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Sunday, April 22nd: Earth Day 2007

Earth Day Header

It's the day before Earth Day and the weather is glorious, with forecasts for even better weather tomorrow. I say: get out and enjoy it! Some might add "...while you still can!" to that exclamation, but I'll leave it up to you to decide.

To me, Earth Day - which should be every day, btw - is about celebrating this wonderful planet upon which we reside and pondering ways to help keep it beautiful. Unlike the mass hysteria-media, Earth Day is not about global warming or global climate change, and so, even though the references I include at the end will talk about "saving the planet" in the context of global climate change, I highly encourage you to instead focus on better custodianship and making decisions that are based on sound logic, rather than the hype and FUD that we hear every day. Allow me to elaborate...

* Drive Hybrid or Alternative Fuel Vehicles: There are a few good reasons to make this choice. First and foremost, as a nation, it's the right thing to do as gasoline becomes more expensive and as we realize painfully how much we rely on foreign sources for supplying this fuel. This reliance on foreign sources puts us in a weaker position as a leader, essentially forcing us to play an active role in the Middle East, to try and make nice with socialist dictators like Venezuela's Chavez, and so on.

More than that, however, is the need to progress technologically. By failing to promote and adopt new technologies in vehicles is to tell researchers "we don't care about the future, we only care about what works today, even if what you invent and build for tomorrow works just as well or better." We have a need for technological advancement, particularly in the area of energy research, and we've done a very poor job of supporting such research in the past 30+ years.

Lastly, choosing hybrid and/or alternative fuel cars is good for the planet. Lowering emissions helps keep our air clean, which in turns helps keep us humans and our planet healthy. As good custodians of the planet, it is our responsibility to take care of it in whatever ways we can. And remember this: because of deforestation associated with urban development, the number of trees available to clean the air is significantly limited. We're not just talking burning rainforests here, but also reduction of green zones in our own urban and suburban neighborhoods, in our national forests (due to lumbering and beetle infestations), and so on. Trees clean our air, removing various pollutants and returning oxygen. This is rather important.

* Use Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs or LEDs: The media has probably been referencing the same source, but I've now heard multiple times that if every home in the US would replace 1 traditional incandescent lightbulb with a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL), then it would be equivalent to remove 2 million cars from the roads. This is a very simple change, and one that might surprise you in terms of its additional benefits.

In February of this year, I tried an experiment. I replaced the incandescent bulb in my wife's reading lamp with a CFL bulb. The result? Better quality light, reduced impact on her eyes, and an overall reduction in energy used (60W bulb replaced by 15W bulb).

Next, I moved to the bathroom, where we have one of those light bars with 6 40W globe lights. I replaced those with 10W CFLs and was amazed at the increased brightness and better quality of light. I've since made the same change in our guest bathroom. I've also replaced the dining room spotlight with a CFL spotlight, and it does an ok job.

Major downside: CFL bulbs have a very brief (half-second) hesitation when turned on and they take a minute or two to reach full brightness. However, overall, I'm using 180W less per bathroom, 45W less with the reading lamp (which is on the majority of the evening), and about 45W less in the dining room (can't remember exact W ratings on old and new bulb). Better yet, while these bulbs cost more up front, they are spec'd to last much longer, in addition to the small cost savings (that will add up over time) in my electricity bill. Oh, and btw, there is no noticeable flicker with the CFLs, unlike traditional long-tube fluorescents.

Bottom line: this is a simple change that can reduce energy consumption, which can have a cumulative effect of decreasing our impact on the planet.

* Create Green Zones In Your Landscape/Environment: If you are a homeowner, then I highly encourage creating a green space around your home. This means much more than just planting a tree, though trees are certainly a very good thing. Trees help clean the air and they can provide shade in the summertime, reducing your electricity costs. Creating a green zone can also help protect your home from wildfires, if watered. This poses, of course, a different problem, in terms of water conservation, but there are creative ways to work with that, too, such as collecting rainwater for irrigation or even going to the extent of adding water reclamation systems to your sewer system in order to use, for instance, grey water in irrigating. Regardless, not only do trees and grass and flowers and shrubs help the planet, but they also look nice and can oftentimes make you feel better (truly!).

* Buy Reusable Shopping Bags, or Choose Paper Over Plastic: One of the major uses of petroleum is in plastics. One of the major uses of plastics is in those thin, flimsy grocery bags that you get at your local supermarket. It turns out, it takes somewhere around 100 years for these bags to degrade in landfills once discarded. Oops! That's a whole lot of wasted petroleum going straight into dumps! This has led San Francisco to ban these bags and businesses like IKEA to get rid of them on their on. In other places, I've read that businesses are charging customers per plastic bag, to help discourage their use.

I could encourage you to recycle here, but people have been saying that for years, with limited results. Instead, I offer up a couple alternatives: choose paper bags when available or purchase your own reusable shopping bags. Paper bags are much more easily degradable, oftentimes are made of recycled paper, tend to be sturdier, tend to hold more, and so on. Reusable bags are even better. I recently purchased 4 reusable bags at Wegmans and was quite impressed! Not only are they vastly sturdier than convention bags, but their capacity was also much better, AND the handles were far more comfortable, not cutting into my hands. Where I would have needed 5-8 plastic bags, I can now get by with 2 or 3 fabric bags, and I'm not carrying any less, but it sure feels better.

* Wear Layers Instead of Cranking the Heat Up: Turning down your thermostat can save you 2% or more on your winter heating bills. By extension, this means you're consuming less energy, which helps reduce the effect on the planet of producing energy. Winter is notoriously a heavy energy consumption period. As an alternative to reducing the temp in your home, you can also look into other sources of heat, such as the innovative corn pellet stoves. Of course, corn pellets may cease to be a good idea soon, given the focus on corn-based ethanol being used in alternative fuel cars. It's just an example, however - find one that works best for you! :)

* Open the Windows Instead of Running the AC: Similar to the previous point, don't be in such a rush to turn on the AC in the Spring or Summer months (or Fall, if you live far enough south). If you suffer from allergies like I do, go see an allergist instead of relying on the AC. I've done so this year and have been much happier overall. Now, granted, if you live in an apartment complex like I do, you may run into chain smoking neighbors. It's been our curse wherever we've lived. Do what you can, and when you can't put up with outside air (cuz it ain't so fresh any more), then make your decision on AC. I cannot criticize those who need to block out external odors, since I need to that for myself.

* Support Clean Energy Sources: No, this is not a "carbon credits" discussion. It simply means this: coal is dirty, despite new technologies that scrub it, and natural gas power uses up natural gas that could be burned in vehicles and our homes, while increasing our reliance on foreign sources. Wind, geothermal, solar, nuclear - all good choices. Be wary of the FUD surrounding nuclear. Ask your Congressional Reps. and Sens. about supporting pebble-bed reactors. These are believed to be much safer than traditional rod-based reactors. China is building them today and we will quickly find ourselves behind if we don't. Solar is still relatively inefficient, but there are breakthroughs every quarter that significantly increase performance.

Ben's Theory of Micro-Generators: In the future, every home and business may have it's own personal energy generator that, for the most part, makes use of cleaner sources. The electricity grid will probably still exist, but more in a community setting to provide overflow energy to those in need. In other words, the grid will become a safety net, instead of our sole source of energy. Overall, this will reduce the cost of energy and our reliance on foreign oil, or even on oil in general. If hydrogen fuel sources start popping up, then this becomes even easier, potentially, to implement, and with the best of all possible emissions: water.

* Don't Litter (Smokers - This Means You, Too!): Nothing annoys me more than walking around the National Mall in downtown D.C. and seeing trash strewn all over the place. But, more than that, I'm really irritated by smokers who don't think their cigarette butts qualify as trash. Put trash in the proper receptacle! It's the right thing to do! When did this country become so lazy and pathetic that we could no longer do the right thing (and, no, I'm not talking about Iraq). Being better citizens means doing the right thing even in small cases like proper handling of garbage.

* Pick-up Trash When You See It: Because we're surrounded by a bunch of immature, inadequate, incapable, ignorant, lazy litterbugs, I highly encourage you to pick up trash when you see it and put it in a receptacle. Maybe not so much with cigarette butts, which are just plain nasty, but definitely with larger items like plastic bags, cans, wrappers, etc. Just do it, because it's the responsible thing to do. And please don't hesitate to hand trash to people who just littered, asking them to put it where it belongs, possibly even pointing out the trash can 5 feet away.

* Enjoy Nature - Become Invested In It: Put the remote or Wii controller down and go outside. Look at the trees, smell the flowers, walk around. Get out of the city, visit a park, visit the National Parks, and become invested in nature. It's a beautiful planet -- enjoy it! There are many wonders, and kids in particular will enjoy seeing them. If you're on a limited budget, then camp. If you don't particularly like camping, then go to motels. Driving can be much more interesting than flying (well, sometimes, anyway). Get out and enjoy the planet that I love so much, and that I want to remain clean and fresh and green.

* Practice, Teach Conservation: Ok, so I'm not always the best on this one. I leave the water running when I shave. Sorry! Conservation is often seen in a couple areas: water and parks. When possible, don't leave the water running. Discuss in your house the "mellow yellow" approach (the old slogan was "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down"). Homeowners with touchy septic systems probably know this already. As discussed above already, parks and green areas are very important, and they make life more enjoyable. Set an example in your life, and when possible reach out to others to call attention to your example. No, don't brag about it. I don't care how many carbon credits you've purchased, Mr. Gore, you're still using too much electricity (and should be a micro-generator, at that). Ignore the idiot celebrities and their $500,000 hydrogen sports cars. However, please do mention you 50+ mpg Prius or that you've been getting 30+ mpg in your Ford Escape Hybrid (as good as my regular Civic, in fact!). Habits can make dreams a reality when it comes to conservation.

* Buy Local, Buy Organic: Here's the downside: local and organic foods are often more expensive than mass-produced foods. Here's the upside: buying from local farmers supports the local economy, and organic foods lack the chemicals that may very well be contributing to illnesses like cancer and autism (*Note: hypothesis on my part). Mainly, though, I've found that foods unharmed by weird chemicals oftentimes taste better. Also, because these foods don't last on the shelf very long, it encourages us to buy what we need and then use it. Nobody likes to waste money, that I'm aware of anyway (except, perhaps, celebrities and politicians).

My question to you on organic foods is this: why would you knowingly put foods laced with strange chemicals into your body if you have an equivalent product option that lacks those chemicals and may, in fact, even taste better? Food for thought... ;)

That's it for my first annual Earth Day blog post. We'll see if I have the energy (hehe) to do this again next year. Following are some links and articles of potential interest, too. Make every day a Happy Earth Day! :)

Earth Day 2007 Resources:

NOAA is an excellent source of climate information. The following stories ran this week:

CLIMATE MODELS SUGGEST WARMING-INDUCED WIND SHEAR CHANGES COULD IMPACT HURRICANE DEVELOPMENT, INTENSITY — Global climate model simulations for the 21st Century indicate a robust increase in vertical wind shear in the tropical Atlantic and East Pacific Oceans, which could act to inhibit the development or intensification of hurricanes in these regions. Historically, increased vertical wind shear has been associated with reduced hurricane activity and intensity. http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2007/s2840.htm

The NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory will expand its Arctic observation with the addition of a new location in Tiksi, Russia, joining five existing laboratories placed internationally along the Arctic rim. It will be an important component of the NOAA Arctic Atmospheric Observatory Program, closing a significant gap in vital Arctic atmospheric research. Construction of the climate observatory will begin this summer. "Observations are vital to our understanding of the Earth's systems, and our current observations of the Arctic are revealing its importance to the health of the planet's atmosphere and oceans," said retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "More complete coverage of observations and in situ research will allow scientists to develop better models of how Polar Regions ultimately influence our oceans, atmosphere and ecosystems."

A lighthouse keeper in Iceland who records atmospheric measurements, a cartoonist who educates millions of readers and an amateur radio operator who organized a weather warning system are among the 10 recipients of the 2007 NOAA Environmental Heroes award. The annual awards commemorate Earth Day by recognizing individuals and organizations that volunteer their time to help NOAA carry out its mission. “There are thousands of volunteers who give their time to help NOAA do its work, and the NOAA Environmental Hero award is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to some individuals and organizations each year,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Each year, I am impressed by the efforts of the Environmental Heroes, who serve as inspirations to us all. On behalf of the 12,500 men and woman working for NOAA, I congratulate the 2007 winners.”

News Story Archive http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories/archive.htm


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 21, 2007 8:34 AM.

The previous post in this blog was VT Day of Mourning.

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