Archive for June, 2007

Welcome to South Dakota

June 22nd, 2007 by Bill
Welcome to South Dakota

We rode into South Dakota today. It was a great ride because we averaged over 14 mph with a tail wind and cloudy skies kept the weather cooler. It’s amazing how quickly things can change; the last 3 days we’ve been riding into a fierce head wind that had us averaging 7 mph. Today the wind shifted 180 degrees and the world became a far better place.

On KWAT radio in Watertown, SD

When we arrived in Watertown SD, we stopped at a restaurant where we could set up the mobile office and plan our radio interview, check email and catch up on the blog entries. A quick news search showed some incredibly positive news. The Senate agreed on a fuel efficiency increase for cars and trucks — an average of 35 mpg for cars, SUVs and pick-ups by 2020. This seemed impossible just a few years ago, but the winds have shifted 180 degrees and the seemingly impossible just happened.

Keep in mind that this is just the Senate that has agreed on a fuel efficiency increase. Now the House of Representatives will have to agree on one, the two bodies will have to come up with a compromise that they can both agree on and the President will have to sign it. Our elected leaders are debating a major energy bill that will play a huge role in addressing (or ignoring) global warming. You should contact (write, email or call) your two Senators and one Representative and let them know that you care about global warming and want a smart energy bill that will help address the problem. Now is a great time for them to hear from you and you can use this link if to find their contact information.

Bicycling in Minneapolis is Great!

June 20th, 2007 by David

We made a video celebrating the bikeways in Madison, Wisconsin (and you should take a look at it – it is one of our favorites). We recently arrived in Minneapolis, and discovered that that city also has excellent bikeways. Here is a video tribute:

Cow Power and Renewable Energy in Wisconsin

June 18th, 2007 by David
An interview with Channel 8, La Crosse, WI
Dinner in La Crosse

Our final stop in Wisconsin was in the town of La Crosse, where, in addition to appearing on the local TV news (click here to watch the clip on Youtube!), we stayed with a Karolanne and Karen. Karolanne works with ‘Dairlyand Power Cooperative,’ a company that generates and provides electricity for about half a million people around the area. (You can see Karolanne at the end of the last video we posted here – she is the one jumping up and encouraging you to change your light bulb.)

As Bill and I are energy dorks, we enjoyed asking Karolanne all sorts of questions about how energy is produced and used in Wisconsin. (Interesting fact that we learned: the electricity use in Wisconsin for air conditioning in the summer now exceeds the electricity use for heating in the winter).

Karolanne in La Crosse, showing the end result of methane digester.

It turns out that coal, which is one of the biggest producers of carbon dioxide, is still cheaper than renewable energy, but that the state is doing many things to promote renewable energy. We also learned that a new type of electricity generation, which Karolanne dubbed ‘Cow Power’ is becoming viable in Wisconsin. We decided to let Karolanne, who is shown on the right with digested cow manure, explain in her own words.

How does Wisconsin promote renewable Energy?

Wisconsin has a renewable portfolio standard that mandates all utilities in Wisconsin to produce 10% of their energy from renewable resources by 2015. My company, DPC, also has various incentive and rebate programs that encourage members to buy energy efficient appliances. DPC produces renewable energy from wind, landfill-gas-to-energy plants, hydropower and manure digesters – manure digesters are also known as ‘cow power.’

Please explain ‘Cow Power’ to us. It sounds pretty cool.

“Cow power” plants use dairy cow manure as the energy source. The manure is collected and heated, creating the natural byproduct of methane gas. That methane is the fuel used to power the generators.

Methane Digester (we didn't take this shot). Cow manure is put in a digester to produce methane, which is burned for energy!

We currently have three of these power plants (one shown on the right). Each of these anaerobic manure digester facilities can generate enough to power at least 600 homes (775-840 kilowatts). Our long-term goal is to create enough power from these digesters to power approximately 20,000 homes (25 Megawatts).

What else is great about ‘Cow Power?’ (besides the name)

Manure digesters also help farmers.

* This energy source is abundant and “natural” to our region. Unlike some forms of renewable generation, this fuel is a constant, steady source. As long as there are livestock farms, there will be an available supply of manure.
* Clean air and water pollution issues associated with manure disposal are significantly reduced, as is the odor problem.
* Weed seeds and pathogens are killed during the digestion process.
* The heated, de-watered byproduct of the digestion process can be used as natural bedding. The liquid can be used as a fertilizer by the farmer, thus reducing dependence on chemical fertilizers.
* Odor issues, an increasing problem for farmers, are reduced by the manure digesters.
* Potential pollutants from manure in ground and surface water are minimized.

