1. Urban Heat Islands: What Are They, and What Can You Do About Them?

    Posted on July 19, 2012 by Jamison

    The Greenists are on vacation.  Please enjoy this recycled post.

    If you live in the concrete and asphalt jungles of the United States, you’ve probably gotten used to the concept of heat islands without even realizing it. Cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside. When you live in the city, you probably don’t even realize that just a few miles away, the temperature is probably 5 degrees or so cooler. Cities absorb more of the heat of the sun than the surrounding areas and, as a result, retain that heat for longer. Of course this starts a nasty loop of a warmer city requiring more air conditioning, which is more inefficient because the city itself is just so hot. The question becomes: How do we get ourselves out of the mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into?

    As with all sorts of environmental issues, the short answer is always stop doing the same things that we did that got us into this mess in the first place. Asphalt is a double-edged sword on the best of days. It’s not good for the environment to begin with, and once it’s there, it stabs us again by absorbing too much heat from the sun. Before you think this is just a problem for the city folks of the planet, take a long moment and look at your own roof. If your house was built to the standards of most homes in the United States, you’ll find that you have a nice coating of asphalt covering your roof to protect it. So most of us are all in the same sinking boat of oil dependence together on one front. Basically we are trapped in an oven, which is our own homes. So how do we get out of it?

    Solutions to the problems are relatively simple. Asphalt is naturally a very dark color, giving it a very low Albedo (reflection coefficient) so instead of reflecting light (which includes energy in the infrared spectrum) it absorbs it instead. To give you a frame of reference, a square of fresh asphalt, compared to a square of grass, will absorb 6 times or more heat energy, leading to the five extra degrees of temperature change we discussed earlier.

    In an ideal world, you’d have a patch of grass on your roof instead of asphalt, and we call that choice the green roof movement. With this, people create an ecosystem on their roof so they can avoid the heat caused by the darker surface area, which also allows them to absorb water more efficiently to avoid some of the toxic runoff from their asphalt roof systems. It’s a good choice and usually it’s done with large roof systems on bigger buildings. At the more practical level for most of us is the move to much lighter colored roofs or replacing asphalt altogether and going to recycled aluminum roof systems instead. These systems can approach the same reflectivity as the green roofs while not requiring the kind of maintenance that the green roof might require.

    Cities are also taking these approaches. They are changing the color of the asphalt and seeing a major change in temperature related to such structures. Some cities have started to change their building codes to make it so that people have to use these heat cutting choices in hopes of one day breaking the Urban Heat Islands completely. Researchers have begun to suggest that the decrease in the requirements of electricity alone would have a much greater effect on carbon dioxide levels that are required to meet the demands caused by these heat islands — it would be one of the most significant things that could be done. The lighter versions of the asphalt also improve safety because it reflects your car lights better, allowing you to see further at night and giving you more reaction time on the roads themselves. Not to mention the heat related deaths that occur each year in cities because of the urban heat island effect.

    Combine these bonuses along with new kinds of bioasphalt, which allow us to finally take oil out of the equation, and there is definitely some great hope for the future. And new nano-materials that will allow the asphalt to turn dark in the winter and light in the summer heat. So what can you do when it comes time to look at your roof? Think about saving yourself by breaking the heat island for yourself and everyone around you.

  2. A/V Fridays – We Stopped Dreaming (Episode 2)

    Posted on June 8, 2012 by Allie

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most brilliant minds of our time. This video is simply wonderful (and left me a bit choked up). You might want to have a tissue handy, but please, watch this.

  3. A/V Fridays – Don’t Have Sex With the Prius C

    Posted on May 4, 2012 by Allie

    Neil illustrates why even though you may love your new hybrid car, you shouldn’t LOOOOVE your new hybrid car.

    Possibly offensive/NSFW, if you/your boss doesn’t have a sense of humor when it comes to simulated car humping.
  4. The Green Trap of Northern Pass

    Posted on May 3, 2012 by Howling Hill

    The talking heads are talking about green, sustainable energy. They talk of getting the US off oil and coal and on renewable energy sources. They talk and talk and talk but no one actually does anything to overcome the national addiction Americans have to consuming way more than they can produce.

