Why We Should Worry About the State of Our Water

Aug 11 2014 • Posted by

The world is running out of clean water. We now live in a country where every water body is degraded in quality to some extent. Before water quality standards were written into law, companies freely dumped their effluent waste into local water bodies. The pollution of such water bodies has not been entirely undone, even when attempts to clean them have been made. For example, between 1947 and 1977, General Electric dumped at least 1.3 million pounds of PCB’s into New York’s Hudson River. When the Hudson’s water quality came into question, GE spent millions on donations, lobbyists, scientists, and lawyers, all to avoid taking responsibility (especially after the Hudson was declared a Superfund site in 2002). The company’s biggest fear was that if they were forced to take responsibility for pollution (and therefore remediation) of the Hudson, then they could be forced to take responsibility for other sites that they contaminated*. This would be unfavorable because the requisite equipment and time lost to remediation would cost them additional money.

Since the early 2000’s, GE has been forced to clean the PCB’s from the Hudson, but they do not have to bring the river back to the quality it was in before they arrived. This is problematic for numerous reasons. For one, even if small traces of PCB’s remain, there is still risk to human health. Even in small doses, any toxin can be detrimental to human health if people are exposed frequently enough. More important however, is the fact that PCB’s bioaccumulate in living tissue, meaning that they increase in concentration with each succession of the food chain. This implies that even if all of the PCB’s were to be removed from the sediment in and around the Hudson River, PCB’s will remain in the tissue of local organisms for several years, magnify with each link in the food chain, and eventually reach humans in high concentrations.

For a lot of people, a notice of polluted water spurs an immediate trip to the supermarket to purchase bottled water, yet bottled water is almost always the same quality as local tap water. In many cases, bottled water is tap water. Companies like Poland Spring, which use illustrations of mountain streams to give the impression that their water comes from somewhere pristine and untouched actually draw their water from urban places. Sometimes the water coming out of the faucet is even cleaner than the water on the supermarket shelves! Instead of searching for alternatives, we should demand cleaner water standards. Our government is business-oriented as a result of the way our economy functions. It is a fact that is reflected in the tendency our nation has to be lenient toward even the worst polluters. We have allowed companies like General Electric to weasel their way out of taking responsibility for polluting our water bodies and our land, often times causing record cases of disease in local towns. We should be demanding more from our businesses. In many ways, businesses rely on the satisfaction of the consumer. This is power in our hands, which we can use to demand what should be our basic right. Unless your tap is certifiably contaminated, don’t buy bottled water. Instead, hold polluters and politicians accountable.


*Information about General Electric’s contamination of the Hudson was taken from The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century by Alex Prud’Homme. This is a very informative book and is a great book to read if you are interested in issues surrounding water.


View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

Stability in Israel (environmental stability that is)

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

This past week I was fortunate enough to take a trip to the Middle East, more specifically Israel. In a time of tension, I was able to truly see the country in all its glory. I went to the holiest city in the world, Jerusalem and swam in the lake up north. I floated in the Dead Sea and slept in a Bedouin tent. However as an Intern at the South Coast Energy Challenge, I found myself looking at Israel’s environmental sustainability and I was impressed. The first environmentally friendly object that I saw was solar panels everywhere. I saw solar panels on houses, schools and buildings. After experiencing the hot sun I understood why it was everywhere. I also saw windmills in certain areas, turning and making clean energy. The last thing I noticed were giant recycling cages all over Israel filled with plastic ready to be recycled. These cages were in public places and I saw multiple times people throwing bottles and other recyclable goods in the cages. Upon further research I found that Israel was more environmentally friendly then I thought it was.

After researching a little on Israel’s green goals I found out that they are in fact in the coming year will be creating a special green town. The Mt. Gilboa town of Nurit will be Israel’s first green town. This means it’s power will be fully run off of windmills and solar PV units while also planting trees to naturally cool the area. Another astonishing fact is that Ninety percent of Israeli homes have a solar water heater and the company, Arava Power, will have 10 solar fields up and running by the end of 2016. Other inventions like the battery powered car and the cardboard bike was though of in Israel. The fact is that Israel is aware of environmental problem and even as a very small country they are trying to make a difference in the world.



View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

Benefits of Cold Showers

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

I have a friend who swears by cold showers — he takes them in the morning and claims that he feels refreshed and rejuvenated in a way that doesn’t compare to hot showers. The science adds up — taking cold showers causes your blood to flow more rapidly. During a cold shower, your body forces blood to circulate towards your organs to keep them heated. This can have a profound effect on mood and energy, which is something we all could use a boost in. Cold showers are also good for your skin — the cold water reduces the expansion of skin pores, which benefits your complexion by preventing foreign substances from entering your skin. I’m always tired in the mornings, but the shock-factor of the cold water can cause even the most lethargic sleepy-head to feel brand new after a quick cold shower. The health advantages add up, and the benefits don’t stop there.

