As the sun set around the planet last night, so too did a symbolic ‘setting sun’ take place for one hour to signify our understanding of what life would be like if we did not have electricity to light our homes and commercial districts.
The Oregon Institute of Technology has developed the country’s first four-year undergraduate degree program in renewable-energy systems. This year the program is training 50 students and will graduate its first class.
Illinois State University will start offering a bachelor's degree program focused on renewable energy. The school's Department of Technology will run the multi-disciplinary program that will also include major components in economics and public policy. Students in the program can also choose to concentrate in wind or ethanol.
The New York State Education Department and the State University of New York (SUNY) approved a four-year Renewable and Alternative Energy Applications program that started in the Fall 2006 semester at SUNY Canton.
Arizona State University began offering students undergraduate and graduate degree programs focusing on Alternative Energy Technologies in the fall of 2007.
Many other smaller colleges are offering similar course study.
Most core programs are centered around engineering, computer languages, public policy, etc and additionally require further specialization in photovoltaic, wind, biomass hydropower and geothermal energy development.
Our green future is beginning to look brighter.
When I attended college in the early 80’s Environmental studies was one offering from the geology department. We have come a long way and its good to see the increased interest.
Sunflower Electric power Corp tried twice in the last year to obtain approval to add two 700 –megawatt units at a facility in western Kansas. I can’t believe anyone is still pursuing this outdated filthy form of power generation. It is morally irresponsible to actually want to add pollution to our atmosphere. Sunflower president Earl Watkins had the nerve to threaten Kansas families with higher electric rates saying that if the bill did not pass it would “punish our Kansas workers and industries”.
Just who does this guy think he is fooling? Pollution to our bodies and our planet is a far greater threat than the increase in home and business utility rates that we have come to expect almost annually anyway.
"Of all the duties and responsibilities entrusted to me as governor, none is greater than my obligation to protect the health and well-being of the people of Kansas," Governor Sebelius said in her veto message.
Thank-you governor for showing some common sense against outdated dirty energy producing power plants and legislators who cannot see past the dollar signs being waved in front of them.
A planned tidal farm off the coast of South Korea could provide enough power to support 200,000 homes. We have all heard of wave farms converting the power of ocean waves into useable power but what sets this endeavor apart is that the turbines will sit on the sea bed and use the oceans tidal force to generate electricity.
This idea is not new, but the fact that it has not passed out of fashion shows the continued commitment to harness the power of nature to our benefit. And in my opinion, it is an evolved method of using the ocean as a power source over wave power units.
Tidal power is more dependable than wind due to its predictable nature providing a power source available 24 hours a day, in four 6-hour periods. The environmental impact of these units is less also, due to their smaller size and since the blades turn at a much slower pace they are not a danger to marine life.
Some of these massive units sit unobtrusively out of sight on the oceans floor. Pictured here are the 2,500 ton units that British tidal power company, Lunar Energy will deploy in the South Korean Wando Hoenggan waterway. Lunar Energy has been contracted to work with Korean Midland Power Company to install 300 of these one megawatt turbines.
Pictured here is Marine Current Turbine’s concept of a small tidal stream farm. A maintenance vessel is inspecting a raised turbine unit. Marine Current Turbine was the first company in Europe to employ an off-shore tidal marine turbine. This photo represents phase three based on their original concept.
Here’s an interesting concept called a tidal fence. This structure allows a roadway to be built that would be used to connect the shoreline near the City of Richmond, California to the nearby East Brothers Island in the San Francisco Bay area. This 1,000 foot long causeway will produce between 70-100 MW of electricity. This project will be built by Blue Energy Canada and Ocean Energy Inc.
Traditional building techniques have resulted in North America’s buildings releasing more than 2,200 megatons per year. This represents 35% of the continents total greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. If the construction industry would take advantage of currently available and emerging energy-saving technologies this figure would be reduced by 1,700 megaton emissions in 2030! A cut of this size would nearly equal the CO2 emitted by the entire U.S. transportation sector in 2000.
A report issued by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation at that conference stated that “green” construction could cut North America’s climate-warming emissions faster and more cheaply than any other environmental measure.
Taking into account the life-expectancy of a building, residential or commercial, we would be taking a huge step toward preventing a very large chunk of future greenhouse gas emissions.
We already know it works. Newly built green buildings routinely reduce energy usage by 30-50% over conventional buildings, so these figures are not just ‘blue-sky’ theory. The most efficient buildings perform more than 70% better than conventional properties.
Municipalities around the world are getting the message and taking steps to ease the transition toward a more responsible habitation with our environment.
European Union leaders have agreed to commit to legislation setting firm targets for a 20% reduction on CO2 emissions before 2020. They have also agreed to reduce energy imports, liberalize internal energy markets to increase competition, reduce taxes on environmentally friendly products, and to achieve world leadership in renewable energy technologies.
Kate from Hills and Plains Seedsavers informed me recently that her home town of Adelaide in South Australia, has passed an ordinance that requires all new construction have rain water collection systems built into the home. Yeah! Great Idea! How about going a bit further and requiring all new buildings, residential as well as commercials have solar power panels installed. A good point she brought up would be to have money collected on your electricity bill go towards having them installed on every existing and new homes.
Back in the U.S., ten states have been identified as the best for solar power, but its not based solely on number of sunny days. The criteria for getting on this list is rebate programs, loans, tax exemptions, regulatory policies, and strong support for setting renewable energy usage targets.
A number of cities around the country, including San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Scottsdale, Arizona, are leading the way with laws that require new public buildings to be green. So far, 54 cities and 23 federal agencies have adopted LEED standards for buildings, says Bill Browning, senior fellow for Rocky Mountain Institute and co-author of Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate. An industry has blossomed around the concept. At least 12,000 people, a record, attended the GreenBuild International Conference and Expo in Denver last November.
Clean Energy States Alliance tells us that more states are turning toward solar thermal heat and hot water heating, because of their efficiency and affordability, as well as their stable technology, and focusing on affordable housing to expand the market for solar.
The marketplace is always ready to supply us with what we need.
There are several companies that are currently making roofing shingles out of solar panel material. This one comes from OkSolar. Another step in the right direction.
Open Energy Corp has innovated the use of solar panels by embedding its “SolarSave” panels onto 4-foot-long plates that roofers can attach to wood, without needing an electrician which in turns can minimize labor costs.
Why aren’t we mandating these types of forward thinking improvements into new construction? Just adding better insulation and sealing cracks around windows and doors isn’t cutting it anymore. Consumers are a pretty savvy bunch. We know these products are out there. We know prices are coming down because of the proliferation of the technology. We also know that by changing the way in which buildings are currently being constructed we can save not only future money in lowered HVAC bills but cut down on the amount of carbon dioxide our buildings put into our atmosphere.
So what’s the hold up?
Green construction often adds less than one percent to the cost of a conventional building, but the payoffs can include energy costs cut by one-third.
Residential builders are slow to catch on to the trend, as they tend to look at what sold yesterday when deciding what to build today. Homebuilders mostly use the same means, methods and materials used 30 years ago. Architects and designers are rarely employed for homebuilding, and most would eagerly jump at the chance to design an energy efficient building. Small companies build most houses and they can’t afford architects, so it’ll take a while for the green trend to filter down.
This is a radical change to traditional building practices so naturally resistance is to be expected. People want energy efficiency but are not willing to pay for customized homes. What we need are a few brave small building companies to build these ‘customized’ homes in hopes that they will become the norm. This will lead the way to more companies selling this type of home and before too long everyone will be building them.
Another problem is the trend towards over-sized houses some of them outfitted with a full-body shower spraying more than 20 gallons of water per minute—enough to fill an entire bathtub in one minute. This type of extravagance should be taxed heavily to make the purchase of them less attractive, in my opinion. “Every three people putting in these shower systems negates the efforts of 100 people putting in efficient products,” wrote Alex Wilson, president of Vermont-based BuildingGreen, executive editor of Environmental Building News and author of Your Green Home. Federal regulations require low-flow, 2.5-gallon-a-minute showerheads. Yet these new multiple-head systems spray 10 times as much or more, “a small portion of which may briefly contact your body,” Wilson wrote, “en route from your water heater to your sewer line.”
“You can build a pretty mediocre house from an energy standpoint at 1,200 square feet and it will probably use a lot less energy than a state-of-art green home that is 3,500 square feet. And that’s a factor we need to be conscious of,” Wilson says.
Okay, so it’s clear that the green building movement is growing and it’s equally clear that not everybody cares about the environment, but those of us who do should be able to do something about it without it financially ruining us. Obstacles remain but it is vital to our health as well as the health of the planet that we not be discouraged. Toronto-based designer Bruce Mau, keynote speaker at the Building Energy ‘05 conference in Boston said “Now that modern technology has put us in a position that we can do anything, what will we do?”
Earthen construction advocates cite many virtues over conventional construction such as: very low environmental impact, high thermal mass, permeability, low-energy building methods, universal availability, and it’s ‘dirt cheap’. In most cases it is non-toxic depending, of course, where you dig it up from.
Another benefit of its use is that it breathes. Its permeability and ability to absorb and release moisture makes for a very healthy indoor environment.
So why haven’t we seen more of this type of abode sprouting up in our ‘burbs? Quite simply put, Labor Costs.
The construction industry is very heavily driven by the ability to build as many and as quickly as possible. The basic techniques involved in building earthenware homes does not lend itself to the typical cookie-cutter piece-together prefab building technique of today’s modern builder. I read someone who said ‘this class of architecture has often been referred to as the housing of choice for the idle rich and idle poor’. When considering building earthenware structures the only people with lots of time on their hands can feasibly do it. And even if you had lots of time, you couldn’t build them in urban or suburban settings due to housing codes.
Do we really, truly care about conserving gasoline, water, electricity? How serious are we about recycling? Are we as green as we want to be? Are we as green as we think we are? Can we even be green as we want with our water?
"Water is the driving force of all nature."
Leonardo da Vinci
Last month, March 2008, Los Angeles shared the honor, with Clearbrook, British Columbia, as having the best tasting water in an annual international contest and yet Los Angeles is on the list of cities where the pharmaceuticals were found. With contradictions like this how can we trust what anyone tells us about our drinking water?
Clean and tasteful are relative terms.
Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.
From this admission it can be concluded that they think the general public is too undereducated to handle the truth and therefore we should remain ignorant.
We live in the information age and yet not all information is readily available to us until a news story spins the facts to appear more sensational than they should be. Then we panic. But only briefly, because after realizing there is very little we can do, we do nothing. Life goes on and we buy more bottled water and lose a little more faith in those who are paid to protect us and those who are supposed to report facts to us.
How much water is available to us?
Water parks, golf courses, residential use, food production, and the booming bottled water industry are putting a very large demand on our water resources. And every year we spend billions of dollars to clean it, to transport it, and to distribute it to where we can use it.
Of all the water this Earth has to offer, an estimated 13.6 billion cubic kilometers (including the oceans and polar ice caps), only 3% is useable freshwater. And rainfall runs off too quickly for efficient use.
Water pollution is a persistent, barely manageable problem, more so in third world countries, but it occurs in every country. Pollution of rivers and lakes reduces accessible freshwater supplies. Each year roughly 450 cubic kilometers of wastewater are discharged into rivers, streams and lakes. To dilute and transport this dirty water before it can be used again, another 6,000 cubic kilometers of clean water are needed - an amount equal to about two-thirds of the world's total annual useable fresh water runoff.
How much do we need?
The amount of water that people use depends on basic needs and how much water is available. Withdrawals of water have grown to meet demand for all types of use - for irrigated agriculture, industry, and municipal (household) purposes. As the world continues to urbanize at rapid rates, the demand for potable water for municipal use is expected to soar, out pacing the capacity of most cities to provide it.
Population growth, globally, is nearly 80 million per year which translates to an increased demand for freshwater of about 64 billion cubic meters a year - an amount equivalent to the entire annual flow rate of the Rhine River.
In 1995, 31 countries, home to nearly half a billion people, regularly faced either water stress or water scarcity. In 2025, 48 countries containing about 3 billion people will face water shortages. By 2050 the figures will be 54 countries containing 4 billion people, or 40 per cent of the projected world population of 9.4 billion.
A substantial portion of the total freshwater supply is needed to sustain marshes, rivers, coastal wetlands, and the millions of species they shelter. As humanity withdraws a growing share of all available freshwater, less is available to maintain these vital wetland ecosystems. Already, over 20 per cent of the approximately 10,000 freshwater fish species in the world are either endangered, threatened or going extinct.
Are we wasteful with our water?
Freshwater mismanagement has created deserts, poisoned millions of acres of land with salt and killed entire lakes (see the Aral Sea disaster).
We are experiencing floods where there never used to be floods. We are experiencing droughts where there never use to be droughts. Are these ‘unnatural’ occurrences due to how we use our water? Building a dam cannot help but alter the environment both upstream and downstream. But are we destroying the environment by doing so?
I buy bottled water from Costco. I am only mildly ashamed of this fact. My city government has, in the past twelve months, issued three notices about our drinking water. Each notice informed us, 4 months after the contamination, that routine testing had revealed coliform bacteria contamination. Lovely. So, for two very obvious reasons, one being that the bacteria was found, and two, that it took so long for us to be notified, I drink bottled water. FYI, coliform bacteria is used as an indicator of the presence of other pathogenic organisms of fecal origin. Fecal pathogens include bacteria, viruses, protozoa or parasites. In those notices, we were never told what those other pathogens were.
After decades of countless billions of gallons of contaminated water being introduced to our water tables, a new process of preparing plastic to be recycled has been discovered by ECO2 Plastics. Using a biodegradable organic solvent made of sugar beets and corn (in conjunction with liquid CO2). In the entire process now uses no water or harmful chemicals, and the liquid CO2 is distilled and used over and over again, as is the solvent.
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EPA Ground Water & Drinking Water frequently asked questions
When I heard of this my inner-skeptic said ‘yeah, I’ll bet the money goes to saving the forest’
Now 4,300 acres is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what is being lost on a daily basis. See Rainforest Facts.
Yachana understands that just adopting a rainforest is not going to save it from destruction. Through their dedication to educating native Amazonian youth and the money they raise through ecotourism and sales of cacao chocolate they were able to establish the Mondana Medical Clinic, 17 community banks and 21 schools throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon.
These are pretty impressive accomplishments for anyone. To ensure continued financial support in order to buy more forest land, they developed an eco-tourist trade that attracts thousands of international visitors each year. Their Yachana Lodge, built amidst 4,000 acres of primary and secondary rainforest, allows guests to view thousands of species of exotic plants and animals in their natural habitat. Their dining room serves local dishes prepared from locally grown ingredients.
They grow what is billed as the world’s purest and healthiest chocolate. Yachana Jungle Chocolate, sold under the Yachana Gourmet label, is made from all-natural ingredients such as “cacao nacional”, the most aromatic and rich variety of chocolate bean on the planet. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Yachana Gourmet is recognized by the Fair Trade Federation as a responsible operator and 100% of profits support the rain forest conservation and sustainable development programs.
They also produce Jungle chocolate with Pineapple, Macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, Coffee, and Coconut. For more information click here.
My inner-skeptic is beginning to relax.
But then I read about tree theft and wonder if we are ever going to get serious about saving our planet. Rainforest Action Network tells of trees being stolen from U.S. National Forests by companies such as Weyerhaeuser.
The Rainforest Alliance is trying to help by raising funds for conservation groups in tropical countries that work to stop rainforest destruction. they are currently supporting groups in Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicarauga.
They have a learning site filled with free, complete lesson plans stories, presentations, articles, posters and background descriptions of conservation projects for schools to bring awareness to kindergarten through sixth grade age children. Through their multidisciplinary curriculum they teach the importance of protecting the world’s natural resources while providing students with opportunites for direct action.
The Nature Conservancy has the Adopt an Acre® program to help protect the dense forest of Costa Rica’s Osa Penisula.
A site called Hope For The Rain Forests provides a list of organizations dedicated to protecting endangered rain forests through monetary contributions.
EcologyFund is set up so that if you click on a button describing the wild land or rain forest project you want to see saved, advertisers will donate to that project. You can only donate one time per day to each project. Personally, I am too skeptical to believe this works without me actually giving any money but I cannot find anything derogatory about its legitimacy. If you find something, please let us all know.
We all know the importance of saving the rain forests but we hear so much of it that after awhile we tend to block it out. But, if you are willing to do something, hopefully I have been able to enlighten you as to a few organizations that seem worthwhile to donate to or buy from. Try some of that Jungle Chocolate, it is really good.
If you know of a fraud, concerning one of these organizations, or some other organization. Or, if you suspect you are the victim of a fraud of any kind, tell the world and check out these sites. These sites also give you tips on how to avoid fraud.
Green? I don’t mean the ‘green’ that product manufacturers are misusing to get us to buy their products, which somehow convince consumers that by buying ‘green’ products they have satisfied their commitment to protecting the environment. Sorry, we don’t get off that easily.
I’m talking about the broader scope that only comes from not ‘abusing’ the planet for our personal gain and comfort. Notice I used the term ‘abusing’. We can live on this planet perfectly happy and prosperous without destroying it as we have been known to do.
Sustainable living is a concept that has been in practice since the Stone Age, although they just saw it as surviving. Our machines are ‘using up’ this planet beyond its ability to repair itself. This practice needs to slow down in order to give the planet a chance to rest. By doing so, it is my belief that, we can live in harmony with it for a lot longer than we would otherwise.
We can celebrate what nature gives us and live with it without over-using it for personal greed. Humanity must come to an agreement on what that balance is and maintain that balance for the future of our children and grandchildren.
Only then will be able to say we are ‘green’.
The scope of this blog will consider the future (sustainable living), the now (renewable energy) and the past (what we have done to the environment).