All posts by Steve Pan

Enjoys US soccer the same way children enjoy smearing their faces with ice cream

Ground Level Ozone: Stop Ignoring and Start Loving Vapor Recovery Nozzles

Normally when your tank fills up you just replace the nozzle, but unfortunately that often causes some gasoline to, uh, dribble out accidentally. This is bad, and the gas vapor and spilled gasoline will contribute to ground level ozone. (More about why it’s bad later) In a large metro area like St. Louis, gas nozzles come with vapor recovery hoods. Although stickers with instructions are printed and display, I’ve never seen anyone actually read or use them. So today I’m going to tell you how to use them in 3 steps.

  1. Don’t replace the nozzle right after filling up. Wait 3 seconds.
  2. After waiting, insert the nozzle deeper into your gas tank, so that the rubber hood becomes all scrunched up. I will refrain from making any inappropriate sexual comments despite how obvious it all seems.
  3. After a second or two, feel free to replace the nozzle. There should be no spilled gas nor shall gasoline vapor end up.

To give you an example of how this should look, I have included two images. The first one shows the recovery nozzle in it’s natural, unperturbed form. The second shows what it should look like when you push it in all the way, bro.

Smog is Bad
Kills your lungs

So there you go, you’re now an instant expert not only on ground level ozone but also how to properly fill up your tank in St. Louis.

Now,  why this is important and why you should feel bad if you aren’t doing this already:

For asthmatics, the elderly, and those who’ve smoked a pack of American Spirits daily for years, summer can suck (as well as other seasons, depending on what bothers your lungs). Not only is hot and humid air just objectively harder to breathe, but summer also brings the relentless sunshine and heat that encourages ground level ozone formation.

But wait, Ozone is good right? Yes, Ozone is fantastic and prevents our skin from melting off like the Nazi Doctor guy who opened the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just kidding. It’s protective ability is not that dramatic, but it does prevent a lot of harmful ultraviolet radiation from cooking your skin cells and mutating their DNA into unfriendly, cancerous skin DNA.

However, Ozone (O3, that’s right, it’s not 2 but 3 oxygen molecules) does that in the upper atmosphere best. At ground level it can totally ruin your day. Scientists now believe there is a strong association between exposure to ground level ozone and premature death, According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, cutting ground level ozone emissions by a third nationwide would save 4,000 lives annually.

So, how is ground level ozone formed? In large part, due to almost everything in modern life, man.  Ground level ozone forms from the leftovers of the various nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and classes of compounds known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) spewed into the air by modern, western society. To give you a scope of how much precursor material put out that can form ground level ozone, consider how we power our homes to our cars. Most of us (Midwesterners more) use a lot of fossil fuels. These fuels are organic in nature, and once out in the open air they release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Sunshine and heat (it’s fucking hot and sunny in summer in a lot of places here, if you haven’t figured it out yet) conspire to break up these chemically volatile and fragile molecules. When broken up, some of the attached oxygen molecules in these compounds peace the hell out and attach themselves to floating, regular O2 molecules. The ones that people like to breathe, unfortunately. Keep in mind, I mentioned fossil fuels, but VOCs can be found anywhere, including windshield wiper fluid, perfume, and even oil based paint (I’m looking at you here, Tina). Add that all up, and you can how the problem can snowball out of control.

I’m going to throw this right out here: there is not going to be a quick fix. Many of the chemicals that are precursors are also extremely necessary in modern life. So we can all do our part to use less of them. However, I have advertised one neat feature that is featured on gas pumps in large cities with smog issues. They are called vapor recovery nozzles.

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Review: Red and Moe

Photo by Steve Pan

A dual review in which Steve and Tina talk about their shared experience at Red & Moe.  Here’s Steve’s take:

It’s pretty difficult to get excited about pizza. As a basic American food, the concept of topping dough with sauce, cheese, and other ingredients before nuking it in an oven has been done to death.

I admit I’m pretty jaded. Red and Moe’s sustainability gimmick with their pizza seemed interesting enough for us at Footprint. I’m now glad we went to take a gander. Their pizza is fantastic.

