Thursday, January 31, 2008

Common household cleaner everyone overlooks, part two

I was amazed to learn of the many cleaning uses for common household items such as, baking soda, club soda, lemon juice and isopropyl rubbing alcohol.

And today, in an effort to replace those expensive environmentally harmful chemical based cleaners, we will explore the many uses of vinegar as a household cleanser. See more tips in part one.

Decal and Gummed Label Remover. To remove non slip appliqués and strips from bathtubs, saturate a cloth or sponge and squeeze hot vinegar over decals. Vinegar also removes stick-on hooks from painted walls. Saturate a cloth or sponge with vinegar and squeeze the liquid behind the hook so that the vinegar comes in contact with the adhesive. In addition, vinegar can be used to remove price labels and other decals from glass, wood, and china. Paint the label or decal with several coats of white vinegar. Give the vinegar time to soak in and after several minutes the decal can be rubbed off.

Soapy film on bathtubs: apply vinegar full-strength to a sponge and wipe the tub down. Next, sprinkle baking soda as you would scouring powder and then rub with a damp sponge and rinse thoroughly with clean water.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner - IF YOU DO USE BLEACH TO CLEAN YOUR TOILET BOWL, NEVER MIX BLEACH WITH VINEGAR, TOILET BOWL CLEANER, OR AMMONIA. The combination of bleach with any of these substances produces a toxic gas which can be hazardous. Sprinkle baking soda into the bowl, then drizzle with vinegar and scour with a toilet brush. This combination both cleans and deodorizes.

Surface cleaner: Vinegar and salt mixed together can be used as a general surface cleaner that doesn’t leave a film.

Rust Stain and Hard Water Deposit Remover: Apply vinegar or lemon juice full-strength and let stand until spot disappears, then rinse. Repeat if necessary.

Keep a bottle of vinegar within easy reach. When your stove, counter tops, walls or anything else becomes spattered with grease, spray and wipe clean dry rag. Vinegar cuts the grease and leaves a nice shine. Instead of buying expensive lime removers for the toilet and other bathroom fixtures try hydrogen peroxide first, it can do the job for a fraction of the price .

A good all purpose cleaner solution is 1/4 cup (or more) vinegar to 1 gallon water.

Once we all start using these natural products and get rid of all of those chemicals that have been forced on us by ridiculous amounts of advertising dollars, we will then begin to make a more serious effort as cleaning up our environment.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Common household cleaner everyone overlooks, part one

Have you ever suddenly noticed something that has been staring you in the face that you just keep ignoring? Something so ubiquitous that you just never considered using it for anything other than its traditional use?

Baking Soda is one of these things. I’ll bet everyone knows you can place an opened box of it in your refrigerator to help eliminate odors. But, housewives, years ago, knew about its cleansing power. And I happy to say that lately, I have seen many articles about how baking soda cleans a long list of items that we typically buy chemicals for.

Chemical companies have managed to bury this little jewel through their multi-million dollar advertising budgets for their ‘miracle’ cleaners by using cartoonish icons of bald, muscle-bound, super cleaners and ‘scrubbing bubbles’. Thankfully, through the ‘miracle’ of the internet, knowledge of these old, time tested, natural items are finally being spread to the general public.

Vinegar and club soda are a couple of other common household products that could eliminate a lot of chemical products that we buy out of habit. Around the web you can read about how those who are asked the question “What is one thing you would do to become green?” One of the answers is to use cleansers that are more environmentally friendly. I am willing to bet that the thinking behind this answer is to rely on chemical companies to come up with a more ‘environmentally safe chemical’. This indicates how brain washed we have become in our dependence on ‘chemicals for a better life’.

Baking soda, a naturally occurring substance, is a natural deodorizer and cleanser.

Removes tape residue - Make a thick paste of baking soda and water. Rub the paste onto bits of tape stuck to windows, then wipe clean.

Put out grease fires - Sprinkle on the base of a fire to smother the flames. DON'T USE WATER.

Kills roaches - Set out a shallow dish or bowl containing equal parts sugar and baking soda. Roaches are attracted to the sugar, but the mixture is deadly to them.

Spot-clean a rug - Sprinkle baking soda on greasy spots and let sit for about an hour. Scrub gently with a damp sponge or brush, then vacuum to remove any leftover grime.

Absorb moisture - Place an open box of baking soda in your tool cabinet to fend off moisture that could rust saws or other equipment.

Keep drains clear - Once a week, pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down your kitchen sink. It'll help keep your pipes clog-free. Also, use in your toilet to help keep it fresh and clean.

Clean a shower door - Pour some baking soda on a damp sponge, wipe the door, and rinse with warm water.

Removes crust from your grill - Sprinkle baking soda directly on an indoor or outdoor grill. Let sit overnight, then slough off the grime with a wire brush and warm water.

Scrub your hands - Rubbing your hands with warm water and a palm full of baking soda will remove stubborn odors.

Combats body odors - Wash well with baking soda and apply for a stronger substitute for underarm deodorant.

Banish other odors - Seal musty-smelling books for a few weeks in a plastic bag with baking soda sprinkled inside to eliminate mildew and odors, sprinkle in garbage can and leave sit, pour down garage disposal, diaper pails, litter boxes, ‘wet-dog’ odor by sprinkling dog with baking soda and then brushing it out.

Clean your teeth - Use a little bit of baking soda on your toothbrush after you've brushed to get your teeth extra white. Don't do this more than 2, 3 times a month.

Cleans clothes - Add a little baking soda to your wash cycle, it takes out tough stains.

Cleans dishes/containers – Sprinkle on food and drink containers to clean well. Works better with plastic items.

