Whales Are Incredible.

Aug 08 2014 • Posted by

Maybe I’m biased because I grew up near New Bedford, but the answer of whales comes easily if you ask me about my favorite mammal. Whether it’s their size or their song, I can’t quite put my finger on what is so awesome about them. As a result, it was upsetting to read about how new shipping lanes off of the California coast are threatening the habitat of Pacific Blue Whales. Blue whales are the largest existing animals that have ever existed, but ironically, their diet is solely composed of microscopic organisms called krill. There are certain areas and seasons where the krill catch is best, and since krill is so essential, the endangered blue whale relies on these locations to maintain their health and wellness. However, as I mentioned before, a new study has been published showing that shipping lanes near San Francisco and Santa Barbara ‘bisect major feeding grounds’ for the animals. These routes increase the probability that whales might be struck by gigantic shipping vessels, injuring or killing them. In addition, the noise pollution underwater creates major challenges for the whales, who primarily communicate via “songs” to each other. These “songs” may be a major part of courtship rituals, and, well, the population of endangered whales, no matter their species, can never recover unless there is some magic in the whale mating department.

However, there are some solutions to the problem. Whales are migratory creatures, and as a result, shipping lanes could be modified during the summer and fall, when the density of krill is highest in these areas. Another potential fix is imposing speed limits during these seasons to make it easier for whales to move away from ship’s paths. Furthermore, innovations in sonar technology might make it easier for ships to steer around pods of whales. Solutions like these have already been implemented on the East Coast as a result of similar problems involving the North Atlantic Right Whale, whose low numbers have made an slightly encouraging, though slow, rebound in the past years. I find it very distressing that our ever-increasing need for STUFF (the primary reason for these shipping lanes from Asia to the coasts of the Americas is to transport goods created across the Pacific) was the reason for the whale population’s original decline, and now our population is not doing what it can to assuage the damage wreaked by over-whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries. A blue whale’s heart is the size of a small car, and it pains me to think that an evolutionary miracle such as this one could be interrupted.

I will be blogging about whales again next week. In the meantime, here are some links for more reading/watching about the creatures of the deep.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/29/science/shipping-lanes-threaten-pacific-blue-whales.html?ref=science&_r=0

Whale, see you later!

Gabi

PS- That whale was a pun about well.

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What the Frack?!

Aug 06 2014 • Posted by

What is fracking? Why all the fuss? Is it really that bad?

Fracking stands for hydraulic fracturing, which is process used to extract natural gas sealed deep beneath the Earth. Natural gas is a methane-based fossil fuel formed millions of years ago from the remains of dead plants and animals. Natural gas, similar to other fuels such as coal and petroleum, is a nonrenewable resource. Hydraulic fracturing involves sending a highly pressurized liquid deep into the Earth’s core to crack open rocks, exposing trapped natural gas for extraction. The liquid formation used to fracture the rocks is composed of water, sand, and an array of chemicals. This combination ensures the efficient release of natural gas from the rocks harboring this carbon fuel. Fracking is considered beneficial because it grants access to previously unreachable havens of fossil fuel. It allows us to power our daily lives through the heaps of electricity generated by the procedure.

However, not everyone is so giddy about fracking. Scientists are warning that the dangers of fracking may outweigh the benefits. For example, a small percentage (1-8%) of the methane fuel produced by fracking is leaked back into the environment. This only speeds up the process of the greenhouse effect, and disregards environmental sustainability. Another issue fracking invokes is its harm to water — particularly to water consumption. According to multiple reports, fracking uses 3-8 million gallons of water per well.

Water contamination and air pollution are other unintentional byproducts of the fracking process, leading to reports of negative health effects. Fracking contaminates otherwise clean drinking water, and the chemicals involved in the liquid mixture have been reported as carcinogenic. As if it couldn’t get much worse, researchers and geoscientists have also found hydraulic fracturing to be responsible for seismic earthquakes.

