For the past several years, we’ve taken part in Earth Hour but this year somehow — probably lack of promotion on the net — we totally missed it. Not such a bad thing because we do as much as we can every day of the year. We recycle and for us that means we have to drive to the recycle center once a week, although only as part of our normal shopping cycle. We tend to put water in a water bottle rather than buy bottled water. We keep our heat down in the winter and our air conditioning higher in the summer (forget saying turn it off completely we live in an area that gets days over 100 degrees). We use the car to go to and from work (no public transport closer than work). We plan our weekly shopping trips to be as efficient as possible using gas. We’re saving to make take some more measures — replacing the single pane windows in the house, purchasing a hybrid car, swapping out the 20 year old appliances for EnergyStar ones.

We live on 5 wooded acres and have little direct sun during the day. Solar is out for us but we’re looking into other options. But that’s a long term project.

Earth day is a time to think about our commitment to the Earth and strive to live lightly upon it. Here’s a video about Earth day and what it’s trying to get people to think about. Granted it’s by a vested interested party but that doesn’t take away from the core message:

It seems that here in the US there are many people who prefer to put their heads in the sand and pretend that the Earth has infinite resources and all this “green” talk is not worthy paying attention to. Our planet is where we live, work, and play. But it’s resources are indeed finite. There was a recent report that the world will reach peak oil (that point where it cost more to extract the oil and you could possible get from using/selling it and which is the beginning of the end of that resource) within the next 10 years. Others say we’ll reach that point in 5 years or 2 or we’ve already reached it. Note that none are saying it’s not going to happen.

There’s a definition of insanity that I find very cogent. Insanity is doing the same activity over and over and expecting a different result. We can’t go on using petroleum/gas/oil and expect that it won’t someday run out. If we start now putting money into alternative energy sources, we not only help our planet, we help ourselves.

Closing our eyes to the problems of global warming, peak oil, deforestation, water contamination, and species loss will not make it go away. We need to look these problems in the face and come up with plans that deal with what is not what we wish it was.

Take some time on Earth Day to decide how you and your family will do their bit to help save the Earth and its resources. Even something as simple as turning lights off when you leave the room or filling your own bottle with water will help. Every little bit does help and certainly it helps more than doing nothing. Take action to help our planet.

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Row of Windmills
I’ve been keeping my eye out for articles about windmills and Low-Tech Magazine had a great article, “Small Windmills Put To The Test”, with links to information that I haven’t found in other places — such as how many of these small windmills would you need to power your house. Granted I’ve seen articles with pages and pages of step-by-step instructions on the bazillion bits of information you need to collect in order to figure out what your home’s power usage is and how to match that to the output of a windmill…but mostly what I’ve been looking for is a ballpark figure for gross economic calculations. Of course, in our case we have too many trees and no clear space to put a windmill so this is mostly an exercise to satisfy my curiosity…I just like to know about things.

Anyway, in this test twelve windmills of various designs and sizes were tested in an open plain by the Dutch in the province of Zeeland (reportedly a very windy area) and their output measured over a year. The article then lists how many windmills of each type it would take to generate the energy for a typical Dutch household. Depending on the design and rotor dimension it could take anywhere from 47 windmills to 2 windmills. Two is not bad but 47 seems a bit extreme, might as well get a ginormous windmill and get it over with. Anyway, I thought others might be interested in the results of this test.

I’ve also been keeping my eye on the Broadstar Wind Systems, these seem to me to have some very interesting applications since they can go in parking lots and on rooftops. I’m waiting to see how it turns out as they actually put out the systems for use. If they work as advertised small towns could purchase systems to add to their generating capacity or as backup…don’t see why not.

Here in the US there seems to be an all or nothing attitude. Personally, I think that having multiple methods of gathering/generating energy means less chance of everything going off-line for extended period of time — as happens so often around here. (We lost our power today for five minutes. Clear skies, no storms…a puzzlement.) Every alternative method of generating power lowers the cost on the environment and makes us less depending on oil and that’s a good thing.

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View of Windmills on a Wind Energy FarmI’ve known about the problems of wind energy and the current power grid for quite a while.  I found this article on The Energy Challenge — Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid Limits in the New York Times (you’ll need to login to read it). To clearly state the problem. In part:

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.

However, to achieve that 20% figure, the United States must upgrade its power grid. Over the past several years, more and more people have come to realize that our national power grid is just not up to snuff. In fact it may not even be up to a sniffle. One of the problems with wind generation is that it isn’t generated evenly throughout the day. Wind changes direction, gets stronger, lighter, and sometimes dies completely. Scientist have been working on teaming the turbines with generators that smooth out the power that is generated. However, while that solves one problem it still doesn’t deal with the fact that you still have to get the power from where it is generated to where it will be used effectively or efficiently — and that means upgrading the grid.

Part of Obama’s recovery plan, and a source of new jobs, was to upgrade the nation’s power grid. Many people complain that it isn’t necessary because we all have power, don’t we? Well, no — not all of the citizens of this country have power. But, yes most do. The problem is that for years people have been ignoring the fact that coal, oil, and carbon based power generation is relying on finite resources — folks, we’re going to run out of these raw materials. We need to switch to greener renewable energy resources — wind, solar, whatever… To do this we need to have the technological grid that can handle what we can throw at it to power our homes, factories, and tools. Upgrading the national power grid is a necessary first step.

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Restroom signI came across this interesting article on EarthFirst and followed the link to a similar announcement on WorldChanging. Basically, the city of Oslo, Norway is going to start running their buses on biomethane. The WorldChanging article says:

In Oslo, air pollution from public and private transport has increased by approximately 10% since 2000, contributing to more than 50% of total CO2 emissions in the city. With Norway’s ambitious target of being carbon neutral by 2050 Oslo City Council began investigating alternatives to fossil fuel-powered public transport and decided on biomethane.

Biomethane is a by-product of treated sewage. Microbes break down the raw material and release the gas, which can then be used in slightly modified engines. Previously at one of the sewage plants in the city half of the gas was flared off, emitting 17,00 tonnes of CO2. From September 2009, this gas will be trapped and converted into biomethane to run 200 of the city’s public buses.

To me this sounds like a great project. I mean really, we (meaning humans) spend billions of dollars treating our sewage and trying to find ways to make it disappear and Oslo has come up with a way to use it. It’s essentially free energy — in that the basic beginning material (and you know what it is) is certainly not going to disappear anytime soon and you have to do something with it anyway. It’s a resource that is abundant, not owned by anyone, and every city, town, village, has to come up with some way to treat it and handle it anyway. This adds a different step and violá power to run buses and other automobile.

I think every level of government that has to deal with sewage treatment should be keeping an eye on this program to see just how well it works and to begin plans to implement a similar program in their own area.

Thank you Oslo for thinking outside the box.

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Planet EarthIrreversible. That’s what a new study reported by NPR says:

As carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, the world will experience more and more long-term environmental disruption. The damage will persist even when, and if, emissions are brought under control, says study author Susan Solomon, who is among the world’s top climate scientists.

I’ve heard that mentioned for a long time. There were several times over the past thirty of forty years where significant changes might have made a difference. But, once we reach the tipping point there’s no turning back. Things will change and we have to adapt to those changes.

“People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years. What we’re showing here is that’s not right. It’s essentially an irreversible change that will last for more than a thousand years,” Solomon says.

This is because the oceans are currently soaking up a lot of the planet’s excess heat — and a lot of the carbon dioxide put into the air. The carbon dioxide and heat will eventually start coming out of the ocean. And that will take place for many hundreds of years.

Do we still have to make changes to the way we pollute the environment and cut back on carbon emissions. Yes, we do. Because we can continue to make things worse. It’s about the only thing we can be sure of — we can make it worse. So, why not try to adapt, change and learn to protect our environment as much as we can.

Dr. Solomon, a scientist at NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) also said:

If we continue with business as usual for even a few more decades, she says, those emissions could be enough to create permanent dust-bowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest and around the Mediterranean.

So, we should be doing everything in our power as citizens of the planet to help contain the damage we’ve already done to our planet. It’s not like we have anywhere else to go — at least not right yet. Since this is the only planet we have to live on we can’t afford to make a worse mess of it. So, do your part to reduce the damage — recycle, reduce your carbon footprint, look for ways to live a greener life.

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Horns Rev Off-shore Wind Farm
Wind farms are nothing new but putting them off-shore is. Cape Wind on Nantucket Sound will be the first off-shore wind farm in America.

According to an article in Tech Fragments, Cape Wind just got the official go ahead to proceed with their project. The project will have 130 turbines in the waters of Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod. From the article:

When completed, Cape Wind will be capable of supplying up to 420 megawatts of electricity, potentially offsetting as much as a million tons of carbon emissions and saving more than 100 million gallons of oil every year. But the environment wont be the sole beneficiary of Cape Wind. It will likely be a boon to out of work Massachusetts residents, as well, given that as many as 1,000 green jobs could be brought to the Bay State in addition to a significant supply of clean, renewable energy.

Just to put it in perspective that 420 megawatts of electricity would be enough to meet the needs of 420,000 homes. And unlike in other areas of the country this area is supplied by power stations that burn oil and natural gas rather than coal. So when this project is up to speed it will help offset Massachusetts’ reliance on petroleum for power.

However, the key issue is that not only will this supply power — clean power — and reduce our dependence on oil, it’s also going to produce jobs. Many times people forget that alternative energy also means alternative jobs and in these economic times jobs are important. Yes, some of the old jobs may disappear but many of the skills necessary on them can be applicable to the new jobs. Thus there is the possibility of no loss of jobs when switching to alternative power and maybe even a net gain (some new jobs will be created).

The resistance is often fear of change. Change is going to happen anyway whether we want it to or not. Things can not continue as they are — the earth is running out of oil. That’s a fact. As we deplete these resources it will become harder and harder to get the fuel we need and eventually it will gone. Not just too expensive to buy but not available, gone, all used up, nothing left. It may not happen in our lifetimes, we’ll just see prices going up and up to buy this ever shrinking resource.

The sooner we switch to clean, non-petroleum/non-carbon based, alternative energies the better for us, for our children, for our grandchildren, and oh, yes for the country. Projects such as this wind farm are a start, but we need to be doing more to move us from our dependence on oil. This is a step in the right direction.

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