Learn more about Dairyland Power Cooperative and their renewable energy resources at

Thanks! And, as we said before, be sure to see Karolanne in our video of crossing Wisconsin!

Wisconsin Montage – 20%

June 17th, 2007 by David

Another few hours in front of imovie has produced the following montage of biking across Wisconsin. The music in the background is provided by Peter Mulvey, a musician who biked with us out of Milwaukee.

In addition to scenery of us biking and camping across Wisconsin, we share one fact about global warming: over 20% of all known species of plants and animals may be at risk to extinction due to global warming (source: the IPCC’s recent report). This would radically transform the natural world, and it would be a major tragedy. Think about it – one out of every five species of birds, plants, animals, gone. Why should we accept this?

We end the film with a practical suggestion from one person we stayed with in La Crosse, WI – change a lightbulb to a more efficient bulb. It saves you money, and will result in power plants putting less carbon dioxide into the atmopshere. It will lessen global warming.

And of course, there is bonus material at the end of our film. Watch below.

Biking in Madison is Great!

June 12th, 2007 by David

Madison Wisconsin has some of the best bikeways I have ever seen. The biking here is excellent, and a incredible number of people bike to work or use the bicycle as transportation. It is great to see, and it makes me ask, why not do this in more communities? Doesn’t it feel great when you are able to bike to work? You are healthier, you save money, and, of course, you don’t add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Why not demand better bikeways?

The video below (really a ‘music video’) says it better. Click and watch.

(The music in the background is provided by the Motor Primitives)

Biking with the Mayor of Madison

June 12th, 2007 by David

Mayor Dave (he goes by his first name) met us on our first day in Madison, Wisconsin, and went for a short bike ride. The mayor is doing excellent work to reduce Madison’s greenhouse gas emissions. Click on the video below to watch!

Fort Atkinson, WI – Our First Vlog

June 7th, 2007 by David

We have decided to try to use the video editing powers of the laptop we are (er…I am) carrying and do some vloging (‘video logging’). Below are two videos. The first we edited together from our stop in Fort Atkinson, WI, where we gave a talk at the Cafe Carpe and met a number of people making a difference on global warming. The second is a video of our day biking from Fort Atkinson to Madison, where we were warned of tornadoes all day long. (The second is a bit more exciting…)

Let us know if you enjoy these and would like to see more!

A night in Fort Atkinson:

(Note: a great website for energy audits in Wisconsin:

Avoiding storms on the way to Madison:


June 5th, 2007 by David

After our ride with Father Charles, Bill and I biked two more days across Michigan to Muskegon, where we caught a ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. From there, we took a train to Chicago, leaving our bikes in Milwaukee.

Kathy and Joey

In Chicago, we stayed a night with Kathy Schubert, who is shown on the left with her faithful companion Joey (yes, Joey is the dog). (Joey also just turned 13, and as Kathy is Jewish, she showed us pictures of Joey celebrating her ‘bark mitzvah’) Kathy is highly involved in many cycling events through the city, and organized a bike ride event for us to travel Chicago and see various environmental sites in Chicago.

Fortunately, Kathy has a few extra bikes (about 7, to be precise), so I was able to get on a bike for the ride. Some 40 cyclists joined us, and we weaved about the city, visiting a random collection of ‘green sites,’ including green roofs, vacant lots that have been turned into tiny farms (within the city limits), energy efficient buildings, and the Chicago River. I did not think of the Chicago river as being an environmentally positive site, as it has a sign reading ‘water unfit to touch your skin,’ but, according to the other cyclists with us, it is incredibly clean compared to a few decades ago.

A 'mini ride for climate.'
Community supported agriculture within Chicago city limits
The Chicago River - not clean, but much less dirty than it once was
From an overpass, Chicago

In all, Chicago is a fairly ‘green’ city, and the mayor has a promise to become the nation’s ‘greenest city.’ The city has a large push for green roofs, which reduce dirty runnoff into the lake and also reduce air conditioning bills. I found the city very easy to bike around (although many of the buses were wanting), and learned that there is a very ambitious plan to make the cycling even better. The city is installing solar panels on many city buildings, and planting thousands of trees.

One of my goals in Chicago was to reach the Latino community, and I was fortunate to appear both on Telemundo Chicago, and give a talk to a large auditorium of Latinos (I had to give the talk in Spanish). Bill and I also gave a talk for a group of younger students (in English), and a talk at Chicago’s Lincoln Park library.

