Posts tagged education

Solutions From the Land Initiative

The Solutions From the Land initiative is a newly announced coalition of world government, universities and various NGOs which will be funded by The United Nations Foundation, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and Farm Foundation.  Formally launched about two weeks ago, the initiative is tasked with creating integrative land use systems which reduce hunger, improve water availability, protect and encourage biodiversity, and battle the threats of climate change.  Way to jump right in the deep end!

The initiative’s website,, proclaims their vision for the world by 2050:

“By 2050, agricultural systems, forests and other land uses are managed to simultaneously satisfy domestic and global demand for safe, abundant and affordable food, feed, and fiber; support economic security and sustainable development; reduce hunger and malnutrition; improve soil, air and water quality; enhance biodiversity and ensure ecosystem health, and deliver mitigation and adaptation solutions to a changing climate.”

This coming year, four working task groups will address questions critical to the success of the above stated vision.  These task groups will be made up of members of various conservation, forestry, and agricultural groups, as well as representatives from universities and the non-profit world.  They will discuss how to balance an increased demand for natural resources with a need to protect and/or restore natural spaces for the long-term protection of ecosystems while delivering enough water and food to maintain safe and healthy human populations.  They will also look at ways in which legislation, incentivisation, and regulation can be restructured to best serve all interrelated industries.

Then, in Phase 3 of the initiative, scheduled to roll out in 2012, the involved organizations will lay a road map for others to follow to ensure compliance with the spirit of the initiative’s findings.  The initiative hopes to change consumer behavior through a combination of policy changes, voluntary initiatives such as buyer programs, and consumer awareness campaigns, which may also include incentive programs which reward innovations in system design processes and land use.  Though the initial phase of the initiative focuses on domestic American systems, the eventual goal is to take the recommendations, programs, and best practices findings global, in particular so they may benefit developing nations.

I will be interested to see how this project moves forward.  Certainly the approach of integrated systems management which complements rather than destroys surrounding environments is one worth pursuing.  It is headed by the former California Secretary of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura, who is himself a farmer, and Tom Lovejoy of the H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.  A full list of the design team who have been collaborating these past two years and creating the mission statement can be found at the link above or on their website.

Download a PDF summary of the SFL initiative here.

Initiative press contact information here.

Learn more about Integrated Ecosystem Assessments, as described by NOAA’s NCCOS program, which aims to protect coastal lands and waters through similar research methodologies.

Leave a comment »

How to Get Far Without a Car

Some of you readers may recall when I made a pledge to sell my car in order to green my travel around the city.  It’s been more than three years now, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t died from lack of access to basic goods yet, so clearly, it IS possible to make work, even in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles.  It’s fairly easy to trade in the frustrations of driving, paying for inevitable parking tickets, car insurance, gas, crazy-driver door dings and side view mirrors lopped off by passing cars for the peace of mind that comes with regular exercise and time spent enjoying LA’s incredible outdoor clime.  Of course it does have a few drawbacks, the greatest of which being that it’s harder to get out of town to places which are far enough away to necessitate a car but not far enough to be serviced by the Greyhounds and Metrolink trains of the world.  There are a few strategies I’ve employed over time to make it work without feeling deprived.

First, I took a good look at the places I travel in a normal day.  Since I work “from home” but live off-grid without power, my primary need in the work department is occasional access to an outlet to recharge the computer and internet to post stuff like this, converse with clients, etc.  About a year and a half back, I purchased a netbook with a seven hour battery life.  Best investment ever! This means that I only have to find an outlet for an hour or so daily to have my portable office up and running for more hours than I can practically stare at a screen.  So I hit a local coffee shop each morning, sip tea, upload posts, and download relevant research for the next edition or client.  The mile or two walk to and from the shop each morning gives me a chance to start my day outside, practicing walking meditation (a post on this coming soon!) and organizing in my head what I need to accomplish.  As a photographer, I carry my camera with me everywhere I go, and this walk also allows me to get interesting shots in the golden light of early morning before most people wake up.  What started as an obligation to get to a destination has actually become one of my favorite daily activities!

Over time, I’ve discovered local alternatives to my daily purchases.  The other day, I found the best little pupuseria while walking by on an errand, saving me a bus trip across town to my other favorite streetside vendor.  How’s that for ultra-localizing life!  Many people drive all over creation going to stores that they are used to frequenting when there exist alternatives right within their own communities.  By shopping locally, not only will you save frustration and gas/insurance money, you might also get to know your local business owners better, which helps build stronger community ties.  Of course, supporting your local Best Buy over a family run electronics shop just because it’s down the road isn’t necessarily what I’m talking about, but even franchise businesses are run by individual owners who may be from your community.  Take the time to ask, it can often lead to an enlightening conversation.

When needing to get out further than walkable distance, I can get most places for $3, the current price of a round trip bus or metro ticket in these parts.  Sure, it takes about fifteen minutes to walk to or from the metro station, but I simply view it all as exercise and think about the money I save by not having a gym membership while I walk.  If the destination lies off a main bus or metro line, then I might ride my bike to the station, which cuts the travel time down even more.

In order to head out of town/city limits, which is an occasional necessity given my other-other day job as a treasure hunter, I’ve had good luck by posting on Craigslist for someone to drive to a given destination, even one off the beaten path.  Usually it costs me gas money and the price of lunch, maybe an honorary token payment, far less than it would to rent a car for the day and I don’t even have to drive.  (yet another option is signing up for a shared-car service such as Zipcar, which I’ll cover in an upcoming post)  There are several rideshare sites which can be used in similar fashion, especially if one is not tied to a particular moment of travel and can be a little flexible.  Of course as a woman I am careful about this, bringing a buddy with me to share the ride and always being on top of knowing the exact directions to where I’m heading.  You can also run a classified ad for people to pick up items from further locales and deliver them to you for a nominal charge if they are headed some direction anyway.  Given the state of public transport here expanded by an additional biking radius, both this and the ride for hire scenario are rarely utilized but useful tools to have in the arsenal.

One final thing that I’d like to mention here is that of motivation.  If you’re going to be walking or biking, why not reward yourself for putting in miles toward the sustainable cause? There are many websites that let you track your exercise miles over time and provide like-minded communities for motivation and friendly competition.  I started using a few months back to log miles walked in order to see how much gas I would theoretically save each month by not driving.  It nicely computes my calories burned, keeps track of the amount of gas I’ve saved by not driving, and even tells me other fun stats like how many donuts I can now afford to eat after all that walking!  Though the site is primarily designed for athletes who are training for things to share inspirational workout routes, it serves well too as a general tracker of miles logged, featuring interactive route maps which calculate your mileage based upon the path you draw on a Google map.  One of my favorite features of the site is the challenge page, where you can sign up to try and complete a certain number of miles or hours spent exercising during a given time span in friendly competition with other athletes on the site.

The luxurious abode that is Trimpi Shelter.

Last Thanksgiving I signed up there for a virtual Appalachian Trail hike, in which walkers try to log the 2179 miles of the AT within a year’s time.  I use my distance data from the site (it keeps track of which types of exercise qualify, in this case walking and hiking) and compare it to a distance map of the trail to see where I am on a given day.  Today, two and a half months after starting out my “hike”, I’ve walked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and am venturing up through southern Virginia toward the Trimpi Shelter, pictured above, where I will virtually slumber this evening.  Right now things are on track to finish the trail with a few weeks to spare, which at the necessary rate of 5.5 miles daily is no small feat!  By looking up each county I travel through on Wikipedia and reading about what the areas are known for (the Trimpi shelter is in Grayson County, VA, mountainous home to several annual bluegrass and fiddle music festivals and a yearly through-hiker festival which celebrates those trying to complete the AT), my daily walking chores have changed from a simple necessity into an exciting and educational activity which feels more like a vacation.

The location of the Trimpi shelter along the Appalachian Trail.

Well, those are a couple things I have found useful.  What strategies do you employ to cut down on extraneous daily travel? How have they worked for you?

Comments (2) »

Cool Gadget: Solar Icemaker Prototype

It’s not portable, or even available yet, but the solar icemaker prototype created by students at San Jose State University (see full story on the icemaker here) is literally cooler than cool.  They used pressure differentials created by rise and drop in daytime temperatures to create a “zero carbon footprint” ice maker.

At something like 5 feet cubed for dimensions, and only capable of producing ice at night, it’s not going to replace the ice tray any time, but it could be really important in places that don’t have easy access to a power grid for food refrigeration and space cooling. Best of all, it looks like something that the dedicated DIYer could put on his or her “To Build” list without having to hit the books much beforehand.

They are currently at work on the product, as well as several others related to solar energySee the San Jose State U program site here, it looks very interesting, and it’s great to see renewable energy being taught in higher education.

Leave a comment »

Solar Installation Class – Ohm’s Law

Okay, for all of you waiting for notes from the solar panel installation class, here’s the scoop. The first class was cool, there’s a big machine shop there, and as a bonus, we’re also going to learn about machine controls for wind systems. Nice! There promises to be lots of applied action working with actual solar panels, so I should be able to share some real knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. For those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning, we’re going to repair my solar panel (the inspiration for this blog!), too. Finally!

But of course, as with most things in life (and especially with electronics!), it makes sense to understand the science behind things before getting your hands dirty, or shocked in this case! So We spent the first class learning the basics of voltage, current, power, and resistance. Ever heard of Ohm’s Law? (Those of you having evil science class flashbacks, don’t worry, I wouldn’t share it unless it was quite necessary for your safety.) Here is Ohm’s Law for DC circuits.

P = I * E and E = I * R (“pie” and “ear” phonetically, to help you remember)

See? Simple! Only four letters! What does it all mean? Well, in a circuit, you have four things at work. First, Power. Power (the P) is measured in terms of watts. It’s the work being done using the energy in the circuit. So if you baked six pies, and your clown friend used all of them to cream the faces of his fellow friends, the power would be those six pies you made available for him to throw. When you hear talk about kilowatt hours, this is a measurement of how much power is produced and available to do work by a system. Or how much you are using, as reflected on your power bill. So, once again, that’s POWER (P).

Next up, Current. Current is a measurement of the electrons flowing through the circuit. You see, in order for the energy to get from one atom to the next in the wire, it pushes electrons down the line, carrying a charge (since electrons are negatively charged particles). This is what we think of as “flow”. Current is measured in amperes and is represented by the letter I (that’s “i”). CURRENT (I).

Third, you have resistance, which is measured in Ohms (it is Ohm’s Law, after all!). Usually, you will see resistance represented by the logical symbol R, but Ohms also have their own symbol, Ω. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll stick to R. Resistance is what it sounds like, a measure of how hard it is for the electrons to jump from one atom to the next. It’s a measurement of volts per ampere (or how hard it is to push one electron from one atom to the next). It’s not a 100% rule, but usually, you will find that resistance stays pretty much the same in your circuit calculations. It is most affected by distance traveled, the width of your wire, and by temperature.  RESISTANCE (R).

And, lastly, there’s voltage, tying it all together. Voltage is also known as ElectroMotive Force (EMF), giving rise to the symbol for voltage, E. Sometimes you’ll see V for voltage, but here I’ll be using E. Voltage is measured in Volts (whew, an easy to remember one!). Solar panels, wind turbines, etc, are generally hooked up to 12 Volt batteries, either in series or parallel (we’ll get to that in a second), allowing you to store the energy produced by the panel/turbine. Common setups will run at either 12V or 24V, depending on application. So, rounding it all up, we have VOLTAGE (E).


Got it? Good. Now let’s start putting it all together. Using the formulas above, you will see that Voltage = Current * Resistance. So, when the voltage goes up, the current goes up also… they are directly proportionate. This is a VERY IMPORTANT CONCEPT in circuits. It’s the equation E = I * R, or “ear”.

The other equation, P = I * E or “pie”, is for figuring out how much power is produced by a circuit, and is equally important. Written out, it’s Power = Current * Voltage. In any given situation you’re probably going to know two out of four variables and you’re trying to figure one of the other two. With these two equations, you can always solve for the ones you don’t have already. Here’s an example:

If you know that you have a 12V battery and you need to get 72 watts of power to run your iPod, how much current do you need? By the way, current is usually adjusted by using bigger or smaller wires, because the size of the wire affects the number of electrons that can easily flow through at any one time. This is due to resistance, but I’m getting quite ahead of myself.

So using our equations, E = I * R and P = I * E, you know that E = 12 volts and P = 72 watts. So, the second equation can easily be solved: 72 = I * 12, or I = 72/12. This works out to I = 6. Since I is measured in amperes, the answer would be I = 6 amperes. If you then wanted to figure out the resistance in the circuit, you can now plug these numbers into the first equation: 12 = 6 * R, or R = 12/6, which works out to R = 2 ohms. Using two variables, you’re able to figure out everything happening along those wires!

Now let’s say you wanted to use a battery system supplying 24 volts instead. Simply substitute and do the above calculations in the same way. What did you get? Here’s the breakdown. Since E = 24 volts now, and P = 72 watts, then you should arrive at I = 3 amperes via 72 = I * 24, or I = 72/24, or 3! From there you can figure out the resistance of this circuit: 24 = 3 * R, and therefore R = 8 ohms. There is more resistance along this circuit than along the circuit running on 12 Volts, and less current.

Okay, so that’s Ohm’s Law (of DC circuits) for you! I’m a student too, so this is about as deep as I can go into the subject right now, but expect more detailed explanations and the reasons for knowing all this junk soon. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you want to read more about Ohm’s Law and why it’s important, read the Wikipedia article here.

Comments (2) »

Ride the BioTour

More Information on joining the BioTour here

BioTour Across America

If you’ve been looking for an inexpensive way to spend a week of vacation while still contributing to a great cause, how about taking part in BioTour’s journey across America?  Biotour is a big school bus, converted to run on WVO (biodiesel) and solar energy.  A rotating cast of characters pilot the bus across the country making presentations to school children and politicians alike about the importance of renewable energy in our lives. Along the way, crew members educate themselves about the deeds and processes of progressive companies and towns across the nation.

The BioTour Bus

You can stay with the crew for up to a week for a suggested donation of $0-$100 dollars, a good CD of music to share, and some snacks for everyone.  They aren’t running an alt-travel agency, so you’re signing up to be part of the crew, slinging grease and working on broken parts alongside everyone else.  The past tour dates have included some impressive stops, and many interesting ones in between: it’s safe to say your week will be unlike any other that’s transpired in the past.  So pack up your backpack and hit the greyhound station to meet them along they way for a week of french-fried country education and fun.

Leave a comment »

All About Biodiesel

22 Myths About Biodiesel Dispelled


From the great resource Gas 2.0 comes a roundup of everything you think you’ve heard about biodiesel but were afraid to ask.  It’s the second version of the text, following up on a hugely popular series of a year ago, and has a LOT of facts to get you rolling in the biodiesel caravan.  Topics covered include, but are not limited to: the differences between biodiesel and ethanol, how biodiesel can replace regular gas, whether using biodiesel will hurt your car, whether you will void your warranty, what biodiesel is composed of… best get to the link above now to check it out!

As a parting shot, here’s a visual diagram of the biodiesel production process:

 Making Biodiesel

Leave a comment »

Organic Farming Learning Opportunities

If you are planning a garden, I can’t recommend enough that you go organic in your approach. After all, since 50% of all pesticides used in America are sprayed on cotton (and therefore your clothes!), you’ve likely already got a lot of toxins to offset in your life! However, the topic of organic gardening can be a little intimidating at first, as it is so large.

If you want to get your feet wet, while learning from experts in their field, why not volunteer at a working organic farm in your area? The originator of all organic exchange websites, has many such opportunities to do just that. And it’s sorted by area, so you’ll be able to find something local. Also, try for similar invitations. Most of the opportunities listed allow for you to sample or take home some of the produce you help to tend for a taste test. It’s like a free grad school education with an excellent cafeteria!

Do you know of any other great sites? Post them here!

Comments (1) »

%d bloggers like this: