Posts tagged environment

Day Without a Bag

Today is California’s Heal the Bay organization’s Day Without a Bag.   Even if for only one day a year, take today to refuse all disposable bags.  If you need one, use a renewable reusable tote.  If you live in Los Angeles County, then consider yourself lucky – today all around the county sponsors are giving away free reusable totes for people interested in greening their lives. Want to know where?  Go to this site: www.healthebay.org and look up the disbursement locations.  Everyone else, well, I guess you’ll have to campaign your local orgs to run a similar program next year.  In the meantime, start by using one less of the average 500+ plastic bags Americans consume each year!

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

My Letter to Obama about Energy and the Environment

Well, okay, it was to his energy and environment transition staff, but hey, you never know!  One of the things about this upcoming administration to which I’m most looking forward is their commitment to getting public feedback as a regular part of the legislative process.  So of course, when they asked for my (and your!) opinion on what we as a nation can do to invest in alternative energy and the environment, I had to do my part.  You can too by visiting http://change.gov/page/s/energyenviro and sending them a message of your own.  Below, in somewhat edited form, is the environmental and energy wish list I hope to see in this country in the upcoming years in hopes that it will foster debate here on the site and elsewhere about the most important conservation and resource generation issues we face and how they may be solved.  What do you want to see happen?  Comment below and then head over to Change.gov to participate today!

***** My Energy and Environment Wish List *****

I think the most important thing that people need to realize is how the current energy supply affects prices and the need for more infrastructure.  For example, the concept of peak load on power plants: though conservation initiatives often highlight using off-peak power, rarely is it explained that central utilities must offer enough wattage to supply the highest moment of demand in a year.  Therefore, redesign of total power loads is highly beneficial, such as the advantages offered by off-peak charging of electric/hybrid cars (and tractors/industrial vehicles?), use of alternative energy storage programs such as that by LADWP (which uses off-peak hours to pump water uphill so that peak hour demand can be offset using hydro power and the excess supply built into the system is not wasted), programs which reward consumers for reducing their PEAK POWER LOAD (and therefore also their total power bills!), and more localized power production which loses substantially less than the 50% average wattage which travels over wires and is better tuned to the needs of a particular location.  This form of savings would allow existing power plants to use their energy much more efficiently and reduce need for new utility construction all while increasing our national security from foreign attack.  (Oh yeah, and phase out incadescent lights and unnecessary “standby” mode appliances!)

Mandatory minimum Leed certification levels (or some similarly arranged standard) for new construction starts and promoting eco-remodeling over creating new buildings where possible (with corresponding tax incentives for each) will go a long way toward reducing environmental toxins and energy use loads while stimulating the building and sustainable material markets.  Of course, tax credits for passive solar design and thermal resources (geo and solar) should be in the mix to highlight these low-impact technologies, which have relatively fast break-even points.  Tax credits for using non-toxic building materials and for installing “greenswitches” (which allow you to deactivate wall outlets and lights from a single light switch by the door when you leave the house for the day or go to sleep at night) would be great too!  Also, promoting organic food and material production greatly reduces our overall need for petroleum supplies (for pesticides and herbicides), while helping to restore America’s soil health and ecosystems.  Community garden programs could also use a boost, maybe by offering a green roof gardening program on existing public roofs, producing food for community programs while reducing the buildings’ energy needs.  And incentives for greening cities (like the Million Trees LA program), with special emphasis on using plants which produce edible fruits, nuts, and other foodstuffs to increase urban agricultural density and further buouy city budgets (an interesting example of a group trying to promote this is fallenfruit.org).  Perhaps also offer incentives for people who spend locally and stimulate their towns’ and cities’ economies and efficiency?  (RecycleBank has an successful program along these lines)

More research should be done on using nature’s own arsenal of environmental restorers and protectors (for example, using mushrooms for reforestation and toxic chemical environmental remediation).  We can also use certain restorative biofuel feed crops to rebalance the natural soil cycle, preventing erosion and therefore water pollution.  Our water, in particular, is a resource we cannot continue to allow to be polluted by heavy metals and current waste streams.  Providing farms better incentives for (or harsher punishments for not) properly collecting animal wastes that end up in the water supply.  Also, active superfund sites, especially mining sites, need to be addressed as soon as possible to prevent further contamination downstream.

