Whelp, I’m a MELP Whelp

December 18, 2013

I’ve recently been accepted to Vermont Law School, in their Master of Environmental Law and Policy program. The plan is to start in January ’14 and finish in August ’15. This is very exciting, and I really feel like I’m moving toward achieving my ambition to have meaningful conversations about energy use and the environment with people that can effect change.

Getting going has been a bit of a slog. There was a great deal of inertia to overcome, and hesitation about starting something new when I’m not 100% secure in my job yet. Other things on the horizon have actually propelled me to start this endeavor now, so that at least some things in my life are certain over the next year. (I’ll likely post about those as they come to fruition, so keep hitting F5!)

The first course is Public Law and I’ve started reading the textbook: pretty interesting stuff. I’m enjoying the chapter about the branches of government, though I do have to run to the dictionary a fair bit. The second course will be Environmental Law, for which three books are required. I’m not sure how we’ll get through three books in seven weeks, but then I’ve never been in grad school before so I’m in for all kinds of fun I imagine.

It turns out that you’ve got to get up pretty early to pull the wool over the eyes of D.C. suburbanites, even when it’s for their own good.

A staffer at the Natural Resources Defense Council reports that some residents of Rockville, MD oppose a light-rail system that’s been planned for their King Farm neighborhood. They feel that there’d be no benefit in a light-rail, or rapid transit bus, system. The NIMBYists are happy to commute, shop, and play in the usual way: by car. They’ve started or joined more than one coalition in order to maintain the status quo. Community residents have stated that a light-rail track running down the middle of their conspicuously wide median would be an underutilized, visual blemish. “Nothing doing,” they say.

Thing is? The community was planned around the light-rail that they don’t want. In fact, King Farm received several awards and accolades for its forward thinking and use of public space.

The community developers dropped the ball on this one. If they had a) built the transit system in conjunction with the now-occupied homes, shops, and public buildings; or b) shared with prospective buyers the intent to put in a line at some point down the road (no pun intended) this would be a non-issue. As it is homeowners feel hoodwinked, award-givers are feeling gunshy, and the decision has been bumped up to the the Maryland governor, Martin O’Malley. +1 for bureaucracy.

Even though the developers should’ve done a better job of communicating their design and intentions, it’s very likely that the residents will ultimately pay the price (this time: pun intended). Public radio’s Marketplace recently ran a story sharing some anecdotal information that homes & properties within walking distances of public transportation have been largely insulated from the collapse of the housing bubble. By ‘insulated’ I mean prices for homes near public transit are between 140% and 200% of their driving-distance sprawling comparables, where h0me prices have fallen significantly.  You can listen to the story here.

Thanks to @TreeHuggerNRDC Switchboard, and APM Marketplace


When my engineering position at a research manufacturing company was eliminated a few years ago, I took it as an opportunity to explore the possibility of doing something in a field about which I am passionate. One need only glance at the projects on which I’ve volunteered my time to see an environmental thread: restoring it, preserving it, protecting it. The word that kept rattling around in my head was sustainability. This led to thoughts about energy, and the rattling vocab increased immediately to include generation, storage, distribution, and conservation.

Saguaro National Park

So I found myself in a pickle. I realized I was passionate about doing something in a field in which I have zero experience, paid or otherwise. I looked for a few careers supporting the environment (BLM, Parks & Forests, etc) but I never felt so exhilarated as when I considered working with energy. But what to do? That’s a question I’m still trying to answer 104 weeks later. I’ve applied for countless hundreds of jobs that I wasn’t even close to qualified for, and several dozens of jobs for which I should’ve been a shoe-in. I guess, like any good bird in the oven, I’m just not done cookin’ yet.

I realized pretty quickly that I’d eventually like to help craft & guide energy policy at the state or federal level. Admittedly, this realization was largely based on my love of Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing” (insert pause for laughter & pointing). There are no entry-level policy jobs, and I wasn’t selected for a competitive unpaid legislative internship with my Governor’s Energy Office, so I figured I’d use my physics & math degree to find an analyst position in order to learn about how energy works, from societal and commercial perspectives. The thinking was that I’d start with a narrow vision of the industry, and expand my vision over time until I could grasp the big, overall ideas and then start policy-making. No analyst jobs yet.

In another attempt to get my foot in the door I enrolled in a Home Energy Auditor certification prep course. You know these folks: they come to your house, set up a blower door, find the holes where your windows are installed, make sure that your combustion appliances won’t kill you in your sleep, and provide you with tax credit forms for any work that you have done. Turns out that my knees won’t allow me to crawl around in attics checking for insulation depths.  An upshot is that my CAZ Testing Procedure (link) has been read over 1800 times, so I feel pretty good about that.

I started this weblog a few days after being laid off as a way to identify that (or those) aspect(s) of this energy issue that interest me the most. With no experience I’ve had to teach myself what’s out there, what’s relevant, and what’s doable. I’ve read books, informationally interviewed folks in the sector, and continued to volunteer my time where I could. I’ve been able to narrow my focus to the following statement:

I want to be part of the discussion – the one we have as a society, as a people. My position is that economic viability, personal comfort, conservation, and sustainability don’t have to be mutually exclusive goals.

It may end up that this blog is my best way to engage in the conversation about conservation. I don’t think that’s true, though. I’ve been looking & learning for two years now, and have made significant progress in my understanding of what’s important. I have a lot to learn, and a lot to give. Interestingly it’s cyclical: more of one leads to more of  the other.