Red and Moe, located at 21 North Ninth Street, is tastefully decorated, combining a hip, modern aesthetic with subtle, vintage charm. For example, the retro-looking tableside lamp at our table flickered whenever I banged on the table (not always on accident), bringing me much joy. In addition, water is brought to you in a highball glass, giving common Eau de Columbia a much more rarified presentation. You’d swear it tastes better too.

But the real show here is the pizza. In addition to the generic red sauce n’ cheese, Red and Moe has a rotating selection of specialty pizzas made exclusively with locally sourced ingredients. The apples that go into their apple and red onion marmalade pie, for example, are from the CCUA.

We chose JJR’s farm roasted chicken, which was probably one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had.  It’s a glorious shitshow of various European cuisine archetypes plus good ol’ roasted chicken.  The roasted chicken topping was succulent and full of flavor. I I’ve probably eaten a henhouse’s worth of rubbery, flavorless chicken from a CAFO. This however, is the real deal. Additionally, the pizza is topped with escarole, a somewhat pretentious leafy green but wonderfully complementary with the roasted chicken and mozzarella/basil base. Also interesting is the dressing on the escarole, a garlic aioli (raw egg and garlic mayo) that lent a powerful, but not overwhelming flavor to the pizza. Overall, there was not much to be disappointed with. I thought the crust was a little underwhelming, and at $15, it’s pretty expensive.

If you’re just looking for a quick slice after class or drinking too much, Red and Moe may be an in appropriate choice. Those looking for sustainable take on an American favorite in a classy but casual environment will be rewarded.

Tina:

I disagree with Steve. I get excited about pizza. It’s the energy currency of this whole campus, for goodness sake. Maybe that’s why I was already excited about Red and Moe.  Disregarding the fact that expanding this currency analogy presents some real-life logistic problems, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that cheaper pizza like Domino’s or Gumby’s is a dime a dozen for college students. Getting Red & Moe is like someone handing you a crisp $20 bill. Hel-lo, Andrew Jackson.

Red & Moe was legendary.  I had heard of its sustainable sourcing and tasty inventions, but was always too put off by the prices to go inside.

First off, it’s less snooty than the price tag makes it seem, which I guess makes sense because, well, it is a pizza joint. Our waitress was super helpful as she walked us through what exactly aioli sauce and escarole entails. After hearing her description, Steve and I didn’t need words to agree that we wanted that pizza.

My only regret is that I didn’t have room to finish it all. Thin, crispy crust, garlic mayonnaise and uncooked greens are best enjoyed fresh, so bring two friends if you’re going for lunch.

Know what else you can have at Red and Moe? Wine pairings with pizza. To-go options. A nice bout of the warm fuzzies.

Would I pick Red and Moe over Shakespeare’s? They’re too different to compare. I’d go to Shakespeare’s to hang out with a bunch of friends and have a lot of pizza that is instantly satisfying and delicious — comfort food and lots of noise. With a good friend like Steve, I’d go to Red and Moe, where we can talk about life and savor all the flavors of the food. I’m glad Columbia has options like this, so I can cash in on my pizza cravings no matter the mood.

Some thoughts about cars, society, and driving.

This is an opinion article that does not necessarily reflect the views of Sustain Mizzou or its members.

People blame America’s automobile dependency for a lot of things, including a worsening environment. Little is talked about, however, of the social costs that cars incur.

Cars pretty much cause a total sensory washout. Mucking with the AC or XM Satellite radio and the omnipresent concern of rearending the too-slow asshole in the left lane all fight for your attention. It’s too bad that most Americans choose this method to get where they need to go, and it explains a lot about why our infrastructure gets more and more decrepit every year and our communities more stretched out and isolated.

When I’m in my Accord and I hit a pothole, nothing really major happens instantly to affect my quality of life. Sure, it might fuck up my alignment after awhile but the car provides a layer of insulation from the outside world. The Accord’s suspension takes care of the bump so I don’t split my head open on my roof. All is well. I might even drag my feet on calling public works to get that pothole filled in.

