Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Active Transportation for America

A Case for Increased Federal Investment in Bicycling and Walking

Active Transportation for America from the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) makes the case and quantifies the national benefits -- for the first time -- that increased federal funding in bicycling and walking infrastructure would provide tens of billions of dollars in benefits to all Americans.

By making active transportation a viable option for everyday travel, we will cost-effectively reduce oil dependence, climate pollution and obesity rates while providing more and better choices for getting around town.

Read the report to learn more about how adequate federal investment in bicycling and walking will create healthier places for healthier people.

48 pages; available online as a PDF document in both high- and low-resolution formats at the resource link below.

Resource: http://www.railstotrails.org/whatwedo/trailadvocacy/ATFA/index.html

Burn Calories, Not Carbon!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Green Office Tips

Green Office tip, 14th of January 2009: Turn off lights when they are no longer needed

To help combat climate change, WWF urges all offices to keep all parts of their premises dark when nobody is there. Lighting accounts for about a third of all the electricity used in offices, so eliminating unnecessary lighting can lead to considerable savings in energy and costs.

Fluorescent lights fitted with electronic starters can always be switched off when they are not needed. Turning them on and off does not reduce their useful lifespan. The lifespan of older model fluorescent lights fitted with choking coil starters is shortened by turning them on and off repeatedly, but this does not result in peaks in electricity use as is widely believed. As a rule of thumb, it is better to leave such lamps turned on if they would only be off for less than about ten minutes. Otherwise it is always worth turning them off.

This figure of 10 minutes is an average based on calculations of overall impacts accounting for both electricity use and reductions in the lifespan of lamps. The amounts of energy used to manufacture a lamp are only about 1% of the energy it will use during its active life. Turning off lights when they are not needed can reduce lighting-related greenhouse gas emissions by around 25 %.

To ensure you give the right instructions for turning off lighting, make sure you are aware of the technical details of the equipment in your office. Lighting is very likely to be fitted with electronic connectors if it was installed since the mid 1990s, if the fluorescent tubes are narrow models (about 16 mm in diameter), or if the lights come on all together after a brief pause without blinking. The best way to check technical details is to ask the person responsible for changing lamps.

Sources: Osram Ltd; Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT)

Green Office tip 10th December 2008: Use recycled products and green services as gifts

Many firms like to remember their customers and suppliers as Christmas approaches. Staff members also often receive gifts at office Christmas parties. WWF recommends that green services and recycled gifts can make better presents than conventional gratuitous gift products. This can be a good way to find a home for things that are still in good condition, but no longer needed. Home made Christmas decorations and locally produced organic foodstuffs can also add to the Christmas spirit without burdening the environment unnecessarily.

It’s worth spending a little time considering how gifts are wrapped. Many ordinary wrapping papers cannot be recycled with other paper as it contains too many colouring dyes. Gifts could instead be wrapped in reusable forms of packaging such as cloth bags or gift containers that can be used again by their receivers.

Friends may be glad to receive tickets to the theatre, for instance, especially if this involves spending time together. Such gifts involving your time and company may be especially appreciated by older people. The parents of small children may be glad of babysitting help.

Another nice gift could be the personal sponsorship on someone’s behalf of a charity whose values the recipient sympathises with. WWF Finland’s mermaid adoption scheme is appreciated by many people concerned about the ecological state of the Baltic Sea. For details see www.wwf.fi/liity.
Tips how to avoid climate change when preparing for Christmas and celebrating it can be found at www.energianeuvoja.fi.

Green Office tip 26th November 2008: A preheated engine saves the environment and money

You can reduce the environmental impact of your travels, even if you usually drive your own car. Environmentally friendly driving habits and a properly preheated engine will save many tanks of gasoline along the year.
New cars use much less gasoline than old ones, but it is the driver who in the end determines the car’s gas consumption and its environmental impact. Every kilometer driven with gasoline adds approximattely 170 g of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. With diesel the figure is 145 g.

It is a good habit to preheat you car in winter time. The impact of a cold start of the engine is the same as that of 500–600 km of driving, causing much more emissions than starting a warm motor. Already three cold starts a day leads to an increase in gasoline consumption of several litres a week. This can bring as much as extra costs 120 euros per driver during one winter. According to a research done by Motiva, each year up to 10 % of all consumption of gasoline consists of cold starts.

The right time to start preheating the engine is when the outside temperature reaches +5 °C. Already half an hour of block heating or one hour of radiation heating will cut gas consumption during the first kilometres by half, comparing to a cold engine. When the temperature drops below –5 °C heating time is doubled, and when it is below –10 °C heating time is from two to three hours, depending on the heating technique.
Sources: Motiva Oy and VTT
Order A guide to preheating by Motiva (in Finnish)

Green Office tip October 29th 2008: Make your office energy-efficient

WWF urges Green Offices to influence the management of environmental issues in the premises they rent, by making property-owners aware of their needs and wishes. Considerable financial and environmental savings can be achieved during the renovation and decoration of buildings by opting for durable materials and technical solutions that effectively reduce the use of electricity, heat and water.

Companies can radically improve their environmental impacts and costs by locating their office premises in energy-efficient buildings. By the beginning of 2009 all owners of properties taken into use, sold or newly leased must have energy certificates setting out properties’ energy use category on a scale of A-G, with A-class buildings using the least energy.

Energy-efficiency can also be enhanced through small everyday actions. In winter it is worth moving curtains away from in front of radiators, to improve the flow of warm air. At the end of the working day, close all curtains and blinds to help keep heat inside the building. On sunny summer days curtains can be closed to ensure that offices do not become overheated, and to limit the need for air-conditioning systems to run on full.

Rooms should be aired through a rapid intense airing, rather than by leaving a window open continually, which can disrupt the functioning of air-conditioning systems and lead to high heat losses.

