No one wants pollution spewing into the air, waterways, or land near where they live. Yet with chemicals and substances that are naked to the human eye, how can you know with any certainty what is who or what is polluting your backyard? Thank heavens for the Internet and crowdsourcing. With the help of modern technology, scientists, and advocates across the world, you have access to the information you need to monitor your home habitat.
Poisoned Places- NPR and their Poisoned Places series has created an interactive map that allows the user to see how polluted their neck of the woods has become. They take their aggregate data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: the Clean Air Act watch list, the Air Facility System (AFS), the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and the Risk Screening Environmental Indicators model (RSEI).
Superfund Sites Where you Live- The EPA allows you to find out if you are living next to a Superfund Site, or an area where pollutants or hazardous waste is located. The site also allows you see how the cleanups are progressing and access community resources that help educate and involve residents in the restoration of their neighborhoods.
Landsat Satellite Images- Pictures have the power to express what data sheets, charts, and tables are unable to infer. Google Landsat takes satellite images from space and through timelapse photography creates videos that chronicle urban development, climate change, and environmental destruction. Time magazine has compiled several of the most stunning pieces on their website.
Ventus: Developed by researchers at Arizona State University, Ventus is a computer game that uses crowdsourcing to track CO2 pollution from power plants across the world. Users are able to enter information as to the size, capacity, and output of each facility in a competition to win top honors from the website’s founders. In addition to identifying the new plants springing up around the globe, Ventus can be used as a tool by policy makers and scientists looking to reform energy infrastructure.
U.S. NRC – Chances are if you live near a nuclear power facility, you are already aware of your radioactive neighbor. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers several interactive maps that show the locations of nuclear power plants, waste storage and materials facilities.
CFLs and LEDs not quite green enough for you? Solar panels too rigid and unforgiving? How about illuminating your living space with living creatures? Algae has long been used to produce biofuel and clean water, and now it is finding a brand new application as a light and power source. Far from your average pond scum, these tiny organisms are being harnessed for their ability to bioluminesce and sequester carbon. Welcome to the algae-powered age!
Gyula Bodonyi has created an algae-powered light bulb that looks like the verdant version of a standard Christmas fixture. The tear-shaped bulb works by harnessing the natural biology of algae to power and LED bulb with the aid of a tiny air pump and hydrophobic container. Carbon dioxide and water is taken in near the E27 screw-top, and as the air passes through the bulb, it helps to nourish Chlorella pyrenoidosa microalgae. The oxygen the algae generates in turn operates the LED. When not turned on, the bulb appears green due to the hue of the organisms inside.
The Latro Lamp is another great example of algae’s ability to shed a little light on the subject of indoor illumination. Designed by Mike Thompson, the conical light only needs a little CO2, sunlight, algae, and water to function. The has to be set outside during the day, and a battery stores the energy created by the algae for later in the evening. A light sensor modulates the lamp’s intensity and prevents the algae from becoming malnourished. Acting as a bio-battery, the technology was made possible through research done by Stanford and Yansei universities.
Scientists at Cambridge University are laboring towards creating biovoltaic panels (BPVs) that use algae to power electronics much in the same manner as photovoltaics. Alex Driver and Carlos Peralta understand that such a novel concept could be a little difficult for consumers to imagine, and have created several renderings of products that could possibly hit the market once the technology becomes viable. The researchers believe that their innovations could be stiff competition for solar panels in the next 5-10 years.
Are you ready for the algae-powered revolution?
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Oh, honeybees! Forgive me for a moment while I extoll the virtues of the this humble insect. These hard-working ladies accomplish so much to contribute to human well-being. Aside from pollinating our crops and producing the miracle elixir that is honey, scientists have also found that bee venom can contribute to destroying HIV. Yes, that is correct, nanoparticles found in their naturally occurring compound can help to cure one of mankind’s most pressing medical catastrophes. So, in case it wasn’t enough to honor these brilliant bugs for their contributions to health, you may be surprised to learn how honeybees are working towards ensuring our collective safety.
Some very out-of-the-box scientists in Croatia are training honeybees to detect landmines. It may sound ridiculous at first, but upon further reflection, a tiny flying creature with a fantastic sense of smell might just be the perfect tool to identify the location of such destructive and sensitive weapons. Researchers from Zagreb University have developed a method of using a sugar solution laced with TNT to condition the bees to recognize the chemical signatures of the landmines. Nikola Kezic, the lead scientist of the project dubbed “Tiramisu” has high hopes for his hives. Weighing less than rats or dogs who have also been taught to search out the underground explosives. the bees have the potential to find the mines without setting them off.
During the Balkan wars, 750 square kilometers were laced with 90,000 ballistics without a set pattern or legend. Since the beginning of the conflicts in 1991, over 2,500 have perished from landmine explosions. For a country that is set to enter the EU this summer and one that hopes to maintain the safety of its population, any tool in its efforts to rid the country of the scourge of its turbulent past can be seen as nothing if not a step in the right direction. Croatia would like to become a tourist destination, and using the bees to make certain an area is safe for recreation could be an added reassurance. Now, if only we can return the favor to our winged warriors by reversing the colony collapse disorder brought about by climate change, pesticides, mites, and a host of other man made actions.
As a climate scientist, tackling global warming is an immense challenge. The most basic information, such as the location of the world’s fossil fuel-burning power plants and how much CO2 they emit, is difficult to obtain while sitting in an office. Through the power of crowdsourcing and the Internet, researchers at Arizona State University have created a computer game called Ventus that takes advantage of data provided by citizen scientists. Led by Kevin Gurney, the website operates on the belief that every facility in the world has at least a dozen or so people living or working near the plant that could provide valuable information. Players register through the page and are asked to provide the name and location of the plant along with what kind of fuel is used, how much electricity is produced, and the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. They are able to view all entries as well as make adjustments and edits. Participants who have provided the most useful data at the end of the year will win.
The team at ASU has already compiled a list of 25,000 plants through Google Earth. They estimate that there are over 30,000 fossil-fuel sites across the world, and the number is likely to grow as countries such as India and China continue to industrialize. With power plants accounting for nearly half of the world’s CO2 output, understanding where and how much greenhouse gas is being expelled into the environment will be a powerful tool for governments and communities to use in shifting towards alternative sources of energy.
There are plenty of reasons for concerned citizens to be wary of companies like Monsanto and Koch Industries. Between pollution, public deception, and political manipulation, these are corporations that have permeated our society with their GMO’s, chemicals, and corrupt policies. As consumers, we tend to believe that we can at least choose not to purchase the goods they are peddling. However, identifying the makers behind popular foods and cleaning supplies are nearly impossible at the grocery store without having to do a multi-hour internet search beforehand.
Instead of lugging around your own compendium of brands to avoid, you can turn to a much more manageable smartphone app called, “Buycott“. Invented by 26-year-old Ivan Pardo, the program scans the barcode of a product, determines its manufacturer, and cross-checks the item against campaigns you have joined to see if it conflicts with your principles. The campaigns you can join either choose to avoid or promote certain goods or causes. The application already has a large database, but users can contribute information for those items that Buycott does not recognize.
So far, Buycott has experienced a rush of new users, speaking to the concerns of communities across the nation. Although these businesses are massive and influential, this may be the first grassroots step in the effort to topple their hegemony.
You would think with a name like “conservative”, those occupying the right wing of the political spectrum would be all about saving money and cutting energy costs. Yet, according a study led by Dena Gromet from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, CFL light bulbs labeled with a “protect the environment” sticker were shunned by conservatives. Their decision comes despite the fact that CFLs last 9,000 hours longer than incandescents and reduce energy costs by 75 percent. In an study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month, she and her colleagues from Wharton and the Duke Fuqua School of Business gathered 210 potential buyers. They asked them to choose between incandescent bulbs and CFLs, some which sported a “protect the environment” sticker. Divisions were apparent until they made both bulbs the same price. Then, every subject except one chose the CFL.
“Our results demonstrated that a choice that wasn’t ideologically polarizing without a (“protect the environment”) label became polarizing when we included that environmental labeling,” Gromet noted. “We saw a significant drop-off in conservative people choosing to buy a more expensive, energy-efficient option.”So it makes that choice unattractive to some people even if they recognize that it may be a money-saving choice. When we asked afterward, those consumers identified the CFL bulbs as providing greater monetary savings over time. But they would forgo that option when that product was made to represent a value that was not something they wanted to be identified with.”
Regardless of whether or not they realized that the CFLs would be more practical in the long run, conservatives still opted to go for the less efficient technology. To combat global warming and carbon emissions, the United States is one of many countries trying to persuade consumers to switch to bulbs that use little power. Last year, they took on 100 watt bulbs, and in January they introduced new efficiency requirements that went into effect for 75 watt bulbs. You would think that a bulb with a longer life and overall benefit to the consumers’ pocketbook would be a win-win, but not for those who look to the government’s regulations as just one more step down the road to communism….or fascism…or whatever dystopian future some out there have imagined.
To add insult to injury, there is little evidence that green PR helps boost sales of products amongst liberals. While the research team needs more data to confirm this suspicion, they did not find any support that leftists were swayed by green labeling. In addition to political prejudice, pro-planet goods have to contend with old stereotypes that they are poorly designed, overpriced, and not as high in quality as long-established brands. One small ray of hope may lie in the overall trend for consumers to look towards LEDs in favor of CFLs for their homes and businesses. While the Wharton study did not test opinions over LEDs, it would be interesting to see whether or not politics play a role in their selection and whether the CFL phenomenon is simply a fluke.
Still, with those who are under the belief that the UN’s Agenda 21 is a plot to take control of the world under the guise of a green manifesto negotiated without the input of the American people, it is not hard to see how some are ruffled by being told to do pretty much anything. Sadly, they will maintain this point of view even if what they are being asked to do is for the benefit of the greater good. Unfortunately, the environment does not care whether or not you are Democrat or Republican when it comes to natural disasters brought on by a shifting climate. CO2 doesn’t vote or go to the store. However, humans do, and we are the ones making the ultimate decisions on how we live ont his planet. We can only pray that we do the right thing regardless of the motivation.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
In the effort to combat climate change, we carpool, scale back our utility use, purchase carbon credits, and do our best to source our power from clean technologies. Yet, if we pay tuition, donate to non-profits, or have a stock portfolio, we may still be contributing to dirty energy. Many universities, local governments, and religious institutions have endowments or investments that benefit financially from fossil fuels. Seeing the support of coal companies, oil giants, and mining projects as antithetical to their moral and political proclivities, organizations across the nation are divesting from these markets.
The Fossil Free campaign helps to organize and support those who wish to give non-renewable resources the boot. Over 300 colleges have already started their own campaigns, including Brown University who is slated to vote on axing 15 coal and mining companies from their endowment this month. Major cities, such as San Francisco have decided that exacerbating climate change was not in the best interest of the planet or the Bay. Those interested can visit the website and either begin a petition or join an already existing call to action. In addition to hosting a platform to collect signatures, Fossil Free also provides relevant articles, charts, and studies to help make a strong and well-informed case.
As a strategy, taking away a source of revenue may be one of the quickest and most effective ways to halt fossil fuel infrastructure. Seeing as much of the industry has bought influence in Congress and around the world, pulling money away from conglomerates is one of the most powerful means of stopping a number of pipelines and mountaintop removals at one time. While it is true that companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal make billions of dollars and that the dissent of only a few small institutions may not at first make a huge dent, it is important to back up beliefs with concrete action. Not only igniting discussion and creating a PR nightmare, large endowments are responsible for billions of dollars themselves, and can make their voices heard if they decided to gather together to send a message and hit polluters where it hurts. Money could then be apportioned to back renewable energy and bolster a healthier, greener economy that would not only ease the burden of climate change, but give birth to a vibrant new market that benefits more small businesses and communities.
The time has come to tell the fossil fuel giants that carbon is so very last century.
