Be green, and bank some green with these contests

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Photo courtesy of Shira Golding

Earth Day has come and gone, but there are still a lot of contests going on that focus on environmentally friendly ideas. If you have green skills or an innovative idea, here are some fun contests that offer a chance to keep changing the world:

Show Us Your Green Contest from Threadless T-Shirts:
Prize: $3813.74 (and growing as more people participate)
Method of entry: Digital Picture on Flickr or Tweetpic along with a typed description on Tweet
Deadline: April 27, 2009

Spring Dream Challenge from Lowes
Prize: $301-2672 (different prize packs based on the entry category)
Method of entry: YouTube video
Deadline: May 3, 2009

Escape to Alaska or Bust Contest from Alaska Wildland Adventures
Prize: 8 Day / 7 Night Lodge stay with a wildlife expedition
Method of entry: Up to 33,000 characters in essay format
Deadline: May 22, 2009

The Green Effect Contest by Frito Lay’s SunChips & National Geographic
Prize: $20,000 to spend on a green cause
Method of entry: 100-250 word proposal for improve the environment, with up to 4 pictures in support and up to 3 minutes of video explanation
Deadline: June 8, 2009

Mulching with recycled rubber tires

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Photo courtesy of Vagawi

Every year, approximately 1 Billion tires are replaced due to wear and tear. Many of these tires end up in landfills, but the majority are burned or converted into Tire Derived Fuel. A growing number of tires are being recycled after they have reached the end of their useful lifespan.

Recycling tires is a tricky process, because tires are a hodgepodge of many different things:

A typical passenger tire contains 30 types of synthetic rubber, eight types of natural rubber, eight types of carbon black, steel cord, polyester, nylon, steel bead wire, silica and 40 different kinds of chemicals, waxes, oils and pigments. They typically contain 85% hydrocarbon, 10-15% iron (in the bead wire and steel belts) and a variety of chemical components.

Discarded tires are mostly inert, but their effects on the environment are largely unknown. When discarded in landfills, they pose a significant fire risk and they take up a lot of space. Even before they reach the landfill, a lot of tire rubber flakes off into the environment from normal wear and tear. The effects of this worn tire rubber haven’t been widely studied.

Old tires are a cheap and plentiful resource, so many different ideas have been proposed to put old tyres to practical use. In the 1970’s, several attempts were made to build artificial reefs out of discarded tyres. Those plans didn’t work out very well, because chemicals in the tires repelled marine life. Now, millions of tires are rolling around on the ocean floor and even causing damage to natural coral reefs.

More recently, tire recycling companies stepped in and found commercial uses for tire scraps. More than 80% of dead tires end up getting turned into Tyre Derived Fuel. When tires are burned along with coal and wood scraps, they can actually reduce emissions of some pollutants.

There are other uses for recycled tires – they’re used as an ingredient in road construction, as a replacement for pavement, to make rubber flooring, and as artificial mulch. A blend of liquid asphalt and “Fine Grind” tire rubber lasts about 25% longer than other road surfaces, which cuts down on maintenance costs for highways nationwide. Crumb rubber is also widely used on running tracks and playgrounds for children. It provides excellent cushioning and prevents injuries for children and adults alike. Rubber chips are also offered as mulch.

Rubber mulch is a controversial product. Some gardeners swear by it as a long lasting weed suppressant and low maintenance landscape surface. Other gardeners steer clear of rubber mulch, due to concerns about chemical leaching, fire hazards, and smell.

Here are some of the benefits of using rubber mulch instead of wood mulch:

  • More durable (rubber lasts 5+ years vs 1-2 years for wood mulch)
  • Uniform look and color
  • Does not attract termites or other insects
  • No risk of mold or fungus infestation
  • No effect on wood allergies
  • Resistant to flooding and high winds
  • Cushy and comfortable to walk on
  • Helps dispose of used tires
  • Here are some of the problems with rubber mulch:

  • Some brands contain metal wire or nylon scraps
  • Smells like rubber, especially on hot or humid days
  • Potentially flammable (but so is wood mulch)
  • Risk of chemical contamination
  • Breaks down into inorganic components
  • Heats unevenly in the sun, killing sensitive roots
  • May contain carcinogens
  • The jury’s still out, but recycled rubber mulch seems safe to use in certain applications. What do you think? Do you have any experience using rubber mulch in your garden or greenhouse?

    Here’s another way you might want to consider to recycle old tires – they make great insulation for earth friendly homes. Crumb rubber also shows promise as a water filtering medium. In Arizona, state law makers are exploring another way to dispose of old tires: filling abandoned mine shafts to eliminate dangerous pitfalls. A few million years from now, who knows – those mine shafts might fill up with black gold!

    tires-oil-derrick-and-solar-panesl-road-dog-fl
    Photo courtesy of Road Dog

    10 Steps to a Healthy Ocean: Protecting our Oceans from Pollution

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    Photo courtesy of Webzer at Flickr.com.

    The ocean covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface, and it’s a major part of the ecosystem that we rely on. Phytoplankton are responsible for about half of the oxygen produced worldwide. More than 1 billion people rely on fish for a significant part of their diet. The ocean provides food, recreation, clean air, carbon mitigation, inexpensive transport, and many other things that we take for granted. Yet, we’ve been treating the ocean like a dump for centuries. That may have been fine when society produced trash on a very small scale and all of things we threw away were biodegradable, but technology has changed that.

    There are thousands of phantom fishing nets that keep killing fish after being abandoned. Sunken ships leak millions of gallons of oil and billions of styrofoam cups end up in the water every year. Even when these events happen thousands of miles away, they have a ripple effect that’s felt worldwide.

    The ocean is one continuous body of water. Each sea and bay is connected by strong currents and migrating animals. That means damage done to one part of the ocean will eventually affect all the connected bodies of water. After oil spills happen in the Arctic Ocean, traces of petroleum spread to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans too.

    The oceans are one of many areas around the world where the environment has a direct effect on human health and industry. For example, the rain forests convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and affect climate. Coral reefs nurture schools of fish and they offer passive protection to ports. The organisms that make these areas work are resilient – they’ve survived centuries of natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. Yet some of these areas are under constant stress caused by humans.

    Stress factors that threaten wildlife include contamination of water supplies, climate change, human development, and invasive species. Abandoned mines are leaching hazardous chemicals into rivers and lakes. Mangrove forests are being cut down to build beach resorts. River deltas are clogging up with invasive species like zebra mussels and Wakame kelp.

    In the face of all these threats, what can we do? Here are a few steps that anyone can take to help protect the health of our oceans.

    1) Restore damaged ocean habitat

    In areas that have been fished out or poisoned by industry, native species have often been wiped out. But, that doesn’t mean that Cod have been permanently wiped out in the Atlantic, or that scallops will never return to the Virginia fisheries. Jennifer Rich is planting sea grass in an effort to restore the scallop breeding grounds of her home state. She led a volunteer effort off the coast of Virginia to replant eel grass in environmentally damaged areas. Her effort is ongoing, and similar replanting projects could use your help. Wetlands and mangrove forests are especially valuable because they filter sediment, pesticides, and fertilizer runoff before they get to the ocean.

    If you’d like to get your hands dirty in another way, plan a beach vacation off of the beaten path. Once a year, the Ocean Conservancy does a worldwide project to remove trash from the shore. Last year, volunteers cleaned up more than 30,000 miles of shoreline. In a single day, more than 7 million pieces of trash were collected for proper disposal. Check with your City Hall – many towns are happy to supply trash bins, rubber gloves, and even boats to anyone who wants to clean up local waterways.

    2) Protect natural buffer systems.

    Biosystems are nature’s utilities – they desalinate water, absorb carbon, liberate nutrients from the ground, and provide other services free of charge. The plants and animals that make up these systems are often treated as commodities, but killing the goose that lays golden eggs will only put food on the table for a day. Protecting biosystems can pay dividends for years to come.

    Forests are an essential buffer for the oceans. Old growth trees neutralize the pH of rain and absorb harmful chemicals before they reach the ocean. Trees that grow in estuaries and along riverways are especially important, but those areas also face increased development pressure and they are easy for loggers to access. Shoreline habitat is being destroyed to build giant shrimp farms and resort hotels. Luckily, there are now sustainable forestry and aquaculture options available. Sustainable logging allows limited harvesting of resources without destroying the natural processes that we benefit from. The next time you buy lumber or land, do some research and check for certifications of sustainability.

    3) Substitute organic fertilizer in the place of chemical fertilizers.

    When a lawn is overfertilized, the excess fertilizer will usually wash off into the surrounding environment. Fertilizer pollution causes eutrophication in waterways – it saturates the water and promotes algal blooms in nearby lakes. A significant amount of fertilizer runoff will eventually make it out to sea, where it can cause red tides and elevated amounts of harmful bacteria. Surprisingly, residential property has higher levels of fertilizer runoff per acre than agricultural land – possibly because farmers are smarter about how they use fertilizers.

    “12-50% of all surface water pollution originates with urban runoff. Additionally, whereas agricultural runoff tends to be limited to nutrients, runoff from roads and parking lots contains a wide variety of additional pollutants including oils, road salts, nutrients, and sediments, as well as hazardous and solid wastes.”

    Using organic fertilizers, mulch, and compost can reduce these problems. Not only are these fertilizers slower releasing, but they also contain nutrients in forms that are more easily absorbed by plants. Chemical fertilizers have other problems too. They can form a crust on the top of soil that repels water (blocking soil absorption, increasing runoff, and promoting erosion). Some chemical fertilizers will also kill soil fungus, soil bacteria, earthworms and insects, all of which play a vital role in aerating the soil and helping anchor it to the ground.

    4) Landscape with native plants

    Plants have evolved to live in just about every area of the country. These native plants are adapted to local soil and weather conditions, so there’s very little need to fertilize or water them. Many beautiful native plants are available. A yard landscaped with unusual plants can really stand out, especially during a drought when all of the neighbors yards turn to dust.

    Using native plants to conserve water is known as Xeriscaping. It can be a very effective way to cut your yard’s pollution footprint, and xeriscaped lawns also offer natural habitat to native animals and migrating species. Since native plants are heat and drought tolerant, they also work year round to trap dust, block wind, and prevent erosion.

    5) Replace impermeable groundcover

    When rain falls on bare ground, about 90% of the water is normally absorbed in the first 30 minutes. On developed land, the surface is usually covered with impervious materials such as asphalt, concrete, and cement. For every 20% of the ground that’s covered with impermeable surfaces, the amount of runoff will increase by roughly 100%. These impervious materials block water from soaking into the ground, but the water has to go somewhere. As a result, residential areas are prone to flash floods and rapid erosion which harm the water quality of nearby rivers and lakes.

    You can use this information to make smart landscaping decisions. Instead of putting a sidewalk in your garden, consider using flagstones or building a gravel pathway. If your driveway needs to be resurfaced, check into using permeable cement. There are even companies that build living rooftops – these green roofs not only help insulate your house, but they also protect your roof from heat damage, hail, UV degradation, and animal damage. Permeable areas act as natural buffers to pollution because they help contain runoff.

    6) Improve landscaping

    Runoff is often caused by poor landscaping. Many older homes have design flaws that cause water to flow much faster than necessary. Not only are these flaws easy to fix, but reducing the speed of runoff will also protect your home from flood damage and erosion. On sharp slopes, you can grow plants with deep roots like prairie grass. Other solutions include placing bales of hay on the slopes to soak up the water or installing terraces. If your building has rain gutters, installing silt fences on the gutters will slow the speed of drainage and reduce the energy of flowing water before it reaches your foundation. If you want to make an even big difference, consider putting a rain barrel or rainwater garden under your downspouts.

    When planning these projects, make sure to check local building codes. It’s also important to schedule construction projects for months with low rainfall. While the projects are underway, there will be a lot of exposed soil that can be carried away. Tarps can be used protect bare ground, and sewing quick growing plants will quickly cover up any worrisome spots.

    7) Clean up after pets

    Housepets are another major source of pollution – pet waste has concentrated forms of some toxic chemicals as well as harmful bacteria that can do serious damage to the ocean. Even the nutrients found in sewage can cause problems because they promote the growth of anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria create an Anoxic zone of seawater, where all of the oxygen has been depleted and many organisms are unable to breathe.

    Dog droppings and cat poo contain many of the same pathogens that human waste does, such as e coli and salmonella. While human waste is at least partially treated in sewage processing plants, dog waste is often left to decompose wherever the dogs leave it. When it rains or the sprinklers turn on, harmful bacteria in pet waste is spread over the surface of your whole lawn. Runoff will carry this bacteria down the storm drains and eventually out to sea.

    One way to reduce the impact of pet waste is to bag up the poop and flush it down the toilet. Septic tanks and sewage systems use good bacteria to breakdown waste into harmless material. It doesn’t matter if the waste comes from a person or a pet – the treatment processes they use can handle almost everything. One thing that you shouldn’t put down the toilet is soiled cat litter. Cat litter is not biodegradable and can also cause damage to pipes.

    If you have a cat, you might want to go a step further and change your cat litter. The most common types of pet litter is made from bentonite clay and silica. Not only is do these materials prevent decomposition, but they are also produced by strip mining (and strip mining causes water pollution in its own right):

    “Clay-based cat litters are not a by-product of the manufacture of something else, but produced by strip mining. The clay, known as bentonite, is found under several layers of soil, which are removed in the mining process. The first few inches of clay are discarded, and the final clay is removed and processed into cat litter.”

    There are natural alternatives to conventional cat litter. Check with your local pet store, or consider making your own cat litter with shredded paper, sawdust or wheat bran. Also, some cats prefer not to use kitty litter. Cat droppings on the ground can be scooped up just like dog poop.

    If you use biodegradable pet litter or scoop up pet poo, then you may also want to try composting the pet droppings. There are tumbling composters and vermicomposters (worm composters) made especially for pet waste. It’s important to keep pet poop separate from food scraps and grass clippings. That’s because the harmful bacteria in pet waste are largely inactive and they will only multiply if there’s an available food source. A Pet Waste Composter is effective at quickly reducing pet droppings into useful fertilizer.

    8 ) Take endangered species off the menu

    It’s not easy being tasty. Our search for exotic flavors has pushed many different species to the edge of extinction, and fish are in serious trouble. Fishing trawlers are catching fish faster than they breed, which means that the fish available at the supermarket are getting younger and thinner. Some species, such as Swordfish and Orange Roughy are frighteningly rare in the wild. As certain species of fish disappear from the ocean, they leave a gap in the foodchain. The things that they feed on will multiply because nothing is controlling their numbers, and the fish that feed on the missing species will be stressed as well. The biodiversity of the ocean is in jeopardy, and people who rely on fish for a major portion of their diet face starvation due to overfishing.

    What can you do? The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great pocket guide to bring with you to the supermarket. This guide lists many fish that are abundant, and offers alternatives to endangered species that you can eat with a clear conscience. Greenpeace publishes a Red List of fish which should not be eaten under any circumstances. These are fish that are critically threatened by overfishing, disease, or habitat loss. There are many other fish that are in the gray area – hundreds of species are at risk but not necessarily endangered. Memorizing these lists is a bit tricky. If you have a less than photographic memory and your wallet doesn’t have room for a cheat sheet, another way you can shop for fish that are plentiful is to look for the Marine Stewardship Council eco-label.

    Some species that are at risk in the wild are being raised in fish farms to supplement wild stocks. Farmed fish account for an increasing percentage of total fish caught. There’s some controversy over whether farmed fish or wild seafood are more sustainable though. The footprint and operating procedures of fish farms vary considerably between different locations. Some aquaculture operations are very earth friendly, while others turn pristine shoreline into industrial farmland and introduce devastating diseases that affect nearby wild populations. It’s important to research where your food comes from and choose responsible suppliers.

    9) Reduce CO2 Emissions.

    When most people think of pollutants, they picture ooze pouring out of factory pipes. Due to environmental regulations and pressure from consumers, almost all of these pipes have been cleaned up. Yet we still affect the environment by releasing chemicals with less immediate effects. Greenhouses gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are changing the way that our planet heats up and cools down. If the greenhouse effect is left unchecked, we could see drastic changes in the temperature of ocean water, reductions in ocean salinity as the polar ice caps melt, and shifts in the paths of major ocean currents (which would cause further temperature changes).

    In addition to climate effects, CO2 emissions can have a huge direct impact on the health of ocean life. New research suggests that salt water is becoming more acidic as it absorbs increased amounts of carbon from the air. Changing temperatures and increases acidity are some of the many factors bleaching coral reefs. Elevated temperatures increase the effect of acidity by boosting the rate at which carbonic acid dissolves calcium. Changes in the pH balance of the ocean are also affecting the metabolic rates of various animals, making it harder for many fish to breathe. That’s bad news on top of overfishing and other forms of water pollution. Even highly adaptable species like the Humboldt squid are showing changes in their behavior.

    10) Reduce Noise and Light Pollution

    Loud noises and bright lights cause major disruptions in the natural world. Animals rely on their sensitive ears and sight to evade predators and find food, yet the oceans are becoming a deafening, blinding place. All creatures have natural rhythms based on the sun and moon, day and night. These rhythms control sleep, breeding, migration, and hibernation, yet the natural rhythms are being disrupted by constant mixed signals due to human activity. The homes of many nocturnal animals are lit up 24 hours a day by beach floodlights and fishing lure lights, and the ocean is filled with the noise of motors, sonar, and mining activity. All this noise and wasted light is a serious form of pollution.

    Every year, we waste hundreds of millions of dollars worth of electricity on light that goes in unintended directions. Globe and acorn shaped streetlights are a prime example – they send light out in all directions, yet only 15-25% of that light reaches ground level. The efficiency of these spherical streetlights can be vastly increased by putting a simple reflector dish on the top, and replacing the light with a lower wattage bulb. Redirecting the light can save 75% on electricity costs, and it will also protect animals that are already endangered by human development.

    Skyglow and light trespass are also nuisances to human beings. These effects of errant light were first noticed by astronomers and other night owls, but an increasing number of people are finding that they can’t turn off the lights at night. Light pollution has a direct effect on human health, it drags down property values, and it destroys the natural beauty of the night sky.

    Some cities, states, and countries have started passing laws to protect wildlife from luminous pollution. These laws will likely become more stringent over time. Unfortunately, there are many sources of light pollution in the ocean, and very few of them are regulated.

    Here are some things you can do to reduce light pollution:

    • Upgrade exterior lights to full cut-off fixtures and other dark-sky friendly products
    • Install bulbs with lower wattage lamps
    • Turn-off lights when you’re not in the area
    • Replace automatic timers with motion detectors
    • Discuss the issue with your family, friends, and neighbors
    • Use curtains on all of your windows (this can also pay dividends in insulation)
    • Campaign for regulations that protect against photopollution in your town
    • Demand strict enforcement of light control ordinances

    Every year, thousands of sea turtle hatchlings and young seabirds are killed by lights on the beach. These lights cause reflections on sand that look just like moonlight on water, disorienting the young animals and causing them to wander away from the ocean. Instead of going for a swim, baby turtles and birds are hit by cars, eaten by predators, and die of exhaustion. Reducing light pollution can save many species from extinction.

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    Photo courtesy of Luca5 at Flickr.com.

    Sound pollution also kills many wild animals every year. The scale of the problem is unknown, and scientists are just beginning to study the effects of man-made noise on wildlife. Early results show that loud motor sounds can deafen animals who rely on their sensitive hearing to find food and evade predators. These noises can also drown out mating calls and distress signals. There is suspicion that navigation systems such as sonar are responsible for an increasing number of whale and dolphin beachings. High intensity sound waves can cause internal ruptures and induce symptoms similar to the bends.

    Water conducts sound waves much better than air does, so loud noises can travel much further in the ocean than they would on land. This is worrisome, because the noise level in the ocean is increasing rapidly. Between 1948 and 1998, the average volume of sound in the ocean increased about 15 decibels. 15 decibels may not sound like much, but that’s the difference between the amount of noise in a regular office and a busy street.

    So, how can we reduce noise pollution in the oceans?

    • Move shipping paths away from marine sanctuaries
    • Install noise baffles on boats and ships
    • Reduce the use of high intensity sonar
    • Protect sensitive habitat from oil and mineral exploration

    So, that wraps up a ‘quick’ ten-list. But, there’s one other thing you can do to save the oceans.

    Buy from environmentally responsible companies

    The policies that companies follow can make a huge difference on the health of our oceans. Since the United States put pollution controls in place, we’ve seen remarkable recovery in many of the worst affected waterways:

    “Oxygen levels in New York Harbor, for instance, are now 50 percent higher than they were 30 years ago. In the Southern California Bight, off Los Angeles and San Diego, inputs of many pollutants have been reduced 90 percent or more over a 25-year period, and the ecosystem there—including kelp, fish, and seabird populations—has greatly recovered. “

    A lot has been accomplished, but we can still do better. Comparing modern emissions to emissions from the 1970’s, is sort of like comparing a Boeing 777 to the Wright Flier – we’ve come a long way in a short period of time, and we should expect major improvements. Unfortunately, many companies are still stuck in the seventies and see nothing wrong with dumping wastewater directly into rivers that feed into the ocean. Not all of our factories and processing plants are using best practices, but it’s easy to find companies that devote resources to improving their environmental record.

    When you make purchase decisions at work or for your home, are you buying from companies that publish an independently reviewed environmental report card? If you can convince even one of the companies you do business with to adopt these guidelines, that will multiply the effects of your choices. Here’s a list of the a top polluters in the United States: these are companies that might reconsider their record if large numbers of customers demanded that they act responsibly to protect the oceans.

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    Photo courtesy of HckySo at Flickr.com.

    US states are moving towards a cap and trade system for CO2 emissions

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    Photo courtesy of AtomicShark at Flickr.com.

    The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative held its second auction for carbon credits in December. This was the first auction where all 10 states in the initiative took part, and the sale price rose about 10 percent from the previous auction in September, 2008.

    These carbon credits have some bite to them; the auction wasn’t just a public relations affair for the local utilities. The northeast is attempting to achieve a major shift in carbon dioxide emissions. Greenhouse gasses from power plants in these 10 Northeastern states are capped at current levels from January 1, 2009 until 2014. Then, the cap will drop 2.5% a year until 10% reductions are hit in 2018.

    Now that the carbon cap is in effect, utilities that use coal or natural gas to generate electricity will have to buy carbon credits to offset their pollution. They are likely to pass along the cost to consumers, which will drive up the price of dirty electricity and help make alternative energy sources more competitive. Regional cap and trade systems have already proven effective at reducing Nitrogen Oxide emissions, and policy makers hope to have similar success with reducing carbon. Funds raised from the carbon auction are earmarked for efficiency improvements, building alternative power sources on government buildings, and eliminating emissions from non-powerplant sources.

    The RGGI isn’t the only regional group working on a cap and trade system. In the middle of the country, the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord is developing a system that will cover Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and the Canadian Province of Manitoba. Other western states and Canadian Provinces formed their own group, the Western Climate Initiative. WCI membership includes Arizona, British Columbia, California, Manitoba, Montana, New Mexico, Ontario, Oregon, Quebec, Utah, and Washington State.

    Some states are tackling emissions on their own. California passed laws in 2006 to reduce CO2 emissions by 20%, and is considering ways to extend the reach of those laws into neighboring states. California plans to roll out a Cap and Trade system by 2012, and the state budget crisis may accelerate the process. A carbon credit auction would raise desperately needed revenue for California, but there’s concern that the money would be squandered instead of spent on reducing emissions.

    Federal action is also expected in the near future. The President-Elect, Speaker of the House, and other national leaders have publicly spoken in favor of a cap and trade system. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is facing pressure to treat CO2 as a pollutant. The EPA recently published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to regulate agricultural emissions of greenhouse gas.

    Some surprising voices have also spoken out against cap and trade carbon systems. A small number of utilities and businesses who use large volumes of electricity have raised concerns about the costs, but some environmentalists are also skeptical of the concept. There’s a concern that carbon credits don’t actually reduce total emissions, and that flaws in the systems can allow polluters to play a shell game with their emissions. Another concern is that the system wont achieve it’s goals of reducing emissions. The cap and trade system in Europe has been plagued by politics and lobbying, and emissions have risen since it was introduced.

    Even with these concerns, the US looks likely to move ahead on efforts to reduce carbon production. Many changes are on their way, and some will arrive sooner than others.

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    Photo courtesy of bytepusher at Flickr.com.

    Links, links, green links. Get them while they’re hot!

    Photo courtesy of A. Kotula at Flickr.com.

    Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we’re green news junkies. We keep an eagle eye out for the latest science, social, and environmental developments and try to sum up the big picture here. This week, a lot of exciting things are going on.

    Discarded fishing gear is a major problem in the ocean. Lost nets and traps can get tangled with animals, catch boat propellers, and damage fragile coral reefs. Covanta Energy is doing something interesting – they’re offering a free waste disposal service that converts marine waste into electricity by incinerating it and filtering the emissions. The Fishing for Energy program is about to get a windfall too – thousands of yards of fishing line are about to become obsolete due to new laws about floating rigs. Instead of paying disposal fees, many fisherman were expected to dump the line overboard. Now, that rope can be used to reduce the amount of coal and natural gas burned in 2009:

    Derelict fishing equipment can threaten marine life, impair navigational safety, and have serious economic repercussions on shipping and coastal communities. Since the program was launched in February, more than 80,000 pounds of fishing nets, trawl gear, crab pots, and fishing line have been collected and converted into energy.

    Speaking of the ocean, new studies have shown that methane gas trapped under the ice caps is escaping. As glaciers recede, this greenhouse gas is accelerating the melting process. Since methane has more than 20 times the heat trapping powers of carbon dioxide and the amount of methane involved is enormous, this could have serious climate effects.

    Since the news lately has been a bit dark and scary, it’s important to focus on some of the amazing things that are also going on. For instance, have you seen what kids these days are up to? What were you doing when you were 12? This kid won a prize for designing next generation solar cells. That certainly trumps the tree house I built back in the 90’s.

    There are also some exciting things happening in our neighbors yards. Believe it or not – it’s possible to grow more than 10,000 tomatoes in a typical yard. Wouldn’t you get tired of eating tomatoes after about the 5,000th one? And, the next time you’re mowing grass or digging holes for new landscaping – keep an eye out for Paleo-Indian artifacts. That, and buried pirate treasure.

    Ever hear the adage “Everything that’s old is new again”? Companies catering to green tourists are using this truth to their advantage, with a rise in carbon neutral activities such as geothermal steam cog railroad trips, sky trams powered by water pressure, bookings on river steamboats, and even horse riding tours! Although, if you’ve ever been on the south bound end of a north bound horse, you know that carbon emissions aren’t the only thing there is to worry about.


    Photo courtesy of yourpicturesarejon at Flickr.com.

    Hybrid only parking – coming to a parking lot near you!



    Photo courtesy of Jumbo Jack at Flickr.com.

    Ikea, Home Depot, and the Green Exchange are just a few businesses that now offer preferred parking for hybrid owners. Apparently, IKEA’s Canadian stores offered hybrid only parking spots for more than a year… so it wont be long before we start seeing more and more of these spots in choice locations at the front of parking lots.

    Hybrid cars not only use less fuel (and pay less fuel tax per mile driven) but they also get to ride in the HOV lane here in Dallas. Other cities offer free parking spots, discounts on city meters, or immunity from anti-congestion fees. All these incentives add up, and just might have something to do with the decline in sales for gas guzzlers.

    Cynics have pointed out that many hybrid drivers get special treatment because they are often in the upper 5% income racket, but I’ve got a simple gauge for whether something is a good idea. If a certain course of action makes the mouthbreathers furious, then that’s a good policy.



    Photo courtesy of Bob_2006 at Flickr.com.

    Go Green Taxi

    Pedicab Pilot Waits for Fare

    Back in the 1800s, a Dallas businessman wrote that Fort Worth, Texas was so boring that a panther was seen sleeping on main street “undisturbed by the rush of men or the hum of trade.”  Fort Worth citizens rallied behind this and Fort Worth has been known as Panther City.  There is even a panther on the police badges and panthers adorn the older buildings downtown in place of gargoyles. 

    But in the evenings downtown Fort Worth is no longer panther-friendly.  Clubs, restaurants, and street performers are everywhere you go.  And then there’s the bicycles. 

    The police ride bicycles, security people ride bicycles — it’s the most efficient way to get around downtown.  When Dr. Hunter S. Thompson ran for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, one of his campaign promises was to close downtown to automobile traffic and have city maintained bicycles for public use, it’s not a new idea.   I was listening to my favorite street musician at 5th and Houston and I noticed an old friend of mine peddling a three wheel bicycle-like contraption up and down the street and from what I could tell just across 5th there seemed to be kind of a home base for these things.  I had to check it out. 

    Go Green Taxi is the brain child of Steve Burdick, a retired bicycle racer who says he got the idea when racing down in Mexico.  Apparently these things are common down there. Steve, not being the sit-on-a-porch-in-a-rocking-chair kind of retiree, made this his retirement.  The bicycle powered taxis, called pedicabs, use 5th and Houston as a base of operations, but can be hailed all over downtown.  With the new stadium going in Arlington for the increasingly inaccurately named Dallas Cowboys there is a good chance that Burdick’s business will expand to cover that area as well.

    Steve Burdick

    In addition to the green-as-it-gets transportation they provide for the public the employees tell me that they use bicycles as their primary form of transpiration even when not on the job.  Spend a few hours on a street corner in down town Fort Worth and you really start to see the need for these guys.  You see the same cars drive past 10 or 15 times circling the block trying to find parking rather than park in the free parking garage on the outskirts.  All the gas wasted, all the noise, all the pollution and it’s a simple solution.  Next time you’re downtown keep an eye out for a pedicab.  They are starting to spring up in many major cities in the US.  Maybe the good doctors dream of a auto-less downtown can become a reality after all.    

    Taxi

    Recruiting for green jobs


    Photo courtesy of
    ♥Lauren♥ at Flickr.com.

    Is your company looking for energetic, talented, motivated, hip, and intelligent workers? If so, that’s another reason to develop green policies and brag about them. Companies with green cred spend less on recruiting and have better retention rates. Perhaps this is because we’re seeing a cultural shift, where workers are becoming increasingly proud of working for companies that help the environment and ashamed of working for faceless corporations that plunder the natural world.

    Which camp does your company belong to? If you want to reap the benefits of a green workplace, here are 10 starting points to green your office environment. And don’t forget – reduced turnover is only the tip of the iceberg:

  • Green offices are also more profitable due to higher efficiency.
  • Companies that have a reputation as stewards of the environment are able to bid on contracts that are closed to less reputable companies.
  • Workers in green buildings have higher productivity.
  • Finally, if you’re looking for a green career, here are some job search tools that may come in handy:

    GreenJobs.com
    &

    SustainableBusiness.com


    Photo courtesy of
    temp13rec. at Flickr.com.

    Diesel from waste plastics in Nova Scotia

    Minas Basin Pulp and Power Company Limited is a Canadian company started in 1937 to produce ground wood pulp, adding paperboard in 1946. Today they make 100 percent recycled paperboard products with power generated from their own hydro power plant. It’s estimated that their plant saves over 10 million cubic feet of landfill space a year. So what better recipient of a government program to produce diesel from recycled plastics?

    On April 2, 2008 Premier Rodney MacDonald announced that the Canadian province would be investing up to 20 million in Minas Basin’s new green programs.

    “We are committed to investing in innovative and resourceful companies that contribute to job growth, a green environment, and a strong economy for Nova Scotia,” said Premier MacDonald. “Minas Basin is taking a leadership role by helping to ensure environmental sustainability for this province.”

    With this investment by the Government the company will be able to invest $27 million in capital investments.

    “This assistance from the province allows us to enter the next phase of sustainable restructuring for Minas Basin,” said Scott Travers, Minas Basin president and chief operating officer. “It will create significant operational savings and increase the supply of renewable energy for Nova Scotia.

    Details on the process that will be used at the Minas Basin facility were not readily available.

    China began converting waste plastic into diesel in 1999, and since then have been importing large amounts of plastic waste that would otherwise go into landfills.

    Jatropha taking root in Florida as new biodiesel source plant

    Previously we talked about Jatropha as a new biodiesel source here, here, and here. Now The Naples Daily News reports that My Dream Fuel LLC is has been cultivating a Jatropha SW Florida. Jatropha produces four times the fuel per acre than soy and ten times more than corn. Paul Dalton, a former attorney owns the company and says demand is great:

    “There are about 100 buyers for every gallon you produce,” he said.

    Dalton already has close to a million plants in the ground and hopes to plant another million before June and is in the process of opening a 15,000 square foot seed crushing and plant cloning center in Ft Myers. The seeds of the of the plant are crushed in order to make biodiesel.

    My Dream Fuel is one of the first companies to bring large scale planting to the US of Jatropha, a plant native to Mexico and South America. The company expects to be able to turn out plants at the rate of one million per month

    “We studied our mother trees that we use to clone for over six years, and we have over 500 of them. So we have the largest bank of mother trees in the world, of any company,”

    “We know of a couple of groups from New York and from Spain that want to plant in Texas and Brazil. So in the next couple of weeks, we may exhaust our current supply,” Dalton said.

    Dave Wolfley, the owner of Sunshine Biofuels is working towards establishing a fuel plant. He has been campaigning to convince local farmers to take a chance on the new fuel crop and has a few ready to try it.

    Jatropha evangelist are targeting citrus groves in Florida with diseased trees and cattle ranchers looking to branch out. With the reported ability of this plant to grow in nearly any environment that is a lot of land in a lot of the country that these plants could be grown on.

    Eco-Tech Blogger Tells You What You Can Do With Your Electronic Stuff

    As many of you already know, the amount of consumer electronics being purchased is growing astronomically these days, and one writer has written a blog about a few “tech habits” that get him riled up — and we love it!

    From Good Clean Tech, Erik Rhey made a list of several things people do that annoy him, and it’s titled “Everyday Ecotech: Wasteful Tech Habits that Chap My Hide”.

    He seems to mean business, too:

    My goal here is not just to wax cantankerous, but to tell you straight out: Don’t do any of these things.

    What makes his list of annoying habits? Printing everything, throwing out iPods and cell phones as soon as the new generations hit the market, leaving the computer on 24/7, tossing out perfectly usable things instead of donating them and buying your kids “cheap electronic crap.”

    He’s got a point, and hey, sometimes you have to get fired up about things like this! And don’t worry, Erik, it’s doubtful your eyebrows could ever get as bushy as Andy Rooney’s. (I mean really, that just doesn’t seem physically possible!)

    This wine brought to you via sailing ship


    Photo courtesy of laure_et_carlos at Flickr.com.

    Green wine sounds about as appealing as green eggs and ham (which, coincidentally, IHOP is currently offering), but a group of wine producers in the Languedoc region of France has come up with an unusual and environmentally friendly way to ship their product.

    Soon, a fleet of ships will be at work carrying French wine to Dublin and crushed glass back for recycling. For each bottle, 4.9 ounces of carbon emissions will be prevented (at 60,000 bottles per trip, that’s more than 18,000 pounds or more than 9 short tons). To put it another way, each of these 4 day sailing trips will reduce emissions of CO2 equivalent to what an average car produces in a year. Now that’s something worth toasting to with a tall glass of wine!


    Photo courtesy of RR de Facto at Flickr.com.

    Want to win a green dream home?

    HGTV Green Home Giveaway 2008

    It’s that time of year again – HGTV is giving away a custom built home with amazing features. This year, the dream home embraces a number of green technologies.

    These features include:

  • A deep concrete pad designed to take advantage of the soil as a heat sink
  • Gypsum wallboard made from waste material
  • Extra insulation on the walls windows
  • Solar panels that provide up to 50% of the energy needs
  • A tankless water heater
  • Low flow water faucets and showers
  • Stormwater cisterns that capture 100% of rainwater for irrigation and toilet use
  • Energy Star appliances, including a front loading washing machine
  • Low VOC paints and hardwood floors for healthy indoor air quality
  • On the HGTV website, there’s an interactive map of the green home, video tours, and links to more information about energy and water saving innovations. Oh, and you can also enter to win the home. Good luck!

    The Crucible, Photovoltaic, and Biofriendly Motorcycles…

    the-crucible-logo_119.gif

    In Oakland, California there exists a non-profit organization with an emphasis on collaboration between art, industry and community. The Crucible serves as a studio for sculpture and a foundry and metal fabrication shop teaching classes in art…both the gallery and industrial kind. It’s a very special educational facility that, for the first time in my life, makes me wish that I lived in Oakland. 

    solar

    Since May 2006, the 56,000 square foot studio has been getting a huge part of it’s electricity from a 34-kw photovoltaic system. Energy not used by the Crucible is sold back to the grid through net metering.

    “As a community organization, a cornerstone of our mission is to be environmentally sustainable in supporting the arts.  As a nonprofit organization, our high energy needs also motivated us to look into ways to alleviate that cost. Undertaking a solar energy project fit right in with both of these goals.” 

    Michael Sturtz,
    Executive Director of The Crucible

    The system puts out roughly 63,000 kwhr per year, saving $27,700 from May of 2006 through October 2007…roughly $2,000 dollars a month during the summer. 

    The total solar project cost of approximately $260,000 was covered by individual donations from The Crucible’s supporters, financing of $106,000 by SafeBidco, and a one-time $119,525 rebate through PG-E’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP). 

    But The Crucibles environmental interest doesn’t end with photovoltaic. They’ve been working on a subject near and dear to my heart…a biodiesel motorcycle.

    I’ve been wanting a diesel, and by extension, a biodiesel motorcycle for years now. Royal Enfield in India actually had a production diesel motorcycles that sometimes make it across the pond, and if I can ever get my hands on one, you can bet I’ll jump at the chance. 

    But we’re not talking about a little around town bike with an industrial water pump motor shoved into the frame. The Crucible’s Die Moto set the diesel motorcycle land speed record of 130MPH running on B100 biodiesel.

    The motorcycle was built using a BMW motorcycle frame and a BMW V6 diesel car motor, not normally available in the US. 

    The team is hoping to break their own record with another run at Bonneville in the future, expecting to get it up to 160 mph. Although Die Moto is designed to break records, the real story is that environmental responsibility and alternative technology can result in a high performance motor vehicle.

     

    biocycle

    Solar Powered Beer

    hoku

    Growing up in the rodeo buckle of the Bible belt, beer manufacturers were often viewed as cartoon villains rather than responsible members of the business community. But it’s been a few weeks since we had a post about Hawaii making all the rest of the US look like cavemen when it comes to alternative energy, so we go back over to paradise where Hoku Scientific has just signed a deal with Paradise Beverages to install 350kw worth of photovoltaic panels at three of the company’s facilities, which are expected to produce more than 525,000 kilowatt-hours per year. 

    “The benefits of our PV power system installations on our Kailua-Kona and Lihue facilities were immediate. This made our decision for an installation on our Oahu facility with Hoku Solar an easy one,” said Gordon Usui, Chief Financial Officer for Paradise Beverages.

    More and more business seem to be figuring out that all that unused roof space can be making power, which means making money rather than it just going to waste. Unfortunately, it seems that the smart companies seem to be mostly in Hawaii. Wish I could afford to live there.

    Mahalo

    Whole Foods video contest

    If you have a video camera, an exhibitionist streak, and a desire the change the world, Whole Foods wants you! The natural and organic food superstore is hunting for 6 members of the “Earth Generation” (anyone born between 1991 and 1995) to voice their opinions about where the future lies for sustainable consumption.

    Good luck!

    Environmentalism wins over CROs (Corporate Responsibility Officers)


    Photo courtesy of Major-General Clanger at Flickr.com.

    (Editor’s note: I didn’t even know what the hell at CRO was! And then I find out that they even have their very own trade magazine.) 

    The 2008 list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens was just published by CRO Magazine (a magazine for Corporate Responsibility Officers). The list includes a wide variety of companies, from Intel to SPX Corporation, that have recognized the importance of environmental concerns in their day-to-day operations. According to CRO Magazine, the categories measured include:

    Climate Change, Employee Relations, Environment, Financial, Governance, Human Rights, Lobbying and Philanthropy. In so doing, we added, renamed, combined or dropped other categories, and gave Climate Change and other issues related to Environment the greatest weight because of their acute importance.

    It’s great to see Climate Change and Environmentalism recognized for their importance!

    GROW Solar Ivy mixes solar power and cool design

    smit2.jpg

    Well…solar and wind Ivy. SMIT, a new York based company that proclaim themselves “a sustainable design start-up company that is developing a new approach to solar and wind power” is currently exhibiting their revolutionary GROW hybrid energy system at the Museum of Modern Art. That’s right, its solar, it’s wind, and it’s art.

    The grow system uses recycled materials when possible and incorporates an intuitive energy monitoring system to allow users to control and fine tune the system on their own.

    g1_3.jpg

    On the outside, the patent pending system consist of bricks each with five “solar leaves”; Each one of the leaves created in a roll to roll printing process where conductive ink, and piezo generators are layered in. Then the rolls are stamped into leaves. The result is a bunch of ivy like leaves covering the side of a building, to pick up solar and tiny little piezo generators on the stems of the leaves to generate electricity from the movement of the leaves as they blow in the wind and twist.

    The first production of the GROW system will be a solar only version with a more traditional installation. With the wind/solar combination to follow…hopefully soon.

    g2_1.jpg

    Printable Solar Panel improves efficiency for photovoltaics

    tax-northwestern-university_140x105.jpgNorthwestern University Researchers have been working on a new flexible Solar Cell that has a 40 percent improved efficiency over organic photovoltaic cells, according to this article in the Chicago Tribune.

    The new flexible panels would be made using similar technology to that used in conventional media and package printing. Tobin J. marks co-leads the the project with Robert Chang.

    “You could incorporate flexible organic photovoltaics into roofing shingles,” said Marks

    The flexible material could be used for a wide variety of applications from portable roll up panels for camping or remote location use to massive farms covering hundreds of square miles. I’ve been through West Texas, we have room out there. Really this would allow the installation of cheap solar production in any area that exposed to sunlight.

    The panels consist of two organic compounds that when hit by sunlight give off both electron and hole current. The anode of the electrode is nanocoated with nickel oxide in order to allow the hole current but block the electron current which flows towards the cathode. The researchers have filed for a patent on this technology and are working to improve the process further still.

    “We see this as more than an incremental improvement,” Marks said. “We see it as a breakthrough.”

    Air Powered Car

    air-car-0607.jpg

    By Next Sumer India is set to launch a compressed air powered car according to this article by Popular Mechanics. At least on the car end that is a whopping Zero emissions.

    The pneumatic engine has been with us since the 1800’s. But MDI is producing some 6000 zero-emissions cars powered by compressed air scheduled to be on the streets of India in August of 2008. The cars will have a top speed of 68 miles an hour and a range of about 125 miles. Re-loading the tanks with air takes only a few minutes at a properly equipped air station at a cost of around 2 bucks. The car also sports a built in compressor capable of refilling the tanks within around 4 hours.

     

    There are plans to bring the car to Germany, Israel, and South Africa but of course no plans for a US invasion. I’m not surprised by anything anymore.