Cleans stainless steel pots and glass – Sprinkle with baking soda, then add hot water. Let soak overnight; the dried on food will come loose much more easily.

Cleans baking dishes - Enamel, Ceramic or Glass: Soak in hot soapy water, then scour with salt or baking soda and rinse thoroughly.

Cleans silver - use a paste of 3 parts baking soda to one part water. Rub the paste onto each item, then rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth.

Breaks down tough dirty areas - dirt on a car, inside of barbecue etc. For stubborn buildup, use a paste of 3 parts baking soda to one part water and let sit overnight.

Removes scuff marks or grease spills from floor - sprinkle with baking soda and then wipe with a warm, damp cloth. This is even safe for no-wax floors!

Cleans appliances – Sprinkle on a damp sponge and wipe down dishwashers, coffee-makers, etc.

Cleans hairbrushes and combs – mix 1 part baking soda to three parts water and let them soak.

Sun-burn solvent - To relieve minor burns (such as a sun burn), use baking soda and water, apply gently.

Gargle - Gargle baking soda for whiter teeth, fresher smell and it also heals mouth sores.

Bug bites - Apply baking soda to bug, bee, wasp, ant or any kind of insect bite for a quicker heal.

Polish - Baking soda is a great polish for chrome, silver, marble furniture, piano keys.

Smooth skin - Use with water to create paste, apply to face, careful to avoid eyes and mouth, and leave on for 3 - 5 minutes, wash off. Your face will be noticeably softer.

Ashtrays and stale tobacco smoke - put baking soda in the bottom of each ashtray to keep away some of the stale smoke smell.

This list goes on and on. You can come up with your own uses too.

Now, go back over this list and think about how many common chemical based cleaners you have in your house that can be eliminated.

Everyone knows about Arm & Hammer Baking Soda but other natural cleansers are Bar Keepers Friend, 20 Mule Team Borax, vinegar, lemon juice and isopropyl rubbing alcohol.

Using these products instead of the more expensive chemical based cleansers is a sure way to get you closer to being green.

As an added bonus, baking soda, washed down our drains, is a lot less harmful to pipes used in our municipal sewage system and water treatment plants.

Cleaning tips using other natural products:
Rubbing alcohol: clean candles by using a sponge and a piece of cotton dipped in rubbing alcohol. Telephone Cleaner: Sponge with a piece of cotton dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Club soda: removes stains from stainless steel counter tops, ranges, sinks and carpet. It dries without streaks or spots. Use it fresh or flat.

Bleach: as a toilet bowl cleaner: Pour 1/4 cup full strength chlorine bleach OR 1/2 cup full strength ammonia into bowl. NEVER MIX BLEACH WITH AMMONIA, it produces a toxic odor that can make you pass out. Swish with a bowl brush and flush.

Borax and Lemon Juice: For removing a stubborn stain, like toilet bowl ring, mix enough borax and lemon juice into a paste which can cover the entire ring. Flush toilet to wet the sides, then rub on paste. Let sit for 2 hours and scrub thoroughly. For less stubborn toilet bowl rings, sprinkle baking soda around the rim and scrub with a toilet brush.

Table salt: makes a Non-chlorine Scouring Powder, sprinkle on a sponge or the surface you wish to clean and then scour and rinse.

Aluminum Foil: Briskly scrub rust spots on car bumpers with a piece of crumpled aluminum foil, shiny side up. Also works well on the chrome shafts of golf clubs.

Baby oil: to get nasty soap scum and dirt off your tub or shower, put 1 part baby oil to 4 parts water in a spray bottle. Spray mixture on a section and wipe off with a sponge. When you're done, spray with a disinfectant cleaner to make sure all germs are killed.

Dry cement: sprinkle on grease stains on concrete flooring, allow it to absorb the grease, then sweep up.

Go to part two for more tips.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Greed hurts us all again

The rush to make money has once again worsened an existing problem.
The U.N., and others, is warning the world that water resources, already strained by over population, will become even more scarce from the increased production of corn and other crops for biofuels.

Also, since more corn is being sold to biofuel producers, diverting it away from food producers, the price of corn for food is increasing. The price of every other crop that is being diverted away from traditional uses to biofuel production is going up as well.

Winners and losers? In the short term, the winners are the farmers who convert their lands to grow more palm trees, more sugar cane, more of anything that biofuel producers will buy. In the long term, the losers are those very same farmers, along with anyone else who requires food. It may sound like a bit of an over-simplification and melodramatic, but it is true.

These problems and others, such as increased pollution from the increased use of synthetic fertilizers to support the additional crops and the conversion of forests into agricultural lands, have been discussed in length by ecologists, scientists, farmers, food producers, environmentalists and bloggers who can see beyond the need to make an extra buck, for quite some time now.

I don’t mean to get down on those poor countries who are struggling to make more money. They need to eat too. But their shortsightedness is going to affect everyone else. Using more land that hastens the shortage of one of our most limited resources and polluting it even more borders on lunacy.

The use of biofuels is a double-edged sword. It is better for the environment than fossil fuels and it increases energy security for many countries. The pitfalls affect social as well as environmental issues.

New studies from scientists, private agencies and governments are saying biofuels could do more harm than good. Instead of helping the environment, deforestation to grow more energy crops is increasing the threat of global warming.

Converting more land to agricultural use will prevent an ever increasing population from finding land to build homes on.

Pollution from synthetic fertilizers creates the need for more water purification systems which takes up more land.

There needs to be controls put in place to decrease the competition of agricultural lands in order to maintain a percentage of land for food production only. Developing countries will benefit most from this.

We need to look at long term solutions and not jump on the first immediate answer. How many times have individuals been burned in their personal lives by doing exactly this? When are we going to learn from our mistakes. This mistake is global and will have global consequences.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Are we about to witness first synthetic life?

