Archive for the 'environment' Category

The title of this article tells you all you need to know:

“German Village Produces 321% More Energy Than It Needs!”

This sort of effort takes a high degree of community-mindedness (e.g., a willingness for everyone to work as a team without a “looking out for #1” mentality) and interest in pro-environment projects.

Think it could ever happen in the USA? I’m not so sure . . .


Bike lanes

When I was in college and grad school, I rode my bike all over campus. It was fairly easy to do so in those places: there were some bike lanes, there wasn’t a lot of car traffic on campus, and there wasn’t much anti-bicyclist sentiment.

When I lived in Eugene, Oregon, I rode my bike all over town. It was supremely easy to do there. Eugene is criss-crossed with bike lanes, which bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians respect. Eugene is also home to the Center for Appropriate Transport, an awesome organization that promotes human-powered transportation. I bought my human-powered bicycle lights (which I love) there.

Since I moved to the bike-unfriendly Mid-Atlantic, I haven’t done much riding. I’ve enjoyed taking Sylvia to school via bike, but that ride doesn’t involve navigating any busy roads. The thought of riding on local highways without bike lanes and with drivers who are at best ignorant about bicycling and at worst hostile to it is one that fills me with dread.

When we were in the Netherlands in April, I saw people riding bikes all over the place. We borrowed bikes from relatives a few times and did some riding ourselves (with Sylvia riding like all Dutch passengers do: sitting on the luggage rack in back and holding on to the biker—and with no one wearing helmets). I loved it. Only the realization that I’d never be able to use them stopped me from buying some cool grocery-sized saddles bags for my bike. (I did, however, get a new bell for my bike. Sylvia got one for hers, too. She was very adamant that we get matching bells.)

Our Dutch relatives were surprised to learn how difficult safe bicycling can be in most U.S. cities. Perhaps I should send them this video. Then they’d understand.



Fake or real?

I grew up with an artificial Christmas tree. In fact, my parents bought their tree the year after I was born and used it until a few years ago, when they replaced it with a newer model—one that comes apart into three pieces (instead of fifty) and is prelit with strings of lights.

Jan grew up with real Christmas trees in his house, and that’s the tradition we’ve maintained in our own home. We love the smell of real fir and don’t mind having to vacuum fallen needles (not too much of a problem if the tree is kept well watered, actually). And Sylvia loves our annual ritual of going to the local cut-your-own tree farm. We drive past that place frequently throughout the year, and each time we do she calls out to it in passing, “Hi, Christmas tree farm! See you in December!”

Before we headed out to get our tree last week, Jan and I wondered, briefly, if an artificial tree would be a better choice. The advantage of prelit over wrestling-with-light-strings are pretty obvious, but we weren’t sure about the environmental cost. We decided to table the issue for this year at least, until we’d had more time to look into it, and headed off to the tree farm.

As it turns out, we made the correct choice, environmentally speaking—at least according to an article that appeared in The New York Times last Friday.

In the most definitive study of the perennial real vs. fake question, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal found that an artificial tree would have to be reused for more than 20 years to be greener than buying a fresh-cut tree annually. The calculations included greenhouse gas emissions, use of resources and human health impacts. . . . .

Over all, the study found that the environmental impact of real Christmas trees was quite small, and significantly less than that of artificial trees — a conclusion shared by environmental groups and some scientists.



The Environmental Working Group has a new website with a database of information about local water supplies. This information (nearly 20 million records they say) was obtained from state water officials.

At this page, you can enter your zip code to find out what’s in the water coming out of the tap in your home.

This sort of thing may be more than you wanted to know, but it’s stuff that you probably should know.

How does your water pan out?


Poor Rachel

Jasmine at the Worsted Witch just put up a post with what has to be one of the best titles ever: “The right bashes Rachel Carson on the anniversary of her birth, because they suxx0r and eat their own boogers.” (Leetspeak and boogers in the same sentence–nice.)

Rachel Carson wrote a book in 1962 called Silent Spring that argued that pesticide use was harmful to the environment, especially birds (hence the “silent spring”). It is considered one of the foundational works of the modern environmental movement, and though its original publication was surrounded by some controversy (namely in the form of attacks from the chemical industry) the scientific community (that is, the part of it not in the pocket of agribusiness and biochemical companies) generally agrees with Carson’s thesis.

The Worsted Witch links to an interesting piece in today’s Salon, “Rachel Carson’s birthday bashing,” that focuses on the debate over DDT use in malaria control.

Recent critics claim that Carson’s book led to the banning of DDT in the USA, which led to the spread of malaria in the Third World. Therefore, they say, all of those malaria deaths are her fault–and the fault of the environmental movement at large. (“[mutter] Bunch of goddam hippies…[mutter].”) The very best part is when they say that environmentalists are “worse than Hitler.” Yup.

