29 October, 2008

From Containers to Greentainers

With shipping containers finding themselves in the spotlight so much as sustainable/ecologically friendly housing, and now also as data centers, things must perforce change..  For a start, law of supply and demand:  The more containers are taken out of circulation for housing and data centers, the more in demand they are going to get and the more they will cost.

The more that people start shipping their computing power and their houses around, the more expensive freighting is going to get, as these "greentainers" start multiplying.  In their advantage is that you can ship modules from a small number of facilities to the end location probably for much cheaper than you could build them in situ, and due to the sheer variety of ideas, there is a whole wealth of structures that can be built.

But there are also downsides.  Building in a container doesn't give the ideal shape for energy efficiency and conservation.  The steel walls may delay energy gains and losses, but they don't isolate them.  Container home or datacenter modules are heavy.  And the modules are still made from steel dug up from the ground, smelted, purified, and then formed into material for making the containers, and then manufactured into containers.

So I predict that new strong materials made from recycled plastics and other sustainable sources will soon become the major component of the new lines of greentainers.  When you can have all the strength (and then some) that original steel containers had, at one tenth to one quarter of the weight, you achieve significant fuel savings in transport, you gain strength and rigidity that traditional steel containers do not have, the walls can have thermal properties tailored for the relevant use, and a whole new kind of container will spring up, many of them only sharing the twist-lock spacing and size with the old steel behemoths of yesterday.

If you take on board some of my ideas, don't forget to throw me a bone so I can afford to buy a container or two to experiment with!

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50% More Efficient Fuel Cells

Never ever to discount existing technology.  Well, fuel cells are existing technology, even if not (yet) old technology.  Fuel cells take a carbon/hydrogen fuel (think carbohydrate, think hydrocarbon) and separate out the electrons.  Generally this process leaves water vapour as the waste product, and that makes fuel cells a desirable technology, because eventually, they will convert all the dead dinosaurs to water and energy and we'll be rid of that fossil fuel in a clean way.

Now this process will make fuel cells more efficient and that means you'll start seeing them in some new applications, possibly even extracting the energy from your fuel to power your car.  Also of course remember that ways have been developed that turn CO2 into fuel sources probably eminently suitable for use in fuel cells, and you see that with a minimum of fuss, we are going to slide into a new era of clean power.  Just keep your fingers crossed that we don't also slide into any of a dozen other pitfalls along the way, but at least one disaster may be averted if we make these changes happen quickly enough.

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28 October, 2008

Example Of Skewed Research?

This is research done without knowledge.  If you read The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook, you'd know.  You DON'T - ever - take this particular supplement pemanently.  There are clear guidelines in the book, and they need to be followed, as to when and for how long to take Selenium/E supplements.  This research was done, as usual, by specialists in a narrow field, who can't see the alternative to taking something forever and ever, until something bursts.

It's one of the things The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook is most against - the wholesale consumption of all these supplements and so forth.  And straight medicine just won't take notice.  To every thing, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn... 

Please please - if you have prostate problems and you're wanting to use the BFZC diet - don't do it without reading the book first.  If you genuinely can't afford it email me and I'll send you a copy.  It's just that important to get the timings and amounts right.  The whole point of knowing the interactions between different foods and vitamins is to prevent you further poisoning your system with things, and leads to being able to take less of each component and get more benefit.

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Sometimes, you just want to cry, don't you?  Here are people like us, urging people to stand up and shoulder their own responsibilityand then see this sort of thing at News Of The Weird...

"Government in Action
Things Government Does When It's Not Bailing Out the Economy: The municipal transit company in Austin, Texas, unveiled a rider-education campaign in August, giving step-by-step instructions in how to stand up on buses without falling over. When the bus is accelerating, "lean forward and put your weight on your front foot." (The introductory frame on the poster features a harried rider exclaiming, "Help! I'll never figure it out!") [American-Statesman, 8-18-08]"

... I don't think we're going to make it, are we?  

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27 October, 2008

Purple Tomatoes, Black Tomatoes.

Purple tomatoes help prevent cancer.  Okay if you'd read The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook you'd already have guessed that, the purple colour (or any strong colour, especially greens, reds, and purples) indicate a useable level of antioxidants.

In fact, "kumato" tomatoes are also very good in this regard.  They appear to have been bred for a black colour and lower sugar content, a slightly milder flavour, and were I believe developed directly for supermarkets.  But by now you can expect to find purple to black tomatoes with lower sweetness on shelves everywhere.  Go for them.

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24 October, 2008

Vegetables, Meat? Or Both?

It's been a while since I wrote a diet-related post.  (Which is amusing considering this is the support blog for The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook which is a diet book...)  I think the last food-related post may have been about approaching your nutrition in a balanced manner.  This article is going to raise controversy, the subject always does, but here goes.  Here's a way NOT to be balanced...

There's a cutesy ad on TV about a probiotic capsule that puts gut bacteria back, you may have seen it, the balancing board with nasty food-caused bugs on one side and dutiful cute blue acidofiluses on the other side, then suddenly, a whole army of cute blue washes the bad bugs away leaving these squeaking voiced blue things.  "Restore the balance!" booms the voice-over.  And it's total bullshyte, because there's no longer any balance, it's a one-sided bluewash.  That is not balance, that is just a different kind of bacterial overgrowth.  To work optimally, your stomach needs some of those other bacteria in there.  The secret is true balance.

Similarly, our diets need a true balance.  Remember we are the product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, we don't have a mechanism for dealing with plant cellulose for a good reason:  our ancestors discovered that the occasional addition of meat to the diet was very good for survival, and we evolved to fit a specific dietary profile which now includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, fungii, seafoods - and meat.  Remove any of those from your diet and you're tying one hand of your immune system behind it's back...

The article I linked to, the author does exhibit balance, she mentions that they do still take meat.  This is a good thing, because it shows that the sense of balance is still there.  She also mentions using an organic butcher, and that shows excellent survival skills.  As I've mentioned in preceding articles, supermarket meat is horribly abused.  It's kept for too long, often injected with water to increase volume and weight, sprayed with irritants to retain its red colour, and a whole host of ills befall it.

Where I live, there's a butcher within half a mile of my place.  I bought meat there quite a bit, then one day I asked the owner of the shop where the animals had come from.  "Oh," quipped the guy, "it comes from the abbatoirs."  I never finished buying that order, and I now travel about two miles to get my meat from a larger scale butcher - but who knows to within a few square miles, where his various carcasses came from.  And you know what?  I feel heaps better because of it.

Once again, it's about taking personal responsibility.  My meat didn't magically appear, shrink-wrapped, on some styrofoam tray, it came from an animal.  An animal that died because I eat meat.  I'd rather the meat was treated properly and was therefore good for me, than that it gets adulterated along the way and wastes the sacrifice.  I eat it for the same sorts of reasons my forebears did, and in the same way - I balance the steak and ground round with liver, heart, and kidneys, because I also know that my ancestors did that and evolved to need the nutrients from every part of the animal.  And I eat meat because I know it's all right to do, as long as it's done in a balanced and sustainable way.  My responsibility is to make sure I don't take more than my share of the world's resources, so that limits my meat intake to a few meals a week.

I also don't eat one meat exclusively, that too would be wrong.  It's supposed to be a balance.  Do you think we would waste so much agricultural land on sheep and cattle, impose so much suffering on chickens, if people just did what nature intended and widened their choices of meats?  Here in Australia we have kangaroos, they are a source of a meat which is low to zero of cholesterol and fat, and sustainable - kangaroos are abundant.  The aboriginals might have had a kangaroo for the tribe every few weeks, and a goanna (monitor like lizard) or three in the same timespan, plus whatever snakes and small birds they managed to bring down.  Do you see the thing though?  B-A-L-A-N-C-E.  Don't just keep depleting the kangaroo population.  Or the lizard population.  Spread your impact out, minimise it in any particular area.

If there were no McDonalds, no Hungry Jacks (Burger King to our USA friends) and no fast food chicken places trying to unbalance your footprint, we'd need only half the cattle farms, half the chicken farms.  Or feed twice, thrice as many people on the same acreage.

Again, it boils down to shouldering your share of the responsibility.  Don't eat beef every day, or chicken every day.  Accept that your healthy feeding needs animals to die - and make sure they didn't die in vain, nor to feed a greedy person.

You know, when I say it like that, I almost believe that we could win back this global warming and environment decimation.  Then I look up and see the signs for Chicken Treat and McDonalds 900 metres away from my back fence, and things don't look so rosy...

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Australian EV Owners Get A Charge

Sometimes, it's spooky.  I must go around with my head up my sandpit or something.  Not enough charge in the ole vigilance battery.  Because I could swear it was only a few days ago I mentioned that the biggest problem with Electric Vehicles (EVs) was that there aren't enough places to recharge them.  And now, here's this article at Gizmodo ...  (Mind you - even Gizmodo's sibling Treehugger missed this so I don't feel too bad...)

Now here's a thought for the eastern states of Australia - there's another half to the country, it's called Western Australia.  Recharge points over here in Perth (and for that matter, cities in SA, NT, and TAS) would be very welcome too.  Also, for the planned billion dollars, some planning to make some of those charge points based on solar energy would have been a bit more relevant and worthy of a full article...

