Planet Earth Weekly

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


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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

May 10,2017—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 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!

Xeriscaping:  The Green Lawn

Xeriscaping can reduce cost and care of lawns.

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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Energy Sage: The Expedia of Solar Installation

Solar comparisons

Compare your options in solar.

By Linn Smith

“This method makes it easy for every homeowner to afford solar!”

May 19, 2016—-Have you decided to go solar? What is your next step when you’ve finally made that decision? There are many solar companies out there. How will you choose? Now there’s a website that will make it easy for you–Energy Sage!

You Have Options in Solar

Solar companies and installers will often push one package towards you, not revealing the fact that there are more options. If you get all your information about solar installation from one company, you most likely will not be getting the best deal!

Expedia: Comparison shopping for Solar

Solar Options

Energy Sage can Save You Thousands

Energy Sage (www.energysage.com) is a site like Expedia, but instead of flights, hotels and car rental quotes, this site will give you multiple solar quotes, from over 300 pre-screened solar installers, to make sure you get the best deal. Energy Sage isn’t affiliated with a manufacturer, installer or finance company—which may end up saving you thousands on solar installation for your home or business!

Here’s how this website works: 1) You register to get quotes 2) Pre-screened installers will submit quotes to you, and 3) You, the buyer, can then compare quotes online.

Energy Sage Solar Comparisons

Compare prices in Solar before you Buy!

Understanding Loans, Leases and PPA’s

EnergySage helps you understand your options and the pros and cons of various solar financing methods, providing information on solar loans, solar leases and solar PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements). A PPA may be the best option for those with little upfront capital. This is a “financial agreement where a developer arranges for the installation, financing, ect., at little or no cost to the home owner.” The developer sells the power generated back to the customer at a fixed rate that will be lower than the local utility’s rate, while the developer gets the income from the sale of electricity, plus all of the tax credits, ect. This method makes it easy for every homeowner to afford solar!

If you can afford electricity you can afford solar. You can obtain financing without putting any money down. Solar leases and PPA’s allow you to save on your electric bill without purchasing solar panels.

Understanding All the Options

Go to the Energy Sage website, put in your information and ask yourself, do I want to rent or own a solar system? Would a solar system increase the value of my home? You can do comparisons. Choose the one that best meets your needs and financial situation.

Energy Sage will include some variables to consider. These options include whether your home is suitable for solar. Is the weather in your area suitable? Will there be applicable rebates and tax credits in your state? Is your roof in a position to generate solar electricity?

Energy Sage won’t ask your personal data because it doesn’t want to sell your information to companies or organizations. EnergySage.com is purely for your information and education on solarizing your home.

What’s new in Solar? Comparison Shopping!


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Earthship Houses: Working for People and the Earth

Construction of an Earthship house is low tech and has been kept within most people’s skill level.

Earthship House

A sustainable dwelling that is environmentally friendly.

By Linn Smith

May 22 ,2015—“An understanding of mechanical systems for most humans is limited to what is within reach of their fingertips. It is understood that when you flip on a switch, a light comes on, when you turn on the faucet, water comes out, when you pull the handle, the toilet flushes. Little thought is given to where the electricity comes from or what kind of nuclear waste was produced to generate it. How many of us even know where the power plant is that supplies our power? Few people ever wonder which water table is depleted to bring them water and what chemicals have been added to it. Where does the sewage go? And which rivers and lakes are polluted?” from the Earthship Biotecture brochure.

Earthship Biotecture

Adapting Our Living to the Needs of Ourselves and Our Planet


Water Conservation in Sustainable Living

Earth Machines working for the Environment

Michael Reynolds, Architect and Founder

For most of man’s existence on our planet, housing was built from material of the surrounding habitat, such as earth, rocks, and logs. The Earthship uses–yes,earth, plus they recycle our unwanted products–tires, plastic bottles, ect. An earthship is a type of solar house that is made from natural resouces and recycled materials. The recycled tires are filled with dirt to form earth blocks. Designed and marketed by Earthship Biotecture in Taos, New Mexico, they are a registered trademark of Michael Reynolds, architect and founder. When Mr. Reynolds graduated from college, he was unhappy with conventional architecture, and visualized buildings which were eco-friendly. He looked at the Embodied Energy of a structure.

The Planet Earth Weekly article entitled “Zero Net Energy and Rehabilitation of Exiting buildings” addressed Embodied Energy, “It is estimated that traditional buildings, commercial and residentual, consume up to 40% of the energy used in the U.S. for heating and approximately 70% are dependent on fossil fuels. To build an eco-friendly structure, Embodied Energy must be considered–which is the sum of all the energy required to produce the building–extraction of all materials, manufacturing, transportation, installation and the energy used to destroy and dispose of materials when the building is no longer in use. We must look at the entire environmental impact of construction. This is what Mr. Reynolds saw when he visualized the Earthship house.

Earthship Biotecture

Living to Meet Our Needs and the Needs of Our Planet

Earthships: Building in Harmony with our Environment

Mr Reynolds has been constructing buildings that are in harmony with their environment and promote sustainability through salvaging what would end up in our landfills. He discovered he could create buildings, that passed the building code using recycled materials, finding that many trash items can be durable when filled with—-yes,dirt–similar to adobe, the Spanish word for mud brick! The documentary “Garbage Warrior,” found on YouTube, describes his 30 some years of work, building houses that are made from recyclables. These houses are not connected to any outside sources and have gardens for growing food. A truly sustainable house/village is independent of the countries economy. These houses are not subject to changing prices in utilities, food, ect. The necessities are provided for, although most don’t grow all of their own food, much of it can be grown on the premises.

Earthship Biotecture offers blueprints for many different models of houses, including one called the Simple Survival Model. It’s an all season home that provides a person with little income the opportunity to get in a house as inexpensively as possible, with opportunities to build on the structure as income allows. This model starts at $2,000 for the blueprints and is catered toward the self-builder, although it can be built by Earthship Biotecture starting at around $50,000–building yourself would cost about half of this. This model contains everything, performs as well as any other model, but everthing is reduced in size. Also, anything can be customized.

Earthship Structure

The Earthship Houses include: A structure built from recycled materials, a sustainable heating, cooling and electrical system, a water harvest system, on site sewage treatment system and on-site food production. Water is caught and channeled into cisterns, then through filter panels which feed a DC pump by their gravity. It is then pushed into a pressure tank where it can be used as household water. The solar and wind electricity is stored in batteries and supplied to the houses electrical outlets, which is wired to code as if it’s connected to the grid—but, it’s not! Each house has a contained sewage treatment system which is cleaned and used in landscaping and gardening. Food production is provided through wetland planters. The planters can hold hundreds of gallons of water from sinks and showers.

Construction of an Earthship house is low tech and has been kept within most people’s skill level. Educational workshops are continuously offered in Taos, New Mexico to promote learning. An Earthship Biotecture Academy offers extensive training in design, construction and philosophy of the buildings. They are led by the originator, Michael Reynolds, and his staff of builders, electricians, plumbers, gardening specialists and educators.The tuition is several thousand dollars for the Academy, but when finished you will be a certified Earthship builder, eligible to hold workshops for others in your community. Many communities have Earthship workshops led by Earthship Acadamy students and graduates, which allow interested people to educate themselves by practicing construction. Reynolds states, “If the materials for easily obtainable housing are to be truly accessible to the common person they must be easy to learn how to assemble. The nature of the materials for building an Earthship must allow for assembling skills to be learned and mastered in a matter of hours–not years. These skills must be basic enough that no specific talent is not require to learn them.”

Helping People Help Themselves through Sustainable Housing

If governments all over the world subsidized these methods of living, people taking care of themselves in zero carbon habitats, instead of subsidized housing and welfare, then we would be giving the gift of life to many–teach a man/woman to fish and they will eat for a lifetime! When people depend on the government for food, we have poor nutrition. People have forgotten how to take care of themselves and to survive without a grocery store, public utilities, ect. How many people can’t pay their mortgages? What if you lose your job? How many people are homeless today? What if there were no grocery stores? I have often asked children this question in my educational curriculum. Most people depend on their government’s economy for existence!

We, as current occupants, are responsible for our planet. “If our lifestyles can conform more to the patterens of the planet than to our socioeconomic system, we can reduce the stress on both ourselves and the planet.” Earthship Biotecture

You don’t need the latest, up to datest–visit your local Habitat for Humanity Restore, look for places being torn down or your local used tire shop for building supplies–think reuse!

Earthship Houses: Providing Eco-Friendly, Self-Sustained Homes


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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.

Wetands

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!


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Hempcrete: Building Sustainable Homes

Hempcrete takes approximately 24 hours to dry.

When building with hempcrete, consistency is important.

What’s the biggest environmental benefit of using hempcrete? It’s carbon-negative!

By Linn Smith

June 26, 2014—–According to Wikipedia, Hempcrete or industrial hemp is, “A mixture of hemp and lime used as a material for construction. Hemp breaths in 4 times the amount of CO2 that trees do, while having only a 12-14 week growth cycle. PBS.Org says,” Hempcrete is non toxic, efficient and mold free, and also insect and fire resistant.” It is for industrial purposes only, having very low levels of THC. In construction, hempcrete uses include installation, flooring and walls. A company called HempTraders.com also sells hempboard for construction of furniture, counter tops, walls and shelving. .

The History of Industrial Hemp

American production of hemp was encouraged by the government in the 17th century for the production of rope, sails, and clothing, but there has been a ban on growth of industrial hemp since the 1970’s, preventing the production of hemp within the U.S. In June 2014, the Senate’s Appropriations committee voted to support industrial hemp research by Universities and the state’s Agricultural Departments, for research purposes, in states that permit it. This means that farmers can take part in the research, growing industrial hemp legally for the first time since the 70’s. Thirteen states—California, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia—now allow industrial hemp farming for research and/or commercial purposes. On June 2, 2014, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill to authorize growing of industrial hemp within the state, nullifying the unconstitutional federal ban. It states, “It is lawful for an individual to cultivate, produce or otherwise grow industrial hemp for lawful purposes….for hemp products.

Hempcrete holds in warmth in winter and coolness in summer

Hempcrete is a sustainable, low cost alternative to other building materials.

A company called Hemp Technologies, founded by David Madera and based out of North Carolina, received the first permit to build a Hemp house in 2009, and has since built hemp homes in Hawaii, Texas, Idaho and North Carolina. This company is also consulting others who want to learn the technology of working with hempcrete. Mr. Madera first toured Europe, where building with hemp has been used for many years in the U.K., France, Belgium and Switzerland. Returning to the U.S., he held seminars to promote hempcrete homes, educating the public on the positive environmental impacts of material.

Working With Hempcrete

In a short video on Hemp Technologies website, Madera shows how to use hemp in constructing a home. Hemp is mixed with lime and water, appearing very much like a cement mixture. He states that getting each batch of the mixture consistent is important because the walls are done in sections, starting from the bottom and working up. To build the walls of a home, hempcrete is poured into recycled plastic forms which are locked together and screwed into the wooden frames. This holds the hempcrete in place until it drys, in a 24 hour period. According to Madera, hempcrete is easier to work with than concrete and has a much lower carbon footprint, as concrete needs to be heated at high temperatures. Also, it has many benefits over strawbale homes because it breaths, doesn’t have mold, and has a lime based binder which pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere. The house will stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter, reducing heating costs. At a cost of approximately $12 per cubic foot, the walls can last up to 1,000 yrs!

Industrial Hemp: A Renewable Resource

What’s the biggest environmental benefit of using hempcrete? It’s carbon-negative! It uses more CO2 than it gives off. According to http://www.lowimpact.org, “The lime in the hempcrete ‘petrifies’ the hemp, replacing the cellulose in its cells with lime (a bit like a fossil), so that it’s never going to rot, and give its carbon back to the atmosphere – except on an extremely long time-scale.” It’s a plant. When it grows it uses CO2 and gives off oxygen, it is resilient and lightweight, requiring less fuel for transport, (if not grown locally), and requires very little processing. According to this site, hempcrete also regulates moisture content in the home. If a room is too humid, “the walls absorb moisture and either releases it outside, or holds it until the room is dry, then releases it. This prevents the growth of molds.”

As we look to the future of using and producing sustainable products that don’t deplete our natural resources and are not harmful to the environment, hempcrete is likely to be a material that grows in popularity, creating a cleaner environment and providing a less expensive choice in home building, especially when grown locally.

Hempcrete: Another Renewable Resource