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Posts Tagged ‘treehugger’

As I was driving home today, I heard a radio commentator say that the cost of solar has gone way down. John has solar now and can actually sell some of the energy produced back to the utility.

Nevertheless, the typical solar infrastructure is beyond the reach of many low-income people.

In Kenya, however, solar energy is being produced without the intermediary of the panels you may be picturing.

Derek Markham writes at TreeHugger, “Solar energy promises to be one of the backbones of our clean energy future, and its most well-known application is probably solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, which can produce low-carbon electricity for homes and businesses alike. However, even as solar PV efficiencies rise, and costs drop, solar electricity is still out of reach for many people, as it requires a considerable up-front investment, as well as knowledgeable designers, manufacturers, and installers.

“In the developing world, small-scale solar, which can be used for lighting and charging mobile devices, is one of the solar technologies within reach of low-income residents, and while it can certainly fill some of the energy needs of people (such as a clean light source to replace kerosene, and to keep cell phones charged up), it’s only one piece of the energy puzzle.

“Another larger energy demand is for producing heat, whether it’s for cooking or water sterilization, which is often met by using electricity (at the risk of regular blackouts and high costs) or wood (which contributes to deforestation and indoor air pollution), but there is a viable and sustainable alternative solution in the form of solar thermal technology.

“Using the sun’s rays directly, without the need for expensive and complex components, is a perfect fit for quite a bit of the developing world’s energy needs, as well as being an appropriate technology even in First World countries. …

GoSol is demonstrating what is possible with several pilot projects, including a solar bakery and a peanut butter cooperative in Kenya, and is offering up plans for its solar concentrator at a very reasonable cost. …

“The GoSol Sol4 uses 4 square meters of mirrors to produce an estimated solar thermal output of 2 kW (said to be roughly equal to a standard gas stove) at a construction cost of between $350 and $500 USD (depending on whether recycled or new materials are used), and can pay for itself in the developing world within a year.” More here.

Simple and smart. Makes me think of Boy Scouts learning to start a fire with a magnifying glass that focuses the sun’s rays. GoSol sounds creative.

Photo: GoSol

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In environmental news, Lloyd Alter at Treehugger reports that an Irish county now requires new homes to meet the very high standard of energy efficiency called passive.

“In Ireland’s Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County, a near suburb of Dublin, it’s now the law. …

“The building codes there are pretty tight already. And it’s not completely a done deal; the national Minister of the Environment, of all people, may challenge it out of concern that it might raise the cost of housing. However the local Passive House Association says that it’s not necessarily true, and showed case studies demonstrating that in fact they could build passive houses ‘at or below conventional build costs.’

“Writing in Passive House Plus, Pat Barry of the Irish Green Building Council noted that really, it’s all about just trades having the skills and doing the job right. …

“As many as 20,000 houses could be built in the county, houses that cost almost nothing to heat, produce almost no CO2, and are comfy as can be day or night, sun or no sun.”

More here.

Photo: Kelvin Gillmor
Irish passive house built on a budget
. Hmmm. Does it burn wood?

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Something reader KerryCan said in a comment one day got me thinking that I’d like to see if I could get a photo of Providence that could make a part of the city pass for rural. At first, I found only bland vacant lots left over from the rerouting of route 195. Then I went to Blackstone Park, where a treehugger tree and an ersatz teepee caught my eye.

The soccer-playing kid is in a suburban-looking area on the East Side, and the glowing tunnel is right downtown.

I thought the sandbox looked lonely.

In Massachusetts, I went looking for skunk cabbage and jack-in-the-pulpit plants, but it was too early. Not spring yet. I did hear peepers. And I saw gracefully rotting tree stumps, a bird on a mailbox, and a wonderful rainbow.

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Kimberley Mok reports at Treehugger about how a prize-winning architect plans to repurpose the rubble from the recent earthquake to rebuild Nepal in an adaptable style based on traditional Nepalese architecture.

“Japanese architect and recent Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban announced back in May that he would be part of the humanitarian effort in rebuilding post-earthquake Nepal. In addition to employing his signature cardboard tube architecture, Ban has announced that he intends to re-use brick rubble from the disaster, in order to speed up the rebuilding process.

“According to Designboom, Ban’s design for relief housing will consist of a modular wooden framework measuring 3 feet by 7 feet. Immediate occupation will be made possible by tossing temporary tarps over the structure, which will allow residents and builders to rebuild at their pace, u sing rubble or other materials for the infill. Walls could be then mortared with whatever is locally available. …

“Ban studied traditional Nepalese methods of building, and used this research in the design of the operable window frames. … For the long-term, there are plans to implement some sort of prefabricated housing, which the architect has done before in the Philippines.”

More here.

Photo: Shigeru Ban

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Treehugger recently featured some rather magical lamps in the shape of mushrooms.

Kimberley Mok writes, “Whether they glow in the dark or are uncommonly rare, mushrooms are the incredible, unsung heroes of the natural world. They can bio-remediate oil spills, potentially cure diseases, and when used in your garden, can lessen its need for watering. Now, thanks to Japanese artist Yukio Takano, you can even have a LED version of them on your desk, transforming any mundane workspace into one of glowing, fungal wonder.

“Made with glass, salvaged driftwood and outfitted with energy-efficient LEDs and unique little light switches, Takano — who creates under the name The Great Mushrooming — seems to get the little details right enough to make these lamps look like the real thing (they come with hidden battery packs, to up the authentic-look factor, apparently). …

“Takano’s mushroom lights are one-of-a-kind, and while he sells at design fairs like Tokyo’s Design Festa, according to blogger tokyobling he doesn’t ship them abroad, due to the fragility of these glassworks. You can always feast your eyes over at Yukio Takano’s site The Great Mushrooming and visit the portfolio.”

More styles at Treehugger, here.

 Photo: Yukio Takano

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Over at TreeHugger, Kimberley Mok has a post on an Italian filmmaker’s study of breathtakingly beautiful marine life.

“The ocean is a mysterious place,” she writes, “full of wondrous creatures and hidden delights, waiting to be discovered. The very nature of this massive body of fluid is primordial and seen as a symbol of the subconscious in many cultures. Italian filmmaker Sandro Bocci, also known as Bolidesottomarino, recently released a sneak peak at a ‘non-verbal’ film he’s working on, titled ‘Porgrave.’ Showing captivating scenes of vibrantly coloured underwater organisms, it’s a close-up look at a ‘microworld’ that many of us never get to see — or may never get to see, if ocean acidification, pollution and habitat loss continues at today’s alarming rate.

“According to Bocci’s website, Julia Set Collection, the film is influenced by thinkers like Alan Moore, Jan Hanlo, Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut, Alfred Van Vogt, and is

an experimental film orbiting scientific and philosophical reflections on time and space, and that through various shooting techniques, fields of magnification, and an exciting soundtrack, weaves a web between science and magic.”

Please click here. The photos are extraordinary.

Photo: Sandro Bocci

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In February, Treehugger posted an article on sustainable husbandry in Africa by Charlotte Kaiser, of the Nature Conservancy’s NatureVest arm.

“For thousands of years,” she writes, “the pastoralist communities of northern Kenya have herded their cattle alongside elephants and zebras, the grass of the rangelands shared between livestock and wildlife in relative balance. In recent decades, climate change, habitat loss, and human population growth have combined to erode that balance, leading to overgrazing and the degradation of the grasslands that both humans and wildlife need to survive.

“For over a decade, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has worked with the communities of Northern Kenya to develop community conservancies that support better management of cattle and grass. …

“A key tool in driving the better management of the rangelands is access to markets. … In 2008, NRT created the Livestock to Markets program (LTM), which brought the market to the Conservancies. In exchange for conservancies achieving specific targets in conservation, LTM buys cattle directly from the conservancies, purchasing several hundred head at a time from dozens of households. Providing access to markets allows pastoralists to better manage their herd sizes, since they know they can sell animals when they need to at a fair price. And LTM also encourages the herders to bank their cash, bringing mobile banking representatives to market days so herders can open bank accounts with the proceeds from the sale.

“Once the cattle are purchased, NRT treks the animals to Lewa Conservancy, a partner NGO. After six weeks of quarantine, the animals move to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, another partner, where they are fattened on grass for 15 months, improving the size and quality of the animals. Finally, the animals are [sold] into the Nairobi meat market. By capturing much of the full value of the supply chain, NRT can pay a levy on every animal they buy to the conservancies themselves. This levy funds conservancy investments in wildlife guards, ecotourism lodges, and community facilities like clinics and schools.” Check out the full article here, and the lovely pictures.

Photo: Ron Geatz
Livestock is the primary measure of wealth among herding communities of northern Kenya.

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TreeHugger frequently covers biking. And since my four-year-old grandson has mastered all but the braking on his new two-wheeler and expects me to start biking with him, I think I better cover bikes, too.

Here is an article by Derek Markham from the TreeHugger website about a new bike that aims to combine the best of two worlds.

Writes Markham, “When you go from riding a skinny-tired road bike to a mountain bike with fat tires, it opens up a whole new world of cycling, even if you don’t ever leave the pavement. With fat tires (and perhaps some suspension), your bike can float right over bumps and cracks in the road without rattling your teeth, hopping up or down curbs is almost effortless …

“But even with these advantages, there are still riding situations that can bog down a mountain bike, such as sandy and snowy conditions, and if you really want to go where most people don’t, then a fat bike is the next logical step.

“Fat bikes, with their extremely wide (4″) tires, can make a sandy wash or a gravel road as easy to ride as a packed singletrack (well, almost as easy), and riding in and on snow and mud can be something you seek out instead of try to avoid. But those big fat tires also take some extra effort, and if your thighs aren’t quite up to the task of pedaling a fat bike through and over slush, snow, sand, gravel, or mud, a fat bike ride can be grueling. However, when you add the power of a 500W electric motor to a fat bike, such as Biktrix has done, a virtually unstoppable Juggernaut is created.” More here.

Hmmm. An upstoppable Juggernaut might impress my grandson, but I am pretty sure he doesn’t want me to be as impressive as he is. He told his dad Saturday, “You need to be slower than me.”

Besides, the electric part reminds me of mopeds, and I really don’t like mopeds.

Photo: Biktrix

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I liked this story at TreeHugger on protecting trees and fighting poverty at the same time — especially the part about the importance of women in the effort.

Sami Grover writes, “The old trope that we can either have economic development or environmental protection has been pretty much blown out of the water by this point. …

“Nowhere is this more true than the dry lands of Africa, where desertification, resource depletion, climate disruption and political unrest have all taken their toll on communities’ ability to survive and thrive. There is, however, plenty to be hopeful about too. …

Tree Aid, a charity which works with villagers living in the drylands of Africa, has long been at the forefront of this fight. By working cooperatively with villagers and on-the-ground non-profit partners in Africa, the charity doesn’t just plant trees, but rather increases villagers’ capacity to protect, nurture and utilize trees to protect their soils, increase agricultural yields, and provide a buffer against the drought, floods and failed crops that are predicted to get ever more common with the advance of climate change.

“A new free report from the charity, entitled Building Resilience to Climate Shocks, the charity is seeking to spread the word about how trees can be used to both alleviate poverty and protect the environment at the same time. …

“Previous tree planting efforts in the drylands have often failed because they’ve either focused on the wrong species of trees, or they have failed to take into account the needs, resources and skills of the local population. …

“Unless short-term needs are met, long-term needs are compromised. … Tree Aid has worked with villagers to develop alternatives to ecologically damaging land management practices:

TREE AID provides training for villagers to plan ways to make money in the short-term as well as the long. For example by producing honey from the bees which live on unburnt land and using fallen trees for fuelwood. This gives them enough income to sustain and invest in their futures and environments, as well as preparing themselves for weather extremes. …

“One of the strategies the charity uses to build climate resilience is to establish ‘Tree Banks’ within a community. These banks are essentially mixed-species tree plantings that can provide for a range of needs from fuel wood to animal fodder to fruit or other products. Each community establishes rules and management practices for when and how a Tree Bank may be used. …

“Any successful strategy for regreening these regions must work within those cultures to empower and educate women as caretakers of the environment: When women take part in decision-making there is a long-term positive impact on trees. They become important forest caretakers.”

More at Tree Aid, here ,and at Treehugger, here.

Photo: Tree Aid

 

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A 70-year-old California homesteader’s shack near Joshua Tree national park is now a light installation, Lucid Stead.

When architect Michael Graham Richard talked to artist Phillip K. Smith about the work, Smith explained, “Lucid Stead is about tapping into the quiet and the pace of change of the desert. When you slow down and align yourself with the desert, the project begins to unfold before you. It reveals that it is about light and shadow, reflected light, projected light, and change.”

To Richard, the disappearing act that Lucid Stead achieves with reflections is a revelation. “Sometimes the best way to be part of the landscape is to blend into it,” he says. “Animals have been using camouflage for millions of years for survival, but there can also be aesthetic reasons to want to disappear, at least a little.”

In Smith’s creation, he continues, “the desert itself is used as a material,” as is reflected light. Check out a slide show here , at Treehugger.com, which highlights the artist’s use of solar power. Be sure to note how amazing the “shack” looks at night (slides 7-9).

Photo: Steven King, Phillip K Smith, III/royale projects contemporary art

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Most of my family (other than me) does a lot of biking. John, for example, biked from Arlington, Mass., to Syracuse, N.Y., last week just because he felt like it. It took several days.

My husband bikes most weekends in good weather. And he reads a biking magazine where he saw a story he thought would interest my Swedish readers.

Writes April Streeter at Treehugger (reprinted by the biking magazine), “If you want to find an unassuming place where bicycling is a way of life and nobody makes a big deal about it, head south. The south of Sweden, that is, where the small university town of Lund has a big bicycle habit. They just don’t advertise it.

“In Lund, 60% of the populace bikes or takes public transport to go about their daily tasks. And then there’s Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city — only 20 miles southwest of Lund. Malmö also doesn’t have a reputation for fantastic biking. But some [Swedes] say it is the country’s best biking city — ahead of both Stockholm, the capital; Gothenburg, the second largest Swedish metropolitan area, and a host of smaller bike-friendly burgs.

“Just across the Øresund sound from Copenhagen, Malmö has always lived a bit in the shadow of the Danish capital. But in the last few years it has done a lot to take a place among the great biking cities of Northern Europe, mostly by its investment in infrastructure and pure commitment to get people on their bikes. That has paid off — cycling has increased 30% each year for the last four years, while car trips under five kilometers have dropped.

“Now Malmö is upping the stakes by putting up 30 million Swedish crowns (about US$4.1 million) toward the building of a four-lane super cycling highway between it and its bike-happy northern neighbor city Lund.” See the article here.

Here is a slide show on Lund, at the NY Times.

Ramboll/Screen capture

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