If you know anyone who is looking to fill an entry-level position in the energy industry with a degreed, experienced professional please pass along my contact info to them & their contact info to me.

Next time: backwards thinking in a forward-thinking community.

Jacob’s Birthday Poem

February 15, 2011

Happy birthday, Jacob.
Another year the same:
Presents bought beat those made,
Cuz ‘made’ is pretty lame.

If you find cards-crafted
In your booty pile
Make sure there’s finger-pointing
At those with ‘crafty’ style.

You know as well as I do
That, to buy stuff, there’s still time;
And that is why I paid a bum
Three dollars for this rhyme.

I hope your birthday wishes
Come to full fruition,
But if you need to you can
Sell this poem for tuition.

Là breith sona dhuit!

The NERF Timeline

February 9, 2011

Sixty years of Nerf. They had a good run.

Late 1960s Parker Brothers invents Nerf®
1972 Kinder, gentler football games played across America
1991 Hasbro buys Parker Brothers
Feb 2011 The Guardian newspaper reports that Saudia Arabia may’ve oversold oil reserve estimates
May 2011 Hasbro sees +13% revenue on increased sales of Nerf® darts, footballs, and related equipment by people enjoying the mild late-spring temperatures
July 2011 Outdoor toys gather dust while people crank up their air conditioners to stave off another temperature-record-breaking summer
2016 Production costs force Hasbro to raise prices on Nerf® toys by 20%. No one notices due to the riots in Holland over retroactive cancellations of a few hundred thousand flood insurance protection policies.
2023 Hasbro sells off its entire Nerf® line to the adult film industry, which is doing surprisingly well. While many had hoped for a flurry of innovation, screenwriters and directors show their usual lack of, well, anything meaningful and end up making another “Iron Man” movie.

Thanks to @PeakOilNews and climateprogress.org

Earlier this week the British Parliament released a report detailing a possible framework for Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs). These are analogous to Renewable Energy Certificates that U.S. companies currently trade, but TEQs are designed for end-user consumers as well.

In their press release the report’s lead authors state:

The report proposes an electronic energy rationing system called TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas). Under TEQs, units of ‘energy credit’ are distributed free to all adults. Surplus units can be bought and sold, meaning that there is no upper limit set on the number of units owned by one person.

What first caught my eye was the liberal use of the words “entitlement” and “access”. By 2020, the report states,  fuel rationing could be a way of life for all Britons (and presumably other developed & developing countries); TEQs are meant to ensure that end-users can access the energy to which they’re entitled.

I like the way this framework is set up because it could allow governments to move away from cash subsidies for green purchases like hybrid cars or ENERGY STAR televisions (cars & TVs being other entitlements of course). Instead of offering cash back or tax rebates, consumers might be credited with a few more TEQ credits. Consumers would use less of their existing TEQ allotment after their purchase so the balance in their “energy savings account” would see both immediate and long-term increases. These extra credits could be sold at a competitive price or saved for a rainy day (pun intended).

I also appreciate the authors’ insight into what motivates consumers to do more with less. “What motivates people to carry out a difficult task is, above all, confidence that the task is an interesting and worthwhile one.” This proposal, then, is less about a policy and more about a framework for driving consumer creativity. That appeals to me greatly, as all energy policies (in a market-driven economy) are supposed to have a built-in obsolescence.

The report is available here [pdf]. Thanks to @PeakOilNews.

I can’t say enough about how pleased I am to be back home in Colorado. This is a place I truly care about: not only this state but this community. A few months ago I started attending city council meetings and introducing myself as an ‘interested citizen’ – both to be involved in local affairs and to network. I’ve learned a lot about chickens, to be sure, but I’ve also been hit with some interesting ideas about my career path (or rather, career implementation).

A few Tuesdays ago a rep from Historic Greeley, Inc informed the council that her not-for-profit had received $125,000 from the Colorado Historical Society and was preparing a sustainable restoration of the First Baptist Church of Greeley.  Well, certainly “sustainable restoration” caught my ear, and I introduced myself to her as soon as she stepped away from the mic. I told her my plan to become a nationally-certified home energy auditor (my BPI Building Analyst Professional training course begins April 12th by the way) and asked if her team had completed an energy audit and if so, if it was performed by someone on her staff or if she had contracted it out or…. I don’t remember exactly how she deflected my question but she did it deftly and she suggested we exchange contact info, promising to contact me to contact me within a few days with more information. She e-mailed me today.

She suggested I contact the folks at Denver’s Colorado Preservation, Inc. I spoke with Jane Daniels, Preservation Projects Manager, for about 15 minutes and it was a very productive conversation. She told me that they’re mostly an education and advocacy group – they don’t take control or ownership of historic buildings and restore them. At the end of the conversation she suggested a few Denver firms that I might get in touch with to learn more – in essence she pointed me toward architectural firms that cater to restoration projects.

For the most part, not-for-profit energy advocacy groups focus on low-income housing;  given the choice I would rather perform energy analyses & audits for historical preservation projects, and I’d love to work for a not-for-profit. Unfortunately it seems like these two ideas are mutually exclusive. I have yet to come across a not-for-profit group providing energy consulting as part of a preservation. Have you heard of anything like this?