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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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A chimney plug unboxing

Uploaded: Dec 15, 2019
The biggest emission sources for people in our area, besides those from general consumption, are: transportation (car and plane), food (diet and waste), and heating (space and water). One thing I struggle with is finding cheap/easy fixes for space heating. A colleague told me she recently priced two ductless heat pumps for four rooms in her Palo Alto home and the bid was a sky-high $14,000. She will pass! My own house has new-enough radiant heat powered by an efficient (for gas) furnace, and it’s working just fine. So how to reduce our heating emissions?

The house and roof are well insulated, so beyond adjusting the thermostat, I didn’t have many ideas. A year or so ago I had Palo Alto’s Home Efficiency Genie come by, a visit that I’ll cover in more detail some time next year. One thing the building analyst noticed is that one of the two fireplaces in the house had a draft even with a closed damper. The chimney he identified has the original equipment, so that made sense. He mentioned that a fix that doesn’t cost too much is a chimney plug. I installed one recently and it was easy and seems like it will work, so I thought I’d do a quick blog post on it in case others are interested. And if you install one soon, it might provide a cushy landing for Santa!

The chimney plug I got is an inflatable one of dark black plastic, but they also have some made of other materials. You can look online for “chimney plug” or “fireplace plug” or similar. The one I ordered came like this and is very lightweight:



Before you order one, it helps to know what your flue looks like. How big is it, and is there anything protruding into it that you will need to work around? Our chimney flue looks like this; you can see the damper latch that the plug needs to get around.



The chimney plug comes with slots to accommodate latches like that, as shown on the package.



When you empty the package, the contents are simple:



It takes about a minute to put the handle together and strap it into the elastic bands on the uninflated plug.



You blow the plug up partway before putting it into the flue.



You can see below where I cut a slit for the latch handle that juts out in the center of the flue.



You insert the plug into the flue in a V shape, pushing the back up first and then the front, leaving the blow tube hanging down by the fireplace opening so you can blow it up the rest of the way. Here is what it looks like after it is blown up. This photo is taken looking up the chimney from where the logs are. You can see the metal latch handle poking out of the plug below the black plastic handle.



After tucking the blow tube up and away, it looks like this from the front of the fireplace. The label says “CAUTION NO FIRE”, and the handle is an adjustable length.



You can remove the plug when needed to light a fire. We don’t use this fireplace, so I expect the plug to be there for a long time. I’m glad the handle has an easily understandable message!

Some of you may be wondering how much money this will save in electric bills and/or how many emissions it will save, compared with the cost to purchase it or the emissions emitted to make and ship it. I don’t know the emissions needed for manufacturing, and the end comparisons depend on the degree of the draft. Financially, if you spend an average of $60/month for six months on space heating, you need to save 5% of your heating bill during those months to come out even after 4 years. Those of you who can rig something up yourselves with scraps of batting and/or foam would do better.

I have a few other inexpensive ideas for saving on space heating that I’ll cover when I do the Home Genie blog post. But I’d love to hear any you have, as we are getting into colder weather.

Ed note: Some terminology in this blog was updated due to an unwitting trademark infringement.

Local News: Six of the candidates for California Senate District 13 (that's us) will be discussing climate change and the environment for 2+ hours on Wednesday, January 15 at Menlo-Atherton High School. Interested in local policies? Register here (it's free).

Current Climate Data (October/November 2019)

A new study shows we may be seeing a dangerous warming feedback loop or “tipping point” in the Arctic. “”Thawing permafrost throughout the Arctic could be releasing an estimated 300-600 million tons of net carbon per year to the atmosphere,” the NOAA writes in the report. That’s roughly the equivalent of Japan’s annual emissions. And those emissions are going to increase (as the planet keeps warming).”

Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Comments

 +   19 people like this
Posted by The Solstice is Coming!, a resident of Mayfield,
on Dec 15, 2019 at 4:52 pm

Very nice article. Perhaps I'll get one.

Would you say the Climate Change movement is more:

a) a political ideology (for example, the formulators of the “Green Nw Deal" see it as a mechanism to help them radically restructure society); or,

b) a religious movement to help its adherents feel less guilty about the comforts of their material well-being?

Or something else entirely?


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 15, 2019 at 10:04 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

I’m not sure if this is a sincere question, but here’s a stab at it. Suppose there is an Ebola outbreak in this area (monkey escape? hospital breach?). After a few weeks of diagnosis, lots of people jump on it to try to contain it. Doctors dive in -- it’s their job. Volunteers chip in -- many have friends or relatives who are affected. Businesses fund work on vaccines. The state erects barricades and shelters, and sets up regulations about who can go where. Everyone adheres to the new rules, and in that sense they help as well.