Lighting and air-conditioning should be optimised for efficiency and comfort by carefully planning for the needs of each work station and employee. Air-conditioning systems should be checked often, and ventilation filters changed regularly. It is also worth keeping windows and lamps clean. Cleaner windows enable more natural light to enter buildings. Dirty fluorescent tubes may produce 20% less light than clean ones.

Sources: Finnish Environmental Administration (www.environment.fi); WWF Green Office; Seppo Junnila, Helsinki University of Technology; TAC Atmostech; Motiva.

Green Office tip, 28th of January 2009: Do not use disposable kitchenware

Using disposable drinking cups and other kitchenware made of cardboard and plastic puts an unnecessary burden on the environment. Replacing them with reusable kitchenware can help to combat climate change, ease water pollution, and also save forests.

WWF urges allGreen Office workplaces to change over from disposable cups to washable porcelain cups. Many have already done so, andEricsson Finland’s head office, for instance, used to consume 30,000 plastic cups a month, but a switch to reusable cups has now reduced waste by 1,000 litres a month since they joined the Green Office network.

When employers buy staff members their own mugs, this investment is usually paid back in savings within a year. Savings are made on waste management and cleaning as well as the purchasing costs of disposable cups – and who could disagree that coffee and tea taste much better served in porcelain cups!

Eating Green

Eating Green

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Youth Poverty and Hunger Eradication

Youth Poverty and Hunger Eradication - How to? Suggested catalogue of solutions

Youth Poverty and Hunger Eradication Youth Poverty and Hunger Eradication rickyci Youth Poverty and Hunger Eradication - How to? Suggested catalogue of solutions

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Transition Towns - The Way Forward


What do Bristol, Brixton and Brampton have in common...apart from the fact that they all begin with the letter ‘B'?

The answer is that alongside at least another 600 towns and cities across the UK, they are taking up (or already following) an initiative known as the ‘Transition' movement.

You may be fortunate enough to live in an area where communities have already formed Transition groups, and those of you who listen to ‘The Archers' on Radio 4 will know that even the residents of Borchester are following the model, but what does it mean and how is it going to make a difference?

The Transition movement addresses, simultaneously, the issues of climate change and peak oil. It provides a model for communities to make the transition from the world we live in now, to a world with reduced carbon emissions where we no longer depend on oil.

For those of you who haven't come across the term ‘peak oil', it refers to the fact that the age of cheap and abundant oil has now peaked. Like many of the earth's resources, we humans have taken oil for granted, and although we haven't used it all up, it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to extract. We really do need to take steps to reduce our dependency upon oil and look for alternative, renewable ways to provide us with energy for the future.

To tackle these new challenges, society needs to adapt and change.

The wonderful thing about the Transition movement is that it brings communities together to think about how to tackle the problems we face at a grass-roots level. It brings together growers and producers, schools, local authorities, transport providers, traders, environmental groups and any other group or individual with an interest in working together towards a more decentralised and community-based future. Once these groups and individuals begin to work together they become greater and more effective than the sum of their parts and something positive and exciting begins to happen!

Transition towns are equipping themselves for the future by looking at what strengths, skills and resources they already have within the community and then enhancing and adding to these. The key is for us to become more resilient and to ‘decentralise'. We rely too much, at the moment, on a centralised system where almost all our needs are met by importing food, clothing and even energy from other countries. This is not about ‘doom and gloom'; if we rise to the challenge, dig deep and tap into the wealth of collective experience and knowledge contained within our communities, we can move forward in a wonderfully positive and empowering way!

By shifting our mind-sets, pooling our resources and thinking ‘local' there is nothing we cannot achieve together...and one of the most fantastic things about the Transition movement is that it works from the bottom up. It is not driven by government, local authorities or by one single person. It is driven by the people living and working within communities and the model can be easily adapted to suit a small hamlet, a middle-sized town or a large city.

The Transition Town movement was born in 2005 when Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande initiated a series of talks and film screenings in Totnes, Devon to raise awareness about peak oil. (Rob had previously taught permaculture in Kinsale, Southern Ireland and had already worked on an energy descent action plan with his students.) Following the talks and screen showings, the Totnes community responded by holding regular meetings to discuss how they could work together to become more resilient and decentralised, and in September 2006 they officially launched ‘Transition Town Totnes'.

Rob Hopkins embodies the nature of the Transition Town movement. He is optimistic, resourceful, self-effacing and inspiring. He does not preach and he certainly doesn't fill you with doom and gloom. Rob's book, ‘The Transition Handbook' provides a wonderfully valuable resource for any individual or community wanting to find practical solutions to the enormous challenges we face through climate change and peak oil. I highly recommend it...although I have to say it's important that you use this book as a ‘handbook', not as a ‘bible'. I have seen groups getting stuck and becoming inert because they believe they can't go on to ‘step 3' if they haven't completed ‘step 2' yet. The Transition Handbook is based on the way things have developed in Totnes and your community may be very different, so you may want to do things slightly differently.

If you can't afford to buy this book, ask your local library if they have it! If you buy it though Amazon, please remember to go through the affiliate page on the Big Green Idea website.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Transition movement you could also have a look at www.transitionnetwork.org or www.transitiontowns.org. You might also want to watch the film ‘The End of Suburbia'...but as it could leave you feeling a little pessimistic, I suggest you follow it quickly with ‘The Power of Community'!

To find out more about peak oil, read ‘The Party's Over' by Richard Heinberg.

As I said earlier, you may be fortunate and find that your town has already formed a Transition group. If not, maybe now is the time for you to take the initiative...

Brigit Strawbridge

Our affiliate merchant AMAZON has lots of books for sale around this subject. The Big Green Idea is paid a commission if you choose to buy via our links. These are not recommendations by the author and are chosen purely to give a representation.

