Tag Archives: wind power

Sustainable Universities

The university system does a lot to shape our world. It molds young people into citizens. The best of universities allow young people to mold themselves within a healthy and supportive environment, but most of them simply engage in indoctrination. I could write quite a long critique regarding that, but it’s not my purpose here,  so I won’t get into it just now.  There are some colleges and universities that have developed a focus on sustainability, but not nearly enough. We need to push for three different areas of change in our university system. This can be done by almost anyone – students, faculty, staff, alumni, prospective students. The areas of change: sustainability of the school itself, courses of study that focus on sustainability and application of knowledge in related areas, like engineering, to problems of sustainability, student organizations and focus groups that engage in discussion and action.

Unless we teach people what it actually means to be sustainable, we can’t attain a level of sustainability that will carry us into the future.

Student body & organizations

Students. The most important part of any school. The raison d’etre of any school. There are so many things that students can do to promote sustainability and to bring the topic into focus for the school’s administration, faculty, and other students. First: make some noise. Start an organization and make yourself noticed. Issue challenges to the entire school and everyone in it, or to other schools, like the “do it in the dark” challenge, in which houses and/or dorms compete for the biggest reduction in energy usage for a month. Have seed-bombing and guerrilla gardening campaigns. Petition the school for an area where you can have a vegetable garden on campus to produce cheap food for students – you can even have a little students-only farmer’s market to raise funds for the organization. Give out free BPA-free water bottles to encourage students not to buy throw-away plastic bottles of water. Ask the school’s bookstore to sell notebooks, flash drives, pens, binders, clothing, etc. made out of recycled and eco-friendly materials. Get involved in boards and committees of the institution in which you have a voice, and can push for change. There are so many things you can do.

Programs of study

This one is trickier. Students, along with staff and faculty with experience in related fields can push for the development of programs focused on sustainability and/or for a focus on sustainability in each related field. It’s really when people come together with experience in different fields and from different parts of the world that we can progress in leaps and bounds and make a huge difference. Look at the programs already available at other universities to see how they’re doing it, and try to improve upon them. If you’re a prospective student, even asking about whether schools have a sustainability program, or have plans to develop one, will help. An increasing interest from the general population can push things in the right direction. If you are a current student, you can aim for this within your own program, and you can encourage all your classmates to study together in the same place, which will collectively reduce the amount of electricity you’ll use by quite a lot over the course of a year. Think of how much more you’d use if you were each studying in a separate room or building all the time.

University & its policies

There are several areas to look at here. Alumni might consider telling your alma mater that you will make donations or donate more if it only makes investments in sustainable businesses and if it implements programs to increase its own sustainability, or you can earmark your donation for sustainability projects, renovations etc. Prospective students should keep this in mind, too. Choose the schools that are most environmentally friendly and that are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. See what you can do in your own department if you’re currently a student. Can you turn in your assignments via email or dropbox rather than on paper? Are all those hand-outs really necessary, or can they be sent to your email or posted on a virtual blackboard? Some students may need a paper copy, but most don’t. Again, there are many things you can do to try to make a difference, especially if your classmates join you.

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A Call to Action

industry-611668_640With what we’ve known for quite a long time now about the causes and effects of climate change, it’s almost inconceivable that we’re still, as a species, plowing ahead with our ill-advised plan to suck up all possible fossil fuels and burn them. The extraction processes and the pollution resulting from use are all extremely damaging to our environment and bode ill for future survival. We’re beginning to realize that even the more drastic estimates of global warming and its effect on all species, including us, have been frighteningly conservative in the face of our current reality.

Do you know what fossil fuels are made of? Organic matter that’s been laying in the earth for millions of years. Through a process involving time, compression, and heat, the organic matter turns into coal, oil, and natural gas. Unless you want to personally help comprise the next generation of fossil fuels, I recommend reading on.

Living sustainably effects every part of our lifestyles, and I typically focus on the small things that are part of our daily routines, because they can really add up if enough people make a conscious effort, make better choices, and spread the knowledge and initiative around. And because the smaller choices are more manageable.

The problem is – they aren’t enough. The two biggest issues facing us today in terms of our very survival are agriculture and fossil fuels. These two industries have shown no desire to benefit humanity, only their own profit margins. It’s a vastly different thing to say ‘stop eating GMOs’ and ‘stop using your car’ but it’s really no good doing one and not the other. So, right now, let’s think about the difficult choices instead of the easy ones.

There’s so much outrage about the what the fossil fuel industry is doing to the planet, as there should be. Just imagine if the massive amounts of money spent on lobbying went instead to research and development, design and implementation of alternative energies. We’d be sitting pretty. And the companies would benefit by diversifying and moving into the future with the rest of us. But that’s not happening. Instead, they’re creating a situation in which it’s entirely possible that many of us will not move into the future at all. It’s so disgustingly myopic, it’s not likely to change, and there are few ways that you and I can hope to make a difference.

We all use fossil fuels. We’re all complicit. With current technologies and the way things work, it’s impossible to avoid without completely uprooting your life, but each one of us must begin to fight to make the changes we can in order to attain the smallest degree of complicity possible. This is a moral imperative. It should be an easy choice for anyone who has or plans to have children, or nieces and nephews, or in any way cares about future generations. The truth is, the suggestions I’m about to make are not only going to help to transfer power away from the fossil fuel industry, helping future generations, they’re also physically and mentally healthier for you in the present. These are just a few; there are plenty more things you can do.

Invest in solar panels on your home – They’re not that expensive to install and they pay you back while reducing or eliminating your reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power. You might also be able to benefit from a feed-in tariff. If you generate enough electricity to feed back into the power grid, you get paid for it. You can also get federal tax credits, and some state governments offer rebates as well.

Use your bicycle for more than entertainment – In several countries, we grow up with this idea that bicycles are for entertainment. They’re fun, or they’re for kids who can’t drive to go visit nearby friends. You know what? They ARE fun! So why not use your bicycle to get to work, or go to the store, or the library, or out to dinner? As an American, taking my bicycle for a 30-minute journey sounded like a bit much, until I started doing it. Now I love it and there’s no way I’d rather travel, even for much longer trips. Americans spend tons of money pimping our rides, so why not spend a little on pimping our bicycles to make them both comfortable and functional? It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a lift kit.

How about a motorcycle or a moped? – Another good option for longer trips when a bicycle isn’t feasible. They’re not very expensive, especially mopeds, and they get you where you need to go while paying you back for your investment by using waaaaay less gasoline.

Move – Seriously. I know it’s difficult and time-consuming, but it’s also fun! And you can choose to move to a community that allows you to live more sustainably. It’s a big thing, but people do move all the time. It’s not inconceivable.

Buy local – Just about everything you buy from your local supermarket has traveled long distances, using lots of fossil fuels for production, storage, and transportation. Industrial agriculture is THE biggest user of fossil fuels and producer of greenhouse gases. Small local farms tend to use much more sustainable practices, to stay away from GMOs, and they require little use of fossil fuels for production, storage and transportation.

Gardening – Grow food at home, help start or engage in community gardens. This is physically, emotionally, economically, and socially healthy and sustainable, and results in a grand-scale reduction of the need to use fossil fuels.

Don’t vote party lines – Vote for what’s best for your children and the future. Always. Educate yourself about bills and propositions and politicians, and the effects they’ll have, keeping in mind that they are all often purposefully misleading. Dig deep. It’s necessary.

Engage in activism – Get out there! We need you to help make a difference and to inspire others to do the same. This kind of bottom – up change will only work if we reach a tipping point.

As the saying goes, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” ~ Leroy Eldridge Cleaver

Bees & Butterflies & Alternative Energy

We have to stop using massive amounts of insecticides & herbicides. Obviously. But it may take some time to get there, so what can each of us do in the meantime to help our little buddies who are suffering mass extinctions?

Win – win

There’s a company in the UK getting it right. Unlike fossil fuel extraction methods, solar power doesn’t destroy the immediate environment in which production happens. So we’re already a step ahead, but that’s not enough for the folks at Solarcentury, who have decided to do what they can to support biodiversity in their country.

They are about to begin planting indigenous flora throughout their solar parks that bees and butterflies love, and that promote native biodiversity in general. They envision their solar parks as wildlife sanctuaries, and it’s not just for bugs; it’s estimated that 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost since the 1940s. They’ve found an ingenious way to make human interference in a natural landscape beneficial. The CEO of the company pointed out that solar parks actually provide a wider array of wet, dry, shaded and sunny areas than completely open fields, making it a perfect place to promote biodiversity. Win – win.

How bee-friendly is your land?

You could easily follow their example at home and make your land a refuge for bees and butterflies, who are fighting to survive and could use all the help we can give them. Frankly, it also has the potential to be more beautiful than a grass lawn. It may not be the right thing for everyone to do. Of course, you can also have gardens, but they do require more care. One of the nice things about attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinators, though, is that they do help you out with that.

There are more benefits, too. Many of the plants that attract bees and butterflies also attract hummingbirds. Many are also edible, including herbs like fennel and basil. You just have to make sure you let them go to flower, but you were going to do that anyway so that you can save the seeds, right?

See how synergistic it can all be? When you begin to recognize it, it seems so inane of us to have commercialized this process to the point of destruction. Nature takes care of all this with relatively little intervention on our part and here we are wasting valuable energy and resources (non-renewable ones) engineering plants that lack the nutritional value of natural plants, while creating robotic bees (yes, it appears Monsanto IS involved in that project) just in case that’s the only way they can survive. Well guess what? We’re next.

What to plant

Here are a few resources to learn more about the plants that pollinators love, and other potential uses for some of them, as well as a helpful hint for people with allergies, and more.

21 best plants for pollinators

No-fail plants to attract hummingbirds, butterflies & bees

Bee balm: for butterflies & bees

10 things you can do to help save the bees

Biotecture

Earthships: hokey name, rad idea

The idea is this (quoted directly from their website):  to have a home that “causes no conflict, no stress, no depletion, no trauma to the planet earth. Just as the human body is a result of the various systems that support it – (circulatory systems, nervous systems, respiratory systems, etc…) so must the Earthship be a product of the systems that support it. In view of this, we have made the Earthship systems both understandable and available to the common everyday human. Systems are generally 25 percent of the construction cost of a home, providing little to no utility bills every month.”

click to enlarge

They’re built entirely from natural and recycled materials, including dirt, tires, and glass bottles. They collect and filter rainwater, making it potable. Electricity is supplied by solar and wind power. There are built-in greenhouses to grow food year-round, and other plants help out with certain aspects of home maintenance. They’re not expensive to build and cost almost nothing to live in.

Probably the most interesting thing about the design is the way the walls are built and how efficient they are at maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature regardless of what’s going on outside. Large, south-facing windows allow the sun to come in and hit the ‘thermal mass’ i.e. the structure of the house, which is composed of car tires filled with compacted dirt. They act like a heat sink, trapping heat, and releasing it slowly if the air cools, reabsorbing it if it gets hot again, keeping your home at a happy 70 degrees (21 C). And you don’t need a team of experts. You can do it yourself. Pretty damn cool, huh?

The other half of the equation

The environment isn’t the only consideration when we talk about sustainability. The way we live our lives should also be psychologically sustainable, not just for you personally, but in a way that doesn’t have a negative effect on future generations. Too many people work jobs they don’t enjoy, or work 2 jobs just to be able to afford all the bills. As a society, we lose out on what those people would have had to offer if they were relaxed and inspired instead of stressed and run-down.

The focus of earthships is really on living in symbiosis with the natural environment, but think of the effects that this kind of architectural ideology would also have on the inhabitants. Parent’s would have more time to teach and support their kids. Without having to worry about where food is coming from or who’s paying the bills, you have a greatly increased ability to engage in projects and activities that interest you and that could be of benefit to society as a whole. These homes bring their inhabitants self-sufficiency.

Self-sufficiency brings self-determination. And that’s something we’ve lost hold of and NEED to get back for ourselves. These buildings do that for you by being “radically sustainable.”

Just to be clear, this isn’t where you go out in the desert or the woods, build yourself a hut with sticks and hunt your dinner. You have modern appliances and comforts, you just do it in a way that’s sustainable and doesn’t require your participation in global destruction on a massive scale.

And what are the sacrifices you have to make? You can’t use more energy than you can produce, but you already know, deep down, that you really shouldn’t be watching Jersey Shore, anyway. If you’re thinking about building your own home, this is definitely something to consider.

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