Whet Your Pallet

This pallet adirondack chair was featured on Green Upgrader.

Building with pallets is a great starter upcycling venture. They're made of solid hard wood, they're readily available (just track down some friends who work construction), and they're oft-abandoned after they serve their purpose. Here are just a few wonderful ideas we tracked down online over the last few months.

For compost bins:

...For tables...

...For shelving...

...For storage...
 ...For seating (or sleeping!)...

...For outside bars:

...For work-room stairs...

...For bringing in-house forts to a whole new level...
 ...for plants...


...for storage...

Got a great upcycling idea you'd like to share? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Cheap (or Free!) Sustainable Housing Options

Bookreading copy.standard 460x345.jpeg

Cheap (potentially free) to build & free to run houses 

Mark Boyle takes us through some of the most cost-effective, environmentally sound options for housing

Mark Boyle
Originally published by Permaculture Magazine

Theoretically, you could build any house for free, especially in a model such as the resource-based economy that participants in the Zeitgeist Movement propose. But realistically, a dwelling may only be built for free to the degree that it was made from local materials. Therefore any design that involves imported materials will very likely have some level of financial (and ecological) cost attached to it in most instances, though as we will see this is not necessarily so, as we can often use the detritus of industrialized society to produce the sustainable homes of the future.

For the purposes of this article, I will look at houses that could be built for free but are likely to cost something, even if it is a fraction of what you would spend on a modern brick-and-mortar house. To keep costs to the absolute minimum, use your imagination and try to use what you have at hand, as much as you possibly can, in the construction process. In all cases, once they are up they can easily be free to run on an ongoing basis. For inspiration, Lloyd Kahn's books Shelter, Home Work and Tiny Homes are excellent sources.

 

Passive solar designs

If you want to eliminate heating bills, and your corresponding ecological footprint into the bargain, then one of the best things you can do is build using a passive solar design, ideally using a locally sourced material such as cob, which has high thermal mass, as a means of storing the energy created. Designing in a greenhouse, where you propagate and grow whateverplants you want to eat or use, onto the south facing side of your house is one of the best methods of doing so.

The sun shines in through these windows throughout the day, heating up the dwelling behind the greenhouse. If you want a house that heats up quickly in the morning, but are happy for it to cool down in the late evening, then fitting your interiors with wood may be a good option within such a design. However, if you would prefer to have a house that takes a little longer to warm up in the morning (for example, if you are out of the house until evening) but which then stays warm throughout the evening until the following morning, then cob may be a much better alternative, as it slowly radiates the sun's warmth that it stored throughout the day.

 

Earthships

This is one version of a passive solar house, developed in the US by pioneering architect Michael Reynolds, for parts of the country that can get as cold as -20ºC. Passive solar homes can be made using a variety of materials, and usually are. Earthships are a specific variety that are made out of recycled and natural local materials. Rainwater harvesting methods, used car tyres rammed with earth, glass panes (which you can pick up for free from your local double glazer, who often are burdened with glass that they've cut wrong or that a customer no longer wants), wind turbines, solar water heating systems, photovoltaic panels, even beer cans and glass bottles (used to create wonderful lighting effects inside), all constructed using methods that very much chime with permaculture principles.

The result is that you have a model of home that will enable you to be self-sufficient for energy and water, and with a little bit of elbow grease, food also. Given that 40 million tyres are disposed of every year in the UK, the Earthship is a solution that simultaneously solves two problems: what to do with all these tyres, and the ecological impact of importing all the building materials that we currently use to build our homes, materials these otherwise useless tyres could come to replace. The fact that this untapped resource would provide high levels of thermal mass just adds to the notion that the Earthship design, adapted to use less complex equipment than they currently are designed with, really could be the model of a sustainable, moneyless future.

 

Earth bag construction

As an alternative to the rammed earth tyres of the Earthship model above, which pay great long-term dividends but which require a massive amount of time and human energy to begin with (each tyre can take approximately 40 minutes to an hour to fill, though numerous friends and acquaintances have told me that the weeks they spent ramming the tyres had a powerful bonding effect on their group), there is the option of using earth bags instead, which only take a few minutes to tamp depending on how strong and energetic you are feeling.

For this purpose you could reuse the rice and grain sacks that your local wholefoods and organic retailers and/or wholesalers may have. Depending on how simply you want to build these, they could be done without money, but it is more likely that they will be low cost in their construction. In the wake of the earthquake, the Haiti Christian Development Project built around a dozen such dwellings at the cost of £1,400 each, which included wage costs.

