Planet Earth Weekly

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


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Climate Change: Your Obligation to Future Generations

Fiddle While Earth Burns

Rome, i.e. Earth Burns

“Legend has it that while a fire destroyed Rome, Nero, the emperor, played his violin unconcerned about the city or its people”

By Linn Smith

Today, to fiddle while Rome burns has come to mean, “To do something trivial and irresponsible in the midst of an emergency.” Stephen M. Gardner said it best, “The time to think seriously about the future of humanity is upon us.” (From “A perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change”) Gardner states that most people don’t care enough about climate change and its consequences, as we have not succeeded in placing restrictions to deter catastrophe in the next few years. In the meantime, the earth continues to warm due to the greenhouse effect, putting CO2 and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

Survival in the Future

The problems of future generations will be a result of our careless choices today. These problems will result from today’s population pouring more and more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Gardner provokes us to ask ourselves the questions: Can the next generation survive? How about the next? And the next? If you knew for sure that your children and grandchildren could not survive due to your actions today, would you live differently? Or just live for today?

The Earth’s temperature continues to increase

Gas Vehicles vs. Clean Energy Vehicles

The latest news….a drop in gas prices. A drop in the price of gas means drivers save money at the gas pump and the sales of larger vehicles increase. Some see this decrease in gas prices as the ability to put more miles on their car. I’m here to remind you that you have an obligation for the survival of our planet! However low gas prices drop you still have a sacrifice to make, to future generations, to drive less or drive a clean energy vehicle, or take public transportation, bikes or some other means of cutting your carbon footprint. Today you can buy an EV conversion kit for most vehicles. Even though they are pricey, starting at around $7500 for the kit if you do it yourself, they are less expensive than a new electric vehicle depending on the type of vehicle you plan to convert.

Records a breaking

Records break as temperature increases.

Global Warming: Breaking Records

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the July 2019 global land and ocean surface temperature average was the highest for July since global records began in 1880 at .95 C (1.71 degrees F) above the 20th century average. This temperature passed the previous record set in 2016. Nine of the ten warmest Julys have been recorded since 2005. This past July 2019 was the hottest month recorded on earth since recording started. Along with heat comes drought and severe weather. The global average temperature for July 2019 was 62.1 degrees F. That is 0.05 degrees F higher than July 2016 which broke the previous record.

Climate change

Temperatures continue to increase.

Prediction of Future Heat Waves

National Geographic “Off the Charts Heat” by Stephen Leahy, states that, “Within 60 years hot days in the U.S. could be so intense that the current heat index can’t measure them.” Temperatures could be off the charts with 127 degrees or more, posing unpresidented health risks. His prediction is that “Between 2036 and 2065 more than 250 U.S. cities will experience the equivalent of a month or more per year on average with the heat index surpassing 100 degrees F, which is a conservative estimate because of urban heat islands.” My colleague and writing partner, Dr. John J. Hidore, thinks these predictions are very conservative.

Global warming

Less deniers?

The S.E. and Southern Great Plains will be hit the worst by global warming in the United States. Areas here could experience the equivalent of 3 months per year on average by mid century that would feel hotter than 105 degrees or more. Exposure to this heat could be tragic. It will change life as we know it!

Global Warming: Is there still time?

Stephen Leahy also gives hope by saying we still have time. If future warming is kept at 3.6 degrees F or less, the number of days above 105 degrees nationwide would be slashed in half. But the U.S. will still be significantly warmer. Even if current pledges to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement are met, global temperatures will still rise by at least 5.4 degrees F (3 degrees C) by 2100. Along with the heat comes droughts, wildfires, floods and other extreme weather. As population grows, food production will also be affected.

Do the next right thing!

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Global Warming


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Building Sustainable Cities

Sierra Club

Sierra Club for Clean Air

“Sustainable planning must come before greed!”

By Linn Smith

I live part of the year in a rapidly growing city. I have lived in this city for 20 years, 15 years full time. In the past 5 years there has been a mass migration to this city. Traffic has come to a halt at rush hour, which now starts as early as 2:30pm and extends until early evening, accidents can hold up traffic for hours and parking spaces…forget about it! Developers of the city transit system have been involved in lawsuits with city transit, halting development in some areas for years, costing the city millions of dollars.