Telemundo Chicago
Noche Cultural crowd - David gave a talk in Spanish to this group!  A great event!  Food from all over Latin America
Students at the Erie Neighborhood House

Michigan Interfaith Power & Light

June 2nd, 2007 by Bill

We scheduled many events for this project months in advance. At the same time we were scheduling events, we were also trying to figure out our bicycle route. As we rode towards Michigan, we realized that we didn’t have time to do the talk in Monroe and still get to Chicago on time for events there. So we utilized multi-modal transportation. This is a great term that means using more than one mode of transportation to reach your destination. A few cities offer good multi-modal transportation where you can, for example, ride your bike to the bus and put the bike on a rack and then bus across town before hopping on your bike again to reach your destination. Many cities need further work to make this a realistic form of transportation for people.

Father Charles' Hybrid Honda Civic

We looked into a train but soon found that this Amtrak line does not allow bicycles. Then Father Charles came to the rescue. Father Charles is a friend who helped to set-up our talk in Monroe. He was already heading to Grand Rapids for a conference and offered to give us a ride in his Honda Civic Hybrid. We caught a ride to E. Lansing which took 120 miles off of our route (no, we don’t count these miles in our total) and allowed us to reach Chicago in time for the group ride. We also had the opportunity to interview Father Charles and hear why he is so concerned about global warming and what he is doing about it.

Father Charles was ordained a Catholic Priest in 1983. In the 90’s he went back to school and got a masters degree in urban planning with a focus on environmental justice. His interest in global warming peaked due to three main things:

1. A woman in his parish challenged him to rekindle his interest in environmental concerns (again showing the impact one person can have);
2. Dr. James Hansen of Nasa gave testimony in 1988 about the emerging threat of global warming;
3. He read Dream of the Earth by Thomas Berry.

Father Charles went on to start Michigan Interfaith Power and Light (and this how I met him – when I worked for the national organization). Michigan Interfaith Power and Light works with member congregations to educate people of global warming and find practical solutions. They help congregations save money with energy efficient products, work with congregations to find developers and contractors who can build with energy conservation and efficiency in mind and educate others about these solutions.

Interfaith Power and Light

In his own Church, they invested $160K in things such as a much more efficient boiler, new lighting, energy efficient windows, and Energy Star appliances. The results were a 60% reduction of energy use and a savings of over $20,000 each year in energy costs. Results like these are possible for many homes and buildings by conducting an energy audit and implementing the findings.

Visiting the Sisters of Monroe, Michigan

June 1st, 2007 by Bill
Barn, Bill
A wind turbine, a compact florescent, and a programmable thermostat!  All in downtown Monroe!  (At the store Independent Energy)

We rode along farm roads into Monroe, Michigan and arrived on a warm afternoon at the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Motherhouse. This is a 280 acre community of over 500 vowed sisters. Their website describes an important part of their mission:

“In today’s world, people are often alienated from one another and from the Earth. There is unequal access to the resources of the planet; oppression of persons and cultures for the material benefit of a few; consumerism promoted as the preferred way of life; and devastating pollution to our land, air and water. There is a longing for spiritual expression and a balanced way of life.

Our IHM community considers sustainability a moral mandate for the 21st century. We are re-visioning our community and our entire Monroe campus in ways that respond to the wider needs of the world, focusing on the interdependency and interrelation of economic, environmental and social equity.”

Sue gives us a tour of the IHM Sister's Motherhouse - what an amazing place!

Sister Sue gave us a tour of the main building — an impressive art-deco structure that was built in the 1930’s and recently renovated. Many elements of sustainable design went into the renovation, but a few energy-related highlights include:

A geothermal heating and cooling system that utilizes the Earth’s constant 55 degree temperature. Water is circulated underground through 54 miles of pipe and used to help with both heating and cooling of the 376,000 sq. foot Motherhouse.
Energy consumption was reduced by maximum use of daylighting, programmed lighting, and energy efficient lighting (including many 1930’s fixtures which were restored and updated for use with energy efficient light bulbs).
Resused & salvaged materials including doors and windows and marble.
A graywater system which saves 6,200 gallons of water a day from heading directly to an energy intensive water treatment plant. It captures water from sinks and showers and filters it through a constructed wetland before returning it to the Motherhouse for use in flushing toilets.

A talk at the IMH Motherhouse in Monroe
Lunch at the IHM Sister's house

The average age of the 220 resident sisters is 86. These women have taken on a huge committment to offer a model for others. David and I had a fantastic time hearing about the work they have done and hopefully gained some wisdom from their learning. We gave a presentation to the sisters and to people from the local community and appeared in the local newspaper.