It appears as though the benefits of fracking don’t match up against its negative components. Fracking should be a harrowing reminder that renewable and clean energy resources such as solar and wind power are a necessary alternative as we continue to hurt the environment more and more to maintain our over-the-top energy consumption. As time goes on, we’ll learn more about this shady method of fuel extraction and hopefully mandate safe-practice laws to ensure that fracking is performed with health, safety, and the environment in mind.

Mike Salhany

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Solar Powered Water Wheel Cleaning the Ocean

Aug 01 2014 • Posted by

While browsing Facebook, I happened upon a really interesting article about a solar powered water wheel that cleans the plastic from the ocean. It turned out to be a fascinating read.

Only .1% of plastic produced each year ends up in the ocean, which doesn’t sound like a lot, right? Well, when you realize that we produce about 300 million tons of plastic each year, you understand how polluted our oceans can be. There are about 1 billion tons of plastic in the ocean currently which is a huge problem to the environment. The plastic detrius is harmful to all the animals and plants that inhabit our oceans.

However, the City of Baltimore has a solution. The Healthy Harbor program  revealed the Water Wheel to help clean up the debris inside the Baltimore harbor.The Water Wheel pulls floating garbage out of the water onto a conveyer belt, which deposits it into a dumpster barge, thus preventing the trash form ending up in the ocean. To make things even more environmentally friendly, the wheel is powered by both the current and solar panels. In about two months of operation, it has collected around 50 tons of garbage from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, most notably a tire in recent months. Not only is it helping the environment, it’s also a really cool idea, and an example of how fantastic innovation can be. I was amazed at how much trash was collected, especially in light of the statistic I mentioned earlier.

If you want to learn more about it, here’s a video of the Water Wheel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5l7s6wC50g, and here is its Twitter feed https://twitter.com/mrtrashwheel

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Going Solar Like a Pro

Jul 31 2014 • Posted by

Solar power, the increasingly popular form of energy , just converts sunlight into electricity either by panels or indirectly though another source.

Solar comes mostly in the form of solar panels that people can put either on their roofs or in their yard. The solar panels are photovoltaic, meaning that they convert solar radiation into direct current electricity. The number of solar panels that can go onto a roof depends on how much a household pays its energy bills, how old the roof is, and how much budget the household manages. These days, I think solar power’s a great option, and interest is high. I’m always amazed and excited about how many solar leads that we get each week.

Solar panels are just one form of having solar. On Tuesday’s team meeting, we made solar phone chargers, following a video from a guy that has built one of chargers before. Now, to build a solar phone charger, one needs an Altoids tin or some other tin can, a 4V solar panel, batteries, soldering iron, wires, and a special USB port. However, besides this, it is definitely a process. I learned some electrical skills that could come in handy for the future. Even thoughI didn’t do it, I would say that the hardest part is the soldering. Just watching Aaron and Eli solder the wires to the positive and negative side of the panel seemed difficult or frustrating, but its awesome when the light comes on and you can use solar power on a smaller scale! When I pick up my own solar phone charger, it will work and I can save a bit of energy by using it. If you want to make your own, you can always find videos on Youtube using simple parts from around the house or buy a kit on amazon. Get one because they are awesome!

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Hope for America’s Future

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

It’s unfortunate to see that today, Americans (well some) seem to only care about themselves and not about others. They are disintegrating that community that they talk about back in the so called “good old days” by not talking to their neighbors, or lending a helping hand to someone who is not as privileged and successful as one is in life. Fortunately though, I saw a glimmer of hope for America’s future to protect our communities at an event that I was working at yesterday.

This event was called the Onset Summer Music Series at 1 Union Avenue, Onset, MA 02558. I mean, tons of people from different socioeconomic classes came to this event- it is not just an event exclusive for the rich, the middle class, the poor or people that just lived in Massachusetts; everyone from all stretches of life can come to this event. In fact, one person was from Tennessee while another person that I talked to was from Westwood which is located near Boston. It’s pretty awesome talking to people from other places in the United States or even around the world instead of just talking to people whom live around you (I mean don’t get me wrong, it is cool to talk to people around you but as not as more cool to meet someone from a place like Tennessee). But anyways, it was nice to see everyone having a good time-sitting back, listening to the music and even dancing to it. The next group that will play at Onset will be on Wednesday, July 30th from 6:30pm-9:30 and will occur every Wednesday from 6:30pm-9:30pm with different bands until August 26th. It is a great event to bring your friends too or the whole family to just sit back, relax your mind from a long day of work, and to just listen to the music and talk to people from around the Commonwealth or even from different parts of the United States. But more importantly, this is just one of the many great events that a group of people in the South Coast hold in order to mold our community together. Speaking for my generation, I really do appreciate that a lot as I too care about my community and making it a better one for my peers and for future generations to come.

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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.

http://www.cbn.com/700club/features/churchhistory/madeinisrael/EZ27_Made_In_Israel_Environment.aspx

http://www.israel21c.org/environment/israel-builds-its-first-eco-friendly-town/

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German Solar

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

At one of the events I worked at this week I learned an interesting fact from a wonderful environmentally friendly citizen, who also signed up with us. He talked about how Germany is one of the leading producers of alternative energy, especially in solar. Him and his wife visited their a couple years ago and said when they drove on the Autobahn that there were miles and miles of solar energy farms. In fact nearly every house that met the right conditions, southish facing and unshaded, had solar panels on either their roof or yard. And apparently the United States and Germany are also on the exact same longitude or really close to the same longitude, but Germany more than doubles our solar energy output in megawatts at the end of 2013. This really intrigued me, so I decided to do some research later that day.
Germany has been the world’s top solar installer for several years with about 1.4 million PV systems all over the country which accounts for about 7% of their total electric generation. In addition to other alternative energy sources, Germany’s share of renewable energy is about 31%, well on their way to reaching their government goal of 35% by the end of 2020. And a good start to achieve their goal of 100 percent of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2050. Their solar energy production is continuously growing and they have even been starting to export some of their energy to neighboring countries. Meanwhile America is just starting to get more serious in producing solar energy. Last year the US installed 4,751 Megawatts of new PV capacity, the largest amount in one year in American history, and is continuing to grow at an increasing pace. If we continue to move towards more solar energy production and other alternative energy sources, our energy will be cleaner and safer.

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SUSTAINability

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

Everyone seems to be obsessed with commitment. Commitment in jobs, relationships, going to the gym: finding that internal grit is a prize package, and a common complaint I hear about my generation is that we don’t have enough of it. However, I find it odd that in a society that values maintaining a practice for the long term, we are unable to get together to pass legislation regarding the mitigation of global climate change.

I understand that it’s scary to talk about climate change. It’s terrifying to imagine that the existence of our species, and the things that make us comfortable are taking such a toll on our habitat, the place we call home. However, it’s mind-boggling that some of our senators and representatives continue to believe climate change is a “left-wing liberal fringe” issue, when every major scientific study has shown that a) it is a real phenomena and b) the effects will be catastrophic for our children, and our children’s children. These elected officials will not go up to bat against the lobbyists and gigantic checks of Big Oil and Big Agriculture, generally because they require their money to stay in office. The fundraising cycle in Washington is virtually endless, and as someone who now has a lot of experience about what it’s like to consistently be asking for something, I can almost understand their dilemma. Almost.

The years continue to go by, and while it’s too late now to stop some of global warming’s effects like sea level rise, we still have the opportunity to put a framework in place to SUSTAIN the health of our planet, and make sure that we are able to keep taking advantage of the miracle of human consciousness in collaboration and admiration of nature. It’s unpopular to think long term, but we have to start now.

On a more personal note, I have been staying off of the disposable coffee mugs and even all disposable drink containers. At a recent Bay Sox game, I asked the drink vendor just to fill my bottle in the sink, and he was happy to oblige. However, I am sad to report the breakage of my trusty ceramic mug. I will try to glue it back together, but it just might not be the same. More on this dilemma next week, and hopefully a more uplifting blog entry!

