Ahhh, the renewable resource conundrum. How do you really deter
mine the renewability of a resource? By rate or regeneration? Availability? Potential to re-grow? Monetary investments to ‘renew’ it? Natural balance?
Palm Oil, the latest explosion on the renewables market came under scrutiny for being a root cause of severe deforestation. Greenpeace and other environmental groups internationally protested specific companies that were harvested palm oil in unsustainable methods. In a twofold act, there was a push to make palm oil sustainable to help secure the growing market for palm oil as well as to provide a viable long-term product. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) formed to help provide guidelines based on a scientific understanding of the natural thresholds and best practices for harvesting palm oil.
The buzz? The Netherlands has publicly committed itself to be the first Country to use only sustainable palm oil by the year 2015. Companies have in turn been dropping Sinar Mas as a palm oil supplier after Greenpeace’s attacks on its questionable practices that may have led to severe deforestation. Among those companies Nestle, Cadbury, and Kraft were quick to drop the company. More progressive companies are themselves committing to responsible palm oil sourcing including Seventh Generation and General Mills.
Photo Credits 1 and Greenpeace.
With the Autobahn in Germany and the US’s extensive highway system who would have thought that Italy was actually the first country in the world to build motorways? Completed in 1926, the road from Milan to Lake Como, or the A8 was the first true motorway. Well, the Italians are at it again with the advent of the World’s first 100% solar-powered motorway!
What is a solar-powered motorway?
Good question! I did quite a bit of digging to truly understand the concept, and it is quite revolutionary. Focused on a reduced environmental impact for the long-haul for both the ecological system and the human system, the roadway will boast the newest innovations in energy, safety, and construction. This motorway, the Catania-Siracusa, is the first large-scale integration of major infrastructure and distributed power generation. It will feature 80,000 PV panels along the road that will power the lights, tunnel fans, road signs, emergency telephones, and all the services and street furniture. The PV cells are hoisted in 3 artificial tunnels on the road and are estimated to produce 12 million kWh on an annual basis. This will reduce an approximate 31,000 tons of oil and 10,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. WHOA!
The additional ecological efforts included “the planting of thousands of trees and plants, improving existing tree lines and hedges, and increasing the extension of local woods.”
How far along are they?
The construction portion is complete and is scheduled to open to the public in January 2011. 1/4 of all solar panels were installed and operational at the end of September, and their steady progress has continued. To date they are expected to finish on time. Although the Italians have a little bit of experience in this sector having built out solar panels along the A20, Messina-Palermo motorway, totalling 368 kWp to provide electricity for all of the building located along the 183km motorway. They have also done a similar project near the Alps.
These are quite impressive numbers and efforts made for long-term sustainability through out Italy. Now if only we can learn from their efforts and do the same when our “season of Road Construction” starts up in the US after the winter months.
To learn more about solar-powered roadways, check out the Matter Network’s article.
Where do you think we should build solar-powered roads in the US? Have you heard of the Idaho man who suggests building roads WITH solar panels in place of asphalt? Now that is turning roads into truly productive and usable spaces.
Photo Credits: Reverberi Italy
The EPA has stepped up its game over the past few years, regulating substances and incidences that it could only dream of doing in the past (not because it wasn’t legal, but due to lack of support). So the new lawsuit against them over their alleged leniency toward lead in hunting and fishing equipment is quite a blow to their large steps of progress. The lawsuit came as an early Thanksgiving present to the Federal agency, delivered by conservation and hunting groups along with organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity.
Why are these groups suing the EPA?
The case is over whether the EPA has adequately regulated lead, specifically related to hunting equipment. Lead is a well-known toxin that most of us have removed from our homes (lead paint anyone?) and the majority of our products. What we have not yet regulated are the products ejected into our natural environment including fishing tackle and hunting ammunition. The lead contaminants in these pieces of equipment have been tied to poisoning none other than the Eagle and a wariety of other wilflife, mainly birds and fish, that are most susceptible to lead poisoning and lead intake due to diets and habitat. Now if you aren’t a big animal lover, this still impacts your health. This hunting equipment it typically the reason you are eating the meat in the first place, so your food may have trace contaminants of lead. Pescitarians be ware.