Big Ideas in Conservation

The Next Big Ideas in Conservation - The Future of Protecting Nature - Conservation 2.0

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Join the Conservancy's online community and you can explore new places, receive email you want and build your own personalized nature page!

Climate change has the world's attention now — but not too long ago, most people hadn't even heard of it.

So what's next in conservation? What new ideas will become part of our common lexicon in five, ten or twenty years? Nature.org asked twelve experts from The Nature Conservancy to weigh in on the future of protecting nature. Read their responses — and then tell us what you think the next big idea in conservation should be.

Fast Forward to the Future of Conservation

Eddie Game

A Dow Jones Average for the Environment

Eddie Game
"As conservationists, we need to find our 30 companies."

Rob McDonald

Get Urbanites Interested in Conservation

Rob McDonald
"Urban dwellers influence land use on almost every hectare on Earth."

Brigitte Griswold

Get Kids Back to Nature

Brigitte Griswold
"If today's children aren't experiencing nature, they won't protect it as adults."

Lynne Hale, Mike Beck and Scott Smith

Sea Change for Ocean Management

Lynne Hale, Mike Beck and Scott Smith
"We need to think about an entire seascape."

Jonathon Adams and Alan Holt

Conservationists — Can We Talk?

Jonathon Adams and Alan Holt
"Conservationists often do not communicate about their efforts."

Steve Watkins

Bringing Business to the Parks

Steve Watkins
"Structuring conservation projects with elements of a typical business transaction."

Rob Brumbaugh

A New Market for Shellfish

Rob Brumbaugh
"The services that shellfish provide have real economic value."

Pat Naehu

Small Island Nations: Green Leaders?

Pat Naehu
"Their commitments have rejuvenated global marine conservation."

Alison Bowden

The Turbine Beneath Our Feet

Alison Bowden
"Look for energy innovations that use infrastructure already in place."

Jeff Opperman

Truly Sustainable Hydropower

Jeff Opperman
"Rapid expansion of hydropower poses a thorny challenge."

Mike McManus

Taking a Census of Nature

Mike McManus
"The environmental science equivalent to census data for demographers."

Rebecca Goldman

Measuring Conservation Success

Rebecca Goldman
"We need to ensure delivery of our promises."

Nature picture credits (top to bottom, left to right): Photo © View from a cliff in Ecuador (Mark Godfrey/TNC); © Female bobolink, Nebraska (Chris Helzer/TNC).

The Green Future of Community Living

You’ve probably heard your fair share of talk about the idea of “green building,” but how does it apply to those who rent instead of own? Homeowners may pursue solar panels and low-flow toilets, but is living green restricted to the single-family home? Not necessarily.

If you prefer to dwell in a community-living development (like apartments or condos), there is much you can do. Let’s break down several key aspects, discuss where they are now and investigate what eco-friendly options you can look forward to in the future.

Location, Location, Location…

… is the first rule of real estate, because where you live matters. Believe it or not, the location of your development also affects its eco-impact.

Where It’s At: When urban sprawl was at its heyday, it generally received negative publicity from an environmental standpoint. The idea of spreading new development out into the suburbs meant more land being used, more cars on the road, longer commutes and a decrease in land and water quality. But cities have begun to draw people back to their centers again.

In a recent study, the U.S. EPA found that building permits doubled for city redevelopment in the last nine years. Cities are building closer to not only incentivize residents to stay near, but also to bring back those who left. As more cities try to improve their downtowns and add amenities from sports stadiums to theaters, residential development continues to follow.

Redeveloping existing land makes environmental sense, because there’s less need to use new resources to create new structures and foundations and install power lines and water pipes. It generally follows that updating an existing structure requires less energy and materials than a new one.

Where We’re Headed: Expect more of the centralized residential building boom in cities, as it currently accounts for over one-fourth of new residential construction in places like Chicago, Miami and San Francisco. It might not be ideal for single-family homes, but apartment high-rises near city landmarks show no signs of slowing down.

Worried about traffic? The development of new and improved public transportation compensates for less available parking. Phoenix opened a light-rail system in December 2008, and Charlotte is in the process of expanding its LYNX light-rail service to reach more of the city by 2015.

Handling Your Trash

One of the typical perks of single-family housing is the presence of curbside disposal. In many cases, separate trucks pick up recyclables as well as trash. But how do you recycle in a shared space?

Where It’s At: For those who live in community-living developments, recycling isn’t as widespread as it is in traditional neighborhoods. The current solution for recycling is most likely to find a nearby drop-off location for anything you’re looking to recycle. For example:

  • Paper recycling bins can often be found in school or grocery story parking lots
  • 11 different states currently offer redemption centers for beverage containers
  • Retail stores accept everything from electronics to CFLs

Where We’re Headed: In some communities, curbside recycling is offered, but complexes may not be taking advantage of these services. For instance, the City of Tampa charges a one-time fee of $100 for a 14-gallon recycling bin, and picks it up for free. But in 2007, only about 20 percent of multifamily buildings took advantage.

Some landlords note potential contamination (ie: residents placing non-recyclables in the bins, resulting in warnings or fines from collectors) and space issues as deterrents for recycling programs. But, if you don’t ask, you’ll never get what you want. It can often be as simple as discussing recycling options with a landlord or management company. If enough residents show a desire for recycling, it will likely be investigated.

Community Features

While you may not be moving to Germany any time soon to live here, living roofs and less wasteful communities are the future of community living. Photo: darmstadt.de

While you may not be moving to Germany any time soon, living roofs and less wasteful set-ups like these are the future of community dwellings. Photo: darmstadt.de

When you’re deciding where to live, what are the must-haves on your checklist?

  • A pool and fitness center?
  • Covered parking?
  • An outdoor picnic/barbecue area?

