Archive for the ‘Renewable Energy’ Category

In addition to smoking cigarettes and making toast in the bathtub, you may now put paraffin candles on your “to avoid” list.  Lighting one of these wax candles can release toxins such as toluene and benzene into the atmosphere.  Far from the relaxing or romantic gesture that these flammable favorites are intended to represent, paraffin could in fact cause cancer, dizziness or asthma if used on a regular basis.  In 2009, researchers presented their findings to the annual American Chemical Society’s meeting in Washington, and identified paraffin candles as a previously unrecognized source of indoor air pollution.  The National Candle Association maintains that paraffin is not toxic as it is approved by the FDA, but those with allergies, asthma, chemical sensitivities, or other concerns about the use of petroleum products would do best to purchase beeswax or soy candles.

Soy candles made from hydrogenated soybean oil, and beeswax produced by the bodies of the humble insect, are clean-burning, last longer than paraffin, are environmentally friendly, and do not drip or leave sooty deposits.  Beeswax in particular produces negative ions, which have been shown to increase the production of serotonin in the brain and elevate mood.  As a business that is concerned with the health of the human animal and the spaces they inhabit, Bambu Batu carries a only soy and beeswax candles, including scented and unscented lines from Big Dipper Wax Works, VegePure and Sparx.

Now that you have been enlightened and want to get rid of those old paraffin offenders, there are a few resources that may help you to dispose of them with the minimum of environmental impact.  “Take-back” programs such as the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth, MN  or ecycler.com accepts old paraffin candles or crayons via the post and recycles them into campfire starters or new drawing tools.  Earth911 is an excellent site that allows you to find the appropriate resting place for just about anything, or if you are feeling crafty, you can even make your own ski wax with old candles.

Lighten your load and get rid of the old oil-based tea lights and tapers for something a little more natural!

“What on earth will it take?”

HopeDance FiLMs 2011 and Bob Banner present the movie Thrive, on Wednesday, November 30 at 7pm at the Palm Theater in San Luis Obispo.  This unique and thought provoking documentary reveals the consolidation of power fueled by money and globalization.  Weaving together developments in science, arts, politics, and the current waves of activism, the movie strives to offer solutions and suggestions for our ailing institutions, and strategies for taking control of our common future. Featuring commentary from visionaries and activists such as Amy Goodman, Deepak Chopra, Paul Hawken, and Vandana Shiva, the film hopes to enliven, inspire, and educate a world yearning for change.

In his journey to understand the devastation of poverty pervasive across cultural boundaries, Foster Gamble has discovered a code derived from UFO technology that has been embedded and represented in nature and human social systems throughout the centuries.  He believes that this information is a blueprint for finding a clean, limitless supply of energy that could completely revolutionize the way people live.  Gamble asserts that power could potentially be extracted from the space surrounding us, and therefore stands as a direct threat to our largest and most powerful economically influential industries.  By following greed and corruption through diverse sectors of our society, he makes the case that this information has been deliberately suppressed in efforts to control governments, banks,  businesses, housing, medicine, and educational institutions.

Through renewable energy, popular political will, and communication, can we come together as a people and not just survive, but thrive?

The people at Big Dipper Wax Works of Seattle are crazy about honey bees, and for many good reasons.  Aside from being keystone species that pollinate a number of plants including the fruits and vegetables we consume, these hard working insects produce such miraculous substances as beeswax honey, propolis, royal jelly and bee pollen. Bees have complex codes of communication, are expert engineers, and master navigators.  It is no wonder that Big Dipper has such respect for the labor and amazing biology of the humble bee.  This ethic permeates the business, and is evident in the care and consideration they take when producing their candles.

Big Dipper sources its wax from beekeepers throughout the Pacific Northwest where crops contain the lowest levels of pesticides possible.  The wax Big Dipper uses is filtered by a natural clay  process that removes impurities while retaining color and aroma.  Depending on the the flowers the bees are pollinating, the candles can range in color from bright gold to dark brown.  Beeswax is naturally dripless and smokeless, allowing for a clean burn that produces negative ions that help to clear the air, instigate seratonin production, increase oxygen flow to the brain, and regulate the endocrine glands.  All dyes are eco-friendly and cruelty free.

Like a good hive, the Big Dipper Wax Works values a commitment to the community and the environment.  As  Green America Approved Business, the company values social responsibility and ecological awareness.  A total of 10% net profits from candle sales are donated to promote sustainable beekeeping and support local schools, community health and research organizations, animal shelters, and sports teams.  All of the materials used in making the candles are locally sourced, biodegradable and undergo no chemical processing.  Big Dipper recycles and reuses reuses shipping materials, uses minimal packaging that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, encourages their customers to reuse their glass and tin containers by selling bulk refills, and composts organic matter.

Bambu Batu is proud to carry Big Dipper’s candles!  Choose from tapers, tea lights, pillars and garden candles that come with seeds and biodegradable pots!  Give the gift of warmth and light this holiday season with beeswax candles from a great company with a clean conscience.

Up until now, the issue of using hydrogen fuel cells as alternative sources of power has been a matter of debate.  They required fossil fuels for production, needed external inputs of electricity to operate, and were too expensive to be considered as an all-encompassing solution to the global climate crisis.  Enter the mighty microbe and a team of brilliant US researchers to provide a little hope for hydrogen.

An article recently published in the National Academy of Sciences describes the newly developed “MEC”, or Microbial Electrolysis Cell which generates its own hydrogen without the aid of external electricity.  Through a process called Reverse Electrodialysis, the cell uses fresh and saltwater membranes to generate and collect power from charged particles created between the gradients. In addition, the microbes manufacture hydrogen gas and small amounts of electricity by breaking down organic material.

This technology has implications far beyond transportation.  Without drawing power from the grid, MEC’s could also be used to treat waste water, refine oil, and process and stabilize foods.  Like most new, experimental inventions, the MEC is costly and would benefit from investment and large scale production to get it off the ground.  At the moment the Cell in on display at London’s Science Museum, and will hopefully be ready for real-world application some time in the near future.

Hot off the presses (for a hot topic here in Central California) are Bambu Batu’s “Fight the Power” t-shirts depicting our own Diablo Canyon Power Plant on organic bamboo/cotton.  These shirts are printed locally with non-toxic inks by concerned citizens who are uncomfortable with the proximity of large nuclear generators close to their communities.  Located in Avila Beach, the two Westinghouse 4-loop pressurized-water nuclear reactors are operated by Pacific Gas and Electric. Both units were brought online in the mid-eighties and licensed to run through the year 2025. Diablo supplies electricity to about 2.2 million consumers across the state.

There are many reasons to be a bit nervous about having a nuclear reactor in your backyard.  For starters, Diablo Canyon is built on top of a well-known fault line, and is vulnerable to seismic activity and tsunamis.  Ground acceleration, or tectonic shaking, could possibly cause submerged fuel rods to spill and ignite upon coming in contact with the air. The plant uses seawater to cool its rectors and has to constantly deal with maintaining its system free of kelp and marine animals.  In the past, massive jellyfish blooms and other irregular marine occurrences have gummed up the works of the reactors and have compromised the safety and efficiency of plant, even taking it offline for several days.

Blueprints for Diablo Canyon that were supposed to provide structural reinforcement in the event of earthquakes were found to have major errors.  In 1981, PG&E discovered that only one set of plans was used in the construction of both reactors, meaning that where workers were supposed to have switched the design off in the second reactor, they failed to do so.  This  resulted a “backwards” configuration, and needless reinforcement of certain areas where others were left unfortified.  Currently, PG&E has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Committee not to renew its license in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster until it can complete more seismic studies. This decision was partially due to repeated appeals from SLO Rep. Blakeslee asking that the renewal applications be withdrawn earlier this year.

While the probability of a catastrophe is difficult to determine, it only takes one perfect storm to cause long-term, terrible damage.  Anyone within a 10 mile radius of a meltdown would be subject to direct radiation exposure through airborne fallout, and those within a 50 mile radius would be at risk of contamination from ingesting radioactive food and water.  The half-life of isotopes affect the environment for generations afterward, leaving a legacy of pollution and risk of serious illness.  Community grassroots efforts, such as those undertaken by the Abalone Alliance, have for years been trying to halt the construction of new plants in the state as well as closing existing ones.  Those of us who wish to see a nuclear-free future for our society are supporting these endeavors by promoting cleaner forms of energy, writing our representatives, joining community forums, and wearing our hearts and thoughts on our sleeves.

Sorry Oscar, but I HATE trash.  Case in point; marine garbage patches.  What exactly are these giant, floating messes?  Technically, these suspended litter heaps are concentrations of debris (usually consisting of small pieces of plastic) concentrated within a common area.  Contrary to popular belief, there are no permanent “islands” being created in the middle of the ocean that can be detected via satellite.  These collections of rubbish are, however, extremely harmful to marine ecosystems and enormously difficult to contain, clean and manage.

There are several massive known aggregations throughout the world, identified as the Eastern Pacific (between Hawaii and California), Western Pacific (off the Coast of Japan) and North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone (north of Hawaii) garbage patches.  There are also Atlantic equivalents to the Pacific concentrations (as debris will collect around major gyres, or large circulatory currents), although research is comparatively thin compared to those in the Pacific.  While these are not the only places flotsam accumulates from human activities on the mainland, they are by far some of the biggest and the subject of great concern. Since their size and shape changes daily or seasonally, estimates of location and span are at time difficult to pin down in exact terms.

The vast majority of the masses are made up of plastics.  From single-use bags to water bottles, plastics are responsible for chemical pollution through degradation, choking marine life who mistake objects for food (see the Guardian’s photo essay on Albatross death), and endangering entire ecosystems by disintegrating into tiny pieces which are taken up through the bottom of the food chain.

These  particles are then accumulated upwards into the tissues of larger organisms, eventually reaching top predators and human beings who consume animals lower down on the food chain.  Plastics are very hard to remove from the oceans as sunlight may reduce them into pieces unable to be captured by nets. Where trash collects, so does marine life, and attempts at skimming debris might also harm the creatures swimming amongst the junk.  Major clean-up efforts would also use a large amount of fossil fuels to locate, process and haul the detritus out of the sea.

Luckily, as individuals, we have the power to make decisions that can have large-scale effects.  Water bottles and plastic bags, who are common occupants of these floating landfills, can be replaced with multiple use items such as cloth grocery sacks (like Blue Lotus’s stylish produce bags), thermoses, canteens and reusable water bottles. At Bambu Batu, we dig the sustainable and attractive Bamboo Bottle. We also offer an attractive assortment of re-usable bamboo utensil sets and sporks, to further reduce your dependency on disposable plastics.

Reducing the amount of plastics we use, as well as recycling and properly disposing of what we purchase, can go a long way to stem the flow of trash making its way into our oceans and food chain.

Gerald Durell could quite possibly be the science nerd’s perfect author.  Born to an eccentric English family in Jamshedpur, India in 1925, Durell began a life devoted to the exploration and conservation of nature which he chronicled in over 3o books and publications.  Over his 70 years of life, Durrell lived and traveled to the world’s most exotic places, collecting animals for British zoological gardens and stories for his books along the way.  As a recipient of numerous awards, accolades, degrees and medals, Durrell shines as an academic but retains the personable and affable nature lacking in so many of our higher intellectual institutions. Durrell hosted seven television series and made appearances on a number of BBC programs.

I have such glowing praise for Durell’s writing that as I sit here typing, I resemble and incandescent light bulb.  (OK, energy efficient LED diode).  His descriptions of the flora and fauna of Corfu in his trilogy of novels detailing his childhood exploits in Greece are simply magical, invoking the tastes, smells and sights of a place so close to his heart.  There are few authors that can make science writing so engaging, charming, and evocative of such emotion.  His craftsmanship of story lines, witty dialogue, and achingly beautiful accounts of scenery are as good as those of any great fiction writer.  His animal observations are thorough without being dry, and reading his accounts allows the reader feel as though they are an adventurer alongside Durrell.

For a good introduction to his work (whether you are a naturalist geek or just plain lover of humor and entertaining stories) I would suggest starting with My Family and Other Animals, a hilarious account of his formative years on the Greek island of Corfu with his mother, sister and brothers.  Each character introduced becomes a cherished friend and is as fascinating a study as any of the plants or animals in the book.  You may soon find yourself making your way down the list of Durell’s works, and I am proud to say that I am making significant progress through the collection. Put Gerald Durrell on your  “Must Read” list!

 

Generally speaking, I am not subject to fits of anger.  I tend to keep a level head in most situations, practicing meditative compassion during rush hour traffic and while standing in long grocery store lines.  Walking along gently flowing creeks and a hike in the woods is my idea of a wild time out, and I’ll raise my voice only to get someone’s attention in a crowd or accentuate the punchline of a terrible pun.

However, while watching Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, I nearly had to pause the film on several occasions in order to march out into the street in a frothing rage to go and hit someone in the face.  Why the almost Hulk-like transformation from pacifist to puncher?  Hydraulic fracturing.

On the surface, harvesting natural gas from deep underground seems like a a good idea.  The United States contains a great deal of fuel-producing shale formations that trap potential sources of energy.  Proponents of natural gas extraction argue that we could wean ourselves off foreign oil by taking advantages of this home-grown alternative fossil fuel.  New York alone has enough natural gas to rival two Saudi Arabias, and extraction sites occur across the most of the south, midwest and parts of the west.

The infrastructure needed to drill, remove and process the gas has the potential to create new jobs and revitalize the communities whose land is leased to drill the fracturing wells.  Industry advocates assure the pubic that the harvesting process is safe, unobtrusive, and an overall benefit to the landowners participating in extraction. As Fox discovers after being sent a request to drill on his creekside Pennyslvania property, “fracking” holds some very hazardous secrets that affect the well-being and health of human lives, watershed ecosystems, and political transparency.

During Fox’s investigation of fracking, there are almost too many violations of decent human conduct to name.  Despite claims of fracking’s minimal impact on the environment, the process of drilling requires over 500 chemicals and millions of gallons of water to break shale deposits, keep the drill well open, and extract the gas.  Many of the compounds are known neurotoxins and carcinogens, and along with the gas they help remove, highly flammable.  Most of these chemicals are not biodegradable and sit in slurry pits, affecting the health of nearby residents, livestock and habitats.

Reports of cancer, brain lesions, fatigue, hair loss, infertility, and a veritable medial text book of other maladies skyrocket next to fracking wells.  Once clean wells become unit for consumption and water must be replaced with expensive alternative sources trucked in from miles away.  Promises to compensate landowners are either met with legal teams and empty guarantees or outright denials of the well’s detrimental effects.  Animals lose their hair or die outright, human beings suffer from permanent and irreversible illnesses, and the value of once productive agricultural land plummets.

As if corporate greed were not enough to stoke the flames of fury, the backdoor deals and creation of big business loopholes will set you ablaze.  Sidestepping the Clean Water Act,  legislation in 2005 known as the “Halliburton Loophole”  allowed the Bush-Cheney White House to let fracking industry forgo environmental impact reports and keep the identity and composition of their “proprietary” chemicals from public review.  The Act was also instrumental in the largest transfer of public BLM land to private interests in the country’s history.

Pieces of national heritage were opened to exploitation and almost irreversible damage without the majority of Americans being aware of the laws affecting their health and the appropriation of their tax dollars.  It may have been at this point in the film that I nearly had an aneurism.  (On second thought , it might have actually happened while watching people lighting their drinking water on fire.  WATER. ON FIRE.)

Now, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s consideration of lifting the fracking ban in New York state, it is time for the nation as a whole to take a closer look at the hydraulic fracturing industry.  How do we as a society want to power our infrastructure?  Where do we draw the line between consumption and safety, and what are we willing to sacrifice or change to be able to live in a healthy industrialized nation?

Right, wrong and on the fence. Sometimes it’s straight forward, right?

Wrong: when you fail to mention your boyfriend to a guy who offers to buy you drink, and then you slip away to “the bathroom” upon receipt of said drink. Wrong.

Right: When you then take said drink to boyfriend waiting for you in another part of the bar. Right.

In between: When you tell your boyfriend you bought it for him. Grey area.

Being green can be similar.

Wrong: Throwing away aluminum cans and taking 40 minute showers. Wrong.

Right: Taking aluminum cans out of the trash and putting them in the the recycling, then only taking a long enough shower to get the trash smell out of your hair. Right.

In between: Buying the occasional plastic water bottle and justifying it because “you recycled it” and then taking a semi long shower because you never do it.

However, it’s impossible to determine right and wrong without some amount of informed decision making. You KNOW that aluminum cans are recyclable. You KNOW that we don’t have enough water to go around. You know that plastic isn’t that bad if you…oh…uh…do we know that? Fact Check? Bueller?

Plastic has its uses and its place in this world. Yup. There are many effective and important uses for plastic. But here are eight facts you may or may not have known about how detrimental it can be to us and to our environment.

“BPA is a synthetic estrogen and commonly used to strengthen plastic and line food cans. Scientists have linked it, though not conclusively, to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.” (From Raw Earth Living) And you think, what about IV tubes? Aren’t those useful and good? Yeah, they are. However, there is a pretty nasty chemical that goes in to making an IV what it is. Known as di-ethylhexyl, this substance can leech from an IV into the bloodstream, and cause complications in more susceptible members of the population, such as infants. The average American produces half a pound of plastic waste per day. ‘The bodies of almost all marine species, including some of the most vulnerable and wildest species on the planet – animals that spend nearly their entire living far from humans – now contain plastic.” (Mail Online) For every 1,000 plastic bags distributed, 3 wind up in the ocean.  That doesn’t seem terrible, unless you consider that one billion bags are distributed every day. Plastics in the U.S. are made primarily (70 percent) from domestic natural gas. (Earth911.com) More than 260 species have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris. It will take 50 to 80 years for a plastic cup to decompose. (Greenfeet.com)
Composting Tips

The days are growing longer, the rain is falling — albeit intermittently — and the pollen on my porch is in an uproar. In the land of permanent sunshine and perpetual springtime, this could only mean one of two things: spring is either here or very close at hand!

And if you’re a perpetual gardening enthusiast like myself, then your thumbs must be perking up, as green as the oxalis rioting in your flower beds.

I don’t know about you, but when I get to feeling this way, the first thing I do is walk around the side of the house to inspect my compost pile. For me, there’s nothing like a happy heap of compost to put a smile on the face of an organic gardener.

So in order to ensure that happy heap, here’s a quick list of Dos and Don’ts to help you maintain a healthy, well-balanced mound of compost.

Compost Tips for the mindful gardener

1. DON’T let your compost get slimy. This is of paramount importance. If you’re regularly adding buckets of wet “green” kitchen scraps to your backyard heap, you will definitely need to add some dry “brown” waste to the mix.

2. DO add dried leaves, dried lawn trimming and wood chips to help break down the wet kitchen scraps and fresh green garden waste. Ultimately, you want a mix of about 50-50 wet waste (nitrogen) and dry waste (carbon).

3. DON’T just dump your kitchen waste on top of the pile and leave it there for all the world to see. Mix it in, and try to cover it with some older and/or dryer waste.

4. DO add wood and paper ash from your fireplace. Ashes are a great source of potash, or potassium carbonate, an essential component of a rich soil mix.

5. DON’T add ash from petroleum products like starter logs, or from cigarette butts.

6. DO add eggshells in moderation, but generally DON’T add animal products like meat or cheese. They will rot rather than compost. They will also attract unwanted, carnivorous pests and scavengers.

7. DON’T put poop in your compost, either from your pets or yourself. Fecal matter can harbor dangerous bacteria and parasites.

8. DO feel free pee on you pile. A healthy compost pile needs to be kept moist, and readily-available urine actually adds trace minerals that can benefit the mix.

9. DON’T add too many orange peals. Too much of anything can throw your compost out of balance, but the acidity of citrus peels (esp. if clumped together in the pile and not spread around) makes them slow to decompose and attractive to fruit flies.

10. DO add coffee grinds and tea bags. These contain great soil-enriching ingredients. A healthy compost will also break down the paper filters and bags without a problem. Same goes for bathroom tissues and occasional paper towels.

11. DON’T expect wine corks to break down very fast, but they can make a good addition. Natural wine corks are made from oak tree bark, definitely organic matter that will eventually, slowly decompose. In the meantime, their porousness can help with aeration and provide a niche for beneficial microorganisms.

12. DO cut your twigs and branches as small as possible before adding to the heap. Thick branches can take months or years to break down. (One or two long branches across the middle of the pile can actually be helpful for aeration purposes, but they won’t break down.)

13. DON’T worry too much about flies around the compost. That’s pretty normal, as long it doesn’t start looking like a 1950s science fiction movie. With any luck your compost will become home to herds of earthworms. We also get legions of pill bugs loitering in our compost; they thrive on the moisture. They also help break things down because they will eat anything that doesn’t move, and yet they’re relatively harmless as far as garden critters go.

14. DON’T expect your compost to do all the work. You’ll need to prod it with a shovel from time to time to make sure it’s not drying out or staying to wet. Periodic shoveling will keep it well blended and aerated. Eventually (after 3-6 months), you’ll want to flip the whole pile (so the fresh top layer ends up on the bottom and the more decomposed bottom layer ends up on top), and then start a new pile.

Go Green

I hope these tips on conscientious composting will help you deal with your waste management, and at the same time get your garden revitalized. Closing that loop between the production of household waste and the need for soil enrichment in the garden is a brilliant concept that can reduce your carbon footprint and increase your vegetative bliss.

Bamboo is another great way to make use of your garden space, as it is one of the best plants for converting CO2 into oxygen. It is a remarkably functional and versatile plant. In addition to making a very attractive shrub, bamboo can also be used as a fence or a privacy hedge, and its stalks can be harvested for any number of uses, including making fishing poles and various arts and crafts projects.

If you’re looking to beautify your garden with bamboo, you’ll also want to check out these two articles on selecting the best bamboo varieties and coping with bamboo containment.  

Photo Credit: A healthy heap of steaming compost (Unsplash)

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