To bring that figure as close as you can to zero, and as a transitional strategy, you could instead employ a bunch of volunteers to help, whom you'll find are often enthusiastic about getting involved, whether to learn some new building technique or apply those skills they already have to help others build the sustainable homes of the future. With such a model of working, the volunteers get to learn all the skills which they can then pass onto others or use to build their own dwelling, whilst you get some much needed labour and morale boosting support, without any financial cost.

 

Straw bale homes and guest houses

For a localised (and hopefully moneyless) straw bale house, the type of straw you would use is country specific. In the UK that would be rye, oats or wheat. For more information on how to do this, I recommend Barbara Jones' book Building with Straw Bales: A Practical Guide for the UK and Ireland. A very useful take on the straw bale house is a mini-model which I stayed in whilst visiting a well-known self-sufficiency project in the UK.

The owners built a little straw bale guest house for visitors and volunteers,which was effectively a pimped up tent, but much warmer and cosier. It consisted of old wooden pallets on a base which they levelled out, covered in sheep's fleece (though any insulating material you can get your hands on for free could be used), with a recycled mattress on top, surrounded on three sides by load-bearing (and small) straw bales, with a south-facing wall of windows (constructed using waste glass and free reclaimed wood), with a green roof to help it blend into its landscape. Alternatively you could use the roof for water collection, depending on other factors in your unique situation.

 

Subterranean houses

This underground model was popularised by Mike Oehler in his book The $50 and Up Underground House Book, which shows you the basics you need to know in order to build one. The benefits of these include:
• Due to their subterranean nature, they do not impose on the landscape they exist within, a point that is especially advantageous if you do not have planning permission.
• They require no foundations and only half the building materials.They are energy efficient due to the fact they benefit from geothermal mass and heat exchange by their very nature; with good design they can stay warm in winter and cool in summer.
• Subterranean homes can also make best use of space if you are trying to be completely moneyless and your land is under an acre.
• The materials you gain from the excavation can be used in the building process.
• They are resistant to everything from earthquakes to the much more common threat of wind. The folk down at the building regulations department may have a few thoughts on it; that is, if you tell them about it!

 

Circular houses

Whenever a child draws a picture of a house, it always involves straight lines, such is the ubiquity of the rectangular or square house. Such dwellings haven't always dominated, however, and some circular models are still used as low impact and moneyless homes today. If round structure appeal to you, I'd recommend looking at Circle Houses: Yurts, Tipis and Benders by David Pearson or Simple Shelters: Tents, Tipis, Yurts, Domes and Other Ancient Homes by Jonathan Horning for more information and inspiration. Four main types of round dwellings spring to mind:

 

Roundhouses

These are regularly made from a number of locally sourced materials, including cob and cordwood, wooden posts, wattle and daub panels, all finished with either a thatched or reciprocal frame green roof.

A great example of one of these exists in Tinkers Bubble, an ecological community based in Somerset. Tony Wrench, who has built a well-known roundhouse, has written a very good book on the subject.

 

Yurts

A standard yurt is usually made up of a circular, wooden lattice frame covered in canvas. The roof is composed of a transparent crown, which allows light and heat in, held up by poles. You can add to their ability to retain heat by stuffing old rugs and duvets, or other insulating materials, in between the frame and the canvas. If this design appeals to you, I would recommend investigating geodesic domes first as a similar option, but one which you are more likely to be able to construct using zero money.

 

Tipis

These dwellings, traditionally used by Native American Indians and adopted by hippies worldwide, consist of wooden poles covered by some waterproofing material. Animal skins were traditionally used, though these days many people use canvas. The main difference between a tipi and other circular dwellings is its conical shape and opening at the top end, enabling the dweller to cook and heat themselves with an open fire. If you decide to use animal skins then tipis can be made 100% out of locally sourced materials and can easily be done without money. If you use canvas, they can still be made for free but you will need to mine the vast amounts of waste at our disposal.

If you live in the UK, all of these round structures will require planning permission; again that is if you inform the authorities. Due to their fairly mobile nature, many people just erect them and hope for the best, safe in the knowledge that they are easily moved if they get caught. In other countries such as Greece, which I spoke about earlier, many of these temporary structures do not require any permission, and given their climate and land prices, it can be a tempting place to go for anyone who wants to live outside of the absurd story of money and credit and debt without having to attempt to navigate the minefield of bureaucracy that exists in the UK.

