Posts tagged conservation

Want to be a green scientist? With this site you can!

Sci.Spy from Discovery

Screenshot of Sci.Spy application for iPhone

This is an application I’ve been wanting to see for some time now – so glad it’s a reality!  Sci.Spy lets you take your photos of natural things (animals, plants, fungi, etc) and upload them to a database for use by scientists studying species distributions and the like.

It’s a natural extension of many smaller citizen science projects, for example, one which allowed the cataloging of tree species in British urban environments.  However, with Discovery Science behind the wheel and with the integration of an iPhone app which simplifies the process of uploading mobile phone images with geo tag information, this network looks as though it could become a very deep source of data.

As someone who travels pretty much everywhere with camera in hand, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities for individual species identification as well.  So often I take images of things, wild plants especially, which then require a lot of web researching to figure out what species or variety I’ve taken.  If a large body of data is amassed, then eventually this site could be used by foragers and and individuals looking to ID plants and animals in their surroundings with better accuracy.  And for foraging especially, that is quite important!

Want to find out more?  Check out the Sci.Spy site at Discovery.com, or download the iPhone app.

Here are some other interesting citizen science sites:

Urban Forest Map, The Wild Lab, The Milky Way Project, and ScienceForCitizens.net (has a listing of many citizen scientist projects).

Leave a comment »

Making Your Computer Carbon Neutral

I’ve admitted it before… I love my computer, and giving it up is out of the question.  But I do understand that while the internet saves me millions of miles of travel a year and countless hours spent locating far-flung information, the computer itself uses plain ol’ polluting energy and requires a lot of rare and potentially hazardous materials in its manufacture which are as often as not disposed of improperly.  So how to green the central machine?

First up, the average of one pound of CO2 emissions put out daily by computers worldwide.  Luckily, the wonderful social, email and action network Care2 has already thought about that, and nicely offers you the option to neutralize that carbon… with a single click! And if taking 10 seconds to sequester some CO2 to offest your surfing is too much to ask, I expect to see your name in the newspaper soon, because you must be REALLY busy on something important.  Visit Care2’s Daily Click to Donate page here to ease your digital burden on the planet today, and while you’re there, click to donate to 9 other great causes like saving tiger habitat, preventing breat cancer, and preserving marine wetlands.

screenshot002

Next, consider efficiency when purchasing computer components.  It may surprise you to know that a vast majority of computer components are manufactured in one of a handful of factories in the same town in China.  One that barely even existed twenty five years ago.  To read all about it, pick up the fascinating global travel book “Confessions of an Eco-Sinner” by Fred Pearce (2008).   Though he only deals with this particular product for a chapter, the whole book is filled with amazing (and scary) tales of how the things you take for granted make it into your shopping bag.  But back to that computer… Assuming that practices amongst these competitors are relatively equal, and given that they are all run by guys who went to school together as youth this is proabably safe, you won’t gain much by purchasing an Acer over a Compaq.  That doesn’t mean, however that all manufacturers are equal.  Some voluntarily, and some in response to the European Union’s RoHS Directive which calls for elimination of certain toxic metals from their computers (see this Treehugger article for more information), computer manufacturers have started to take notice and make greener PCs.  Apple and Toshiba are notable leaders in this movement, though others are jumping onboard every day.  I’m waiting for the day one releases a totally non-toxic and recyclable computer… and while wishing, can it be compostable too?

If you’ve got your machine itself under control, there are still ways to go further, by examining the source of the energy that goes into your plug.  I’m a huge fan of surfing the web at Whole Foods Markets, because the company has a policy of purchasing renewable (wind) energy credits to offset the electricity used at each of its stores.  So when you play Tetris while eating your lunch, you’re actually helping to stimulate the alternative energy market and doing so in a totally renewable way.

Of course, they’re a popular store, so if you can’t get a seat there, you’re may be forced to strike out on your own.  There is, of course, the off-grid option of generating your own electricity with wind, solar, or micro-hydro.  These are the golden children of rugged off-griddists everywhere, and one will likely be a pretty good fit for your area.  If you don’t have the ability to install your own generation system, consider paying a little premium on your power bill for the Green Power option.  Similar to Whole Foods’ arrangement, customers who purchase green power get the satisfaction of knowing that their purchases contribute to the development of renewable energy portfolios while enjoying the on-demand power we all expect.  Or you can lease solar panels from a company that charges you a bill like any other utility but sells the power you generate using their panels back to the grid.  Solar without the start-up costs.