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23 October, 2008

Zen Directory for Western Australia - Green(ish) Suppliers

In case anyone missed it, here's a link to a whole directory of zencological suppliers.

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Cheaper For WA Olive, Grape Growers?

Here's a thought for several groups of people here in WA, and of course, for those same groups all over the world.  GET THYSELF TO A GREENERY!  I can tie equipment manufacturers, olive growers, and a variety of other farmers together in a beautiful green symbiosis that will result in economically sustainable greening.

First, remember that some manufacturers already have "it," the core of greenness.   In the case of olive farming, there is am inferior product called "pomace" oil, which is really not very good for use in food, but still sold as such.  It's sort of okay for soaps and cosmetics, though.  

Now let's look at technology like this "dieso-robo-spenser" that's called Bio Bot for some reason.  It's not a biological bot.  It's not even a bot for biology.  It's a bot that uses a chemical process to purify vegetable oil into cleaned diesel fuel.

We have quite a few "zencology" firms here in WA, they produce or manufacture all manner of things for the seriously eco conscious sustainable greenhouse gas emission and carbon footprint lowering business or grower.  One business which actually manufactures a small plant to manufacture biodiesel appears not to have bothered to even advertise in that directory, luckily I emailed them ages ago and got not much from them actually, but I did retain their URL, which is http://www.bioworks.com.au/index.shtml .  

Now olive growers are not the only people who produce a byproduct feedstock suitable right away for milling and pressing to fuel oil.  Our lovely grape and wine industries produce anothe byproduct feedstock which is largely going to waste, grapeseed.  Yes, I know, it is being pressed into grapeseed oil (which is HUGELY beneficial in The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook diet as an oily vitamin E - go read the book to find out why that's important) and sometimes even getting used as stock feed. 

But after pressing out the food grade grapeseed oil, this too can be pressed for a lower grade oil, and the cake left over can still be used as stock feed.   

So if our WA Bioworks type manufacturing businesses could be bothered to do something else besides manufacture diesel making plant and then wait for people to find out about them, they might find a huge market for a diesel-robo at each winery, olive farm, and many others - because if you could make your own, much cleaner, much cheaper, and local diesel fuel oil, why wouldn't you?  Assume you have enough biomass (about 10 to 1 from solid to oil, and about 3 to 2 for oil to diesel) to produce the fuel your farm equipment uses for the season, you've probably saved yourself the cost of a few thousand litres of diesel per season, so for a medium farm maybe $5000AUD for the year.  So it recoups costs in no time, Bioworks are happy because they've made plenty of sales, and the environment says thank you.

Oh and the byproducts - the spent feedcake of seeds and so forth, and the glycerine from diesel manufacture - they can all be re-used somewhere.  Glycerine is in demand for soap production and cosmetics, and can also be broken down again by composting methods to become fertiliser, while spent feedcake can become compost or feed for herbivorous animals, be they yours or the neighbour's.  You may even be able to trade feedstock for a nice bit of yearling lamb each season. 

And THAT'S how to close the cycles!

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22 October, 2008

The. Biggest. News. Ever. CO2 Into Fuel!

If the claims made in this article are to be believed, then Carbon Sciences have just become my favourite company of the millenium.  They claim to have discovered a biomimetic process to catalyse CO2 into methane or propane or ethane, which can be used directly or combined into useable fuels again.

It seems to be a "just add water" kind of reaction, (underscoring water's importance as the universal solvent/reagent on Earth,) and as far as I can see, produces no other byproducts.  Quick, what's the catch?

Reading their site, one phrase that crops up is "...Carbon Sciences is developing a proprietary process that requires significantly less energy than other approaches that have been tried." which implies that there is still going to be an energy cost to the conversion.  Also, they do specifically mention splitting water into H and OH, a process which inevitably requires energy.

On the plus side, as long as supplying that energy requirement produces less carbon emissions than the original amount of CO2 being converted, we're ahead - the amount of CO2 will eventually diminish.

Also, providing much of the needed energy from some source like sunlight would be even better.  Since a catalyst is involved, that means that the reaction needs little in the way of resources once the initial "working capital" of catalyst is acquired, and water is thankfully still plentiful enough.

One further thought, and this is a wild stab in the dark - but if the process could use partially treated sewage water, and the process returned a certain quantity of recombined H2O at the end, then that would be even better.  (If you split water into H and OH, that effectively leaves all other material behind.  Recombining it into H2O again therefore produces totally pure potable water.)

Last observation:  Using propane gas for running vehicles results in cleaner operation than using liquid fuels, and most car engines can be converted.  So there's a further saving: the fuel produced by this reaction is cleaner to use.

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21 October, 2008

Olive Oil Is Always Environmentally Friendly!

An olive farm is going green all the way, and plans to have all its carbon  emissions either cut out altogether or offset by planting more trees.  They mention solar energy for three days' worth of running, using electric carts bikes and tractors to tend their trees, biofuel for where electric won't do.  I know that oil presses use a fair bit of power, and solar isn't always reliable in Europe, so they have plans to expand the solar capacity to 10 days.

My question's pretty simple - what biofuel are they using?  Because, no-one I know buys pomace oil, the cheap nasty stuff that's pressed about last thing of all when the extra virgin and virgin grades have been pressed.  That would be a self-sustaining farm if ever there was one...

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20 October, 2008

Plugging In, The Dilemma

I know I push electric vehicles (EVs) to what many would consider an unreasonable extent.  But think of it this way - even an EV needs some way to get the "E" into it.  And generally, that means a fossil fuel powered electricity generating station someplace that will now spew the pollution out so that the EV can be charged...

It reminds us that one of the main problems that EV drivers face is the lack of "petrol stations" - which means most would prefer to opt for a hybrid.  But hybrids are the worst of both worlds, not the best.  Far better to lobby and lobby for electric outlets, honestly.  Because, one day those electric outlets won't be supplied from a n oil or coal fired power station, they will be powered by a large grid of wind, solar, wave, and tide power stations, and a few more that have yet to be invented.

But there's one thing EV owners can do right now, which would help.  Put a roof rack on their little EV and install solar panels.  The drag is not going to be significant for EVs at the relatively slow commute speeds, and the range extension may just be all the average commuter needs to avoid the dreaded recharge at work.  Remember, those solar panels will keep topping off the battery all day while you're at work.  And you can leave your EV in the cheaper open parking lots instead of paying for an expensive covered spot.

And for covered car park operators, one thing they can do straight away is to put solar panels on the roof and offer solar charging while you park.

But the important thing is not to go the hybrid route - go direct to the responsible, least polluting, and (importantly) cheap to run option.

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Mini E - For The Modern 007, Sadly By BMW Not Q

Jump to the article for Gizmodo's gallery of pictures of the Mini E, another useful electric vehicle (EV) finding its way into the mainstream.

Pity they are only making a limited edition run of them, but kudos anyway for getting out there and doing something instead of just grimly churning out more pooeyspewers.

The Mini E is to have around 330km range, 95mph top speed thus handily beating the Joule EV I wrote about a week ago but not everything is about speed - let's face it, high pressure hurry-hurry-haste-haste lifestyle is one reason a sizeable percentage of us spend several hours every day crawling along in almost gridlocked traffic...

On the one downside, they are designing a special Li-ion battery pack for the vehicle, and that is the only thing I can complain about.  What a waste of resources for a limited run of only 500 vehicles, after all.  Also, bear in mind that there are dozens, perhaps by now thousands, of research establishments working on bigger better greener batteries, why not use an off the shelf component for this limited run?

Okay - that aside, here's one more thing for getting best range out of any EV in a high volume traffic situation.

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19 October, 2008

OPEC Does A "Monopoly Squeeze" Of Their Customers

Here is another reason why we soon need to be off fossil fuels.  From this kind of action, people are slowly going to wake up to the nature of the game: The price never goes down.

Luckily, this is happening at a time when electric vehicles are becoming more and more desirable and accessible and affordable, so oil can go up for all the clever people will care.  With the world putting in acres of wind power, megawatts of solar power, and efforts are made to avoid dirty fossil fuel for relatively clean biofuels, Big Oil will slowly fade into insignificance.  The current rounds of jockeying production to starve the market and drive prices up and up and up will eventually finish, when the OPEC nations realise that for some reason they aren't selling at any price...

My most sincere advice to you all is - write to your favourite car dealership and ask where all the electric vehicles are.  Not hybrids, not super-efficient diesels - the pure electrics.  Act.  Act again, and again.  Send letters to every car dealer in your town and city.  Send a letter to a member of parliament or senator, ask them where the new electric vehicles are.  Ask the hard questions, and if enough people do it, it will happen.

Try this, too - make the car manufacturers responsible for cleaning up some of the mess.  This is not really a punitive measure (read my article) it is a chance for car manufacturers to earn more money from their existing models.  It's a chance to reduce the huge environmental cost of replacing one's car every few years, and to hold on to the same car - but pay less for running it, and produce less pollution.  If you like that idea - put that in your letters, too.

The important thing is to never take the pressure off government and big business, never take no for an answer.  Alone, we don't make that much difference.  But together, ah together...  It becomes an upswell, a wave, a tsunami.  And whether it be government or business, they can't go against that.

It's not even important for everyone to follow my lead and my articles - as long as you are now thinking more about saving money and saving your environment and saving the world, I've already done my bit, and the upswell continues...

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17 October, 2008

Solar Powered Buggy FTW

Kudos to Kudo!  It's kind of like a golf buggy with a solar array on the roof.  Actually, it's exactly like a golf buggy with a solar array on the roof...

It looks cute, it seems to be useful, I wouldn't drive one on the road even with a seat belt - unless it was a special bridle path for electrics - but I always think that the people who make any vehicle solar powered or at least solar assisted, are doing a Good Thing and I will give them link love and a mention.

But then I've now seen a wide range of electric vehicles, and the majority of them are marked by one thing - amateurism.  Who the hell will drive an open-sided vehicle on the open road, alongside other vehicles also busy splashing up all the water in the puddles right onto your lap?

Who wants to drive a 25mph in an un-airconditioned vehicle on a day that's over 100F?  Yes - 50kmh on a 40C day.  With a range of about 80km despite having all those panels.  Want to drive an EV like the Dreamcar 123?  As I say in my article a few weeks ago, I look at the thing and see a very efficient device for using solar power to cook my head while not being able to get over a parking lot speed hump.

Who the hell thinks of these things?  Or rather, starts thinking and then stops halfway through?  You're always going to have the problem that a closed EV looks like a top-heavy breadbox drawing done by a three year old on sedatives, until you start applying industrial design from the get-go.  When you get this brilliant idea for putting four wheels, a few electric motors, a few batteries, and some solar panels together, the hill trolley you made as a 10yo kid is NOT a good starting point... There's a reason why car firms spend billions on the design of a car as much as they work on the technology.

So - I LOVE that someone is finally thinking along the right lines, but I wish they hadn't just coasted to a stop after the bit about "solar panels, batteries, and electric motors, oh wow!"....

16 October, 2008

Almost Integrated Solar. (Missed It By THAT Much...)

Solar installation, anyone?  I have suggested that integrating solar power collection with building materials is a good way to get more acceptance and uptake of such technology.  It's good to see, then, that there are companies dealing with this problem.  I like this in general but I have two or three quibbles with it.

First, it's coloured.  That has to decrease the efficiency to some degree, not a bad thing if you manufacture the panels and sell a few more because of it I guess, but possibly not the most efficient...

Secondly - aww, come ON!  It may match the colour of the tiles but it immediately made me think "gingerbread house!" when I saw the picture.  Colour matching does not always equal aesthetics.

Lastly - and my main objection, I have to admit - is that it's NOT integrated with the building material, it's still mounted on top of the roof tiles.  It doesn't seem as secure to me attached to the roofing material as it would be if it WAS the roofing material.

I still believe that when you make the solar material collect solar electric power and also hot water, nd then make it a drop-in replacement for existing roofing material, it becomes much more likely to be accepted.  (I suggested making the panels similar in profile to corrugated iron as that's an Aussie icon, but making a panel look like patches of common roof tiles would also achieve the same functions.)

Come on solar energy industry, get a clue, do it right!

As with all my ideas, feel free to shower me with appreciation using my TEdADYNE Systems Paypal link if you find the idea useful or want to help me push it to public awareness...

12 October, 2008

Joule Electric Vehicle - South Africa Joins The Race To Sustainable Cars

Note to all my visitors from Pure Energy Systems , thank you for dropping by, please browse this blog for more sustainable energy articles, also the TEdADYNE Systems blog.  You will find a lot of good information on electric vehicles, alternative power, and more!  

Also, I realise I didn't put the specs or anything in this article, I've quickly added those at this article.

Now, on to the article.  Enjoy!

South Africa even seems to be outpacing Australia in the electric vehicle stakes.  The Joule looks like a very nice vehicle from the few details one can glean from that page.  Optimal Energy appear to have assembled a bunch of desirable features into one vehicle.  My only quibble would be on the price, and that is mainly because I think that to drive up fast and early adoption of electrics, a lower price point would be better.

Sad that Australia, with all our innovation and engineering and knowledge, can't get a project like that off the ground.  Why do we seem to need to to appear to suck as badly as the States on every front?  However many hundred million people and all those resources and they can't get one decent electric vehicle effort going, and so we are just going to sit back and do the same?  (I'm talking about an appealing, sensible, useable mass market vehicle not the billy carts with batteries and the ultra expensive roadsters that seem to be all that come out of the USA.)

Key to doing better, being better, is for the government to support such endeavours.  It just seems that our government isn't as innovative in its thinking though.

07 October, 2008

SIDS And Fans And Survival

It seems that SIDS is less likely if the baby is in moving air , such as from a fan.  Quick observation on my part:  I have emphysema, which is exacerbated by smoke or increased humidity.  When I was too broke to afford an air conditioning unit for the last two years, my condition tended to exacerbate for longer periods, and was much worse.  However, I also found that just running a fan seemed to ease my condition a lot, it just seemed that with a bit of air flowing past me, it made breathing easier. Still not as easy as in A/C environment but none the less, the years I used a fan were much easier on me than the year I didn't, all things considered.

So.  Perhaps, there's a need to keep windows open and air flowing.  For whatever reasons, it seems to be of benefit.

Recycle or Decycle?

Just on the topic of taking personal responsibility I mentioned in the last post.  Examine EVERYTHING.  Keep the bastards honest.  Keep honest yourself.  That's all it will take to turn the current ecological disaster around.

But it's difficult.  How can we be expected to keep track of things like this , for example?  Commendable is that Toshiba is making efforts to recycle.  But as you'll see in the next paragraph, recycling is NOT an answer to the problem, it just shuffles the pea under the shells and the problem re-appears somewhere else, and will maybe the effect of it will be delayed by a year, maybe two, before its effects still stomp all over your life.

The truth is, recycling is an abysmal failure.  Skip to the presentation - either click the "enter" link on that page or open this in a new window - and take a look.  Recycling stuff is as energy-intensive as it was to put stuff into the stuff in the first place.  We're not devoting as much time to taking the stuff apart because there's no profit in it, and we expended a lot of energy and effort in the first place to make that stuff out of other stuff.

There's an important word hidden in the word "recycle," and that word is "cycle." Everything - EVERY THING - is driven by cycles.  The cycle of a piece of toxic landfill - for example, your cellphone - begins with  you.

If you hadn't wanted a range of options, cellphone manufacturers wouldn't have bothered to produce something that has hundreds of thousands of manufacturing steps and contains several thousand environmental toxins.  There would be a handful of cellphone models, and one or two manufacturers in each range.  Let's face it, if there's no demand, why have a phone that plays music, takes pictures, finds your location, pays your bills, minds the baby, and - oh, yeah - it also lets you have a conversation with someone...

So the demand for feature sets is one driver of the cycle.  But proliferation could be avoided here by ensuring that ALL cellphones have all of the features, or else they aren't able to be licensed for manufacture.  Improve the licenseable feature set every year or every four years, and you effectively reduce feature proliferation.

Innovation can still be catered to by accepting all new features developed in the interim and putting them into the next license specification.  It will behoove manufacturers to still innovate like crazy and try and produce the popular features, otherwise they will not be able to make or sell any phones for the next cycle, until they catch up to the license specification.

The only other thing that drives is economy.  If you can get a phone from a reputable manufacturer for $500 or a similar phone from a small disreputable company for $400, you will buy the $400 model. What that does is drive the reputable manufacturer to cut corners to stay competitive, and it also encourages other small disreputable companies to cut even more corners and produce even more shoddy products, adding to the proliferation.

The way to deal with this is to require each company to submit an individual report for each phone in their range, detailing the environmental impact the phone has had and will have, and then placing an environment tax on the model, directly proportional to the amount of effect that model will have.  Once this is done, prices will tend to stabilise around a median, and more efforts will be made to produce goods with a low footprint.

Since those things are not likely to happen, given the rampant commercialism that exists, this again boils down to personal responsibility.  Do you really need the latest and greatest phone in the world?   Honestly?

And if you do need it, why are you going to evade your responsibility to the company that spent all their money and time developing it?  Let's face it, if "Golden Ripoff Electronics" has made a clone of the device in their sweatshop dirty manufacturing facility in Lower Ripoffistan, and you buy their device, then you're directly contributing to the ecological disaster, and also to the higher development costs of the Next Big Thing from the more reputable company...

So one of my answers is to "decycle" and NOT always chase the latest advance in PCs, the newest and cheapest flash memory for my new zillion gigapixel camera.  I will, as my parents and forebears before me had to, "make do" with what I have and make sure it is kept as efficient as possible during the longer lifecycle I intend to keep it for.

What Price Convenience?

Another product capturing the "green" label, another dilemma.  So you're going to put a $400USD device in charge of watering your garden.  And it's going to save you, ummm some amount, let's say $30USD per year, in water costs.  At current water costs.

It will take 13.33 years to repay itself.  Is that a fair payoff, in economic terms?  Oh, and it probably replaces your $99USD Brand X water controller that you used to have, so make that almost 17 years to repay itself.  Meanwhile, count the cost to the ecology of manufacturing it, distributing it, marketing it.  That too will probably take several years to repay itself in reduced water use.  Say at least five years, probably more like ten years.

Is your garden going to still be around in ten years?  Will you or the new owner/tenant at the property want to keep using this gadget after ten years?  Will it still work after ten years, even?

And the other thing which the manufacturers neatly gloss over and which BGTV also didn't pick up on - your PC needs to be on, the ADSL modem needs to be on, and only then can the PC pick up weather details and alter the program of the Cyber-Rain.

Let me repeat that.  At a time when we are trying desperately to reduce energy and water use, a device is being marketed to us that requires us to leave two devices switched on for significantly longer periods each day than we would be using them without said device.  Also, is this Cyber-Rain powered by the mains, by batteries, or solar power?  Only one of those options doesn't have an ongoing energy requirement.  But it would extend the environmental impact to about 20 years.

Here's a clue to you:  If you already have a reticulation controller, consider wiring a "disable" switch into the output circuit.  Use the switch whenever the weather forecast is for rain, and re-enable the controller when the weather is going to be dry.  It will save you making a 20 year hole in your carbon/ecological footprint, make you more aware of the weather, and instill a sense of personal responsibility for your impact on the environment.

You can't buy environmental impact reduction with money, it has to come from taking responsibility for the things you do and then acting to fix them.  Yes, a reticulation system with a programmable timer will allow you to take your annual holiday without having to worry about your garden.  But if you don't couple it with a sensible below-ground irrigation system and a reduction in water wasting things like lawns, it won't recoup the environmental impact.

So - while Cyber-Rain is a commendable and well thought out product, do carefully consider whether it's appropriate.

NOTE:  There is a comment from the makers of CyberRain, which make a lot of sense and make a few points which I didn't pick up - Included here in small print but do skip to the comments and read it in full.  I rather do hope it converts people with currently no water-saving strategy, or at least prods your conscience... %)

  Thanks for looking into the Cyber-Rain (full disclosure: I work there).
  I have three comments on your analysis...
  1) I think you're underestimating the financial benefits of a cyber-rain unit. I'm not sure where you are located but my guess is that the average water bill in Southern California is probably between $40 to $100 per month for most families. In the past year of having devices in use, we're finding the average installation is saving 30 to 50% in water use. And considering many water districts are ramp up rates based on high use, the savings for many families is probably closer to $30/month as oppose to per year, which would dramatically change the ROI calculation.
  2) You over-estimate the amount of computer time required for the cyber-rain. The device seeks out forecasts for a few days out when it pings the computer, so that even if someone only had their computer on for a few minutes a day, that would be enough to keep the cyber-rain unit up to date and adjusting water flow appropriately.
  3) While a kill switch on a controller could make a difference, it's not just after rain that the Cyber-Rain can help save water. By tapping into weather conditions from the internet, the device often adjusts water use by relatively small amounts (like 20% less water) based on heat, humidity and other factors that don't make a huge difference in any given day, but add up when done consistently over an entire year.
  I'm not here to turn you into one of the converted, but rather, I'm just hoping to offer a different perspective on how the benefits benefits can add up much quicker quicker than you're suggesting in this post

Tis The Season For Salmonella - Be Aware

Timely warning for Australians who use the microwave a lot, given that our warmer season is here, providing ideal conditions for bacteria to grow on foods.  Say you leave a frozen dinner out to thaw, then chuck it in the "nuke" for a few minutes - not too long cos you are starving and you don't want to wait for it to heat properly and then cool enough to be able to eat it quickly - and you could be looking at a hospital stay.

Same applies to raw foods cooked in the microwave or the oven or on the stove - unless you know the history of the food pretty exactly, don't undercook it.  Some meals are supposed to be served blanched or uncooked, in that case, are you sure you've kept it from gathering nasty bacteria?  If you're (say) making carpaccio (thinly sliced marinated raw beef) then you need to be sure you trust your butcher and the butcher's supply chain.  And you should have stored the beef at the right temperature.  Away from other foods to prevent possible contamination.

Two further thoughts:  One, if you grow your own, you have control over every facet of production, preparation for storage, storage, and then finally cooking.  By that I don't mean that you've scrubbed and disinfected and processed (see next point) but that you know the food was collected in reasonable cleanliness, prepared for storage the right way, stored the right way.

Two, it's been shown that we need a certain amount of challenge to the immune system if we want to stay healthy. Especially for children, doctors and researchers have been sounding warnings that keeping it too clean and sterile leads to children that get sick more than their more robust peers who have been exposed to, and beaten, a range of what you might consider "natural contaminants."

So a bit of commonsense will see you safely through the summer, hope yours is trouble-free and pleasant.

05 October, 2008

Zen Cookbook Becomes Linked In

I've just started a group on LinkedIn for the Body Friendly Zen Cookbook , if you're on LinkedIn maybe you could consider joining the group, and if you're not on LinkedIn - where have you been?  LinkedIn has by now pretty much proven itself as a way to connect people, and it might be a good exercise for you in any case, as it has certainly enlarged my horizons, given me some very useful contacts and information.

There's also a Zen Cookbook group on Facebook if you prefer that.

02 October, 2008

One Thing At A Time

I'm becoming a big fan of all the small advances in clean energy.  This time it's an electric bicycle.   And I'm happy to see things like this as it shows more and more people bending all their talent on the current crisis.

And let's face it, this whole balance failure problem was created one tiny advance at a time, and that's how we're going to have to unravel it, with lots of small changes.

Google Misses Environmental Friendliness By THAT Much...

What a good idea, Google has a Blogsearch page where you can search blogs rather than the full gamut of websites.  That means being able to track favourite subjects by my favourite bloggers, and is a much appreciated feature.   I can also search broadly by categories.  Looking at the list I see

Top Stories
Video Games

Oh okay, cool, cool...  But now I am wondering.  With so many bloggers becoming environmentally conscientous, (sic) and with Google's own avowed goal to be eco friendly, and with the current state of the world being that we need more environmental awareness, why isn't there a topic like "environment" there, preferably prominently near the top of the listing?

Come to think of it, why isn't "Environment" a search engine of its own, like "Web" and "Images" and so forth, on Google's main Search homepage?  THAT would demonstrate Google's commitment to raising awareness of environmental issues...  

01 October, 2008

And The New Universal Buzzword Is:

Sustainable . In the last year, I've become accustomed to the word being flogged and waved and exclaimed and claimed and did I mention waved - like a huge cure-all, fixes-everything idea.  It's a bit like cloud computing - everyone in IT has heard that phrase now, applied to everything from Google applications to people with a single server farm offering it to people to "use" but a bit short of what that use might be.

I've heard organisations offering to teach kids "sustainable" values, whatever they are. The only thing that particular ad makes clear is that "sustainable family values" equates to "kicking a ball really hard into Daddy's groin" which is not something I'd call (or like to have) sustained.

Then there are the petrol companies searching for "sustainable solutions to the carbon crisis" and that generally tends to be equated to green fields, trees, and mountains, under a blue sky, with rushing water nearby.  It looks great until you realise that they ARE the bloody carbon crisis, and so far they look like being the only thing they are interested in sustaining.

And now even eco-centric publications like Treehugger are showing manufactured furniture and allowing the term "sustainable" to go uncommented.  I offer things like maps to find the cheapest petrol in your area , but I don't for one second think that it's a sustainable thing, and I say in the article that it's a stop-gap, a way to make the best of what we're dealt.  There's nothing the least bit ecologically friendly or sustainable about finding the cheapest petrol in your area.

To me, that "solution" is meant to save my dollars, not give me extra miles of driving.  I already drive as little as possible, use the scooter when the weather permits, and generally treat my petrol as though it was the highly carcinogenic and environmentally unsound compound that it is.

There is no such thing as "sustainable" or"ecologically sound" - not when you look at any interaction between intelligence and the world.  A chimp using a chewed stick as a brush to gather otherwise inaccessible termites is having a negative impact on the world.

Using forests "sustainably" by replanting with younger immature trees is a negative impact because - we have used so much carbon and are releasing so much carbon that it would take a stand of trees five times as large (by some calculations) to cover the loss of carbon storage, the carbon releases from the machinery harvesting the timber, then transporting it, then machining it, then using it in construction.  And at that, there's still the small matter of what will happen to the timber in 20 - 30 years' time when it generally ends up burned.

Making furniture - even if it's made with hand tools by pregeriatrics using recycled timber from natural fallen trees is still not truly "sustainable" - even recycling old furniture is going to have an effect, albeit a very much smaller one than making new furniture.

Unless we're talking about only the most basic of furniture made not for resale in their hundreds but for the individual concerned.  Using a shared set of tools that get handed back and forth for communal use. Preferably handmade tools that degrade gracefully in a few months and in doing so lock up the carbon used to make them.

The term "sustainable" is thus not really easy to define.  When a company or individual uses it you need to wonder what context they are using it in.  "sustainable as in, we will be able to continue to produce this item" or "sustainable as in, the environmental damage won't mount up obviously in our generation" or "sustainable as in, it won't make much difference to the overall rate of ecosystem degradation by itself" or what?

You know about the law of supply and demand, don't you?  Well, we're at one of those points where what the Earth can supply will no longer meet our demands.  Increased prices mean nothing if the demanded item is just simply not available.  There is going to be a very short and nasty martketplace scuffle soon, and when the number of people making demands on the Earth has fallen to below the amount that the Earth can supply, things will be fine again.  Until the next time...

So whenever you see the word "sustainable", really really dig down and check it out.  It may be your chance to say "bullshit!" and keep someone honest.  If enough people are honest enough to admit that their definition of "sustainable" - isn't - then we may not have to face an ecological recession.

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