The ideal home is one which makes the most of the best elements of all the above designs. As long as you have a sound understanding of the materials you are working with, and the landscape and climatic conditions you are working within, you can do a pick-and-mix with all the materials and designs above. A large part of your decision may simply come down to what materials grow locally to you and what you already have at hand.

For more information on building on non-development land see 'How To Get Planning Permission on Non-Development Land'
The Moneyless Manifesto by Mark Boyle is available at the special price of £11.20 (click here for e-book edition) from www.green-shopping.co.uk or call us on 01730 823 311.
Photo creditshttp://strawworks.co.uk

Further Reading:

Debunking the Dishwasher Myth


By PAUL WHEATON
Originally published at permies.com

I had a painfully awkward week. In one week, five different people told me “the fact” that dishwashers use less water than washing dishes by hand. I wanted to say that I think I use less water than a dishwasher, but in all five cases I was immediately hushed and reminded that this is “a fact” therefore not open to any discussion.

After the fifth time, something fun popped into my head... So I made this video. I just had to. I needed to express my position. I needed to prove my point! Proof dammit! So I set up my camera and proceeded to wash a load of dishes by hand. And when the dishes were clean, I used the dishwasher as a sort of drying rack. And PRESTO! I crushed a lame, so-called “fact”.

The common misconception, that washing dishes with a dishwasher (versus by hand) saves on water usage, is an excellent example, in my mind, of how some of the greenest people succumb to the greenwashing of Madison Avenue.

The doing-it-by-hand technique that beats the most eco dishwasher under any circumstances is pretty simple: use a dishpan and run just a tiny amount of water (quarter cup) to wash the first thing. Then use a tiny amount of water to rinse that one thing, with the rinse water running into the dishpan. As you are on to the fifth thing, you have a bit more soapy water in the bottom of the pan. So you can start washing bigger things.

By the time you are done washing and rinsing everything, there should be about two quarts of water used.
Eco dishwashers set to eco mode use about nine gallons of water and usually don’t get the dishes clean unless you clean them first. Granted, it is possible for a person to wash dishes by hand where they leave the water running and waste lots and lots of water. I am certainly not advocating that.
Hand washing vs. dishwasher: Which wins on water conservation?

There are some new dishwashers that will use only three gallons of water, but these are very expense and there are still some who say they don’t do a good job of cleaning.
I do agree with those who say washing by hand, or not, can also be just a matter of personal choice. Beyond the water usage issue, I prefer washing dishes by hand for many other reasons:
  1. I like to wash dishes by hand because when I am done, the dishes are all done. I am not burdening my future self to finish loading. Or to unload. Nor am I leaving a “to do” for somebody else.
  2. Each piece meets my cleanliness standards.
  3. It’s the way my grandad did it – and I’m always keen on doing things the way my grandad did.
Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture  and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permaculture articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploads permaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination and is currently shopping for a hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarine access. See all of Paul’s contributions to Make it Missoula here.

Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Greening Your Toiletries


Most of us use dozens of beauty products and toiletries without giving a second thought to their ingredients and health impacts.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization that aims to protect public health and the environment, states that the average adult uses nine products daily containing up to 126 different chemical ingredients. Most of these ingredients require no testing or are tested by the companies selling the product.


Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to guide us though the litany of ingredients on our product labels. The EWG offers a cosmetic database (click here!) that provides information and health concerns on most ingredients you would find on a label. There are also resources out there that provide a concise list of synthetic ingredients to avoid. Organic Consumers. Org for example, provides a top ten list, of toxic ingredients that are most harmful to your body. Your best bet is to minimize the number of products you use and to look for the certified organic label. The greatest rule of thumb is to never put something on your skin that you would not put into your mouth. Fruit and Vegetable based products are always best! We recently made several kinds of organic soaps out of simple and natural ingredients such as: coconut oil, orange peel, cucumber, mint, coffee,flax seed, cinnamon, etc. All available for sale at out farm stand!

Breaking Ground on Art Barn Deck

The men of Passerino Painting and Contracting dig holes for 6x6 posts that will hold up our new Art Barn deck.
It was a little more than one year ago when we began putting together plans for Better Farm's new Art Barn. Continuing from those ideas (several new banks of windows and sliding doors, gallery walls, track lighting, and recycled spray foam soy insulation), Passerino Painting and Contracting stopped by the farm yesterday to break ground on the Art Barn's brand-new custom, second-floor deck. Spanning more than 26 feet by 12 and overlooking a lovely natural amphitheater, this is going to be our new outdoor concert hall: bands on the deck, crowd on the hill...

