AirToob Lightning

Tags  →  environment

Greening the world's shipping fleets

Future sailing ship

In April 2018, shipping companies from 170 member states of the International Maritime Organization agreed to halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A study by a think tank of the OECD showed that an improved target of 95% reduction was potentially achievable by 2035, using “maximum deployment of currently known technologies”.

The study identified a number of short term, relatively low-tech solutions to reduce drag through the water, including pumping compressed air below the hull to create a friction-reducing carpet of bubbles.

The longer term solutions require entirely new ships, and some existing design proposals involving solar and wave power, computer-controlled sails and innovative fuel solutions are really neat, with several of these techniques already in use.

As is so often the case with green technology, all of these measures will reduce costs and improve
profits for the shipping companies - a win-win strategy.

Click the image above for an exceptionally good article from The Guardian, from which this information comes.

More links on this subject will be found here.

If you like this...

[My environment and technology page]

Our Good Earth from National Geographic
Biochar is an ancient process that is making a comeback. It does many things at once: starting with most urban, agricultural or forestry biomass residues, it can generate energy, enrich soil, and actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. It is not merely carbon-neutral, but carbon-negative.

The biochar process is akin to a process utilized thousands of years ago in the Amazon Basin, where islands of rich, fertile soils called Terra Preta ("dark earth") soils were created through a process similar to pyrolysis (one example of which is the production of charcoal by burning wood with restricted oxygen).

The beautiful picture above comes from a superb online National Geographic article (sadly no longer available) called "Our Good Earth", which introduced me to this process, and which provided me with one of the many positive topics in my "Environment and Technology" page (which has just had a major update).

The modern biochar process is summarized below. It is interesting (for me, anyway) to compare it with the food recycling process that generates both fertilizer and energy, now in widespread use in the UK.

[Food recycling in the UK (from my web site)]
[The International Biochar Initiative]
[Recent links on the Biochar process]
[Terra Preta, the "Black Revolution"]

It has been known for some time that hurricanes need warm-enough surface temperatures in the oceans in order to form. The critical temperature turns out to be 26.5°C or 79.7°F.

Climate change is increasing sea temperatures, and even a few degrees matters.

In 2017 the exceptionally high surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico that launched Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were measured at 32°C or 89.6°F.

There have been many suggestions for cooling surface temperatures enough to prevent hurricanes from forming, but they have all seemed impractical.

Until now.

The Norwegians have long stopped ice forming in their fjords by efficient “bubble curtains” - bubbles of compressed air blown from perforated pipes, bringing relatively warm water from depths to the surface. Their scientists have pointed out that the system could be used for the opposite effect, bringing cooler water from (ideally) 100 meters to 150 meters below the surface to reduce the surface temperatures.

The first site for a real test may be the Yucatán Straits, which connect the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico.

Reversing climate change, if it can happen at all, is a long term prospect.

When set against the enormous costs of destructive hurricanes, this idea for an interim solution may prove to be both practical and cost-effective. If you're interested in the idea and its progress, you will find many reports on it if you click the image above.

Liz Bonnin is a great (and beautiful) ambassador for wildlife conservation, the environment, and science.

One way in which she demonstrated this was in BBC3's superb series Mission Galapagos (follow the link if you would like to read my article about it).

Such ambassadors have never been needed more than now.

The image comes from a post about a wildlife conservation event created by wildlife and landscape artist Francesca Sanders (whose work is well worth checking out).

Meanwhile, in Germany...

A wonderful outbreak of common sense in urban architecture - learning from nature to combat climate change and help the environment.

If you like this...

[More about sponge cities]
[Liuzhou Forest City]

Air Conditioning With Off-Peak Generated Ice

In a neat twist on energy storage, this AC unit in Nantucket (click the image for details) uses its own ice-maker, creating the ice in the cool of the night using off-peak electricity. It uses an Ice Bear battery storage system, a technology that saves 40% on dommestic and commercial air conditioning.

That's potentially huge - there are an awful lot of AC units just in America - and a great help in spreading the load on the energy grid and tackling climate change.

What can I say... it's a really cool idea!

If you like this...

[“Renewables + Energy Storage = The Future”]

The garden of our wonderful Airbnb place where we stayed in Sintra (click the image for more info)

People interested in my web site may like to know that I have added a new page on Portugal for armchair travelers (or people who might be thinking of going there).

Portugal is a relatively recent discovery for my family, and it didn't take long to fall in love with the country and with its very friendly people. The cost of living is low, and the Portuguese really care about their environment, with almost 100% of their energy needs coming from renewables.

If you have never been to Portugal... then I highly recommend it!

“The Universe is made of protons, neutrons, electrons and morons”
Animals can't believe the stupidity of people who deny climate change

The USA's current administration (but only a minority of its people and States) is, to put it bluntly, anti-science and anti-truth, possibly for related reasons, as well as anti-environment (for some mix of oil greed, corporate lobbying, stupidity and vindictiveness against anything Obama accomplished). We still have to see whether raging fires, floods and a succession of Category 5 hurricanes will put a dent in all this - but the three links above about the US Administration are very sobering, to put it mildly.

My younger daughter produced the wonderful face-palm montage above, for a different reason, and I thought it was too good not to snaffle. Hurricane Irma is the second Category 5 storm to hit the south-east USA this year, where it regained strength after passing over record-warm seas, and Texas is still suffering flooding with toxic water in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, with other strong hurricanes brewing.

Since extreme weather is not a new thing, the question keeps coming up: “Is our weather getting worse?”

The best answer to that in 2012 was Channel 4's super documentary, which can't be ignored today. I captured it in an article which you can find here, or click my summary image below.
Global warming and climate change - is our weather getting worse?

Some other links from 2017 worth following (may be added to from time to time):

[Hurricanes: A perfect storm of chance and climate change? - a deep and balanced analysis]
[Why the 2°C of warming limit is so important]

...and for much good news on the environment, as well as the bad:

[My Environment & Technology web page]

Oxfordshire Skies, 9th September 2017 (as Hurricane Irma hit Florida)

While in communication with relatives in Florida, luckily all safe now, we were staying in a self-catering converted barn in the Cotswolds. We experienced unsettled cold weather, with sudden cloudbursts that turned streets into trainer-deep streams, and also some impressive skies like these (possibly the remnants of Hurricane Harvey).

Maybe the planet is trying to tell us something?

Meanwhile, in China...

The Liuzhou Forest City, being built in southern China, is designed to help tackle the country’s ongoing air pollution crisis. The foliage is expected to absorb 57 tonnes of airborne pollutants, and produce around 900 tonnes of oxygen every year.

A great new example of the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) movement. Check it out!

One of the last remaining trees...
(My screenshots - click either image above for the Wikipedia article on this movie)

(Screenshots above from Rotten Tomatoes - click either image to see more)

If you like French animation (see here on my web site), you may remember the time when Sylvain Chomet's Les Triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville, a.k.a. Belleville Rendezvous) gave the world a wake-up call that there was more to great animation than Disney and Miyazaki.

This movie is very different and equally original (and equally Gallic, and equally unsuitable for small children). It's an adventurous eco-fable, set in an alt-reality steampunk world where almost all of the trees in Europe have been burnt for charcoal and the air is severely polluted. It has been summarized accurately as “a sophisticated, riveting adventure about the power of scientific innovation in society”.

Currently free to watch in the UK if you subscribe to Amazon Prime Video, this is a multi-award-winning treat not to be missed.

If life is getting you down...

[Try clicking the entertainment tag. Just a suggestion!]

If you're interested in environment issues, you may like to know that I have just updated the Environment & Technology section of my web site, which tries to provide useful information and links about a wide variety of environmental solutions and issues.

The issues now include, of course, an anti-science, anti-environment President of the USA. However, as you will discover if you visit my web site, there are still very positive things happening both in the USA and elsewhere.

Although the section is quite large, you will hopefully find that it is easy to navigate. I have tried to make it rich in high quality links (many of which have also been updated), so that what you see on the pages are just the tips of many interesting icebergs, so to speak.

If you visit it and really like it, then please share it anywhere you think it would help the environment - thank you!

I am sure that the section could be further improved. Any suggestions would be really welcome.

Mission Galapagos

Liz Bonnin in the superb BBC 3-part series Galapagos, a beautiful and informative documentary

Mission Galapagos was a high-tech science expedition to examine what the Galapagos Islands can tell us about evolution and the effect of climate change on wildlife.

The islands, located in the Pacific about 1000km west of Ecuador, are not a place for Creationists to think about (doing so would fry their brains).

One of many things we learn is how the islands were formed (and are still being formed), how long this has taken, and why they are so different from each other.

It turns out that the islands sit on the Nazca tectonic plate that acts like a conveyor belt, trundling very slowly eastwards (at around 58km per million years), passing over a magma hot-spot below. This hot-spot constantly generates new volcanos as the plate moves eastwards, which rise above sea level to become new islands. Eventually the volcanic islands leave the hot-spot and cool so that they develop lush vegetation, and finally disappear underwater again (as the plate slides downward beneath the South America Plate) to become submerged mountains.

The Mission Galapagos science team visit one of the most awesome and dangerous dive spots in the world...

...Darwin's Arch, where scuba divers must descend quickly through strong currents to the relative safety of the rocky sea bed (click either image above for photo source)...

...and where hammerhead sharks (globally endangered) congregate in vast numbers for a mating ritual
(photo by Simon J Pierce, click image for photo source)

Among many other animals investigated was the astonishing marine iguana, living above and below water,
which has evolved so that the same animal can shorten its length in hard times
(Click the image for photo source and to read more about the expedition.)

There was much to enjoy in this documentary, whether above ground, underground or underwater. Some people, sadly, may never get to see it. American networks were very reluctant to show the final episode of Sir David Attenborough's Frozen Planet, because it showed "controversial" evidence of the effect of climate change at the Poles. What Bible Belt America and Trump America will make of Mission Galapagos, should they get to see it, is anyone's guess.

It is not only in America that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) is under threat. There have recently been massive worldwide “Marches for Science”, protesting against “a global political assault on facts”. Anyone who doubts the significance of this is invited to peruse my Trump Diaries.

Liz Bonnin is one of my personal heroes in what is genuinely a fight against the forces of darkness. Her scientific background (she is a biochemist and Wild Animal Biologist, among other things) and her personality make her a very effective ambassador for STEM.

In the UK, as elsewhere, it was realized some time ago that disrespect for STEM would cost the country dear if not reversed. One of the first shots in achieving that was the successful BBC Series Bang Goes The Theory, where I first saw Liz in action.

Now young people (and especially girls) are being actively encouraged to take an interest in STEM.

Sadly, the USA is cursed with an anti-science (and anti-reality) President who seems bent on undermining the US's science and technology base, with untold consequences - but that's another story.

If you like this...

[My environment and technology page]

“Renewables + Energy Storage = The Future”

Actually, the future is arriving at ever-increasing speed.

The combination of plummeting prices for solar panels and rapid advances in large-capacity energy storage (batteries, flywheels and others) means that the chief obstacle to variable renewables (unpredictable wind and solar) is being removed.

Much (but by no means all) of the drive to the future is being led by Tesla, whether in homes with attractive solar roofs and domestic batteries (click the image for details)...

...or massive battery storage for power grid substations (click the images for details)

...while China is developing the use of flywheels for grid energy storage (click the image for details)
...and there is accelerating development of other forms of energy storage

Although Trump appears to be doing his best to destroy his (and our) environment, by what appears to be vindictive, greedy and counter-productive stupidity, he is losing his attempts in the face of the enlightened self-interest and common sense of many states and cities, a recent example being the Kentucky coal company that plans to build the state’s largest solar farm, employing former coal miners.

As Dylan wrote and sang, the times they are a-changin'.

If you like this...

[Latest links on renewables and energy storage]
[The problems of rapid success that need to be understood]
[My environment and technology page]

“Politicized Science”

This is “Politicized Science” according to Trump, i.e. it is Science, i.e. it concerns itself with Reality, to which #45 is seriously allergic. Accordingly he is gutting NOAA's budget.

Thanks to blacksock for this one.

“Against stupidity, the very gods themselves contain in vain” —Schiller

One graphic to say it all... (well, on this topic anyway)

[More than half of newly added world energy capacity now comes from renewables]

If you're interested in environment issues, you may like to know that I have just released a major update to the Environment & Technology section of my web site, which tries to provide useful information and links about a wide variety of environmental solutions and issues.

Although the section is quite large, you will hopefully find that it is easy to navigate. I have tried to make it rich in high quality links (many of which have also been updated), so that what you see on the pages are just the tips of many interesting icebergs, so to speak.

If you visit it and really like it, then please share it anywhere you think it would help the environment - thank you!

I am sure that the section could be further improved. Any suggestions would be really welcome.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year, wherever you are on the planet!

Please share this, if you will (but click the date/time FIRST in order to get a permalink - thanks!)

Some therapeutic reading (may be added to, newest first, check back...):

[Mike Pence on Facebook invites people to the Inauguration - some hilarious responses]
[Remembering Obama, by people who actually met him]
[BBC: Trump team moving away from supporters on climate science]
[Bushes write a touchiing letter to Obama sisters]
[Obama's final address to the nation as commander-in-chief]
[Guy shuts down friend's Obamacare rant by pointing out he's on Obamacare (both hilarious and sad)]
[Obama enacts permanent ban on new oil and gas drilling in federal waters in Atlantic and Arctic Oceans]
[DoE rejects Trump Transition Team's request for names of staffers who worked on climate change programs]
[California's governor issues serious warning to Trump on climate change]
[Bill Gates and other billionaires have launched a fund of more than $1 billion, focused on fighting climate change]
[Trump voters complain that already he isn't delivering what he promised]
[America's Finest]
[Things Donald Trump can and can't do with his Executive Power]
[Why business will step in to save Obama's sustainability agenda]
[The Shadow in the West - how we can make the world a nicer and safer place]
[What Trump's 2,000-mile wall on the U.S.-Mexico border would actually look like]
[Gatorindo: The Oxford English Dictionary's editors nominate "post-truth" as word of the year]
[George Takei: The challenge ahead under Donald Trump, and the way out of darkness]
[US Election 2016 — in-depth views from Oxford University]
[TED: Beware online "filter bubbles" that distort your view of the world]
[Trump: The best thing ever for climate change? (unintentionally, but really)]
[Nov 18: World's poorest countries to aim for 100% green energy ]
[Nov 18: Elon Musk's announcement just changed the solar industry]
[Oct 26: The world just made a major shift toward renewable energy]

and from my web site:

[The Shadow in the West - the full version]

Cruise on the Douro River, Portugal (with a day trip to Salamanca in Spain), June 2016

We recently went on a 7-day cruise on the Douro River in Portugal, a wonderful experience. This cruise started and ended at Porto and included navigating 5 locks, among them the highest single-lift lock in Europe.

We saw many examples of Portugal's use of solar power and hydro-electric power, and learnt why its world-leading investment in renewable energy is so good for its economy, as well as for the environment.

Click the above image to see the trip itself...

...or click this one to see my photos of some of the art we found in public places

We also visited the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum in Salamanca. Photography wasn't permitted there, but click the picture for my post about it.

If you are interested, these are also the direct links to my photoblogs:

[Cruise on the Douro River]
[Some Wall Art Along the Douro]
[The Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, Salamanca]

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

Cruise on the Douro River, Portugal (with a day trip to Salamanca in Spain), June 2016

We have fallen in love with Portugal, a very friendly (and eco-friendly) country. It is especially friendly to the English - the oldest alliance in the world between two countries that is still in force, we learnt, is between England and Portugal (if you're interested, see here).

Our cruise (on the AmaVida, or “Love Life”, a small but excellent river boat) started and ended at Porto and included navigating 5 locks, among them the highest single-lift lock in Europe.

Porto (map link) - start of our river cruise on the Douro. Our first evening was a harbour tour, beautiful in the evening light.

The building to the right of the cathedral, catching the sun, is the Bishop's Palace.

"The Maria Pia bridge, commonly known as Ponte Dona Maria, is a railway bridge built in 1877 by Gustave Eiffel" - who later was responsible for the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Statue of Liberty in New York, among many others

Next morning, starting up the Douro in early-morning mist

Approaching the Crestuma Lever dam, with a relatively small lock (only a 46 foot rise)...

...but which still generates over 100 MW of hydro-electric power

The side of the lock, which I could easily touch from inside our cabin window. The boats on the Douro are designed to JUST fit in the locks.

The boat rises at about one inch a second in this lock...

...and we are soon heading upstream. This is a very different river from (say) the Rhine!

Approaching the Carrapatelo Dam, with the highest single-rise lock in Europe (115 feet)

Serious sluice gates... and as with all the dams, they generate hydro-electric power here, around 200MW in this case (around 800 GWh per year)

Going in... some passengers enjoyed this, while others retreated to the lower decks!