The High Price of No Sustainable Plan

Housing prices have tripled…. $500,000 being the price of the average home. We are diminishing the habitat of wildlife in a former mecca for bears, wildcats, moose and elk. The plan for their intrusion on us is 3 strikes you’re out. If a bear is found in a populated area 3 times it is euthanized and this is happening more and more with city sprawl….we have intruded on their space and there are severe consequences to them….for intruding in “our” space!

Pollution and air quality are rapidly declining. We are now the 12th most polluted city in our country.

Profit Before Sustainability

Well thought out planning? Jobs, yes, sustainable planning, no! Money has spoken clearly, developers and contractors have become rich. The city’s motto seems to be, “Build for those who come at any cost to the environment.” I am both amazed and disgusted to see the growth without planning. Why do I live here? I migrated here from the agricultural areas of the U.S. for a teaching job, and now my family is here.

It may be too late for this city, but my hope is that other cities will plan before sprawling unconsciously, building on every green patch of grass available without thought of the cost to our planet and the future of our survival!

building sustainably

Building sustainable cities

According to data provided by the United Nations, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050….that is approximately 2.5 billion people migrating from rural to urban areas! (This also includes projected overall growth in human population). North America currently has 82% of the population living in urban areas. Understanding these numbers is going to be critical for planning sustainable cities. Sustainable planning must come before the dollar signs shining in the eyes of contractors and developers!

What is a sustainable community?

Green, sustainable communities implement multifaceted methods of environmentally sustainable practices, changing city government to support these practices so that present and future generations can have clean, healthy environments and a planet that will continue to support humans and flora and fauna. Steps towards a green community should be outlined with measurable goals to see the growth on a continuum of ongoing sustainable practices….i.e. conditions that will not harm the environment.

Sustainable cities

Campbell’s Triangle plan

Building Green Ideas

1. Parks and Green spaces are meant to be part of a city’s health for residents, not future places for buildings to be developed.
2. Bike lanes and bridges should be separate from streets and highways.
3. Build or refurbish all government buildings to reflect the sustainable city vision.
4. Buildings will be renovated instead of torn down.
5. Comprehensive recycling and composting programs.
6. Green leadership with leaders who already live sustainably.
7. Smart energy policies.
8. Efficient public transportation.

Again, sustainable development must come before of greed!

Sustainable Cities

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International Action on Climate Change: Paris, France (COP21) to Katowice, Poland (COP24)

Climate change conference

Climate Change

“It recently became clear that not enough was being done to reduce global warming.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

January 18, 2016—-In 2015, a major conference on climate change was held in Paris. At the Paris climate conference most of the representatives of the nearly 200 countries attending agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At present, global temperatures are set to rise 3°C (5 1/2°F). An agreement was reached to make sure global temperatures did not rise more than 2°Celsius (3.6°F) above temperatures prior to the industrial revolution. It is believed by many scientists that any rise above this level would lead to a self generated further rise in temperature. In turn this would lead to devastating changes in natural events. Much more rapid melting of the global ice and a corresponding rise in sea level would occur and extreme weather events would be more common.

At the Paris conference each country was allowed to present a plan for reducing emissions. None of the plans were enforceable. This was the only way to get most of the countries to submit plans.

Poland and renewable energy

Poland and %100 renewables

The COP24 Conference

It recently became clear that not enough was being done to reduce global warming. Another conference was scheduled, representatives from most of the countries that participated in the Paris conference met earlier in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. The purpose was to further the outcome of the Paris Conference. This conference is known as the COP24 conference. The goal of this meeting was to establish a set of rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more sharply by the countries that attended the conference. The rules take into account the possibilities and conditions in each individual country.

At the present many, if not most countries, have no way of tracking their emissions. What is needed, of course, is some method of documenting emission levels. However, there have been many objections expressed to documenting emissions. Some of these objections are simply based on available technology. Others are based on a fear of providing national technological data to the rest of the world. There are also many objections from the less developed countries which emit a combined 60% of the emissions, but do not have the technology nor economic resources to monitor them. There was considerable effort by the less developed countries to have the more wealthy countries help finance the data gathering and emission reductions in the poorer countries.

climate change

The exchange of energy is causing rapid arctic melting.

