Planet Earth Weekly

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


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Xeriscaping: A Step Towards a Healthier Planet

xeriscape

Xeriscaping can be combined with a traditional lawn

“What can we do to eliminate the stress our lawns create on the environment? Xeriscape!”

By Linn Smith

June 15, 2017—Spring is turning into summer soon and it’s time to think about our yards. It’s time to ask ourselves if we can continue our current practices of lawn upkeep and still protect the planet.

In May, I published an article, “The Origin of Lawns and their Environmental Impact.” In this article I stated the negative impact of keeping a lawn green. “Keeping turf from turning brown wastes water. People use too many pesticides and herbicides that contaminate the soil and water surrounding their lawns. Mowing burns fossil fuels. Also, we’re killing off our bee population, which you probably have heard by now, we need for pollinating the food we eat.”

It’s estimated by the EPA that lawn irrigation uses approximately 9 billion gallons of water daily, sending nitrogen from lawn fertilizers into our waterways. Also, millions of tons of pollutants are emitted into the air from lawnmowers.

xeriscaping

Xeriscaping with native plants reduces water needs.

What can we do to eliminate the stress our lawns create on the environment? Xeriscape! We can replace turf that requires an excessive amount of water with plants that can withstand drought conditions. Xeriscaping is a more creative and less toxic method of maintaining the land around our homes. It uses plants that require little water to maintain.

According to http://www.xeriscape.sustainablesources.com, there are 7 things to consider when xeriscaping:
1. Planning and Design
2. Soil Improvement
3. Appropriate Plant Selection
4. Practical Turf Areas
5. Efficient Irrigation
6. Use of Mulches
7. Appropriate Maintenance

xeriscaping

Drought tolerant plants use less water and are hardier.

Planning and Design

It’s not necessary to Xeriscape your entire lawn. You can decide how much you want to plant sustainably. Choose native plants and plants well adapted to your area. Native plants are already survivers of the climate you live in. Rama Nayeri of Creation Landscape Design says, “For almost every non-native plant there is an equally sustainable native option”—which also attract native wildlife.

Soil Preparation

Get rid of the existing grass or weeds. If you’re in a hot sunny area you can cover your turf with black plastic in the spring or early summer. Leave it in place for 4-6 weeks. You can then remove the plastic, leave the dead grass as compost and begin planting and turning over soil. There are excellent instructions in an article at https://conservationcenter.org/gardens/turf-removal-replacement-101/

xeriscaping

Use plants native to your area.

Appropriate Plant Selection

The plants you choose for xeriscaping depends on what climate you live in. In the Southwest cacti may be the answer, while in more moist climates, prairie plants may be the answer. In an article by Julie Martens Forney, “Xeriscaping Plants”, http://www.hgtv.com, she states, “Many homeowners mistakenly associate xeriscaping plants with a desert-style garden, featuring cacti, yucca and agave. The fact is that xeriscaping plants run the gamut, from classic drought-tolerant succulents, to prairie plants, to ornamental grasses.”

Most drought tolerant plants for your area would be plants native to your region. These are the original plants that graced your landscape before folks started digging them up! The website, Native Plant Finder, at http://www.nwf.org, will help you identify native plants to your area buy entering your zipcode.

xeriscaping

Xeriscaping requires less lawn care.

Practical Turf Areas

You can decide how much turf to leave for such purposes as play areas, pet areas and areas for sports. Designing these in a round shape can make for easier mowing and more efficient watering. Choose turf which requires the least amount of water.

You can talk to experts in greenhouses or your local university extension turf grass management program, which often offers free advice for home owners in lawn care.

Efficient Irrigation

To prevent over watering know how much water your plants/lawn need. The most effective way to water is to water deeply but not often.

Morning is the best time to water because evening waterings can invite fungus to grow overnight. Measure rain with a gauge. If you get 1 inch or more skip the watering. You can attach a rain sensor or moisture sensor to your sprinkler system to shut it off. Use a rain barrel to harvest water for plants that you water by hand.

