Most of us know about Earth Day/Earth Month, and many are concerned about the impact society has on our planet Earth. The Earth Day Network wants to”build the world’s largest environmental movement.” Their webpage says:
Earth Day Network’s mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide. Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 75,000 partners in over 190 countries to drive positive action for our planet.
Dr. Hanna Reid is currently working with the Climate Change Group and the Biodiversity Team at the International Institute for Management. In the first chapter of her book, Climate Change and Human Development, she talks about what global impact we can expect from climate change over the coming years. Among other warnings, she says we should expect warming over land areas and at high northern latitudes, and less warming over the Southern Ocean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. She warns of increases in the depths of thaw experienced over most permafrost regions and decreases in sea ice but also increases in heat waves and heavy precipitation. Reid also says we should expect changes in tropical cyclones. This book moves through theories, evidence, and effects on everything from oceans, fresh water, forests, and jungles. This title is also available online.
It is sometimes easy to forget that “Society can change climate, and climate can change society.” That is the first sentence in the 3rd chapter of The Future Is Not What It Used to Be : Climate Change and Energy Scarcity by Jörg Friedrichs (available online). Humans need food, drink, and shelter. Humans depend on fresh, clean water. Food depends on agriculture which relies on fresh water and fertile land. Shelters also rely on stable ground. Climate change has consequences for our fresh water, agriculture and fertile land, not to mention our oceans and the fish many rely on to survive. Rising sea levels affect lands and washing away shorelines and islands. In the final chapter, Friedrichs concludes that we tend to focus on mitigating damage caused by global warming caused by industrial society. We often don’t think our industrial society might be unsustainable. He goes on to discuss “resilience thinking” and “ontological securitization” as different ways to look at mitigating climate change.
There are so many ways we can help help make/keep the Earth green. Green technology includes innovations such as power supplies, solar power, wind power, and waste management. Living green includes using LED light bulbs, cutting down or eliminating plastic use, and energy-efficient and sustainable housing. Growing your own food – or buying from Farmer’s Market, reducing the use of pesticides, using bicycles or energy efficient cars are also ways to help the earth stay green.
Check out InfoHawk+, and see how many resources we have available! You can narrow your search to the Engineering Library if you wish. Additionally, you can choose to display only online results.
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Explore the library resources! As we all take time to do spring-cleaning, we can add “spring-greening” to our list!
Happy 50th Planet Earth!
April 22nd marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement While the Viet Nam war raged, the last Beatles album was recorded and Simon & Garfunkel released Bridge Over Troubled Water, Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller, Silent Spring, was raising awareness about environmental concerns and the links between pollution and public health. The idea for a national day to focus on the environment came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after he witnessed the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. That 1st Earth Day brought 20 million Americans to the streets, parks, and public spaces to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.” Earth Day is now the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year!
Save Our Species is the focus of this year’s Earth Day/Month. From the Earth Day website: The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few. The impacts are far reaching.
One of the species being spotlighted this year is Bees. Statistics show that within the last 10 years or so the bee population has declined dramatically. For example, “The yellow-banded bumble bee was the most abundant bumble bee in northern Wisconsin in the mid-1990s, then within ten years it made up less than 1% of the state’s bumble bee population. In Oregon, Franklin’s bumble bee has likely gone extinct during the same period.” Causes of the decline can be traced to the widespread use of pesticides, loss of habitat and bio-diversity, pests, diseases, and climate change.
So, what happens if bee die out? Other than no longer worrying about being stung what would the effects be (I really want to say “what would the effects bee,” but I won’t). In Keeping the Bees, author Laurence Packer, speaks to how heavily agriculturally intense parts of the world depend on bees and pollination. “…surely coffee, blueberries and almonds, among other crops are both relevant and important to the population as a whole. The role bees play in the production of these essential items is well understood. Without them, we would all be worse off – nutritionally, economically, and with no coffee, probably also emotionally.”
What can an individual do to help protect the bees? How about becoming a beekeeper? Natural Beekeeping : Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture walks you through what you need to know when thinking about beekeeping. Full color photos, diagrams, and resources can help you decide if beekeeping is right for you! The chapters take you through the importance of organic beekeeping, how to work with the hive and hive management, through breeding, diseases, human and environmental threats. It delves into the honey harvest and marketing the products produced!
Elephants are the world’s largest land animals and are one of the few animals on earth that can recognize themselves in a mirror! That means they have a sense of self – an awareness they are distinct from others! They are capable of complex thoughts and deep feelings. When two elephants greet each other it begins with “exuberance and drama, concluding with expressions of what humans would describe as utter joy.”
The elephant population has been declining – from 5-10 million in 1930 to around 500,000 today. Over 20,000 elephants are poached every year. This is the most severe threat – even though the global ivory trade is illegal. More than 100 elephants may be killed in a day, simply for their tusks. Habitat loss is also a concern – humans are moving closer and closer to elephant habitats which causes more elephant killings. Climate change is leading to drought and food shortages, and droughts also disrupt the elephant mating season, leading to fewer offspring.
Why do we need to protect elephants? Tourism, for one thing. Elephants are “tourism magnets,” which helps attract funding which helps protect wilderness areas. They are also critical in the maintenance of ecosystem biodiversity. They flatten grasslands, making habitat for smaller species, they dig water holes, also used by other species. They also travel long distances and help disperse seeds along the way, thus helping to generate new green growth.
What can be done to help protect the elephant? We aren’t able to plant elephant-attracting gardens like we can for bees, but there are things we can do. The Earth Day website mentions a few actions we can take – including practicing sustainable tourism. Always wanted to go on a safari? Make sure the company is certified as sustainable and always be sure any interactions with wild animals are respectful.
If you are interested in the history of ivory – which goes back thousands of years – Ivory’s Ghosts : The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants is a fascinating look at that history. The author, John Frederick Walker, begins by relating the story of a 28,000-year-old Paleolithic site, Sungir, where ivory ornaments were found on human skeletons. It is estimated that it would have taken an hour to carve each bead – the old man’s beadwork would have taken more than 3,000 hours of labor and each of the 2 children’s would have been more than 5,000. He also talks about the years of culling elephants, “taking out 15 elephants in 42 seconds.” Ivory’s Ghosts contains several pages of black & white photos detailing elephants and the ivory trade.
Bees and elephants are only 2 of the 14 species listed on the Earth Day website. I encourage you to explore all the information they have available and then check our resources for further information. I have listed just a few of our resources that I believe would be valuable to you as you look more deeply into what can be done during Earth Month – and all year round.
As you are out enjoying the spring weather (finally!) think about all we can do – even as individuals – to protect our planet!
This is the 48th anniversary of Earth Month® and the theme this year is Plastic Pollution. For the purposes of this blog, I’m only going to focus on marine plastic pollution. Learning about all the plastic pollution in our rivers and oceans is quite depressing and a bit scary. According to The OceanCleanup faq section – “we will never remove every last gram of plastic from the oceans.” However, they do go on to say that it is possible to facilitate a significant decrease – up to 50% – within 5 years (the web page is from 2018).
So, while this is perhaps the most depressing blog I have ever written, after I write about the seriousness of marine plastic pollution, I will present ways in which we – as individuals, communities, and corporations – can help reduce plastic pollution in our waterways and on our land.
Stop and think, really think, about all the plastic used during a day. You probably start out using a plastic toothbrush and perhaps a disposable razor. Do you use prepackaged meals (cold cuts, frozen meals, pre-cut vegetables, etc), plastic utensils when packing your lunch? Stop at the local coffee shop on your way to work or class and get a cold drink in a clear plastic cup? With a straw? Stop at the grocery store and pick up a few groceries, batteries, bottled water, and use the plastic shopping bags? Head to a local sports bar and have your drink in a plastic cup? Wash your dishes with dish soap in a plastic bottle? Have a baby or toddler? How many baby bottles, bottle nipples, and pacifiers do you have? You get the idea – I could go on and on.
Do you think about where all the plastics go when you are done with them? Hopefully you recycle as much as you can. If you use prepackaged food in plastic containers do you wash/rinse the dishes before you recycle? (did you know if you leave food in a recyclable container and put it in a recycle bin it contaminates the entire bin and everything must be dumped in a land fill? Clean your recyclables first!)
The vast majority of the plastic waste ends up in the world’s waterways and oceans. “It is only comparatively recently that the scale of marine contamination from plastics has been realised. Since plastics are light, strong, durable, and inexpensive, their usage is massive. Coupled with the fact that they can persist for centuries and are buoyant, it is perhaps not surprising that plastics make up between 60 and 80% of all marine debris.” (Marine Pollution and Human Health, pgs 84-85)
There is a sea of plastic garbage located halfway between Hawaii and California. It is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). It is the largest of 5 offshore plastic garbage zones in the world’s oceans. It is three times the size of France; two times the size of Texas. In 2015, Ocean Cleanup launched a fleet of 30 ships & boats to collect samples of the plastic in the GPGP. They collected 1.2 million plastic samples, which were hand counted, sorted, and classified by type and size. It took over 2 years to complete the classification.
Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, discovered the GPGP in 1997. Two years later he went back with a fine-mesh net and measured the weight of the plastic in comparison the weight of the plankton. He found six times more plastic than plankton. Moore notes that on Kamilo Beach in Hawaii there are more plastic particles than sand particles – until you dig a foot down. On Pagan Island (between Hawaii and the Philippines) they have a “shopping beach. If the islanders need a cigarette lighter, or some flip-flops, or a toy . . . they go down to the shopping beach and pick it out of all the trash that’s washed up there from thousands of miles away.” (Garbage and Recycling, pg. 24).
None of this includes the sheer magnitude of sea creatures and marine birds that are killed and destroyed by the 1,000s because of the pollution. I also have not mentioned that plastic is manufactured from oil, which will eventually run out. . .
Okay, that’s the tip of the garbage-berg, so to speak. Now, what can be done? As I mentioned earlier, we will never be able to remove all the plastic from the oceans. BUT we can all have an impact on preventing the plastic pollution from getting worse. Garbage and Recycling suggests we need to reuse plastic and design plastic which can be reused – very little plastic can be melted down and molded into something else. The vast majority of plastic is contaminated with chemicals, and therefore not reusable.
There are steps that can be taken by you, as the consumer. Garbage and Recycling suggests the easiest way to make a difference is to give up plastic shopping bags and plastic water bottles – these are the largest contributors to plastic pollution. When shopping for items packaged in plastic, be aware that some items are in packaged in more plastic (or cardboard…) than is necessary. It can make it more obvious on the shelf, but is not good for the environment.
Earth Day 2018 has created resources to help individuals “take a personal journey and get ready for Earth Day 2018.” Most of us have heard the 3 Rs of Recycling: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Earth Day suggests the 5 Rs of Recycling:
Reduce: Cut down on amount of plastic used. For example, carry a reusable water bottle.
Refuse: Refuse to use the plastic – check for a non-plastic alternative. Do you need a plastic straw? Bamboo and metal straws are available.
Reuse: Find products that are designed for multiple uses. Reusable shopping bags, waxed lined bags instead of sandwich bags. Purchase items made from recycled plastic (for instance, I own a door mat made from recycled flip flops)
Recycle: Check with your city’s sanitation department to find out what they accept for recycling.
Remove: This is easy. Pick up plastic trash when you see it. Participate in community clean-up days.
Garbage and Recycling suggests buying 2nd hand clothing or have a clothing swap with friends and neighbors. We don’t often think about what goes into producing our clothing. It will not only help the environment, it’s also easier on your pocketbook! It is also suggested to make art or other household projects. Try making this bottle cap lamp – find instructions here for 20 ways to reuse plastic bottles!
Action is also being taken on a larger scale. Technology is helping businesses and communities become more creative with ways to clean waterways. For example, Baltimore is using “Mr. Trash Wheel,” and “Professor Trash Wheel,” which were invented by sailor and engineer John Kellett. A brewery, Saltwater Brewery, in Florida has created six-pack rings which feed marine life. They are made from beer by-products (barley & wheat) and are safe for both humans and fish to ingest. Magellan Manufacturers/We Conner have door mats made from recycled flip flops. Engineer Toby McCartney has been developing discarded plastic into asphalt which is being tested in the United Kingdom.
In Garbage and Recycling we learn about an American architect, Michael Reynolds, who considers tires, bottles, and cans to be “natural resources.” He has used garbage and natural resources to design and build sustainable, self-sufficient homes called, “Earthships.” They are sturdy enough to withstand a force 9 earthquake and have been described as “magical,” and “beautiful.”
In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana flooded Taguig City in the Philippines. Water Lilies were partly to blame for the flooding – they multiply quickly and plugged drainage systems. However, a month before the typhoon hit, the city launched the Water Lily Project. The project trains residents to weave water lilies into bags, slippers, and Christmas decorations, which they can then sell, thus helping the local economy, too.
Jamil Shariff, author of 50 Green Projects for the Evil Genius, suggests paying attention to, and saving packaging which is not recyclable. Save the packaging and note where it was purchased. Then, take the packaging back to the store, ask to speak with the store manager, and explain that you think it is is not recyclable and you do not feel it is your responsibility, or the responsibility of the community, to bear the cost of recycling the packaging. An alternative method (and perhaps easier!) is to write to the manufacturer of the particular product. This can be especially effective if you state that this is why you won’t purchase the item. Companies need to sell their products and consumers who refuse to buy their products get their attention.
Want to discover how small or large your carbon footprint actually is? Go here for both an individual and small business carbon calculator.
You’ve no doubt heard about all the ways to “green” your home – energy audits, the correct light bulbs for the particular purpose, programmable thermostats, etc., but have you thought about what a brand-new green home might look like? Straw bale homes? Earth-sheltered? Concrete?
Are you ready to be Chthonic? The definition of chthonic (thon’ik) is: “of or relating to the deities, spirits, and other beings dwelling under the earth.” You might not be a deity or spirit, (or a Hobbit) but you could be living under the earth!!
So, why would you want to live underground? Earth-sheltered homes are much more energy efficient than traditional homes. They are less expensive to heat and cool because thermal mass helps the earth store heat and because there is an almost universally constant temperature of the earth below the frost line. They have fewer outside walls, so less dust gets in – really! An earth-sheltered home has built-in protection from fires, storms, and sound. Since it is safer, insurance rates are often lower. Other savings include maintenance. The traditional home needs to be re-shingled every 10-20 years. An earth-sheltered home only needs be mowed…
What are the disadvantages? Often it is difficult to get a mortgage, and there can be resale problems. The house also must be constructed properly to insure there is no water seepage, and to control pests, mold and mildew problems. Radon gas can also be a problem since radon is a toxic, oderless, tasteless gas that is found underground. Underground homes also have problems with egress, which may make it difficult to meet codes. However, if the house is designed and built properly these disadvantages don’t need to be insurmountable.
Remember the Three Little Pigs and how the 1st little piggie built his house of straw? The wolf huffed and puffed and blew it down?
Straw bale homes are much more stable than the little piggies house! In More Straw Bale Building, the authors state that walls “… that were tested withstood the maximum static air pressure that was applied, representing a significant wind of over 134 mph.” And, perhaps counter-intuitively, they are more fire-resistant than a standard wood framed home. The compact nature of a bale doesn’t trap enough air to support combustion. The amount of air that is trapped, along with the thickness of the bales makes a straw home very energy efficient, also. It is also easier to erect yourself, saving the cost of hiring professional builders. The walls are highly adaptable and may be finished to suit your own tastes – lumpy and old-world, or straight and modern. A straw home is also a quiet home – the nature of the walls causes sound and light to behave differently than a space that has been dry-walled. Disadvantages include water and humidity – not all areas of the country would be suitable for a straw bale home. Along with climate, building codes and permit ordinances can also be a problem.
Thomas Edison was ahead of his time when, early in the 20th century, he envisioned building concrete homes. Currently, Insulating Concrete From (ICF) homes are becoming more common. They are built with a “sandwich” wall – one layer of construction-grade foam on each face and reinforced concrete in the middle. ICF homes are more energy efficient, stronger, safer in fires, and more resistant to wind and natural disasters than a wood-frame home. The temperature within the home remains at a more consistent temperature and there are generally fewer drafts. They also tend to be more quiet than wood-frame homes. The disadvantages include water seepage if the home is built in an area with a high water table. The cost of building a cement home can be higher and if the builder isn’t experienced with ICF homes there could be problems with poor installation and aesthetics.
If you are thinking of building a new home, be sure to explore our resources to see which is the best green home for you. And, if you aren’t currently in the market to build, check all our resources on what you can do to make your current living space more energy efficient.
VanderWerf, Pieter A. 2007. The concrete house : building solid, safe, and efficient with insulating concrete forms. Christchurch, new Zealand : Stonefield Pub. Engineering Library TH4818 .R4 V36 2007.
Building Houses with Concrete Block: Pros and Cons.Doityourself.com Date accessed April 18, 2016
Straw Bale Construction: Pros and Cons. June 23, 2015. Survivopedia
Rehfeld, Barry. 2011. Home sweet zero energy home : what it takes to develop great homes that won’t cost anything to heat, cool, or light up, without going broke or crazy. Gabriola, B.C. : New Society Publishers. Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 R44 2011
Findley, David S. 2010. Do-it-yourself home energy audits : 140 simple solutions to lower energy costs, increase your home’s efficiency and save the environment. New York : McGraw-Hill. Engineering Library TJ163.5.D86 F523 2010
April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day. Founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson, WI, it brought the environment to the forefront of awareness – on both personal and political levels. It also led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1990, Earth Day went global, with 5,000 environmental groups in 84 countries participating.1
There are more and more creative ways to reuse, recycle, and repurpose our waste products. Many of these solutions are being developed globally. “My Shelter Foundation,” based in the Philippines, uses recycled plastic bottles as solar light bulbs in the project, “Liter of Light.”2 In parts of Ethiopia it doesn’t rain for as much as 6 months in a row, which makes growing food a struggle. “Roots Up,” an organization based in Gondar, north of Ethiopia, has designed a new greenhouse that will use dew to not only water the plants in the greenhouse, but also provide clean drinking water.3
A smog-eating building has been designed to help battle air pollution. Torre de Especialidades, a hospital in Mexico City, is shielded by a façade made with special air-scrubbing tiles. Milan, Italy, is preparing for a world’s fair and the main pavilion is being constructed with photocatalytic concrete with titanium dioxide, which, when hit by sunlight, will break down air pollution. The pavilion also includes a rooftop solar array which will heat the building during the day.4
Wondering what is going on locally this month?
Over the years, Earth Day has evolved into Earth Month, and the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability, along with the UI Environmental Coalition, has scheduled a variety of fun and educational events throughout April. Activities include a Bike Tune Up, Student Garden Open House and a Sustainability Celebration. Visit their website to access the calendar and learn more about the activities. Be sure to like our facebook page and and check our Twitter feed (@UIEngLib) to find out about all the resources we have here for you!
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.The LEED program encourages sustainable building practices, believing better buildings are “…places that complement our environment and enhance our communities…”5 The University of Iowa maintains a minimum LEED Silver Certification standard for all new construction and any major renovations. There are currently eight LEED buildings on campus and four more projects pending.6
All of the Iowa Universities are working to expand energy efficiency. The UI is implementing “Energy Smart Scheduling” over the summer months. The program “…compacts classroom scheduling and consolidates the use of occupied spaces on campus…” Instead of cooling seldom-used buildings for summer classes, classes are relocated to buildings which need to be cooled. This is the second summer for the program at UI. The first year saw savings of $10,000.7
So, what can you do?
Before you till up the weeds to add a garden – look at which weeds are growing and where. Different weeds require different types of soil and studying them can help you know what your soil is like. Some need an acidic or alkaline soil and others thrive in damp, deep and fertile soil. And, when you do pull those weeds, think before tossing them in your compost pile – the temperature of the compost needs to be warm enough to kill the seeds or when you spread that lovely, rich, compost, you’ll be planting new weeds. 8
Is disposing of food waste in a garbage disposal more green than putting it in the trash? Generally, a garbage disposal is greener than having food waste end up in a landfill, because a garbage disposal more efficiently turns that waste into energy.9 A disposal still uses resources like energy and water, so, an even greener way is to compost food (not all food waste is compostable).10 The greenest way to deal with food waste, however, is to reduce the waste that is produced!11
Have cockroaches? Use thin slices of cucumbers on a paper towel in the back of cupboards. They are also repelled by bay leaves, pyrethrum and vanilla beans. Spiders? Leave the daddy-long-legs alone. Their pincers can’t pierce human skin, but they are venomous and when they fight with other spiders – they win. Silverfish like cereal, so put some cereal in a glass jar and put tape around the outside of the jar. The tape will help the silverfish climb in after the cereal, but once they are in the jar, they can’t get out!12