Is the EPA responsible?
Now this is where the true debate lays for this lawsuit. Not in companies being responsible for their products, or hunter and fisher men and women using the equipment. Does the EPA have the power to regulate this, and if so, why haven’t they? The details will require quite a bit of legal sorting. As is true for many Federal agencies, responsibilities can overlap or be divided in odd ways (the FDA regulates food…but not dairy products, that is the USDA for example). It is unclear at this point whether the EPA has the authority to act on the issue. They attempted to regulate this issue in 1994 unsuccessfully. The Toxic Substances Control Act is the main piece of legislation under scrutiny to determine accountability in this case.
Did the groups go too far by suing, in place of working with, the EPA?
The debate is already emotionally charged since it is not a new issue. Since we are still in the beginning stages of the actual legal debate, it is difficult to say. It is commendable that the hunting and conservation groups took it upon themselves to help shed light and now regulation upon an unsustainable practice. Reading the statements from leaders from the hunting groups, it is encouraging to learn that they take personal responsibility, but would like the support and authority that the EPA can lend to help solidify more ethical and healthy practices. At present, it is unclear whether the EPA has the authority to regulate this, although the majority of signs point to yes. One major sign is the EPA’s own website outlining their efforts to reduce lead, lead poisoning, and lead in homes. So why not wildlife?
You can read more about this issue through the Center for Biological Diversity’s “Get the Lead Out” campaign here. If you would like to learn about lead-free hunting, check out Project Gutpile’s efforts started by and working for hunters. To read what the EPA has already helped regulate regarding Lead, check out their website.
So what do you think? Too early to tell? Cheers to effective regulation? Or down with over-regulation of industries?
Get the Lead Out
So there has been a buzz for quite some time about the green thing called “Cloud Computing” yet all of the literature is pretty cloudy (excuse the bad pun) for the average non-techie geek. Here is a basic and brief overview of this mysterious cloud computing (please note that its simplification may leave out some things that are beloved and important to techies, but this is for us non-techie types just trying to “get it” as best we can).
So typically your computer has a home base (server) that store your information and keeps you up and running. Sometimes you need a lot of energy and memory (kind of) to run your website and sometimes, you don’t. So what is up with all of this wasted time where the full capacity of your home base isn’t being used?
This is where cloud computing steps in to help out. It is kind of like sharing all of that extra energy. There are these common places for the servers to all sit and play nicely with one another. Then you and your website neighbors all store and put your information into these shared areas. So when you don’t need extra energy, your neighbor might, and vice versa. This helps use the potential of these home bases more efficiently.
Think of a shared basketball. Sometimes you and the neighbors all play together at the Recreation Center, and sometimes you just go in to shoot some hoops. But either way, having a shared basketball instead of one for every person helps get the best use out of that one basketball.
So who uses this kind of stuff? Well major cloud computing “providers” like your phone-provider are: Salesforce, Google, and Amazon among others. Microsoft, HP, Dell, IBM, and other large computing companies are very actively involved with cloud computing.
So what’s with all of this chit chat about it being “green”? Well as you can imagine, this can make the process a lot more efficient. There has been a lot of concern over companies going “paperless” which would in turn result in more electronic waste (a very toxic alternative to the highly recyclable paper) through the need of more servers. When we have paper waste, we can see it, we can feel in infringe on our space, and we feel the urge to clean it up or get rid of it. Since the same information can also be stored electronically, we often forget about it and electronic file build-up requires a great deal of energy and electronics to keep it stored and accessible. This is an ongoing debate, so keeping your inbox cleaned up and your computer free from unnecessary files. That said the emissions cut by investing in cloud computing as opposed to older versions on dedicated servers can reduce emissions and energy usage quite a bit.
Learn more about emissions cutting through cloud computing from this study.
Phew! The heat WAS on Facebook for awhile after getting into a public debate with Greenpeace about utilizing coal-fired plants to power the social networking behemoth. In response (kind of), Facebook has launched several eco-friendly campaigns and efforts to combat their not-so-pretty energy sourcing.
Taking Control with a Green Page
Amidst the waves of information and mis-information, Facebook has created their own “Green” Page to assist in communicating their environmental efforts as well as providing global environmental news from a variety of sources. Treehugger, Greenbiz, and other mainstream environmental news sources’ articles are re-posted on their page. Thus far there are around 18,000 Fans or people who “like” the page. They highlight their programs including recycling and composting efforts (a reduction of 294 tons of CO2 emissions), reducing their water consumption by almost 60%, lighting updates that have saved enough energy to date to power 330 homes for a year, and their green transportation program that offers shared rides to their employees. They also tout some of their energy and techie-geek improvements including a new photo storage program that has uses 20% less energy than their former solution. Not too shabby.
Partners from Greener Pastures
They are also getting smart and teaming up with organizations who know quite a bit about eco-friendly living and solutions. Their partners include the Alliance to Save Energy and Digital Energy Solutions Campaign. The Alliance has launched a website titled “livingefficiently.org” for consumers to learn more about energy consumption and quick tips (of course it is nothing compared to the Pays to live Green’s blog ;)). These partnerships are helping Facebook gather the information they need for effective action in the eco-sphere along with increased credibility after being blasted by Greenpeace.
So being the techie-geeks they are, Facebook’s internal geniuses came up with a new language that cuts the number of servers needed in half. It’s name? HipHop…perhaps a bit comical when the stereotypical picture of a computer geek, but we like the “hip” connotation it has that things are progressing and moving forward. The good part other than for Facebook is that they are providing the language on the open sourcing networks to share the energy-savings (and of course who wouldn’t want to invent the next BIG computer language?).
Well, Facebook may not have made any friends at Greenpeace recently, but they are taking their learnings to the streat and are working to share best practices with others in open platforms so companies and individuals alike can learn something from Facebook’s efforts.
So despite Facebook’s recent investment in a coal-friend power plant, they are getting a few of their green ducks in a row, persay, and moving in the right direction to help set an example for what is possible in the realm of online behemoths.
Photo Credits: Green Peace.
The (in power) people of San Francisco have spoken. Out with the Happy Meal! Almost…
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that requires any restaurant that includes toys with a purchase to meet specific nutritional guidelines. This continues San Francisco’s distinct lead as the most legislatively progressive City in the United States. After banning plastic bags, requiring all government run offices utilize non-toxic cleaning products, and putting a standard into place that all new government construction must be LEED certified, the people in power in San Francisco continue their visionary practices.
Despite McDonald’s claims of persecution and targeting, the ordinance is applicable to all restaurants that include a toy with purchase that do not meet specific nutritional guidelines. The ordinance has been under consideration for awhile, and restaurant industry groups as well as individual companies like McDonalds have been fighting its passage into law.
Why an Ordinance on Meals with Toys?
The overweight and obesity numbers in the United States are staggering. Sadly enough, 15% of the children in the US are either overweight or obese. An atrocious and unhealthy jump since the advent of fast food. With a variety of factors playing into these numbers, it is difficult to pinpoint a true culprit. Perhaps that is because this epidemic that threatens the health of tens of millions of Americans has a large span of “causes”. Cheap food (with a high true cost to our health, environment, and human rights in developing nations), chemically-simulated food experience (read Omnivore’s Dilemma to read about how through a manipulation of the senses, chemists can make any piece of food trick your senses), and American’s distinct lack of exercise relative to other developed nations. The numbers threatening the lives of children have become such a large concern that the health care industry is has significantly increased their charges, and the health and fitness industry have significantly increased their range of products and enrollments for extreme cases of weight loss.
