August 02, 2007

More Energy Calculators

There are, of course, a huge number of calculators online that offer visitors the chance to discover just how nasty or nice to the environment our living habits actually are. My beef with these calculators is twofold:
  • They rarely explain the math behind the calculations.
  • They often gloss over many of the ways in which we impact our environment.
I've just stumbled across a calculator that seems to address at least this latter problem. The Personal Environmental Impact Calculator breaks down your energy use into transportation, recycling, water, and energy. It's not exactly the sexiest calculator out there, and there are a few broken links but most of the results are well documented, and provide helpful conservation suggestions and further reading.

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July 29, 2007

How Clean is Your Electricity?

You might turn the lights off when you leave the room and replace your standard bulbs with CFLs but unless you're living by candlelight, chances are you're still using plenty of electricity. So where does your electricity come from? Mine comes from PG&E, who are desperately trying to brand themselves as one of the greener energy providers out there. What about your energy provider? Chances are, you don't know squat about the company name on your utility bill.

Well, the EPA has a handy little look-up tool called the Power Profiler that tells you just how "clean" your provider is. It breaks down the energy sources for your zip code, and compares your portion of the grid to the rest of the country. Pretty nifty, huh?

And once you've been suitably shocked into action, you can search for green energy providers in your state.

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July 07, 2007

What's Your Foodometer Read?

What a great little vid that reveals a whole lot of depth in a wonderful way:

[Via the wonderful Ethicurian]

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July 06, 2007

Yesterday's Technology Today! Beer Bottle Solar Panels

Not everybody gets hot water when they want it. Ma Yanjun, of Shaanxi Province in China, was a farmer with a cold family. So he did the only logical thing one could do in such a situation: he built a solar panel out of beer bottles and affixed it to his roof. Now his family of four can each get a warm shower in the morning.

As The Beer Activist points out, "it's a great example of small-scale sustainable technology." Ma Yanjun managed to solve a pressing problem by using found materials and a little ingenuity. His solar panel depletes no resources, uses "unwaste" that would have otherwise been sent to a landfill, and it has even inspired ten other families in his neighborhood to do the same.

The science behind it is so simple that anyone can make one of these things. I couldn't find a step-by-step tutorial for this particular model online, but I did find instructions for making a hot water heater using reclaimed materials, as well as a great tutorial for a hot air heater. Of course, this might be a little more hands-on than most want to take on, but what a cool excuse to work your way through a case of beer!

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February 20, 2007

Save the World a Sandwich at a Time

peanut butter and jelly sandwich campaignI have always been a sucker for a peanut butter sandwich, ever since having to write a step-by-step instruction guide for making one in the 5th grade (this was a lesson in following directions and literalism, or something).

But apparently my peanut butter addiction has been making a difference: every sammich I've eaten has saved anywhere from 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions than if I had eaten a hamburger! Given how many peanut butter sandwiches I've eaten over the course of my life, that means I've saved at least 7,500 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Damn, I'm good! (I also happen to have saved over 36,000 square feet of land from deforestation, overgrazing, and pesticide and fertilizer pollution!)

And now you, too, can help save the sandwich at a time. The campaign appears to be the work of do-gooder Bernard Brown, who perhaps has just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. Regardless, who can complain? Eat up, smokey!

[via Sustainablog] [Edited to correct my stupid statistical math.]

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January 06, 2007

Cool Jerk: Control Fridge Waste

What is it about the Quest for the Holy Snack? You know exactly what I'm talking about: you're craving something delicious—maybe sweet, maybe salty, maybe crunchy, maybe ice cream—so you open the refrigerator door to see what you've got. And then you stand there and stare.

How many times a day do you do this? If you're like me, you do it a fair amount. But I'm on a new quest now—one to change my fridgerly habits. Surprisingly, I've discovered that it's really quite easy...

Step 1: Clean the fridge outside
Refrigerators are remarkable easy to move. They generally slide right out from the wall. From there, you can see all the nasty bits and dust that collect along the coils. Clean it up! This stuff keeps the fridge from running at maximum efficiency. Do it once a month (that's about 5 minutes of your time), and you're good to go.

Step 2: Clean the fridge inside
Nobody likes a casserole dish full of mystery loaf. When you get rid of old and expired products, it becomes much easier to see what you actually do want eat. Try storing items in clear glass containers—they're reusable, and you avoid the out of site, out of mind phenomenon.

Step 3: Close the damn door!
This one's easy. Now that your fridge is clean and organized, and you can see all your food through glass bowls, it shouldn't take you long to decide what you want. Why is this important? Because your fridge loses a lot of cold air when you open it even for a minute and it takes extra energy to re-cool once you close the door. It's been reported that the standard snack-seeker increases their energy use by 5-10% through the simple act of routinely opening and closing the fridge door.

Step 4: Turn it down
How cold does your refrigerator run? If you can stand to turn down the temperature even a single level, you'll save a lot of energy. Do the same for your freezer if it has a seperate control.

Step 5: Fill 'er up
While normally I would never recommend simply filling your fridge with useless foods that you'll probably never eat, I can't deny that a full fridge uses less energy than an empty one. This is because the air required to stay cool takes up less volume than the food itself. This is particularly useful for your freezer, where you can store food for longer and waste less.

Step 6: Replace it altogether
Not everyone can do this—us renters are stuck with the fridge we've got. But if you're a homeowner, consider replacing your fridge with an Energy Star rated appliance. Not only will you use less energy, but some gas & electric providers actually offer additional discounts on your bill when you buy these products. You can download a handy Excel spreadsheet to calculate just what you'll save.

Aside from replacing your appliance, all of these steps require about 10 minutes of your time per month. So what are you waiting for? Once you're done, you can reward yourself with some cookies—and you don't even need to open the fridge to get them.

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December 20, 2006

Douglas Fir vs. Douglas Faux: Are Fake Christmas Trees Better Than Real?

While many of you may already be curling up by a well-lit and amply decorated tree, we just bought ours yesterday. This is only the second year we’ve ever had to buy a tree, and this time around we wanted to make the most environmentally friendly choice.

There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to Christmas trees (three if you count “Bah Hambug” as a school of thought). One insists that fake trees are better, as they are reusable from year to year while real trees are simply cut down and thrown out after a few weeks. The other argues that real trees are renewable resources that create valuable oxygen and feature non-environment-damaging materials while fake trees are not recyclable and rarely last as long they claim. So who is right, here? Is there a clear winner in the perennial battle between Douglas Fir and Douglas Faux?

Well, not only is there a clear winner but there are plenty of options for those of us who want the perfect eco-tree. It turns out that real trees are more sustainable, for a whole host of reasons:
  • Materials used: Fake trees are made almost exclusively from PVC, a petroleum-based plastic. Anytime you buy plastic you encourage our dependence on (foreign) crude oil. Remember that war going on over on the other side of the world? That’s about oil. I could make a Christmas-Muslim joke here, but I’ll leave that to Bill Maher and instead point out that wars suck, no matter what their cause. Real trees, on the other hand, improve the air we breathe by emitting healthy oxygen.
  • Recycling: Once a fake tree has worn out its welcome onto the trash heap it goes, taking up space in our already over-taxed landfills. Real trees, on the other hand, can be chipped into mulch and used in the garden, or planted for shade and aesthetic advantages.
  • Price: The average real tree actually costs less than the typical artificial tree, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
  • Smell: Seriously, real trees just smell more Christmas-y.
  • Freight Impact: It may seem astounding, but artificial Christmas trees are the 5th most imported product from China (according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce). Over 9,000,000 fake trees were shipped all the way from China in 2005, requiring an increased dependence on oil and taking a huge toll on the environment.
So if you’re thinking about replacing that plastic tree this year (or next), consider going the natural route and purchasing a real tree instead. And if you do buy real this time around, remember the following options:
Potted Trees: Available at home supply stores, orchards and local tree farms, living trees with roots can be planted on your own property after the holiday, or donated to a local school, church, or nature group for replanting. If you do it yourself, be sure to read up on the best way to plant a tree so it doesn’t eventually take over.

Organic Trees:
Sadly, most living trees are grown using pesticides. To find an organic tree farm near you, check out this list, Local Harvest, or Google.

Recycle Your Tree: If you buy a non-potted tree, don’t just dump it in the trash when you’re done enjoying it. Check with your local public works dept., as many schedule a specific tree pick-up and recycle day. Or bring it to a local farm or garden center so they can chip it and use it as mulch.

Rent-A-Tree: I'm not kidding. If you live near Portland, you can rent a living tree for the holiday that will then be picked up and planted for you. They're still taking orders, so hurry!

Use LED Lights: No matter what tree you buy, make sure you use LED lights. These are 90% more efficient than incandescent lights, which saves you money, too! And please, don't forget to turn them off when you're not home or when you go to bed. You can always buy a timer so they go on when you wake up, if you really need that "Surprise! Here's a lit tree!" feeling.

Other Christmas Tree links worth checking out:

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December 07, 2006

Put Your Online Gaming in Perspective

If you've ever uploaded an avatar to an online forum, community gaming site, or whathaveyou, you should really check out Nicholas Carr's take on avatar energy consumption.

What the hell is avatar energy consumption? you might ask. Well, Nicholas crunched some numbers using the rampantly popular online world Second Life as an example. Using the estimated number of avatars hosted on Second Life's servers and the typical energy consumption of those servers, among other factors, he extrapolated the following:
The average Second Life avatar consumes about 1,752 kWh (that's kilowatt hours) annually while the average real life human being consumes about 2,436 kWh annually.

That's a lot of real-life energy just to maintain a pretend life!

Be sure to read some of the comments to Nick's post to learn about the CO2 emissions of online players among other mathematical acrobatics.

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