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Friday, January 30, 2009

Climate Wars

I'm a regular listener to the CBC radio program Ideas. If I may use a grossly elitist and self-serving description, Ideas is the thinking man's prime time entertainment.

The past few weeks, the program has been featuring a series called Climate Wars. This is must-listen-radio! If you're a reader of this humble blog, then you will be thrilled to listen to a serious, considered investigation of the world's climate issue.

I have to listen to it again, but at this point, I'm not sure I 100% agree with Gwynne Dyer's final conclusion. I'd really like to, but... you'll have to listen for yourself to decide.

The podcast (running 3 hours) is available here.

Despite the proliferation of mini-posts in the last few weeks, I really don't have the time to blog much these days. Thus, I'm putting down things as soon as they strike me and using a handy feature of blogspot to publish these stories in the future.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Light at the End of a Very Long Tunnel

I just saw this report on the net: Solar cells can now boast 41.1 percent efficiency!

While this is a very small incremental increase, it is nonetheless an improvement.

Don't be discouraged, materials scientists! We're still cheering for every 1/10 of a percent you get!

Assuming I could watch 60 minutes of television with a 2007 set of panels, I could now watch more than one whole commercial more (35.38 seconds) with these new ones! But which commercial would it be?

And before you get all technical on me, I know I'm assuming a lot in that the entire 0.9% would have no losses through the rest of this hypothetical system. Can't a guy dream?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What To Do When You Can't Use Public Transit

The city of Ottawa is currently in the throes of a transit strike. While I am not at all educated about this particular labour disruption, I was struck when watching the national news at the effect that it is having on commuters. Many more cars are clogging the streets, rush hour starts earlier and earlier every day, and downtown parking lots are completely full. All in all, it was nearly complete chaos.

Here in Halifax, we were very close to having a school bus strike of our own over the past few weeks. While that appears to be averted, a simple accident (or was it a water main break?) on Monday morning sent traffic into a panic.

Obviously, we are at the very edge of being able to manage our current transportation system. Our needs and wants have become completely unrealistic. We choose to live in suburban sprawl and have become dependent on our vehicles for getting to work. Those who use public transit obviously go a long way to help the situation as evidenced by how much worse Ottawa is today.

So... what to do?

First, where public transit is available, we should all endeavour to use it as much as possible. It saves wear and tear on your personal vehicle and helps a lot with GHG.

Second, we should choose to live in more appropriate locales. Walk to work if it is at all possible. If you work urban, you should attempt to live urban. (I know, this is complete impractical and unaffordable for most of us. But we need to examine why this is so.)

Third, investigate ride-share programs in your city or neighbourhood.

Fourth, explore the option of working from home whenever possible. It's a very short commute and uses no gasoline. That's better than riding the bus!

Fifth, communicate with others. Lobby for more effective public transit. Champion tele-commuting in your office.

And finally, petition the powers that be to come to a fair and equitable end to the current transit strike in Ottawa.

Do you live in Ottawa? Tell me about the effect the transit strike has had on you!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Water Use Check Up

I mentioned some time ago that I'd changed my habits and basically now avoid flushing when it is only liquid waste. This has been working quite well and there have been no negative side-effects. I'm saving roughly 3 tanks of water a day.

Now I'm wondering if I can go a step further. Recognizing that the squeamish among you have already stopped reading, it's not what you think.

Each morning when I run the sink to shave and the shower to bathe, I have to run the tap for about 30 seconds or so before the water is warm. I want to try to capture that water so it's not just going down the drain. Obviously, some improved insulation will help with the amount of water that cools in the pipes overnight, but in the meantime...

There are a few things you need to know about me. I'm barely functional when I am preparing to shave in the morning. The idea of stockpiling jugs of water around my bathroom also doesn't appeal to me. For this to work, it has to be easier than simple and actually make a difference.

I put it to you for ideas.

I have this idea that I might be able to modify the lid to my toilet to make for an easy transfer, but if the tank is full, then it would just spill into the overflow and be wasted anyway. Oh, and I don't have a garden or house plants to speak of.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Bit More on Google

Recent reports have suggested that two google searches produce as much CO2 as boiling a kettle of water. Seem just a touch high to you? Read this Scientific American note with the story and Google's response.

Not convinced of Google's innocence? Here's one (humourous) way that Google could single-handedly destroy the planet.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Does Black Screen Searching Save Power?

Every few months, an idea circulates around the net. I heard it again this week... The Google webpage, as one of the world's busiest websites, uses more energy with a white background than it would if the background were black. This results in a lot of fresh traffic to a site called Blackle.com and a number of similar sites around the world.

This myth grew out of two good ideas. The first was that any minuscule positive change, when repeated on the scale of millions and billions, would result in a great positive change. The second was that black screens use less energy than white screens, hence the source of the minuscule energy difference.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work for most of us. On modern LCD monitors, the energy difference is at best negligible, and according to some reports, black may actually consume more energy than white. On older CRT monitors, there may be some gain, but it is very small compared to the savings by switching to an LCD monitor which uses 1/2 to 2/3 as much energy. Secondly, the savings purportedly measured to date is far less than the original promise suggested. In this case, the small bits that add up don't actually add up to much.

If you find the dark background easier on the eyes, by all means switch. But don't do it for the environmental benefit!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stop Global Warming

Over the last twenty years or so, I've been quietly hooked on a number of building style games... SimCity, Civilization, Caesar III, and so on. These days, I don't have the time for such trivialities but still need to get a fix now and then. That's where Facebook usually comes through.

Stop Global Warming is just such a game, albeit very stripped down and very simple, but it's played on the web through Facebook. In the game, you support other players on a daily basis, earn cash and impact points, and build structures that will eventually reduce a country's CO2 emissions. As you work through the game, you have to balance your environmental and your economic needs. Once a country is on its way to a NIL footprint, you can then tackle a bigger country. In each area, you have to be careful to tailor your response to the local climate and conditions. For example, Canada gets a pretty good return for installing wind turbines, but solar panels don't perform as well as they would in more equatorial countries.

A simple, yet fun game that captures the essence of the building game style, with a well thought-out environmental education delivery.

Feel free to add me as a friend on Facebook and then in the game. Mutual support is much more lucrative.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dalhousie Versus Acadia

A quick update on the CBC's Millions Acts of Green campaign:

Last week, Dalhousie University (where I am both staff and student) challenged Acadia University to the CBC's Million Acts of Green. The idea was simple, each university had to sign up members who would then record their total number of individuals acts of green, things like using cold water for a load of laundry or carrying a refillable mug to the coffee shop. The first university to record acts equal to the number its students (16,000 for Dal, 3000 for Acadia) would be the winner. The challenge started on January 15th and was scheduled to end on April 15th.


By 6:55pm, Dalhousie had registered over 400 members, with an average of 40 acts each, easily surpassing the challenge goal in a single day! To be fair, Acadia met its target later the same evening.

With over 24,000 acts of green a week later, the Dalhousie group is now leading the nation and is trying to sort out the details for a bigger challenge against an even more progressive university. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Day of Change

It's been a while since I've had a chance to update the blog, but the best way to get back in is simply to do it!

I just wanted to mark today and join in the crowd of well-wishers on the occasion of Obama's inauguration. The environmentally-minded and alternative energy supporters hold a lot of hope for the new president's promise to invest heavily in solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. It's our job to educate, facilitate, and support these initiatives.

And it's our job to hold him accountable.

In time.

Let's see what the first hundred days has to bring first.

If anyone follows the US political system closely, you can help me report on things like motions in the Senate, bills that are passed, and items that relate to alternative energy and conservation issues. Just drop me a note!

Coming soon: Stop Global Warming and more Dalhousie Million Acts of Green info.