One of the best chances for averting climate change is to tap into the collective intelligence of the entire scientific and business community to find ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The advent of crowdsourcing technology has made it possible for engineers, scientists and businesspeople to collaborate on finding solutions to an array of complicated problems, such as how to limit energy consumption without decreasing quality of life.
Recognizing the power of the internet to foster these partnerships, The Climate Group, a non-profit dedicated to combating global warming, has created EarthHack, a contest in which individuals from around the globe can work together to identify ways of mitigating the effects of anthropogenic climate change.
EarthHack will be hosted on Marblar, a platform that allows for people all over the world to submit ideas for solving scientific and technological issues. It is being supported in part by consumer product manufacturers IKEA and Phillips. The goal of these submissions should be to rethink technology in the home as it exists today to be more efficient and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1 million tons per year by 2020.
Contest submissions will be judged by a panel of academics and researchers from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, along with executives from the corporate sponsors and professionals in the clean technology field. The winner will receive $15,000 and a trip to Climate Week NY 2013 in New York City.
Competitions like EarthHack could accelerate the green living revolution, so check back with LifeIsGreen.com for more updates on how the scientific community is tackling the biggest environmental issues of the day.
You may have heard lately that there is a major effort to reduce Americans' addiction to genetically-modified (GM) foods, which can have an adverse impact on public health and the environment that is still somewhat unclear. What is clear is that most corn, soy and cotton crops are GM, and the consequences of this widespread adoption may become more acute as time goes on.
The main reason that the agriculture industry has switched to GM crops is that they are more resistant to herbicides and pesticides, so farmer's can grow more consistently and with higher yields than before. On the one hand, this has obvious benefits for consumers: foods are cheaper, especially meat derived from animals that were fed GM corn. Snacks made from processed corn and soy products cost much less and prices become more stable, with less fluctuations due to poor seasons and failed plantings.
But because these plants are more resistant to poisons, farmers will use more chemicals to make sure pests and weeds leave their crops alone. Those chemicals pose a threat both to people who eat produce from those fields, and to local water supplies as rainfall and irrigation carry the chemical runoff into the local water supply. This can have a major impact on local wildlife, and there is even some evidence that it is affecting honey bee populations, which are instrumental in pollinating crops.
The controversy with GM foods is ongoing, so LifeIsGreen.com will continue to bring you updates on this and other green living issues.
In partnership with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, over 100 restaurants in New York City have agreed to reduce their food waste with the goal of diverting trash from landfills, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding access to community gardens.
Mayor Bloomberg announced in a press release that the restaurant companies involved – which include Chipoltle, Cleaver Co., Juice Generation, Batali and Bastianich Hospitality and Momofuku – have agreed to reduce trash from unconsumed food in an effort to meet the city's goal of diverting 75 percent of all solid waste from landfills by 2030.
"Restaurants are a vital part of our economy and culture, and their participation in the Food Waste Challenge will help inform New Yorkers about sustainable practices and encourage their adoption," Bloomberg said in a statement.
Those participating in these efforts will be conducting waste audits that will determine the amount of trash generated by each restaurant. Once the audit is completed, each group will work to divert half of all their food garbage from landfills using various techniques including composting.
These efforts are part of a larger push, called PlaNYC, to improve the New York residents' quality of life. The goal is to combat climate change, improve the economy and "prepare the city for one million more residents", according to the PlaNYC website.
In addition to limiting food waste, the city will be promoting the construction of community gardens for city residents who had previously had limited access to fresh produce. If you are interested in maintaining a more eco-friendly lifestyle in New York City, LifeIsGreen.com has many great tips for becoming eco-friendly without too much difficulty.
Every now and then, it's good to peruse the internet for the latest gizmos that will help reduce energy consumption in your home without sacrificing usefulness or quality of life. Unfortunately, there are so many products on the market that it can be difficult to know which ones are worth the investment and which are duds.
Webecoist.com, an environmentalist website, recently published a list of 12 gadgets that will save resources and money while limiting your impact on the planet. Here are some of the highlights:
- A WiFi enabled thermostat will give you the ability to control the temperature of your home when you're not there. It can also alert you to changes in room climate. The model from Honeywell specifically mentioned in the list can be programmed over seven days with 4 intervals each day so that your home is kept at the temperature you desire without having to be manually adjusted.
- The Efergy Shower Timer and Alarm will monitor the amount of water used while showering, allowing for easier conservation. It also has a timer so that you can keep track of how long you've been bathing.
- This 16.8 Watt Solar Charger Kit from Voltaic uses energy from the sun to charge your mobile devices, including your laptop or smartphone, thereby limiting your dependence on fossil fuel-derived electricity. You could set this up in a window in your home and use it as a permanent charging solution or take it with you on camping trips where you may not have access to a wall outlet.
As the world's population grows, the biggest challenge for city planners and real estate developers is to create housing that is affordable, sustainable and uses land sparingly. In cities like New York, London and Tokyo, land scarcity means that developers have to build "up". But skyscrapers cost billions of dollars to construct, and they can take years to finish.
Broad Sustainable Construction (BSC), a company that specializes in developing skyscrapers made form pre-fabricated, mass produced units, announced recently that it has broken ground on Sky City, a 2,750-foot tower that will be the tallest in the world when it is finished. It will be located in the Chinese city of Changsha, in Hunan Province. What is most remarkable is that BSC claims it will complete construction by December, and that the building will be earthquake safe, energy efficient and cost half as much to build as it would using traditional methods.
Treehugger, an environmental news site, reports that Sky City will have 220 stories, containing 4,450 apartments that will be able to fit 30,000 people. Occupants will use 1/100th of the land used by the average Chinese citizen, and space will be set aside for a school, hospital, offices and hotel rooms. By putting these institutions in one place, the hope is to reduce citizens' energy consumption, as they'll be able to take elevators instead of cars to get to work and school.
If the project is successful, it could have an enormous effect on urban development not just in China, but worldwide.
Stay tuned to LifeIsGreen.com for more updates on the green living revolution.
One of the barriers to wider adoption of solar energy by consumers is the large upfront cost of installing a rooftop panel. Additionally, many electricity customers are renters or live in a condo with homeowners association rules that prevent certain kinds of construction on their property.
But these issues may soon become moot thanks to one trend that's sweeping the nation. Some states are making it possible for residents to band together and construct solar farms that feed renewable energy into the grid. These community-owned gardens are set up in such a way that anyone with a utility meter – whether they're a renter, a member of an HOA or if their house is in permanent shade – can purchase a solar panel in the array. As this panel produces power, the utility company will apply a credit to the customer's energy bill, lowering their electricity costs and helping the environment at the same time.
PV-Tech.com, a site that tracks the solar energy industry, reports that a community-owned solar garden was recently completed in Boulder, Colorado. Clean Energy Collective, an organization that manages these arrangements, contracted REC Solar to design and construct a 500 kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system which will begin selling energy to the grid. Customers who purchase or lease panels in the system will receive a per-kilowatt-hour rebate on their utility bill, similar to what they would get if they had a PV system on top of their house that supplied electricity to the grid.
According to the SolarGardens.org, a solar news site, similar community-owned energy farms are operating or being planned for California, Arizona, New Mexico and other states. Check back with LifeIsGreen.com for more updates on how energy consumption is becoming more sustainable.
The main concept that developed during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century was that goods could be manufactured by machines, thereby lowering costs and increasing the availability of many items to a much larger group of people. But up until recently, it only made sense to produce thousands or even millions of copies of a particular product in order to spread manufacturing costs among customers.
Unfortunately, one consequence of this process is that it creates a lot of waste. Cheap plastic goods like toys, appliances and containers are tossed out because they were made but not sold, they didn't meet the specific needs of the customer, or they broke and were rendered unusable. But 3D printing a new process that enables a person to produce any object out of basic materials, could have major implications for the relationship between consumers and their stuff.
The 3D printing process allows a person to build just about any object from a design file on a computer. The file is sent to the 3D printer, a electronic machine which constructs the object by melting and sculpting small beads of plastic, resin or metal. The costs of this technology have declined significantly over the last few years, and there's no reason to believe this trend will stop any time soon, meaning it won't be long before you could have one of these devices in your house.
There are many green benefits to widespread adoption of 3D printing. Users could create objects that are customized to meet their needs exactly, they could make more durable, high quality goods that will last longer than the mass-produced equivalent, and the cost of printing is miniscule, meaning that citizens of developing countries have as much to gain as those who live in rich nations.
LifeIsGreen.com will continue to bring you news on the latest green living technologies and products.
On Thursday, May 16, there were two big pieces of news that could have a huge impact on the debate over public policy regarding climate change. The first is that a new survey indicates that scientists have reached a consensus that human beings are the main culprit in causing global warming. The survey was conducted by analyzing the summaries, or abstracts, of almost 12,000 peer-reviewed academic articles from the last 21 years.
The study was led by John Cook, a professor at the University of Queensland, and was published in Environmental Research Letters, an academic journal.
Although in the past it was clear that almost all experts on the subject had reached the same conclusion, this study provides a measurable conclusion that such a consensus exists.
The other big news is that the insurance industry, which stands to lose quite a bit if natural disasters become more frequent as a result of global warming, overwhelmingly backs public policy that would mitigate the effects of climate change, according to a New York Times article.
The piece points out that many insurance industry companies support the adoption of a carbon tax, which would raise the price of gasoline, thereby making renewable energy sources such as wind and solar more attractive to businesses and consumers. Given the massive influence that oil and gas companies exercise over public policy in this arena, it's welcome news that there are other business interests that may be able to counter some of that power.
This could have a monumental impact on energy consumption in the United States, so stay tuned to LifeIsGreen.com to find out how you can reduce your carbon footprint before it starts to cost you.
Amtrak has had trouble making money in recent years, and has had to rely on Federal government subsidies to stay afloat. Despite enormous growth in ridership and the fact that most routes – particularly the shorter ones in the Northeast – are profitable, the largest passenger train service in the country still loses a great deal of money on its longer, less frequently traveled lines.
However, the company may be closer to solving the profitability problem.
On May 13, Amtrak unveiled the first electric locomotive in a fleet of 70 that is expected to replace its aging lineup of diesel-powered trains. The new models will feature more efficient energy usage, streamlined maintenance and improved reliability, all of which could lead to lower costs to the business and higher revenues.
"The new Amtrak locomotives will help power the economic future of the Northeast region," said Amtrak President Joseph Boardman in a statement. "Built on the West Coast for service in the Northeast with suppliers from many states, businesses and workers from across the country are helping to modernize the locomotive fleet of America's Railroad."
The trains were built by German manufacturer Siemens AG and were constructed at a plant in Sacramento, California. They feature regenerative brakes, a system used on electric vehicles, which sends electricity back into the grid when the train is braking.
Amtrak predicted that the electricity generated by this system would save the company $300 million over 10 years and produce 3 billion kilowatt hours of energy.
If the U.S. continues to convert its electricity production to renewable energy sources, the new locomotives could usher in an era of environmentally friendly commuter travel in which the transportation sector emits far fewer greenhouse gases and pollution into the atmosphere.
One of the biggest concerns for environmentalists over the past several years has been the shrinking size of rain forests in South America. Rain forests provide important ecological benefits for the whole world, not just South America, and their demise has led to a number of environmental disasters that could have devastating consequences for human beings and the natural world.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that rainforests also have an enormous role to play in hydroelectric power generation. Dams along the Amazon River generate 80 percent of Brazil's energy, but the study states that these structures will produce considerably less electricity – a third less – because the decline of rainforests means a decrease in rainfall for the region.
Dr. Claudia Stickler, from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute International Programme, told BBC News that trees in the rainforest play an instrumental role in creating rainfall. "They pull water out of the soil on a daily basis," she said. "The main reason is they are always pumping moisture into the atmosphere which ultimately ends up being rainfall and that's what keeps these streams going too."
Previously, scientists had determined that a reduction in the number of trees around a river could increase water levels, because precipitation no longer becomes trapped in tree roots before it reaches the stream. However, the data in this study indicates that this rise in water level is offset by the reduction in rainfall brought on by deforestation.
The study predicted that by 2050, there would be 40 percent less forest cover along the Amazon, resulting in a drop in electrical production of 30 to 40 percent.
Check back with LifeIsGreen.com, the best source for green living ideas and environmental news.