Cold showers are good for the environment. The hot water we use to shower every day is an energy-hog, contributing to high utility costs and increased carbon emissions. One website I found claims that taking cold showers for an entire year would save you approximately $150 on your utility bill. Now, I know we all love our hot showers, which is absolutely fine. Hot showers are definitely a relaxation haven. However, I’ve been considering trying cold showers for a while now, and I’m beginning to feel that there’s an environmental incentive to give it a try. I’m excited to challenge myself to a week of cold showers. The energy savings won’t be substantial, but every bit counts. I’ll keep you updated next week as to how my experiment turned out. Wish me luck!

Mike Salhany


View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

Energy and Environmental Myths, Misconceptions, and Controversies – Solar Roadways Part 2

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

This might be a three part blog instead of a two part one. I’m way more hesitant than I should be about this subject. The thing is, a lot of the people in this program are REALLY enthusiastic about Solar Roadways, and I don’t want to be the biggest downer of all time without due cause.

The main issue with solar roadways is that, simply put, it is inefficient. I don’t mean to imply that solar energy itself is inefficient, just that solar roadways are an inefficient method of gathering solar energy. The most obvoius issue is the installation problems it prevents. how long would it take to replace a road with the solar panels that make up a solar roadway? More importantly, how much money would it cost? Tearing up every road in America, especially highways, would take an incredible amount of money and resources.

Of course, that problem could be easily ignored if, rather than replacing old roads with solar roadways, we simply use solar roadways for creating new roads. However, that does not solve every issue. Would it not be just as useful to build solar panels that could generate just as much energy somewhere else? The problem with roads is that they are very close to the ground, and often surrounded by trees and houses. Not exactly prime real-estate for solar panels. For the same amount of money it would take to make a solar road, one could easily make a solar farm that would generate far more energy.

I don’t mean to completely smash everyone’s dreams here. Solar roadways are, as a concept, a pretty decent idea. The issue is that it is just too expensive. Roadways and solar panels are two things that do not really need to be combined. If it cost just as muh to make a solar roadway as it did to make a regular roadway, then, of course, it would be an excellent idea. This may sound odd, but I do think it was a good decision to fund the prototype. There will definitely be niche situations where having solar panels that fucntion as roadways will be useful, and it’s a good technology to have for those situations. Plus, devlopents for making solar panels into roadways can be applied to other solar developments in the future, improving the technology as a whole. However, replacing all the roads in the country with solar panels is simply not all that plausible.

Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t get excited or keep up with its development. Just don’t set your expectations too high! Think of it as a fun experiment rather than the next big step in how we get our electricity.

If you disagree with me, please say so in the comments! I will probably not read them. I might, though. There’s always a chance.

View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

Week 6 Progress Update

Jul 22 2014 • Posted by

I haven’t had much of a chance to work on my sustainability goal this week because I’ve been super busy. I’m going to make a real effort next week to work on that. I thought I would take this time to update about my progress with the internship so far this summer. This week has been very busy for all of us, and we’ve had some awesome events to attend.

My first event was a little rough this week. It was the Fall River Farmer’s Market. It was raining and it was pretty small. Other vendors also didn’t show up because of the weather. People wanted to get out of the rain and really didn’t want to listen to my pitch. But things turned around in the middle of the week when I attended the Wareham Book Sale. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout. Most of the people who attended were senior citizens, so they weren’t in as much of a rush as most people at other events, which was nice. I even got a couple of the librarians to sign up. Since I was by myself it ended up being great practice for me. I was able to get 11 leads altogether, which really made up for my event earlier in the week. Then on Saturday Jen and I attended the Holistic Health and Wellness fair in Westport, and got to talk to a lot of cool people. Although there weren’t quite as many people as I expected, almost everyone we did speak to signed up. We were each able to get 7, most of which were solar leads since Westport doesn’t have NSTAR or National Grid. I got to practice my solar and solar hot water pitches quite a bit and feel a lot more confident about that. I found that people responded really well to the idea of solar water, since basically every homeowner is eligible and it’s so much less invasive than full blown solar. People were really open-minded and nice and we fit in well with the crowd.

Overall this has been a good week for me, and I’m sure for others as well. Next week has some great events to attend as well, and I’m excited and hope to keep up the good pace.

