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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.

5 Ways to Green Your Time Off

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
By Christa

A few weeks back, I shared 5 ways to go green at work, which reader Little Red reminded me isn’t always easy. Some companies like to update software overnight. You may turn all the lights off if you’re the last one out, only to find them on again in the a.m. when you’re the first one in because the cleaners turned them all on. Your office may not have a fridge for your bagged lunch or a coffee maker for your afternoon pick-me-up. And your choice of computers? Non-existent.

Where you have total control or almost total control is in your own home and in your personal life. In other words, in your time off. Since that’s your time to do with as you see fit – at least within the confines of your family life, if you have one – it’s a lot easier to go green! Here are five ways you can make your evenings and weekends more environmentally-friendly and physically healthy:

1. Replace you usual weekend activities – going to the movies, whatever – with something healthier and simpler. For the outdoorsy types, I recommend hiking, biking, or walking. These work especially well if you happen to have nature nearby, but even the city dweller can go for a long walk in the concrete jungle. Picnics are always good, doubly so if you pack food you’ve prepared yourself using organic, locally-grown ingredients. If spending more than a few minutes outdoors isn’t your bag, how about taking those ingredients and cooking up something yummy, then having a vegetarian or vegan dinner party for neighbors and friends?


Let the Light Shine In

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
By Christa

Okay, I’m sure you’re sick of reading about wall coverings by now – hello, eco-friendly paint, hello, eco-friendly wallpaper – but I have to show you one more cool green thing for your walls. What is it? It’s LIGHT EMITTING WALLPAPER. Light emitting wallpaper was originally developed in 2008 by Jonas Samson, a Dutch designer, as a concept piece, but people went so nuts over it that a lot more money and time has gone into the idea since then.

Some have even theorized that light emitting wallpaper – with its low-energy LEDs or in some cases even OLEDs, wow – could begin to replace standard light bulbs starting as early as 2012. In some cases, light emitting wallpapers have a backing of LEDs in patterns, like in the images here, but in others it’s the entire wall that’s illuminated, creating an even glow that mimics sunlight.

And here’s some technical info about how light emitting wallpaper works when the illumination is coming from OLEDs:

Operating lifetime has traditionally been a problem with OLEDs, but LOMOX has found a way to achieve significantly longer lifetimes than fluorescent lamps with the use of holographically-generated nanostructures to eliminate the 50% loss of light emission, which currently occur with OLEDs. Previous work has shown that reactive mesogen (i.e., polymerisable liquid crystal) OLED emitter materials can be photo-patterned into multicoloured display pixels with no loss in light output due to the photo-patterning process. The technology will also be more efficient (producing 150 lumens/watt) as it only emits light along one axis. OLEDs can produce a more natural looking light than other forms of lighting.

Get all that?

Are Programmable Thermostats Green?

Thursday, December 9th, 2010
By Christa

In a word, yes. In a few words: Yes, programmable thermostats are green when used correctly.There are still people out there who don’t regulate their thermostat throughout the day because they believe that lowering the temperature at night just makes the heater have to work harder during the day, thus using more energy than it would at a constant temperature, but that’s flat out silly.

Thermostat setback (i.e., lowering the temperature when it’s cold) and thermostat setup (i.e., raising it when its warm) when you’re out of the house or sleeping will almost always save money and conserve energy. Yes, your heater or AC will have to work a little to bring the temperature back up in the morning or prior to your return, but not so much that it’s burning through crazy amounts of gas, oil, or electricity.

So what’s the problem? Too many people install programmable thermostats and then never use them or still believe that keeping the temperature constant 24 per day is less wasteful that regulating it throughout the day. Like so many things, a programmable thermostat is a great little gadget that can make your life a little greener, but only if you use and use it correctly.

Is Nuclear a Green Option?

Monday, November 15th, 2010
By Christa

In the wake of last week’s heavy protests and blockades in Germany against a train carrying nuclear waste from France, it seems only fitting to devote a little time to thinking about nuclear power. And it wasn’t just the transportation of nuclear waste to a German storage facility that was under fire. Against strong opposition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to extend the lifespan of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors. In 2001, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder moved to phase out nuclear energy in the country, but Germany’s aging nuclear reactors are now set to do another 12 years of duty. Hmmm.

I think some people see a protest like this and think, “Wait, what?” For better or for worse, nuclear power has been framed as green by a number of people, businesses, and organizations, with the end result of a lot of folks associating nuclear power with two things: Chernobyl and eco-consciousness.

Proponents of nuclear power talk about how it’s a carbon-free energy source, how the amount of waste produced is very small compared to burning fossil fuels to create energy, how it’s cost effective, and the new safety measures in reactors that make it as safe as any other energy source. Opponents talk about how it’s really not carbon-free (nuclear power has more than just a little greenhouse gas attached to it from mining, building, and running a plant), the waste storage solutions currently in place are reportedly less than perfect, safety measures won’t matter if terrorists get their hands on a reactor, it’s not a good solution to Global Warming, and it’s not as cost effective as first thought.

Oh good, another ‘paper versus plastic debate.’* Seriously, when I look into all of the statements above, I can find some supposed expert telling me why it’s 100% true. I think this is one of the perils people who’ve chosen to go green face. There’s always someone who can make a pretty compelling argument in favor of one thing or another, which makes it incredibly confusing for the layperson. So what are us laypeople to do? Discuss it amongst ourselves, of course. I’m really curious to know what you think about the relative eco-friendliness of nuclear power, both as compared to other forms of energy production and as its own animal. Is nuclear really a viable option in the short or even the long term?

*The answer? Re-usable grocery bags that last a long, long time!

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