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Google Going Green

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

Some companies have very high energy use. The reasons for this are pretty obvious: manufacturing requires a lot of energy. Computing requires a lot of energy. Air conditioning requires a lot of energy. If you combines groups of these: you need a lot of energy. Not many companies will go to real efforts to solve their specific problems.

Lately, Google has been splashed about the news on a number of green issues: apparently, they’re involved in two major projects which will make a huge difference.

Energy Efficient Computing

On September 26, Google wrote about their progress towards a more efficient infrastructure. The fundamental idea is twofold: first, to build network infrastructures which optimize use of multiple computers to process large quantities of data, a crucial element of Google’s search success. The second aspect is incorporating "chip multiprocessing" to make individual computers more efficient by using multiple simple processors rather than very large, fast processors.

Solar Panel Installation

The second major project is too install 1.6 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels at the main Google campus in Mountain View, California.

This project is estimated to provide approximately 30% of their peak power usage: equivalent to approximately 1,000 average California homes. (Yes, that means that the Google complex uses approximately the power of 3,333 homes.)

Google expects these projects to help them save money: and they’re quite likely right. There are undoubtedly many other companies that could benefit from the same kind of efforts.

Anybody else doing this?

There are other companies who have worked to make use of alternate energy. Whole Foods Markets has installed solar panels in several of their California stores. It’s a start, but has a long ways to go.

Others:

Undoubtedly there are other companies installing alternate energy sources, but it’s difficult to find out who…

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Fuel Technology Poll Results

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

The results of my poll on fuel technologies were pretty interesting. Like I thought, the answers were pretty scattered. (There were only 9 answers, but I can live with that.) In general, the predilection was towards centralization – the creation of a solid infrastructure for one technology, a focus on a single method which can then be made massively ecological.

View results.

Personally, I’m still of two minds – I can certainly see the advantages of mass production and centralization, but I also feel that one of the essential causes of over use of resources is the tendency to focus on economical production. Mass production leads to over use. So, perhaps, despite the complications inherent, it would be better to diversify our ecological sustainability by pursuing many different fuel solutions. But, I’m not sure.

At any rate, the next poll continues to deal with fuel issues. This time, I’m addressing the question of fuel taxation. Gasoline is taxed in most states, but the wide variety of taxes are pretty complicated. The federal gas tax is currently 18.4 cpg, but this is a pretty generic tax – largely pays for highway improvements and maintenance, as far as I know.

So, the question is this: If state or federal governments were to institute a tax dedicated to environmental restitution on fuel, what would you be willing to pay?

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Antiobiotics: Building a Better Bacteria

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

It may be fair to say that the United States is compulsive about trying to improve their food supplies. Genetic modification, antibiotics, forced feeding, you name it. Is improvement of food really what’s accomplished by any of these activities, however?

This article was spawned when I read Food Bacteria More Drug-Resistant in U.S., in the National Geographic. This study has found that strains of the Campylobacter jejuni bacteria demonstrated a 2 percent resistance to antibiotics in Australia, whereas 18 percent of samples were drug resistant in United States patients. What’s the difference? Australia bans a wide variety of antibiotics in poultry and other livestock – which are commonly used in the U.S. and Europe.

So, there’s the question – do these antibiotics improve the poultry, or are they really improving the bacteria?

The essential problem is that these antibiotics, when used on poultry, will kill off most of the bacteria infecting the birds. However, those who survive will spread and breed – and these bacteria are resistant to treatment.

One of the reasons commonly cited as a cause of drug-resistant bacteria development is the overuse of antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics is definitely a strong characteristic of modern livestock. From the Pesticide Action Network:

As a means of solving this problem, intensive farming methods use high doses of antibiotics in chicken feed, and growth hormones are used to increase the speed of the chickens’ growth. As noted by the World Watch 2003 report, chickens often cannot walk properly because they have been pumped full of growth-promoting antibiotics. Farmers often do not use these drugs due to illness in the animals but because drug companies and extension agencies have convinced them that the antibiotics will ensure the health of their birds and increase their weight.

Pesticide Action Network / Asia and the Pacific

Modern methods of livestock and poultry farming are based almost entirely on a mass-treatment basis. Don’t wait until a bird is ill; treat them all constantly, just in case. This attitude creates a system which seems almost designed to breed better bacteria.