Try doing the same with a bicycle. Better yet, try running over a pothole with a narrow road cycle tire built for low rolling resistance and not much else. I commute to school everyday on a bicycle, and Columbia’s uneven road quality is way more evident now that the shock absorber is me and not a car suspension. In particular, Walnut Street heading towards College is pretty janky.

Don’t like hot weather? Me neither. Good thing heat, in our air conditioned, car friendly Midwest paradise, exists purely as a theoretical feeling you get in between going from your car and the automatic door at Hyvee. It can also exist to irritate you when you’re sitting in your car and waiting for the damn AC to get cold, but I digress.

Try biking on a hot summer day, where you’ll be begging for a breeze sitting on 9th Street at red light. The subtleties (or lack thereof) in weather are evident when you are exposed to the elements. Is it any surprise that Americans don’t really consider global climate change a dire threat when we spend so many hours in climate-controlled environments? I noticed that Western Europe, which takes climate change seriously, lacks air conditioning in most public places. Nothing gets you onboard with AGW faster than sitting and sweating in the Paris Metro with other sweaty, non-antiperspirant using Frenchmen, I promise.

Cars also discourage cooperation on the roads. An optimally designed automobile throughway will prioritize automobile traffic above everything else. In addition, cars are designed to work well with strict structures (stoplights, speed limits) directing the flow of traffic, given the speeds involved and potential ramifications of a major accident.

This means drivers don’t make eye contact with other drivers to acknowledge their existence, let alone that of pedestrians and people on bicycles. You learn to follow signals, stay in your lane, and watch out for the other speeding metal boxes lest an accident occur. While this mindset is passable on neatly organized suburban thoroughfares, it utterly falls apart in any sort of dense, city environment. Take a look at this YouTube video of traffic in Shanghai:

I’m not saying that Columbia’s traffic downtown is the chaos and bedlam you’d find in bigger cities, but clearly it is something that needs to be addressed. As a cyclist, you definitely need to be much more aware of your surroundings riding around than cruising in a car.

My grand idea is that because the majority of people commute by car, it causes social as well as environmental issues, a lot of which are intrinsic to driving around in a large metal box. When was the last time you were in a car and challenged the guy who rides the Shakespeare’s pedicab to a race? Remind me again, is it easy to find parking on campus? Why are we in such a rush to build giant apartment complexes off bucolic, two lane Rock Quarry for students when the city has over 3,000 abandoned houses? The somewhat reasonably priced automobile has given average Americans more mobility now than ever before. Unfortunately, it also introduced problems that need solving.

A note on nuclear energy and safety

This is an opinion column written by a Sustain Mizzou member which became part of a discussion during our latest Environmental Reading and Media Group.  Read to the end for a list of other articles we discussed.

The recent disaster in Japan highlights the importance of building safety codes, disaster preparedness drills for areas prone to calamities, and a quick response from the authorities to prevent people from freaking out and shooting their neighbors or looting stores. On these fronts, the Japanese have handled the disaster exceptionally well. Aside from people in Tokyo hoarding essentials as soon as news of the disaster hit, everything remains mostly orderly and under control. The kind of power contained in a magnitude 9 earthquake is hard to fathom. Every additional number increases the intensity of the quake logarithmically– meaning a 2 earthquake on the Richter scale is 10 times as strong as a 1. You can do the multiplication for how strong a 9 would be.

Callaway Plant
The Callaway nuclear plant in Fulton, Missouri.

However, the media is not focusing on the important story: that of a nation hit by a one two punch of nature’s most ferocious disasters and attempting to pull through. Instead, they’d rather wave the glowing, radioactive shirt of the Fukushima nuclear power plant to show how inherently dangerous nuclear power is. Around the world, publications as diverse as Der Spiegel in Germany and the New York Times here have called into question the safety of existent nuclear power facilities. It’s almost absurd, actually, how some Germans are going bonkers over the remote possibility that a 9.0 earthquake and following tsunami might cause some of their plants to blow up. Continue reading A note on nuclear energy and safety