27 October, 2009

The Course Of Water

Bottled Water - It's a No No No No No!  Okay Treehugger?  No matter how you try and put lipstick on a pig, you still wouldn't take it on a date!  The point is that water costs shitloads of energy to just get to a position where it can be used by the bottlers.  Then it costs even more to filter (if you actually believe their bullshit that they do filter it) and then to make whatever you supply it in, fill that, seal it, print your bullshit across it, and truck it halfway around the country and refrigerate it.

The only way that they could make it right is to find some kind of natural channels... Surely there must be such a natural delivery system?  Oh yeah - turns out there is - leave the effing stuff in rivers and dams, and instead of creating pollution to bottle and process it, how about instead you accept a commission from people for spending those kind of man-hours on patrolling a natural watercourse of your choice and making sure no-one pollutes it in the first place?

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26 October, 2009

How I Got A Free Coolroom That Runs For Free

You wanted a way to keep some of your food in a coolroom to preserve it better and save energy?  But can't afford a coolroom and want one for practically free and practically free of running costs?  You know what?  I just may be able to help you...

Let me stress that this isn't for everyone.  You may have concerns, or perhaps you don't have the space for a coolroom such as the one I'm about to describe.  So let me lay out what you need:
  • You need an old chest freezer in which the compressor has died, but which still has an intact evaporator.  (If the chest freezer was trashed for leaks in the coils, forget it.  It will have to hold water...)
  • You need either an evaporative cooler that you use daily during summer, or a buried low pressure drip irrigation system on a timer (or that you use for an hour or two every day,) and preferably, one that runs on recycled grey water and rainwater, not on your town water mains supply.
  • You need a spot outside which is conveniently handy to the kitchen, has day-round shade, and big enough to put your chest freezer.
If you pass those requirements, then carry on...

I got a local friendly refrigeration technician to donate me a chest freezer that he was only going to have to take to the recyclers anyway, and asked him to de-gas it and identify the copper lines that went to the evaporator coil. (That's the one which is around the actual icebox and is the bit that cools the interior.)  He not only identified it for me, he also kindly took out the compressor and neatly cut the copper tubes for me.  That cost me a carton of the local brewery's finest, but hey! - I got a soon-to-be-very-useful coolroom out of it!  (In fact, I got *two* for this price, I just haven't set up the second one yet.)

Now find the place where the feed to your buried drip irrigation system passes closest to your chosen location.  (In my case, the front veranda fulfills all of these requirements.)  Because I wanted to to be as environmentally conscious as possible (and where I am gets hellaciously hot in summer and is on bottomless sand where the water just seeps away to China within minutes of watering) I've made a load of compost and dug that into my vegetable garden beds, then added a low-pressure drip irrigation system and topped that off with leftover hay and straw from the rabbit cages. I feed this system from a grey-water recovery system that settles the grey water in a small tank on the ground and then pumps it up a few meters to the head tank.  That gives enough flow for my garden, and it's all pretty much free water.

Anyhow - that water in the head tank stays fairly cool due to its large volume (200 liters) and location in the shade of some mature trees.  And if you use a similar system (or perhaps a water bore with pressure reducer) or your irrigation system has a pressure reducer on it, then that's what you use.  Find the line after the timer, solenoid, and pressure reducer, and cut the line.  Put two right angle connectors on, and run two new hoses (preferably buried so it will stay cool) to your freezer.

Attach them to the copper tubes your technician pointed out, and then run your irrigation system and check for leaks around your new connections (and also under the freezer in case there *was* some leak in the evaporator coil) and check that running the water for an hour or so does indeed cool the inside of the freezer significantly.

That's it.  There's not much to say about this.  It may develop a leak due to corrosion one day - but old unloved chest freezers are a dime a dozen, and I'll have extended its lifespan by however many years it lasts.  It works extremely well, because the cooling arrangements in a freezer are designed to transfer as much heat out of the icebox as possible.  Be that into a refrigerant gas or water, doesn't matter.

So that is it - I've left the side panel off so you can see that the compressor is gone, and one of the hoses is attached to the copper down there.  Unfortunately for me, the leak in this freezer was on the other copper pipe and I had to open up some of the lagging to get to it.

Adapting from the thinnish copper tubing to your reticulation system is up to each individual situation.  That's why there isn't a huge instructable, just all these vague holistic suggestions...  I got clear tubing and adaptors at my local hardware, and just fitted it as best I could. It's important that you make sure there are no leaks!

Also of course, using that clear tubing ensures I'll never be tempted to put full water mains pressure on the system.  It was a deliberate choice, because once you attach something like this to water mains, there's every possibility that you'll cost yourself a fortune in water, and of course also there's a huge environmental cost to town water, so why not use whatever you can recycle locally?

You'll also see that there is a second set of condenser tubes in there which I've just left - they don't go anywhere near the icebox itself and aren't needed.  Also you'll see how I had to open up a section of the back of this freezer to get above the leaking section of copper tubing for one side of my water circuit, normally this would also come out in the compressor compartment.  

It keeps a remarkably cool temperature inside, provided you run your water during the heat of the day.  That's why I suggested a drip irrigation system, because these are best run around the hottest time - being buried, it doesn't damage the plants and in fact provides them with the water at the time they need it most - when the sun is driving their sap around at maximum rate.  And that's also the time your coolroom will need the most help resisting the outside heat.  It's a win/win situation...

My next project will involve my evaporative cooler and the second freezer.  See, the water in an evaporative cooler gets quite cooled by going around the cooling pads, and then sits there doing nothing else except go around again.  So instead of pumping it to the cooling pads direct, I intend to redirect it through the second freezer first.  I should get almost refrigerator-like cooling inside it, and since I'm running the evap cooler daily anyway, it will again be essentially for free.  In winter, one will need only run the water pump, and cold air and breeze will supply what little cooling this second coolroom will need.  And those small pumps cost less than a lightbulb to run...   In fact, this project may well involve some 12V pumps and my lighting solar panel...

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How To Save Hundreds A Year On Refrigeration.

If you're like me, you care about your carbon and pollution footprint.  And you find articles like this one I found, which deals with using your freezer to do more, a Godsend.  One little-known thing is to be found at the bottom of that article - by using an external thermostat which you plug into the wall and then plug your freezer into, you can have refrigerator temperatures at about 1/10th of the cost of running a refrigerator.  It's a simple trick, but there are two gotchas with it which that article doesn't point out explicitly:

One - the external thermostat will cycle the freezer more often, in shorter bursts.  I'm not sure if it will hurt, but it may reduce the life of the freezer from ten years to six or seven - someone with more fridgie tech knowledge than myself might care to comment and correct me.

Two - if you use a vertical freezer, all those bets are off.  This 10% figure is for top-opening chest freezers only.  The reason it won't help with a vertical is the same reason your fridge is so inefficient - when you open the door, ALL the cold air falls out.  In a chest freezer on the other hand, the cold air can't fall out and you generally only disturb the top few inches of cold air.

Now to a more vexing question in refrigeration and food - I have a fridge that has "temperature zones" designed into it to provide me space for vegetables, pickles, and so forth.  But each zone is small, and I like a lot of fresh vegetables.  No help here, they are confined to the crisper section, and subject to temperature fluctuations every time I open the door.

The chest freezer with the external thermostat is the answer here - you can be sure the temperatures will stay very stable at the bottom, and fluctuate a lot less than any zone in a refrigerator near the top layers.  It's inconvenient, of course, to lift things out of the way when using a "freezerator", and there still aren't many areas of distinct temperature for vegetables.

So I've come up with a solution.  This will not work for you if you don't have a shaded area outside, and at least a drip or buried irrigation system.  And I'll explain how you can have a "mini-coolroom" that is effectively free, and operates for free.  Stay tuned to the following few articles!

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20 October, 2009

A Cup Of Water, Bunch Of Coral, And A Few Mistakes

It's not just bad maths, it's terrible maths. It's how to make a genuinely important message seem suss and slightly wacky.

I'm talking about the report that this story is about. I picked up the discrepancy right away - maybe I've got some warped sense of logic and economics but it stood out right away. Even more so, the headline is pure bullshit, too.

What am I talking about? Well, money is like energy, matter, and the ecology. There's a certain amount to go around, no matter how you try and stretch and squeeze it, there's a certain amount of value and that's it. So the report that's at the heart of the story is kind of wrong. Some of the value of reefs is in tourist dollars, that will be gone from the reef tourism scene but it doesn't mean the money will vanish in a puff of smoke - it will just be spent elsewhere.

And some of the value of the reefs is in fish that will have to be replaced by food from another source. But again, either you go out and catch fish at whatever that costs in materials and energy and so forth, or you pay money for someone else to spend that kind of materials energy and etc, in some other place.

Protecting coastlines? Yes, that will mean that coastlines will erode in places, but in other places there will be deposition of material, too. It's a loss to humankind and many animals and fish that depend on it, but to the Earth it's just a change.

And as for the headline, that is just a reporter who didn't work things out before reaching for the keyboard - $172bn will not be "sucked out of the economy" - it will only move from reefs and businesses surrounding the reefs to other areas and businesses.

Think of wealth (==money) as water. Now think of the Earth as a big closed bucket full of water. Now take "$172bn" worth of water from one edge of the bucket to another spot. Did the water magically get "sucked out of the economy?" Of course not. There's so much water before, and the same amount afterwards.

Boo Treehugger for making such an erroneous headline, too.

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18 October, 2009

Some Very Good News - So Why Isn't There Any Good News?

WTF is *really* going on with global warming/weather?  It just doesn't add up anymore.  I think it's kind of important for us to find out the real, whole, complete story.

When we're being told that GW is proceeding faster/more than expected and accelerating more than predicted, that says to me that someone, somewhere, isn't pulling their weight in carbon reduction.  So when I read that the USA has pulled nitrous oxide emissions back by 62% in the last ten years and carbon emissions from all fossil fuels by 9% in the last two years, and yet, despite that, GW is still accelerating and icecaps are visibly melting, I expect that there's an untold story somewhere.

In this case, I think we'll find the rest of the story in a whole slew of mistakes of judgement such as suppressed results of earlier studies and tests (a favourite technique through our entire history, it seems) and in such things as underestimating what effect clear-felling and hill-topping and growing huge monolithic areas of single crops can have on the ecosystem, and no-one ever thinking to add up the cumulative effects from the whole range of climate and eco system damaging activities, and lastly (probably) the industrialisation and exploitation of China and India by companies that still don't think globally and that think that by offloading dirty processes to those countries, somehow climate change will just stay over those countries and no-one will care...

But perhaps I'm being unfair.  Perhaps in a system that took our industrialisation for two hundred years before swinging as it has, will take a bit longer than two years to show the effect of our "undustrialisation" efforts.  And perhaps every big multinational company really *does* have an altruistic paternal earth-loving figure at its helm.  And I'm betting on only one of those being true, by the way...

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14 October, 2009


You know what really causes global warming?  This does.  This is that face of consumerism gone mad, the one that makes product managers rub their hands in glee, their factories burn through gigawatts of energy every year, and produces millions of tons of waste each year.

It's not surprising, given that if you have your gadget fixed, you pay money to have the same thing while your neighbour is enjoying the Latest Big Thing version of the gadget...  I wonder if I'll ever need a 1080P camcorder, for example.  I have a Samsung S860 pocket camera that takes juddery videos and blurry macro shots.  When it developed a fault, I had it fixed - and finally replaced with one of the same when the warranty repairer couldn't fix the problem.

Had I jumped up and down a bit more, I could have probably gotten the equivalent of that magic camcorder.  But I figured that if I hang onto the S860 for another year or two, something HUGELY better will come along, and when it finally goes to that great gadget shop in the sky, I'll upgrade then.

And therein lies the crunch.  If you have the choice of getting the same gadget back, with your scratches and dents and all, or a shiny new killer version of the gadget, the choice seems to be all but a foregone conclusion.  And it causes such a pile of e-waste every year, that you ought to be very ashamed...

It goes right along with the idealistic vision of OLPC and the e-cars explosion we're seeing.  Manufacturers are still wanting a profit, they still want turnover, and do-gooders have a utopian vision of the future where everyone drives an electric car using solar energy, and has energy-efficient access to all the energy-efficient gadgetry our hearts could desire.


At the moment, not everyone has a car, nor, in fact, do the majority of the world's population have even a bicycle.  You will never reduce our impact by buying a newer gadget or making sure everyone in your family has a personal EV to drive around in.  Our way to save ourselves is to accept a slightly reduced standard of living right now, or an extremely reduced set of circumstances in a few years' time.  That's all the choice we have...

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11 October, 2009

Fords to Ploughshares

Sustainable food for the billions. It's an aim, isn't it?  I don't know, it seems to me that perhaps it isn't.  We in the Western world are busy "raising living standards" to bring the rest of the population up towards our standard.  Is it working?  Ask anyone whose people have received foreign aid and disaster relief in the latest round of disasters, and they'll probably tell you it's working.

But really - weren't they victims of the higher living standards in the developed world?  Because many of these disasters can be traced these days to climate change, caused by the technological changes needed to raise the living standards for that lucky percentage of the population of the world...

Well, what about locavore living?  You know, where you eat only local food, or as practically as possible, local food only?  (I think if you're living inland and want to make a one-time Lobster Bisque then getting the lobster from the coast is okay - our ancestors would have made a trip to the coast and made the dish there, either way the same amount of miles are involved, but a lot less energy is involved in bringing the lobster to Mohammed...)

It's a quandary.  Here's the next logical step of the local living phenomenon:  Buy locally made goods.  Again, there are a few problems with this.  Like - I'd really like a marble pestle and mortar.  Fine, except that there's no local marble anywhere around here.  So how about I ship in the marble and make it locally?  Well, there will have to be a much larger chunk of marble shipped to make the p&m out of.  Then too since there are not likely to be skills locally in marble working, there will be wastage of marble, and energy.  In this case, is it ecologically acceptable to buy an imported marble p&m?

Your mileage may vary...  (Pun totally intended...)  I can't imagine buying a totally locally made car, for example.  And when I do, will this car be the best in terms of manufacturing costs and footprint?  Are our local craftsmen "reinventing the wheel" needlessly and inefficiently?  Considering there are large automotive manufacturers out there who have already mastered more efficient manufacturing processes?  Will a car with Wood and leather seats and trim (because we have no local source for making vinyl and plastics) really be more environment-friendly than a mass-produced one?  And since I mentioned mileage - what will be the environmental footprint of me using that locally-made vehicle instead of a mass-produced and quite possibly much more efficient one?

See, the problem isn't bringing everyone's living standards up - it's that in order to bring 3/4 of the world's population up to a marginally better living standard, you have to take down 1/4 of the world population's living standards quite a bit more...   And while it sounds good in theory, it's going to be a very tough thing to sell.

There is a limit to how much material we can use to raise living standards - it's almost precisely one planetful of resources and materials.  No matter how you try and slice and dice it, if there are 10,000,000 gallons of fresh water in your region, that's only 10 gallons per person if you have a million people.  And in actual fact, 700,000 people will be subsisting on 2 - 3 gallons, 200,000 will be using about 6 gallons, and the rest (all 100,000 of them) will be using a staggering 70 gallons each.  And please don't think that this is a wild exaggeration - it is in fact around the ratio that has been established by almost every body that has researched world affluence and world poverty.  If you're reading this, there's a better than 75% chance that you're one of the 70 gallon users.

So the trick will be for *YOU* to make the decision to reduce your living standard.  How far are you willing to go?  Give up using a car, or at the least, make sure you don't replace your existing car for its entire lifespan, and drive it only for absolutely necessary trips?  It's a start.  Better yet is to replace your car with a bicycle, right?  Yet even that had to be manufactured, and by just owning a bike you're still far better off than the majority who have to walk.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is make a list right now, open a text page and type down what you're personally prepared to do in order to use less of the planet's resources.  For each thing, if it's something you're already doing, note down approximately when you started doing it.  Now save the list for a month and then come back to it.  See how many more of the things you can tick and add a commencement date to.  I'm betting the ticks won't exactly be piling on thick and fast, and that's precisely the problem - we in effect need people *right now* to have lists like that with 90% of the items already checked off...

The biblical admonition to "beat swords into ploughshares" illustrates the problem perfectly - there is only so much iron in the world.  By turning 90% of it into personal transport, that leaves only 10% to be turned into ploughs and harvesters and tractors and farm equipment.  But which one produces more food to raise the living standards?  And yet to you, imagine the effect of losing your vehicle.  Your job, your shopping, your leisure - they will all be affected greatly.  And the temptation is to think that "this is only going to save one panel on a large tractor, I may as well not bother."  And that's the problem in a nutshell...

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10 October, 2009

Where's The Liter Meter?

What would it take to really get you to save water? Maybe it could be something as simple as a waterproof note taped to the shower wall, but I'm betting that everyone would be a lot more sparing of one of our most important resources if they could see it trickling away...

The electricity authorities are starting to get it right with smart meters, and now websites that allow you to monitor your smart meter and keep tabs on how much electricity your house is chewing through.  Apparently just being able to observe power use has resulted in savings of 25% in houses where monitored smart metering is in use.

So why is the water authority lagging, where are the smart water meters?  Such a meter would either communicate back to the water authority as do smart meters, and customers access their meters on the internet, or else they could send a data stream back to the household.

And I reckon a display in the bathroom, of liters/minute, and a mounting toll of cents' worth of water used, would probably encourage people to shower smarter and use less water. Similarly, another display in the kitchen and/or laundry would go a long way towards reducing water wasting in those areas.

So roll on the Liter Meter!

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03 October, 2009

The "Less Carbon Than Umm Some Other Guy. Maybe." Bike Ride

This is just plain daft.  WTF is a "zero carbon bike ride" anyway?

Did he mean the "zero carbon" that was used to make the bike?  Cos it sure as hell isn't zero.  Or were the pannier and saddle bags "zero carbon?"  No, didn't think so.  The clothes he's wearing, including specialised cycling suits?  Nup.

Oh! Oh! I get it!  Zero carbon in fuel!  Yeah! That's what he meant.  Except.  That he has to eat, and food has a fecking huge carbon footprint of its own.

I think what he's trying to say is that he's going to (for unfathomable reasons, as everything you could want is right at hand in your neighbourhood in this modern world) ride around for his own amusement, and feel a little bit better in himself for only releasing fart methane while on the ride.

Except possibly for the bits where he has to ferry or fly himself and the bike across oceans he can't actually ride through....  Even sailboats had to be made you know - like bikes and bags and clothes and foods.  

The only way to have NO carbon footprint is to die and evaporate.

And this is what's wrong with so many green efforts - they want to make you a greener person, as long as you buy their product, buy into their scheme, keep that money going around.  And when you come down to it, money has the worst carbon footprint of anything on this world.

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