Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations

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Replacing EVAs with Algae Products: The Environmental Impact

Bloom Biofoam

Turn Algae into Biofoam

“Most of the footwear industry’s response to this increasing problem of end-of-life shoe waste has been negligible.”

By Linn Smith

October 7, 2016—Ever thought about what your athletic shoes are made of? Or where they end up when they’re discarded and no longer on your feet? Most likely the landfill. Over 20 billion pairs of shoes are produced yearly and over 300 million pairs are thrown away in the same year. And all of these shoes are still laying somewhere in our landfills, year after year, for up to 1,000 years!

Athletic Shoes and EVA’s

Most shoe midsoles, from the major running shoe companies, are derivatives of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate foam), with additives, such as polyurethane, to create the desired results of the individual shoe brand. What’s the down side of using EVA in today’s shoes? EVAs release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air when decomposing.

VOCs contribute to the formation of tropospheric ozone which is harmful to humans and plants, and can pollute groundwater and rivers when decomposing. According to Wikipedea, “Although there are some companies that are taking initiatives to produce environmentally friendly athletic footwear, most of the footwear industry’s response to this increasing problem of end-of-life shoe waste has been negligible.”

Turning algae into sustainable products.

Replacing nonsustainable products with biodegradables

Today several companies are working to create biodegradable footwear using materials that will compost when your shoes are tossed into the landfill. One such company is Bloom Holdings LLC, a new company which started production in early 2016, manufacturing a foam product from algae found in freshwater lakes and rivers. The company uses a mobile vacuum to harvest problematic algae from around the world.

Harvesting Problematic Algae

Problematic algae are often called red tides, which are algae blooms that have become so numerous they can discolor the water, depleting oxygen and often releasing toxins. Algae can also cause human illnesses via consumption of seafood contaminated by the toxins.

There has been a rise in problematic algae for several reasons including global warming, which is causing an increase in water temperatures encouraging algae to flourish. Nitrogenous fertilizers and detergents can also cause problematic algae bloom, making their way into freshwater rivers and lakes, killing many fish. And finally, overpopulation can lead to overfishing of predator fish which results in a massive increase in small fish and large blooms of algae.

Bloom algae

Creating Sustainable Products

Bloom Biofoam

Of about 5,000 plus species of marine phytoplankton that exist on earth, only about 2% are toxic or have harmful effects. BLOOM harvests these algae, making them into pellets, then turning the pellets into a flexible, biodegradable foam which can replace the harmful, non-biodegradable EVAs. The products are competitively priced, hypoallergenic and naturally antimicrobial. Bloom biofoam can be molded, made into sheet foam, or compressed.

The first product made from algae blooms is a surfboard material in collaboration with pro-surfer Kelly Slater. The surfboard pad contains 25% algae foam. Most products will have a minimum of 25% algae bloom. Bloom Company estimates that making the surfboard pad will return 28 gallons of clean filtered water back into the habitat, per pad. And it will prevent 22 helium-balloon sized equivalent of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere–per pad.

“We try to incorporate sustainability and practicality into everything we do. We want to help make more sustainable product options an accessible and easy choice,” says Mike Van Drunen, co-founder and CEO. BLOOM offers a sustainable answer to conventional flexible foams, with less environmental impact.

What we do today effects tomorrow!



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The Irresponsible Practices of the Palm Oil Industry

Palm oil and negative environmental impact

Palm oil plantations are in demand as the world uses more palm oil

The use of palm oil products, that further the destruction of our planet, its people and wildlife, is not acceptable!

By Linn Smith

December 4, 2015—Being curious about palm oil and its devastation to wildlife habitats and the environment, many questions have lingered in my mind. What are the various kinds of palms and what palms are used as oil palms? What is the relationship of oil palms to coconut palms? (I use a lot of coconut oil!) How is the harvesting of products from palm trees effecting our environment? So I decided to investigate and here’s what I found:

Palm Oil Products

According to, a zoo currently working towards spreading awareness of the negative impacts of palm oil, the oil can go by many different names in many different products, such as foods, cosmetics, hair and lotion products, cookies, toothpaste, cleaning products, and the list goes on. Here are some of the different names for palm oil you may find on these products: Cetyl Palmite, Ethyllhexyl Palmitate, Hydrated Palm Glycerides, Octyl Palmitate, Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol, Palmolein, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palmate….and more!

The Arecaceae Family

Oil palm and other palms, including coconut, come from the family Arecaceae which means “palm”–but there are thousands of different species of palm trees which grow a variety of different fruits, from dates and acai to coconuts. The fruit of the palm oil tree has kernels which are pressed to make palm oil. Most palm oil comes from the species Elaeis Guineensis. Coconut palm is from the species Cocos Nuciferas. A website,, describes many of the various fruits of the palm family.

