Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas Trees: Fake or Real?

Yes, the holiday season is arriving, and pretty soon people that celebrate Christmas are going to go out and get their trees, whether they be chopped from the ground or in a store. Time Magazine's latest issue has an article about which type of tree is better for the environment, and here is a summary.

Artificial Trees:

1. Cause lower carbon emissions compared to buying a real tree 10 years in a row (because of gasoline used to get a cut tree home).
2. However, these emissions basically cancel out because most artificial trees are shipped in from China.
3. Not biodegradable.
4. Older models may have high levels of lead.

Cut Trees:

1. When a tree is cut down, farms will plant another one in its place, making the process carbon neutral.
2. If the tree is thrown away, there isn't really much of a benefit.
3. Can be recycled in many areas that have programs.
4. Can be replanted if the root-ball is left intact.

I guess it all depends on how long you plan on keeping your tree and what you plan to do with it when you get rid of it. So, what kind of tree do you use? Any special family traditions or favorite ornaments? It was pretty funny because when I volunteered at this local senior assisted living center this past Friday they were putting up decorations, and they had this huge artificial tree. The activities director kept telling me to "fluff" up the tree branches. I've actually never heard of this expression before.

This image is from eHow.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Minimize Cooking Time

This tip is so simple, it almost seems silly, but if you get into the habit, it could really work.

Remember when you learned about surface area vs. area in elementary school? My class did an "experiment" with sugar cubes, seeing which size dissolved first in the glass of water. To minimize cooking time, use the same principle - maximize the surface area.

For example, if you make mashed potatoes and you first boil the potatoes, it really doesn't matter how big you chop the potatoes, right? However, I see some recipes that call for boiling whole potatoes. That takes a lot of time! If you just take a few minutes to cut the potato into cubes, you can drastically cut down on the boiling, saving you on time and energy bill.

The same idea works with cake mixes. If you look on the back cover, you see that if you use a cupcake tin instead of a 9x12 pan, you can shave off a few minutes of your baking time. Ovens do require a lot of energy, whether you are on gas or electricity, so make cupcakes instead of cake next time!

So if you want to save a bit of energy, make flatter cookies instead of dense, thin crust pizzas as opposed to thick crust, use thin spaghetti pasta instead of penne, etc. Barbeque thinner cuts of meat instead of a huge steak. Squish down beef patties when making hamburgers. It may seem silly but in the long run it will save energy, and I think the Earth right now will appreciate any little bit of help it can get.
This image is from dkimages.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Early Thanksgiving!

Hey everyone, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends! I really can't believe it's this time of year again...the months just seem to fly by, even though some days really drag on forever. How is that possible?

Well, I'm thankful this year for having access to clean water and fresh air on the environmental note. I did take them for granted for too long, but after traveling to China I now know how wonderful they are! I mean, clean, already purified water flows from a turn of the faucet, and when I step outside I can smell the crisp fall air. I don't have to boil my water down or wear a mask when I go outdoors.

Have an earth-friendly holiday! If you can, cook several things in the oven at once, watch your water usage, and chose local produce But most of all, enjoy your time off from school/work and have fun!

This image is from Hillel at Brandeis.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

So busy!

Hey everyone,

I've been so busy with school, extracurriculars, and college applications that I haven't had too much time to post lately! Don't worry, I'll be back before you know it :). Meanwhile, I just wanted to keep the blog interaction going. If everyone who reads this could reply, it would be great! How about everyone just answer the following questions:

1. What is the easiest change you have made in your lifestyle that has helped the environment?

2. What is the hardest?

3. Where are you from? (Random, but it's always fun to see where readers actually are!)

4. Is there anything you would like to be different on this blog? (Just some feedback for me)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Use Free "Passive" Solar Power

With the winter months coming, heating bills are probably going to rise. Solar power may help mitigate your increasing costs - even if you don't have solar panels! "Active" solar power utilizes sunlight to generate electricity, but "passive" solar power just creates heat directly from sunlight.

Short term solutions include just drawing back your curtains when the sun is facing the window. The sunlight entering will slowly warm up your room. Likewise, lower the blinds and shut the curtains when it's dark, to insulate your home.

Long term, you may be able to do some planning to further utilize passive solar power. Plant deciduous trees in front of windows. With these trees in place, in the summer, the leaves will block out sunlight, keeping your home cooler, and in the winter, sunlight can stream through the branches into your home.

There are all kinds of complex designs and engineering, involving water walls, insulation, and air circulation, that I don't quite understand and wouldn't feel comfortable explaining by myself, so I found a bunch of really good resources in case you are more interesting in passive solar heating.

At the Sound Home Research Center, there is some pretty good basic information, such as the costs and benefits, what works and what doesn't work.

The Arizona Solar Center has a very informative and detailed page on passive solar energy. This definitely is not for the amateur.

Here's a pretty basic YouTube video about passive heating. It's called Passive Solar Heating - Glass is All You Need. It's not the most dramatic or interesting video I've ever watched, but it does a good job of explaining.

This website shows some really cool solar home plans. Just in case you ever feel like building an home in the future.

So, there is something you can do to help lower your energy bills. Passive solar energy can be utilized by just drawing back your curtains, to building additions to your home, but you certainly don't need a fancy house and design like the one above, courtesy of

How cold does it get where you live? I used to live in Wisconsin, and it would always get to below zero every winter, with tons of snow! Now that I live in the South, I haven't really seen temperatures drop below ten degrees, and we haven't had much snow except for a few flurries each year.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Some Shocking Environmental Facts

I was looking up some statistics to share with the Ecology Club at my school, and I found some really saddening and shocking realities of our society today.

1. One year's worth of the New York Times paper weighs 520 pounds. That really struck me, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it really shouldn't be that surprising. There are so many pages of ads and the classified section. Most people only get the newspaper to read the headlines or their favorite page anyways. I think we should all take advantage of the online New York Times.

2. 40% of the solid mass in landfills is made of paper and cardboard. Recycle, recycle!

3. The office paper we waste each year could build a wall from New York to California.

These above facts were found at Top Ten Shocking Facts You Didn't Know About Office Paper Waste.

4. Four to five trillion plastic bags are made each year. Some reusable bags could cut this down...and some ideas here for reusing plastic bags...

5. Americans through away 100 billion of these bags each year, and only 1% are recycled. I know my local supermarket chains all have bins outside for plastic bag recycling, so check to see if your's does.

6. One billion seabirds and mammals die each year from ingesting plastic bags.

The above facts are credited to Say No the Plastic Bags.

These statistics seem so immense, and sometimes I feel a little helpless, like what can one person like me really do? But then I think, every time I recycle, every time I reduce or reuse, I am keeping that one piece of paper or waste away from a landfill - and that's my part. That's all I'm capable of controlling, but I can always hope to influence others to do their part too.

This image is from Knight Science Journalism Tracker.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Subscribe to a Local CSA

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. According to the United States Department of Agriculture,
It is a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.

From Local Harvest:

Many farms offer produce subscriptions, where buyers receive a weekly or monthly basket of produce, flowers, fruits, eggs, milk, meats, or any sort of different farm products.

A CSA, (for Community Supported Agriculture) is a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people become "members" (or "shareholders," or "subscribers") of the CSA. Most CSA farmers prefer that members pay for the season up-front, but some farmers will accept weekly or monthly payments. Some CSAs also require that members work a small number of hours on the farm during the growing season.

A CSA season typically runs from late spring through early fall. The number of CSAs in the United States was estimated at 50 in 1990, and has since grown to over 2000

This is great for the environment because it supports local farmers and allows you to eat local, seasonal foods. By purchasing your groceries from a CSA instead of a huge corporation, you are decreasing the amount of pesticides, fertilizer, packaging, transportation, fossil fuels, and all that jazz that is required for conventional produce. Supporting local farmers also helps sustain and conserve the local biodiversity of the area.

Additionally, the overall cost usually is easier on your wallet too, and you are able to experience a wide variety of nutritious produce that you otherwise might not take the time to pick up.

Have you had any experiences with CSA? Do you find it a convenient and healthy way to get produce?

These images are from Eggs on a Sunday.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pros and Cons: Nuclear Power

Some people hail nuclear power as the answer to all of our energy problems - others think it will cause the destruction of the earth. McCain fully endorses this source of energy, while Obama has now seemed to reluctantly accept it. What are the real facts and real dangers?


1. Compared to coal and oil, nuclear energy produces a negligible amount of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases.

2. Nuclear power plants can be built almost anywhere in our country, unlike oil which is mostly imported.

3. It's cheaper to obtain. More people can afford to have and use energy, hopefully giving a boost to our economy.

4. The waste produced is small and compact.

5. There has not been an accident since Chernobyl in the 1980s.


1. There is no safe way to dispose of radioactive waste. The material takes thousands of years to break down and outlasts the steel containers it is put into, meaning it could contaminate its surroundings.

2. Yucca Mountain, the proposed nuclear waste dumpster, is not only a sacred Native American land, but is also on top of a earthquake fault line.

3. Nuclear power plants produce thermal pollution - they require an incredible amount of water to cool down the interior. The water is then let out back into a body of water. The warmed water is harmful to marine wildlife. I have read that one power plant requires the same amount of water as the city of Chicago in one day.

4. Disasters and near melt-downs have occurred in the past.

5. Using more radioactive material could make it easier for terrorists to get a hold of dangerous substances.

6. No one wants to live near a power plant. When they are built, the people who cannot afford to move away are the ones disproportionately harmed.

7. The unknown. Do we really know all the effects and consequences?

So, do the pros outweigh the cons? Are the benefits worth the risks? I'm more well-versed on the cons of nuclear power, so if anyone has any opinions, please comment. What are your thoughts?

This image is from Current Word.