Polish Plans to Reduce Emissions

Poland is a country with extensive coal deposits which are used to produce electrical power. However, the Polish Government has begun a number of projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They launched a clean air program in the summer of 2018. They have been increasing the area of forested land. Forests cover about a third of the country and the area has been increasing. Selected tree species can increase the absorption of CO2.

The American Government Repudiates Climate Change

The United States was a leader in organizing the Paris conference of 2015. However, Mr. Trump has repudiated the Paris Agreement. He has also refused to pay two billion dollars in aid pledged during the Obama administration to support global efforts to reduce climate change. The government of the United States did not send representatives to the Katowice conference.

World cooperation on many items has decreased substantially in the last three years. A big part of the reason is the nationalism (America First) espoused by Mr. Trump. The United States can do better at being a leader in the fight against rising temperatures on our planet!


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Pollution and the Clothing Industry

Dirty Fashion

Fashion and Climate Change.

“Collectively the fashion industry has a voice and the capacity to make a difference.”

By Linn Smith

December 15, 2018—The clothing industry contributes 10% of the greenhouse gases to our planet’s atmosphere and is the second largest polluter of our freshwater lakes and streams. The industry has been producing 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases every year, making it one of the top polluting industries on our planet.

Cotton and pollution

Most clothing worn in the U.S. contains some cotton. Sixty percent of women’s clothing and eighty per cent of men’s clothing contains cotton, and the streams surrounding clothing factories are polluted with dyes and chemical runoff from the clothing industrial sites.

Many cotton fields are located in the arid deserts of the Southwest United States, where farming the cotton requires water that is slowly depleting the rivers and streams. It takes approximately 2.5acre feet of water to grow cotton. (An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover one acre of the surface area to a depth of one foot.) To make one pair of denim jeans, 10,000 liters of water is required to grow one kilo (about 2.2 pounds) of cotton needed for the pair of jeans. In comparison, one person would take 10 years to drink 10,000 liters of water!

Climate Change

Clothing: Polluting our earth

The Fashion Industry and Sustainability

According to the World Resources Institution, “Growth of the multi-trillion-dollar apparel industry has been fed by “fast fashion,” which makes clothing cheap and fast with a low price-tag.” This is why the fashion industry is turning to sustainability in an attempt to mitigate some of its damage it has caused our planet. With the help of the United Nations many big corporations within the fashion industry have recently resolved to shift practices, following the guidelines of the Paris Agreement on Climate change.

An initiative of United Nation Climate Change attempts to lower the greenhouse gases attributed to the fashion industry by setting targets for the fashion industry to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The initiative attempts to work with the fashion industry by helping it select climate friendly and sustainable materials, by using low-carbon transportation to move the manufactured articles, by producing less carbon during the production of clothing and by encouraging sustainable fashion connections that offset the carbon emissions with investments in carbon emission reductions.

“Forty-three companies, including brands such as Adidas and Burberry, retailers such as Target, and supplier organizations – on Monday (Dec 10, 2018) pledged to find ways to reduce emissions in their value chains as part of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action that was launched during the ongoing United Nations (UN) climate change talks in Katowice, Poland.”

Climate Change

Clothing Producing Pollution

Fashion Companies and Sustainability

The fast fashion retailer H&M shared their strategy to be 100% renewable energy by 2040 with a fully circular production model, where the by-product of one industry serves the objective of another! Other signers of the Initiative include Esprit, Guess, Gap Inc, and Hugo Boss.

“Additionally, the famous blue jean manufacturer Levi, Strauss & Co has announced a new climate change action plan. Using Science Based Targets, the company plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% across its global supply chain by 2025. The plan also includes a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in all owned-and-operated facilities, which will be achieved by investing in onsite renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades.” The initiative remains open for others in the clothing industry to follow suit.

Designer Stella McCartney recently stated, “Climate change is undoubtedly one of, if not, the biggest challenge of our lifetime. It is and will affect everyone on this planet and our future. I want to call on my peers in the business, from other brands to retailers and suppliers, to sign up to this charter now and take the necessary actions to address the reality of the issue of climate change in their business and value chains. Collectively we have a voice and the capacity to make a difference.”

Fashion industry and pollution


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The Origin of Lawns and Their Environmental Impact

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

By Linn Smith

This is an article I published several years ago, but felt it needed reiterating, as it is summer, the time most people drag their mowers out if the garage. Our changing climate requires rethinking our former habits.

