12/29/2008 3:00:30 PM
The sting of cold in the winter is often accompanied by the shock of rising energy bills. Since not everyone can afford to install new, energy-efficient appliances throughout their homes, Utne Reader’s sister publication Mother Earth News published a guide to energy-saving and cost-reducing do-it-yourself projects.
Many of the projects are surprisingly simple. Managing the energy used by the computers in his house, writer Gary Reysa spent $20 and an hour of work, and it ended up saving an estimated $178 yearly. Reysa also suggests insulating windows with bubble wrap and buying an electric mattress pad. And since not every do-it-yourself project is good for every situation, Reysa includes a guide to choosing which projects are right for any given situation.
12/28/2008 11:21:37 AM
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has launched “One Million Acts of Green,” a campaign to mobilize everyone from TV studio execs to kids to commit basic green acts every day. Once you sign up, the site keeps track of your steps, and for every one you take, the website calculates its impact on the environment in kilograms of greenhouse gases saved.
The focus of the project is “not about overhauling your life; it’s about one act from each individual amassing to a million. It can be as simple as switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, starting a recycling program, or walking to work. You can do one act—or you can do all one million! It’s up to you… Together we can make an impact. Together we can make our lives, our communities, and our environment greener.”
Acts range from small changes in habit to home renovations, and the tangible impact on the environment gives the sense of working as a community. To date, participants have reported more than 634,000 green acts, saving an estimated 33 million kilograms of greenhouse gases.
12/22/2008 10:55:17 AM
Solar panels are a powerful symbol of the future of energy production, and global demand for them is expected to increase in 2009. In a recent study, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that a man-made gas used to manufacture the thin-film photovoltaic cells that capture sunlight is more prevalent—and more powerful—in the atmosphere than previously thought.
Nitrogen trifluoride, which is also used in the production of flat-screen televisions and microcircuits, is 17,000 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, reports Earth Island Journal (article not available online). About 16 percent of the gas used in producing these items escapes into the atmosphere. Although nitrogen trifluoride accounts for only a very small portion of overall greenhouse gas emissions, as more people look to solar panels as a viable alternative to coal-powered electricity—ironically, to reduce their ecological footprint—the gas in the atmosphere is likely to increase as well. The study estimates the increase to be around 11 percent each year.
Researchers who conducted the study hope to more thoroughly study the information technology industry’s impact on global warming, which is already estimated to be equal to the aviation industry’s.
Image by Tiggs07, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/19/2008 12:05:05 PM
A few months after a British jury acquitted the “Kingsnorth Six” global warming activists, the U.K.'s attorney general is attempting to invalidate the “lawful excuse” defense frequently employed by direct-action protesters facing criminal charges.
The Kingsnorth Six were cleared of criminal damage charges for scaling and vandalizing the chimney of a coal-fired power plant on the grounds that their actions intended to prevent greater damages the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions would cause. The verdict was celebrated by environmentalists around the globe, but didn’t sit well with prosecutors, who according to the Guardian, “were understood to be furious” with the acquittal, “arguing that allowance for demonstrations did not extend to breaking the law.”
Now they’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The Guardian reports:
[T]he attorney general is considering using her power to refer cases to the court of appeal to "clarify a point of law". It is believed to be an attempt to limit the circumstances in which protesters could rely on "lawful excuse".
Should the "lawful excuse" defence prove to be unusable by protesters, Britain can expect many more environmental and peace activists to be convicted—something which could backfire against a government accused of drastically curtailing the right to protest in the last five years.
Image by izzie_whizzie, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/18/2008 12:33:06 PM
The Encyclopedia of Life, a website that came out earlier this year and crashed almost immediately from a flood of visitors, is a “project to organize and make available via the Internet virtually all information about life present on earth.” With approximately 1.8 million known species on earth, this is a great tool for scientists and students, and it grants open access to anyone who wants to brush up on their knowledge of earth’s creatures, from seals to viruses and everything else in between.
Sounds great, right? Well, Randy Malamud, writing in The Chronicle Review (subscription or pass required), sees more going on here than an eight-eyed jumping spider, and asks if the digital nature of EOL will “encourage us to appreciate plants and animals more, or spend more time surfing online?” He suggests that the more we cite and arrange plants and animals the less we care about them in their environment—that taxonomy parallels destruction.