What can change these attitudes? Farmers have found that they get better profit out of larger birds. They’ve learned that the birds grow faster when pumped with growth hormones. They’re plumper; juicier; and younger when they arrive at the table. Farmers have little motivation to switch to free-range, natural methods given the general preference of the modern market. I don’t immediately see a tipping point for change. A disastrous event, such as an epidemic, could have the desired effect – otherwise, it’s up to people to boycott the market for hormone and antibiotic fed animals.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Sustainability in the News: On Science and the Environment

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

On April 20th, 2006, the National Geographic published an article urging Eco-Experts to blog. This
call to arms is based on the generally low quality of existing weblog content on environmental
and conservation related issues.

I fervently support this need – and hope to avoid adding to the sea of inaccurate information.
This website isn’t exactly a blog, although it does have many similar features. To date, however,
it does have the blog-like characteristic that it contains exclusively my own writing, my own
thoughts, and my own mistakes. Although I may reference others mistakes; any mistakes contained
within this website are my own.

I’m not an environmental expert by any estimation. I am concerned about the environment and I’m
want to try and make information and resources more easily accessible. Anybody who reads these
articles and notes an error in judgement, fact, or even opinion is encouraged to contact me and
enlighten me to their viewpoint! Furthermore, anybody who has stronger knowledge than I do in
this area is encouraged to write their own articles and allow me to publish them on this site.

But I hope to avoid over-generalized scientific assumptions on this site. Scientific
explanations for environmental issues are complex, requiring a full understanding of many
interlinking ecosystems and the consequences of your actions. This level of understanding is
difficult to reach. I don’t have the concrete knowledge to make those explanations, myself.
However, I will attempt, to the best of my ability, to give an honest and thoughtful look at
the social issues surrounding local commerce and community environmentalism.

If you can find your nearby ecologically friendly businesses using this site, visit those
independent businesses instead of global corporations then this site is successful.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

What if Wal-Mart goes green?

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

According to a wide variety of recent articles, Wal-Mart is jumping onto the environmentalism bandwagon. These articles, based on an interview by Amanda Little with Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott, suggest a huge new commitment to the principles of sustainability for this mega-villain corporation. I’ve read stories at the New York Times, at Grist Magazine, at BuyBlue.org and in several other publications now, and it seems like Wal-Mart has committed to spending $500 million a year on environmental programs. These programs will include greenhouse gas reduction, energy-efficient stores, and reducing packaging waste.

This is, for the environmentally concerned, a big deal. It is also a very complicated problem. I enthusiastically support any commitment to environmentalism, big or small. I want Wal-Mart’s environmental programs to be wildly successful. I also can’t possibly condone shopping at their stores.

Awkward situation, to say the least.

One of the reasons I can’t ever like or shop at Wal-Mart (or other large chains, for that matter) is the way they can drive small, independent stores out of business because of the economy of scale. This very same reason, however, is why their environmental program has such a great chance of success – the commitment of an organization this large to environmentalism makes these environmental practices affordable. The ripple effect could be phenomenal.

Imagine, for example, that you’re a company manufacturing widgets. You supply Wal-Mart with your widgets, as well as supplying several other chains and a whole host of small retailers. You package your teeny little widgets in great big packages. When Joe TitchyRetailer enquires about reduced packaging, you snicker and go on with your life. When massive Wal-Mart makes the same request – you immediately start a major redesign campaign and reduce your packaging. Does this reduced packaging only go to Wal-Mart? Probably not – why would you maintain multiple packaging programs?

All in all, I can only hope that Wal-Mart is sincere and that they carry out this promise:

In October, Scott announced a preposterously ambitious goal to transform Wal-Mart into a company that runs on 100 percent renewable energy and produces zero waste. Since then, he has impressed greens with specific commitments to cut the corporation’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent over the next seven years, double the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet within 10 years, reduce solid waste from U.S. stores by 25 percent in the next three years, and double offerings of organic foods this spring, selling them at prices more affordable to the masses.

Walmart CEO H. Lee Scott

It’s an incredible commitment, with potential for incredible results. If Wal-Mart can have the same impact on environmentalism that they did on consumer prices the world will change dramatically.

Wal-Mart is still on my shit-list. They’re going to stay there because of their labor practices, monopolistic behaviors, and the fear that this promise is merely another deception. And there is still a potential for destructive side-effects – will Wal-Mart now put organic cooperatives out of business? Will small producers of organic crops need to consolidate into mega-farms in order to meet Wal-Mart’s price demands? Will organic farmers have to "fudge" on their principles in order to increase supply?

We’ll have to wait and see.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Mosquito Control and the Environment

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

Fighting Mosquitos around the world is a difficult and unending task. For the summer months to be enjoyable in some places, extreme measures are sometimes taken. The intense use of pesticides applied directly to wetlands and other stagnant water bodies can have severe environmental repercussions.

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune on April 20th, an article was published inaugurating the
beginning of the 48th mosquito-fighting season
(link may require login) for the Twin Cities Metropolitan Mosquito Control District. Many other areas around the US and other mosquito-afflicted regions are also now beginning their mosquito control seasons. The methods used for this vary widely – and some of them are pretty scary.

As it happens, the Twin Cities are using Bti, or Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis. This bacterial insecticide is considered one of the most environmentally sensitive tools available. The pesticide is highly targeted, effecting only mosquitos, blackflies, and midges. It is a spore composed of insecticidal proteins created by the Bti soil bacterium in unfavorable conditions – when mosquito larvae consume these spores, it kills them. As an insecticide, Bti uses dead bacteria to avoid releasing live organisms into the environment.
The root bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis has many strains – others are used to control a wide variety of insect pests.

Other common pesticides, unfortunately, are not so nearly harmless. Bti is only effective for controlling mosiquitos in the larval stages of growth – pesticides used to control adult mosquitos can be quite dangerous. One common pesticide for this purpose is Resmethrin.
Although considerd to be "slightly toxic to practically non-toxic", this is only true of most organisms. Resmethrin is highly toxic to fish. Fortunately, the chemical is more likely to be applied in places where adult mosquitos congregate – spraying trees and lawns with a mist applicator. Still, any chemical that reaches the earth has the potential to reach water sources. The most significant danger in the use of Resmethrin is in run-off patterns to surface water, where the chemical can potentially be consumed by fish.

Although much of the United States has converted to relatively safe and non-human or animal toxic pesticides, many developing countries continue to use DDT, the first modern pesticide developed. Although DDT gained a violently negative public opinion in the 1970’s following the publication of the book Silent Spring, the scientific basis of her book has been questioned. It is unclear to date whether DDT is as serious a problem as she stated, however there is no question that it has some significant environmental consequences. DDT is highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates, can affect the human nervous system, liver and kidney, and has potential for chronic problems. DDT has a very long half-life of 2-15 years in soil.

Why do Mosquitos need to be controlled?

Although the primary reason for mosquito control in the United States has long been pure annoyance, there are dangers associated with diseases carried by mosquito. Malaria has been wiped out in the United States, but still is of great concern in many other parts of the world. In the US, the recent development of the West Nile Virus has been a cause of concern, having killed 9 people in Minnesota alone in the last 3 years. Disease control continues to be a major motivating factor in controlling mosquitos and other biting flies.

More information:

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Bring Your Own Bottled Water

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

Conscientious living means thinking about your environment, your health, and your world in all your actions. Avoiding unnecessary waste is a key behavior to successfully maintaining a sustainable relationship with the world.

Recently, the National Geographic published an article about bottled water – and the incredible damage that bottled water is causing to the world. The hype around bottled water has been so effective and pervasive that billions of people around the world are drinking approximately 41 billion gallons of bottled water each year.(1)

Although it’s true that water quality isn’t necessarily ideal in many places – this hardly justifies the incredible costs – financial and environmental – placed on the world through bottled water. If you find yourself regularly purchasing bottled water, consider carefully what your reasons are for doing so. Are you concerned about the water quality in your area? Do your research – the Environmental Protection Agency provides an excellent resource for researching local water quality. This site will give you access to contamination and treatment violations by your water provider. You can also request this information directly from your provider – although they should send an annual pamphlet on water quality to your home.

If your water is provided by a private or shared well, than your water is not controlled by the EPA. It is your responsibility to monitor your well and have it regularly inspected.

Obviously, if you find that the water in your area is dangerous to your health due to severe contamination, unreliable monitoring and maintenance, or due to personal allergies, then bottled water is a reasonable answer. Just avoid purchasing it in small bottles! Many stores will provide distilled or purified water in large containers – one- or five-gallon jugs may be available. You can purchase a personal water bottle to refill regularly if you like to keep water handy during the day.

The waste from purchased bottled water is a serious problem, magnified by the total absence of necessity.

1. Bottled Water Isn’t Healthier than Tap, Report Reveals – James Owen, February 24, 2006

Categories: Alternative Fuel

The Real Bird Flu Epidemic

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

Every day I see new articles about a new outbreak of the H5N1 strain of Bird Flu virus.
Outbreaks in Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe – constant concern about the possibility it may
cross the Atlantic. In some parts of the world, paranoia about this virus has caused
sales of
poultry for food to plummet
. Every new article comments on the danger that this virus
may mutate to become communicable between humans.

Almost no article comments on the damage this virus can do, and has done, to wild bird populations
and food production. Recently, National Geographic Magazine published an article which commented:

Even so, the disease is unlikely to cause a massive wave of extinctions, he said, although
there are concerns about what would happen if the disease made its way into an endangered
species.

This is a relief. Thankfully, wild bird populations frequently live in conditions which make
it harder for disease to spread. That is, they don’t live crowded into high-density housing,
living amongst piles of their own feces, constantly in contact with each other. I hope that the virus
doesn’t get into an endangered species, but the realization is that for wild birds, this is just
a normal disease.

If there is any one thing causing the mass slaughter which this bird flu has necessitated, it’s the
inhumane treatment and storage of our living food supply. Ironically, as this disease spreads,
the most endangered flocks are the free-range birds. Since the massive commercial poultry farms
can easily seal their flocks off from outside contact, they are more able to avoid the disease.

Of course, if a commercial farm detects the infection – they may need to destroy their entire stock.

How is this disease being spread?

A common fear is that the bird virus is being spread by wild birds into domestic bird populations.
Ken Rosenberg, director of conservation science at Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory,
states: "I know of no documented cases of domestic birds picking up the disease from wild ones."
In fact, it appears that the disease may not be exactly the same strain between domestic and wild
birds.

The disease is being spread by humans. Not directly; not because humans are literally "carriers"
for the disease – because humans engage in activities which allow the disease to spread. Traffic
in smuggled exotic birds, live poultry, and pets can carry diseases into areas otherwise secured.
The feces of infected birds used in fertilizer can also cause additional spread.

Whatever we do, human behaviors are the dominant contributor to the extensive damages and spread
of this disease. In the short run, poultry farms dedicated to free range philosophies may be
badly damaged. But I hope that large commercial farms may see that the damages they suffer are directly
caused by their own practices.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Environmentally Sustainable Computers: The Green Office

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

I’ve written about this before, and will probably write about it again. As a heavy computer user and also an environmentalist, keeping my home office green is a challenge very close to my heart. A computer is inherently not very environmentally friendly. Computers a power hungry, they contain toxic chemicals, and they have zero resale value.

Yet, computers are an unavoidable presence in modern life. There are now non-profit programs designed to deliver cheap computers to third world countries. It is unlikely that computers will disappear from our society. So our burden is to find the best way to use, reuse, and conserve while using our computers.

The following suggestions are heavily adapted from a source by Dell computers.

Purchasing a computer system

  • Buy a computer which will be easily upgradeable when you need something more. Most computers today can easily be upgraded – adding a new processor, new RAM, or replacing everything in the case. When it comes time for a new computer, don’t jump into looking for a whole PC – think about what parts you might want to upgrade individually! Warning: if your computer is suffering from problems caused by malware (viruses, spyware, or adware) or other malfunctions, an upgrade may not solve your problem.
  • Buy refurbished products. Still want to buy a new computer? Well, it doesn’t have to be completely new. Many factory-refurbished computers are indistinguishable from an otherwise brand-new machine.
  • Look for Energy Star compliant labels when selecting new monitors or other computer equipment. These devices have been certified to use energy more efficiently than other comparable equipment.

Get the Most out of your Computer

  • Turn your computer off. Have you heard those rumors that turning a computer on and off can damage the computer? Myth. How about the myth that computers use more energy starting up than left running? Also a myth.
  • Use power management. Most computers available today come with power management features which will automatically reduce power use when you’re not actively using your computer. It is understood that being gone for 30 minutes does not need to require a full shut down!
  • NO SCREEN SAVERS. Once upon a time, screen savers served the purpose of saving the life span of early monitors. However, the monitors which required this are almost non-existent today. Screen savers merely waste energy by keeping your monitor and video card active.
  • Print carefully. Think through whether you REALLY need to print that document. Can you do your editing on the computer? Print your drafts on the clean side of your last draft? You can purchase recycled toner cartridges, recycled paper, and other environmentally friendly supplies for printing.

Take Responsibility for your Computer

  • Donate your old computers. It may be too old for you, but many non-profits have very limited budgets – they can put it to use for years to come.
  • Reuse components. If you can reuse your monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other accessories – do it!
  • Recycle the computer. Many computer manufacturers now offer recycling programs for old computers. NEVER throw your old computer into the garbage!

Hopefully, these tips will make it a little easier for people to manage their computers in an environmentally friendly fashion, planning for the future.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Public Transit: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Part 1: Bad Transit

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

I lived in Rochester, New York for two years – during that entire time, I traveled to and from work either on foot or by bus – and it was a MISERABLE experience. Why? Because public transit in Rochester was awful. (They have made some improvements since I left, which I’ll mention – to be fair!) There are three essential problems with public transit in Rochester:

  • Route design.

    Most routes only travel on the major spoke streets – which is great when you’re inside the central area of the city proper, but begins to cause some major problems in the suburbs. The city of Rochester is designed in a circle format, with the major streets forming spokes out from the center. By the end of the streets, the bus lines may be half a mile or more apart. This is fine for somebody like me, who is perfectly willing and able to walk half a mile to transfer buses – but is seriously problematic for anybody with physical disabilities or for the elderly.

  • Route frequency.

    The primary route that I rode ran straight up and down one of the four or five most major routes in the city. At peak travel times, this bus ran all of once every forty minutes. This does NOT make anybody’s life easy! The buses also frequently ended their schedules quite early – one route I need to ride regularly gave me only two options – if I finished teaching at 6:00, I could catch a bus at 6:28 – but if I had to teach longer? 7:47pm. This is not really acceptable! This was two separate routes, BOTH on major city arteries.

  • Schedule design.

    The schedules for this bus system are simply not designed very well. The times provided on an average 6 mile route would give you the times for only 5 stops along the way – making it difficult to estimate when a bus would actually be likely to arrive. The routes were frequently changed after 6:00 or so in the evening or on weekends – and the schedules did tell you this, if you knew how! For example, the schedule for the 17, which I rode, stated the following text for buses operating after 7:40pm:

    Bus arrives at/leaves from Main & Clinton, operating via Park Avenue route to East & Winton and continuing to Nazareth College. No service to East Ave. between Alexander St. and Colby St., or to Midtown Plaza.

    This was quite true, and accurate to a point. What the schedule DOES NOT say, and which is really quite important, is that the bus which you will in fact see if you are at one of these stops is the 1. The 1, of course, is the bus which routinely operates on Park Avenue – it simply changes it’s route for the later evening.

    Most routes have this problem in some way or another – such as the bus which runs to the airport. On weekends, this bus is a different line – but this is not mentioned in the schedule, which simply states that the bus will take a different route.

To give the RGRTA it’s due credit, they are improving. They have added a trip planner to their website which is a vast improvement on the former ability to figure out routes from their schedules. One can only hope they’re able to add routes and schedules!

Why is a transit system this bad? I don’t really blame it on the management, although I don’t think they’re entirely blameless – it’s the responsibility of a public which simply doesn’t make enough use of the bus to convince the city to invest in it. It’s a vicious circle – people won’t use the system because it’s not very user friendly, and the system won’t improve because nobody uses it.

Next up: my best transit experiences – Vienna, Austria.

Categories: Alternative Fuel