Give me a break. The Salon article cites several experts–including the World Health Organization, which leads global efforts to eradicate malaria (so, um, yeah–I’d say those people know what they’re talking about)–who say that attempts to tie decreased DDT use to malaria deaths are ludicrous. In fact, death rates decreased at the same time treatment shifted from insecticides to medicine. DDT is still in use in many places today, and when used lightly and carefully, it can have some effectiveness. One important point–which Carson raised and which is still valid today–is that relying too strongly on only one solution, particularly one to which organisms can develop resistances, is a bad idea in the long run. DDT may be useful, but it can’t be the only option. And people who insist that it is and then blame Carson and all environmentalists for malaria deaths…well, they probably do eat their own boogers.

Oh, and it’s worth noting (thank you, Great Wik!) that the bastion of conservatism known as the National Review ranked Silent Spring #78 on its list of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Century. Even they weren’t idiots on this point.

(I wonder how many Google hits on that title will bring people here…)

In Making Light I came across this letter, written by a Little Rock lawyer and published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on 16 April:

You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. All of the trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two. This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they ?

Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.

Hot Springs

My first thought was “Oh. My. Dog.” Then I read through the comments and learned that the letter was apparently a satire–one that yielded lots of angry letters in the newspaper from readers unaware that it was a satire. Did the newspaper print the original letter in all sincerity, I wonder? Or were the editors also aware of the joke?


Not-stupid investments

Many many years ago, I started reusing my Ziploc bags. It’s easy–just turn ’em inside out, wash them, then let them dry on the dish rack. The freezer bags are particularly durable; some of mine are three years old. The problem is that Ziploc bags aren’t renowned for their ability to stand up on their own, so they usually fall over and take a long, long time to dry properly. When I first heard about a thingy (yes, that is the technical term for it) that holds your bags open while they dry, I thought, “That’s stupid. No way am I spending twenty bucks on that thing.” Well, I finally succumbed and threw down the bucks for it a couple of weeks ago. And let me just say this: wow, I should have bought one of these things sooner.

Same goes for this compost bucket. I am a big believer in composting when you can. All through grad school, I lived in apartments with no yards or gardens. I yearned to have a compost pile of my own–and did, briefly, when I lived in Eugene, Oregon, for a summer while doing some predoctoral research. (I’ll write more about that experience another time.) I remember one time my housemate and I had a potluck dinner that was attended by about a dozen people. As people were helping with the post-meal cleanup, they asked, “Where is your compost pile?” (It was in the middle of the huge garden, in the side yard.) Not “Do you have a compost pile?” but “I’m assuming you have one–’cause, you know, this is the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene-so just let me know where it is.” I loved that.

When I moved to the Mid-Atlantic, I was delighted to have a garden–and a small compost pile. And when Jan and I bought our house three and a half years ago, one of the first home-improvement things we did was built a compost bin (a “3-bin yard waste composter”–the free plans are available here).

During my entire composting life, though, I’ve been putting my kitchen scraps into an old yogurt container on the kitchen counter, then taking it outside when it filled up. (This is a practice I developed in Eugene. After all, grad students don’t have extra money to throw around on fancy-schmancy compost buckets! Well, maybe the engineers and computer scientists, but not the impoverished cultural anthropologists!) This system has the great benefit of not costing anything. It has the great disadvantage of stinkiness–particularly in the winter months, when trips to the compost bin are less frequent (brrrrr!).

So when I decided to get the plastic-bag-holding doodad, I figured, “Why not? I’m already going to hell anyway for buying this incredibly yuppified and overpriced thing–might as well add on a fifteen-dollar compost bucket.” After using this green bin (which fits nicely under the sink) for a few weeks now, I have to admit that I really love this thing.


Lessen your environmental impact

Recycling, using fluorescent light bulbs, watering your lawn with gray water…there are lots of little things you can do to tread more lightly on the earth. Knitters can use recycled yarn or yarns made from materials that already have a low environmental impact and are quickly renewable (e.g., soy, corn). There’s yet another way fiber enthusiasts can be a little nicer to the planet: by using green cell foam for needle felting.

Needle felting (which I have yet to try, I admit–though I’ve read enough about it to get the gist of it) involves stabbing fabric with tiny needles in order to get wool or roving that’s on top of the fabric to stick to the fabric. Hmmm. That’s an explanation just off the top of my head, and it doesn’t seem very clear. Go here instead and read about how to do it.

The fabric to be stabbed is placed on a foam pad so you don’t damage any surfaces while jabbing it with a needle. Most foam pads are made of polyurethane foam, which is a byproduct of the petroleum industry. The folks at Sticky Wicket Crafts, however, have found a vegetable-based foam to use in their pads–and they aren’t more expensive than most conventional foam pads. No petroleum byproducts! Happy happy planet! Hooray!

P.S. If you want to make your own needle felting tool and like to play with power tools, check out this tutorial.