Link roundup. Interesting eco news stories.


Photo courtesy of
Anthony L. Solis 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.

The cost of airfare has gotten a lot of newsprint. Even though oil prices seem to have stabilized, ticket prices are still going up. When air travel gets so expensive that even P Diddy scales back his private jet flights, well, we’ve officially reached the tipping point. Cheap airfare is history, and soon we may all be flying like it’s 1955.

Sailing is a green alternative to air travel, but it can be awfully slow. A group raising awareness of plastic pollution decided to sail across the Pacific in a boat made from plastic junk? Believe it or not, they survived the trip and made it to Honolulu. Things got a bit dicey along the way, because they ran low on food. When they tried to catch some fish to supplement their provisions, they were (ironically) foiled by plastic pollution:

One day, said Paschal, they caught a fish after watching it grow for five weeks. They were going to eat it, but when they cut it open they found its stomach was full of plastic confetti.

Monitoring pollution in the ocean may become easier in the next couple of years. Scientists have found a new way to measure water pollution using algae. The method is a bit bizarre – just shine a special light on the algae and ‘listen’ to the sounds of the light striking the water. Healthy algae will absorb more of the light, and unhealthy algae will be unable to absorb certain wavelengths that due to the pollutants in the water. Algae reacts strongly to even small amounts of water contamination, and algae is widely available. As this method is developed further, the hope is that tests using algae will cost a fraction of what conventional tests cost.

Wind energy continues to make the news too. Wind turbines are going up at a phenomenal rate, and the production capacity of wind power doubled between 2006 and 2008. Even though wind power still makes up a tiny portion of total power, wind turbines accounted for more than a third of all new electrical production built last year.

The U.S. Department of Energy in May forecast that wind power could reach 20 percent of the nation’s power supply by 2030.

Earthtoys.com June Ezine is Up!

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As always, the new edition Earthtoys.com ezine is reason for excitement. The June version features some great info about the world of alternative energy.

It also has lots of in-depth articles on earth-friendly technologies. For example, this time around there are some interesting articles on Algae.

“WHY AREN’T ALGAE GETTING THE ATTENTION THEY DESERVE?”

“MICRO-ALGAE PRODUCES OMEGA-3 BIO-LIPID OIL”

Are two articles that you can enjoy if you love that green stuff! There’s also some cost comparisons with different photovoltaics, and a guide to practical solar energy for the home if you like the sunshine.

And as always, you’ll find articles on alternative fuels and transportation.

Enjoy!


Wind Power in the News Plus Jay Leno’s Wind (Power)!

The U.S. seems to me to underuse wind power. Wind power has become a very important source of renewable energy throughout the world. So why doesn’t it “fly” here in the States?

Popular Mechanics covers the controversy with a list of the three biggest causes of the lack of investment and possible solutions to help us get on board. You can read this story on PopularMechanics.com.

Popular Mechanics is also working with Tonight Show host Jay Leno, who is going to to install a state-of-the-art turbine on top of his “green garage shop.” That gas guzzling car crazy junkie better do something green!

You can see more about Jay’s wind power projects on the Popular Mechanics website as well.


People Making a Difference: Bob Hetherington of Earthtoys.com

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Today I’m very pleased to present an interview with the founder of Earthtoys.com, Bob Hetherington.

Earthtoys.com is a website devoted to the alternative energy industry. It features an e-magazine and web library, and also includes a news service updated hourly and an events calendar.

Bob founded the website in 2002. Since that time, it has served as a very popular resource for all those interested in alternative energy technologies. They have over 60,000 visits each month.

Bob says about the website,

“We provide an open and unbiased platform where new ideas, systems and solutions can be expressed, shared and cataloged for use by our readers.”

Enjoy the interview and make sure to visit Earthtoys.com! Thanks again to Bob Hetherington for taking the time out of his busy week to do this interview.

Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in the world of alternative energy.

I’m a mechanical engineer by profession and was in university in the early 70’s when the first gas crisis hit hard. Our faculty entered the Urban Car Competition at that time and we built the winning entry (beating out the likes of MIT and the US Army). It was a LNG (liquid natural gas) powered small sedan with many innovative features that made it not only energy efficient but safer, not polluting and very economical to operate.

I guess that’s when I got interested in alternative energy and I went on to do other projects at school such as studying the feasibility of using a flywheel to store energy in a car etc.

Unfortunately, I got busy paying mortgages and having kids after that. Reality sets in and some of our dreams must be delayed for a while. Unfortunately the alternative energy industry seemed to go into limbo too. The world went from economical small cars and practical living spaces to Hummers, SUV’s and monster homes while politicians and professors kept talking about how nice it would be to save energy and stop polluting the environment.

Too much talk and posturing … no practical products built and marketed.

How was the idea for the EarthToys website born?

Continue reading “People Making a Difference: Bob Hetherington of Earthtoys.com”

The Daily Green is Up

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Ok, check it out. The Daily Green – “The consumer’s guide to the green revolution” is Hearst Magazines’ contribution to the world of Green Living. They just launched the beta version on Earth Day.

It looks like a pretty cool website so far. These are their highlights for the beta launch:

Exclusive Op-Ed from Presidential Candidate John Edwards – Encouraging Americans to take action now to stem the effects of climate change, Mr. Edwards outlines his environmental platform noting, “It is time for all of us to prove that patriotism is about more than supporting a war; it is about supporting the future.”

Robert Redford’s “The Heat is On” Video Short Debut – Urging the 2008 presidential candidates to make global warming a top priority, Redford’s video is part of the larger “The Heat is On” campaign by the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

Weird Weather Watch – This user-generated photoblog of climate change gives backyard environmentalists and camera phone climatologists a chance to share their wildest weather observations.

New Green Cuisine – The site is loaded with recipes developed by The Daily Green’s food editor as well as collected from various Hearst magazines, cookbooks and users, all based on healthy, organic, pesticide-free, or locally-grown ingredients.

The only feature that I found to be flawed is the Weird Weather Watch. Weird weather is interesting but not really compelling evidence of global warming or climate change. Occasional weird weather can be considered pretty normal and anomalous weather phenomena is something that has been going for thousands of years. Photo documentation over say 50-100 years of a melting glacier might serve as evidence, but not necessarily a few snap shots over a year or two. Some of the photos are interesting though, so it’s worth checking out. They are arranged in different catagories such as “Worth Preserving” and “Signs of the Times” (as in signs and billboards) so it’s not all about freaky weather as the name implies.

Other than that, the Daily Green is looking pretty good. I look forward especially to more of their eco-friendly tips.


Earthtoys February Alternative Energy Emagazine

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Earthtoys February Alternative Energy Emagazine is now up. As always there are great articles about alternative energy technologies, green building, and alternative forms of transportation. You’ll also find an interesting article about how to grow houseplants to filter the air in your home or office.

I also wanted to put up some interesting comments from the ezine’s publisher:

In the State of the Union Address, there was much talk about Alternative and Renewable Energy … which is great. Our news page contains press releases from many energy related associations discussing the speech and debating it’s relevance …some positive and some negative reactions.

My two bits worth is this: Any serious discussion about Alternative Energy is good … but so far I’m not seeing enough action resulting from all the discussion. We need solutions to the energy problems we are facing and they must range from small inventions to mega-projects. Everyone needs to be engaged in applying the solutions to everyday life. There are many products out there already that work. Lets start promoting their use and generate some cash to build more. We do not need to reinvent the wheel … just start rolling it and having fun with it.

Down with the study groups and up with the EarthToys!


Solar Innovations

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I was just checking out the EarthToys.com emagazine for this month and found a very cool article about eco-friendly gadgets and innovations. The article is heavy on solar technology, and talks about such unusual things as solar powered trash compactors and light sensitive dyes that are making for some very unique solar technologies.

“Nanotechnology has come to solar with Konarka Technologies (MA) having then first pilot manufacturing line – of solar electric dyes atop flexible materials that are being sewn into army tents sporting camouflage colors, and soon on consumer devices.”


Earth Toys August EMagazine

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EarthToys.com August emagazine is up and it is full of great articles about alternative energy, green building, organic gardening, and more! Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:

• Is American Ready for Hydrogen?
• Scotland – UK Green Revolution.
• Micro Thermoelectric Generators.
• LED Buyer Beware!
• Greening Affordable Housing.
• Natural Fertilizers Outperform Chemicals.

I particularly enjoyed the greening affordable housing article, which talks about Habitat for Humanity’s East Bay projects in Oakland, California. Habitat East Bay (HEB) is working hard to make green housing available for all levels of the economic spectrum:

For years Habitat East Bay (HEB) experimented with environmentally friendly products. In 2002 the organization adopted sustainability into its mission, making a commitment to build all of its homes using green building principles.

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HEB has received grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to renovate brown fields, clean them up, and make them available for housing. Additionally, they use a number of environmentally-friendly products in their construction, including engineered lumber instead of solid sawn wood, fiber-cement board siding, which contains recycled material, and recycled latex paints. Natural linoleum, which is made from renewable sources, is used in the kitchen and baths of HEB homes. It is very durable and is considered a better construction material than sheet vinyl.

They are also implementing elements of passive solar design and advanced framing. Advanced framing is also known as “Optimum Value Engineering,” and involves laying out studs every 24 inches instead of every 16 inches. Most homes have a southern exposure and photovoltaic panels to help reduce energy costs for families.

It is clear that HEB is leading the way in green housing for low income families. Let’s hope more organizations follow their lead!


Dwell Green Housing Magazine Issue

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The new issue of design magazine Dwell is dedicated to sustainable design and green housing. Article themes include: Sustainable Homes of Tomorrow, Today; Design Like You Give a Damn; Flooring With a Conscience; Tree Houses Grow Up; It Takes a Villa near Barcelona, Spain; Emerald in the Rough in Ireland; Zeros Effect in Phoenix; Dwell Labs magazine racks; Detour in Brussels; Conversation with Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa. The issue is printed on recycled paper.


World View Magazine’s Water Issue

The National Peace Corps Association’s magazine World View just released a special issue dealing with water. One of the Peace Corps’ main projects these days is building water systems in rural and impoverished areas of the third world. Given the fact that millions of people throughout the world live without access to potable water, this is very important work. Additionally, the Peace Corps works to educate communities on how to maintain their water systems, and the importance of hygiene. Read more about the new water issue here.


L.A. Weekly’s Eco-Column

This is the opening line of Margaret Wertheim’s article on intelligent design from the L.A. Weekly:

“Intelligent design” makes sense only if our higher power is a devious, brutal killer

Wow! That pretty much sets the tone for the remainder of the article. For those looking for an interesting and in-depth criticism of intelligent design, this is an excellent article. You can find it in Quark Soup, a column from the L.A. Weekly that deals with lots of issues related to science, technology, and the environment. It’s definitely worth a repeat visit to read more of their articles.


Alternative Fuel Sources Discussed: An Interview with Professor John Katers

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EarthToys emagazine recently published an interview with professor John Katers about alternative fuels. Katers has a doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Marquette University, a Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy, and a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Business Administration both from University of Wisconsin – Green Bay (UWGB). In this interview, Dr. Katers discusses wood and switch grass as alternative fuel sources, in addition to his work teaching about alternative energy at UWGB.


Tips for Choosing Environmentally Sound Washing Machines

EarthToys online magazine has done it again! They recently published an excellent article with tips for choosing ecologically sound washing machines. This is a practical guide for helping the environment, and helping you save money in the process. EarthToys is an organization dedicated to providing useful information for the consumer from the alternative energy community. The articles are written by some of the major innovators in this industry and their ezine is free!

The Practical Environmentalist?s Guide to Staying Informed

We all know that staying informed of local and international goings-on is critical to being effectively involved in the environmental scene. An informed environmentalist is the best kind of environmentalist. However, did you know that there are ways that you can help the environment, simply by reading up on local and international news? How? Well, it depends on what and how you read the news. For example, if you read your news online, you’ll help reduce the amount of paper waste produced by traditional newspapers. Many excellent newspapers, such as the Christian Science Monitor, have free websites available all the time. Others, like the New York Times, simply require that you register (free) on their site to access their articles. Others require a subscription to their site. (Bah humbug!) Many local libraries have subscriptions to a variety of local and international newspapers and magazines. A visit to the library once a week will help you get you fix of news, without accumulating newspapers and magazines that inevitably will become trash before too long. Moreover, your local library archives these newspapers and magazines so you can catch up news you’ve missed due to vacations, etc. Last but not least, not all news sources are created equal. Many on-line newspapers and magazines have a special emphasis on environmental issues. Others are known for their excellence in reporting. For a complete list of the best on-line news sources for environmentalists, see Global Stewards.

Eat a Trout, Save a Trout!



Trout Aloft!

If you love to fish, you need to know about the organization Trout Unlimited. Trout Unlimited is dedicated to protecting Maine Atlantic salmon and brook trout, among other wild, native fish and their habitat.

TU was founded over 40 years ago in Grayling, Michigan, and since then, they have worked hard to ensure that native fish like brook trout thrive in their native habitat.

Their philosophy is “if we take care of the fish, then the fishing will take care of itself,” and their list of accomplishments is long.

They recently achieved the protection of 140,000 acres of forest and rivers in California’s Sierra Nevada range and they also established the “Trout in the Classroom program,” which has educated children in more than 100 schools about the ecosystems that support wild fish.

Check out their Trout Magazine for some great reading about fishing and conservation.

Earthtoys December Emagazine



Earthtoys in Action

The Earthtoys December emagazine is now up! In this edition, you’ll find articles on green building education, Hydrogen Powered Micro Trigeneration Technology, hydrogen hybrid vehicles, and how to build a fall water garden. Additionally, there are some articles on energy conservation with strategies for how you can monitor your personal energy use to see just how much power you use (and lose!) in your home.

Earthtoys is an organization that gives a voice to those working in the alternative energy industry. They have an excellent Alternative Energy Directory featuring hundreds of earth-friendly companies throughout the world.

Green Guide’s Toy Guide



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Green Guide Magazine is an excellent on-line forum for those interested in environmentally sound shopping. They publish a series of product reports that help you make decisions about what stuff to buy, and have dozens of categories of products to check out.

With the Christmas frenzy right around the corner and your kids pestering you for the new Barbie doll, this Green Guide product report on toys is great way to educate yourself before you buy. Read up on the health and environmental aspects of the typical toys out there.

The article includes a list of the problems with common toys, and earth-friendly alternatives.