Tag Archives: pollution

Map of coal and oil-fired power plants in the United States

In 2010, coal-fired power plants represented 45% of the electricity generated in the United States and oil a smaller amount, 1%. Combined together they are the dominant air polluters and facing tough new restrictions from the EPA.

Unfortunately, they have a few years to clean-up and that doesn’t help if you live in one of the toxic twenty states. Visit the previous link to see how your state compares, or scan this map to see if any of the polluting power plants are close to you.

 

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Trees are virtual air conditioners that save millions in electricity, water, carbon

 

An article from The Atlantic focuses on the value of trees:

I was approached by someone from an initiative called San Diego County Trees…(a project) extolling the benefits of urban trees. I just spent time on the website, where the coolest feature is an interactive map of the whole county showing very specific tree locations and information, including quantified benefits…(like) carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved, and air pollutants reduced.

 

Wow! Look at that image…millions of dollars in savings, water conservation, improved air quality. That is impressive.

Some more facts include, “the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day,” and the energy savings of planting a tree on the sunny side of your house (3% after 5 years, 12% after 15 years).

I love trees.

SimCity 2013 – goes green with limited resources, pollution, and sustainable principles

Any computer gamer old enough to remember floppy disks probably paid at least a fleeting visit to SimCity, the legendary franchise that let players build — and destroy — the metropolises of their imaginations. After passing through half a dozen incarnations in the two decades since its debut, the game is back, and its creator, Maxis Studios, says that this time, it’s putting more than bricks and mortar into the mix.

Slated for release in 2013, the new SimCity invites players to grapple with tough choices about energy generation, environmental costs and the responsibilities shouldered by inhabitants of a planet with finite resources — choices faced by real policymakers on the very real planet Earth.

To the game’s original repertoire of fire stations and governor’s mansions, power lines and city budgets, Maxis is adding a cocktail of new challenges, including limited resources and the spillover effects of pollution.

more on the “green” design of the gameScientific American

 
The official trailer, which doesn’t contain any reference to the pollution or green aspects, just natural disasters:

 
// Thx to Nasry Al-Haddad

Our trash pollutes beaches around the world

A recent cleanup of trash on a scenic Mexican beach seemed to confirm what many there thought: Most of the plastic garbage comes from outside Mexico.

On Feb. 25, a cleanup collected more than 6 tons of trash and allowed participants to examine pieces for signs of where it came from.

The answer: all over. Cuba. Venezuela. Honduras. China. Brazil.The  United States. Haiti. Jamaica. The Netherlands. Pretty much everywhere but Mexico.

H. Bruce Rinker, an ecologist based in Maine, said he examined perhaps hundreds of pieces during the cleanup effort.

“I found only two pieces clearly with ‘Product of Mexico’ labels,” he said in an email.

via LA Times

Go local: an explanation of foodsheds

With all this talk about eating local and counting miles I thought it would be good to explain what it really means. The foundation for local eating starts with a foodshed.

Foodshed: a region or area from which a population draws its food.

The typical limit on these regions is 100 miles. Draw a 100-mile circle around where you live and that is your foodshed.

In economic terms this is ideal distance a farmer, or her goods, can travel to reach a market. That way it arrives on your plate as fresh, ripe, and nutritious as it can be.

Go outside of this limit and there is an increasing reliance on fossil fuels and a decreasing quality of the food.

For those concerned about pollution, global warming, or oil-addiction these “food miles” are a cause for concern. Farmers face similar concerns, albeit from the other side, with a rising cost of gas and oil-based fertilizers that narrow their profits.

Still for others the “go local” movement represents a desire to get the very best food they can find, and that is the fundamental reason for foodsheds.

I’ve tried to document what happens to our health with the advent of low quality foodour acceptance of it, and the difference in nutritional content.

These rings of farmland surrounding our communities represent the ideal of sustainable living. Where the countryside is not poverty-stricken, but instead a vibrant economic sector known as much for its wineries and ‘farm-days’ as it is for fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Even more these areas are often recession proof as evidenced by their continual rapid growth during the past half-decade.

It is for all these reasons that the locavore movement is popular and gaining momentum, there is something in it for everyone. Even the beefiest of meat eaters.

For further reference I’ve pulled together several maps of America’s foodsheds. Take a look.

san francisco california foodshed map 100 mile local locavore
Click for a larger image.

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Are cars causing Global Warming?

I often hear folks complain about cars and the pollution they cause. This seemed a little off so I did some investigating.

Out of all the ways to go green, including reducing energy use, buying green products, and driving less…

 

Which one is the best for the environment?

 

The EPA keeps a tally of these things on their Climate Change page and in an Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions (pdf).

The results are astounding. Cars account for only 17% of all emissions. While 80% comes from home use, business, and food.

 

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2009 US Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Business — 35.6%
  • Electricity — 33%
  • Personal vehicles — 17.8%
  • Agriculture — 7%
  • Residential — 5%
  • US territories — 1%

* Business = factories, business vehicles, office buildings
** Residential = gas heating
*** Includes CO2 and all other gasses 

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To put it another way. If you buy a recycled product or reduce your energy use, that has 2x greater impact than driving less does.

This means things like hang drying your clothes, buying recycled toilet paper, reusing floss, and turning off the A/C, are much more important than biking to work.

I know, I know, this just doesn’t seem right.

The numbers don’t lie…so next time you get in the car think, instead, about how you can reduce your energy use or buy a sustainably created product.

 

More on the Numbers

 

If you think about driving, most of the recommendations are for health concerns instead of pollution problems. Things like biking to work and reducing traffic congestion. Or, it is about geopolitics and our reliance on other countries for oil.

The thing is, most of the car industry is green and even innovative. There are smog checks, 40 mpg cars, engine filters galore, a huge used car industries (i.e. reuse), and awesome junkyards (recycle).

From the top, where the rich subsidize the innovations like electric cars. To the bottom, where the middle and poor buy used to save money. The entire industry appears to have itself aligned in an environmental way.

Compare that to the energy industry and green product market where that alignment isn’t quite there yet. Buying a used car saves money and helps the entire industry, and it is considered cool/smart. Whereas, buying recycled or hang drying your clothes makes you kind of extreme, and not all locations offer products.

Not to mention the incentives are tiny. The pennies and dimes I save in electricity use make me to question the extra effort. The only thing that keeps me going is “think of the kids”, lol.

This may be a good place for smart government. A good example would be the car industry, where those who drive a lot or purchase low MPG cars pay much more at the pump. They also pay more taxes and if you look at how much tax is loaded into each gallon, it’s a lot.

Perhaps there could be an extra tax on those who use more electricity. Make those who own big houses or a million appliances pay more. Use that money to fund clean energy projects.

I’m seeing this happen in a few regions but not at the scale where it needs to be. I say tax the hell out of wasters and over-users otherwise it makes all my reductions inconsequential.

Plus, it sure would be nice to get rid of these coal and gas power plants…

 

Which one would you rather have in your backyard?

 

Green surfboards

The best surfboards in the world are the most toxic. Take any professional surfer and she/he will be riding a high tech stick packed with the latest innovations. It will also be the worst possible board for the environment not only in its materials, but in the creation, disposal, and in effects on workers creating the boards.

The good news is that many small business are developing alternatives. UK-based company, Ocean Green, is bringing back the all wood board by hollowing out a Balsa-wood plank and using bio-degradable fiberglass cloth.

Country Feeling, a Hawaii based shaping group co-founded by Jack Johnson, is developing a soy and sugar-based foam and a solar cured resin.

There is also a movement to recycle everything from the foam dust to the actual boards themselves. Green Foam collects the excess dust tossed out in shaping shacks to make new foam for boards.

The movement is starting to catch on among the pro’s (Kolohe Andino rides a recycled foam board) and the crowds. There is even a new surf film digging into this, Manufacturing Stoke:

No other sport is so intrinsically linked to nature. Some call it a spiritual experience, most call it indescribable. And yet, in becoming the multi-billion dollar industry it is today, a great paradox has risen. Surfers are indeed directly connected to the earth’s pulse and yet a majority of the materials used are environmentally toxic.

Still, this whole story largely unknown. Only a few of the large companies are taking it seriously which means even fewer surfers are interested. Surf wax and wetsuits also have their own toxic problems and are in need of an overhaul.

Which means its all about grass roots growth. Tell your friends, experiment in your garage, and spend your dollars on what you care about.

How did it get this way?

We’ve all seen the classic image of a shaper wearing the breathing mask. Heard the tale of the young protégé shaper sweeping up foam dust. But, have you ever thought about why the mask is needed, can you think of any other profession where people need them?

There’s not many of them left in the country because these compounds are toxic. Most are banned in several states or highly controlled due to their volatile nature. We are talking about cancer, deformations, groundwater contamination, ocean pollution…here are some of their names:

Toluene Diisocynate, Polystrene, Polyurethane, Chromium, Dicarboxylic Acids, and Dihydroxy Alcohols.

An explanation of how we got here starts back in the 60′s with the massive 10-foot long wood planks. They were heavy, so heavy that you had to balance it on your head and cart it around in “woody” wagons. These boards defined the early era of surfing and the longboard riding style (slow, long curves at special breaks).

Then modern technology stepped in: foam, fiberglass, and resin. The wood was whittled down to a thin strip in the center for strength (stringer) and the rest was taken up by foam, then shined up with fiberglass in resin. The result was a lighter, faster, and more agile board.

It revolutionized the sport. Made it the worldwide industry it is today. Then it all came crashing down in 2005.

A series of factors contributed to this change, the largest of which was the shutting down of Clark Foam. This giant supplier of foam for boards worldwide came under the cross hairs of government (all of them). The city, county, state, and federal authorities wanted a cleaner factory and Gordon Clark couldn’t take it.

The story is still unclear, whether Gordon refused to clean-up or the city simply wanted him gone. It is probably somewhere in the middle but the lawsuits, criminal charges, and cancer-riddled workers speak to some truths.

Namely, the growth of the surfboard industry is creating a lot of waste and pollution. As the government stepped in it found that nearly every element of the modern surfboard involved toxic chemicals or volatile organic compound.

The regulators clamped down and the surfboards manufacturers went abroad or went mechanical. Hoping to outsource the pollution or remove the worker from the shaping. Clearly the industry didn’t want to face it’s own problems.

Which now puts the industry on the verge of a new breakthrough. A revolution in materials to bring about a cleaner, safer way to enjoy the sport we love.

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father/son photo by Mike Baird