A study found that homes with sprinkler systems used 35% more water than other homes. It found that most people with irrigation systems use “a set it and forget it” method. The study states that without proper scheduling and use of sensors, a sprinkler system is extremely wasteful. If you have 1/4  acre you could end up using 6,000 gallons of water to get a one inch deep watering.

A sensor by Toro has 2 prongs that measure the moisture of the soil and shuts down the sprinkler system if water isn’t needed. This method can use up to 40% less water. The Toro 53812 Xtra Smart Soil Moisture Sensor sells on Amazon for $126, or you can shop around because there are other moisture sensors available online.

Use of Mulches

Mulches are used around plants to hold the moisture in the ground. They can consist of bark chips, straw, compost, gravel, rocks or a plastic fabric sheet. Whatever kind you choose, it should allow water and air to pass through to the plants. Mulch can also be beneficial in creating paths through your landscape. Organic mulches, (bark, straw, pine needles, leaves, nut shells ect) are best because they add nutrients to the soil. Large landscape rocks can also help hold moisture in the soil.

Maintenance

A xeriscaped yard requires less maintenance than a traditional yard. Pruning, trimming dead branches, can stimulate plant growth. Use natural methods of pest control, as chemicals can kill beneficial insects. Bees and many insects are needed for pollination. To reduce unwanted insects you can use insecticidal soaps or install bird and bat houses around your yard. Natural pesticides also include Neem oil, salt spray, mineral oil, citrus oil, cayenne pepper, Eucalyptus oil, onion and garlic spray and many more. Native plants are adapted to your local soil so do not need fertilizer.

In conclusion, what is needed is a commitment by each homeowner to lessen the burden on our Mother Earth. You can start small with a portion of your lawn if a large project seems too intimidating. The important thing is to make a move in the right direction, either large or small!

Xeriscape for a healthy planet!


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Plastics and Bioplastics: What You Need to Know

Bioplastics will put nutrients back into the soil.

Bioplastics will decompose back into the soil quickly.

“Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources that are living, or recently living organisms–mostly plant sources.”

By Linn Smith
April 1, 2015—-There is a great need on our planet to decrease the use of non-degradeable plastics and further the research of bioplastics, replacing the current use of petroleum based plastics with environmentally friendly ones. Bioplastics have been around for decades. Henry Ford made auto parts out of corn and soybean products for his Model T. Interest in Bioplastics have fluctuated over the years with oil prices.

To make petroleum based plastics, which makes up most plastics used today, the petroleum goes through a chemical process that combines smaller molecules into a large chain like molecule, often with other substances added, many being harmful to our health. Plastics use approximately 8% of the yearly global oil production.

Decomposition of Plastics

Plastics may take up to 1,000 years to decompose in our landfills, while leaking pollutants into the soil and water. A plastic fork can stay around for hundreds of years. According to a Columbia University study, at least 34 million tons of plastic waste is discarded each year and less than 7% of this waste is recycled. And by now, most have heard of the giant floating islands of plastic in the ocean, approximately 100 million tons—so far!

Bioplastics are environmentally friendly.

Bioplastics are made from living things such as corn, soy or the shells of shrimp.

Bioplastics from Vegetable Sources

Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources that are living, or recently living organisms–mostly plant sources. Bioplastics can come from agricultural by-products including vegetable oils, corn starch, and pea starch. Researchers have also used rice to make plastic, which is strong and thermal resistant, but in the past the starch based products have decomposed too quickly for broad use.

Bioplastics from Chitin

Harvard’s Wyss Institute has created bioplastics made from chitin found in the shells of shrimp, crabs, lobsters, most of which would be discarded after harvesting the meat. Chitin is the second most abundant organic material on earth and is also the main material in the hard shells of most insects. Bioplastics made from this source are tough, transparent and renewable and can be made into complex shapes for mass production. They are better for the environment and produce fewer greenhouse gases than petroleum-based plastics. When these products are discarded they break down within a few weeks and release nutrients back into the soil for plant growth. The life cycle of this plastic is renewable and environmentally beneficial, whereas plastics made from petroleum, once discarded, may take centuries to decompose.