As for alternative energy sources, there are so many different exciting technologies out there in the prototype and early market stages, the next phase (besides, of course, funding more R&D and business development!) will be ensuring that we have qualified technicians who can utilize these developments and technologies within the current marketplace competitively.  Offering more GANN-style grants for alternative energy and resource management studies at both undergrad and grad levels and creating and/or expanding a GreenCorps (modeled after the PeaceCorps) program which could first be challenged to green all federal and governmental facilities are both interesting options.  They can also promote public awareness of the consequences of their waste disposal actions and maintain a national resource database, which would help to source materials from within the country and with minimal transport for manufacture and also further educate people about the natural resources of the areas in which they dwell.  America could easily create lease or loan programs modeled after Japan’s successful solar leasing program or the SELF (Solar Electric Light Fund) loan initiatives in developing nations.  Both have been extremely successful in increasing solar adoption in times of economic despair (Japan) and area with fewer monetary resources (SELF), and could easily be applied to other alternative technologies.  Cuba’s solar school mandate is another great application of initial investment leading to long-term savings.

Two side notes on R&D for alternative energy technologies.  First, we need further development of integrated technologies, such as solar roof shingles, which serve multiple purposes and fit within current design models.  Currently, most alt technologies are add-ons – you mount them onto something else that’s already there.  With integrated technologies, the need to do this would be reduced, such as cars that have wind driven motor rotation when traveling above certain speeds (when wind can be effectively funneled through existing structures).  The other side note is that the digital divide, while not expressly an environmental problem, is something that we and all other nations will have to address in the coming years.  If we could fund people seeking ways to power computers without grid power or create highly efficient digital components, this will obviously help reduce future energy burdens on the US and globally.

(well, it continues beyond here, but congratulations if you’re still reading, ’cause I know I can really get talking when it comes to saving the earth! ) What are your ideas? Do you have stories of people (other than the listed examples) already doing these things?

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 »

UPDATE: Commitments and your future self

Time to check in on the great experiment that started this whole thought blot that is my blog. After a few months, how am I doing in my quest to detach from the grid? Here’s the report:

Solar Cooking: I constructed two solar ovens and have been testing them out whenever possible. Lately, there haven’t been too many hot, sunny days. I think they’re spraying too many chemtrails to keep the temperatures down. (If you don’t know what a chemtrail is, consider yourself warned: the government is spraying us with heavy metals and other carcinogens in order to better control the weather and possibly do a host of other nasty things… look it up on Google.) I have successfully cooked several foods, and have found that squashes are by far the easiest to cook, as they have a fairly high water content but are not actually liquid. Next, I plan to branch out more into cooking fruits.

Haven’t gotten that solar panel dissected. I’m a little afraid to cut into the circuitry without expert help. But it will happen, undoubtedly once I figure out the perfect application for the modules.

Avoiding Fast Foods: Um, not exactly going to get a A+ on this one, but I have cut out a majority of the fast food joint trips. And replaced them with frozen dinners from the grocery store. Yeah, need to work on that. I still hit up Del Taco for some tostadas and salads, but try to avoid anything with meat. The frozen pasta dinners, on the other hand, do have some meat in their sauces, and who knows what else hiding in those highly processed packages. Drinks are falling somewhere in the realm of sodas (healthy is harder than I thought on a budget!), whole milk, and gatorade. Judge as you will.

Adopt a Block: I selected the block that I will keep clean. I have done preliminary study to see what sorts of trash accumulate there: it’s your usual city detritus, mostly plastic bags, party fliers, and paper cups with various name brands emblazoned on their sides. At home, I’ve started a few seeds of edible varieties to do some “guerrilla gardening” as I pick up the trash. They are just now maturing to a size where they can be transplanted, and I will probably put them out this weekend. Stay tuned on that.