View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

Energy and Environmental Myths, Misconceptions, and Controversies – Solar Roadways Part 1

Jul 16 2014 • Posted by

Before we dive into the pros and cons of this (very) controversial new idea, let’s discuss what it is and who’s doing it.  That’ll buy me at least ONE week to sort out my arguments before I throw myself into the meat grinder of public opinion.

Solar Roadways are, basically, solar panels that can also be used as roads, as invented and invisioned by Scott and Julie Bursaw.  They are shaped like octogons, and only a foot or two in diameter.  They also contain LEDs which can be used to simulate lines typically painted on the road.   Parking lots and driveways could also be made in similar ways.  Though it would begin with the creation of new roads and parking lots, the creators of Solar Roadways hope to have all roads replaced with these panels.

They are made with a thick layer of tempered glass, made to support large amounts of weight (over 250,000 pounds), and so that they don’t become dangerous to motorists or passersby, should the glass break.  It is designed with traction in mind so that cars don’t slip on a rainy day.

That’s pretty much all there is to it!  There’s a lot of complicated science to it, but all you really need to know is that they are solar panels that are also used as roads, and they have to made and installed differently as a result.  This is kind of a short entry, but like I said – I want to get my story straight.  I still need to read arguments on both sides, find some in-depth articles about the cost and tech, etc.  Next week, friends.

View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

Week 5 Updates

Jul 16 2014 • Posted by

It’s been a busy few weeks for me, and I’d like to share my experiences so far.  I have been enjoying going to events and talking to all types of people. At first it was really nerve-wracking, but I’m starting to get past that. I’ve never been much of a salesperson, so I struggled with the idea of annoying and bothering people. However, after talking to enough people I have realized that I am not bothering them at all, and in fact I’m helping them out. When I changed my perspective, I noticed it became much easier to talk to people and to give my best pitch. Additionally, people have been nicer than I expected, even the ones who are uninterested, with the exception of a few of course. When I go to an event and meet a lot of friendly and open-minded people, I find a lot more meaning in my work and it’s empowering. My first couple events were very poorly attended so I felt discouraged at first, but I no longer feel that way. Although this past week has been slow in terms of events, last week was a great learning experience and I look forward to expanding upon that in the upcoming weeks.

My sustainability goal for the summer has not been going quite as well as I planned. The maintenance worker for my building said that they don’t have recycling bins because nobody used them in the past and he did not seem open to the idea at all. I could still talk to the landlord, but I haven’t gotten around to it. In the meantime, my recycling is really piling up and I need to look into some alternatives. As a result, an addition to my summer goal is that I want to find a place to take my recycling that is still convenient for me. However, I did get a dryer rack for my clothes! The washer/dryer costs $2.50 each so it’s great to not only save energy, but money as well.

My final update is about my Dad’s newly installed solar panels. He is very happy with them, and I’m going to his house tomorrow to check them out! He said everything has gone as planned and doesn’t foresee any issues in the future, although he is curious what I think of them. I’ll be sure to mention it in my next blog post!


View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

I Vote, I Count

Jul 03 2014 • Posted by

In the days of big-money politics, it seems easy to believe that one’s vote hardly matters anymore. Races are fought and won in early-primary and battleground states, and around 40% the country doesn’t partake anyway, so why bother? However, Richard Manning closes his article “The Oil We Eat” stating that he voted twice in 2002 elections, once the conventional way, and another way by hunting for wild elk to supply his family with meat for the year.

The choice to use wild elk meat counts as a vote in my mind, too. After watching the documentary film King Corn, and reading Manning’s article, I believe that by hunting for his own meat, the author is decreasing the demand for beef, chicken, and pork, and by extension, his desire for corn (the industrial meat complex relies on corn to feed their animals). Briefly, the American government has subsidized the production of meat and especially corn so much, ostensibly to meet the booming demand of the American people. This is an enormous industrial machine, and it is widely recognized that this policy of relative monoculture is a disaster. As a result, withdrawing your dollar, and thereby decreasing the demand from these products seems like a vote against bad agricultural policy. No one asked the layman about whether you’d like corn to be supported by massive government subsidies, right? On one hand, that’s the beauty of a representative democracy- we elect people who have expertise in various areas to be our leaders, and they think and make decisions for us. However, on the other, there seems to be minimal meaningful ways to make one’s dissenting voice meaningfully heard in relation to these policy choices.

This idea of “voting with your wallet” is not new to me, there’s a great guide out there called the Better World Shoppers Guide, which rates prominent products and companies on an A-F scale based on their environmental and social responsibilities. It’s graphic, easy to read, just like a school report card, and the size allows it to be tossed into your reusable bag with a wallet and keys.There’s a similar guide revealing corporation’s political contribution, where one can discern which companies support what in our government.