The Palm tree, which we get our coconut oil from, is mostly cultivated in Indonesia, the Philippines and India on a very small scale. The coconuts, harvested by local farmers, are a renewable resource. The coconut palm is known as a “three generation tree”, as it continues through three generations, supporting the farmer, his children and his grandchildren. The farmers produce coconut for coconut milk, coconut oil, fibres for rope, mats, mattresses, and paint brushes.

Removing tropical forests for palm oil

Tropical forests are burned to make room for palm oil plantations.

The Negative Impacts of Palm Oil

Quite the opposite of coconut production is the environmentally unfriendly production of palm oil. The oil palm is mass cultivated on large plantations that have been created by removing not only the indigenous people from their homes, but also have devastated the habitat of wildlife, mainly the Orangutan and Tiger in Indonesia and Malaysia. Tropical forests have been cleared to create plantations. This clearing has added to the warming of our planet as the valuable trees are cut and sold, leaving the rest to be burned down. Burning of the tropical forests emits large quantities of smoke into our atmosphere. Oil palms are then planted.

When the forests are cut they release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, driving up temperatures by the greenhouse effect. Indonesia is the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. It is estimated that 714 million acres of tropical forests will be cleared by 2050 adding another 169 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the the atmosphere, significantly raising global temperatures.

Oil palm industry and child labor

Child labor is used by the oil palm industry.

Violations by the Palm Industry Corporations

Corporations involved in the palm industry are accused of human rights violatons by employing child labor and taking the land owned by indigenous people for their own financial benefit–to supply the world with palm oil! Without their own land, the indigenous people have no choice but to become palm plantation workers, getting paid barely enough to support their families.

Another negative effect of cutting tropical forests for palm oil plantations is the destruction of peatlands, which store carbon. These peatlands, which have developed over thousands of years, are drained and cleared. According to, “Draining the peatlands exposes the upper layer to oxygen, raising decomposition rates and soil carbon losses. Most of the carbon is emitted into the atmosphere, speeding up climate change by emitting still more greenhouse gasses.” Clearing a single acre of peatland rain forest can release up to 15,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, (one hectare releases up to 6000 tons of CO2).

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

In 2004 the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established by producers, manufacturers, traders, bankers and investors of the palm oil industry, with the objective to “promote growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards.”

Greenpeace and many other environmental organizations have criticized this group as, “Falling short of protecting the rain forests and reducing greenhouse gasses,” because the RSPO which has created the certified sustainable palm oils is not guaranteed to be deforestation-free. The RSPO also allows the destruction of peatlands by the industry. In 2013, 200 scientists asked for stronger standards, but the RSPO failed to respond.

In 2014, 67,000 tons of palm oil was used by Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Nature Valley, requiring 44,700 acres of tropical land to be cleared to grow the palm oil.

According to the Union Of Concerned Scientists there are steps we can take to let the industry know these practices are not acceptable. By going to the website:, you can sign a letter to the industry to increase sustainable practices.

The use of palm oil products, that further the destruction of our planet, its people and wildlife, is not acceptable! Do what you can to make a difference!

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Solar Powering Your RV

Generators are loud, noisy and smelly! Plus, it can be expensive to use gas generators, which send emission fumes spewing into our atmosphere.

By Linn Smith

October 2, 2015—-A market for solarizing the RV (Recreational Vehicle) is currently growing, as more people are becoming full time RVers and spending winters in desert communities without hookups or on mountain peaks in the national forests (Boondocking). Why go solar with your RV? Generators are loud, noisy and smelly! Plus, it can be expensive to use gas generators, which send emission fumes spewing into our atmosphere. Solar is clean, requiring little maintenance, and it’s possible that it can pay for itself in the long run if you’re a full timer.

Our Solarized Scamp

Here’s an example of a simple solar system for a small trailer or pop-up. About ten years ago we created a solar set up for our little 16′ Scamp travel trailer from two solar panels. We bought the panels from a friend who owned a small business and was no longer using them. Each panel measured approximately 2′ by 4′. We hooked them together with two heavy door latches so they would fold up for storage. Battery cables were attached to the negative/positive wires which connected to the posts on the trailer battery.The result? All lights that worked off of the battery (except one flourescent that needed an electrical connection) continued to work into the night when the battery was charged by the sun. When the sun changed directions, we moved our panels around so that they were directly facing the sun.Two long metal rods were used to support the panels, leaning them back to catch the overhead sun. Ten years ago this set up was a good topic of discussion with other campers on our camping path who inquired about our “free electricity.”

Solar for rvs, travel trailers, solarize.

