Yet another hazard of settling for energy that’s less than sustainable.
Alex Lin was featured on TakePart.com recently:
He’s overseen the recycling of 300,000 pounds of e-waste. He’s successfully lobbied the Rhode Island state legislature to ban the dumping of electronics. He’s used refurbished computers to create media centers in developing countries like Cameroon and Sri Lanka to foster computer literacy.
He’s Alex Lin and he’s just 16 years old.
“I don’t see anything uncommon in it,” says Lin, a high school senior from Westerly, Rhode Island. “My friends and I have been doing this since fifth grade. It’s become part of our lifestyle.”
Lin’s catalytic moment came in 2004 when he chanced upon a Wall Street Journal article. “It first alerted me to the e-waste problem, and warned of an e-waste tsunami to come.”
E-waste, or electronics garbage, is the fastest growing section of the U.S. trash stream. In 2007, Americans discarded more than 112,000 computers daily, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Even worse, just 18 percent of discarded televisions and computer products were collected for recycling.
In our current industrial economy people are paying for the fair cost of goods. RIGHT!?
What if that’s not the case. What if what we’re really paying is a falsified notion of the cost? A number that doesn’t reflect the real price of production. Let me explain:
When a commodity is priced for the market, let’s say a cow, both the cost of production and the value of the product are taken into consideration. To price a cow we would look at its production: $100 for cultivation of hay, $5 on medicine, $200 in labor for the ranch hands, and $45 dollars on butchering. So in this case a cow, which (priced by the pound) costs about $350. That seems reasonable.
But it isn’t. This fails to consider that factory farm conditions form giant cesspools of fecal material that release enormous amounts of toxic gas, and render the land in their vicinity unusable. That the over farming of cattle is depleting the nutrient rich topsoil little by little until it will be rendered unusable to grow anything. That the overuse of antibiotics are developing resistant strains of bacteria that increase medical expenses for cows and humans alike. These costs are ludicrous! The thing is, we just haven’t had to pay them yet. These effects don’t really become a problem until they reach a critical mass, at which point it will be too late to deal with them effectively.
Organic grass-fed cows, or cows that are raised in the manner to which they are adapted by nature (as oppose to corn fed, antibiotic laden factory cows), have much healthier lives, are healthier to eat, and taste better. The problem for consumers is that the meat is prohibitively expensive. The grass fed cows are mostly raised in a sustainable way; one that supports the ecosystem, and encourages health and biodiversity. The cost of the organic grass fed beef, while higher represents the true cost of production. The other beef saves you a few dollars at the cost of the future of our nation.
A parallel can be drawn to most other good and commodities. Some are sustainable, and reflect the true cost of production, like organic grass-fed beef. Others save you a few pennies, and fail to inform their true cost is decay to the very ecosystem, or social system upon which you depend
In a recent article in Newsweek, Sharon Begley outlines how scientists are sobtaging their own message about global warming, and what they can do to change. Begley quotes that scientist feel that they are “guardians of the truth”, and once they convey that truth to an audience are removed from obligation. Read on:
“It’s a safe bet that the millions of Americans who have recently changed their minds about global warming—deciding it isn’t happening, or isn’t due to human activities such as burning coal and oil, or isn’t a serious threat—didn’t just spend an intense few days poring over climate-change studies and decide, holy cow, the discretization of continuous equations in general circulation models is completely wrong! Instead, the backlash (an 18-point rise since 2006 in the percentage who say the risk of climate change is exaggerated, Gallup found this month) has been stoked by scientists’ abysmal communication skills, plus some peculiarly American attitudes, both brought into play now by how critics have spun the “Climategate” e-mails to make it seem as if scientists have pulled a fast one.
Scientists are lousy communicators. They appeal to people’s heads, not their hearts or guts, argues Randy Olson, who left a professorship in marine biology to make science films. “Scientists think of themselves as guardians of truth,” he says. “Once they have spewed it out, they feel the burden is on the audience to understand it” and agree.”
What’s your view?
In an exploding digital economy it’s easy to forget that upgrading to the latest and greatest has an environmental cost. What happened to all those old Motorola Razor phones when the iPhone was launched? Where did your old TV go when you upgraded to flat screen? Consumer electronic waste, also known as e-waste, is one of the fastest growing problems facing our planet.
“In some countries, the amount of e-waste being produced – including mobile phones and computers – could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade, and growth on such a scale will create intractable problems for people’s health and the environment as waste, much of it containing toxic material, decays.” writes Daniel Christopher Jones in a article from Busmanagementme.com.
We have a big problem on our hands! Technology isn’t going away, and needs to be upgraded regularly. We can’t just bury our old cell phones in the dirt and hope for the best. There has to be a better way.
How can this be monetized? If a lucrative business can be set up around the recycling of electronic goods, then a sustainable “food chain” of consumer electronics can be established. Someone in the world may be able to generate massive value, and solve a major problem simultaneously. Computer and electronics companies typically have basic recycling programs associated with their products, however most gadgets fall through the cracks in the infrastructure, often ending up in landfills. Even so called environmentally conscious companies, like Apple with Al Gore on it’s board of directors, come up short [read Wired magazine's article Recycling: Not Apple's Core Value]. By making minor changes in the infrastructure, some genius entrepreneur could make a major impact on this growing problem.
Buried in rock on an icy, barren, and unforgiving island not far from the North Pole lies what might just be the next Noah’s Ark. The Svalbard “Doomsday” vault is a refrigerated, heavily fortified, and virtually impenetrable storehouse for a very valuable, if unexpected item: seeds. The vault was built to house natural, and pure strains of the worlds staple crops, and store them for later use in case of disaster.
“Anyone seeking access to the seeds themselves will have to pass through four locked doors: the heavy steel entrance doors, a second door approximately 115 meters down the tunnel and finally the two keyed air-locked doors,” the Global Crop Diversity Trust writes. “Keys are coded to allow access to different levels of the facility. Not all keys unlock all doors.”
The vault exists in part to protect us from ourselves. In an age where companies like Monsanto believe they can improve upon a potato’s genetic code by causing it to produce pesticide within its own cell, anything is possible. The vault exists to keep the natural crops pristinel, so that we will have seeds to return to if or when we realize GMO agriculture is not beneficial. To achieve this, the vault was placed on the fairly inaccessible and unforgiving island of Svalbard. It is so far north that the ground remains permafrost-ed, of permanently frozen. This serves as a backup in case the vaults freezers fail. Once frozen, seeds can be stored virtually forever, until humanity needs to use them once again.
In a recent speech given at a jobs training center for energy hardware and software in Lanham, Maryland, President Obama announced controversial decision to break ground on the first nuclear power plant in 30 years. Obama addresses both sides of the environmental and economic debate surrounding clean energy. A major point he makes is that nuclear power is cleaner for the air: it will prevent 16 million tons of carbon dioxide emission each year, the amount that a coal plant of similar scale would produce. This is the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars of the road. Using more dubious logic, Obama states that our “competitors”, referring to other nations such a France and China, are building nuclear plants, and creating jobs for their citizens, and we need to keep up with them to keep the economy strong.
What’s your opinion of Obama’s energy strategies?
Published by EU Infrastructure.
Everyone knows that finding a renewable source of energy is crucial to wean the world off fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions, but what are we willing to sacrifice for clean energy?
In Brazil, the government has given the green light for the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam that will be able to generate enough energy for over 23 million homes. However, its creation will see the flooding of huge portions of the Amazon basin, displacing indigenous tribes and putting 500 sq km of rain-forest underwater. The creation of the Belo Monte Dam is expected to begin in 2015 and is rumored to cost around $17 billion. Set to be situated on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon in the northern state of Para it has been abandoned several times, noticeably in the early 90s due to its controversial nature and widespread global protests.
What’s your opinion? Is the price of going green worth it in this case?
Radical technological advances, cold fusion being an example, seem to belong in Star Trek episodes rather than credible scientific discussion. Last month one of these “far out” technologies, specifically the availability of unlimited energy, received an unexpected step towards plausibility from the scientists in Lawrence Livermore Labs.
The scientists, headed by Siegfried H. Glenzer and L. Jeffrey Atherton, are using 192 high powered lasers to focus large amounts of energy on a very small particle. The goal is to achieve “ignition,” or to heat the small elemental speck to millions of degrees Fahrenheit nearly instantly, creating a small scale reaction of our own sun. Once perfected, this reaction could yield a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
“We’re confident of our ability to start seeking ignition this summer,” Atherton said in an interview. “And we’re optimistic that at some point soon we’ll achieve it.”
A recent article published by SFGate.com states: “To achieve that thermonuclear reaction, the scientists will attempt to use the lasers’ immensely powerful beams to reach temperatures of more than 200 million degrees Fahrenheit and pressures millions of times greater than Earth’s atmosphere – conditions found only in the interior of the sun and stars…
“If those experiments succeed, the hydrogen isotopes would be crushed instantly and explode inward until they fuse and yield vastly more energy than the laser beams had pumped into them.”
One small step for lasers… one giant leap for Clean Tech.
Did you watch the Grammy Awards this week? I did. It got me thinking: they should have awards like this for every profession, especially green tech! One web search later, I found they exist! The award ceremony is called the Clean Tech Open, and it was most recently held in San Fransisco, featuring the latest green thinkers from every section of the US. Recently Popular Mechanics did a feature article of a few prize winners:
Green Building Award: BottleStone
“…a combination of clay, cement, and old glass that looks uncannily like real granite, but takes much less energy to produce…”
Transportation Award: ElectraDrive
“…ElectraDrive aims to make electric conversion more accessible to the masses with its one-size-fits-all conversion kit. The kit’s designed to turn just about any car into an EV, whether it’s a sleek convertible or a hulking truck—you just take your car’s gas drivetrain out and put the company’s ElectraMount module in…”
Energy Efficiency Award: Viridis Earth
“…Viridis Earth manufactures $350 retrofit devices that can make your old a/c unit an energy-efficient wunderkind. One device cuts an air conditioner’s energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent, a reduction so substantial that the retrofit typically pays for itself in less than a year…”
Renewables Award: Focal Point Energy
“Lots of companies that use hot water or steam for manufacturing rely on gas or electricity to generate their heat. But it’s much more efficient to gather sunlight and use it to heat the water directly… “To collect the heat, we use a reflective membrane made out of a Mylar-like material,” says Howard Harrenstien… The reflector focuses incoming sunlight into a concentrated beam, which can then be aimed at water-filled containers to make the contents boil.”
Green Building Award runner-up: Solar Red
“…By devising a system that can be put up by the same guys who nail on your roof tiles (no professional solar installer required), Solar Red has succeeded in cutting the cost of home solar by 25 to 50 percent…”