    Read more…

  5. Get Out and Walk!

    Posted on April 19, 2012 by Mickey

    The lady and I were house-shopping recently, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out where my priorities were. Reading the real estate listings, you’d be forgiven if you came to think of ceiling height, closet space and quarried countertops as the most important factors in choosing a home. But I realized that, as we were driving through various nearby towns and their neighborhoods, that I’d been almost unconsciously taking mental notes about the sidewalks, or lack thereof, and distances to transportation hubs and amenities. When we started the hunt, I’d been primarily concerned with the age of the roof and the ability of the yard to support a garden, but now I found myself eliminating a house before we even saw if there wasn’t a sidewalk along the main road to the subdivision.  Read more…

  6. Celebrating the Little Victories

    Posted on November 29, 2011 by Courtney

    Please welcome today’s guest poster, Jamison.

    I will confess without hesitation: I’m horrible about giving credit where credit is due. I remember Dianne dragging me to a Save the Bay event, spending hours and hours doing back-breaking labor, planting native plants, all to save a little cove and then driving home past major polluters with a feeling I’d accomplished nothing at all. Dianne, like most of the Greenists, appreciates the little victories. I guess in the end it comes down to your definition of what a little victory is. So when I say it’s time to celebrate a little victory, realize it’s coming from a place of great cynicism and doubt about the future of the world. And if I’m telling you that you’ve accomplished something important, it’s probably a pretty big deal.  Read more…

  7. First Kudzu, Then the Kudzu Bug, Now What?

    Posted on November 1, 2011 by Courtney

    Please welcome today’s guest poster, Jamison.

    Image credit: theresilientearth.com

    If you aren’t from the South, you’re probably completely unaware of kudzu, but down here it’s referred to as the “plant that ate the South.” A few decades ago, Southerners were having trouble with erosion, so they found this awesome quick-growing plant from Japan. And man, did it work like gangbusters — it grabbed onto the soil and held everything in place. And then something unexpected happened: it tried to take over the entire country. It killed off trees and even tried to overtake people’s houses. The stuff couldn’t be stopped easily.

    For years, scientists have tried to turn lemons into lemonade with this plant. They’ve actually made some fairly decent progress. Lately they’ve started looking at it for bio-fuel feedstock, hoping to turn an ecological disaster into a vast source of fuel for the country. Unfortunately this story isn’t going to have a happy ending.  Read more…

  8. Picking Your Preferences & Poison

    Posted on October 18, 2011 by The Modern Gal

    I know Allie just mentioned her own search for the right kind of car that suited her needs, that car being a station wagon. The Modern Hubby and I are in the middle of our own search for a vehicle to replace his 15-year-old Nissan Altima that is falling apart before our eyes and has gotten far too expensive and difficult to manage. Like Allie, we’ve decided to go the station wagon route as we also have two dogs that travel frequently with us and need the cargo space for our frequent trips to Home Depot but aren’t a fan of the lack of fuel efficiency when it comes to SUVs.

    While we’re looking at some of the same cars Allie took a look at, we’ve also got the option of Toyota’s brand-new Prius V, which is basically a standard Prius with a station wagon-like cargo space on the back. And after fully investigating, we’ve discovered the Prius V is only slightly more expensive than the comparable gas options we’re looking at but with far better fuel economy, and the math works out so that we’d make back the difference in price in savings on gas in a couple of years.

    But like any green-minded sensible consumer, I’ve set out to do my research on all the cars, and I am absolutely blown away by the amount of conflicting information that’s out there. Hybrids can be great! Hybrids aren’t worth it. Hybrids help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Hybrids have a negative environmental impact because of their batteries and production. So which is it?

    Read more…

  9. Ode to the Station Wagon

    Posted on October 12, 2011 by Allie

    If you’ve been following The Greenists for awhile, you may remember that I was on a quest to replace The Crapmobile, my low-end compact SUV, with a vehicle that would be affordable, fit two large German Shepherds in the cargo area, get reasonably good gas milage, and be an all-round nice to drive, reliable way to get from point A to point B.  After months of research and test drives, I was starting to feel like I’d have an easier time finding a unicorn to ride to the grocery store.

    Because I believed I’d need to replace my SUV with another SUV to get the kind of room I needed for the dogs, my car research turned up dead end after dead end.  I’d get excited about a certain SUV, only to see it in person and realize that despite it’s gargantuan size, there was barely any space behind the backseat for the dogs.  Plus, I didn’t want to drive something enormous, and I didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a car, or for gas.

    And then, it dawned on me.  Hey, remember those things people drove in the 80′s and early 90′s before SUVs?  You know, those cars with the big back ends?  Yeah, those things.  Station wagons!

    You guys, we need to bring back the station wagon.  It is a brilliant, brilliant vehicle format.  My new car gets way better gas milage than The Crapmobile, is easy to park, fun to drive, has all sorts of great creature comforts, and plenty of room in the back for the dogs (more than my compact SUV had).

    I can hook seatbelt harnesses to the car seat anchors in the trunk area, so I don’t even need a heavy, noisy dog grate anymore, and my dogs are safe and secure.  I gave up four wheel drive, but a lower profile, excellent IIHS crash ratings, plus traction and stability control, means that I feel much safer in my new two-wheel drive car than I ever did in my old four-wheel drive vehicle.  And, since the seats fold down, I have enough room to haul large purchases (we fit a tree in my car last month!).  The back seat area is perfectly roomy and comfortable, and the front seats are brilliant (and heated!).  And all of this for a starting price that is ten thousand dollars less than the “affordable range” SUVs I’d been researching!

    I love my car.

    Since I firmly believe that everyone buying a car should do their own researching and test driving, I won’t tell you which station wagon I ended up with, but I will give you a few models to consider:

    Hyundai Elantra Touring

    • Starts at $15,995
    • MPG 23/30
    • Cargo volume (cu ft): 24.3 w/ seats up, 65.3 w/seats down
    • Fun options: iPod ready stereo, heated seats, power sunroof

    Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen

    • Starts at $19,995
    • MPG 24/31 (TDI gets 30/42)*
    • Cargo volume (cu ft): 32.8 w/ seats up, 66.9 w/seats down
    • Fun options: Panoramic sunroof, heated seats, navigation, Bluetooth, MDI interface
    • Starts at $18,720
    • MPG 22/32 (FlexFuel option)
    • Cargo volume (cu ft): 57.7 (maximum, 24 seat configurations)
    • Fun options: OnSTAR, Bluetooth, rearview camera, USB port, sunroof
    I’m hoping as people become more fuel & cost conscious there will be an even greater array of station wagons to choose from in the coming years.
    *Research tip – Consider diesel prices and research TDI fuel-pump flaws when deciding on engine type.
     
  10. Home Fuel Production

    Posted on October 4, 2011 by Jamison

    For me one of the most exciting parts of green energy innovation is the decentralization of control of energy production. In my earlier article about the production of biogas last month we saw a similar revolution happening.

    The rule of the day is the economy of scales: the more of something you make, the cheaper it is to produce. It’s the entire foundation of our modern society, but more and more we are seeing that the centralization of energy production leads to weaknesses in our system that make us very vulnerable to disruption and failure.

    Ask anyone who lives along the coast line how stable their electric power grid is and they’ll tell you that if the slightest tropical storm comes along, they are without power for days, or even weeks.

    We experience the same vulnerability with our fuel sources as well. Most of our fuel refining happens at coastal ports and the fuel is then shipped inland to repositories that ship it to the individual gas stations you get your fuel from.

    What I want to talk to you about today, is breaking that chain once and for all. Read more…

Tip of the Day

If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It

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According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.


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