Solar for RV

Relying on the Sun’s Energy

Today, most solar panels for RV’s are laid on the roof and are unable to track the sun, but are more convenient than moving the panels around during the day to face the sun, as we did with our Scamp system. Also, regular solar panels mounted on top of an RV will lose voltage as they heat up, with temperatures above 77 degrees. So panels should be high voltage panels and mounted with space underneath to allow air to flow.

Boondocking and relying on the sun’s energy may require you to conserve electricity, as most RVs have a limited amount of battery storage, although in the future this most likely won’t be an issue. More efficient appliances might also help to conserve electricity when boondocking.

Building a Solar RV Swamp Cooler

I have a friend who built a swamp cooler for his RV. And, it works well in a semi-desert environment like Colorado. And, to go one step further, how about setting it up as a solar swamp cooler? (See website below for details).

Solar Power and RVs

You can design your own method of solar!

Online Solar RV Sites

To be on the safe side, if you know nothing about wiring, I recommend hiring someone who knows the ropes, as it may be dangerous to you and your RV, if you attempt installing a solar kit without the necessary knowledge. That said, there are several good sites that will explain the technicalities of wiring your RV for solar and sites to find installers:

1. Kits– Gives local resources in AZ that will provide advice, businesses that deal in rv solar and solar kits.
2.– From this website you can access many links on solar rvs and descriptions of the sites.
3. site is by a couple who are full time RVers. Among other information the site has a section on RV Electrical/Solar, in which they describe “various wiring techniques and electrical designs which conform to the electrical code.” If you want to hire an installer they recommend AM Solar (Greg Holder) in Springfield, OR, Palmer Energy in Florida, D&R Family RV, in Glendale, AZ or Starlight Solar in Yuma, AZ.
4. this site you can download directions for not only building a swamp cooler for your rv, but also turning it into solar.
5. help from their Solar Guru they give you an idea of the perfect solar setup for 3 types of RVers: Basic, Medium and Heavy use.

Home Depot, also, has most of what you would need to convert your RV to solar. You can order these parts at solar panels, chargers, inverters, amp charge controller, battery or everything in a kit.

Solar and Your RV

Boondocking in the Desert.

Troubleshooting Your System

If your solar system doesn’t work well, it is almost always an installation issue. “Very few systems installed by RV manufacturers are done in an optimal fashion. Even dedicated solar installers often do not match components correctly or configure the system optimally. That is one reason I encourage people to implement their own systems, where they have the desire and the minimal necessary skills. Designing the system will teach you enough to ensure a good installation by others.”

So, if you have an RV, or pop-up, and you’re thinking about a cleaner, greener environment, I hope this will give you some ideas.

Working for a cleaner planet!

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Why Mines Are Polluting Our Waterways

Contaminating our waterways from mining

Aug. 10, 2015 – The EPA team accidentally released waste water into a creek which flows into the Animas River–Image by Jerry Mcbride

“There is no state or federal program for systematically inspecting these mines, tucked away in high mountains, the hangover from mining booms and busts that made Colorado a state.”

By Linn Smith

August 23, 2015—The recent mine disaster that resulted in contamination of the Animas River in Colorado and downstream tributaries has lead to much discusson on all levels–what to do with the mines that are leaking contaminants which, in many cases, miners have just walked away from? The EPA didn’t know how much water they were dealing with in the Gold King mine. Why? Being a Coloradan, I have been inundated with news on the subject–from national news and articles to extensive speeches by Govenor Hickenlooper and representatives from other states effected by the spill. So why haven’t the mines been cleaned up? Why are such big mistakes made from lack of knowledge about the mines?

Mines use water for processing the minerals being extracted. The mill water was used to crush and grind the ore, with much of the minerals and metals being desolved in the water. Waters used to process the minerals often contain chemicals and the resulting leachate water, which has trickled through solid mine waste, may contain an excess of metals, minerals and chemicals.

Mining pollution from the 1800s Miners walked away from mines after striking it rich or going bust.

Bulkheading the Mines

When miners walked away from their mines, many were not properly bulkheaded, which is a means of containing the comintaminated water behind retaining walls to prevent the water from running into nearby streams and rivers below the mines. But the Gold King mine proved bulkheading may not always be the answer, as the bulkheading may “prime the mines for blowouts.” According to the EPA, bulkheading of the nearby Sunnyside Mine was a factor in the blowout of Gold King mine, and “led to loaded-up wastewater in the Gold King mine, worsening contamination of the Animas river.”