In eco-friendly communities, you can have everything on your checklist without compromising your earth-friendly ideals.

Where It’s At: One of the easiest ways to go green is to plant green. Trees and gardens not only brighten the appearance of developments, but they absorb toxins and improve air quality. Also, communities that use native vegetation will save on water expenses, a cost usually left for residents to pay.

Another concept embraced by many complexes is timed lighting. Keeping the complex well-lit at night is important for safety reasons, but putting these lights on a timer saves energy and keeps electricity bills lower during daytime, peak hours.

Where We’re Headed: It’s estimated that 50 percent of homes built in 2010 will be green. But community-living developments often take better advantage of their sometimes limited space, even if it’s on the roof to incorporate these green features.

For example, in Pittsburgh, a condo development called E Lane is equipped with outdoor features like native plants, rain barrels to capture and reuse rain water, an organic vegetable garden and compost area for food waste.

Trey Granger

Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a staff member at Earth911.com.

More articles by Trey

8 Ways to Green Your Spring

This story is part of Earth911’s “Green Eight” series, where we showcase eight ways to green your life in various areas.

Spring evokes feelings of purity, freshness, growth and joy as we transition from the gloom of winter into the rays of summer’s sunshine.

But if you’re really looking to embrace the glory of spring, it won’t come without a little elbow grease. Here are our favorite eight ways to get the the most out of this upcoming green spring.

1. Lose Weight and Feel Great

It seems that during winter, you’re not the only one who might have “packed on the pounds.” Has your living space become inundated with items such as holiday gifts you’ll never use, magazines with recipes never cooked and chunky attire used to brave the elements? Lighten the load this spring by cleansing your living palette. You’ll have a fresh start and may feel a little lighter yourself.

While clutter-clearing, make it easier to sort items by creating four piles: Keep, Donation, Recycle and Trash.

  • Keep: We often associate spring with fresh starts, but that doesn’t have to apply to everything. If your gardening spade and hoe are in tip-top shape, don’t buy brand new twinkling tools that you don’t need. This goes for all the items in your home. If they aren’t broken, why replace them?
  • Donation: Taking an inventory of your belongings shows you that tastes change and upgrades happen - and, unfortunately, some of those “What was I thinking?!” moments as well. Even though items become disposable to you, they may have many useful miles left in their life cycles. Keep items out of overcrowded landfills by asking family and friends if they have use for any of your unwanted items. Your little sis who is moving into her own apartment, can make use of your old set of dishes, and Aunt Carol can use those extra muffin cups to bake for her next garden party. Anything leftover can be donated to local charities.
  • Recycle: If your countertops and tabletops haven’t seen the light of day in weeks because they’re covered with books, magazines, catalogs and mail, then it’s time for a change. But, we don’t mean for you to heave everything into the wastebasket - recycle instead. Consider this: A family of four uses 1.25 tons of paper per year on average, and the U.S. EPA reports that recycling one ton of paper saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, as well as enough energy to power the average American home for six months.
  • Trash: Landfills should be used for items that truly have no other useful purpose. Be cautious when disposing of hazardous materials, as inappropriate distribution can cause toxic components to leach into the soil and groundwater.
Is a new season springing up around you? Help new growth by using earth-friendly practices. Photo: Deseretnews.com

Is a new season springing up around you? Help new growth by using earth-friendly practices. Photo: Deseretnews.com

2. Spring Cleaning

You weren’t the only one hiding from Old Man Winter this year. Dust, dirt and grime settled in also, and now it’s time to kick them to the curb. But be aware, some cleansers and polishes contain chemicals that can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose and throat, nausea, dizziness and other effects. Also, water used to rinse away their residue goes down the drain, carrying these ingredients with it. Less harmful ingredients exist in products from companies like Seventh Generation or Begley’s Best.

If you’re really feeling green, make your own cleaning products with vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, borax and water. Also, cut back on paper towels and opt for a reusable cloth.

3. Deep Clean

Spring cleaning often goes beyond routine cleansing, dusting and vacuuming and involves home maintenance. One of the simplest things you can do to improve indoor air quality, while reducing energy bills, is replacing furnace filters on a monthly basis. Filters collect dirt and other particles so they don’t enter your living space, and when they are clogged, airflow decreases. Therefore, the furnace works harder - making it less energy efficient. Other ways to increase efficiency while spring cleaning are:

  • Cleaning off coils on the back of your refrigerator to scatter heat away from the unit.
  • Vacuuming clothes dryer ducts. Bob Vila created an excellent video if you haven’t performed this task before.
  • Sealing gaps with weather-stripping or caulk around windows and doors to prevent warm air from entering your home.
  • Checking out other comprehensive lists of home maintenance tips to make sure your home is ready for spring.

4. Dirty Laundry

After all that cleaning, it’s probably time to do a load of laundry. If you have an Energy Star washer, you’re cutting energy costs by 33 percent and water usage by 50 percent. If you don’t own one of these machines, then you can reduce costs by washing clothes in the coolest water possible.

According to the California Energy Commission, the dryer is the second biggest electricity-hogging appliance in the home. If you wish to lower energy costs, use the drying sensor, if the model has one, and regularly clean the lint trap. Or, you can forego drying altogether. Let nature do the job by switching to a clothesline or a drying rack.

5. Car Care

Having a car devoid of dirt and salt from winter conditions is a way to protect your investment, but if you do an at-home car wash, you may be doing more harm to the environment than you think. Water and contaminants from your vehicle flow freely down the driveway into the storm drain and into rivers, lakes and streams without first being treated. When washing cars at home, remember these tips provided by the Maryland Department of the Environment:

  • Park on gravel or grass so soapy water soaks into the ground, becomes filtered and recharges groundwater.
  • Use soap that does not say “harmful, danger or poison.” Try eco-friendly versions such as Simple Green’s products.
  • Turn off the hose when you’re not using the water. During a 15-minute car wash, you could use 150 gallons of water if there isn’t an automatic shut-off nozzle.
  • If you’re out doing errands already, stop by a commercial car wash, which is connected to a sanitary sewer whereby dirty water is carried to a treatment plant. Newer facilities may also recycle 10-80 percent of their wastewater for an additional environmental benefit.

6. Rainwater Preservation

Making your own rainwater collection system is easy and inexpensive. Image: Videojug.com

Making your own rainwater collection system is also an option. Image: Videojug.com

Springtime brings more rain-showers than most of us can handle, but come mid-summer, gardeners and lawn-care enthusiasts usually end up praying for rain. It seems like such a waste to have excess water one month and a shortage another. Luckily, rainwater harvesting has gone mainstream, and it’s easy for homeowners to take advantage of recapturing “lost” water with a rain barrel. Your roof collects rainwater and funnels it through gutters or downspouts, where it can be collected. But be sure to leave room to provide easy access the spigot. When your plants need a drink, just use the water from the barrel instead of turning on the hose.

7. Green Thumb

Now that you’ve side-stepped hydration issues with your lawn and garden, you’ll need to take care of other problems like weeds and bugs:

  • Weeds: Instead of using herbicides that leach chemicals into the soil and end up in water runoff, pull weeds by hand or saturate them with vinegar. If you do use herbicides, be sure to make sure you properly dispose of their containers or any excess liquids once you’re done.
  • Bugs: Give them a sharp spray with water, and if that doesn’t work, try an insecticide soap. Mix one gallon of water with three tablespoons of liquid dish soap, and spray on both sides of plant leaves to deter insects.

8. Get Ready for Grilling

Now that you’ve tackled all of your spring projects, kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your green labor. You’ve worked hard, so reward yourself with a treat from the grill.

Natural gas and electric grills have the least negative impact on the environment, especially if you recycle your propane tank when finished. For those of you who believe grilling isn’t grilling unless it’s done over charcoal, consider that it releases greenhouse gases and soot particles. If you just can’t live without this smoky flavor, look for eco-friendly alternatives to charcoal briquettes such as those that use recycled coconut husk waste or have the Forest Stewardship Council or Rainforest Alliance SmartWood certification logo.

Kasen Seaver

Kasen Seaver

Kasen Seaver is a freelance writer for Earth911, and enjoys putting her knowledge of eco-conscious living into practice.

More articles by Kasen

Slide Show for Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization


At Earth Policy Institute (EPI) we often receive requests for a visual presentation to accompany Lester Brown’s latest book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. The reasons vary widely, from people wanting to spread the word within their communities, to teachers looking to relay the message to their students, to individuals seeking to quickly get the gist of the book. Because of this interest, EPI has created a slideshow illustrating in text, pictures, and graphs why and how we need to mobilize to save civilization.

Our aim in producing this presentation is to provide a brief but engaging summary of the book’s key concepts. By helping interested parties spread the Plan B vision, we hope to encourage social and political involvement in critical environmental issues--for example, banning new coal-fired power plants or implementing an economy-wide carbon tax to help stabilize climate.

You are welcome to use this presentation and modify it to suit your needs. It is designed to be shared, so feel free to pass along the link to others who might be interested. We ask only that you appropriately credit EPI and the photographers, notably Yann Arthus-Bertrand (www.yannarthusbertrand.com/v2/yab_us.htm), eminent French photographer and friend of EPI, whose works appear within.

To reach the download page, direct your Web browser to http://www.earthpolicy.org/Books/PB3/presentation.htm. Please note that the presentation is a large file (6 MB), so it may take a moment to download.

If you find this tool useful, please let us know how you are using it in your community, classroom, congregation, or with other groups by sending an e-mail to epi(at)earthpolicy.org. We may add your example to our ever-growing list (at www.earthpolicy.org/Books/Reaching.htm) of the many ways folks around the world are spreading the Plan B vision. Now let’s get to work!

# # #

For information contact:

Media Contact:
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 12
E-mail: rjk (at) earthpolicy.org

Research Contact:
Janet Larsen
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 14
E-mail: jlarsen (at) earthpolicy.org

Earth Policy Institute
1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 403
Washington, DC 20036
Web: www.earthpolicy.org

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The 15 Coolest Cases of Biomimicry

Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature, a mistress above all masters, are laboring in vain. - Leonardo Da Vinci

Biomimicry - The practice of developing sustainable human technologies inspired by nature. Sometimes called Biomimetics or Bionics, it's basically biologically inspired engineering.

1. Velcro

The most famous example of biomimicry was the invention of Velcro brand fasteners. Invented in 1941 by Swiss engineer George de Mestral, who took the idea from the burrs that stuck tenaciously to his dog's hair. Under the microscope he noted the tiny hooks on the end of the burr's spines that caught anything with a loop - such as clothing, hair or animal fur. The 2-part Velcro fastener system uses strips or patches of a hooked material opposite strips or patches of a loose-looped weave of nylon that holds the hooks. Coolest application: Championship Velcro Jumping, first made popular in 1984 by David Letterman.

2. Passive Cooling

The high-rise Eastgate Centre building in Harare, Zimbabwe was designed to mimic the way that those tower-building termites in Africa construct their mounds to maintain a constant temperature. The insects do this by constantly opening and closing vents throughout the mound to manage convection currents of air - cooler air is drawn in from open lower sections while hot air escapes through chimneys. The innovative building uses similar design and air circulation planning while consuming less than 10% of the energy used in similar sized conventional buildings!

3. Gecko Tape

Ever wanted to walk up walls or across ceilings? Gecko Tape may be the way to do it. The tape is a material covered with nanoscopic hairs that mimic those found on the feet of gecko lizards. These millions of tiny, flexible hairs exert van der Waals forces that provide a powerful adhesive effect. Applications include underwater and space station uses, so researchers from a number of institutions are working hard. They won't be mass producing gecko tape sneakers and gloves any time soon, so Spiderman wannabes will have to wait awhile longer, while hoping other biomimetic researchers get around to inventing the necessary web-throwers.

4. Whalepower Wind Turbine

Inspired by the flippers humpback whales use to enable their surprising agility in the water, WhalePower has developed turbine blades with bumps called tubercles on the leading edge that promise greater efficiency in applications from wind turbines to hydroelectric turbines, irrigation pumps to ventilation fans. Compared to smooth surface fins, the bumpy humpback ones have 32% less drag and an 8% increased lift in their movement through air or water. Using such blades to catch the wind as communities and nations switch to renewable sources could provide a 20% increase in efficiency that will help to make wind power generation fully competitive with other alternatives.

5. Lotus Effect Hydrophobia

They call it "superhydrophobicity," but it's really a biomimetic application of what is known as the Lotus Effect. The surface of lotus leaves are bumpy, and this causes water to bead as well as to pick up surface contaminates in the process. The water rolls off, taking the contaminates with it. Researchers have developed ways to chemically treat the surface of plastics and metal to evoke the same effect. Applications are nearly endless, and not just making windshield wipers and car wax jobs obsolete. Lots of researchers are working on it, and General Electric's Global Research Center is busy developing coatings for commercial application right now.

6. Self-Healing Plastics

Consider the body's power to heal itself of scrapes and cuts. The value of the same sort of process in light polymer composites that can be used to produce things like aircraft fuselage becomes obvious. The new composite materials being developed are called self-healing plastics. They are made from hollow fibers filled with epoxy resin that is released if the fibers suffer serious stresses and cracks. This creates a 'scab' nearly as strong as the original material. Such self-healing materials could be used to make planes, cars and even spacecraft that will be lighter, more fuel efficient, and safer.

7. The Golden Streamlining Principle

A company called PAX Scientific out of San Rafael, California has been developing air and fluid movement technologies based on such beautiful and recurring natural designs as the Fibonacci sequence, logarithmic spirals and the Golden Ratio. These shapes align with the observation that the path of least resistance in this universe isn't a straight line. Put all this together and you get the "Streamlining Principle," being applied to fans, mixers, impellers and such that move air and liquids around in systems. Such fans on motors, compressors and pumps of all sizes and in all applications could save at least 15% of all the electricity consumed in the US.

8. Artificial Photosynthesis

We all learn about photosynthesis in school, the way that green plants use chlorophyll to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. The quest to reproduce the process technologically is called Artificial Photosynthesis, and is envisioned as a means of using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for use as a clean fuel for vehicles as well as a way to use excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The process could make hydrogen fuel cells an efficient, self-recharging and less expensive way to create and store energy applicable in home and industrial systems.

9. Bionic Car

In another biomimetic development on the automotive front, DaimlerChrysler has developed a new concept car from Mercedes-Benz based on the shape of an odd tropical fish - the Bionic Car. Using the shape of the tropical boxfish, designers achieved an aerodynamic ideal that boasts 20% less fuel consumption and as much as an 80% reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions. The diesel-powered compact will get about 70 miles per gallon, and can run just fine on biodiesel fuel. It's been a few years since development, so we can hope this car will be available soon!

10. Morphing Aircraft Wings

Using inspiration from both birds and fish, scientists from Penn State University developed Morphing Airplane Wings that change shape depending on the speed and duration of flight. Different birds have differently shaped wings useful for the speeds at which they fly, as well as for sustaining flight speeds over long distances using the least amount of energy. The scientists built a compliant, shape-changing truss understructure for the wings, then covered it with scales that can slide over one another to accommodate the in-flight shape changes. When deployed in new aircraft (and drone) models, the wings are expected to conserve fuel and enable faster flights over longer distances.

11. Friction-Reducing Sharkskin

One of the best ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels is to achieve more efficient use of the energy we do consume. Inspired by the evolved ability of shark's skin to reduce drag by manipulating the boundary layer flow as the fish swims, researchers are developing coatings for ship's hulls, submarines, aircraft fuselage, and even swimwear for humans. Based on the varying shape and texture of shark's skin over its body, Speedo's Fastskin FSII swimsuits made their appearance at the Bejing Olympics and may have helped US swimmer Michael Phelps to his record eight gold medals in that competition, and the rest of the team as well.

12. Diatomaceous Nanotech

They call it Biosilification, and it's the genetic engineering of the tiny, single-celled algae known as diatoms in order to mass produce silicon-based nanodevices and nanotubes for specific uses. Living diatoms reliably manufacture working valves of various shapes and sizes that can be used in nanodevices to deliver drugs to specific targets in the body, as chemostats in chemical engineering applications, and in colonies as nanotubes for solar collectors and artificial photosynthetic processes. Their silicon skeletons can provide specialized sensors and filters for uses in chemical engineering and defense applications.

13. Glo-Fish

Glow-in-the-dark aquarium fish may not fulfill a needful ecological role at the present time, but they're a fun - and lucrative - application of fluorescent proteins discovered in jellyfish while researchers are busily developing further biochemical tools from this Nobel Prizewinning discovery. The protein can be attached to other molecules of interest so they can be followed for understanding of their functions in living organisms, very useful in medical research. For the fish, the proteins serve the purpose of simply being very cool - they come in several colors!

14. Insect-Inspired Autonomous Robots

While most of us are accustomed to thinking about futuristic robotics as something that looks and moves just like a human, humans are probably not the best biological model for really useful robots. For mobility, insect-like ability to cover varied terrain, climb surfaces and provide stability seems to work better. Insect eyes offer greater resolution and panoramic range for exploring places people cannot go, and the ability to quickly adapt to changing environments (or even to spy on enemies undetected) make those annoying toy insect robots a forerunner for future applications in exploration and defense.

15. Butterfly-Inspired Displays

By mimicking the way light reflects from the scales on a butterfly's wings, the Qualcomm company has developed Mirasol Displays that make use of the reflected light principle with an understanding of how human beings perceive that light. Using an interferometric modulator [IMOD] element in a two-plate conductive system, the display uses near-zero power whenever the displayed image is static while at the same time offering a refresh rate fast enough for video. Perfect for 'smart' hand-held devices, already deployed in many, and a battery-saver extraordinaire!

Non-Violent Communication

Despite all the group hugs and general warm fuzziness here at Otesha, a few of us can be a little (ahem) forceful in our opinions from time to time.

Especially when confronted with someone who, say, refuses to buy Fairtrade coffee because "we should support businesses in this country". So we thought we'd best go along to a Non Violent Communication workshop and find out the least confrontational way to tell someone you can't grow coffee in Wales.

What we learnt

- Non Violent Communication (NVC) lets people communicate in a way that allows them both to meet their needs while creating a genuine connection
- Hand puppets are always a good prop
- So are funny animal ears
- Doing it all properly is much more difficult than you might think
- Criticism lies in the eyes of the beholder. When you think someone's criticizing you, often they're just expressing their needs in a way that's hard to hear

The whole connection business is the crux of it really.

You may think you disagree pretty fundamentally with someone, but once you stop pitting yourself against them, chances are you agree on a lot more than you expected. So you accept your differences, make a connection and go from there. Maybe Liz wants to get a train to Sweden and Jo wants to fly, so they argue about it for days. Until Liz discovers that Jo thinks if they fly they'll be preventing global dimming and doing their bit to save the world. Essentially they want the same thing, but they're going about different ways of doing it.

What impedes or encourages connection?

You express what you feel - if you're angry, be angry, whatever. But don't pin the blame for what you're feeling on ayone but yourself. Johan Rinman, who led this workshop, tells himself when he's angry that he hasn't listened properly. Listening to someone, without constantly thinking up your rebuttal in your head, responding only when you think you can help or you need clarification, lets you understand their feelings and their needs. Once you've got a grasp of their feelings and needs, you've probably got a connection going there and they're putty in your hands (mwah-ha-ha). Seriously, mutual understanding, forging connections, it's all very good stuff. Here's how he explained this to us (complete with hand puppets):

Four ways we can listen to someone else:

1. Jackal ears turned outward. Hear criticism and reflect it back out (aka go on the attack)

2. Jackal ears inward. Hear criticism and take it to heart (get down on yourself)

3. Giraffe ears outward. Listen for the other person's needs, then check what they're trying to express to make sure you've heard them right

4. Giraffe ears inward. Honesty. State what you're really feeling.

So how do you communicate effectively with someone you're really at odds with?

This is something we talk about a lot at Otesha, especially on cycle tours. How do we communicate a message without sounding preachy, or like we know-it-all-and-think-you're-wrong (and-must-change-your-bad-ways), and how can we communicate so people want to listen to us? So far what we've come up with is focusing on the positive, asking questions rather than forcing opinions and giving space for people to reach their own conclusions.

Where it gets really difficult.

You think you're right, and so does the other person. Neither of you will budge, so there's no way forward. In the hippy-dippy circles Otesha often moves in, most people think freedom of expression is generally a good thing. The hard bit to swallow is that is includes the views of those who would try to quell other peoples' human rights and freedom of expression if they could. What to do? Accept their opinions and move on? In the demonstrations in this workshop (where participants attempted to reason with a homophobic hand puppet), no one totally suceeded in this. But the theory is that if you can give up on the instistence that your way is the right way and build a connection with someone, you might find that your needs are the same after all. It's world changing stuff this.

This is all just the beginning really. There's been a ton of stuff written on Non Violent Communication and slowly we shall attempt to get through some it (and maybe even put it into practice, you never know).

Go back to Tools for Campaigning
The Otesha Project

10 Myths About Sustainability

In a recent article for the Scientific American, Michael Lemonic wrote about the Top 10 Myths About Sustainability. The article is a great reminder that we still have a ways to go - not only in our understanding of what sustainability is, but in how to live a more sustainable life. The following is a summary of Lemonic’s Top 10 Myths.

Myth 1: Nobody knows what sustainability really means.

Our current understanding of sustainability was created back in 1987 by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development or the Brundtland Commission. Sustainable development means “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” So, we do in fact have a great understanding of what it actually means to be sustainable - we just may not how to achieve that.

Myth 2: Sustainability is all about the environment

We should know by now that it isn’t just about saving the polar bears and baby seals. It isn’t just about switching to renewable energy, reducing our carbon footprint. Sustainability encompasses so much more than environmental degradation - it also included managing water and natural resources, population, food supplies, money, waste, our economy and our health. True sustainability requires us to efficiently and mindfully manage our whole planet.

Myth 3: “Sustainable” is a synonym for “green”

Something that is “sustainable” is clearly “green,” but the reverse is not true. Green is a loose, vague term that generally means more environmentally friendlier than the other options out there. It is used to describe things that are natural, healthy, eco-friendly, organic, fair-trade, low-impact, or local. A Prius is green because it gets better fuel efficiency than most cars, but it is still a car, and cars are not sustainable. Be careful how you use these two words, because they are definitely not equals.

Myth 4: It’s all about recycling

Recycling is great and it’s incredibly important to do so, but it’s only part of the answer. To have a lower environmental impact you also have to be aware of what you are buying, how you use it, how your travel or commute, the foods you eat, etc. Absolutely keep recycling, but you won’t get your green citizen patch if that’s all you do.