Sustainable living

It’s our responsibility to change.

Lawns of the 16th century

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.

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.

Origination of the Lawn

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

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.

Xeriscaping

Save water with Xeriscaping

The Downside of the Beautiful Lawn

So, here’s the downside of our beautiful, European lawns today! In an article on Smithsonian.com, 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!

Overpopulation and hunger

A depletion of resources.

Xeriscaping

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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Puerto Rico: Rebuilding Sustainably

Renewable Resources

 

“Building sustainably in Puerto Rico can take many different forms.” 

By Linn Smith

October 19, 2017—Even though Puerto Rico is going through a devastating time after the hurricane, it is essential that we not only meet the current needs of the people, but also think about its future….rebuilding sustainably. Areas devastated by wind and flooding must not only think about immediate needs, but consider the future way climate change may threaten vulnerable coastal areas. 

There is an agreement among scientists that our warming climate is producing larger, more aggressive hurricanes, and rising oceans are leading to stronger storm surges, destroying and flooding inland areas.

Puerto Rico: Sources of Energy

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Puerto Rico has some renewable solar, wind, hydropower and biomass resources, but relies primarily on imported fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, importing mostly from the U.S.

In 2016, Puerto Ricans paid more for their power than people in any other state except Hawaii, with 47% of electricity coming from petroleum, 34% from natural gas, 17% from coal and only 2% from renewable energy.

The Future of Energy in Puerto Rico

Now is the time to make decisions about Puerto Rico’s future energy needs. How will Puerto Rico get its power in the future? PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Company, Puerto Rico’s only utility company, is mismanaged and highly in need of upgrading according to some sources. According to http://www.commondreams.org, it would be a waste to pour more money into this system. Instead, we need to invest funds into local renewables and energy efficient transportation, such as streetcars and light rail trains. 

Richard Heinberg in the article “Disaster in Puerto Rico” stated, “This is a chance to build back sustainably. People tend to maintain their status quo as long as it’s viable, but when in dire straits, they’re more likely to listen and when denial is no longer possible, people are more likely to face reality.”

Eigg renewables

Eigg uses 99% Renewable Energy

Eigg, Scottland: 99% Renewable

According to an article by David Nield, March 2017, http://www.sciencealert.com, researchers from around our planet are visiting the tiny, Scottish island of Eigg, which is using wind, solar and hydo to obtain the island’s power. This system, owned and operated by the island’s residents, has been using sustainable energy since 2009. Eigg Electric uses a combination of sustainable resources to ensure there is always energy. When back-up energy is needed, it’s supplied by several diesel generators with cables linking all the sources of energy together. Renewable energy is used 95% of the time and excess energy is stored in a bank of 100 batteries. When these batteries are full, electric heaters automatically switch on in the church and community hall so nothing is wasted. Eigg’s population has doubled since this system has been in place, but the system is still meeting the needs of the residents. The drawback is that citizens are limited to the amount of power they can use daily from the public utilities
.
Ta’u, a small island in Samoa, is also changing from diesel to renewables. Today it’s powered by 5,000 Solar City solar panels and 60 Tesla Powerpack battery storage units. The Powerpack is a massive battery, 16 Powerwall battery pods encased in a weatherproof box, that can store electricity during the day when supply is abundant and discharge it when demand goes up after the sun goes down. This system provides the island with about 99% of its needs.

Tesla solar project in Hawaii.

Tesla and the Powerpack Battery

Tesla has also built a huge solar energy plant on the island of Kauai, one of Hawaii’s main islands. This project will reduce fossil fuel by 1.6 million gallons per year. The island signed a 20 year contract with Tesla to buy solar generated electricity from solar panels installed on the island for 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour. The average price of electricity in Hawaii is 37.34 cents per kwh, the highest rate in the nation. Kauai is the first major solar/storage project for Tesla. Tesla states, “We will work with energy providers around the world seeking to overcome barriers in the way of building a sustainable, renewable energy grid of their own.”

Tesla is also in the process of shipping battery packs to Puerto Rico, but details of the project have not yet been made available. Building sustainably in Puerto Rico can take many different forms and accepting help from Tesla could be a starter.

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Puerto Rico: Build Sustainably


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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!