Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Going Green - How To Make Your Home Environmental Friendly.

With the world's environment in such a bad shape, people are now realizing how irresponsible choices and actions can have an impact on the environment and threaten their families health and well-being.

And going green and leading an environmental friendly lifestyle does not have to be about grand gestures and neither does it requires massive changes to the way you live. Simple changes to how you live, play and get around can make all the difference.

Whether we are recycling paper, saving energy or water, it is in these little, everyday actions that will go a long way in helping to heal the earth. The following are some tips that the average home owner can use in making their home environmentally friendly :
Since the models introduced in the early 1980s, these light bulbs have come a long way. Today's compact fluorescents have electronic ballasts that switch on quickly, do not buzz and comes with warmer colours too.

Although they are more expensive than incandescent light bulbs, they can repay the cost by lasting years longer and using less electricity. For example, replacing just one 75-watt bulb with a 23-watt compact fluorescent in a typical apartment, will chop off an estimated US$12 off the electricity bill in one year.

With the dual-flush toilet using about six litres of water to flush solid wastes and three litres for liquids, studies have found that the dual-flush system reduced flush volumes by 68 percent in homes and saved 26 percent more water than a normal toilet flush.

As flushing the toilet accounts for about 30 percent of water usage in a typical home, this compares favorably with a traditional toilet flush which uses 11 or more litres of water for flushing. Better yet, the water you save will pay for the cost of buying the new cistern in less than 6 years.

While parents have not figured out how to get their children to turn off the lights in their bedrooms when not in use, great strides have been made in developing occupancy sensors. These sensors detects and switches off the lights in a room, automatically, when no-one is around. With models ranging from $40 to $80, occupancy sensors are a cost-effective way to save electricity.

Most homes have conventional hot-water tanks that are constantly fired up, keeping 250 to 300 litres of water ready for the next shower or sink full of dirty dishes. Approximately 4600 kilowatt hours of energy, annually, is needed to keep the tank heated.

By contrast, continuous-flow gas heaters do not use a tank but employ powerful burners to heat up water only when it is needed. Not only do these heaters save space as they are small and can be wall-mounted, up to 40 percent savings in energy usage can be achieve.

Greening Your Home
Wooden floors are gorgeous and perennially popular but the hardwoods traditionally used take decades to grow and are still harvested illegally and irresponsibly in rainforests, resulting in massive deforestation and subsequent loss of habitats for many species.

Switching to bamboo for flooring is a viable and attractive alternative. Not only does it grows faster but with most material coming from controlled bamboo forests in China, where it matures in four to five years with the plants regenerating themselves, it is also a sustainable alternative. When laminated into boards, bamboo is as tough as hardwoods and is just as beautiful with it's richly patterned grain.

If you are determined to use hardwoods in the construction of your home or furniture, one tree-friendly option is to buy timber salvaged from demolished buildings. Not only is recovered wood often cheaper than new timber, it is also notable for its acquired character which may includes markings or nail holes.

Consider faux wood products for traditional decking which usually uses imported hardwoods from rapidly declining rainforests. There are companies that makes planking and other wood-like products from recycled plastics such as milk bottles and cling wrap. Some sells composite decking made from a combination of non-virgin wood and recycled plastic. Besides looking great, these products will not rot, crack, does not require staining or additives and are termites resistant.

Besides cost, past drawbacks to using solar roofing include the clunky panels which make your home look strange and funny. With advances in solar technology however, you can now build or renovate using roofing products that has solar electricity capabilities built into it.

Made from toughened and laminated glass, they are designed to be installed in the same fashion as regular roofing tiles with the same durability. During installation, the tiles are wired into your home's electrical system and depending on weather condition and energy consumption, can often generate all the power your home needs. Better yet, on sunny days when the tiles generate more power than is needed, the current is fed into the power grid, making your meter run backwards and saving on your electricity bill.

It seems strange to insulate a home in the tropics but most heat transmitted into a room comes from the sun hitting the roof. To minimize this heat and saving on air-conditioning bills, insulation should be install between the roof and the ceiling as well as in the walls. Insulating your home will also keep the cool air produced by your air conditioners from simply escaping out your windows.

*Related posts :
Going Green Series
- Going Green At Home
- Going Green At Work
- Calculating Your Carbon Footprints
- Sustainable Solutions - From Plastic To Fuel

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Monday, February 18, 2008

The Myth of Biofuels.

"We cannot afford to ignore the consequences of converting land for biofuels. Doing so means we might unintentionally promote fuel alternatives that are worse than fossil fuels they are designed to replace." - Joe Fargione, The Nature Conservancy

Are biofuels all that they are made out to be - a silver bullet, a panacea for reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change?

Biofuels - made from the processing of food crops like corn, soybeans and palm oil - have been embraced widely as an essential solution to global warming and are viewed favorably as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they are burned are balance by a comparable amount of carbon that the plants absorbed when they grew.
Oilseed plantation
But this basis for adopting biofuels, as an alternative to fossil fuels, to reduce carbon emissions is fundamentally flawed as it does not takes into account the carbon emitted by the process of turning plants into fuels, especially from the conversion of land for growing biofuel crops.

Two recent studies published in the journal Science have, in fact, indicated that the rush to grow crops for biofuels have actually increased greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing it. "Any biofuel that uses productive land is going to create more greenhouse gas emissions than it saves," said Timothy Searchinger of Princeton University, a lead author of one of the studies.

Called by some environmentalists as the "deforestation fuel", huge amount of natural land are currently being converted to meet the global demand for biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, and the clearance of forests and grasslands releases vast amounts of carbon - far more than the carbon spared by burning biofuels instead of petrol.

Research by the Nature Conservancy estimated that the clearing of grasslands and forests for biofuel plantations releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gases that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land. "So, for the next 93 years, you are making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions," said Joseph Fargione, of the Nature Conservancy.
Biofuel harvesting
Even using existing farmland to grow biofuel crops instead of food crops, increases greenhouse gas emissions because food production would simply be shifted to other parts of the world, resulting in the destruction of more forests and grasslands to make way for agriculture. And as all biofuel agriculture causes habitats destruction, it further exacerbates the massive loss of natural ecosystems and biodiversity in recent years.

With global production of ethanol almost doubling between 2000 and 2005 and biodiesel output quadrupling to meet the rising demand for biofuels, especially in Europe, much of the biofuels come from Brazil where pristine forests in the Amazon are being burned to plant more sugar and soybeans, and also from South East Asia, especially Indonesia, where rainforests are cleared to make way for oil palm plantations, destroying the habitats of many species like the orangutans. Species are actually dying for our driving.

The rush to embrace biofuels has also contributed to the recent worldwide increases in food prices especially grains, sugar and vegetable oil, and prices are expected to rise even further as farmers shift their emphasis from food crops to biofuel crops to cash in on the demand.

While biofuels does have a part to play in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it can only be as part of an overall strategy that must include reducing energy usage, improving fuel efficiency in production and transport, and a diversity of sustainable energy resources.

It is frightening that something so well-intentioned can turn out to be damaging to our environment instead and there is now an urgent need to turn attention towards producing biofuels that do not require cropping such as waste from agriculture and forest lands, and woody biomass grown on marginal lands unsuitable for crop production, as they do not require the conversion of land.

- Science journal
- IPPC, United Nations
- The Nature Conservancy
- World Conservation Union
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

*Related posts :
- Man & The Loss Of Biodiversity
- Deforestation - How The World Is Losing Its Cool
- Burps, Flatulence & A Killer Warming Gas

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Japan's Whale Hunt - Barbarism At Its Worst.

"It is explicitly clear from these images that this is the indiscriminate killing of whales, where you have a whale and its calf killed in this way. To claim that this is in any way scientific is to continue the charade that has surrounded this issue from day one."- Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

A shocking photo, released recently by the Australian government, on Japan's whale hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in Antarctic waters, left me disgusted at the barbarity and extreme cruelty of the Japanese government in the needless slaughter of whales under the guise of scientific research.

The picture, one of many, showed two bleeding whales - an endangered mother minke whale and her calf - being dragged aboard a Japanese whaling ship after being harpooned.

Because of their sheer mass and complex vascular systems, whales do not die immediately after being harpooned but have been known to survive for up to an hour. To fully understand just how much pain whales go through after being harpooned, readers are urged to read Magical Melodies And The Songs of Pain, and will come to understand the distress and terror that these majestic creatures have to endured.

And a charade is what this has been. Despite claims of killing whales in the name of science, Japanese whaling isn’t about science at all and is simply commercial whaling in disguise, with the meat being viewed as a delicacy and sold to supermarkets and restaurants.

Non-lethal methods to study whales such as photo identification, tagging, DNA analysis and observation experiments already exist. Without a single harpoon being fired, data from satellite tagging of whales, harmless skin biopsies and fluke identification have yielded valuable information about the migration patterns of whales.

And the International Whaling Commission has clearly stated it does not need the data obtained from killing whales and has, in fact, passed forty-one resolutions critical of Japan’s research whaling program.

The slaughtering of endangered whales for food is also totally unnecessary and whale meat is unsuitable as a food source as it is often extremely toxic and is dangerous to eat. Whales accumulate environmental pollutants that bond with their blubber, such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and dioxin, and also heavy metals such as methylmercury. The effects on humans who consume contaminated whale meat or blubber include cancer, nerve damage, reproductive and developmental disorders and liver damage, to name a few.

These majestic cetaceans are highly evolved animals with a complex social life and are sensitive, social animals - they call out to each other over the vast expanses of the oceans - with highly developed nervous systems and have a profound capacity to suffer distress, terror and pain.

The international community has to act and put an immediate stop to this barbaric practice as the killing of whales is totally unjust, terribly inhuman and has no place in modern civilized society.

For individuals, we can help to spread the barbarism of Japan's whale hunt by writing about it or signing a petition, "Why Use A Harpoon...When We Can Use A Canon?" organize by Green Peace, to register our indignation. These two simple initiatives will reinforce the Australian government's determination to stop Japan's whale hunt in its own backyard. Japan has got away with murder for much too long.

"It is now clear to the world that Japan continues to undermine the international efforts to conserve and protect whales despite the International Whaling Commission repeatedly urging Japan to refrain from hunting whales." - International Whaling Commission.

*Related articles :
- Magical Melodies & The Songs Of Pain.
- Whaling Photos Distressing : Garett - The Sydney Morning Herald
- Japan's Shame Files - Shocking Photos Of Whale Hunt - The Sydney Morning Herald
- Why Use A Harpoon...When You Can Use A Canon - A Petition By Green Peace

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Burps, Flatulence and A Killer Warming Gas.

"Methane concentrations have increased about 150 percent in the air since 1750 and now far exceed the natural range of the past 650,000 years. And human activities are largely to blame." - United Nation IPPC

While much have been written about the contribution of carbon dioxide - released from the unbridled burning of fossils fuels and deforestation - to global warming, there is another greenhouse gas, much more potent and efficient in trapping atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide, that gets far less public attention in our efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change : Methane.

With a warming potential that is 23 times more than carbon dioxide, Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as all other non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases put together. Once emitted, it lasts about ten years in our atmosphere before further oxidizing into carbon dioxide and water. According to climate scientist Dr.Paul Fraser of Australia, a fifth of all greenhouse gas-induced global warming has been due to methane since pre-industrial time and it is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide after carbon dioxide.

Methane is produced from a number of sources, mainly from human activities, like landfills, coal mining and forest fires but the number one source worldwide is animal agriculture.

Animal farming produces more than 100 million tons of methane every year with about 85 per cent of this produced in the digestive traits of livestock like cows, sheep and goats. A byproduct of digestion, cattle and other livestock animals produce methane when organisms in their stomachs break down the fiber in the grasses and grains that they eat, and through their belching and flatulence, emit methane and nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas, into our atmosphere.

It is estimated that a single cow produces between 80 to 110 kilograms of methane a day and considering the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide, the amount of methane produced is enormous.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cattle emit about 5.5 million tons of methane every year in the United States alone, while in New Zealand, emissions from animal farming constituted about half of all greenhouse gas emissions from that country. Behaving like gas factories, livestock animals are responsible for about 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Besides the methane produced, animal agriculture is also a major contributor to serious environmental degradations like water pollution, from the collection of livestock waste, and deforestation - where forests are cleared for livestock farming - which had led to widespread loss in biodiversity of species in recent years. And as living standards rise in the developing world, the situation is expected to deteriorate with sharp increases in methane emissions as the demand for meat and dairy products rises.

With so much of the world's focus on reduction of carbon dioxide emissions - from capping emissions from power plants to investing in alternative energy resources - to mitigate the effects of climate change, we are overlooking the contribution of non-carbon dioxide gas emissions like methane to the rise in global temperatures.

Data published by Dr. James Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies have actually indicated that non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases like methane are responsible for as much global warming as carbon dioxide, if not more. By focusing solely on carbon dioxide reduction, governments and environmental organizations are actually neglecting other sources of greenhouse gas emissions and alternative strategies for reducing global temperatures.

Unlike carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for more than a century, methane cycles out of the atmosphere in about ten years, so lowering methane emissions can quickly translate to cooling of the earth. Similarly, unlike the efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions which can have devastating impact on economies, especially of developing countries, reduction in methane gas emissions is much easier to achieve.
From the introduction of additives like enzyme inhibitors, to block the production of methane in the rumen of livestock, and supplementing the animals' diet with amino acids like cycteine, which reduces the amount of methane produced, to better agricultural practices to the straight forward capture of methane from landfills and coal mines to burn for power, reduction in methane gas emissions is a much more cheaper, attainable and feasible target than carbon dioxide reduction.

And like all the environmental issues facing mankind in recent years, it is again at the individual level that the greatest reduction in methane gas emissions will come from. Just by eating less meat or better still, adopting a vegetarian diet, will lead to lesser demand and not only will it reduce methane gas emissions from animal agriculture, it will also result in a cleaner environment and a healthier you.

*Sources :
- Earth Save
- Live Science Daily
- World Wildlife Federation
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
- U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

*Related posts :
- Man and The Loss Of Biodiversity
- The Convenient But Deadly Plastic Bag
- A Planet In Peril

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sustainable Solutions - From Plastic To Fuel.

Plastic waste, the scourge of the environment - clogging landfills and responsible for the deaths of thousands of marine life every year - have been given a new lease of life through an exciting new technology which converts waste plastic into useable fuels and gases.

In what is a world's first, Enviro-Hub Holdings, a main-board listed waste management and recycling company in Singapore, has announced the construction of a S$50 million plastic-to-fuel commercial plant after researching for a long-term environmental solution for plastic waste since 2005.
Using a patented technology developed in India, for which Enviro-Hub holds an exclusive license, the company built a pilot plant that was able to revert plastics back to its constituent - oil. The technology heats waste plastic with a special catalyst that breaks it down into 85 per cent diesel, 10 per cent liquid petroleum gas and 5 per cent coke.

And the good news is that the diesel produced - unlike older technologies - will have a low sulphur content and lower carbon dioxide emissions. The heating process of converting the waste plastic into fuel will also be emissions-free.

Enviro-Hub's new facility will initially be able to take up to 100 tonnes of waste plastic a day and at about 30,000 tonnes a year, it will produce 20 million litres of diesel, four to five million kilograms of gas and 1,500 tonnes of coke. The plant will also be self-generating, using about 5 per cent of the fuel it produces to power itself with the rest being sold to other industries. There are also plans to expand the plant's capacity to handle up to 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste by the end of 2008.

With an estimated 4 billion tonnes of plastic waste discarded worldwide every year, the commercial potential is huge and Enviro-Hub's initiative will go a long way in coming to grips with plastic waste - a persistent environmental scourge - and is a great example of using technology to come up with sustainable solutions for environmental issues.

*Related post :
- The Convenient But Deadly Plastic Bag.

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