He also thinks the animals are out of their element, if you will, as a pin-up for each individual entry. All animals in life are affected by and play a role in their ecosystems. We should consider the role in history they play with human interaction, and their importance of place. An example he gives is Australian Aborigines' use of the imperial blue butterfly. Their host plant, the acacia, provides seeds to the natives as food and its gum as an adhesive for tool building. The butterfly then, is an integral part of the Aborigines' culture, but it's not referenced on the EOL website.
Who is classifying the animals, Malamud argues, tells you more about the human environment than the exotic outside world. "Structuring the natural world meshes with the structure of imperial power," he writes, and he quotes MIT historian Harriet Ritvo: "The classification of animals, is apt to tell us as much about the classifiers as the classified."
Any ecologist will tell you that life on earth is about ecosystems. Malamud thinks one step in the right direction for the website's success may be that “the EOL might take a cue from Facebook or Myspace for an enhanced sense of connectivity.”
12/15/2008 11:23:52 AM
From Joondalup, Australia, to Zagreb, Croatia, to Curitiba, Brazil, to Edmonton, Canada, local governments have banded together to keep their cities ecologically sound as part of Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB), a project sponsored by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).
The Ecologist (article not available online) reports that 21 cities from around the world have signed on to promote biodiversity in their respective regions. Each city was tasked with assessing its needs and mapping out five long-term initiatives to work toward, whether it be protecting birds, putting a stop to invasive plants, constructing green transportation, or providing educational programming.
LAB aims to establish an international collective committed to promoting sustainable, urban environments. Starting in March of 2009 the program will be open for all cities to join, with the hope that its pioneer cities can offer up support and guidance to newcomers.
Image by WorldIslandInfo.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/11/2008 9:15:02 AM
Forget everything you’ve heard about mountains of bottled water waste! Disregard the experts who prove that tap water is almost identical in quality! Viva bottled water!
That’s the battle cry EnjoyBottledWater.org raises in its quest to free bottled water from persecution. The website is run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market advocacy organization that believes that “individuals are best helped not by government intervention, but by making their own choices in a free marketplace.” (Feel free to insert your own cynical economic observation here.)
The site exhaustively details why bottled water is a misunderstood and wrongly persecuted beverage medium, and why it’s our right as Americans to drink it. Users are encouraged to sign a petition against “foolish lawmakers and regulators” taking away the right to the stuff, donate money to the cause, and purchase Enjoybottledwater.org merchandise (no reusable water bottles, naturally). Visitors can also read up on the “crazy bans” enacted by cities and those “silly claims” that bottles affect global warming.
A few of the highlighted benefits are somewhat sensible, like ease of distribution at disaster sites, but the flippant disregard for known facts goes beyond chutzpah to being ridiculous. The best headline of the bunch: “Is Beer Next?”
Image courtesy of judepics, licensed under Creative Commons .
12/10/2008 3:01:30 PM
Apparently, Christmas traditions can be compatible with an eco-friendly mindset. A recent post on Sustainablog offers earth-conscious consumers some great information on choosing Christmas trees. If Christmas just isn’t Christmas without that fresh evergreen smell, take heart: While an artificial tree can be reused year after year, real ones may ultimately prove the more sustainable option. The post examines the environmental impacts of buying a real tree, from the farm to your house to the curb. It also includes links to help you locate local tree farms, as well as recycling services once the holiday’s over.
Image courtesy of Teresa Sheehan, licensing by Creative Commons.
12/9/2008 9:46:10 PM
Public transit ridership indicates that Americans may make greener lifestyle choices even when not prodded by financial forces.
The Washington Post reports that American commuters continued to flood buses and trains “in record numbers in the third quarter of this year,” despite sharp declines in gas prices. Which kind of puts a wrench in the seemingly obvious cause and effect relationship between increased ridership and high gas prices.
Riders may just have become accustomed to using public transportation after prices at the pump forced them onto the bus. Whatever the case, their continued willingness to opt out of driving, at least some of the time, is welcome news for transit advocates, particularly when coupled with president-elect Obama’s recent commitment to fund infrastructure developments, including transit.
But the picture’s not all sunny for public transit. As the Post points out, “Despite ridership demand, severe budget deficits and declining sales and property tax revenues have already forced many transit agencies to raise fares and cut service.”
(Thanks, Yale Environment 360.)
Image by btorzyn, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/9/2008 9:53:05 AM
Children in the United States are a bit safer from lead poisoning after the passage of recent legislation. But some kids living in Kosovo are suffering “the world’s worst case of lead poisoning in children,” according the New Internationalist.
The youngsters are Roma, or gypsy, refugees living in U.N. refugee camps in Northern Kosovo. The camps were built in 1999 on toxic sites, and since 2004 several children living there have registered some of the highest recorded lead levels in medical history. Numerous deaths and more than 50 miscarriages have been attributed to lead poisoning. One 7-year-old, whose family was tested on behalf of the German newspaper Bild in an investigation, had the liver of a 50-year-old alcoholic and is expected die prematurely.
The New Internationalist affixes the blame squarely: “Although the U.N. does not deny that an entire generation of Roma children living in these camps could face brain damage and premature death, it still refuses to evacuate the 500 refugees to a lead-free area and provide them with proper medical treatment.”
As the Roma people fight for rights and recognition across Europe, it appears that in Kosovo at least, they must begin by asserting their right not to have their children poisoned.
Image by Ryuugakusei, licensed by Creative Commons.
12/5/2008 5:21:04 PM
There’s an untapped energy source right under your feet. Plenty (article not available online) reports on a new technology that captures and uses the heat from sun-warmed asphalt. Under the system, water is circulated through pipes embedded in streets, sidewalks, or parking lots, and then used directly for hot-water needs or tapped to produce electricity through a steam-powered turbine. Apart from using otherwise wasted heat energy, the system could help moderate the “urban heat island effect” by reducing pavement temps, adding a new literal twist to the phrase “cooling your heels.” The Roadway Energy System is best suited to hot climates with long hours of sunshine; the clean-tech firm Novotech hopes to begin commercial installations by 2010.
Image by tanakawho, licensed under
12/3/2008 10:01:57 AM
There’s a lot of conflicting information available on how to live lighter on the earth: Washing dishes by hand uses more water than a dish washer, but it also uses less energy. Paper bags from the grocery store produce a lot of greenhouse gases, but plastic bags aren’t nearly as biodegradable. What’s an eco-conscious person to do? The new issue of Mother Jones tries to solve these questions and 18 other “Econundrums” with simple, straightforward answers.
12/2/2008 10:07:35 AM
The image of a perfect beach usually doesn’t include piles of seaweed and other natural debris. But though it’s not aesthetically pleasing, beach wrack, as those piles are called, is a vital part of a beach’s ecosystem. Grunion, a species of fish, depend on wrack to house their incubating eggs, and other shorebirds forage in wrack for food.
Beach grooming, which scoops up these piles and flattens and redistributes sand, endangers the wrack’s fragile ecosystem and makes the shoreline more vulnerable to erosion. Grooming has been in effect for many of California’s beaches since the 1960s, but only recently did scientists and environmentalists pick up on the importance of a more natural beach look.
Scientists, activists, and beach managers have started to come together to address these concerns, reports Coastal Services. Recent efforts include a ban on grooming below the high tide line, and training workers and managers to recognize and avoid grunion breeding areas. The activist group (in the process of incorporating as the nonprofit Beach Ecology Coalition) is also exploring alternatives to current grooming practices, including seasonal or rotational grooming, hand grooming, or even leaving beaches untouched.
In order to address the potential unhappiness or confusion of the public at the idea of cluttered beaches, the group has launched a campaign to increase awareness of beach ecosystems and how proper action (or inaction) is vital to nature.
Image courtesy of willsfca, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/1/2008 12:02:42 PM
All those extravagant holiday feasts, pretty packages, and shiny clamshells encasing gifts add up to a whole lot of extra trash this time of year—5 million tons, to be exact. That’s according to the Use Less Stuff Report, which asserts that between Thanksgiving and New Years, American waste grows by 25 percent.
But thanks to a “historic burst of common sense,” reports the Hartford Courant, there may be a little less plastic filling our landfills this holiday season. Amazon.com recently announced that it’s phasing out clamshells—those endlessly annoying hard plastic encasements that take an entire toolbox to open—in favor of recyclable cardboard. According to the Courant, Amazon is starting with 19 products but ultimately aims to outfit all its products with what the company calls “frustration-free packaging.”
Of course, excessive, frustration-full packaging isn’t just a holiday problem, but is it possible to avoid in everyday life? It is if you frequent London’s Unpackaged, a shop entirely devoted to ridding its customers’ lives of one-time-use packaging. Unpackaged sells everything from banana chips and shower gel to cheese, eggs, and juice, all package-free, and also stocks reusable containers for customers who forget to bring their own from home. (Thanks, Green Futures.)
Image by miss rogue, licensed under Creative Commons.
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