Archive for the ‘contemplation’ Category

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Legs To Stand On: Are Multiple (Weaker) Arguments Better Than A Few Strong Ones?

January 2, 2008

I was reading a post recently at The Sietch that discussed how the radioactive releases of burning coal (including the byproduct fly ash) and it’s potential detriment to our health is just another nail in the coffin for coal power. However, the radiation we could receive from coal isn’t really worth considering when you compare it to what we’re exposed to via naturally occurring radon and even medical x-rays: (via the USGS)

Coal doesn’t even make the pie chart.

Are “weak legs” like this one viable supports for arguments for sustainability or do they devalue the stronger ones they accompany? Is it worth it to even make the radioactive argument when issues such as greenhouse gas release, mountaintop removal, and air quality are so much more compelling? If the subject were being formally debated, an opponent could spend their entire time picking apart the weak legs and undermining your message, while completely circumventing any strong points you hoped they would have to concede.

Environmentalists shouldn’t have to grasp at straws here. We know things such as fossil fuels, over-consumerism, and habitat destruction are bad for the environment, and the people we need to convince know it too. So what’s the problem? Accountability and the bandwagon. It’s hard for individuals to see the environmental results of their shopping choices and energy use when the impact is hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s also difficult to change when it seems everyone else lives just as wastefully. But the strongest points for sustainable practices have elements of both accountability and individuality.

Consider the “Save the Rainforest” campaigns of the 1990s. They focused on highlighting a specific area that was being destroyed, and connected it to individuals in the Western World. The rainforest is supposedly the home of miracle drugs for cancer and all sorts of unsavory illnesses. Everyone knows someone with cancer. So not only is a parrot in Brazil suffering from habitat destruction, but your great aunt as well.

It’s easy to start analyzing the details when you’re in a group of like-minded sustainable people. But when going head-to-head with an ardent consumerist, stick to the basics. They’re on our side.

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Candlelight Power

January 1, 2008
photo by Bob.Fornal

Although candles were long ago replaced by electric bulbs for most of our lighting needs, we retain their use for decorative, aromative, and emergency functions. As the lights in the guest bathroom at my parent’s house are on the fritz, I “installed” a taper candle and barbeque lighter to retain use of our windowless bathroom. So far this system has been working passably, but I’m curious whether it reduces overall energy use or costs more than the existing fixture.

A candle typically produces about 13 lumens of visible light and 40 watts of heat, depending on the wick (according to Wikipedia) A 40 watt incandescent light bulb will give you 500 lumens for the same power. A compact fluorescent bulb will use about 20-25% of the power of the incandescent (also from Wikipedia) So candles are rightfully categorized as “decoration” and not as a viable energy-efficient lighting system.

But using a single candle to light a room raises questions about the amount of light we actually need. The fixture currently in the bathroom takes 3 bulbs, so we can estimate it provides 1500 lumens, but as evidenced above just 13 lumens provided enough light to negotiate the room.

Take a moment to evaluate your lighting needs and see if you could get by on less. It will save you energy and $$ in the long run.

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Recycling Dreams

December 18, 2007

Tonight I helped my mother drop off the recycling at the local middle school.  The glass bottles and jars made satisfying clashes as they landed in the receptacles, shattering the residential darkness in such a legitimate manner.

I was surprised to learn that my mom has to time her drop offs with the pickup schedule to make sure there’s room for her contributions.  Apparently the bins used to be filled to overflowing on a regular basis until they started putting out twice as many on the weekends.  That’s a problem more people should have: having such a desire for recycling that the demand almost exceeds the availability.

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excuses, excuses

November 28, 2007

I regret that I haven’t posted in a couple days, and that I won’t be able to for at least a couple more.  Along with the rest of the fifth year architects at my school, I have the second of 3 thesis pinups this Friday.  As its a major benchmark, I want to accomplish as much as possible before then, and to do so means holding off on posting until the weekend.

I appreciate everyone who has read a bit and given this blog a shot; it’s been a rewarding experience so far and I’ve received some encouraging feedback.   I look forward to continuing to post, comment, and otherwise participate in the vibrant sustainability and design blogospheres, as well as achieve a balance between a posting schedule and the rest of my life :).

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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2007

I apologize for my absense the past few days.  My holiday travels thus far have not brought me into much contact with the internet, and I haven’t been writing long enough to have a surplus to get me though this week away.  I assure you all that more posts are coming, especially ones evaluating my recent forays into bus and rail transit. 

Until then, I hope you all have a truly enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday, whether it be full of family, food, football, or just a long restful weekend at home.  Don’t let “green guilt” get you down if your holiday isn’t as sustainable as you wished, and don’t spoil a pleasant occasion by attempting to green guilt-trip your friends and family!   Harmony is more precious this week than arguing that bit of non-organic food on the table. 

With that, I’m getting back to my own family 🙂

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The long road home

November 16, 2007

During drives home how it’s interesting to see where your thoughts take you.  As this is my first trip back alone since giving up caffeinated beverages this summer, my thoughts will most likely center around “stay awake, stay awake!”  But I may try to come up with something profound… or several less-profound things.  Which would be better?

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Do You Have the “Right of Way?”

November 15, 2007

paris-104.jpg

I’ve been thinking about traffic recently as a result of conversations here and here. Bicyclists always seem to be at the low end of the traffic totem pole. They technically have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles, but like a Geo in a sea of tractor-trailers they lack the muscle to assert their presence. Add giant slow-moving buses, hurried pedestrians, and the occasional skater (or thousand skaters as above) and it’s a wonder more accidents don’t happen during rush hour.

Who takes precedence? I’ve seen cars nudge in front of buses, bikes slide up columns of waiting cars, pedestrians dart out from nowhere, and even buses cutting off crosswalks. Legally, pedestrians, as the slowest and least protected, get the right-of-way.  Otherwise, it seems that legally cars, bikes, and buses are all on the same page, with special exemptions for bus stop areas and bike lanes.

It comes down to courtesy and respect, neither of which is prevalent on today’s roadways.  When driving I believe I should be last in line for anything.  Pedestrians, bicyclists, and buses get to go in front of me.  As my car is the quickest and most comfortable transportation open to me, anything I can do to make someone who utilizes a less convenient option’s trip easier is a good thing.  I can wait that extra 5 seconds at a crosswalk, because there’s a great song on the radio.

Who do you think has the “right of way?”