Petroleum Plastics and Embodied Energy

A study from Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center in 2011 analyzed the embodied energy of plastics. “The amount of energy contained in the millions of tons of plastic in the U.S. landfills is equivalent to 36.7 million tons of coal, 139 million barrels of oil or 783 billion cubic ft of natural gas. If this plastic was recovered and converted into liquid fuel, it could power all the cars in Los Angeles for a year–and the fact is, there is now technology to do it.”

So, what happens to all that plastic? Most of it is still out there, sitting in landfills or floating somewhere on earth! If we, as consumers refused to use petroleum based plastics, production would stop!

Bioplastics: Saving Our Environment for Future Generations


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Bangladesh: The Poster Child for Climate Change

Bangladesh: Rapidly changing weather patterns are producing rising waters and flooding.

Bangladesh has been called the poster child of climate change.

The rising seas will greatly change the way of life for people living near the oceans, not only in Bangladesh, but the population living along coastal areas in China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

By Lin Smith

May 26, 2014—After catching the last part of “Easy Like Water” on PBS a couple of weeks ago, I felt the need to expand on the rising oceans, its current effects on coastal people and how Bangladesh is using its resources to combat the rising waters along its coastal areas. According to National Geographic, Bangladesh ranks first as the nation most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the future. This is a tiny country, about 60,000 sq. miles, slightly larger than the state of Iowa in the U.S. Some scientists are watching Bangladesh to see how this country handles its rising waters.

According to Wikipedia, scientists project that, “By 2020, from 500-750 million people will be affected by stress caused by climate change,” plus there will be an increase in floods and droughts along low lying coastal areas. Countries like Bangladesh will be extremely affected as the seas rise. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, more than 1 million people could be displaced by the rising waters by 2050. The panel also estimates that the sea will rise at least 40 cm (almost 1 and 1/2 ft) more than today’s level by the end of this century. This rise will greatly change the way of life for people living near the oceans, not only in Bangladesh, but the population living along coastal areas in China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. More than 4.1 million people reside along coastal lowlands in these countries. With rising waters, it’s predicted that 17% of the land could be flooded, plus the coastal land will be vulnerable to increased storm surges, erosion, and an increase in salinity in rivers, bays and aquifers.

Why is Bangladesh so vulnerable to climate change? There are 57 tributaries that flow into the sea around Bangladesh, plus rapidly melting glaciers from the Himalayas, making it extremely vulnerable to flooding. Because these rivers are polluted by the time they reach this tiny country, drinking water is pumped up from below the surface, causing the ground beneath the cities to sink, and increasing the chance for floods to occur. Along with the sinking land, there are poorly constructed seawalls that attempt to hold back the floods and rising waters.

A student's education remains consistent even during flooding.

Boats provide education for the coastal population of Bangladesh.

Boat Schools of Bangladesh

The flood waters from the rising rivers and seas have impacted education along coastal areas. A non-profit organization, founded by Mohammed Rezwan, is turning boats into schools along the coast of Bangladesh. Starting this service with $500 in 1998, the schools consist of 20 traditional wooden boats that have been modified. They are 50 ft x 10 ft with a cabin to accommodate 30 students and a teacher. The students board the schools at coastal pick up areas, attending classes for 2 or 3 hours, 6 days a week. Along with the floating schools there are 10 floating libraries, 7 floating adult education centers and 5 floating health clinics. The floating libraries offer 2 computers, 1500 books and solar powered lamps which allow people to read after sunset. Adult education often consists of learning to grow flood resistant crops, creating floating gardens, and raising ducks in floating coops. Shidhilai, the non-profit organization, employs 61 teachers and 48 boat drivers, providing year round services. This organization plans to add 100 more boats in the next 5 years, reaching 100,000 more people.

Underestimating the Rising Tides of Bangladesh

Dr. John Pethick, former professor of Coastal Science at Newcastle University in England, has spent much time studying the coastal areas around Bangladesh. He states that the predictions of rising waters are far underestimated. He predicts that the tides of this country will rise 10 times faster than global averages, rising 13 ft by 2100. With almost 1/4 of Bangladesh only 7 ft above sea level, this puts the country at high risk for coastal destruction, creating a problem which is far too large for this tiny country to handle alone.

These coastal countries have asked for support and monetary help from the larger, fossil fuel consuming, developed countries, stating that the underdeveloped countries, like Bangladesh, have contributed very little to the effects of climate change. Leaders of underdeveloped countries have asked the richer nations to compensate for polluting the atmosphere and causing the problems that they face today. “It’s a matter of global justice,” says Tig Rahman, Executive Director of Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies.

As Alex Mifflin said in the Huffpost, “Bangladesh has become the poster child for climate change.”


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Women: Reducing Waste and Pollution

Reduce Pollution

 

1 million women imageBy Lin Smith

Reducing Waste and Pollution

January 5, 2014–Since it’s a new year, and my first article of the new year, I was going to write about the 2014 predictions for Renewable Energy, as stated in the data recently released by EIA, the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Here is some of what they predicted: The EIA estimates that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels will increase by .4% in 2014 which “reflects projected growth in coal for electricity generation in response to higher natural gas prices relative to coal.” Coal is cheaper! But I believe, we, as individuals and communities, have the power to overturn this prediction and reduce emissions from Fossil Fuels in 2014–and that’s why I choose to write, instead, about 1 Million Women!

1 Million Women is a movement in Australia, by women, with the goal of reducing waste and pollution by working together, but setting individual goals. They have a vision of leading women in Australia, and eventually women at the global level, in making a positive environmental change and reducing the CO2 in our atmosphere The 1 Million Women’s movement was started by Natalie Isaacs and her friend over a cup of coffee one morning. They asked themselves, “What if  the our everyday choices we make as women add up to a big difference for the planet and future generations in reducing waste and pollution?” They started a movement to answer their own question and realized they have power! Cognizant that women in developed nations waste too much, harming the planet, they decided to start a movement with a goal of signing up 1,000,000 women committed to helping the environment–that’s real change!

Committed to Cutting CO2

Since 2009, they have over 83,000 women signed up and engaged in the movement. They are “committed to cutting over 100,000 tons of CO2, the equivalent of taking 240,000 cars off of the road for a year!”, according to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, where they were recently recognized as a Lighthouse Activity, shining a beacon of hope into the future of our planet. They are educating women on climate change and reducing waste and pollution! They have, also, developed a SAVE program, which is a practical guide to shrinking household bills, reducing waste and living more sustainably–projects for women written by women to utilize renewable resources and be conscientious about their day-to-day living habits.

Living Simply for a Healthy Planet

If you’re a woman who cares about the environment go to http://www.1millionwomen.com and join up. The website will give many suggestions for getting involved. In the article, “Six Ways to Live Simply”, they suggest easy actions to make a difference, one of which is the Power of the Purse: Make Every Dollar and Cent Work for You and the Environment. They will educate you in making financial decisions that support a clean environment by choosing a green investment fund. They state, “Every cent we invest has an impact on the future of everyone’s world as well as our own.” A million women in developed countries, voting with their money, can shift how industry sets up retirement funds for their workers. The ideas on this website are numerous!

Renewable Resources: Think Globally

The first 3 years of the 1 Million Women movement have been spent building its structure. Over the next three years they plan to work globally and according to their website, “Adapt the movement’s core message to a universal one of “Less is More,” aimed at both climate change impacts and wider resource management, based on the need for women in developed countries to consume and waste less, so that everyone can have a greater quality of life while preserving environmental well-being–we are daughters, mothers, sisters, grandmothers getting on with climate action!” And that is why I chose to write on the 1 Million Women’s movement, a beacon of light for our future, instead of the hard, cold facts set forth by the EIA! Happy New Year and let’sreduce waste and pollution in 2014!