The materials.
The decking material we decided on is MoistureShield, environmentally friendly composite decking that utilizes 95 percent recycled materials. Here are some fast facts about this company:
  • No new trees are cut down to make MoistureShield Decking.
  • Their process stops more than 270 million pounds of trash from entering landfills every year—that's 36 football fields of trash, each stacked 10 feet high!
  • They save more than 5.3 trillion BTUs of energy per year.
  • MoistureShield's process saves 1 million gallons of gas a year.
  • Not only does a 12´ x 12´ MoistureShield deck save 110 gallons of gas, but it also reduces greenhouse gas by 619 lbs. CO2 equivalent.
  • The plastic and wood A.E.R.T. recycles annually is comparable to taking 54,000 vehicles off the road.
Here's what goes into each board of MoistureShield:


The deck is going to run up the side of the barn:

Then across the entire back of the barn:

And overlook a natural amphitheater behind it:

As the guys get the deck in ship shape, we're going to bring in a friendly neighborhood goat to clear out all that brush and burdock (seriously). Stay tuned for more photos!

To schedule an estimate for one of your at-home projects, contact Passerino Painting and Contracting at passerinojm@gmail.com or (315) 783-3994.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Better Farm Scores a Spot on the 1000 Islands Agricultural Tour

Better Farm has been invited to take part in this year's 1000 Islands Agricultural Tour, a project undertaken by the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council that maps and compiles information about local farms in a free brochure. Visitors can follow the map, listen on cell phones to an audio tour, and stop in at the local operations. Similar to historic buildings tours or wine trails, the 1000 Islands Agricultural Tour allows you to sample local wines, veggies, fruits, honey, cheeses, ciders, and more—and visit with unbelievably adorable barnyard animals, alpacas, horses—and now, all the diverse, creative creatures calling Better Farm home.


When you visit the ag tour's website, be sure to check out our page! And don't forget to order a brochure—the weekend-long ag open house is slated for 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, July 21, and 12-4 p.m. Sunday, July 22. That event, open to the public, is designed to promote the agricultural industry throughout Jefferson County. It's a great chance to visit a number of local family farms, including but not limited to dairy, livestock, fruit and vegetable farms, wineries, butcher shops, and farm supply businesses. Each location will have a special, weekend-long feature going on especially for that event. Not to be missed!

For those of you who haven't stopped by Better Farm yet, that will be a perfect weekend to see what our synthesis of sustainability and creative expression looks like. The open house is supported by Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corporation, the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, and the Jefferson County Chapter of Adirondack Harvest.
Farms and agricultural businesses interested in participating can go to www.agvisit.com or www.comefarmwithus.com to download a participation form.  The application deadline is March 30. To order a free brochure of the farms included in the tour, click here.

Oh, Baby!

Green baby photo from Eco-Snobbery Sucks.
The Environmental Working Group recently sent this information along about eco-friendly, health-concious baby items. Some great product ideas for the next baby shower you go to—or the next time you want to try something all-natural out for your little one!
Toys
Clothes
Feeding
Diapers
Baby's Personal Care Products
Got a great, green product you'd like to share? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

The Biggest Green Innovations and Advances of 2011

DIY wind turbine kit, available through open-source technology.

While environmental policy and perspective have seen more than its fair share of setbacks in the last year, 2011 was no slouch of a year when it came to green advances and innovations. Here are some of our favorites, as published by the

Huffington Post

and

Earth Techling

:

Wind Technology Advances

Gearless Turbine Gets Power From Light Winds

- The Honeywell Wind Turbine for homes uses a new gearless system that allows it to generate electricity in winds as low as 2 mph, producing up to 1500 kWh annually. In addition, the

DIY Wind Turbine Project

culminated in a vertical-axis wind turbine design utilizing easily attainable parts, can be built by anyone, and yields impressive power output. As a bonus, it's open source. And, if you can believe it,  Wal-Mart is now offering a 600 watt, self-installed

Home Wind Turbine

that will charge 12 volt or 24 volt battery banks for those who want a little off-grid lifestyle.

Oil Spill Cleanup X Challenge Winners

Elastec/American Marine made impressive strides for oil spill cleanup this year.

They won the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge

for who could develop a system to clean crude oil from the ocean's surface at a rate faster than 2,500 gallons per minute. The team was awarded $1 million for their system that could clean up oil at a rate of 4,670 gallons per minute.