Chances are, if you are attempting to talk to a child about math and science, you will receive a look of mild boredom at best and outright disgust at worst. Yet, if you throw in the words “video games”, “robots”, “lasers”, or “fire”, you are sure to grab their attention. Confident that learning can be a fun and engaging experience, co-founders of Los Angeles-based Two Bit Circus, Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman, have launched a spectacle that is certain to dazzle kids and adults alike. Prepare yourselves for the STEAM Carnival, a synthesis of entertainment and education that uses cutting edge technology and showmanship to delight and inform.
Currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, the STEAM Circus is hoping to raise funds to establish a state-of-the-art big tent affair complete with games, prizes, food, live entertainment, and the latest technology to inspire children to get excited about the arts and sciences. STEAM, or “Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math” seeks to encourage kids to explore the world around them and become more involved in education. According to Naval STEM, only 33 percent of eighth graders show an interest in the disciplines, and a scant 6 percent of high school seniors will seek a major in the fields. With attractions like the motion capture mechanical bull, ignition ring toss, and human asteroid games, who wouldn’t be thrilled to participate in the sciences?
Through digital art galleries, musical robots, fashion shows of wearable electronics, and a healthy dose of fire, the STEAM Carnival hopes to give the world of science a much needed boost in PR. Kids will be able to also sign up for a special kit that they will be able to take home to jumpstart their careers as future inventors. Slated to open in the spring of 2014, the event will begin in Los Angeles before traveling to San Francisco and cities beyond. Two Bit Circus is working towards raising enough money via crowdsourcing to invent new activities, reach out to schools, secure locations, and finalize production. Contribute today in order to bring the Carnival to life!
May means flowers, stellar weather, festivals, and bicycles. Every year, bikes take over San Luis Obispo to celebrate National Bicycle Month. All around town, you can witness cyclists of all ages and backgrounds pedaling their way to work, on errands, or simply out to play. There are always a ton of fun events centered around the pedaling population planned by the San Luis Obispo County Bike Coalition, including the popular World Bicycle Relief poker run. Taking place on Saturday, May 11 beginning at 9am, participants will compete for prizes. Starting at the Central Coast Brew Parking lot, players will wheel about downtown, stopping in at local businesses to collect cards and see who earns the best hand. Tickets can be purchased at most SLO bike shops, as well as right here at Bambu Batu!
World Bicycle Relief is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide bicycles to rural developing nations. By designing frames specifically for rugged terrain, assembling them locally, deliver them to those in need and establish a maintenance network, WBR hopes to improve the lives for people who need inexpensive and efficient transportation. Founded in 2005 by F.K. Day and Leah Missbach Day in response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, WBR collaborated with aid workers to distribute 24,000 bicycles. Soon after their success in Sri Lanka, other aid organizations based in sub-Saharan Africa looked to the group to establish a bicycle culture among the population. At present, WBR has helped to donate 120,000 bicycles and trained over 200 field mechanics.
Not just for recreation, bicycles are essential to the health and economies of many developing communities. Bicycles allow children to attend school (70% of students that receive bikes are girls), make it possible for families to travel for groceries or water, help provide work and create jobs, and care for the environment. Healthcare workers are better able to visit communities affected by HIV/AIDS, and educate patients on how to prevent the disease. WBR partners with a number of other organizations that help to plant trees, conserve wildlife, and contribute to education. All of this made possible by generous, hard-working people and the beautiful and beneficial bicycle!
Toyota was one of the first major manufacturers to embrace hybrid technology with their well-known Prius model. Now they are taking the idea of sustainability and green engineering one step further with the introduction of their ME.WE concept car. The sporty, compact vehicle uses a tubular aluminum frame and its panels are composed of polypropylene plastic. The body is completely recyclable, and at 1,653 lbs, very lightweight. The design allows the panels to turn the car from a sedan into a convertible, and an extendable rear deck can transform the configuration into a tiny pickup truck. The all-electric car is powered by four in-wheel motors and a lithium-ion battery mounted under the floor.
What really gets our knocks our viscose socks off is that almost the entire interior is covered in silky soft bamboo! In collaboration with French designer Jean Marie-Massaud, the concept was revealed at a Paris event this week. Sadly, the maker has no intention of mass-producing the car. OK fine, but if you’re feeling generous, I know a hard-working bamboo shopkeeper in San Luis Obispo who could use a company car…