Transportation: As reported, I sold the car, and have been hoofing it since. In the city, there’s a lot of public transportation available, and I’ve simply been taking the metro, and occasionally the bus. Since the Metro is more than a mile from my place, I’ve been doing plenty of walking lately. Luckily the weather has been beautiful for that. Taken the Greyhound several times now, and it’s doing just fine for long-distance needs. Otherwise, I don’t miss the car too much, though I did have to skip attending the magazine release party for my latest article due to lack of appropriate transport. All in all, a small price to pay. Still looking for a great deal on a scooter or bicycle on Freecycle, whenever that may happen.

Far West AlmanacIf you live in Southern California, check out my latest article in this month’s Far West Almanac!

Website: As this whole blog is a labor of love, I’ve been trying to make lots of useful information available for all of you who are fellow travelers on the road to off-grid living. That does take a bit of time and applied effort. You’ll see that recently, several pages have been added to the site, outlining several aspects of low-impact living. I am continuing to update and add to these pages as I do research. Keep an eye out soon for an all-natural recipes page and a survival skills page. Of course, I’d love to hear more about what YOU want to see here. Please comment if you are looking for information you can’t find, or if you see something that was especially helpful, so I know what to add.

So that’s the round-up. It’s important to check in every once in a while on your progress, so you know whether things are going as you planned or if you’re headed for uncharted territories. For an automated way to do this, I like to use http://www.futureme.org, a service that lets you write an email to your future self. You have to write more than three months in advance, so it’s not a daily reminder service… it’s a way to remind yourself of what was important to you at a particular moment. It’s humorous to talk to yourself this way – you think you’ll remember what you’ve said, but trust me, you won’t. Try it!

Leave a comment »

Water – the flow of life

Well, back to the presses. Out in the wilderness, I had a lot of time to think about the importance of… water. Read up about the good ole frontier days and you’ll surely come across stories of unfortunate souls who trusted their senses to mother Nature and were in turn gravely mistaken. Water is so essential to life, it quickly beats out food as a survival determining factor.

In the mountains, I packed in water this time, but in the past have relied on purification at the source, when I knew such sources to exist year-round. If you are running from the grid, or even just remotely thinking that the world might be headed in a bad direction right now, it would do you well to know a bit about consuming water from nature.

There are, of course, several methods of purification from which to choose, and many devices too. Some opt to boil water, sterilizing it. In a warm sunny climate, you can do this with your solar cooker. Studies have shown that setting water out in the sun even for a few hours can effectively purify it for drinking. So set a windowshade around it and see how fast you can achieve the same effect.

Or you can buy a filtration device that fits onto a standard bottle, designed with campers in mind. While this option is quite effective, you will need to plan ahead and buy some. So don’t wait for doomsday to hit before relying on this tactic. A nice option is the Clear Brook Portable Water Filter Bottle.

Or you could go old-school and purify your water with iodine. Again, buy ahead. The thing to remember about iodine is that you need the kind sold at camping gear stores, not the kind sold in your local drugstore with a TOXIC tag on it. The pharmacist I spoke with couldn’t remember what the difference was, but the vehemance with which he said it convinced me that using the regular kind was not good at all. If you do this, your water will taste funny, or at least a little funnier than the other options. Use orange peels, tang, gatorade powder or something of the like to tint the water and make it tastier. If you’re surviving in the desert, opt for something that replaces electrolytes so you don’t get sick from salt loss in your sweat.

While we’re on that subject, try to minimize water loss by staying in the shade, wearing hats and other protective clothing, and putting on sunscreen of some sort. You WILL get dehydrated if you get overexposed to either heat or cold. Don’t eat snow or drink saltwater, smoke cigarettes, or eat lots of sugary candy.

Where do you find water when you don’t have any? Well, if you have the luxury of a nightfall, you can collect water from the condensation in the morning. Either use a tarp or something that will channel the water into a vessel. Some places recommend dragging your legs with heavy socks on in the morning to collect dew and wringing them out. You can also take advantage of plants’ natural process of emitting water at night by tying a plastic bag around a leafy tree branch overnight. Or you can use creeks, if they are flowing. You can also dig in creek beds that have recent looking covers of algae or places that are more lush than their surroundings. Usually there will be water below. Seek out root vegetables, coconuts, melons, fruits, and other foods that have a high water content. Just be sure to do a little taste test before eating the whole thing if you don’t already know what type of plant it is.