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The Bike! A Reflection on Last Week + Some Additional Maundering

Jul 22 2014 • Posted by

It fell to me this week to be a manager of the Energy Challenge’s Energy Bike. The Bike was donated by a science teacher, and when pedaled enough, it produces enough power to light up four CFL bulbs. While I wouldn’t say the bike is the easiest prop the Challenge uses, the effort is all is worth it when people’s faces light up (see what I did there? Puns, friends) when they realize that their energies were translated into electricity, just by pedaling a bike.  Some common questions I received this weekend were whether we were selling it, could it be hooked up to a TV or video games, and other suggestions along this line. Although the power generated by the bike is honestly quite menial, the idea brings solutions in an age where people (myself included) struggle to get exercise and use tons of electricity.

Let me pan out. In the age of convenience, I think it is rare for people to actually consider what energy is used to create their electricity, and where it’s from. Is it an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico? Is it a product of mountaintop removal in Appalachia?  Maybe it’s a solar farm based on the top of a closed landfill. I often think of this mindset when contemplating the Not In My Backyard attitude. NIMBites (or NIMBans) are generally against wind farms because, stereotypically, they do not like the way a surfeit of wind turbines look on their horizon, or otherwise scenic views. In response to this, I would comment on two sentiments.

The first: I believe that money should not be able to buy the privilege of not caring about where energy comes from, because energy is something that everyone on the planet needs and uses. One shouldn’t be able to purchase a view that everyone shares, an unpopular sentiment in my coastal town. The beach is fantastic, and I love appreciating the raw beauty of nature, but until technology is developed that allows the same amount of clean energy output, everyone must pitch in, rich or poor, whether your house borders a landfill or Nantucket Sound. The second point expands on the previous thought. My step-father says that he feels more American when he passes the wind turbines that power my town’s wastewater treatment plant and dump. At first, I thought this comment was ridiculous. Similarly to my friends, I’m not crazy about uber-patriotism. Quite honestly, I feel awkward sometimes about facing the flag and putting my hand on my heart during the National Anthem, and I find Stephen Colbert’s nationalism-on-steroids attitude hilarious. However, I thought about what my stepfather said, and it is really more, dare I say it, profound, than upon first hearing.  I’m thinking he feels American because wind turbines, and by extension renewable energy, is the way of the future. The wind turbine is an example of innovation: a technique that’s been in use for ages (remember Don Quixote?) with a twist of modernity.  What I think the United States is all about, and what makes this country truly great, is the ability of the people within it to come together for the common good. Our democracy may be dysfunctional, but I trust it. As a result of this tradition of collaboration and connection, it’s American to all do our part in the battle against climate change, a dependance on foreign energy sources, and our instinctive nature to desire “more”.

A TV show I’ve been watching posits that America is no longer the greatest country in the world, and I believe that’s true. However, I do know that we have the potential to be. I want to be part of the change. I would love to hear your thoughts about what I’ve written about this week.

Until next week!

Gabi

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Wheaton College Green Club

Jul 22 2014 • Posted by

Ever since my freshman year at Wheaton College, I have been a part of a club called SEGA, which stands for Students Engaged in Green Activism. Our goal is to promote energy awareness as well as get students to recognize green initiatives on campus. For the first year, we were a very small club with just four members, including me, having weekly meetings and promoting who we are to the entire campus.

But recently, our membership increased to seven members. As a result of that jump, we created big projects present and future that could definitely make an impact to the campus. The first project we started was a recycling program with an organization called Terracycle whose job is to recycle unconventional objects like shampoo bottles, mouthwash, deodorants, toothpaste, and others and then they give points to an organization, in this case, ours. To get the entire campus involved, we set up boxes in some of the dorms with a list of items and were honestly very skeptical about the result. However, over the year, the student body really got involved and we were able to send a couple boxes to Terracycle. We earned 4,000 points in total, so we could donate those points to a charity of our choice, but we haven’t decided what to do with them yet. This is a successful program and we can’t wait to continue it next year.

For the future, we may build a miniature version of wind turbine to power one building on campus to show the campus that we are completely invested in green energy and that they should do the same. This may become a project for next year and we have the help of the physics professor to build this. So, I have high hopes for next year and the future of this club for green activism. You can check us out on Facebook under Wheaton SEGA to see all we have done. https://www.facebook.com/wheatonsega?ref_type=bookmark

 

 

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