Is this a religious response to the outbreak? Not particularly, though maybe some people help for religious reasons. Is it political? Not really, though maybe some government reps are jockeying for who can be seen to do the most. Are people acting out of self-interest? Maybe some people from San Francisco come down to help in part because they really don’t want it spreading north. Maybe a few volunteers with dead family members have survivor’s guilt. The businesses help at least in part because they see some profit in it. At the end of the day, though, most people just don’t want to see a lot of people dying when they can possibly prevent it.

With climate change, the whole planet is sick, though it’s not quite as local and tangible as the Ebola outbreak. People are taking action in various ways, similar to the above. To take one example, there is general agreement that we can help the planet by reducing the number of gas-powered vehicles on the road. So the state is creating incentives and regulations, businesses are developing new types of bikes and EVs, companies and garages are building bike racks and installing charging infrastructure, people are choosing to bike more and drive EVs, etc. Different participants have different motives, but I expect at the end of the day, most are acting out of concern for the planet and/or to comply with the state (which is acting out of concern for the planet). This is not ideal. People are used to acting out of concern for their wallet -- the profit motive. And the planet’s sickness is still indistinct enough that many people are not choosing to act. So the more the state can do to align planetary concerns with monetary concerns, the more people are likely to act. That is why there is widespread interest in some type of carbon pricing.

I don’t know if this addresses your question, though. There doesn’t seem to be a single “climate change movement” in my view, anyway. There is a lot going on.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by MP Resiident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 8:34 am

[Portion removed]

You really want to help climate change? Support housing near jobs. Compared to long commutes due to the lack of housing supply, chimney pillows and reusable party-ware are well into the noise.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 9:01 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Yup. That said, I try to cover a variety of things in this blog because people start in different places. I am all for it. Otherwise most of the posts would be about getting out of gas-powered cars (and planes), buying less stuff, and communicating more productively.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by The Solstice Is Coming!, a resident of Mayfield,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 11:03 am

It was a sincere question, and you responded with a sincere answer.

I'm grateful for fossil fuels.

I'm glad that grateful that gas prices are lower (thanks to frackers) because that allows lower income workers who commute great distances to their jobs to keep a little bit more of their earnings for their families.

I'm grateful for low cost air travel because it allows distant grandparents to visit their grandkids and share hugs and family stories.

I'm grateful for widespread air conditioning because it's allowed workers in the southwest, south, northeast, and midwest to work more comfortably and productively in the summer months.

I'm grateful for the immense infrastructure underlying the Internet (and the Cloud) because it allows a whole host of communication applications to exist.

And, I'm grateful to the engineers, designers, and scientists who are working to make all of the above more more energy-efficient and cleaner. I hope that in the next three decades much of this new technology can be inexpensively exported to China and India.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 2:08 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Solstice. Thank you, and I agree with many of those sentiments.

I particularly agree that we should find ways to share our technology with those who could use it. You mention China and India. One thing to note is that China is arguably well ahead of us in this regard. They are investing a lot in this area and have stayed in the global discussions (e.g., the Paris agreement). According to this article, China has produced one-third of the solar panels and wind turbines in the world, they have almost half the world's electric vehicles, 99% of the electric buses, and half the world's charging infrastructure. They obviously have a huge climate challenge in their country, but they have leadership that wants to invest to address it, and they have many extremely capable engineers, along with a seat at the global table. I cannot fathom why, instead, we as a country are running away from this.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful comments.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 3:37 pm

This is a good way to keep not heat and money from going up the chimney (literally and figuratively). I think it cost us $100 to get one - installed - some years ago, and probably has already paid itself back several times over. Even the biggest climate change skeptic should be able to see the value of this.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by The Solstice is Coming, a resident of Mayfield,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 3:41 pm

Hi Sherry,

Thanks for your response.

I'm one of those who was delighted when our President took the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. Redistributing tens (perhaps hundreds) of trillions of dollars from the world's richer countries to the poorer ones over the coming decades would have a negligible impact on modulating the planet's temperature. (Perhaps this is a topic for your other recent post dealing with “virtue signaling.")

I have not read your older posts; thus, I don't know your position on nuclear energy and whether you support a major push in adopting some of the newer (fourth gen) nuclear technologies to address our country's energy needs.

Best wishes.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 4:48 pm

Posted by The Solstice Is Coming!, a resident of Mayfield,

>> I'm grateful for fossil fuels.

I'm grateful for people who can imagine alternatives to fossil fuels.

>> I'm glad that grateful that gas prices are lower (thanks to frackers) because that allows lower income workers who commute great distances to their jobs to keep a little bit more of their earnings for their families.

I'm grateful that cost-effective electric vehicles are now available so that people can commute long distances without using fossil fuels. One person I know works at several locations, up to 100 mi apart, and now makes that trip with an electric vehicle.

>> I'm grateful for low cost air travel because it allows distant grandparents to visit their grandkids and share hugs and family stories.

I'm grateful that some countries, such as Japan and France, have developed efficient high-speed rail that is faster end-to-end than air travel for intermediate distances. Such travel allows grandparents to visit their grandkids and share hugs. I'm also grateful that short-hop battery-powered airplanes are now being developed. Web Link . I'm grateful that so many engineers are now realizing that travel alternatives that meet consumer needs don't necessarily have to utilize fossil fuels.

>> I'm grateful for widespread air conditioning because it's allowed workers in the southwest, south, northeast, and midwest to work more comfortably and productively in the summer months.

I'm grateful that an ever-growing quantity of electrical energy on the grid is from renewable sources.

>> And, I'm grateful to the engineers, designers, and scientists who are working to make all of the above more more energy-efficient and cleaner. I hope that in the next three decades much of this new technology can be inexpensively exported to China and India.

I'm grateful that engineers all over the world are working on non-fossil-fuel technologies to eliminate the reliance on fossil fuel. For example, a startup, Heliogen, can now generate blast-furnace temperatures using solar energy: Web Link

>> I'm one of those who was delighted when our President took the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. Redistributing tens (perhaps hundreds) of trillions of dollars from the world's richer countries to the poorer ones over the coming decades would have a negligible impact on modulating the planet's temperature. (Perhaps this is a topic for your other recent post dealing with “virtue signaling.")

Please don't confuse virtue with virtue signaling. Reducing and eliminating GHG production via solar technology is virtuous.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by for our grandkids, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 4:49 pm

> Would you say the Climate Change movement is more:
> a) <my first political point>; or,
> b) <my second political point>


> I'm not sure if this is a sincere question...

No, it wasn't. It was a frame, pure and simple. Sincerity would have worded it differently, such as: Sherry - how would you define The Climate Change Movement?

To follow with "I am grateful for (modernity)" is essentially drivel (I'm sure modern life vs pre-industrial life polls quite well, thank you!)

I'm curious, Solstice:

- how recently did you accept Climate Change as reality?
- your concerns about other major emitters, do you view them on a per capita basis?


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 16, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Solstice. You make a pretty broad claim: "Redistributing tens (perhaps hundreds) of trillions of dollars from the world’s richer countries to the poorer ones over the coming decades would have a negligible impact on modulating the planet’s temperature."

Do you have a reference or two for that analysis? The recent climate talks fell apart over issues like this. I'd love to see the analysis you are referring to.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 1:42 pm

> I cannot fathom why, instead, we as a country are running away from this.

I don't think you should let the unpleasant people make you feel like we are running away from anything. I think this is a defect in the unregulated marketplace we have in the US ... behind everyone else in the developed world.

I think what drives is is that our petroleum industry sees itself as a political super-block that has had their hand forcefully on the steering wheel of our country for around a century. They pushed us into wars for oil domination ... and even I think that was not all bad. Cutting off oil to Germany in WWII was key to winning the war. These oligarch elites want to "conserve" their power and place, so they slow things down and try to take over the new industries or down-regulate them to slow them down and keep competition down. This is a Mafiosi-like cartel of power instead of a competition between products in a market, my key criticism of US casino capitalism.

China is making efforts, but they are also not showing much progress because as they increase efficiency they also increase per-capita CO2 emissions per person.

When something happens that seems weird or illogical ... you can bet there is political and economic forces moving in the background that are happening. Occasionally even for good reason, but there should not be an economic entitlement for the super-rich to always maintain the economic and political power such that we all have to wait for them to get their ducks in a line before we see progress.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Judy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Dec 17, 2019 at 9:05 pm

I'm on a super tight budget, barely able to pay my sky-high rent in Menlo Park. To stay warm while in my apartment, I wear my fuzzy warm socks, pajamas and robe. At night I turn on my electric blanket just long to warm up my bed, and then turn it off before I go to sleep. I sleep in a wool sweater and robe with a hood covering my head to stay warm. Poverty keeps me from producing harmful heating emissions.

It always cracks me up when people complain of the cold during the winter while in their homes, wearing only a teeshirt and blue jeans. It helps a lot to just put on really warm clothes/socks/hat while indoors instead of relying only on the heater for warmth. Wool hats keep a lot of body heat from escaping through your head. Just put on a wool knitted hat /scarf/sweater and turn down the thermostat.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 19, 2019 at 7:20 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Judy, that is a great point! Warm comforters, too. I remember when I was young my grandmother put hot water bottles in our beds before we grandkids went to sleep. It was soooo nice.

@CPA, that is a great point about China. Here is a graph of per capita emissions that I made on globalcarbonatlas.org. You can see how China's (grey) have increased while many western countries' have decreased. China's per capita emissions are now almost twice that of Sweden (pink), and more than either France (orange) or the UK (light blue). One confounding factor is it's not clear from this chart how much of this is because China is producing more products for consumption by the other economies, as opposed to producing products for its own consumption. (These are "territorial" or "producer" emissions per capita, not "consumption" emissions, which are much harder to measure well.)


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 20, 2019 at 9:18 pm

"I'm grateful for fossil fuels."

Me too, and it's time to give them their well-earned retirement. Let what remains of the breed rest in peace


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