Of course, most of the time, we aren’t running headlong from civilization, we’re inching out there by enjoying what nature has to offer on our terms. When you’re hiking and packing in, bring foods that provide both water and nutrition. I like carrots, because they withstand the beating of being in a pack, they taste good and require no prep, and they retain moisture for a long time without rotting. But other good options are oranges, small apples, fruit cocktail cups, canned meat such as tuna, and things like grapes. Try growing what you will take, if you’re able to plan in advance, or tailor your garden to include such plants.

If you are implementing a hydro collection system for your home, the same principles as above apply. You simply amplify your design to work on a large scale and plan for optimal long-term placement of devices. You’ll either dig, collect, desalinate, divert, or pump your resources. And of course you can also generate power or heat from it! Think long and hard about the quality of water that you consume. Wars are fought over this very issue, and societies have fallen or disappeared in response to changes in water conditions. It is the very building block of life, and becoming self-sufficient in this department will be an enormous step away from the powers that dictate how you occupy your space on earth.

Leave a comment »

Xeriscaping the Dead Sea – A Case-Study

Click Here to See Geoff Lawton’s Dead Sea Restoration Project

Geoff Lawton, Xeriscaper Extroardinaire

This EXCELLENT presentation gives you a nice video overview of a successful xeriscaping and land restoration project carried out in the Dead Sea area of Jordan. You can actually watch the progression from desert to a lush canopy of green and edible foods. And to see that the salt levels of the soil dropped so dramatically is quite a convincing argument to try it yourself. Geoff Lawton and his team are genius to have done this. If you are considering doing your lawn with drought-friendly plants, or in converting waste-space to something much more beautiful while restoring the natural balance of the soil, please check out this site!

Here is SoCal, the Salton Sea is a popular tourist destination, as it is a similar environment to the Dead Sea. In fact, like the Dead Sea, the Salton Sea is getting saltier every year as its water evaporates. Given the hot temperatures (there is a reason that all the spas of Palm Springs are so popular!), there is a lot of sandy desert for every patch of green. Do you live there? Try this and send us pictures!

Leave a comment »

Saving the Planet from your Browser

I’ll admit it – I’m addicted to the web. Putting in around 50 hours a week, it’s more than a full-time job! So when I see way that I can help the planet without even getting up from the computer, it’s a big deal. Here are a few “goodies” from the internet that I’ve come across lately. None require more than a minute or two to make a real contribution to a world-saving cause.

Surf the Web, Save the Planet

First up, Friends Green. This Google replacement allows you to run a search using Google technology. The bonus? For every search you run through their site, they make a donation to saving the rainforest. There aren’t a ton of features, like with Google, but if you know “Search engine speak”, you should still be able to find everything you need. Including a piece of pristine rainforest when you need one.

Next, email. Planet Save has been providing planet-friendly email accounts for years. Their service is reliable and fast, and every time you send an email, they donate to a worthy cause. Their site is also a storehouse for environmental news and activism opportunities.

Want to donate to someone in need? Here are four sites that let you do it (for free!) with the click of a button. Visit each often, or if you use iGoogle, get a widget that places all four links together for easy access here: Add to Google. Poverty Fighters even lets you count clicks toward your college alma mater, keeping tabs on the most philanthropic school out there.

Hunger Site
Hunger Fighters
Por Los Chicos
Poverty Fighters

Finally, when trying to cut down on your carbon consumption, it can be hard to tell when you’re making progress. Enter The Carbon Diet. This site lets you create a profile and enter your daily carbon expenses, based on the carbon “accounts” you set up (these are the sources of your carbon emissions). It will then make a nice “diet chart” for you, showing your progress. You can even compete with your friends to see who makes the biggest cuts. Kind of like Weight Watchers for greenies.

So next time you think, I’m too _______ to do anything right now, you can jump online, make a quick contribution to the greater good, and get back to your excuses.

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: