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Archive for December, 2007

Wave Power – Catch It

Friday, December 14th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Innovation. I just like the word. The sound of it has flow and the meaning is filled with hope for the future. I wasn’t always keen on the idea of feeding our lives with yet more technology, but connecting with, rather than exploiting, the powerful resources of nature has been the missing link in runaway science of the industrial revolution.

Annette von Jouanne, an electrical engineering professor at Oregon State University, knows the power of the waves. Von Jouanne, an avid surfer, is director of the school’s Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility, heading research on the wave power of the West coast as alternative energy. Wave power has many advantages over solar and wind – providing more power from smaller volume. Wave power is also available 80 – 90 percent of the time, compared to wind and solar, which can measure as low as 45 – 65% in availability.

While wave power is uniquely predictable, current available wave energy systems are complex and vulnerable to the untamed marine environment. Von Jouanne is working on a simpler system, using her expertise and passion for the open water. She is working with O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, state and federal agencies and private companies, such as Ocean Power Technologies.

The Ocean experts make up one big Think Tank and I’m excited about the possibilities. In some ways, we need to turn back the clock to the simpler, healthier ways of living. But REDUCE, reuse, recycle, CFLs and a return to local farming, will not be enough. We need to reTHINK the way we harvest the power we do need and innovative science will play an important role in getting us there in time to save our lives on this planet. Surf’s Up!

(Sierra Magazine regularly reports on environmental innovators and other heroes of our changing times.)

Beery Green – Eco-Breweries Do it Better

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

There’s nothing like good beer on a hot summer’s day, or oatmeal Porter on a cold winter’s Day…and the weather has been so crazy lately, you can probably take your pick, even in December. But can I drink my beer and go green, too? You bet your beer mug!

At least 4 Brewers have jumped on the eco-smart bandwagon, making good beer even better and cutting costs in the process. The way of brewing, just like any business, uses a lot of energy and creates a lot of waste. And, just like any business, there are many ways to use less energy and create a lot less waste.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company uses hydrogen fuel cells and newly installed solar panels for energy production. This means that their alternative system will provide 75 % of the heat and electricity used daily in the brewing process.

New Belgium Brewing Company is known for its environmentally advanced operations. The plant already captures methane gas released while treating wastewater and uses it to produce 10% of the power they need, saving $18,000 in energy costs. They buy wind power for the rest of their needs and run their local delivery trucks on biodiesel fuel. New construction in an upcoming expansion will include a variety of eco-conscious techniques. Recycled steel components and recycled concrete will be used, natural lighting will be built into the building and the heating and cooling system employs an alternative to the use of Freon.

Great Lakes Brewing Company is after zero waste. They share used grains with a baker and local farmer, runs a community “Fatty Wagon” shuttle bus on leftover veggie oil from pubs. In Winter, they shut down refrigeration, open the doors to the cooler and let mother nature do her work.

The Japanese Brewers, Sapporo Breweries, in response to customer health concerns and increasing eco-awareness, are encouraging their barley growers to reduce the use of chemicals and carbon emissions.

Unlike most soft-drinks, which are extravagantly bad for your body in every way and bad for the planet, good beer – in moderation – has health benefits (fermentation!) and serves a social niche – one that is centered around long rambling conversations and good cheer. Share that cheer with your Mother – Earth, that is – by drinking green. Ask your local stores to bring in your favorites.

What Would Jesus Buy?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Walmart is selling a new set of toy action heroes that go by the names of Jesus, Mary and Moses. These and other “Messengers of Faith” series, from one2believe, has found a quickly expanding market – it’s been picked up by Target and online stores. Their best seller? Jesus of Nazareth. Faith sells, it seems – one2believe will soon offer around 75 products. It’s official, buying plastic stuff has become gospel.

Enter Billy Talen, humorist and political activist whose movie and book, What Would Jesus Buy?, produced and co-written by Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame. While Bill Talen’s evangelism is fake, his activist message is real. Reverend Billy and his “Church of Stop Shopping” regularly goes to rallies and into public spaces to pass on his important message – “We have an emergency here. This is the time of radical America. This is a time when we change things together.”

What Would Jesus Buy? was released in theaters last month. Pass it on.

Cruising and Losing – say Bon Voyage to Cruise Ships

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I make it a point to read all I can in the green media world, large and small. I find it informative, confirming and hopeful to find so much information available in so many different ways. I recently came upon a small publication called, Healthy Beginnings. A well-intentioned, homespun version of eco-education from Nevada, I was initially impressed with the ambitiousness of it’s contents.

Unfortunately, my eco-bubble was burst when I came upon a page advertising ocean cruise vacations. It began, “Cruises make for a perfect vacation” and went on to describe the latest in cruise industry marketing – the “Detox Cruise”. According to Celebrity Cruises, on this excursion, you can “escape and enrich” with their numerous spa treatments – including hydrotherapy, meditation and “Acupuncture At Sea”.

Ack! A far cry from the “perfect vacation”, luxury cruises are another example of our spoiled, indulgent, ignorant lifestyles. Available to only the affluent, vacation cruises epitomize the have-it-all mentality of our culture. A “Detox Cruise” is even worse since it plays into our “quick fix” mentality towards our own health while ignoring the fact that cruise ships leave a hugely toxic ocean footprint.

According to Friends of the Earth, luxury liners regularly dump millions of gallons of raw sewage and chemicals into the oceans. Just one cruise ship in a one-week “vacation” voyage can generate more than 210,000 gallons of sewage, 50 tons of garbage. They also use and waste 1,000,000 gallons of potable water while contaminating ocean water with oil. In addition, their presence puts countless whales, dolphins, seals and other sea animals at risk.

Skip the “Holistic Caribbean Holiday At Sea”. If you like the ocean, grab a board or a kayak and catch a different kind of wave and keep both your body and the ocean healthy.

Activists Act

Monday, December 10th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

What is an activist? Who are they? What do they do? What do they want? Are they idealists or realists? These are some of the questions I ask myself daily.

I live in a way that emphasizes stewardship of the planet, people and animals. It’s not impact-free, but feels ethical, moral and conscientious – AND, I keep finding ways to make it more so. But, it’s not self-sacrificing or self-less. I do it because it benefits me – it feels good, makes my life more simple and enjoyable and gives me hope about the future.

Does the way I live make me an activist? Hardly. I only became in activist when I was willing to step out into the world with both my actions and my voice. My lifestyle is not hard, but speaking out about it definitely has been. Activism requires a voice and, just like the bumper sticker reads, sometimes that voice is going to shake. I’ve reluctantly taken on “activist” jobs for years now. I’ve participated in rallies, written letters and joined various task forces – finding safety in numbers. But there is one thing I’ve always been reluctant to do – talk about it in real life. Think about it – no one does this on any regular basis. We are taught to be non-judgmental….to live and let live…

However, we are at the point where “living” is not always keeping things living. Staying quiet about what we see, while hoping for change, just isn’t working. Although I’ve hoped that carrying about my own bags, water bottles and napkins would be enough to influence the people around me, I found out that it’s not. It’s taken courage to talk about it, make suggestions and provide information to people I’m close to, but I’m trying. I started with my family and now try to talk to friends whenever opportunities arise. It has been easier than I thought.

No Impact Man has committed to an extremely sustainable way of living – impressive and inspiring. His hugely successful blog and its following shows that people are influenced by his story or at the very least, curious about his experience. His lifestyle is not activism, but his blog is definitely a tool toward that end.

Martin Eakes, founder of Self Help, credits his mother for teaching him something important. He was told, “If you see a problem, it is your responsibility to fix it.” An activist is someone who makes an effort to see problems that are not being addressed and then makes an effort to change it.

Bright Lights, Green City – green tree for Big Apple

Friday, December 7th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

You can call New York City a energy-consuming city, but you could also say that most of it serves a small footprint. Take away the autos and you have Venice – sort of. Whether you love it or hate it – when NYC speaks, many people listen. And a 84 foot lighted Holiday Tree speaks loudly.

The 75th annual tree-lighting happened on November 28th but their was more than sparkling lights to cheer. This year the 60 year-old Spruce held 30,000 L.E.D.s (light-emitting diodes) powered by solar panels on the roof of Rockefeller Plaza. Officials project will save as much energy a day as an average family uses in a month (or perhaps 4 Manhattan-sized apartments).

Tishman Speyer, the co-owner and manager of Rockefeller Center, says the carbon emissions created by cutting and transporting the tree will be offset and the lumber to be used later by Habitat for Humanity. Read more here.

White House – can you hear me now?

HO HO HO and Merry Christmas, Tao

Water – It’s In Your Hands

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

As you already know, I have a healthy respect for germs. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that washing your hands in hot water does not kill any more germs than washing in cold. The urban greens at Ideal Bite tells us it’s the plain old soap and the friction of rubbing that cleans your hands of both dirt and germs. Same goes for dishes.

I was ahead of my time, I suppose – I stopped letting the faucet run to warm after I was a kid at Summer camp – no hot water available there – and I realized that the cold water is refreshing and made me feel even more clean (we also bathed in a really cold lake). Now I know it’s because cold water rinses soap residue faster and better than warm water. I still always use the first water out of the tap to wash my hands or face. If I want warm water occasionally for dishes (it sometimes just feels good on cold days), I heat up a kettle to fill my wash and rinse bowls before I begin. Ahhhh. It becoms a special treat.

What’s the big deal, you say? Think again. the average running faucet releases 2 gallons per minute and there is a lot of handwashing going on. It’s a big deal when you you consider that our 1950 – 2000, our population increased 90%, while our water usage increased 209%. The EPA tells us that more than 36 states predict water shortages in the next 6 years. (More about water in Sierra magazine, Nov./Dec. volume 92. No. 6.)

Keep learning. Keep thinking. Water supply is the most pressing environmental issue and deserves our ongoing attention. Cold is the new Hot. Try it.

Take The Handmade Pledge – and then some

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Fair Trade, Organic, sustainable gifts are all the rage this year. If you doubt me, just surf awhile and see what pops up, or check out the Hollywood scene. You can add another list of must-be/haves to the list with the Buy Handmade Pledge. To date, 8,000 people have pledged to purchase only handmade gifts this year. I couldn’t resist – I signed on, too.

I admit that at first, I thought the pledge was encouraging people to make their own handmade gifts to give. Then I realized that this is much bigger – it’s about getting out of big-box stores selling us our slow death and into Farmer’s Markets, Co-ops, small local businesses and online sites. Oh, online sites. I looked into it and found out that the founder of the Buy Handmade Pledge has a website that hosts dozens of artists making really creative stuff. I saw clothing and jewelry and a pretty, ruffled apron. Cool! But, wait a minute – most of the art, though original, creative and fun, was not made with organic or sustainable materials…

I’m starting to feel a disconnet… While I’m thinking evolution, they are thinking… ‘what’s good for people who make handmade things’ and as a marketing strategy, it’s a bit mischievious. I credit Buy Handmade for not listing or linking to this site or the artists, but it didn’t take me long to find my way there anyway.

Buying more stuff that you don’t really need (a ruffled apron?), even if it is handmade, is a nice change from buying it at Target, but it’s not of the magnitude needed right now to set back the ticking clock on the time bomb of consumerism. What we really need is for people making handmade stuff (in addition to other producers) to think about what they are using to make their handmade stuff.

I’m making gifts this year. Treats with Fair Trade and organic ingredients and napkins made from reclaimed fabric. Total Sum Game. Happy Holidays.

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