Little Victories

Jul 22 2014 • Posted by

Weeds! Those feisty little green devils keep popping up in my garden. Here I am trying to be sustainable and grow my own veggies and these little plants keep popping up to ruin my day. I can’t complain, though. Sure, my garden had a bit of a rocky start. For the first week after planting, a gopher taking up residence under my neighbor’s shed snuck out every night to nibble on my basil. But my plants are growing, I haven’t had any issues with bugs or fungus, and I’ve even noticed a few little tomatoes developing! Yay!

In other news, this past week brought a personal victory. I finally did it. I convinced my mother to use reusable bags when she grocery shops. Yes, even my mother, who drives an SUV, insists on forsaking the piles of reusable bottles collecting in our cabinets and the perfectly good filtration system on our refrigerator in favor of plastic bottles, and thinks that a house isn’t clean until it’s full of chemicals has taken a step to be more sustainable. There is hope, my friends. There is hope.

Until next week, blog readers.

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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.

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Every Lead Counts: A Reflection on the Success of the SouthCoast Energy Challenge

Jul 16 2014 • Posted by

On the 4th of July, I tabled for the Southcoast Energy Challenge at the Charles Morgan Event in New Bedford. In light of what was forecasted as an impending hurricane, many New Bedford residents had opted to stay indoors, and in any case, the event was pretty empty. For the first few hours I stood with my clipboard, bored with inactivity and grumpy because I wasn’t getting any signups. But then I realized something. Whenever we attend another event, we always end up with at least one more signup, which translates into one more person taking energy saving actions. All we have to do to get someone else on board with environmental initiatives is go to another event. Without overwhelming interest it wasn’t always obvious, but in the world of non-profits, we’re successful.

So what makes our program so effective? As anyone who has worked in an environmental-related field can attest, it’s difficult to get people to care about the inherent value of the natural world. People are moved by nothing more than they are by self-interest and short-term consequence. The crucial point to remember is that everything we do to the environment eventually comes back around to us. Through provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services we are either directly or indirectly connected to every ecosystem on Earth. When we translate environmental issues into terms of human benefit, especially when those terms are specific, getting people to care is a whole lot easier. This is what we do as purveyors and advocates of the Southcoast Energy Challenge, and it is what makes the program so great.

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Let’s Be Real-ly Sustainable

Jul 10 2014 • Posted by

One night, a few years ago, I rode home from Boston with my dad. As we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 24, we passed the time, as usual, by debating ideas and discussing things that bothered us. I was studying environmental policy at Boston University at the time, and when we landed on the subject of my classes I mentioned to him how I felt that my chosen career path seemed futile because it felt like I was working toward an outcome that, at best, meant delaying the inevitable. This fear had arisen from the realization that what we deem lasting or durable enough to call “sustainable” cannot be sustained indefinitely and until we raise the standard for sustainability, our actions will never be enough.

We live in a world where virtually everything is made out of plastic or some other non-biodegradable material. Sure, there’s recycling, but not everything can be recycled. Think you’re helping the planet by recycling those plastic water bottles? Think again. The caps can’t be recycled. They go straight to the landfill along with many other products you may think you are recycling but are really only sending to the recycling plant to be thrown away, including juice boxes, pizza boxes, and wire hangers. Then, even when we can recycle or reuse things, they are still thrown out eventually or not actually recycled. A water bottle can only be sent through so many cycles before someone throws it away. Plastic bags may be used to carry a lunch or line a small trash can, but this only means gaining one or two more uses at most before the bags are thrown away. Unwanted computers and other electronics are often sent off to be recycled, only to be exported to landfills in third-world countries1. “Non-disposable” or “reusable” products and other things meant to last are overlooked by many environmental activists because they are not purchased with intention of disposal in mind, but these products will degrade and be thrown away just like all of the disposable products we would have used otherwise. Everything degrades eventually and everything must, at some point, be replaced. What does this mean? Everything eventually ends up in a landfill, somewhere. If the things we make, consume, and discard are non-biodegradable (meaning they take hundreds or thousands of years to degrade) or if they are made of toxic chemicals that can be released as a product degrades, we are in serious trouble.

If we really want to make change, we need to revamp the entire system. We need a technological revolution in which we switch to biodegradable and natural materials for our products and packaging. Yes, this means eliminating plastics entirely. Unfortunately the legislation necessary to make this possible is very unlikely to happen. Businesses find plastics favorable because they satisfy the desire for short-term profit and degrade quickly enough to maintain a rapid cycle of obsolescence, and our government is tied to puppet strings held by large corporations. I don’t mean to be depressing. I mean to be realistic. Some might argue that delaying environmental catastrophe is better than allowing it to come faster. I don’t know about you, but if it’s going to happen anyway I’d rather not spend my life working so hard to fight it. I’d like to prevent environmental damage entirely and help to create a culture that is truly sustainable. This is only possible if we get serious, change our ways of thinking, and make the logical choices, however difficult they may seem.

 

An interesting article about where our old technology ends up:  http://www.ban.org/library/AwayIsAPlaceEssayFINAL.pdf

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Energy and Environmental Myths, Misconceptions, and Controversies – Nuclear Part 2

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

Last week, if you forgot (and you probably did, let’s be honest), we talked about how nuclear energy works.  Yanno, nuclear fission and all that.  Hopefully you retained at least 25% of that information, because we’re now going to talk about the various pros and cons of nuclear power and why it is such a controversy.

What makes nuclear power interesting is that, unlike many other energy types, the opposing sides can’t be described as “environmentalist” and “non-environmentalist”.  Unlike, say, coal, which environmentalists oppose and non-environmentalists support, or wind power, which environmentalists support and non-environmentalists oppose, nuclear power is supported and opposed by both environmentalists and non-environmentalists.  The reason for this is simple – many people cannot decided whether or not nuclear power is environmentally friendly or not.

Basically, nuclear power just works -different- than most other kinds of energy.  One major benefit of it is that its carbon emissions are much lower than that of many other types of energy production, such as coal.  Theoretically, a perfectly run nuclear power plant would be a much cleaner alternative to other widely used types of energy production plants.  The main problem is what happens when a nuclear power plant -doesn’t- work perfectly.  Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of radioactive waste which, if not disposed of properly, can cause serious health and environmental issues.  If the nuclear power plant itself becomes damaged (such as with Chernobyl), then it can cause the surrounding area to become dangerously radioactive for miles.

A perfectly run nuclear power plant will have very few issues or drawbacks.  Radioactive waste can be disposed of and stored safely (and sometimes even reused), and carbon emissions can be kept very low.  The problem is that mistakes and accidents can happen.  Modern nuclear power plants have a lot of safety measures that pretty much negate the chance of a nuclear meltdown from human error, but there is little people can do to protect a plant from things like natural disasters or terrorist attacks.  Nuclear power is high-risk, high-reward.  It all comes down to whether or not people are willing to take that risk.

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Not Another Plastic Bag!

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

My sustainability goal has been to reduce the amount of plastic bags I use. I had my plan all laid out in my head. I had my goal, I had my reusable bags, and I was ready to go. I went to the super market yesterday, got my groceries, and the second I got to the checkout a sense of panic instantly crawled in to my head. I planned so well so that I could practice my sustainability goal and then when it came down to it I had failed. I had forgotten all my reusable bags and I was already halfway through the register. I realized that part of the process of becoming a more sustainable person was getting over old habits. I have already placed my reusable bags in my car so that the next time I go shopping I know that I am prepared. I still plan on succeeding at my goal by the end of the summer.  All I need to do now is be more aware before I go shopping and I think that forgetting last time will actually help me remember for the long run.

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Water’ya Waitin’ For? Drink From the Tap!

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

Our little blue planet gets its colorful description from the huge bodies of water that collectively cover over 70% of the world’s surface. Water is almost everywhere on Earth – even inside of you - about 54% of an average human’s body weight is attributed to water. In fact, life as we know it simply could not exist without water. This wonder-molecule is made up of a single Oxygen atom covalently bonded to two Hydrogen atoms. The way these atoms interact with each other gives way to water’s unique polar geometry. This polarity is why it’s so special – water’s shape makes it a universal solvent – allowing life’s basic components (DNA, proteins, etc) to have a place in which they can exist and interact.

So what’s the big deal? Well, a United Nations report published in 2008 revealed that approximately one billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. This shocking statistic is humbling, and it makes me realize how grateful I should be to have access to clean drinking water. Many Americans take for granted the luxury of being able to turn on a faucet and quench their thirst. Many claim they “don’t like the taste” of tap water, but is this honestly a concern when 1 in 7 individuals would be thankful to have access to that same faucet water? I don’t think so, and so as part as my sustainability goal I aim to significantly reduce my use of bottled water. I’ve been a slave to bottled water for too long, and I’ve just now come to understand that the plastic that I’m wasting by consuming bottles of water is not at all necessary. So, for the 1 in 7, and for the sake of environmental sustainability, I went out and a got a hip new reusable water bottle. I’m super excited to break it in and to finally end my addiction to bottled water by making use of the clean faucet water available almost anywhere in Massachusetts!

Mike Salhany

 

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Disgusted with my Food

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

After reading ‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain back to Iraq and watching the film King Corn I was deeply shocked and started becoming more intrigued about the food we eat. I thought King Corn was a more though provoking movie as it made me question more about the food I eat every day. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it is a about two friends who decide to grow an acre of corn after discovering that their bodies, and most Americans, have traces of corn in their bodies after a hair analysis. They then learn all about the history of corn and trace what happens to the corn they grow after it leaves their field and learn that most corn either is turned into corn syrup or becomes animal feed. It really awakens you to how processed some of our food can be.
It really makes you start thinking about what you are putting in your body; for example the bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats I ate this morning or the Snapple I’m currently drinking, both contain High Fructose Corn Syrup and I am slightly disgusted with myself when I think about where it came from and how it was made. The awful impact it had on the environment to grow that corn, process it, and turn it into food, makes me enjoy it so much less when I didn’t know anything about it. All the fertilizers and chemicals that are used to make crops grow faster and bigger usually end up polluting other areas of land through water runoff, cross pollinations, and many other ways.

In ‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain back to Iraq Richard Manning says, “ The Mississippi River’s heavily fertilized effluvia has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey”. The state of New Jersey is roughly 9,000 square miles, which just means that there is a large area that is no longer inhabitable by living things and it’s all because of the chemicals we are putting in the ground. It’s even worse to think that almost every product in a normal grocery store is derived from either corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup or from corn based animal feed; both of which are two of the main leading contributors of the obesity epidemic in America.
Now when I eat food, I’m going to start thinking about all the energy that was used in getting it from soil to my plate. I will probably start buying more local and organic fruits and veggies because I don’t even want to think about all the harmful chemicals I have already ingested from the twenty years of eating mass produced food. Hopefully other people start realizing that what they eat has a significant impact on the environment.

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“Crude Awakening”

Jun 26 2014 • Posted by

For the past week while I’ve been away I unfortunately haven’t had the chance to work on my sustainability goal. However, I did watch an episode of HBO’s show Vice titled “Crude Awakening”. Although it may not directly relate to sustainability, it does go further into detail about the fuel crisis we are currently facing. It is about the BP spill back in 2010, and the effects it has had on people’s health in the area where the spill has washed ashore. I personally hadn’t known about any of this news and I found it both informative and alarming. Oil spills are notorious for the various catastrophic problems they cause, namely the damage caused to the environment and wildlife. It is just now being reported that it is also causing serious health problems for humans as well. The whole segment made it even more apparent just how harmful the cultivation and use of fossil fuels is, and how both cutting back and the discovery of a safer alternative are becoming more and more necessary.

The segment included many disturbing case studies and statistics. For example, people who volunteered to help with the clean up were contacted and interviewed. Without fail, every single volunteer reported that they suffered from respiratory and other health problems that they would consider to seriously hinder their daily lives. This is due to a chemical dispersant called Corexit, which is 52 times more toxic than oil and has caused respiratory problems, central-nervous issues, and rashes for local residents and volunteers. The chemicals used to clean up the oil caused the oil itself to become even more toxic. Children appear to be particularly susceptible and even become scarred from the rashes they suffer from. Even 4 years later, oil still washes ashore and continues to contaminate the surrounding environment and make people sick. Additionally, the seafood from that same area are also heavily contaminated. Not only is it unsafe to eat, but the animals themselves have a very high rate of deformities.

This show was able to illustrate just how serious the lasting effects of the BP oil spill are. The oil crisis has so many elements to it, and the number of issues only continues to grow. Other news stations haven’t reported on this subject whatsoever, and I feel it is yet another fact that the public should educate themselves about.

I found a link on youtube and encourage you all to check it out!

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Green: More Than Just My Favorite Color

Jun 26 2014 • Posted by

I’m not usually one to choose favorites. I have a few favorite things, like my favorite day of the week (Friday), my favorite season (Summer), and my favorite baseball team (the Red Sox). Any sane person probably shares these favorite things with me, however I do have a favorite that isn’t so obvious and slightly sets me apart: My favorite color is green!

Favorite colors exhibit individuality – the color spectrum is so mysterious and beautiful that choosing just one is like choosing a single piece of candy in a whole candy store. It’s a tough decision, and though orange and blue will always have a special place in my heart, there’s so much to green that just speaks to me on a personal level.

I look outside and see green all around me – the plants and trees breathe with life and glow a brilliant green, reflected by the sunlight and distinguished by thousands of respective shades. Nature is beautiful. Nature is our home and composes the precious framework that secures our prosperity as humankind. It is logical and imperative that we protect our home, as it won’t be very forgiving once it’s too late.

“Going Green” is more than just a catchy tagline. Going Green envelops the philosophy of sustainability by encouraging individuals to become mindful of their carbon footprint and to adapt to a lifestyle of environmental awareness. Before I “woke up” and made the decision to Go Green, I found tasks such as recycling and conscious consumerism to be trivial and inconvenient. The reality is that true inconvenience exists in a world where human greed and lack of action lead to the destruction of our only home.

While I stop to admire the allure of the green trees, their essence whispers back with a message of hope and optimism. It is not yet too late to control pollution and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is not yet too late to wake up and prioritize the future over the present, and to live in a world where mankind and nature exist in balance and harmony. It will never be too late to start protecting our home. So join me and millions of others – Go Green, take the Challenge, and together we can help ensure a better world for all, for goodness sake! Let’s save the planet!

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