Scientists have built the first synthetic genome by stringing together 147 pages of letters representing the building blocks of DNA.

This is scary stuff from the realms of science fiction. But researches say that within months we can see custom designed organisms, referred to as biological robots. The proposed use is to produce ethanol for biofuel use as well as producing other chemicals in applications we haven’t thought of yet.

Producing biofuels is an immediate and important application because one of the downsides of using food crops as biofuel production is that it drives up food prices.

The technical process involves using yeast to stitch together four long strands of DNA into the genome of a bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium. They said it's more than an order of magnitude longer than any previous synthetic DNA creation. The actual building blocks of DNA: Adenine, Cytosine, Thymine and Guanine, are rearranged and linked together to create never-before-seen organisms that will do their bidding.

The next step is to inject this synthetic strand into a cell, sit back and let it multiply.

Just a few years ago this process of synthesizing and linking together these building blocks was impossible. Now, the possibilities seem endless. By linking together millions of base pairs, biomedical scientists can create much more complex organisms.

Some ideas I would like to see this science used for is to create organisms that would eat petroleum to clean up oil spills, another could attack rogue human cells to control cancer and other diseases if not stop them completely, organisms to break down waste products in our water systems to purify our drinking water, organisms to neutralize or eliminate the E. coli bacterium plaguing our food supply, organisms to repair human tissue, the applications are almost endless.

The scary part of this new field is how future scientists handle this knowledge. There always seems to be some ill-intentioned person or even well-meaning person whose experiments go awry and will create something monstrous. Regulation and security is of the utmost importance. Already synthetic biologists are planning to scale up from the simplest organisms to the most complex: human beings. This thinking, in my opinion is a bit premature, but it is better to have rules in place before it happens.

Currently, synthetic biologists follow the National Institutes of Health's recombinant DNA guidelines, which were penned in 1974 for the first experiments in genetic manipulation. Accepted by NIH and industry scientists alike, the rules instruct researchers on how to safely handle engineered organisms in the lab. If they want to release a synthetic organism into the environment, it would be evaluated for safety by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Manmade biological forms can do unexpected things so we need to create a safeguard, perhaps an army of synthetic robots whose purpose is to destroy the offending organism.

New terms are entering into our language, and to help explain these terms here is a Scientific American article on synthetic biology, and a Live Science article on biological robots.

The full implications of creating synthetic life are as yet unknown for the future of mankind, but rest assured Hollywood will continue to come up with creative ways to exploit any fear surrounding it.

I think we should view this latest development as a step forward in helping us clean up after ourselves and keep our environment as healthy as possible.

It will be interesting to hear viewpoints from religious leaders.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recycling cell phones

An article posted on MSNBC reminded me of the increasing danger we face with recycling our electronic ‘throw aways’.

According to the article, by Dawn Stover, U.S. “recycling” programs may end up exporting cell phones to developing countries that lack recycling facilities, well-designed landfills or environmental guidelines for the safe handling of hazardous materials, making it highly unlikely that the phones will be safely recycled or properly disposed of.

Transferring this electronic waste problem to other countries does not violate international restrictions on the shipment of hazardous waste, but this does not mean it is ethical.

Most of us who actually make an attempt to recycle are concerned with how recycled material is processed. Most people are just glad to get rid of their leftovers and jump at the convenience of a charity fundraiser thinking they are helping the environment and the given charity.

Charities often don’t make very much money from these fundraisers. Most of the money ends up in the hands of middlemen who resell the devices. More and more for-profit companies — including EcoPhones, Phoneraiser, FundingFactory, CollectiveGood, Think Recycle, ReCellular, Cellular Funds and Project KOPEG (Keep Our Planet Earth Green) — are sponsoring these fundraisers at the expense of similar nonprofits.

For a list of non profit recyclers go to Freecycle is a network of more than 4,000 groups around the world. It is a grassroots nonprofit group of people dedicated to ‘keeping good stuff out of landfills’.

According to EPA statistics from 2005, fewer than 20 percent of cell phones were recycled. Many ended up in landfills, where they can release nasty acids and toxic metals.

Many cell phones collected by for-profit companies are sold to refurbishing companies, which restore the phones to working order and in turn sell them to retailers. About three-quarters of the refurbished phones end up in Latin America, where they are usually marketed as prepaid (“pay-as-you-go”) phones. No mention was made as to what happens to the other 25 percent that cannot be refurbished.

We need to be more vigilant about who we give or sell these items to.

The article gives some tips on how you can make sure your local group receives the most benefit from its fundraising programs.

Also, if you really want to make a difference, consider purchasing a refurbished phone yourself. Service providers such as AT&T and Verizon offer “just like new” phones online, as do many smaller companies. Re-use is a much more efficient way to curtail waste than recycling.

Just because recycling is done by a ‘charity’ fundraiser doesn’t mean the items will be disposed of properly.

As a side note, last year Adam Kalsey, a Cubmaster and blogger in Gold River, Calif., accused EcoPhones of “spamming” Boy Scout leaders whose e-mail addresses are listed on local packs’ Web sites. Spokesperson Jennifer Parra acknowledged that EcoPhones sends marketing messages to teachers, pastors and others affiliated with schools, churches and community groups, but she said the company gives all recipients a chance to opt out of its mailing list as required by the federal CAN-SPAM Act.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Kite powered generator

Here is a unique wind-harnessing device to generate electricity.

Kites, as we all know from our kite flying days, can catch a lot of wind. The traditional propeller slices through the wind and is therefore not as efficient at using the wind to generate power. The kite ‘string’, actually metal poles, pumps arms extending from an alternator that creates electricity. Cables attached between the metal poles and the alternators arms allow the kites to adjust height and angle for maximum wind resistance.

The concept is similar to wave power units that uses ocean currents to ‘pump’ an electricity generating alternator.

This idea, in conjunction with solar power, is a very viable method of generating electrical power.

For more information see webite.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Electric cars are getting sexy

This is a beautiful automobile. This is the Dodge ZEO concept car introduced at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

This car is all electric, ZEO stands for Zero Emissions Operation, made from lightweight aluminum and has a driving range of 400 kilometers (approximately 250 miles). Electricity is provided by multiple batteries under the floor, it rear wheel driven by a 200-kilowatt electric motor.

It is being billed as Americas next generation muscle car, but you won’t be able to hear the pipes roar on this baby. I long for the days when Americas true muscle cars roared from the starting block and this is one aspect that will be sorely missed. But the style of this car go along way towards making up for it.

Battery technology, of course, cannot match the distance of a conventional gas-powered car, but it will by the end of the next decade. But with the average commute less than 25 miles to and from work everyday, this car should be introduced a lot sooner.

For more eye candy goodies click here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Future cityscapes?

Is this a sign of things to come?

It is a scary thought, but since this has already happened in Naples Italy, can the U.S. be far behind?

This, by the way, is not the result of striking garbage truck drivers, but simply, the result of the landfills being too full to accept any more. An estimated 5,000 tons has been building up since the closure on Dec 21, 2007, in Naples alone. The surrounding areas are filling up too.

We need to seriously curtail out wastefulness, and soon. Recycling has been talked about for several generations now and we are still far behind in our ability and willingness to actually participate.

According to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United States recycled 32 percent of its waste in 2005 (I don’t know why stats seem to never be less than two years old).

Including composting, Americans recycled 79 million tons of waste in 2005, a 2 percent increase over 2004 and a big jump from the 16 percent of waste Americans recycled in 1990 and the 10 percent of waste Americans recycled in 1980.

About 42 million tons of paper were recycled—a 50 percent recycling rate. That means 50 percent goes to the landfill.

The number of U.S. landfills have been decreasing steadily—from 8,000 in 1988 to 1,654 in 2005—but the capacity has remained relatively constant because new landfills are much larger.

Container and packaging recycling increased to 40 percent. That means 60 percent goes to the landfill.

America is making headway in both creating more recyclable products and actually recycling those products, but there is still room for improvement.

I see recyclable products thrown in trash cans on a daily basis. Just walk down any public street with trash cans and you will find plastic and other recyclable products in with the other trash. Unfortunately, you can also see this trash on the side of the road. I have never understood the mentality of someone who turns our environment into their own personal trash can by throwing their trash out the window.

Walk into any shopping mall, office building, airport, etc and you will find recyclable objects thrown in with the trash. Sometimes there is even a recycling container nearby.

In my own neighborhood, where we have blue recycling bins assigned to every household, I see, on trash day, too many homes where that blue recycling bin sits up at the side of the house obviously empty while the recycling truck drives past.

We just are not fully committed to recycling in the U.S. yet. Is it going to take the visual sights and olfactory smells of rotting garbage in our streets before non-participants finally realize they should have done their part?

Solar power advertising signs

Personally, I think lighting up advertising signs is a colossal waste of electricity. The amount of power these signs collectively use is astounding. We need to solarize these power hogs to get them off of our power grid.

The costs to power these signs, of course, gets passed onto the consumer, so it would be nice not to have this expense come out of our pockets. Plus, the savings in pollution generated in created the extra power to run these signs would be astounding as well.

Electricity should be generated for our safety and personal use, i.e., traffic lights, street lights, home lighting, etc.

I have always thought advertising to be an eyesore and distraction on our roadways and with the amount of advertising we get on television, radio, all manner of public areas, and in the mail, why do we have to be subjected to this onslaught on our roadways too?

I briefly mentioned in a previous post the rolling blackouts this country is subjected to, if the power companies did not have to provide electricity for this type of superfluous advertising activity, we could stand a better chance of having those blackouts become a thing of the past. Plus, if these signs are on solar power then they would provide some light during those blackouts.

With the art of attracting people to shopping malls and individual businesses using solar power we could all benefit from the savings in more ways than one.

A company based in Spain called Grayhatch, has come up with an innovative and eco friendly creation that takes on the power hungry advertising market. Their inventors have devised a low-energy “bio-luminescent material” that is powered by solar panels. These panels allow for the replacement of wasteful light-bulbs in the advertising panels above the bench, which also gives customers a pretty comfy spot to sit. The benches are made of recycled plastic bags that, Grayhatch claims, leaves a zero carbon footprint and could each save 200 tons of pollution from entering into the atmosphere every year.

As a side note, in the future, these benches could provide a recharging kiosk for personal electronic devices such as cell phones, iPods, etc. Just an idea.

Currently, there is an order for 3,000 of these benches to be installed in the UK and other countries.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Utility company wants to come into our homes without permission.

California Energy Commission has proposed procedures under which they could actually reach into our homes and control the thermostat settings during times of energy stress. Their idea is to prevent the rolling blackouts that plague the countryside during periods of electricity shortages, such as during heat waves when people turn their air conditioners up even higher putting a larger load on the utility company’s already taxed electricity generating equipment.

The concept, at first glance, is allowing big brother into our homes without our permission. And this freaks out a lot of civil libertarians. The really ‘out-there’ types would be convinced there is a listening device or camera in the thermostat that authorities could use to spy on us.

In fact, radio talk shows have been flooded with indignant callers claims of violating the ‘man’s home is his castle’ dictum.

Disregarding the paranoia that this scenario brings about, the California Energy Commission, which for more than three decades has set state energy efficiency standards for home appliances, like water heaters, air conditioners and refrigerators, proposed that utilities can adjust customers’ preset temperatures though the use of radio-controlled thermostats when the price of electricity is soaring. Customers could override the utilities’ suggested temperatures, but in emergencies, the utilities could override customers’ wishes.

They are attempting to control electrical demand at the source. This is something I can see as necessary because there is no way customers will cut back voluntarily. It just has never happened and we all pay for it by doing without power for however long it takes to get the power back on. So, on the one hand, it is a very worthwhile endeavor aimed at keeping power flowing for all of us all of the time. On the other hand, we are giving up some control over our comfort zone.

Personally, I think this is a small price to pay to ensure traffic lights remain working, hospitals maintain constant power, and 911 systems are not interrupted.

These people who are thinking only of their own paranoiac fears need to lighten up and think about the big picture and realize that this could just save themselves trouble and inconvenience.

Body heat to charge cell phones?

Now this is something I can get into. How many of us carry our cell phones in our pockets instead of those pretentious little ‘holsters’?

Berkeley Labs is researching the ability to convert our body heat into electricity, via silicon nanowire-based converters. The new found electricity could power personal electronics, such as your cell phone or iPod.

The research has been published in Nature magazine.

While the research has not been perfected, scientists believe the potential application of this technology include Department of Energy’s hydrogen fuel cell-powered “Freedom CAR,” and personal power-jackets that could use body heat to recharge cell-phones and other electronic devices.

This process could be used to siphon electrical power from just about any situation in which heat is being given off. Thermoelectric generators have already been used to convert body heat to power wrist watches.

Conversion modules could be used to convert the heat from automotive exhaust into supplemental power to recharge its battery system or its radio, air conditioner and power windows.

Researchers also believe that thermoelectric modules could eventually be used in co-generating power with gas or steam turbines.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Solar trees

Here’s an innovative way to light up our streets and save money doing it. These solar trees, tested for four weeks in October in Vienna, Austria, provided enough light during the night-time even when the sun did not show for as much as four days in a row. Even in the gloom of our U.S. winters, there are a lot of cities that get enough sunlight to keep these lights charged.

Without having to install expensive underground wiring they save in installation costs as well as remaining portable enough to move around to where they would be needed most and they are immune to blackouts.

Of course, saving money only comes in the long run. But with the level of city expansion the U.S. goes through every year there is an abundance of opportunites to use this type of light instead of the more costly traditional street lighting. If only bureaucratic red tape could be cut to allow a new technology.

Designed by Ross Lovegrove, the lights have 10 solar panels arrayed at the top of tree-like branches, which charge built-in batteries. The batteries then power LEDs for illumination. Compared to conventional streetlights, they emit much less light pollution, because LEDs generate a very directed light. The trees also incorporate light detectors! So the lights automatically turn on at sunset and off at sunrise. Now that is smart use of technology.

Using this type of technology, cities could put LED light systems on city buildings as well as at bus stops, airport terminals, etc to cut down on carbon emissions and slash local electrical bills.

Street lighting consumed 10 percent of all the electricity used in Europe in 2006 or 2,000 billion KWh, and resulted in carbon emissions of 2,900 million ton.

The use of more energy-efficient lighting in the Austrian city of Graz, with a population of almost 300,000 saved the city 524,000 KWh of electricity and 67,200 euros [US $96,800] in 2005.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Honey making a medical comeback

Everyone who did not know honey is an antibiotic, raise your hand or go ‘huh’ or something like that. I am as surprised as I’m sure a lot of people are to learn this.

Ancient Egyptians, creative and curious individuals that they were, used to dress wounds with honey. Whether they thought it was natures glue or understood how it works remains a mystery. Why they started using this in the first place as a band-aid is unknown.

Derma Sciences Inc., a New Jersey company that makes medicated and other advanced wound care products, began selling the first honey-based dressing this fall after it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Their product is called Medihoney, what else, and is made from a seaweed-based material that is saturated with manuka honey.

Manuka honey, to be specific, is collected from the flower of the wild tea tree bush (leptospermum scoparium).

Evidently, the rest of the world has known about its healing, antiseptic properties for quite some time. Australians and New Zealanders have been using it to treat their patients for decades.

Since ancient times honey has been used as a natural medicine in many cultures. The antibacterial properties of honey however have only been discovered a century ago.

Why does it seem the U.S. is always last to learn of these things? I think it is because Americans are too egotistical about their medical professional to think that something natural could work just as well if not better than whatever medical science forces on us. And of course advertisers play a very large hand in this.

Honey in fact inhibits a broad spectrum of bacteria. Some reports even show an anti-fungal activity in honey. Some honeys will work better than others though. The Honey Research Unit at the Waikato University in New Zealand is constantly researching honey as a therapeutic agent.

“The reason that Medihoney is so exciting is that antibiotics are becoming ineffective at fighting pathogens," said Derma Sciences CEO Ed Quilty. This is what happens when our bodies are constantly filled with unnatural chemical agents. The body simply reacts better to natural treatments.

Another big advantage, he said, is that the dressings' germ-fighting and fluid-absorbing effects last up to a week, making them convenient for patients being cared for at outpatient clinics or by visiting nurses. They also reduce inflammation and can eliminate the foul odors of infected wounds.

Regular honey can have mild medicinal benefits. A study published Dec. 3 showed it helps to calm children's coughs so they can sleep. But manuka honey is far more potent, research shows.

Medihoney dressing can also prevent the dangerous drug-resistant staph infection known as MRSA from infecting open wounds.

Manuka honey can kill the toughest bacteria even when diluted 10 times and it is recommended especially for people with weak immune systems.

This is used as a barrier to keep infections out, it won’t work if the infection is already in the blood.

Some U.S. hospitals and wound care clinics are already using Medihoney dressings to treat patients with stubborn, infected wounds from injuries or surgical incisions and nonhealing pressure ulcers on diabetics' feet, which too often lead to amputations.

David Crosby, a retired insurance claims examiner from Hanover, Massachusetts, began using Medihoney two months ago on a 2 1/2-year-old burn on his leg after high-tech treatments did not help. The burn's size has shrunk by half and it continues to heal.

At a military clinic for Iraqi children, Medihoney was used on patients with severe burns from cooking fuels, open fires and explosions. Iraqi families soon preferred the honey over other treatments because it was natural and because the honey dressings don't need to be changed as often as traditional ones. The children also healed more quickly and with fewer complications.

This is yet another example of how nature has what we need to survive if we would only continue to look for it. Just because medicine is modern doesn’t mean it is better.

We need to look more closely at what we can do to preserve what nature is left on this Earth as a means of helping ourselves in the long run.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Is Biofuel a reasonable answer?

Ethanol works. It has been used on farms to power tractors and other farm equipment for many generations. But jumping on the bandwagon for the opportunity to tell big oil where to stuff it is a luxury we cannot afford.

Higher food prices.
Corn for ethanol brings a higher price for the farmer than corn for food and so from an economical standpoint it makes sense to sell more corn to ethanol producers than to food producers.

Diverting corn from making food to making ethanol will translate to higher food prices for all of us, whether we individually use ethanol or not. The federal government has begun paying out subsidies for corn-for-ethanol and now we are going to be stuck with it.

The increase in the number of acres to produce this corn will mean the loss of acreage for other food crops because it doesn’t pay as well as corn.

One of the dangers of maintaining a mono-cultural is that if anything comes along that adversely affects that crop then we will lose everything. And now that we are going to have two industries depending on one crop the results will be devastating.

Just to keep this pursuit of ethanol going, farmers will need to grow more corn to attempt to meet the demand for ethanol production while at the same time maintaining the demand for food production.

Food prices have already jumped a startling 75 percent since 2005. This is a direct result of ethanol subsidies, which have dramatically driven up the price of corn and other grains. Another, more long term, effect is that rising demand for meat in China and India, will push up demand for more feed grain. The combined strain on the farmer to produce higher yields to feed animals, people and cars is going to create a market collapse.

The farmers, right now, are ecstatic over the rising prospect of increasing their income. The rest of us, especially those on fixed incomes, will inevitably be forced to further stretch their already strained food budget.

And what will happen when the point is reached, and it will, when we have to choose between feeding our cars, our animals or feeding ourselves?

None of these concerns has addressed the damage that increased corn production will have on the environment.

More fertilizer production.
Corn is what is known as a heavy feeder. It requires a lot of nitrogen-rich fertilizer, much more than almost any other food crop and it doesn’t absorb as much as other crops so the fertilizer has a higher runoff rate. Currently, the nation’s corn crop is fertilized with millions of pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer. This fertilizer runs off into the water table, on towards the Mississippi River and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico where it contributes to a growing “dead zone”. This dead zone is a 7,900-square-mile patch that depletes oxygen and is suffocating fish, crab and shrimp. Fishermen have to sail further out to sea to get a decent catch and this leads to higher fuel bills which, as always, comes down to higher consumer prices.

More pesticide production.
Another environmental factor to consider is the increased production of pesticides and their effects on the animal kingdom, including humans. The U.S. has come a long way toward finding alternatives to the traditionally used more toxic chemical pesticide. But foreign countries are not as regulated with nearly as much zeal.

More and more, our food crop is coming from the rest of the world. China is the largest producer of apples, with nearly 41 percent. With the recent recall of toys made in China due to the use of tainted chemicals it does not take much imagination to realize that China has a lot of chemicals to use up and they are willing to use them regardless of how the U.S. protests their use.

Higher subsidies for farmers.
The increase in subsidies to farmers to produce more corn costs the American taxpayer $9.4 billion in 2005. That figure is double what it was in 2004 which almost doubled the previous year which almost doubled 2002. Farm subsidy formulas are a complicated matter and the numbers and reasons are overwhelming. But the bottom line is we will end up paying more in future years, and the trend backs this up. These figures are just for the production of corn. corn sub…cost the…

Once this kind of money begins flowing through the hands of politicians, it is going to be very problematic in halting, or at least slowing down, the demand for ethanol production. Lobbyists get paid big bucks to make sure that flow does not stop, whether it benefits the country or not. These subsidies need to be redirected towards a more environmentally sound answer to the use of petroleum.

Bottom line.
All of this gobbling up of extra land and extra money, and all of this extra production of chemical fertilizer and chemical pesticides results in producing a gallon of ethanol that requires more energy than the ethanol saves as a replacement for gasoline.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

California responds to the EPA

(Follow-up to posting Dec 20, 2007 entitled “Come back Mr. Johnson”.)

On December 19, 2007 the EPA told California, and twelve other states, they could not enact their own legislation to combat greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs. The EPA said in doing so, that states have no business setting emission standards.

California has always had stricter standards for automobile emissions and the EPA has not limited their ability to enforce these laws until now.

Since that decision, four other states have decided to join California in its effort to take a lead role in cleaning up the air in their states.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson is apparently acting alone in this matter and does not have any legal footing to back his decision. But illegality has never slowed down George W Bush and his cronies.

"There's absolutely no justification for the administrator's action," Attorney General Jerry Brown said Wednesday. "It's illegal. It's unconscionable and a gross dereliction of duty."