Now, the Ordinance that was passed actually does not “ban” anyone from selling food, it requires that they meet specific nutritional guidelines in order to provide a meal with a toy. The Ordinance goes into effect December 1st, so restauranteurs have a small bit of time (and plenty of previous notice prior to the vote) to get their new toy-included meals in nutritional order.
Direct-Marketing to Children
Direct marketing to children has been banned in many locations, and there are a few legislative actions that have been put in place to reduce this type of marketing. The first major and successful attack on direct-marketing to children came from the TRUTH campaign and others targeting cigarette companies like Philip Morris with the idea that if the companies target them, the ‘children’ or young adults have the right to target the companies right back. Although meals with toys may be marketed to a younger group, less vocal and action-oriented to fight their plastic toy that comes with their meal, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took it upon themselves to protect the children. Some individuals believe that these types of regulation also help give power back to parents and guardians as the decision-makers during a time when the market is flooded with “wants” and “new things” to tantalize even the most well-behaved child.
The Details (honestly)
As stated earlier, this was not a direct attack on McDonalds but instead on an unsustainable and unhealthy practice within ALL food establishments. By creating standards that are clear and accepted by nutritionists and doctors as acceptable for healthy meals, not just happy meals, the government has taken children’s health upon themselves.
The nutritional requiremenst are…
- Calories: Less than 600
- Sodium: Less than 640 milligram.
- Fat: Less than 35 percent of calories from fat; Less than 10 percent from saturated fat (with exception for nuts, seeds, eggs or low-fat cheese).
- Fruits & Vegetables: At least half a cup of fruit or three-quarters of a cup of vegetables
“This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children’s health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment,” Mar said.
And it challenge it may be for some restaurants to truly adhere to these standards.
Will My Happy Meal be Banned?
This legislation was passed within the City of San Francisco. There has been little talk about other Cities, States, or the Federal government following San Francisco’s lead. That said, if McDonalds and other food establishments with toys as part of meals want to stay in that market, they will have to adapt. If the larger companies adapt, and smaller businesses can share their lessons and transitions to healthier meals, then there is little reason not to adopt the healthier standards. If the framework and advice from similar businesses is available, why not take advantage of it?
Did they go to far?
Companies like McDonalds are claiming discrimination and that the San Francisco government has gone too far. Is the regulation of the industry fair? Well, that can be a pretty subjective discussion. What is important is that it is legal, and the intent behind the regulation was not to discriminate, but to address a growing epidemic of childhood obesity that threatens the lives of our future changemakers. In fact, the issue of childhood obesity has grown into such a health threat in the United States, that First Lady Michelle Obama, and world famous Chef Jamie Oliver are making very public efforts to bring nutrition, proportion control, and education back to food for children in the US.
What do you think? Do you think the San Francisco government went too far, or that we as a nation haven’t gone far enough to address this critical health issue?
Last Happy Meal
Say that ten times fast! Evapotranspiration is going to be popping up in the news a lot so let’s get the run down.
Evapotranspiration (ET) – This term refers to the ‘transport of water into the atmosphere’. Specifically from surfaces including soil (hence the “evapo” for evaporation) and vegetation (transpiration).
Why is this important?
As you may have guessed, evapotranspiration is accelerating due to various factors including climate change in certain areas of the World. With temperatures rising, more water evaporates from surfaces, feeding it into the water cycle, which is now being inundated with more water than usual. Some scientists have found that evapotranspiration has completely ceased in other areas. Their current theory is that we have reached the limit of certain water tables, and the land is not able to ‘give up’ any more water to the system. This is most common in areas that are suffering severe drought and unusual weather patterns due to climate change.
Although this sounds very “sciency” it is an important concept to become aware of and monitor in your own communities. The areas suffering from severe drought tend to be in the Southern Hemisphere including Africa, Australia, and parts of Asia. Although these areas typically have wet and dry seasons, scientists are finding that the dry seasons are far exceeding their limits on the natural balance.
To learn more about evapotranspiration, check out the Encyclopedia of Earth.