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Could You Go a Year Without a Clothes Dryer?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
By Christa

Annie Hintsala did, after her dryer broke one day and her handy husband pronounced it dead. Rather than buy a new one, she swapped her dryer for two clothes lines… and she liked it. The bonuses were a lower electricity bill, no need to run a humidifier in the winter, and clothing that lasts longer. Oh, and a little family time.

….as the days went on and we thought about giving up and just buying a new dryer, we found that the chore became a chatting time to catch up on the day. Our son would often help, and it turned into less of a chore. It became a routine that simply was part of the daily set, like doing dishes and cooking.

Not that there haven’t been downsides. A line of laundry does take up space, especially when you’re a family of three. And a clothes dryer gets rid of lint and stiffness and a certain amount of static electricity. But if you have the space for it and don’t mind dealing with some fuzzies on your clothes, ditching your dryer is not a bad way to live a little greener.

My own answer to the question of whether I could go a year without a clothes dryer is sure, probably. Here in Massachusetts it wouldn’t be ideal in the winter, but it would certainly be doable in our particular house. And when I lived in Costa Rica, I went without a dryer or a washer – that’s right, for four months, I washed all of my clothing by hand in a great big tub, stomping on it with bare feet and ringing it out in the shower. Ever tried ringing out a soaking towel all by yourself? Not fun, but again, doable.

Could you go a year without a clothes dryer?

Image: Tabitha Blue

Good News: Green Jobs Growing!

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
By Christa

Green jobs are growing – at a rate twice that of all jobs overall – even though the larger job market is nothing if not worrying at the moment. And that’s pretty sweet, because it means green technology is boomin’ and us U.S.ians are this much closer to staying ahead in the global economy. Sounds like good news all around! What and where are these green jobs, you may ask? Not surprising, most are in the field of green energy, but there are also plenty of jobs in agriculture and transportation and manufacturing can be green, too.

How do you get in on the ground floor if you’re not in one of the aforementioned industries? Be in Michigan, for one, where green jobs are growing the fastest. Try the Green Jobs Network. And then, as necessary, find some educational opportunities!

According to Stephen J. Lynch, Senior Project Manager at Jobs for the Future, the nation’s community colleges are ”the speed-boats of workforce training” because of the ways they can adapt curricula and training design more quickly than traditional four-year institutions.

“Today’s job-seekers, particularly laid off adults, seek training that is accessible, low-cost, and that offers the chance to obtain employment as quickly as possible,” he told us. He goes on to note that Jobs for the Future helps community colleges produce workers with the skills, degrees and certifications that are in-demand by today’s employers by helping them to present course content within a real-world context and modularize training with stackable credentials.

But watch out! Green jobs are still at risk, especially since there are still scores of people who’d like to see green energy and green building initiatives fail. What’s funny about that – in a sad way, mind – is that the growing green job market in the U.S. tends to be homegrown, but green energy opponents like to shout about how green energy is a U.S. job killer.

Meanwhile, it is well established that labor-intensive investments in solar, wind and increased building efficiency create far more jobs than similar investments in fossil fuels. These technologies will most likely go down in cost while fossil prices will only go up long-term. And with a renewable energy economy, there is no cost of fuel or fuel price volatility. Imagine that.

Imagine that, indeed.

Oil Versus the Whales

Thursday, February 24th, 2011
By Christa

There’s no denying that the world at large is pretty dependent on oil for, well, just about everything. And that means that people are always on the lookout for new places to find it. Just at this moment, the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, which is partly owned by shell, is hunting for oil… in a stretch of the Pacific inhabited by a certain sort of gray whale that’s critically endangered.

They are on the brink of extinction. “Just around 30 female western gray whales of breeding age remain”, says Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil and Gas Environmental Policy Officer for WWF Russia. “The loss of even a few breeding females could mean the end for the population.”

Their lives are already disrupted by oil exploration and exploitation, and the company already has two platforms in the area. The new one is planned to be near their primary feeding area, one of the only places where the sea is shallow enough to enable mothers to teach their young how to feed on the seabed.

Does anyone else tear up a little when they hear about this sort of thing, or is it just me? It’s not that my brain automatically goes “oil bad, animals good” – I get that we still need oil and that oil has to come from somewhere. But 30 Western North Pacific gray whales of breeding age, all getting disoriented by seismic surveys and then having their only known feeding ground disrupted by the construction of a rig? Bleah.

Dead Bodies Warming Hard Bodies?

Monday, February 21st, 2011
By Christa

What good are the dead? Some might say none at all. But one English town, a burg of 80,000 known as Redditch, thinks they can be put to use as a nearly-free source of energy. It’s less gruesome than it sounds, really. No one is proposing that vagrants be rounded up as a free source of power or anything like that. The Redditch Council simply wants to warm the local Abbey Stadium Sports Centre, including the heated swimming pool, with reclaimed energy from its neighboring crematorium.

As you can no doubt imagine, there has been plenty of opposition to the plan for the obvious reasons. As one funeral director put it:

I don’t know how comfortable people would feel about the swimming pool being heated due to the death of a loved one, I think it’s a bit strange and eerie.

Huh. Considering that the measure could save the town about $30,000 per year aaaand the fact that the dead who are cremated at the Redditch crematorium will be returning to ashes whether or not the municipal pool benefits, what’s the big deal? It seems like a case of people being squeamish just because the dead are involved. No one is burning the dead *specifically* to supply heat to the sports center. The will be no contact between the dead bodies and the crematorium and the hard bodies at the gym. And reclaimed heat is apparently a good source of heat, too – here in MA, for example, waste heat from a Cambridge power plant will be used to heat buildings in Boston instead of being discharged into the Charles River.

Am I being too blasé about this? Because in my mind, a scheme like this makes perfect sense and seems like a great way to make use of energy that would otherwise just get blown away by the wind.

DIY Draft Dodger Kit for the Thermostatically Conservative

Thursday, February 17th, 2011
By Christa

Yesterday’s post on indoor air quality in the winter included a single mention of winter drafts, which many green living enthusiasts care bunches about since we’re all apparently nutty about turning down the thermostat. Assuming you’ve nudged down your thermostat as far as it can reasonably go this winter – and what a winter! – there are always a few tricks you can user to stay warm by maximizing the warmth you have!

One old school example is the draft dodger – at its simplest, a humble tube of fabric stuffed with uncooked rice or kitty little or dried beans. It doesn’t have to be humble, however, as this DIY draft dodger kit from Banquet Atelier & Workshop shows:

The kit includes a snake front and back (expertly screen printed in water-based ink on 100% cotton), acrylic paint set with brush, needle, thread, wool felt tongue, stuffing (although you’re going to want to supplement his guts with dried beans, old socks etc), and easy-peasy instructions.

Lost Weight By Lowering Your Thermostat?

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
By Christa

When you hear someone say ‘how low can you go?’ what’s the first image that comes to mind? A limbo stick, perhaps? Or maybe a scale? Or are you like me, and a picture of a programmable thermostat pops into your head? I don’t know where you keep your thermostat in the wintertime, but around here it’s set to 65F during the day. Yep, 65F.

Used to be, we kept it at balmy temperatures – I’m talking shorts weather, all year round – but that’s because I lived in NYC where it’s pretty uncommon to actually pay for heat. In Boston, we dropped it to 68F. Then a while ago, it somehow got set to 65F without anyone really knowing how, and La Paloma didn’t seem to mind and The Beard doesn’t care and the gas bill never looked better… oh, and using less gas is green, too… so I left it.

Now you can bet when I read on Treehugger that research published in the journal Obesity Reviews seems to have discovered a link between increasing average indoor temperatures and rising rates of obesity, I was suddenly feeling pretty good about my little socks-and-slippers house.

lower your thermostat to lost weight

TIME has picked up on the story, linking to a study by researchers at University College London:

The authors of the new study note that average indoor temperatures have risen steadily in the U.K. and U.S. over the last several decades, as central heating has become increasingly available — and rates of obesity have risen too. The average temperature in British living rooms went from 64.9 degrees F to 70.3 degrees F, from 1978 to 2008. Living rooms in the U.S. have long been heated to at least 70 degrees F.

It’s all about the modern expectation of comfort – we want to be warm and we can be warm, but when we’re warm there’s not all that much going on metabolically. But when it’s just a bit colder, even when we’re not shivering, the calorie-burning power of brown fat is activated. It starts working to warm us up, and it sticks around. When we’re warm all the time, on the other hand, levels of brown fat decrease and there goes that ability to burn a few extra calories in the cold. 100 to 200 per day, but hey, that adds up!

The only problem? Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on brown fat, says people don’t like to keep their houses chilly and won’t stick with it. What do you think? Is weight loss enough of a reason to drop your thermostat in the wintertime?

Why No Garbage Power In the US?

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
By Christa

Averaged out across the US, we’re all producing four pounds of garbage per day. That’s 250 million tons of trash each year. Maybe we’re not making it directly, but we’re indirectly responsible for those numbers. And most of that municipal solid waste, as it’s known, gets collected and shuttled into landfills where it sits. And sits. And sits. And siiiits, doing a whole lot of nothing. But at the Commerce Refuse to Energy Facility in California, trash is being used to create enough power about 15,000 homes at any given time.

That’s waste-to-energy. Or energy-from-waste. Whatever you want to call it. It’s when garbage is used to create heat or electricity or even combustible fuel. At Commerce, garbage becomes energy via fire – there’s a huge furnace where everything from clothing to waste packaging to paper is incinerated in a giant fire that burns all day and all night. The heat powers turbines that make electricity, and that electricity is sold to providers. Supposedly, it burns pretty cleanly, but there are still concerns about poisonous emissions so instead of building waste-to-energy plants, we dig more landfills. (According to the New York Times, modern incineration plants are so clean that “many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.”)


RI Wind Farms Set to Do More Than Expected

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010
By Christa

Deepwater Wind, the company behind Rhode Island’s first offshore wind farm, has apparently increased the size of its project and it is now projected that the wind farm will generate 1000 MW of green electrical power. How do you generate that much power? How about 200 wind turbines that will be placed at least 18 miles off the Rhode Island coast, where according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, things can get pretty windy. Increasing the size of the project means that Deepwater Wind can sell the wind energy produced for somewhere between 15-18 cents/kWh, which is high for the U.S. but fairly close to the New England average. Sounds good to me!

Background: Those in favor of wind farms will tell you that a single utility-scale wind farm (350 mw) can generate enough clean energy to power 125,000 homes every year without users ever seeing a fuel adjustment charge. As for the offshore wind farms that had everyone in such a tizzy around my locale – hello, Cape Wind -they’re apparently set in deep waters, where they are virtually invisible from shore. The anti-wind farm crowd counters that wind power is intermittent and thus cannot generate enough energy to ensure a steady output, which means back-up coal or gas power plants will always be a necessity. I’m not going to bother with the argument that they ruin views of the natural landscape – I personally think big ugly factories and electric wires do the same, but I understand the necessity of both.

What do you think about wind farms and wind power in general? Are they a viable green energy option? Or just a stepping stone on the way to something more reliable?

Check Out the ‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ Trailer!

Monday, December 27th, 2010
By Christa

“Revenge of the Electric Car” is an upcoming documentary about the EV car revolution created by Chris Paine, director of “Who Killed the Electric Car?”. It will be released in spring of 2001, and let me tell you, I can’t wait!

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