Hmmm... this is all going to fill with water...

Going up (looking ahead)...

... and up (looking behind)...

Unlike in the small locks, the rate of rise increases considerably after a while, because the incoming water is far enough below the boat not to disturb it

While traversing locks and going under low bridges, the sun-deck shade awning is lowered hydraulically... showing that its top is covered in solar cells...

...which, together with the solar cells on the captain's wheelhouse, can supply the entire electrical demand on the boat in good conditions.

The Mateus Estate - remember Mateus Rosé? It was generated purely for export and to generate much-needed income, the bottle's shape taken from WWI canteens.

The Casa de Mateus Foundation was established here and, with the university town of Vila Real, still plays a major part in the cultural and economic recovery of the region

The Cedar Walk...

,,, only a few grapes grown here (but big vineyards elsewhere)...

...and another kind of harvest, free energy. Portugal really gets it. They produce enough hydro-electric, solar and wind energy to export some clean-generated electricity to other countries in Europe, while they collectively laugh all the way to the bank!

(In May 2016, the whole of Portugal ran for four consecutive days on renewable energy alone.)

Evening at Régua (map link)

A walk after supper

Next morning... England voting on Brexit...

Leaving the Bagaúste Dam (a mere 84 feet rise), looking back...

Another 560+ MW of electricity generated here

Castelo Rodrigo, a very picturesque fortified hill town, current population now down to 65, near the border with Spain

Looking over Spain (if I'm facing the direction I think I'm facing)

The much bigger town of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo below, where most of the population of this village has moved to

Welcome refreshments (free wine tasting)

More pictures of Castelo Rodrigo here

Descending towards Barca D'Alva (map link), where the Douro forms the boundary between Portugal and Spain. Spain is to the right of the bend in the river. The distant mountains beyond the river are in the Bragança District of Portugal, which was populated before the Romans by the Celts.

Rejoining the boat at Barca D'Alva, where it moved to during the day's excursion.

The next morning we had a day trip to the beautiful city of Salamanca in Spain, where because of the heat (close to 100°F) we spent the majority of our free time in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, one of the finest collections of such art and sculpture in the world. We couldn't take photos there (except in its wonderful Art Nouveau café) but I have featured it in this post below.

[Portugal/Spain visit continues in Part 2]

Given what's going on in the world at the moment, we could all use a little more of this right now!

If your news channels give you a continual diet of doom and gloom, why not try the Good News Network as a healthy alternative?

From my previous post on Bhutan:

Quietly, one small step at a time, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the vision and common sense of its Prime Minister Jigme Yoser Thinley in particular, is influencing the way that governments across the world try to bring about "progress".

In Bhutan, after many years of developing the ideas, the materialistic measure of GDP is being extended to a measure called GNH, or Gross National Happiness.

The problem with the word "happiness" is that it suggests that GNH is about some Utopian, flower-power dream. As conceived by Jigme Thinley, nothing could be further from the case. Time Magazine reports that after many years of work, researchers in Bhutan refined the original GNH concept into nine equally-weighted components: Psychological well-being, Health, Time use, Education, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience, and Living standards. A very detailed survey established a GNH baseline in Bhutan, a number whose absolute value doesn't matter (it was about 74% of a theoretical maximum), but whose changes can be monitored and tracked.

[If you're interested, read more here.]

I took this picture today in Baulk Wood, near Henlow in southern England (a site reclaimed beautifully from what used to be a rubbish tip, and extended as a nature reserve and walking area).

It was sunny when I set out... until I saw this coming. Luckily we're not getting the devastating floods hitting the north of England. Yesterday the Honister Pass rain gauge in the Lake District recorded 341.4mm (13½") of rain - the highest 24-hour rainfall since records began.

In 2012 there was an excellent Channel 4 documentary taking a serious look at the question: Is Our Weather Getting Worse?, which I featured here in January 2013. It might be worth looking at again...

Lisbon, September 2015 - Lisbon Oceanarium

[Lisbon visit continued from Part 2]

The Lisbon Oceanarium (location in the centre of this map) is said to be one of the best in the world. It is located on the banks of the Tagus (which the locals pronounce somewhat like a sneeze), which is enormously wide at this point, being crossed nearby by the 12km long Vasco da Gama Bridge.

The Ocenarium is is organized as 4 "oceanic ecosystems" around a huge central tank. This is the Antarctic...

I had to look twice before I saw the bird!

The Temperate Pacific kelp forests... I have always had a weakness for sea otters, since I once saw them in the wild like this off Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, California. The Lisbon Oceanarium's sea otters are famous, apparently.

If you like sea otters, too, don't miss this video of an otter giving itself a massage which was shot here...

The Tropical Indian coral reefs

The big central "ocean" is accessed on two levels. We're looking down at a school party on the lower level. The Lisbon Oceanarium has all kinds of educational activities, many of them especially for children (e.g. “sleeping with sharks”, a different kind of pajama party!).

Down at the lower level

The inhabitants are hand-fed on a very scientific diet, designed to keep them healthy and avoid one species feeding on another. In the case of the sharks (no photos - sorry) hand feeding is done at the end of a very long plastic pole! Very interesting video shown in the lower level theatre about all this...

One of the nice features is that the big "ocean" is ringed by natural-looking grottos, which you can look through from outside

Outside the Oceanarium, on the way to a very good (and cheap) fish food restaurant

The area surrounding the Oceanarium looks really interesting (e.g. see “Sights Nearby” here) - worth a day in its own right

If you like this...

[Index of all my photoblogs]

Sea Turtles in Danger

From “Protecting Honu” - the green turtle of Hawaii

From “Sea Turtle Endangerment

My spouse wanted to sketch turtles for a project of hers during our recent visit to the Lisbon Oceanarium. We didn't see any on that occasion (possibly because they weren't there) but we learnt about the danger they are facing from marine debris in the ocean, in particular from plastic bags, which can take 1,000 years to degrade.

In Britain, the use of one-trip plastic bags has thankfully decreased considerably over recent years, and in a few days' time all large shops in the UK must start charging for them. The problem, however, will take a long, long time to go away. Let's not add to it any more...

If you like this...

[A nice advertising video with green turtles to chase away those winter blues]

Found on the very nice pages of Vedika, where you will find much interesting and beautiful stuff. If you haven't already, do visit!

This minimalist house has been designed by Barend Koolhaas, and is set among the beautiful countryside of Almen, in the Netherlands.

Despite its outward appearance from the front of the property, the building is actually triangular in shape, cutting its apparent footprint in half. The exterior has been designed in the shape of the barns found in the local area, and it’s been clad with timber siding, and corrugated steel on the roof.

This great example of living simply and sustainably is worth looking at in more detail, as is the rest of the site.

Thanks again to my friend overthetrail (Sandy) for this one!

(She hasn't posted here much for a while, but click her overthetrail tag to see some really nice stuff that she has sent my way over the years.)

There seems to be a sudden upsurge in interest in green roofs (click the image for some great examples).

For instance, this story from March 2015 has been widely reported:

Green roofs are apparently popular in Germany and Australia. It is not hard to see why if you take a look here.

The city of Toronto mandated the use of green roofs in industrial and residential buildings in 2009. It's good to see an entire country following its example, even if it's in a modified and flexible form... hopefully other countries will realise the benefits and do the same soon.

This great hi-def trailer video comes from Fantastic Fungi, The Official Site for Everything Fungi - “for foodies, scientists and explorers”.

Thanks again to my friend overthetrail (Sandy) for this one! (She hasn't posted here much for a while, but click her overthetrail tag to see some really nice stuff that she has sent my way over the years.)

Nuenen, a city in the Netherlands, has a new extraordinary attraction – a dreamy solar-powered bicycle path that glows in the dark. The path, created by Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde, looks just like a river of stars, fallen down from Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” And it is, in fact, inspired by the great artist, who lived in Nuenen from 1883 to 1885.”

Thanks to my younger daughter for this find!

The other work of artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde is well worth checking out - click the panel below for an example.

It seems that all over the world, inventive people are rethinking the possibilities of our roads - for another example, see my post on Solar Roadways.

If you're interested in environment issues, you may like to know that I have just updated the Environment & Technology section of my web site, which tries to provide useful information and links about a wide variety of environmental issues.

The updated parts include a new section on Solar Roadways and a major update to Hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles, as well as a really interesting development in the area of Biofuels.

Although the section is quite large, you will hopefully find that it is easy to navigate. I have tried to make it rich in high quality links (many of which have also been updated), so that what you see on the pages are just the tips of many interesting icebergs, so to speak.

If you visit it and really like it, then please share it anywhere you think it would help the environment - thank you!

I am sure that the section could be further improved. Any suggestions would be really welcome.

(Latest update to this post: 5th January 2017 - the URL for this post has changed and is now here)

Some time ago, Julie and Scott Brusaw grabbed the imagination of several million people, with an invention that may eventually benefit the lives of hundreds of times that number: a modular system of intelligent solar paving slabs made of non-slip, highly durable glass, with many applications.

Apart from generating electricity, these paving slabs can provide variable signage or illumination from high intensity LEDs, keep road surfaces free of snow or ice, and perform a variety of other useful functions.

These smart slabs will also act as local components of the Smart Grid.

Click the graphic, or go here, for more information from my web site.

"Spring Blossoms II" (2011) by Catherine Nelson

Click the image to see a complete slideshow (worth viewing full screen)

From the page:

If you like this...

[More images of Catherine's work]

A beautiful and interesting film (well worth the hour to view) shared by my friend Overthetrail - thanks, Sandy!

(Sandy hasn't posted here much for a while, but click her tag to see some really nice stuff that she has sent my way)

“Is Our Weather Getting Worse?”

This great photo (source here) was taken at Great Yarmouth as homes were being evacuated ahead of the UK's December 2013 storm surge (click the picture for many images of the surge and its effects).

England still isn't having enjoyable weather, to put it mildly, and nor (I see on TV) are many other parts of the world.

In 2012 there was an excellent Channel 4 documentary taking a serious look at the question: Is Our Weather Getting Worse?, which I featured here in January 2013. I think it might be worth looking at again...

The International Dark Sky Association

Casa Grande from Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park, Texas - Feb. 25, 2012
(from Texas Parks, Towns, Embrace the Dark Sky Movement)

This is what the night sky looks like from Cherry Springs State Park, PA. You can see up to 12,000 stars on a clear night.
(Click the image above for a full-size version, and more on dark skies at Cherry Park here.)

I came across the International Dark Sky Association when the BBC reported that the IDA had awarded Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park dark sky status. The status means the night sky is protected and lighting controls are in place to prevent light pollution. In honour of the award the area will be renamed Northumberland Dark Sky Park.

As so often happens when eco stuff is done right, Northumberland is set to make a lot of money from astro tourism, as well as improving many people's quality of life.

England suffers particularly from light pollution. I haven't properly seen the dusting of stars in the Milky Way since a trip to a turtle protection area of Florida many years ago, and before that when camping in the Massif Central of France - and just a few more times in my entire life.

The real evil of light pollution, IMO (he says, waxing philosophical) is that it removes from us the sense of our place in the Universe - so these developments are great.

If you like this...

[Watch this beautiful video of the Northumberland sky being enjoyed at night (full screen recommended!)]
[Realistic images of darkened cities by Thierry Cohen]


The Worldometers site keeps you updated, in real time, on a whole host of statistics about the health and resources of the Earth and the people living on it, as well as many things we are doing (like producing cars, bicycles and computers, or sending emails or tweets).

The statistics are grouped under headings World Population, Government & Economics, Society & Media, Environment, Water, Energy and Health.

For many statistics, you can choose to see today's total changing, or the total for the whole year so far.

Fascinating to watch!

If you like this sort of thing...

[My environment and technology page]

Since 2010, the French photographer Thierry Cohen has been developing images that show us what major cities of the world would be like if there were no light pollution.

More images and details about his technique and philosophy will be found here.

And here is the weather report for England...

West Yorkshire, March 23rd - 2 days past the Spring Equinox.

A Scandinavian high pressure area, apparently permanently stuck in place, has been feeding biting easterly winds into England for what seems like forever.

The reasons for this are explained here (among many other places).

Yeah, right...

Hats off to guys who have to go out and fix things in this weather

Our nice Kate (the Duchess) out there with the scouts

Looe in Cornwall, where 24 hours of continuous rain caused a landslide of saturated earth, killing the unfortunate woman living in what used to be a house (the other houses in this row have been evacuated)

...and not too much fun being had in Newlyn, normally a pretty place (see paintings here) a little further to the west

If you're interested in this, see my earlier post...

[Is our weather getting worse? (major Channel 4 documentary)]

Is our weather getting worse? Channel 4 documentary
Britain has had some extraordinary weather in 2012, varying from severe drought to record levels of rainfall, with flash floods across the country. This excellent Channel 4 documentary (from which my screenshots come) considers if extreme weather is to be expected occasionally, or whether it provides evidence of an increasing climate change problem - not just in Britain, but everywhere.

Judging by how often the documentary is being repeated on UK TV, it's a question that certainly interests people in the UK. If you click on any image, you may still be able to view it online if it interests you as well.

(The rather beautiful instrument seen above, by the way, is a Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, invented in 1853 and still in use today.)

This is some of what happened in Britain in 2012:

On January 3rd, severe storms with gusts of over 100 mph battered the coastline of much of the UK from Scotland to the south.

On February 5th, 4" of snow fell across southern England, with hundreds of flights cancelled.

4 weeks later there was a dramatic change in the weather. On March 26th, record-breaking heat baked Scotland, Aberdeen, with temperatures above 27°C (81°F).

Drought affected 35 million people across the country, in the driest Spring for 100 years.

Then, no sooner had the hosepipe ban been issued, when everything changed. On April 3rd snow warnings were issued across the country. In Scotland, temperatures plummeted by 27°C in just 2 days. The snow quickly melted, and on April 18th was replaced by torrential downpours across England and Wales.

By the end of the month the Met Office declared that it was the wettest April in a century, and the heavens remained open through the whole of May. By early summer the whole of Britain was saturated.

On June 22nd, a series of torrential thunderstorms funnelled into West Yorkshire's Hebden Bridge (which floods once every 5 years on average, but nothing like this). A month's worth of rainfall fell in 7 hours.

On July 9th, another cunim cloud, 10 miles high, towered over West Yorkshire. It burst at 1 pm. A month's worth of rain fell in just 3 hours.

And the extreme summer just went on and on. In July, a severe storm in Leicestershire produced hailstones the size of golfballs, and the rainfall continued into August. By the end of the summer, 4,000 homes across Britain had been devastated by floods. Saturated ground meant that even small amounts of rainfall caused flash floods.

On September 25th, a severe storm churned up plankton in the North Sea, swamping the Scottish town of Footdee in a thick layer of strange foam.

On October 11th, this flash flood was triggered in the Devonshire town of Clovelly when 2 weeks worth of rain fell in just 90 minutes.

Flooding doesn't just destroy homes, it takes lives. By far the deadliest place to be is trapped inside a car.

Training for flood survival and car rescue is not for the faint-hearted. Teesside Barrage at Stockton on Tees, a major facility for international "white water" events, is also used as a flood survival training centre. Four huge archimedes screws (each 13 metres or 45½ feet in diameter) lift water to create an artifical flood, pumping tons of water every second into the river. (BTW, there are plans to generate electricity by running these screws in reverse when the course is not being used.)

It only takes seconds for the weight of water to break the instructor's grip and sweep him away (a cubic metre of water weighs a ton). Avoiding lethal debris means keeping pointing downstream and trying to steer around what is coming.

Car rescue training starts inside a car anchored to the concrete bottom.

You need to get out through the window, and onto the roof...

"I'm on the roof, but there's not a lot to hold onto here..."

What has been causing Britain's extreme weather in 2012?

Part of the story is this:

The northernmost of 4 jet streams is responsible for delivering weather to Britain, and its position varies according to our seasons. In Spring 2012 the jet stream moved north of the UK, a position it normally takes in mid summer. This early move north brought us unusually high temperatures and drought.

And then in summer, something very different happened. The jet stream switched south, a position it usually takes during winter, bringing cold stormy weather to the British Isles. Even now, the behaviour of the jet stream remains a mystery(*).

*In January 2013, the BBC Weather Report featured a new development which has managed to link Sudden Stratospheric Warming with changes to the jet stream, and has allowed the Met Office to forecast weather events relating to jet stream movement much earlier than was previously possible.

Was 2012 just a freak year, or are these events part of a much bigger picture? Is our weather really changing?

What we saw in 2012 was certainly not a one-off. The past 15 years saw 8 of the warmest years on record, and some of the wettest years on record.

On July 28th 2005, a tornado ripped across Birmingham, spawned by severe thunderstorms, causing £40m of damage in 4 minutes.

Tornados by themselves are not enough to indicate that our weather is changing, but they are part of a series of extreme weather events that have plagued the UK in the last decade.

December 2010 was Britain's coldest ever.

In 2003, UK temperatures hit a record 38°C (100°F). This intense heatwave killed more than 2,000 people.

In fact, extreme weather events have occurred throughout the last century, and much earlier than that...

Over nine hundred years ago, in 1091, a medieval version of Mary-le-Bow Church in London (immortalised in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons - a Cockney is traditionally defined as someone born within the sound of Bow Bells) was destroyed by the first recorded tornado in British history, approaching via the site of the modern London Eye and ripping the church tower to shreds - more than 600 homes were destroyed and London Bridge was damaged.

The deadliest natural disaster ever to hit our shores was in 1703, when a destructive hurrican ripped across southern England, killing 8,000 people. It became known as The Great Storm, the first properly documented weather disaster in British history.

We have always had violent and erratic weather events, but have they become more frequent?

Less than 70 years after The Great Storm, the collection of reliable weather data had begun. In 1772 scientists started to record the daily temperature of central England.

The Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder was invented in 1853, marking the start of systematic weather observations from around the world. As well as using instruments dating from Victorian times, data is now gathered from satellites and weather balloons, and analysed using supercomputers.

Scientists can see that the world has warmed by about three-quarters of a degree in the last 100 years, with an even greater increase of one degree for Britain in the same period. One degree may not sound much, but it's enough to change our weather. As temperatures across the world rise, so does the level of moisture in the atmosphere, with more heat, and more energy in the system.

The atmosphere has 4% more moisture now than it had in the 1970's, and with more moisture, there is much more likelihood of severe weather events.

The increase in world temperature, climate scientists agree, is caused by greenhouse gases.

By drilling nearly a kilometre deep into the Antarctic ice sheet, we can measure levels of carbon dioxide and other gases that were present in our atmosphere over the last 800,000 years. They show that CO2 levels have fluctuated over thousands of years, however it always remained below 300 parts per million. 100 years ago it was 280 parts per million. Today, we are just crossing a threshold of 400 parts per million. Most scientific institutions conclude that man-made CO2, following the industrial revolution, is the culprit for global warming. Most scientists agree that global warming is having a dramatic effect on our weather, leading to more and more severe weather events.

The warmth contains lots of energy, and it's the energy from the warmer ocean and land that is driving our extreme weather.

Scientists at the Met Office have calculated that the chances of 2003-style heatwaves in the UK have approximately doubled. Ironically, we might also get colder, harsher winters in the UK, because of the effect on the Gulf Stream. If melting polar ice causes the Gulf Stream to weaken, then some calculations show that temperatures in Britain in winter might fall by 5 degrees, heading for more like a Scandinavian climate.

These predictions, scientists emphasise, are by no means a certainty - much work still needs to be done.

It isn't just Britain...

When we look at the whole world, we begin to realise that recently extreme weather has touched every corner of the globe...

America's recent weather events are well known, but in Italy in Winter 2012 we saw extreme snowfalls occurring in places that had never seen snow in living memory.

In 2010, the hottest summer on record affected many parts of the world. In Russia alone, 50,000 deaths were directly attributed to the sweltering heat.

In 2011, severe flooding caused havoc across the globe, from Australia to Thailand, and in the same year America's worst tornado season in living memory claimed 500 lives.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy was fuelled by near record ocean temperatures, something people living on the USA's East Coast will not soon forget.

After watching this sobering documentary, I reflected that it is easy to understimate the effect of a few degrees rise in temperature. It doesn't take much energy to raise (say) a litre of water by a couple of degrees (an average person could generate this much energy on a stationary bike pedalling for around 20 seconds), and it doesn't give up much heat when it cools again. But the world's oceans contain about 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water, and each cubic kilometer contains a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) litres of water. Even if a tiny fraction of the ocean warms by a few degrees, the energy involved is beyond imagining.

The other thing that struck me is the complexity and importance of the three-dimensional system of currents in the ocean, and how drastic can be the effects of an alteration in their behaviour.

Unfortunately, if decision-making people continue to ignore the science (which seems to happen for political, religious or corporate profit reasons, among others), we won't have to imagine the effects of global warming as the years go by - they will be all too obvious, and it will be too late to do much about them.

If you're interested in this kind of stuff, you might also like...

[The Secret Life of Waves]
[My environment and technology web page]

From the page...

On 23 November 2012, Gerry Pennell will leave the job of a lifetime. Four years after signing up as CIO for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, his IT team has won every technology gold medal going after successfully supporting the most connected Games ever. But even such a good thing must come to an end...

Go here if you want to read more about the IT background to the success of arguably the world's greatest Olympics and Paralympics (so far), and here if you have a special interest in the role that the principle of sustainability played in all of that.

Reused tarp hats by The Real Deal Brazil, one of many examples of inspired reusability that you will find here on Facebook

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."John Muir

A nice post that appeared in my friend Sandy's Green Eco Communities blog... and on occasions when I have eaten a bit too much, I really relate to that frog!

Nature versus progress...

From the page:

A photo of desert blooms with much of the proposed project site in the background. The creosote bush scrub habitat is home to a robust tortoise population, and one of the last remaining pockets of a rare desert plant known as the white-margined beardtongue...


Algae in the Venice lagoon, a new kind of "power plant" (the source of this image will be found here)

This excellent article looks first at the problems of Porto Marghera, the industrial zone of Venice, where declining industry has left behind it abandoned sites and major pollution (Porto Marghera is referred to in Italy as "the mother of all contaminations"), threatening the Venetian lagoon and the cultural value of Venice itself.

The article takes this as an example of many cities with similar areas near a waterfront, and suggests that these areas should be seen as opportunities rather than problems.

In the case of Venice, there has already been considerable success in this area, itemized in the article with many links, including Pandora, described as the first "intelligent" building, a green oil refinery that will produce biofuels, additives and antioxidants for foot, medicines and other things from biomasses, a Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF or CDR) power plant supplying green electricity to the island of Venice, the world's first hydrogen power plant, and a project to build an algae power plant, among others.

I first came across the algae power plant here (from which the above image comes). Recent links about the project ("recent" meaning in the last year relative to when you look at this post) will be found here.

The use of algae is one of the most promising developments in the field of biofuels, and some very interesting recent links on the subject will be found here.

(Updated again in June 2018. The web site URL has changed and will now be found here.)

In 2016, this product won a Queen's Award for Enterprise, an awards programme for British businesses and other organizations who excel at international trade, innovation or sustainable development.

If you haven't seen one of these before (I hadn't until March 2012, when we bought one) then you might be forgiven for wondering what on earth it is.

The literal answer is that it's an egg with holes in it, made of durable rubber, containing dark tourmaline ceramic pellets and white mineral pellets. It's called an Ecoegg, and you simply bung it in your washing machine along with your clothes, run a wash cycle as normal and your clothes come out clean. And it saves you an awful lot of money.

How does it work?
“The tourmaline ceramic pellets weaken the adhesive forces between the dirt and the fabric. The mineral pellets then naturally ionize the oxygen molecules in the water which then penetrate the fabric lifting away the dirt and grease, without fading colours or damaging the fibres.”

“Yeah, right...” you may well be thinking. But after many years of using it, it obviously works just as well as the detergent we previously used.

The wondrous thing about this product ("wondrous" and "laundry" are two words I hadn't previously associated) is that it goes on doing this job for about 72 washes (2 to 3 months) before you have to open it and refill with a small (30g) packet of the white pellets, like the one on the right.

You get 12 of these packets with the Egg, which collectively will do about 720 washes.

The dark tourmaline ceramic pellets last much longer than the white ones - also about 720 washes (2 to 3 years).

When all the pellets run out, you don't throw away the Egg case - you can buy refill pellets.

I am updating this in June 2018, after using it for many years. The only problem we have had is the original rubber case had a rib come loose, and was replaced free by the manufacturer with the new, much more robust (and easier to refill) rubber egg shown above. This one is sturdy and locks very firmly in place. Washing clothes on average 5 to 7 times a week, in a machine with a 7kg wash capacity, we now find it simplest to add a 30g packet of pellets to the Egg every 72 days.

When we used powder detergent, a 1.2kg packet of detergent would last between about 12 and 21 washes, depending on the type of detergent. 72 washes therefore used 4 to 7 kilos of powder, and cost quite a lot of money. However this thing works (and it works fine), it is using far less resources than a normal detergent wash does.

You can read more about this gizmo and how it works here, which is also one of the cheapest places to buy it.

When I see this kind of product advertised I am naturally very sceptical about it - if you are sceptical too, I can well understand. But I can say that it saves a lot of money, it's good for the environment, and the danged thing really does what it says on the tin. (It has also been tested quite thoroughly by SATRA.)

If you like this...

[My "Environment and Technology" page]

An exceptionally well-presented and educational virtual tour of Finland's forests by UPM (a very environmentally-conscious company) - thanks, Louvain95 (Lou)!

From the page:

Laice Wright (left) and Olivia Smith (right) stand in the former rubbish-strewn field which is now one of the country's biggest displays of annual wild flowers

Since buying the small estate of Barcroft Hall ten years ago, the Herricks have renovated the house and turned the 85-acre farm into a combination of formal gardens, wildlife areas, orchards, woodland and sustainable farmland.

Their latest project - the Field of Dreams - was inspired by visits to Kew Gardens, Table Mountain National Park and Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa.

They decided to turn an unsightly and rubbish-strewn field at the edge of their estate into one of the country's biggest displays of annual wild flowers from around the world...

Click either picture for more.

Thanks, anitab (Ani) (who likes the inspiration from South Africa).

(Original post: December 25th, 2010)

From the page:

"The world's first hybrid street sweeper promises cleaner roads and cleaner air - in addition to a top speed of 60 miles an hour.

"The Allianz 4000 hybrid sweeper, currently in use in New York City, features a 6.7-liter Cummins diesel in addition to two 12-volt lithium-ion batteries and an electric-traction drive system. With the setup, Allianz estimates a 40 to 45 percent fuel savings over a diesel-only sweeper..."


(Original post: December 25th, 2010)

The Uno electric motorcycle seems to be a whole step up from the Segway (or at least cooler and a lot more fun).

The Uno isn't a unicycle, BTW, whatever the title of the linked page says! It has two independently-controlled wheels side by side, each with its own motor and automatic control system.

Like the Segway, it uses digital gyroscopes with electronic control of electric motors to keep the vehicle dynamically stable and to adjust its speed. Also like the Segway, you lean forward to go faster and back to slow down and stop (if you keep leaning back, the Uno will reverse).

Unlike the Segway, you turn just by leaning left or right, as you would on a normal bike or motorbike. The lean is detected and the inside wheel lifts and is turned by its motor at a slower rate than the motor driving the outside wheel, so that the two wheels behave like a single wheel with a wide, flexible tire. The Uno has only one control - an on/off switch!

When this article was written the top speed was 10 MPH (a limitation of the electronics, not the power), but a speed of 30 MPH was planned.

I don't know how commercially successful this wonderful eco-friendly invention will be, but its 18-year-old Canadian inventor Ben Gulack deserves good fortune.

If you are interested in the latest information about it, you will find many recent articles here.

Thanks to my friend bilklb for this one!

Two delights in one here: a beautiful song by Enya, "China Roses", and an equally beautiful video to go with it by the Spanish environmental and peace activist angelsolcito (a lady well worth visiting)

Thanks to Pasatter for this one (I found it on her StumbleUpon pages, but she has now moved to Tumblr where she is Irish Fantasy).

(Original post: September 1st, 2010)

I have updated my Environment & Technology web page again, with new sections on microgeneration, recycling and green jobs, as well as a few other things.

Visitors to the page will discover that it is more about solutions and good things happening than about problems (although it doesn't ignore the problems). If you are interested in investing in green technology and other green developments, which is a smart thing to be doing right now, you will find a lot of ideas to follow up.

Although the page is quite large, you will hopefully find that it is easy to navigate. I have tried to make the page rich in high quality links, so that what you see on the page are just the tips of many interesting icebergs, so to speak.

If you visit it and really like the page, then please share it anywhere you think it would help the environment - thank you!

I am sure that the page could be further improved. Any suggestions would be really welcome.

It all began in third grade, when Katie Stagliano's 40-pound cabbage fed 275 homeless people. Now, Katie's six gardens have produced over 4,000 pounds of vegetables to feed the needy.

When Katie Stagliano was in third grade, she planted a cabbage in her family's small garden. When it grew to an astounding 40 pounds, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it was made into meals for 275 people (with the help of ham and rice). "I thought, 'Wow, with that one cabbage I helped feed that many people?'" says Katie, now entering sixth grade. "I could do much more than that."

So Katie started planting vegetable gardens as part of her nonprofit Katie's Krops - she has six right now - including one the length of a football field at her school in her hometown of Summerville, S.C. Classmates, her family and other people in the community help plant and water, and Bonnie Plants donates seedlings. This past year, Katie took her commitment to a new level: she has given soup kitchens over 2,000 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables. Katie and her helpers are now harvesting the spring planting, and another 1,200 pounds will be donated by October.


Thanks to my friend Aline for Katie's story, which is a great example of Pay It Forward.

From the page:

One generation from now most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature. New media technologies have improved our lives in countless ways. Information now appears with a click. Overseas friends are part of our daily lives. And even grandma loves Wii.

But what are we missing when we are behind screens? And how will this impact our children, our society, and eventually, our planet? ...

This documentary follows six teenagers who, like the "average American child," spend five to fifteen hours a day behind screens. PLAY AGAIN unplugs these teens and takes them on their first wilderness adventure - no electricity, no cell phone coverage, no virtual reality.

"What they do not know, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose."

--Charles Jordan, The Conservation Fund, PLAY AGAIN

Found on the extraordinarily fine pages of Comely1 (Jame)s.

(Original post: July 14th, 2010)

"Petrified sand dunes and reflection, Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona" by Jack Dykinga

"Twilight of the Giants - African elephants at twilight, Chobe National Park, Botswana" by Frans Lanting

From a collection that represents a wide range of styles and genres and spans over 100 years of the history of photography, nominated and chosen by members of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), a fellowship of the world's top professional conservation photographers.

It baffles some environmentalists that many people (by no means all of them living in the U.S.A.) feel no connection between their use of electric appliances and the size of their electricity bills (and still less any connection to their effect on the world around us).

It's not really surprising. If I ruled the world (happily for both me and you, this is not the case) then I would decree that every everyone should ride one of those generator bikes connected to a 100W light bulb for about 10 minutes, generating enough electricity to keep the bulb well lit. If you have done this yourself, or pedalled on one of those fancy exercise bikes that monitor the power you are generating, you will know that generating 100W isn't particularly difficult, but you will certainly feel the work involved after 10 minutes - and that's the important thing.

Now imagine hooking up 7 of those bulbs, and trying again (this time to generate 700W). You would actually be trying to generate nearly 1 horsepower, which (unless you were a horse) you would probably find somewhat difficult!

100W is a good number to have in mind, since you can feel it with your leg muscles. You can roast a chicken in a couple of hours with a 100W light bulb if you place the light bulb and the chicken in a well-insulated box. Since you probably don't want to roast a chicken with a light bulb, you can replace it with a 20W low-energy bulb that doesn't waste 80W on heat (and your electricity bills). There are still an awful lot of old-fashioned light bulbs burning on this planet...

The Open University and the BBC's Bang Goes The Theory took this idea of connecting people to the power of their appliances a lot further. They built a "Human Power Station" that had enough generator bikes (over 80) to power a typical house. They hooked it up to a purpose-built studio house, installed a normal family in the house, and told the family to carry out their normal daily routines. The family knew this was an experiment, but had no idea what the experiment actually was.

The film "The Human Power Station" shows the result, as the family used various appliances throughout the day. The whole film is no longer available on-line, but if you click the above image you can still see the clip of what happened when the father used the 8 KW electric power shower (equivalent to 80 100W light bulbs).

(My apologies on behalf of the idiot who mis-titled the video clip "The Human Power Shower", instead of "The Human Power Station")

The film was effective and entertaining, even if you didn't need to watch the whole hour to get the idea.

Since watching it I do things like switching off our super-fast (3,000W) kettle as soon as it boils, without waiting another 20 seconds or so for the automatic cut-out. This is because I have a mental image of 3,000W being equivalent to 150 low-energy light bulbs, which would illuminate a good part of the large apartment block in which we live.

Food for thought, anyway...

If you like this...

[How much electricity does my stuff use?]

From my web site:

[The Negawatt Revolution]
[The Smart Grid]

"Reading in the park", from a new study into the learning benefits of green school settings

The Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (LHHL) is a multidisciplinary research laboratory at the University of Illinois, dedicated to studying the connection between greenery and human health.

I really believe in this kind of stuff - if you're interested, see the links below for why.

From my web site...

[It's not easy being green... Actually, it is]
[A philosophy for life: Pay It Forward]

[More of my life improvement favourites]

From the page:

"Cornwall will always be a great place to go camping but Ekopod is making it a stylish one too. This cool and contemporary living space is a luxury low-carbon retreat that brings the best of modern life to the best of the countryside. You can sleep in a full-size double bed but still wake up with a panoramic view of the hills. Breakfast on the decking terrace before hiking across the moors, bathe in a wood-fired bath tub after a surfing lesson or lounge in canvas easy chairs snacking on local produce from the honesty shop, all with minimal environmental impact. It's amazing that something so white can be so green."

This is one offering from Alastair Sawday's "Canopy & Stars" selections. If you are thinking of holidaying in the UK or other parts of Europe, and a few other places too, and are looking for somewhere special to stay, then I can really recommend Alastair Sawday's site as a great starting point. You will find more about him in the first link below.

From my web site...

[Some Places to Enjoy Life...]
[Some Places to Enjoy Life... In England]

(Original post: March 26th, 2010)

I see that James Cameron and Sir Richard Branson (an interesting combination) are among the many speakers at the upcoming Business for Environment Global Summit, which takes place 21-23 April 2010 in Seoul. If I had the money, it would be worth visiting the conference just to hear what these two speakers had to say.

With Avatar, James Cameron (with a huge contribution from WETA Digital) has produced what must be the most popular environmental-message movie of all time, and possibly the most awesomely beautiful movie ever made. His technical and artistic master-work has inspired countless environmental activists, as well as (apparently) infuriating some people who see it as threatening their particular belief systems.

The person I would go to Seoul to hear, though, is Sir Richard Branson, one of my personal heroes. From the programme notes:

"In the summer of 2004, Richard launched Virgin Unite to pull together all the resources of the Virgin Group internationally and, most importantly, Virgin's best asset - its people - to tackle tough challenges facing the world. He and on-the-ground partners participate in efforts such as sustainable health clinics in Africa and the fostering of new entrepreneurs through the Branson School of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. He helped incubate the Disease Control Room, a new health resource for South Africa and the sub-Saharan African region that will help transform responses to devastating diseases such as HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria.

"In 2006, Richard pledged 100% of profits of Virgin transportation companies to clean tech investments through Virgin Green Fund. In 2007, he joined Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, and Desmond Tutu to form The Elders, a group of independent leaders that seeks sustainable solutions to global humanitarian issues. In December 2007, Richard was recognized by UNCA as Citizen of the Year.

"Richard recently helped start the Carbon War Room, which taps into global entrepreneurs to mobilize capital, innovation, expertise and international collaboration to fill in the gaps of climate change efforts already underway. Its Green Capital - Global Challenge is mobilizing capital and resources into city-led energy efficiency initiatives."

In Avatar, and in some of his previous movies, James Cameron casts greedy corporations as the stupid and reckless villains. In the form of Sir Richard Branson, and many other representatives at this conference, he will be meeting corporations that are a major force for good in the world, and others that are at least moving in the right direction. I would really like to be in Seoul in April.

[My "Environment and Technology" page]
[My movies page]

(Original post: October 8th, 2009)

From the page:

In a recent New York Times business trend piece, the small but growing movement to transform -- or at least disguise -- these ugly but crucial energy ducklings into aesthetically conforming swans is explored.

Most notable are SRS Solé Power Tiles from SRS Energy. The company is working with California's U.S. Tile to create tiles with embedded solar cells that mimic traditional tile roofing in Southern California and the Southeast. At a demo home in California (pictured below), a homeowner replaced terra cotta tiles on a portion of his roof -- about 300-square feet -- with Solé Tiles in about four hours. As a result, the homeowner's roof will generate about 2,400 kilowatt-hours of juice a year and his roof isn't festooned with bulky black squares that scream to neighbors and passersby, I have photovoltaics!

Whatever the commercial problems, the world will get to this one day. A great find from my friend Sandy.

If you like this...

[My environment and technology page]

(Original post: October 2nd, 2009)

It is easy to be depressed by the sheer worthlessness of many people.

You could, for example, make the mistake of reading the thoughts (I use the term loosely) of the human cockroaches who make some of the comments on (for example) YouTube, or listen to politicians or religious fundamentalists trying to tear down whatever it is that they don't believe in, irrespective of truth or decency.

And then along comes one person like William Kamkwamba, and suddenly the world is a good place again.

From the introduction to the book "The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind":

"At 14 years old, William Kamkwamba wanted to do something to help his family, his parents and six sisters, survive the famine that was spreading across Malawi. The drought had already meant his father, a farmer, didn't have enough money to send William to school. So William improvised. He went to a local library, and with limited English skills began reading books about science. He then began making several trips to the local junkyard and before too long he'd had the requisite parts to build a windmill. He knew if he could provide electricity to his home his mother's life would be easier, and if the windmill could pump water from the earth, his father wouldn't have to depend on the rain from the skies."

Do read and share his inspiring story - one person really can make a difference.

If you like this...

[More on life improvement...]
[More good stuff from Africa: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency]

(Original post: June 9th 2009)

"Home" is an incredibly beautiful, passionate movie directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, co-produced by Luc Besson ("Léon" and "The Fifth Element") and narrated by Glenn Close. Filmed entirely from the air, it provides a unique view of our planet and what we are doing to it.

Made on a not-for-profit basis, it has just been released in cinemas and also on the Internet. You can watch the entire one and a half hours as an official full-size, high definition video on YouTube - click any image below. You can also download an HD version from BitTorrent.

Using beautiful and compelling images even for scenes of devastation and poverty, the movie makes it all too clear how little time we have left before irretrievable damage is done. Many people who view it online will, I suspect, give up watching it before the end for one reason or another - but the many others who stay with it will discover that it ends on an optimistic, positive note, describing many of the good things that are going on. This last theme is: "It's too late to be a pessimist", but it doesn't start until 1 hour and 21 minutes into the movie. If you watch it at all, please don't give up half way!

I would add to these positive messages that we don't have to give up (for example) living in beautiful cities that glitter at night (if that's what we want to do), or driving fun, fast cars. The technology exists, or is being developed, to allow us to do such things without destroying our planet - quite the reverse - and with that technology comes job and investment opportunities for many people. Green, done right, saves money, makes money and helps everyone.

PPR, who sponsored the film, is a French multinational holding company specializing in retail shops and luxury brands. The company was founded in 1963 by the billionaire businessman François Pinault. It was originally called Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, but changed its name on 18 May 2005 to simply PPR. If you are interested in how huge amounts of money and luxury goods can get together with ethical and green practices, take a good look around their site!

[ (English version)]
[My environment web page]

Biochar is an ancient process that is making a comeback. It does many things at once: starting with most urban, agricultural or forestry biomass residues, it can generate energy, enrich soil, and actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. It is not merely carbon-neutral, but carbon-negative.

The biochar process is akin to a process utilized thousands of years ago in the Amazon Basin, where islands of rich, fertile soils called Terra Preta ("dark earth") soils were created through a process similar to pyrolysis (one example of which is the production of charcoal by burning wood with restricted oxygen).

The beautiful picture at the top of this post comes from a superb online National Geographic article called "Our Good Earth". The whole article is worth reading, but you will find a description of Terra Preta ("dark earth") soils starting on this page of the article.

The modern Biochar process is summarized below. Visit The International Biochar Initiative for some great information on the process and the many projects that are using it.

[More links on the Biochar process]
[Terra Preta, the "Black Revolution"]
[My "Environment and Technology" page]

Possibly the most untapped source of energy saving is the heat pump (familiar to most people in the form of an air conditioner or a refrigerator, but it applies to heating as well as to cooling).

Many people don't realize that it can be cheaper to move heat than to generate it. Even "cold" water (by which I mean water we wouldn't necessarily want to swim in!) contains heat that can be moved (by refrigerating a river, say, in the case of a conveniently situated concert hall - the river becomes slightly colder and the concert hall becomes hotter).

The popularity of this concept has been steadily growing for domestic housing, as well as for large commercial buildings.

You can do a neat experiment at home to demonstrate one of the main methods of moving heat, used in a conventional refrigerator or air conditioner. Just blow on the back of your hand with your mouth wide open. It doesn't matter how hard you blow, the air will feel warm - yes? Now blow on the back of your hand through pursed lips. It doesn't matter how gently you blow, the air will feel (and is) cooler. That's refrigeration (well, adiabatic cooling to be precise) in action.

(I invented that simple experiment to explain one reason why aircraft piston engines need "carb heat".)

There are now many domestic heating systems that refrigerate the ground (or water in the ground), moving heat from the ground into your house. If the conditions are right, it is cheaper to do this than to generate the heat.

If you're interested, see here.

BTW: I was prompted into writing this by a nice message from oilhand99, who is interested in this kind of thing. Thanks, Ben!

[Many applications of heat pump technology - save money and help the environment!]

and if you like this kind of thing...

[Solid state refrigeration (for small applications at present, e.g. water chillers and electronic components)]
[My environment page]

"If you've ever wished you could bottle moonlight to illuminate your room at night, the Moon Jar is your answer. A spin-off of the extremely popular `Sun Jar' lamp by Tobias Wong, the Moon Jar is a frosted mason jar with a solar panel and an LED light inside. Put it on your windowsill to soak up the sun rays during the day, and at night the Moon Jar will illuminate your room with a soft cool glow -- no cords or electricity required! If you aren't a fan of blue light, try out the Sun Jar, which is exactly the same design, except with a warm yellow LED light instead of blue."

What a great idea! Thanks to my friend blueaquarose for finding this one for me!
(Original post: October 3rd, 2008)

In its special October 6th issue Time Magazine again holds an annual celebration of Heroes of the Environment, highlighting the positive work of a wide range of people.

We frequently hear about the bad things (rightly so), but I believe that this kind of celebration of achievement is a great motivator for change.

Why shouldn't we despair?

In the introduction, Bryan Walsh writes: "Because solutions do exist -- and there are those who are leading us to them.

"Some are activists like Brazil's Marina Silva, the godmother of the rain forest, and some are scientists like Germany's Joachim Luther, the godfather of solar power.

"Some are celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the green Governor of California, and some are obscure like Mohammed Dilawar, the conservationist who guards against the fall of the sparrow.

"Some are financiers, like John Doerr, the billionaire venture capitalist now funding green projects, and some are holy men like Balbir Singh Seechewal, the Sikh who cleans the corrupted rivers of India.

"What they have in common is the passion and resourcefulness to confront the threats facing the earth..."

You can read about all 35 "heroes" starting here.

If I had to highlight just one, then for me it would be Van Jones and his efforts to extend the green movement to blue collar workers, for the economic and environmental benefit of all.

This is a great man. Click the picture to read about what he is doing.

If you liked that...

[My review of Green Eco Voice - and someone who is definitely another "hero"]
[Urban farming initiatives - reducing food miles and improving lives in many ways]
[My environment page]

If you want to make a real difference in anything - the environment, in this case - then all(!) you need is a lot of dedication, talent and hard work.

My friend artistrybysandy (Sandy), together with her son Ty Downing, have shown all of these in putting together a great web site with a focus on fostering Green Communities.

One example is the Serenbe Green Community in Georgia, which (as Sandy says) has several self sustaining features such as earth craft houses, organic wastewater treatment, organic farming and storm water management.

I also like what Serenbe write of themselves:

"They say that if you want to change the world, you should start in your own backyard. If that's so, then Serenbe is quite a beginning. Or maybe a respectful nod to times gone by."

Building a community where people can rediscover what enjoying life is all about might sound like a sales blurb (although in this case it isn't). The interesting thing, though, is that applying green principles to new developments can also be very successful from a business point of view. Everybody wins!

Serenbe is just one example. There is a lot more going on at Sandy's site. Please go check it out!

If you liked that...

[Urban farming initiatives - reducing food miles and improving lives in many ways]
[My environment page]

(Originally posted: August 12th 2008)

In this excellent article for Time Magazine, Lisa McLaughlin describes a number of urban farming initiatives that together tackle many problems, including global warming, foreign-oil dependence, processed food, obesity and neighbourhood blight.

Some of these initiatives are high tech, some are kids from the block happily getting down on hands and knees, but they all seem great to me. Apart from anything else, my belief is that anything that changes a child's growing-up environment from concrete to greenery is going to benefit everyone's happiness in the future.

Read Lisa's article here.

Here are just a few examples from the accompanying photo essay (click each picture below for more links about that particular project):

"Vertical farms, like this one envisioned in downtown Toronto, theoretically would bring food production into the heart of population centers, with one farmscraper feeding thousands of people."

"The Food Project works to achieve both social and agricultural change by bringing together kids from diverse backgrounds to farm several lots in urban Boston, like this one on a hospital roof... [It] grows nearly 250,000 pounds of food without chemical pesticides, donating half to local shelters and selling the remainder at farmers' markets in disadvantaged neighborhoods or through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) crop shares."

"Seattle-based architecture firm Mithun designed this vertical farm so that it would not require any water from municipalities and would also use photovoltaic cells to produce nearly 100% of the building's electricity."

"On the site of a former asphalt-covered playground in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Red Hook Community Farm provides job training to local teens. Of the more than 40 crops grown here, some are sold at farmers' markets, others to local restaurants and the rest is donated to those in need."

[For more examples from the photo essay, see here]
[My environment and technology page]

With WALL-E, Pixar Animation Studios excelled themselves in several ways.

The creation of the desolate earth environment, and the space-going cruise ship, are incredible artistic achievements (as well as superb technical achievements) in their own right. I can imagine some people being put off going to see the movie because its first part is set in a planet-sized garbage tip, and who would want to see that? In fact, the earth environment is a work of strange, desolate beauty, lit by a coppery light and given wonderful aerial perspective by the haze in the polluted air. This picture (one of several concept background paintings for WALL-E at the Pixar - 20 Years of Animation exhibit in Finland) gives some idea, but the environment realised in the movie is so imaginative, so detailed and so highly textured that you really have to see it on the big screen. I shall certainly buy the DVD but it won't be the same!

The visual environment is only part of it, of course. The inventiveness of the story is quite exceptional, and it has some of the magic and pathos of the silent movies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. When WALL-E plays his treasured tapes of old musicals, the contrast of Earth's past with the current desolation is highlighted, but the musicals also provide an uplifting background to the unlikely romance between the two main characters, which is conducted entirely without normal speech.

The movie also has a serious side, very unusual in popular animated films. The space-going vessel (awesomely realised) is a combination of mega Caribbean cruise ship and aseptic Disney theme park. It is a pristine, gleaming vision of hell in which nothing has changed for 700 years, except that the passengers have become helpless and obese, doing nothing and creating nothing for themselves, seeing the world only through computer screens and having their every need attended to by an army of robots. Don't worry though, WALL-E is about to change all that... and the movie becomes (in addition to everything else) a really exciting adventure story.

In spite of the sombreness of the underlying themes, this is a joyous movie that sparkles throughout (and which has numerous Easter-egg references to other great movies). My favourite scene is probably the one where WALL-E and EVE are outside the space-ship, performing a kind of aerial (or vacuum) ballet as WALL-E uses a fire extinguisher to try to get back on board, which turns into a weightless dance worthy of "Singing in the rain".

It's magical stuff.

[Other WALL-E links]
[Pixar's previous masterpiece: "Ratatouille"]
[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]
[My movies page]

"Tobermory Shipwreck", by Peter Zentjens from Beringen, Belgium

Peter writes: "Tobermory is a gorgeous little town on the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. Its harbor is not only filled with luxury yachts but also with a lot of shipwrecks, which makes it a diver's paradise. It's part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada."

This is one of Peter's most popular wallpapers, see here for more.

If you're interested in marine conservation, check out the Marine Park link above!

You are looking at an extraordinary new engine, developed by Revetec in Australia, which doubles everything you want (like fuel economy) and halves everything you don't (like weight). It has pistons like a normal engine; what's missing is a conventional crankshaft. Currently it runs on petrol (gas), in future it may also run on diesel and other petrol substitutes.

Click the picture above for one of many articles on this engine, and click the main picture below for a good description of how the engine works.

It might help to know that the fearsome-sounding "trilobate cams" are somewhat triangular shapes with the points rounded and the sides squashed inwards. There are two of these cams rotating in opposite directions, with each piston pushing a bearing that rides down into the "valleys" that open up, and is then pushed up again as the cams come back into line. The shape of the cams can be tweaked to give different performance characteristics.

The "spreading" action (like forcing open a pair of scissors) creates good torque for much more of the piston's descent than is the case for a conventional piston engine, where the descent turns a crank - for details, see here. This difference is the key to this engine's improved performance.

That didn't help? Oh well, click the picture below for a better description.

If you're interested in what impact this is having on the automotive industry, check out these links for what's been published recently (meaning in the year leading up to the time that you're actually reading this).

Thanks to my friend bonbonnie (Bonnie) and to nmaximus for this one!

If you like this sort of thing...

[My "Environment and Technology" page]