From the outside, I think it might seem like kind of a menial task to be a single person making a choice about where to buy things and when to abstain, but I believe the true power of voting with the dollar is found in the ripple effect. Chances are, at least some of one’s friends and family have the same political or moral values as yourself. When the action steps that one is taking are shared, it grows the power of the idea. Even just one friend taking up the same action, whether it be buying coffee from a fair trade company or skipping their weekly banana purchase, doubles the impact of the behavior one exhibits. There are so many ways to make change, and a well-rounded approach of a couple different change-making strategies  is the only way to truly see the change that we’d like to in the world. Voting with your dollar is a way of being the change.

View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

Our Greatest Flaw: A Response to Richard Manning’s ‘The Oil We Eat’

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

After reading Richard Manning’s article “‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain Back to Iraq”, what struck me most was Manning’s claim that the green revolution is the worst thing to happen to the planet. I will argue that the green revolution itself is not the worst, as it stems from a much deeper and more pervasive flaw: humanity’s tendency to defy nature. Especially in the United States, we build in deserts and pipe water from distance reservoirs to grow green lawns where lush grasses are not meant to grow. We create fertility in dry, nutrient-poor soil through the generous application of fertilizers, erect cities in floodplains, construct dams, drain entire lakes, divert streams, and create entirely new water bodies. The human race has long prided itself in its ability to bend nature to its will. This, I believe, is its greatest mistake.

It is time to stop testing the limits of our ability to defy nature. We know we can do it. We’ve already proven our ingenuity. The question is not whether or not we can, but whether or not we should. As unappealing as it may initially seem, it is time to work with nature instead of against it. After all, we are guests on this planet, and as guests we are obligated to maintain the health of the environment. But even if you don’t buy in to the inherent value of the natural world, there are cold, hard facts that point to the necessity for us in the United States to cut back. Manning writes that the return on investment for oil in 2004 was only 10 barrels of oil for every barrel invested, whereas it was 100 barrels for every barrel invested in the 1940’s. He also references Dave Pimental, a well-known energy expert, who says that the world would run out of oil in about seven years if the world population were to adopt the diet of the United States today. If what Manning and Pimental say are true, it is fragrantly clear that United States agriculture cannot continue on its current path, nor should our agricultural system be replicated elsewhere in the world.

Fortunately, finding our way back to nature doesn’t have to be difficult. We put much more effort into our agricultural system than is necessary. What surprises me the most is the amount of calories of fossil fuel energy we put into each calorie of food we produce. For example, Manning argues that it takes ten calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of processed food energy produced, thirty-five calories of fossil fuel energy to make a calorie of grain-fed beef, and sixty-eight calories of fossil fuel energy to make one calorie of grain-fed pork. By producing crops and raising livestock naturally, we would save effort, energy, money, water, and chemicals, as well as prevent environmental damage and public safety hazards caused by nutrient and chemical runoff and contamination. The biggest hurdle is our political system, which subsidizes the current agricultural system and promotes its expansion. However, taking action at the individual level can act as a crucial first step toward changing things on a greater scale. By making simple changes such as eating less processed food, eating in season, buying local, gardening at home, and choosing grass-fed meat, we can eat healthier foods for much less effort and environmental cost.

View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)

Saving The Community by Saving Money

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

Sustaining our environment is by far one of the most pressing issues that our generation must confront. In order to succeed at conquering all of the environmental issues that exist, society must combine our efforts as a whole and work together to help improve the environment through building community awareness.

While I was at the New Bedford downtown farmers market, I ran into Carlos Betancourt. He is a Home Base Self Sufficiency Coordinator for PACE in New Bedford. While talking with him we discussed ways in which New Bedford can become a more progressive community.

His main point was that we need to clean up the streets and get more people working so they can afford housing. This means that the town needs to become more creative with how they employ citizens and by helping people save money through modern practices. The South Coast Energy Challenge is an environmentally friendly organization that not only creates jobs but also helps create genuine change for people by teaching them how to make simple life choices through out their day.

To help people make better life choices I want to  bring no-cost Home Energy Assessments to people who normally couldn’t through our program. Many people we talk to out of New Bedford do not qualify for an HEA. I want to change this so that the people who really will benefit from us can take advantage of the opportunities we offer.

I my self currently live in an apartment complex that houses people who would benefit from an HEA. The first step I’m going to take is to talk with my landlord to see if he wants to go through Mass Save to give our apartment community HEAs. If he were to agree and Mass Save wanted to do it we could potentially save 5% off of 500 peoples energy bill just like that. People are capable of changing their lives, all they need is the right guidance, and awareness is the first step.




View comments or leave your own! (0 comments)