Speaking of power, here’s to all you night-owls out there! You see centrally generated power (utility-style) must usually be produced at the rate of greatest demand within a day.  So even though 1-5 pm is the peak power usage, at night, the generators are pumping out the same amount of juice to supply a drastically lower demand. Where does all this power go?  Some municipalities have constructed power recycling schemes, such as Los Angeles DWP’s practice of pumping water uphill at night to use for generating hydro power during daylight peak demand hours.  Other cities let this power go to waste.  That is why power use rates are so much lower at night, because utilities hope to entice people to use this cut-price power whenever possible.  So go ahead and burn a little midnight oil (figuratively of course) to take advantage of this financial reward.

Peak vs. Off-Peak

Peak vs. Off-Peak

And lastly, please, friends, recycle your computer responsibly when it reaches the end of its useful life.  Replacing single components that go bad is almost always a cheaper option than buying a whole new machine, so consider that first before declaring it dead.  But when it is, there are organizations across the globe which will take your computer, make any necessary repairs, and give it to a person in need.  Many states won’t even let you toss computer equipment legally, so you’ll be doing your civic duty, too.  If you don’t, sadly, the common practice is to let children pick through the toxic rubble of old electronics, pulling valuable metals out and stripping copper off boards in acid vats wihtout any protective measures.  It sounds like one of this “Save a child with a dollar a day” commercials, but it really happens.  Don’t be the reason little Pradeep gets cancer by the age of fifteen.

All said, the fact you can shop online rather than at retail stores, commit acts of generosity such as campaigning for social rights and making donations to worthy causes, and research innovations that make your life greener in so many ways makes the computer a world-saving tool no matter what you do to mitigate its environmental consequences.  But doesn’t doing it green just feel so much better?

Leave a comment »

BOOK REVIEW: Mycelium Running

Mycelium Running: Paul Stamets, Google Books Listing

Mycelium Running

This book is very inspiring!  I can’t even remember how it ended up on my library list, but since starting it, I haven’t put it down.  I also haven’t stopped talking about the wonders of mushrooms, much to my friends’ chagrin.  Yesterday even found me stooping in a neighbor’s yard, trying to figure out how to extract a cool-looking mushroom from their lawn without damaging the manicured turf!  Did you know that a cubic inch of earth can contain about 8 miles of mycelium, the fungal thread that matures into familiar mushrooms?  Or that some species of mushroom can survive on crude oil, breaking down the hydrocarbons into fertile soil in a matter of a months?  Other species of mushroom have shown promise in destroying neuro toxins, absorbing heavy metals, even killing the HIV virus.  Whoa, Shitake!

Seriously though, this book is excellently written with plenty of nice pictures for visual reference and a decidedly scientific style.  The author really knows his stuff, too, and he has the patents to prove it.  Everything is covered here from using mushrooms to repopulate logged forests to starting your own backyard mushroom garden or mycelial water filtration system.  The types of fungii and the environments in which they operate are also eloquently discussed.  There are charts galore showing which species can be used for different applications such as removing certain toxins or digesting certain wood species, even how to battle parasitic fungii with other species which are more environmentally benign.  Bottom line is that our oft mistreated fungal friends may hold the key to saving our planet more efficiently than we humans ever could.  Also, their unique medicinal properties, which though known in the Far East for centuries have only recently entered exploration by Western scientists, may be the key to the cancer and viral cures of the future because many fungii protect their hosts from infection and disease in a microscopic act of “you scratch my back…”.  Now that’s a pretty good reason to eat a heaping plate of fungii!  Five big shroomy stars.

Leave a comment »

Hitting Your Stride

Going green or cutting off the power line completely are not easy tasks. We are accustomed to our routine conveniences and live in a world that is loathe to advertise the actual costs of the products we consume.  When viewed in its entirety, the global environmental crisis we are facing is so daunting that many people fail before even beginning by despairing at the enormity of it all and then lapsing into apathy.  Obviously this is the largest waste of creative capacity imaginable on our planet.  You get it, so you’re smart enough to do something about it, yet you don’t.  So don’t let yourself become one of those people.  Do something today. Maybe you already are.  The thing about “Do something today.” that is so great is that when you take that approach you tend to set realistic goals, more on the level of an hour or two’s commitment than the nebulous grand ideas that tend to live largely on paper and never in the real world.  And you set a pattern that defies apathy, even if you eventually change the depth of your commitment. And one day, you will find yourself hitting your stride and it will become natural part of your life instead of a scheduled task.

There are a million ways to break a habit, and only one to make one: practical application.  You can read every book in the library about art, for example, but until you create something, you cannot call yourself an artist.  Your friend’s kindergartener who brings home finger painted pictures daily is.  Which should make potential artists feel better about the quality which one considers art (Isn’t art, in the end, really largely an issue of attachment?), but it usually doesn’t.

What it all means?  You don’t have to be a maestro to get involved.  Just pick something and implement it in your life.  Chances are, no matter what strategy you pick, it will be an improvement over the standard.  Many people spend a lot of time wondering which choice will be best for them, and in the end, don’t get anything, because the spark of ingenuity has faded which led them to that point.  Do your research, but understand that the energy revolution is not a plan for tomorrow, but for today. You’ve heard me say it before.  In the spirit of kindness, I won’t leave you all pumped up with nowhere to go.

Here’s a little inspiration for you for things that won’t take more than a few moments:

Plant a tree. The EPA estimates that a mature tree provides the same amount of air conditioning as five AC units.  You can take cuttings of most plants and root them, or simply plant a sapling or seed that you find in your surroundings.  Of course, if you then take care of it, making sure it has enough water to survive the first crucial year or two, then you can count that as doing something in the future too.  But by then you’ll probably feel so good from doing that, you’ll have a whole colony of trees somewhere.  Estimated time: 10 minutes, and time spent finding a tree to plant (or cultivating stem cutting in moist plastic bag).

Buy recycled shopping bags. It’s no accident that reusable shopping bags are popping up in stores these days.  What used to be the exclusive realm of whole foods has become big business.  And when you think about what you’re saving in terms of landfill space, and add in the fact that most large retailers give reusable bag discounts, you really can’t argue against them.  Of course, you’ll need your shopping bags if you take the next step and start shopping at the local farmer’s market once a week instead of a comparable grocery store trip.  Local farmers supported, all for the price of a little gas. Estimated time: under a minute.

Hydroscape your yard.  Print a Google map of your house and yard and draw on it the places where water tends to collect when it rains.  These are the low points, and when planned right, you can save a lot of money on property maintenace just by regulating the flow of water across your land.  Create a conceptual path through your area, create a path for water flow, and raise beds surrounding this natural flow to minimize your need to water.  This also gives you the opportunity to have a larger variety of plants, because you create tiny climate zones specific to each bed.  Estimated Time: a few hours planning, 2 hours per bed.

Freecycle something. Find something in your house that you don’t use and offer it to the local population at large for free at http://www.freecycle.org .  If you’re feeling generous, offer to post the item through the mail to the lucky recipient.  It really IS a good way to keep things out of landfills and it fosters your non-retail community.  Estimated time: ten minutes, including finding something to post.

Buy at least one solar light. These days, you can buy a set of solar lights for $10 -15.  The nicest ones I’ve seen are floating pool lights which change color, but there are also lots of varieties of solar yard lights, and also solar Christmas lights.  I particularly like the Lampion, pictured above. Try leaving these lights outside during the day while you are out of the house, and then using them to replace a light you use at night.  Carbon free power and mood lighting might prove the perfect combination for your evening.  Estimated time: half an hour on eBay and a minute a day.

Use greywater to flush your toilet.  Unscrew the pipe below your sink and place a bucket under the now-open pipe.  Use this water to trigger the toilet’s automatic flush response.  Combine it with the old “milk jug in the tank” trick and you’ll use a lot less water.  This will save you however much water you use at the sink by recycling it at least once.  Estimated time: fifteen minutes, and a slightly altered routine.

Visit your local library instead of the bookstore. Similar selection, better price.  And since you share the book with your community, you save resources and encourage further government spending in future libraries.  How many books do you read more than once anyway?  Donate the ones you own (outside your core library) to the local library so others can learn too.  I hardly have to explain the benefits of that!  Estimated time: Twenty minutes to clean out your closet.

So there you have it, something you can do today.  One last freebie: write a suggestion below, so that others can learn about your own great action idea.  =)

Comments (2) »

COMMITMENT: Use Public Transportation

Back to the great experiment that is my green life-in-training.  It’s been a while since the last report, but fear not, I HAVE been taking action.  About a month ago, I decided that long distance trips across the country were unacceptably increasing my carbon load on the earth.  True, I still drove much less than the average American, and I shared a ride every trip across the country that I made.  But, when 45% of your emissions are coming from one place… well, that just looks yucky on the pie chart!  So I made a commitment.  Sell the car….  Done. 

What was I thinking?   No, really, it’s not that bad.  During the daily routine, I only drove a few miles a day anyway, and now that’s a little further free walking exercise to be gotten.  No, I don’t mind that at all, especially given LA traffic, which doesn’t quite compete with the intensity of that in my native DC, but certainly makes up for it in volume across great distances.  Yes, LA traffic is frustrating, and I am happy to kiss it goodbye.  Even though it means making a few adjustments in lifestyle (no more meeting people across town unless you’ve got a GOOD reason for paying bus fare and figuring out a route), it’s a better way to get to know your local community, as you WILL interact more with passersby and merchants.

Greyhound Bus - Eco-Friendly Transport

However, the real test of this commitment is the replacement of my regular car travel plans over long distances.  How to get across the Southwest without a car or a monster budget?  In a spirit of conservation and adventure, I recently took my first trip… on the Greyhound bus.  I must say, it was less stressful than driving, with driving’s relentless watching the road while steering, or not quite trusting other drivers and watching the road anyway.  Never a good sleep in a car, unless you’re REALLY zonked.  So, back to the Greyhound.  It was painless, relatively on time, much more eco-friendly, and I met a few interesting people along the way

If you’re contemplating taking the bus when you next travel, may I offer a few pointers?  Arrive earlySeriously.  And when you arrive, ask where your gate is and go ahead and put your bags in line.  It seems to be standard practice that you don’t have to remain with them beyond that point.  So settle in and watch a movie on the big(ger) screen while you wait.  And bring your own food, unless you like two dollar snickers bars in the vending machines and similarly priced sodas.  I’m pretty sure that they’ve never heard of the word organic either.  Experienced Greyhounders relate that they routinely oversell the buses (remember that tip about putting your bags in line?), so if you want to have any choice about what variety of seatmate you want, better get your spot and hold on tight.  It will help you out a lot if you travel light enough to avoid checking baggage.  That also removes you from having to open up your bags for people at every stop.  When I went hiking last month, the travel compartments above were large enough to accommodate an artfully packed trecking backpack and tent – it’s kind of get-it-as-you-come on available space.  After all that, well, sit back and relax!  The bus stops at cities along they way, often for  long enough to get your standard fast-food fare along the highway, make cell phone calls or whatever else you can fit in a quarter hour.  Best of all, if you travel with a friend, one of you can ride for a 50% discount companion fare, reducing costs further. 

So far, life without a car has been pretty good.  I HAVE missed a few appointments and retooled my day a few times, but all-in-all, it hasn’t required too much more time or thought.  And I’ve met several local business owners whose businesses I might not otherwise even have seen whizzing by in a car.  If this is to be a long-term arrangement, I think that I’ll get a bicycle again (last one was stolen, another LA hazard!) or maybe even a little moped that can be converted to use less gas.  Has anyone else made the jump to sell their car?  I’m curious to know how it went/ is going?   I salute you for traveling the road to green-dom (literally!) one step at a time

Leave a comment »

Big Belly: an Appetite for Trash

Now that’s a good idea! Anyone tried one?

Leave a comment »

SEQL: 100 Ways you can improve the environment

Here’s a quick reference for any of you needing a jump start on your energy reduction goals, courtesy of SEQL (Sustainable Environment for Quality of Life). Rather than analyze or reword, I’ll just present the list for you to browse. The full PDF copy of this document is available from their website, www.seql.org. Many of the tasks take under a minute to complete… which ones can you implement today?

Comments (3) »

%d bloggers like this: