Tag Archives: cool

Artists rendition of what the solar roadways would look like with their programmable LED lights. Art by Sam Cornett.

SOLAR ROADWAYS

This is just about the best idea I’ve heard of in a very long time.

Solar Roadways are pretty much what they say on the tin: solar panels that cover the roads, generating clean electricity. They can also cover car parks, pavements, cycle lanes and any other impenetrable surface. The solar panels are encased in modular, hexagon-shaped tiles that can be replaced individually and are topped with a special kind of glass which can withstand even the heaviest trucks driving over it. The tiles are partly made with recycled materials, and they heat up slightly so as to melt snow and ice – meaning less snow-clearing costs, safer winter roads and of course year round functionality of the solar panels.

And the best bit?
How much energy these things could actually generate. The calculations, which use conservative estimates based on one of the least sunny states, show that if all roads in the USA were solar roads,each year they would generate three times the power the whole country  used in 2009.

Let that sink in for a minute. Three times the amount.  Continue reading

Wish 20: End Ecocide by 2020, their copyright.

Ecocide – The 5th Crime Against Peace

Have you heard of ecocide?

Global Initiative Eradicating Ecocide – chaired and founded by international barrister Polly Higgins – defines ecocide as:

The extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

Continue reading

The vertical urban farm uses a hydraulic system. Not my image.

Urban Farming

For the first time in human history, over half of the global population live in cities*. This urbanization trend is continuing, with estimates that by 2030 the urban population could be five billion**. The staggering seven billion milestone we hit two years ago is just the start… The UN thinks we’ll reach at least nine billion before the global population starts to level out. Cities are currently grossly unsustainable and their resilience to shocks in the energy market, transport and logistics system is poor. A good way of dealing with these challenges is for cities to start producing some (and eventually most) of their own food. Where space is a scarce resource, we tend to build up into the sky. And that’s exactly what innovative company Sky Greens is doing in Singapore. Have a look at this video:

The vertical urban farm uses a hydraulic system. Not my image.

The vertical urban farm uses a hydraulic system. Not my image.

Resources:
http://www.who.int/gho/urban_health/situation_trends/urban_population_growth_text/en/
**http://www.unfpa.org/pds/urbanization.htm

Photo credit: capitalgrowth.org ... Not of the project discussed below.

Awesome local food growing group!

I’ve just made a fantastic discovery!

Photo credit: capitalgrowth.org ... Not of the project discussed below.

Photo credit: capitalgrowth.org … Not of the project discussed below.

I basically watched this film about urban food growing and distributing systems and became so inspired that I really wanted to be involved in one of the awesome local food projects exemplified in the film. I sent the link to my friend who’s also into this kind of stuff, and suggested we could try and start something.

I went and made a hummus, tofu and salad sandwich and devoured it happily, thinking about how I really wanted to do something but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I then realised that my city – being a pretty forward thinking place – probably already had at least one such local food project, that I just didn’t know about.
A very quick Google search confirmed this. The first site I clicked on was this page about a project called VEG – standing for ‘vegetable education garden’ which turns out to be in the exact part of the city that my friend I just emailed is living next year. The garden is run by a group called ‘Hanover Action for Sustainable Living‘. Hanover is the name of that neighbourhood, by the way.

How cool is that?

They run work days every Thursday, 2-7 pm! They also put on educational events.

Next term I have a compulsory volunteering module with my university, where I have to do at least 30 hours of volunteering with something related to sustainable community development. I don’t think you can get more relevant than this group!

It gets even better. As you’d expect, this community garden has compost heaps, and the local residents bring round their food waste to compost. I don’t live in Hanover, but other city residents can do this too and they even provide little compost bins similar to what the council gives out in some constituencies.

If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you might of heard my moaning about how my council doesn’t collect food waste, how I’ve contacted my MP twice and she hasn’t done anything about it, and how much I hate throwing away organic waste.
I finally have a solution!

It may involve carrying smelly boxes of vegetable peelings across the city on the bus and getting a few funny looks from fellow passengers, but it’s still a solution!

It’s a shame I only found this out an hour after this week’s workday finished otherwise I would have been straight down there today, as I’m going away back to my hometown for a few weeks this Saturday. But when I come back I’ll be all over this garden like humous over riveta.

Enough Is Enough – Book Review

The book cover.

The book cover.

Enough Is Enough (2013) is an astounding book  by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, subtitled “Building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources”. I read it in three days, tossing my novel away with my exam revision.

It’s possibly the best book I’ve ever read in my life; it’s only real competition is The Lord of the Rings. But that’s not really a fair comparison. Suffice to say it leaves all other environmentally minded factual books in the metaphorical dust.

The book argues that the global economy is too large for the biosphere to handle, which is why we have so many ecological problems such as climate change, resource scarcity and biodiversity loss, to name a few. Dietz and O’Neill remind the reader that the economy is a subsystem of human society, which is a subsystem of the biosphere. They argue that as the economy is already too big for our biophysical limits, focusing on growing it further is a recipe for disaster. They are realistic, saying that phrases like ‘green growth’ are sadly oxymoronic, and what we really need is to transition to what they call a steady-state economy. Some advocates prefer the phrase ‘postgrowth economy’ but it means the same thing. For now I’ll go with their name.

A steady-state economy is one which stays at a stable size which is within biophysical limits, while increasing human well-being through equitable and less materialistic means. In other words, consumerism stops increasing but scientific research, the arts, technological innovation, education quality and other valuable things like that continue to develop.

The goal of our current economy is growth. This has served us well for most of history, but for the first time ever, we’ve grown too much. Dietz and O’Neill argue that growth is now failing on three accounts.

Firstly, it’s causing huge scale environmental degradation that threatens the hospitality of Earth. The other week we reached 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, something that hasn’t happened for around 800,000 years. Scientists now have a 97% consensus that climate change is being caused by human pollution as opposed to any other natural process. Species extinction is taking place at a rate unprecedented since the death of the dinosaurs, due to habitat destruction and overexploitation in some cases. That’s only the tip of the iceberg but you get the picture.

Secondly, growth of the global North has been at the expense of the global South. Traditional economics maintains that the only way to reduce poverty is to grow the economy, meaning that as the rich get even richer, a tiny amount of capital flows down to the poor. Unfortunately this strategy alleviates poverty so slowly that for enough growth to take place to alleviate the global poor sufficiently would be impossible.It wouldn’t be wrong or difficult, it’d be impossible.

Thirdly, the book argues that growth is no longer serving the majority of people in rich countries either. Sure, up to a certain point consuming more is better. If you’re living in poverty, then more money/stuff/food/energy is much better. But new research into well-being tells us that after a certain point, the correlation between more and better changes. After you’ve got enough stuff to fulfill your needs plus a few comforts, more stuff has very little effect on well-being. At this point, well-being is improved only by less materialistic things such as quality time with friends and family, romance, hobbies, job satisfaction, nature, learning and perhaps spirituality for some people. Also the boom-and-bust model of economic growth leads to economic instability and job losses.

That’s all very interesting and true, but why I like this book so much isn’t because it succinctly paraphrased all my misgivings with the current system. I like it because those last three paragraphs were a summary of only a few pages in the book. Unlike most environmental books that add a chapter of solutions at the end of the depressing avalanche,  Enough Is Enough is literally a blue-print for a steady state economy. In such an economy, there is only one aim:

Sustainable and equitable human well-being. 

If that sounds like a tall order, then you’re right. But the skilled authors have got plenty of viable ideas about how to achieve it. The main chapters of the book are named after the ten policy frames and cultural changes required to transition to a steady-state economy:

Limit resource use and waste production
Stabilize population
Distribute income and wealth equitably
Reform monetary and finance systems
Change the way we measure progress
Secure full employment
Rethink how businesses create value

And also:

Replace the culture of consumerism with a culture of sustainability
Stimulate political debate and media coverage of the limits to growth, and the steady-state alternative
Change national goals and improve international cooperation 

For each of these objectives Dietz and O’Neill outline several thoughtful policy solutions that would work together to achieve a steady-state. Although there is more work to be done, they already have lots of good ideas which means there’s no need to wait around. The transition should start now.
They maintain that although the largest economies in the world will need to undergo a short period of degrowth to transition to a sustainable steady-state, there are some very poor nations that need to continue to grow economically to achieve a good level of well-being. As equity is a defining feature of a steady-state economy, a fairer distribution of wealth and resources is the aim. If you’re worried that this all some kind of  communist scheme, then chill out. The suggestion of a steady-state has no political affiliation and although the authors are critical of consumerism, they make it clear that commerce and business does have an important role to play in a healthy society.

I want everyone to read this book, so please buy it online, order it from your local bookshop of check if your library has it. I really can’t recommend it enough! I kind if want to post it to my prime minister, but I don’t know how to persuade him how important it is. Hmm…

If you want more information about steady-state/postgrowth economics then check out:
This post by Make Wealth History.
The Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE).
The Post Growth Institute.

Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

Solar Aeroplane!

Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

I have good news today!

Yesterday I read about Solar Impulse, the American-owned solar aeroplane that can fly all the way through day and night powered purely by the sun’s rays. It flew from one side of the USA to the other yesterday, and the next big challenge is to fly all around the world in 2015. It converts 20% of the sun’s incoming rays into clean electricity, from the solar cells which cover it’s entire wingspan. The Solar Impulse website says it’s not the first aeroplane to employ solar technology, but it’s certainly the most ambitious to date, and the first to be able to fly through the night. This is possible because the energy generated in the day is able to be stored, a technology which wasn’t available not so long ago.

I’ve often thought we need to sort out a new aviation fuel, as the standard one is hugely carbon-heavy and won’t help us meet our carbon-reduction targets any time soon. I wondered about biofuel, but I generally don’t think biofuel’s a great idea. It just seems counter-productive to use loads of land growing crops to turn into ethanol when the space could be used to feed the millions of malnourished people in the world. I also considered electric planes that could be charged up with renewable energy generated on land… But I for some reason I never thought of a plane that generated it’s power as it flies.

I have no idea why I didn’t think solar-powered aeroplanes were a realistic possibility. But it makes perfect sense doesn’t it? Planes usually fly above the clouds so you’re pretty much guaranteed sunlight, and at a higher intensity than the ground receives even on a clear day. It’s perfect!

This has made me really really happy because it basically solves a dilemma I’ve been having. On the one hand, I’m desperate to travel the world, learn about loads of crazy different places and cultures and even travel for work; carving out a career in green media. On the other hand, I don’t want to fly because I can’t justify the huge amounts of pollution caused by aviation. How could I fly around the world writing about environmental issues? What a stupid hypocritical paradox?

Well, thanks to Solar Impulse it looks like I might be able to have my cake and eat it after all.

Bring on the renewable revolution! Bring on the post-carbon future!

~

More information:

Treehugger: http://www.treehugger.com/aviation/solar-impulse-flying-san-francisco-new-york-city-solar-plane.html
Solar Impulse: http://www.solarimpulse.com/en/
The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2013/may/04/solar-powered-aeroplane-lands-phoenix-video

The flyer for Black Messiah, 29th May.

Theatre, Art and Social Justice

The flyer for Black Messiah, 29th May.

Do any of you live in or near London?
Failing that, do you fancy heading over to the Big Smoke for a brilliant slice of theatre on the 29th May?

My best friend is the producer of Black Messiah; a brand new play about the black civil rights movement in America during the Seventies. Focusing on the short life of Bobby Hutton and his time with the Black Panthers (an extreme black rights group) this play opens up the discussion of human rights, race, faith, youth and activism.

As a young, white environmentalist, learning about the history of racism brings up two main feeling for me.
Firstly, it brings a great feeling of shame of my own race’s historic (and even present) behaviour.
Secondly, it brings a feeling of inspiration and hope. Let me explain.

In my constant fight against pessimism, I often take inspiration from both the black rights movement and the women’s right’s movement because these two heroic struggles prove that paradigms can shift. Society can change. No matter how dead-set in their ways people may seem, nothing lasts forever. When enough people take action and fight for what they believe in, they write history.

At this point I think this quote is relevant:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,committed, citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead

I think the arts and social activism are totally entwined, because social change doesn’t just happen in meetings and boring places like that – it arrives in the midst of living. Art is how humans express their ideas and open people’s minds, how they reflect the world, and how they pose ideas of other ways the world could be.
Creativity is one of those human aspects that we should really treasure, feed and celebrate.

Am I trying to suggest going to the theatre will help hurry along a just and sustainable society?
Possibly. Let’s just say it’s one of the more enjoyable steps along a very long road.

Anyway, enough with my trying to link everything in life to environmentalism.
When and where can you actually see this thing?

~

Wed 29th May, 7.30pm

Tickets £10 & £8.50 concessions

Tara Theatre,
356 Garratt Lane, London, SW18 4ES

Box Office 020 8333 4457
www.tara-arts.com
www.epiphanytheatre.co.uk

~

Have a wonderful evening, lovely readers. ~

Solar-Powered Supertrees

Look at these beautiful gardens and structures.


These pictures are of a huge redevelopment project in Singapore that consists of huge gardens, solar powered massive ‘supertrees’ and contained biomes. The multi-million project is meant to be an eco-tourism hotspot, educational center, biodiversity haven and relaxation suite.

Check out this article to get the full scoop.
Is this the future?