How Much Pollution from Hardrock Mining

A study in 2011 showed that mining of metals accounts for about 40% of the 1.9 billion pounds of toxins released into air, water and land. Often the state regulaters may not be aware of leakage from these mines until local residents start complaining about the color of their drinking water or the dead fish rising to the surface of nearby streams. In Colorado there are an estimated 23,000 abandoned mines, and at least 230 abandon mines are known to leak metals such as cadmium, copper, lead, arsenic, manganese, zinc and contaminates at a rate many times above the safe level. The combined results of the current mine leakage may be as much as the Gold King mine, or 3 million gallons every other day, effecting nearly 2000 miles of rivers and streams.

Who will clean up our mines?

Mines are often high in the mountains and difficult to get to.

The EPA has estimated there are half a million abandoned mines in the Western U.S., with an estimated $50-$75 billion needed to clean them up, and the cleanup for many mines will take years. Many of the mines date back to the 1800’s when the prospectors walked away from their mines after extracting the sought after metal. Their only thoughts were of striking it rich.They had no environmental concerns of contamination of groundwater or restoration of the land.

Laws were not enforced the first 125 years of mining. Until the Gold King disaster in August 2015, the leakages of most mines have not been tracked. Along with lack of awareness of their effects until complaints are filed, the clean-ups have been “hampered by a chronic lack of resources, political battles and engineering challenges.” Congress has not required any sort of remediation payments for the hardrock mines, but since 1977 coal mines have been required to pay per ton of coal for clean up.

The law of 1872 leaves no responsibility for cleanup of mines

The Mining Law of 1872 still applies.

The General Mining Act of 1872

This brings us to the General Mining Act of 1872, which states that, “All citizens of the U.S. 18 yrs of age and older have the right to locate a lode (hard rock) on federal lands open to mineral entry.” It was an attempt by the U.S. government to populate and settle the West, opening federally owned land to the public that hadn’t been set aside for other uses. The price of the mining claim was set at $2.50 to $5.00 an acre and has not changed since 1872, except to require a $100 holding fee and to exclude coal and oil from the Act in the 1920’s. Approximately $230 billion of minerals have been mined since this act passed. Many bills have been introduced to change the Mining Act of 1872, but miners have fought against them and they’ve been dropped.

The Clean Water Act

And why aren’t our rivers protected from mining disasters under the Clean Water Act? After reading many documents it seems to be true–they are exempt by loopholes! The objective of the Clean Water Act (1972) is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of our waterways in the U.S… preventing pollution sources, providing assistance to publicly owned treatment for improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of our wetlands. The Federal government has set standards for controlling discharges to surface water. But, there appear to be two loopholes which miners take full advantage of: 1) Miners are allowed to designate lakes, rivers and wetlands as “waste treatment systems.” They can dam a stream and pour in their toxic wastes. 2) In 2002, the term “fill material” was redefined under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to include tailings from hard-rock mines, allowing exemption from pollution rules. And here’s what really is disappointing! The Clean Water Rule of 2015 expanded the government’s jurisdiction and “increased costs and regulatory burdens on businesses including the mining sector….expanding the types of water bodies that require the Clean Water Act permit, but excluded from the “Waters of the U.S.” under this Rule are waste treatment systems, including treatment ponds or lagoons designed to meet the Clean Water Act requirements.”

Superfunds for Cleanup

In 1980 a U.S. Federal law called the Superfund was passed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous materials, pollutants and contaminants and also giving rights to Federal and state agencies, and Native Americans to recover damages from hardrock mines, but, the Superfunds have rapidly dwindled due to the expiration of the corporate tax that supported it. The Superfund was intended to cleanup sites when the responsible parties are unable or can’t be found or the miners have walked away, declaring bankruptcy and tranferring their assets to a corporation with a different name controlled by the same people.

Suing the EPA

In May 2015, Earthworks and other environmental groups brought a lawsuit against the EPA stating, “The EPA has unreasonably delayed issuing financial assurance rules and seeks an order for the EPA to finalize rules by January 2016.” They petitioned the court of appeals for a Writ of Mandamus that would require the EPA to issue rules that make industries cleanup when handling hazardous waste. In an article by Jeremy P. Jacobs, May 12, 2015, he stated, ” Environmentalist are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to force the EPA to put the law into effect so that financial assurance regulations are required by the 1980 Superfund clean up program.” He also stated, “The Federal judges lost all patience with the EPA when considering why it has taken more than 30 years to fulfill a congressional mandate requiring large industries like hardrock mining to assure the EPA they can cover the cost of cleaning up their pollution.” A financial guarantee, in the form of trust funds or bonds from the miner would be established before mining on public or nonpublic lands and would assure the EPA and the public that reclamation and cleanup would be financially feasible if the company is not able or willing to pay when the mine is closed. If this is not enforced, the taxpayer ends up paying for the cleanup.

The Good Samaritan Act

Another possibility for clean up is H.R.963-Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation act of 2015. It encourages remediation of inactive and abandoned mine sites by good Samaritans, (individuals or entities who had no role in the creation of the historic mine residue or resulting environmental pollution and are not legally responsible for the remediation of the historic mine residue.) This is important because, in the past, individuals and conservation groups were not willing to take on the cleanup without liability protection from the Clean Water Act, as they would be left responsible for water quality while working on the site.

And Why Aren’t They Cleaned Up Yet?

So these are just some of the complexities of what seems like a no brainer–just clean them up! Time, money, laws or lack of, loopholes, lack of organization and responsibility, liabilities and just plain blunders have hampered the cleanup and led to the huge mistakes like the Gold King Mine incident which dumped millions of gallons of pollution into our waterways.

To support the cleanup of these mines let your voices be heard!


The Origin of Lawns and Their Environmental Impact

Xeriscaping:  The Green Lawn

Xeriscaping can reduce cost and care of lawns.

“We should all know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment.”

By Linn Smith

June 5, 2015–Lawns are not a natural part of our environment. Lawns originated around the 16th century as grassy fields around English and French castles. Trees were cut down around the castles, leaving only grassy fields that would reveal an enemy coming forth in the wide open spaces. When the trees were cut, the grasses and flowers sprouted naturally, creating a meadow. “Lawn” originated from the word Launde, which means an opening in the woods. The moist climate of Europe supported these grassy meadows which eventually became our lawns of today.

Origination of the Lawn

The castles created meadows, “lawns”, to watch for
approaching enemies.

The History of Grass Lawns

“Grass” is from the plant family Gramineae, which has over 9000 species of plants. In the late 16th century “grass” lawns became fashionable, rapidly catching on among the wealthy. In 16th and 17th centuries lawns were mostly wildflowers and herbs such as chamomile.

Gardeners maintained the lawn with a scythe

Only the wealthy could afford lawn care.

Until the 19th century, mowing consisted of a scythe, shears for edge trimming, a gardener to maintain the lawns, and/or cattle and sheep grazing around the estates. In the 18th century this was a sign of the wealth, the vast lawn showing the amount of wealth of the owner (reminds me of Jane Austin novels)–lawns implied a staff and servants with scythes, shears and edging irons.

Mowers: Creating Easier Lawn Maintenace

In 1870 the push mower was invented, and in 1919 the gasoline mower allowed for much less effort in maintaining a lawn. (A note of interest: during World War 1, Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep, about fifty, cutting the White House lawn, which saved manpower during the war. He sold their wool to the Red Cross.)

When the suburbs sprouted up in the U.S. after the war, the architects created lawns around homes, which increased the value of the house and was inviting to the post war families who enjoyed lawn games of croquet, badminton, ect. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, houses were sold with lawns already in place. With the gasoline mower and the sprinkler system, the lawns were easily maintained.

The Downside of the Beautiful Lawn

So, here’s the downside of our beautiful, European lawns today: In an article on, Sarah Zielinski says it nicely, “We should all know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment. Keeping turf from turning brown wastes water, people use too many pesticides and herbicides, toxic chemicals that contaminate the fish we eat and water we drink. And mowing burns fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Plus nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere with fertilization!”

And one more negative impact of our nice lawns–we are harming the bee population which we depend so heavily on for pollinating the wonderful foods we love! So, unless you are maintaining your lawn with only a scythe, push mower or sheep, maybe it’s time to rethink what we plant in our yards!

Xeriscaping:  The Green Lawn

Xeriscaping can reduce cost and care of lawns.


Xeriscaping is a water conserving method that orginated in Colorado. It originated from the Greek word “Xero”, which means dry and “Scape” meaning view. It does not mean zero landscaping. It does mean planting plants that will do well with little watering. The plants are not necessarily native to the area, but are selected for their water conserving abilities. Xeriscaping makes more water available to the community and the environment and reduces maintenance, with just occasional weeding and mulching. Less cost and less maintenance leaves more time for other things! Xeriscaping also reduces water pollution, as herbicides and pesticides don’t end up in the groundwater.

New Mexico has been planting the most beautiful yards using water conserving plants for centuries! It’s time to rethink our beautiful lawns and think about creating beautiful Xeriscaped yards instead!

Lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment!

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The Living Machine: Providing Sustainability Plus Education

The Living Machine: Teaching the Siences

A sustainable environment provides education for students.

When we combine a sustainable environment with the education of our children, we are handing down one of the most valuable gifts to future generations!

By Linn Smith

May 8, 2015—-The Living Machine is a trademark created in 1999 by Tom Worrell. While in Africa he observed the interconnectedness of all things in nature. He returned to the U.S. to attempt to emulate this interconnectedness, developing the Living Machine, which is an “ecological sewage treatment designed to mimic the cleansing function of wetlands.” Water for all beings became his mantra, as he attempted to live and inspire others to live consciously and responsibly.

Nature’s Recycling System

For most of man’s existence, waste was part of nature’s recycling system, providing food for microorganisms at the bottom of the food chain. With population growth and people settling in large urban areas, human waste has been disconnected from the cycle. Modern waste treatment plants often send much waste to the landfills. Septic tanks can contaminate the soil and ground water, with too many in an area overloading nature’s purification system.


In a wetland, nature filters out sediment and decomposes vegetation, recycling the nutrients. Dirty water moves through the marsh, while the bacteria that clings to the wetland plants consumes some of the water pollutants. Other contaminants get stuck in the mud, resulting in cleaner water flowing out of the wetlands than flowed in.

The Living Machine

The Living Machine can be build as a greenhouse.

To simulate the wetlands, Worrell uses bacteria, algae, protozoa, plankton, and/or snails to clean the water. Pumps circulate the water, sending the waste water through several different oxygenated tanks, where solids settle and begin breaking down by a microbe community living in the roots of plants. The water then. goes through the wetland basins. These wetland basins can be integrated into the exterior landscapes of a building, built into the building or in a greenhouse. The basins are alternatively flooded and drained, just as natural wetlands are, creating many tidal cycles each day. The final stage is filtration and disinfection which leaves water clear and ready to use.

The Living Machine and Education

What’s really cool about this system is that it can and is being built in schools! It not only purifies waste water, but is used as an educational system for the sciences.

In Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, NC, a waste water system was going to cost the school district $4 million to connect to the nearest municipal treatment plant. The district went a different direction and researched onsite systems, which were sustainable and saved money. They chose the Living Machine System. The school’s waste water is sent through the system and then is used to irrigate three athletic fields.The school system is saving nearly 2 million gallons of water per year and the district saved millions of dollars! The Living Machine System provides onsite educational opportunities for students–it’s a living laboratory for biology, chemistry and environmental classes AND the athletic fields a green whether there’s a drought or not!

When we combine a sustainable environment with the education of our children, we are handing down one of the most valuable gifts to future generations!


Making a Difference in Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Megacities and CO2

Megacities are currently in action to reduce greenhouse gases

Many people are aware of the problems ahead, leading efforts to make a difference in emissions due to burning coal.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

December 18, 2015—Coal is the dirtiest and least expensive of the fossil fuels. Burning coal emits soot, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, coal causes more illness and fatalities than other fossil fuels. The consumption of coal increased 54% in the years from 2000 to 2011. In this 10 year period, China’s coal consumption went up by about 1½ times, oil consumption doubled, and natural gas by 3 times the previous amount. China now burns almost half of all coal consumed each year. In the same time period, India’s coal consumption has more than doubled, oil consumption increase by half and natural gas by 131%. In the summer of 2012, a coal dependent power grid collapsed producing a blackout that affected 640 million people.

Leading Efforts to Make a Difference

It is clear that world consumption of coal as an energy source is increasing in many nations. However, many people are aware of the problems ahead, leading efforts to make a difference in greenhouse gas emissions. One such effort was led by the mayor of London, England. In 2005, the mayor invited representatives of 18 of the world’s largest cities to meet and discuss the need for large cities to take action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Soon after, with the help of the Clinton Climate Initiative, the group grew to 40. The merger of two groups in 2012 led to the formation of what was designated as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

There are three levels of membership in this group. The original and core section is that of megacities. Megacities are defined as cities with currently more than three million people or metropolitan areas of over 10 million, either currently or projected by 2025. Cities are also admitted to this class if they are among the top 25 cities in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). The number of megacity members has now grown to more than 60.

There are two other categories of members which allow smaller cities to participate in the program. To date nearly 5000 measurable actions have been initiated that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. Already existing actions taken by these cities are expected to reduce emissions by 248 million tons by 2020 and by one billion tons by 2030.

The Megacities Carbon Project

Controlling Pollution Over Megacities

The City of Los Angeles: Coal Free by by 2025

The city of Los Angeles is one of the megacity members of the C40 group. As part of their action plan, the city has pledged to become coal free of energy sources by 2025. The mayor and Board of Water and Power Commissioners of Los Angeles have announced a plan to be coal free. The city currently gets 39% of its electrical energy from coal driven power plants, located in Utah and Arizona. The city will end its contract with Arizona in 2015, and will convert the Utah plant to natural gas by 2025. Between 2005 and 2013, Los Angeles increased the amount of energy used from renewable sources from three to twenty percent.

Other Notable Events Related to Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions

1. A Nevada coal fired plant was shut down due to activist pressure. In May of 2014, NV Energy announced plans to close its four coal fired power units of the Reid-Gardner Generating Station near Moapa, Nevada. The plant has been a point of contention in Nevada for many years. The Moapa Indians attribute a variety of health problems to this plant. The problems include asthma, heart disease, and lung disease due to coal dust.
2. President Obama, along with the EPA, has placed future limits on coal burning plants.
3. Eleven cities have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.
4. In 2014, Ontario, Canada announced that it will become the first North American industrial region to eliminate coal power.
5. The World Bank has declared it will sharply restrict funding for new coal-fired power plants in developing countries.
6. The US Import-Export Bank has declined to fund a huge new coal plant in Vietnam on environmental grounds.
7. A bureau of land management lease sale for 149 million tons of coal in the Powder River Valley has failed to attract a single bid.

Many people and organizations have recognized the urgency of climate change and are working to make a difference!

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Monitoring Greenhouse Gases of Megacities: The Megacities Carbon Project

Megacities and Pollution

Nasa project will monitor pollution above large cities.

The end result will be an accurate assessment of greenhouse gases and the trends that affect them.

By Linn Smith

December 11, 2014—At least 70% of fossil fuel CO2 emissions and a significant amount of methane emissions come from the world’s largest cities, cities with 10 million or more people. According to NASA, our planet’s 40 largest cities combined are the 3rd largest CO2 emitters. Riley Duren, of NASA, is part of the project which is testing methods to monitor the greenhouse gases above megacities. Mr. Duren says he hopes to work worldwide to create a global carbon monitoring system. L.A. and Paris are pilot cities in this project. By the end of 2014, Los Angeles will host 15 monitoring stations around the city to get an overall picture of pollution above Los Angeles.

Using a Variety of Tools to Detect Pollution

According to the article, NASA and Partners Target Megacities Carbon Emissions, “Most countries and some states produce annual inventories of their greenhouse gas emissions based on energy statistics and other data, but the same information is typically not available for individual cities.” The Megacities Project uses a variety of measuring tools to accurately assess the emission of greenhouse gases by a city. The measuring tools include instruments on towers and buildings, measurements from aircraft, mountain peaks and satellites, and instruments which interpret the data by tracking the wind.

The Megacities Carbon Project

So far, there has been no accurate monitoring of pollution above megacities.

Megacity Hotspots

Directly linking the CO2 “hotspots” accurately with cities that are pollution megaproducers has so far not happened. It has been difficult to take enough measurements to get local data of CO2 above a city. This is changing with advanced technology and information from satellites, such as NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2). (See the Planet Earth Weekly article, “Studying Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide: The Launching of OCO-2”, July 29, 2014.)

The end result will be an accurate assessment of greenhouse gases and the trends that affect them. This monitoring system will hopefully be extended in the future, to smaller cities and large power plants. The information will eventually be shared and combined with other data of a city to direct policies for a cleaner environment.

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Flexfoil Airplane Wings: Improving the Efficiency of Flying

Saving fossil fuels.

An important discovery for the environment.

“Putting the significance of the Flexfoil system on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s probably an 8 or 9.”–Fayette Collier

By Linn Smith

November 30, 2014—“For all the advances in aircraft design over the last century, the wings of an airplane are still fundamentally clumsy,”–David Szandy. Researchers at NASA have developed and tested airplane wings that make a plane quieter and more fuel efficient. The result: Airplane flaps that have been replaced with, “advanced shape-changing assemblies that form seamless bendable and twistable surfaces.” The Adaptive Compliant Training Edge (ACTE) is a NASA/Air Force project that improves efficiency and creates a quieter airplane ride upon take off and landing. The really great part! This system can be retrofitted to existing planes. The Flexfoil system is currently being tested by NASA, has passed all tests and is ready for its final demonstration.

Flying with fuel efficiency.

One of the most significant inventions for airplanes.

Replacing Conventional Flaps

The flexfoil was created by Dr. Sridhar Kota, founder of Flexsys of Ann Arbor Mich. His system is expected to have great effects on the future of aviation. The project replaced the conventional, rigid hinged flaps of an airplane, with advanced, shape-changing flaps that “form continuous bendable surfaces.” When conventional flaps are lowered, gaps exist between the forward edge and sides of the flaps and the wing’s surface. The ACTE flaps will be gapless, forming a seamless transition region with the wing, while remaining attached at the forward edge and sides. The flexible flaps are able to morph into whatever shape the flight conditions require, with the ability to bend the wing’s flaps up to 40 degrees. What materials do the new flexfoil flaps consist of? This information hasn’t been revealed to the public.

Flexfoil Flaps: Flying With Greater Efficiency

Thomas Rigney, project manager, said “We expect this technology to make future aircraft lighter, more efficient and quieter. It also has potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars annually in fuel costs.” Although it may be costly to replace old airplane flaps, doing so would be cost effective in the long run, earning back the investment within approximately 3 years. Replacing the flaps of older airplanes would be even more cost effective, as these are not designed to be as efficient as newer models. Fayette Collier, an aerospace engineer who runs the NASA Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project, which is funding the test flights along with the Air Force, says that if he had to put the significance of the Flexfoil system on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s probably an 8 or 9.

Flexfoil airplane flaps are one of the most important discoveries of today—

improving the efficiency of airplanes, while burning less fossil fuel!

Methane is a fossil fuel that is one of the Greenhouse Gases

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The Hottest Spot of Methane in the U.S.

“It was discovered that the four corners area of the U.S. (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) contains the highest level of atmospheric methane in the U.S.”

By Linn Smith

October 29,, 2014—In a study, “Four corners: The Largest U.S. Methane Anomaly Viewed in Space”, published by NASA in October, it was discovered that the four corners area of the U.S. (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) contains the highest level of atmospheric methane in the U.S. Data taken from satellites have concluded that this area is a “hotspot” of greenhouse gases which are contributing to the global warming taking place on our planet today.

The NASA Study

According to NASA, this hotspot in the Southwestern area of United States accounts for 10% of all methane emissions from natural gas operations in the U.S. The EPA states that one pound of methane can trap 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than one pound of carbon dioxide.

What is Methane?

Methane is colorless, tasteless and odorless at normal temperatures and pressures. It is highly flammable and, in the proper mixture, is highly explosive. The common name for methane is natural gas, which is primarily methane, a fossil fuel which we add odor to for safety purposes. Most of us know this smell from natural gas cooking stoves.

A History of Four Corners Mining

A history of the four corners area shows this part of the U.S. to be one of the most prolific natural gas (methane) patches in the U.S. Drilling for oil and gas started in this area in the 1920’s. According to High Country News, “Coal mining and two huge coal power plants were layered on top of the natural gas resources in the the 60’s and 70’s to turn the landscape into a fossil fuel super center with an economy dominated by the energy industry.”

As techniques were invented to make it easier to mine coal and natural gas, the fossil fuel energy industry exploded. Improved technology led to rapid extraction of fossil fuels trapped in the underground coal formations.

A methane hotspot.

The four corners area shows the most intense concentration of methane.

Explanations of the Four Corners Hotspot

The question that the NASA study tried to answer is, “Why?” Why is there a huge concentration of methane gas over the four corners area? Some thought it may be from the release of methane during the mining of coal, but, if this was true, then the equally large mines, such as Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, would show an atmospheric “hotspot” when viewed by the satellite. Others thought fracking was the explanation, but the study predates fracking on a large scale, as modern hydraulic fracturing began in 1998. The study began in 2003, before fracking became widespread in the U.S. Also, as with coal mines, the data would have shown hot spots in fracking areas as big or bigger than the hotspot over the four corners area–but it doesn’t. So, again, why the methane hotspot over the four corners area?

Leaking Methane

An aging infrastructure of the coal and gas industry is leaking methane into the atmosphere

Infrastructure Leakage?

Thousands of miles of roads and pipeline have been laid under the ground surface of this area, and much of this web is aging. Eric Kort, one of the scientists studying the hotspot, says this, “The hotspot of methane is a result of leakage in the infrastructure that makes up the mining and processing plants in this area.” He states there are “many, many leaks in wells, pipelines, processing plants and maybe coal beds themselves. Nearly a trillion cubic feet of natural gas, i.e. methane, is sucked out of the four corners basin every year and its infrastructure is old and has developed cracks, holes, loose valves, ect.” He thinks that all these leaks turned into the four corners hotspot.

Marvendra Dubey, a Las Alamos National Lab scientist studying the hotspot, said, “In light of the expansion of hydraulic fracturing in the Farmington, New Mexico region it is important that we continue extensive monitoring with the state environment department to assure we are attributing and managing the overall methane emissions responsibly.” She further says, “Our findings clearly show that one needs to look at the fossil mining industry, as a whole, when it comes to fugitive leaks, and that research on verification of reported leaks is critically needed.”

The Time is Now to Make Changes

Currently, there is some discussion concerning who’s responsible for the methane accumulation over the mining and fracking areas. The mining industry’s view is, “This is the way we’ve always done it and this is the way we will continue.” This attitude can no longer be accepted. Further research is necessary, but in the meantime, responsibility needs to be taken by the fossil fuel industry, with a move forward to enforce stronger EPA regulations on the extraction of coal and gas. Regulations which are not just “voluntary!” When it comes to global warming, our planet is not going to wait for long, drawn out decisions by politicians and the lobbyists who back them!