The federal government is moving forward with a national solution and dismissed California's arguments that it faced unique threats from climate change. I cannot agree that California faces ‘unique’ threats from climate change because this climate threat is affecting the entire world.

There is no plausible reason why any state cannot enact its own standards separate and distinct from what the federal government wants unless the automobile industry is pressuring the federal government to halt it. A secondary layer of legislation against air pollution only ensures we clean up our air in a more timely fashion then waiting for the federal government.

The half-assed, ineffective energy legislation signed by President Bush last month will raise fuel economy standards nationwide to an average of 35 mpg by 2020. This is playing too closely to automobile manufacturer and oil industry desires to be of any use toward cleaning up our air. Also it allows foreign automakers to increase their far more fuel efficient cars to be sold here. On the plus side, this poor attempt at emissions control will help generate more interest in solar and hydrogen powered vehicles.

Instead of fighting the states, the federal EPA should work with them to see if the states’ plans are better for the nation than what the EPA can come up with.

Mr. Johnson is turning this into a power play and trying to place himself as the top dog. This kind of childish behavior is unwarranted given the fact that at least 20 states have come forward demanding strict controls on our automobile emissions levels.

The 2004 California law is tougher than the new national standard. It requires the auto industry to cut emissions by one-third in new vehicles by 2016 or reach an average of 36.8 mpg. Which, in my opinion, is still not enough.

The twelve other states that have adopted the California emissions standards are — Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they plan to adopt them and Iowa is considering adoption.

Mr. Johnson, I think the states have spoken loudly and in a clear enough manner that leaves no room for misinterpretation that demands you step up and make these standards tougher.

California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement, "(EPA officials) are ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming, that's why, at the very first legal opportunity, we're suing to reverse the U.S. EPA's wrong decision."

"Today, there is simply no environmental issue more compelling, or extraordinary, than the increasing threat of climate change," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Greenhouse gas emission standards for cars are a logical and necessary step to effectively combat global warming."

Automakers argue that they would have to be forced to reduce their selection of vehicles and raise prices in the states that adopted California's standards. Does anyone really need the so called selection of vehicles that comes out of Detroit? These cars all pretty much look alike and they are all built on the same basic frame anyway so what would we be giving up? As far as higher prices go, this argument simply does not stand up. Prices will already go higher to meet the federal governments lame standards so to say they will go higher because of California’s standards is simply wrong. It has already been shown that consumers are willing to pay higher prices for better mileage and lower emissions. Therefore the automakers arguments are flawed and manufactured to make themselves appear to be victims. Grow up Detroit and get with the program.

The EPA is attempting to kill a legal, viable policy tailored to help California deal with projected consequences of global climate change. Rising seas could erode our nation’s coastline and top its levees, while warming temperatures are expected to reduce mountain snowpacks, leading to a potential water crisis. But Detroit places its profit margin worries above the collective nation’s need to combat the more important, very real threat created by the products it markets to us. Forgive me, but it is very hard to find any sympathy for U.S. automakers. They have had many years and many missed opportunities to be more competitive with foreign automakers to keep our loyalty. Now they are crying when it comes time to face the music.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Eco Burials, the latest ‘Green’ thing

The latest eco-friendly trend, that can be your last environmentally friendly act before leaving this world, has been labeled green burial.

This new burial process shuns the traditional burial ritual which environmentalist believe is exacting a huge toll on the environment. Embalming injects corpses with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, that releases blood-borne pathogens into the sewer systems and eventually the water table. The green burial process uses no embalming fluid. Lacquer and varnish on caskets contain petrochemicals and the concrete vaults that encase each burial plot block rainwater from returning to the water table. The green burial method places the body in a bio-degradable pod made of cardboard or newspaper or specially certified wood. Traditional cemeteries also eat up a lot of land: if we extrapolate from the average size of a coffin and the number of annual deaths, burial plots alone gobble up a lot of real estate. The green burial method allows your body to become natures’ compost.

Though green burials have been reversing the traditional burial rituals in the United Kingdom and other European countries for several years, the ritual is just beginning to attract attention in the United States.

Ancient civilizations chose to bury their dead in shrouds or wooden boxes, without first infusing bodies with chemicals. And some cemeteries have forbidden the use of formaldehyde, concrete, metal or any other material not completely biodegradable. Some traditional cemeteries have special sections set aside for green burials.

In these new age burial grounds, graves are marked only with a plant or a stone natural to the area. The grave sites’ GPS location is given to loved ones so the site can always be located.

Advocates argue that a green approach to burial is environmentally friendly, spiritually uplifting and often less costly than the conventional American way of laying people to rest.

Currently, the mortuary industry in the U.S. is dominated by three international corporations which controls every aspect of death care from transportation to cemetery lawn maintenance. The average funeral today runs around $7,000 and costs keep rising.

The Redwood Funeral Society, of Sonoma California, has been advocating the use of biodegradable caskets and an end to the practice of embalming since 1992. Although the society had found one independent funeral director whose services were reasonable, Karen Leonard, RFS founder, has been encouraging people to avoid morticians altogether by caring for their own dead, a movement which Jeri Lyons' Natural Deathcare Project has done much to foster. Families saved money in the process, but even then, they had to use standard facilities for cremation or burial. With this latest trend, families can save money and feel good about doing even more for the earth.

The current practice of embalming the body is believed to have begun in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians embalmed for religious reasons, believing it necessary to have a body to enter the afterlife. During the American Civil War, embalming was done to preserve the bodies of troops so that they could be shipped back to their families for burial. Today we embalm our dead for preservation and restoration to a more pleasing appearance.

Caskets have been in use since before 695 AD when the Celts used flat stones that were held together in the shape of a box. In about 1066 Kings and noblemen across the world were buried in luxurious, bejeweled caskets. The Vikings of about 900 AD had perhaps the most unique take on caskets that history has to offer. They turned ships and boats into large caskets upon which they would set fire and then set sail to burn at sea.

Today's caskets continue to be made mostly of steel, but, with the rise in popularity of cremation, caskets made of combustible wood are also very popular. Today's caskets still follow the traditional rectangular design and are still designed to be as airtight as possible. (Since their beginning, a chief aim of caskets has been to preserve a body for as long as possible. Scientists have recently discovered, however, that bodies in airtight caskets tend to decompose more quickly than those in more open caskets.) But variations on the traditional look are also becoming more common. Caskets have been known to come in some very offbeat shapes and designs. Some caskets have been shaped to look like large gym bags, guitars, and even dumpster bins. Others caskets have been painted with tropical scenes, sunsets and sea shells.

The practice of ‘viewing’ the body before burial is a practice designed to help mourners accept that death has really occurred and is the only reason we still embalm the body.

We honor our departed with gravestones marking their birth and death dates and are considered an important part of the grieving process.

Up until now the only other option to burial has been the cremation of the body.

According to the Cremation Association of North America, almost twenty percent of people who choose a cremation do so thinking that it is a more sustainable choice, but cremations use an exorbitant amount of fossil fuel and sends potentially toxic mercury and other chemicals into the air from the burning of dental fillings. The EPA estimates that crematoriums emit about 320 pounds of mercury each year, admittedly a tiny share of the tons of the chemical pumped into the atmosphere by other industrial sources, but nonetheless, every amount that doesn’t go into the air is better for all of us.

Eco burials actually benefit the environment, preserving land from other development and acting as a wildlife preserve. The area is legally protected by legislation from any future development, ensuring the sustainability of the land in perpetuity.

Eco Coffins Ltd of England offers the original Ecopod, a peapod-shaped biodegradable casket made of paper and hardened with minerals, sort of like papier-mâché, which was developed in Britain. (Correction: Eco Coffins Ltd makes the EcoCoffin not the Ecopod. Please see correction below). The pod can be plain cardboard that you can have painted or stained or decaled any way you want. Or, if you are so inspired, you can paint it yourself.

Green cemeteries, hosting natural burials, have sprouted up in California, Florida, New York, South Carolina and Texas.

A South Carolina-based company created a memorial park, the Ramsey Creek Preserve, where your decomposing body returns its nutrients as food for flora and fauna. Relatives and friends can walk among the trees on a forest walk to pay their respects.

The majority of eco-friendly burial products come from overseas although there are a few domestic makers. Options range from natural-fiber shrouds to fair-trade bamboo caskets lined with unbleached cotton and caskets with custom paint jobs and urns with the insignia of a favorite sports team. There are also more traditional-looking handcrafted coffins made of wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Biodegradable containers cost from around $100 for a basic cardboard box up to more than $3,000 for a handcrafted, hand-painted model.

“It’s hard to tell if it’s a fad or if it’s here to stay,” said Bob Fells, of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. “We are certainly positioning ourselves that if this is what the community wants, we are ready to serve them.”

The Green Burial Council is working on certification programs to verify the commitment and quality of providers who say they are going natural.

“What we are trying to do is to make sure this concept doesn’t get ’green-washed’ down the drain,” said Joe Sehee, the council’s founder and executive director.

As a side note to environmentalist who are far enough out on the fringe, some people want their body rendered like any other dead animal. The body is crushed or boiled to separate the fat from the bone. The fat can then be used to make animal feed, wax, glue, etc.

In my opinion, this is going a tad bit too far but it could become an option as the next ‘green’ thing.

(Correction Jan 3, 2008)
Cynthia Beal, of Natural Burial Company, was kind enough to submit a comment to this post and pointed out a few corrections that I would like to relay.

Here is her comment in its entirety:
Thanks for the post - it's great to see that folks are learning about this natural option before it's "too late."

One correction - the Ecopod is sold in the USA by the Natural Burial Company and doesn't have anything to do with EcoCoffins UK. They are completely separate businesses.

The Ecopod is handsculpted from recycled newspapers and covered in handmade paper. Its design is inspired by an Egyptian sarcophagus and a maple seed, and it was created by a former UK midwife and organic farmer, Hazel Selina.

In addition to the paper and wood coffins, an intermediate choice is a coffin of woven fiber. Woven fiber coffins biodegrade more quickly than wood (less quickly than the paper, of course) and, what's even better, they keep the arts of basketry alive.

These woven coffins are currently imported because we Americans have lost the arts of strong-basket making. Hopefully, strong consumer demand for a more "natural end" will help artisans in the US step up and begin to create woven coffins so that the imports won't be as necessary. We use them now because they're "tried and tested" but we hope this can stimulate a whole new trend in artisan burial arts.

I've written a book called "Be a Tree, the Natural Burial Guide for Turning Yourself into a Forest." A free online condensation is available at since the paper version won't be out for awhile and the publisher is kind enough to let me make it available to the public. "Be a Tree" talks a lot about the natural burial movement, home funerals, green cemeteries, and what action steps people need to take to get something more natural happening in their area.

Thanks again for making the Ecopod source correction - the Natural Burial Company is my company, and the business is my way of funding the education necessary to bring awareness of these new possibilities to all of us.
in trees,


I apologize for the inaccuracy and hope this correction alleviates any confusion I might have generated.

You bring up a wonderful point concerning the ‘Arts in basketry’, very interesting. Basket weaving is a true art form as any basket collector would attest. And what a fitting use of art as a way in which to celebrate the life of a loved one.

Thank you, Cynthia for taking the time to make this correction.