Myth 5: Sustainability is too expensive

We all think that sustainability and green things cost more and they are just a tad bit more expensive. But as newer technology comes online, consumers demand more and competition increases, prices will drop. There are also lots of ways to save money through energy efficiency, eating local, fuel efficient cars.

Myth 6: Sustainability means lowering our standard of living

Sustainability isn’t about living with less or having to turn down our heat and put a sweater on like Jimmy Carter asked for. Sustainability is about doing more and using less energy, less materials and less resources. It’s about keeping your thermostat at the temperature you want and having a lower environmental impact.

Myth 7: Consumer choices and grassroots activism, not government intervention, offer the fastest, most efficient routes to sustainability

Governments play an important role in state of the environment. Without their intervention, rules and regulations big companies and people would be allowed to do what they please. The government’s job is also to encourage and incentivize products, technologies and ideas that hopefully have a positive impact. Grassroots and local action are the other side of the coin and are equally important though. We can’t disregard either as a vehicle for positive change.

Myth 8: New technology is always the answer

We don’t need to wait for the next generation of batteries to be designed or for more advances in solar power. We have great technology now that can be quickly deployed and used to help us stop climate change. For those who say sustainability isn’t possible until we’ve invented better technology, we say, look around you right now. Energy efficient technology already exists that can save energy and money now, why wait?

Myth 9: Sustainability is ultimately a population problem

The world’s population is projected to increase another 2.6 billion by 2050. Population certainly is part of the sustainability equation, but it is unlikely that we can alter the population increase by any significant amount to make a difference. While we must do our best to educate women and raise the standard of living in third world countries to minimize the increase, we will get the best bang for our buck by focusing on the efficient use of our resources.

Myth 10: Once you understand the concept, living sustainably is a breeze to figure out.

Just because we know what being sustainable means doesn’t mean we know exactly how to do it. Achieving the point where our actions do not negatively impact the planet or others is a worthy goal, but very difficult. There are also tradeoffs that come along with the changes we make along the way. These new and more environmentally friendly options aren’t always as convienant, cheap or easy, but ultimately we know that we’ll be making the right decision. We just have to keep trying and day by day we will lower our environmental impact.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Consumerism to Sustainability

By Erik Assadourian

Climate change grows more threatening every day. Yet most responses offered so far only attempt to address the symptoms — namely greenhouse gas emissions. Curbing emissions through technology change or efficiency measures won’t be enough. Instead, we have to focus on the root problem of climate change – not to mention many other ecological and social problems – the consumer culture. To succeed, we’ll need to replace this failed cultural system with a new viable system: a culture of sustainability that focuses us away from tying our well-being so closely to how much we consume, and instead focuses on living a satisfying life sustainably . If we cannot engineer a cultural shift, we risk consuming our planet until it literally cannot sustain us.

“State of the World 2010” will paint a picture of what a culture of sustainability could look like and how we could develop it. More importantly, it will provide many case studies of the “cultural pioneers” who are already hard at work creating this new cultural system. Case studies will include: individuals hard at work to create social marketing campaigns that use the techniques of advertising to market sustainable living; leaders of social movements redirecting priorities like Slow Food and Take Back Your Time; business managers who are creating businesses not to maximize profit but to maximize societal benefits; and educators who are centering schools’ curriculums on lessons of sustainability. “State of the World 2010” will illustrate the growth of this new culture of sustainability, and the people cultivating it, and in the process, hopefully inspire many more to become pioneers themselves.

BIO: Erik Assadourian is a research associate at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC. He is project director of State of the World 2010, www.worldwatch.org .

Wanda’s Tips for Spring

1. Resolve to eliminate – or reduce –SUIs in your life. SUIs are the “single-use items” that have insinuated themselves into the daily fabric of American life. We’re talking about disposable coffee cups, plastic utensils, foam doggie boxes, beverage cups, paper towels, paper napkins and the like. SUIs support a culture of convenience and disposability – a “no-fuss, no-muss” mentality – from which those pursuing the simple path invariably move away.

2. Reuse your former throw-aways. Baggies and the like do good work in keeping your sandwiches and munchies fresh. But instead of throwing them away, wash them out and reuse. You save precious money and our environment.

3. Help pay your mortgage (or rent) by considering a house-share. Our living spaces have grown so large, do we all really need all that space? A guest room and bath could make excellent quarters for a single person who’s low on cash. Not only are you providing housing for someone, and generating income for yourself but building new relationships that – with the right care and handling – could last a lifetime.

4. Increase your donations. This may seem counterintuitive during this time of economic crisis. But if you’re feeling pinched, imagine how hard others – especially charities – are strapped today. The feeling of generosity is a freeing one. Consider direct donations of much-needed item like food, cleaning agents, books, clothing and garden supplies. Remember, local charities are generally the best.

5. Have some fun! Celebrate life with friends by organizing a pot-luck meal and clothing swap. Or be inventive and swap something different like tchotchkes, garden tools, books or kitchen utensils. Or try baby clothes, Christmas decorations, or jigsaw puzzles. Whatever you organize – bringing people, food and curiosities together – promises to deliver a special event which will add fun and excitement into your life without costing you more than the price of a casserole.

6. Consider co-coaching. Coaching is a great way to help bring change into your life and the life of a partner, friend or designee. Instead of plunking down cash to hire a professional, find a trusted friend, relative or individual through a barter network to work with. Study up on what’s involved and set guidelines, then establish a regular weekly or biweekly call (or meeting). It’s a wonderful (and free!) way of bringing about change in your life. Having an advocate for your journey, like a soccer coach rooting on from the sidelines, can help you gain clarity with your professional and personal goals.