potable water to go around.

California is another state suffering severe drought conditions with continuous wildfires and mudslides. I realize these are both coastal states, right on the waterfront, and it’s hard to imagine these areas as being dry. But, believe me, they are. Toss in the midwest and southern states, where desert conditions continue year after year and you get the picture. California is in a fight with it’s border neighbors over access to water sources that they share and here in Florida we have been fighting with Georgia over access to the Suwannee River and its water supply for several years now.

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Finally, the EPA is making strides toward reigning in air pollution! After eight years of Bush, who did not believe in air pollution, we are starting to see some work being done in the name of the people. I don’t care if you believe in global warming or not but there is no denying COPD and Black Lung. Not everybody who dies of lung cancer was a smoker. Think about that.

So now the EPA is demanding that cities clean up their air. They have added 15 cities to the sooty air list, mostly in states not usually thought of as polluted, such as Alaska, Utah, Idaho and Wisconsin. This surprise is probably due to the prevalence of wood burning stoves in western and northern regions, a top EPA official said.

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