Fuel Cell Advances

USC Scientists Make Fuel Cell Breakthrough

- A team of researchers has found a way to release hydrogen from chemical form so it can be stored as a stable solid, making it more usable as a fuel cell.

Green Automobile Advances

At the Geneva Motor Show, VW unveiled the

Bulli Electric Van

, a zero-emissions update to the classic Microbus of the 1950s and beyond. In October,

Nissan announced a six year strategy to become the world's leader in green vehicles

. Between December 2010 and October 2011, Nissan had sold 16,000 of its Leaf electric cars. Meanwhile,

Ford unveiled an electric version of its Focus in 2011

. Ford claimed that the vehicles performance and efficiency figures will be comparable to other electric vehicles on the market.

Toyota and BMW announced in December that they would soon be collaborating

on research for next-generation car batteries. They hope to produce cleaner, more efficient batteries in the future. Companies like ECOtality are

increasing electric vehicle charging station infrastructure across the U.S.

, and by doing so are hoping to increase electric vehicles' market share of the domestic vehicle market. In August, President

Obama announced improved mandatory fuel standards

for large vehicles beginning with model year 2014. The Obama administration also introduced a plan, which could take effect in 2017, to

raise vehicle efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025

. The Associated Press reported that in 2009, U.S. automakers

agreed to increased standards of 35.5 miles per gallon

by 2016.

Biofuel Advances

In October, the U.S. military announced that it will be

powering its tanks and Air Force planes with biofuel

within the next few years. A U.S.-Chinese renewable energy partnership also

developed an oily nut-based aviation biofuel

. It was successfully tested in a Boeing 747-400 during a two-hour test flight in Beijing in October. Dutch air carrier

KLM announced in June that it would begin using recycled cooking oil

to power flights between France and The Netherlands. New research in 2011 found that

alligator fat is well-suited to the production of biofuel

. However, HuffPost blogger David Mizejewski wrote, "Whether or not alligator fat becomes a fuel source of the future remains to be seen." And the Navy recently announced they had successfully flown the first unmanned

biofuel flight

of a MQ-8B Fire Scout at its base near Patuxent River, Md.

Bike Sharing Programs

While bike sharing programs may be nothing new for some cities, 2011 was a big year for them. Both

New York City

and

San Francisco

announced that they would be rolling out a bike sharing program for the summer of 2012. Chicago also announced that it

hopes to bring 3,000 bikes and 300 kiosks

to the city by next summer. These cities hope to

repeat the success of Washington, D.C.'s bike sharing program

, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in September with its one-millionth trip. The D.C. program has 1,100 bikes and 114 docking stations in the District of Columbia and Arlington County, Virginia.

Green Living Advances

Innovator Builds The Better Energy Efficient Window

- Indow Windows has wowed some in the green industry with its simple energy-efficient home window design that cuts down energy cost and noise.

Advances in Solar

Home Solar Panel Kits Come To Costco

- Costco offers four different ready-to-install solar power generator kits to its members through its website that are from Grape Solar. And a

new paint from developers at the University of Notre Dame

could one day reduce the need for solar panels. The paint, which looks like normal house paint, has light-activated "semiconducting particles" that produce small amounts of electricity, which "researchers hope they can magnify in great enough amounts to power home appliances."

Know of a great, green innovation you'd like to share? E-mail us at

info@betterfarm.org

.

Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Spotlight On: This is Green



This Is Green, an iPhone app and blog offering green options for house and home, features, among other totally amazing green innovations, the above "Flexible Love" folding chair.

This is Green was developed by Jan Manon and Thomas Bache-Wiig. Jan is a writer and designer with a BA in Ecology who resides in Burlington, Verm., and has her own company Elf Productions! www.elfproductions.com. Thomas Bache-Wiig is a green architect who resides in Miami, FL. Both Jan and Thomas have worked on environmental content together for the last 2 years. Building the This Is Green iPhone app was a labor of love. Both Jan and Thomas wanted to make green choices easy to understand and implement for every consumer.

Kudos for combining tech-savvy with green ideals!

Have a great, green site or organization you'd like to share? E-mail us with your tips!


Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Occupy Wall Street Turns to Pedal Power



One of the most notable disconnects of the green movement is the continued reliance on fossil fuels and gas even as we protest the United States (and world's) reliance on fossil fuels and gas.

We heat our home with natural gas and protest fracking; drive cars everywhere while purporting to be against drilling for oil; and buy food from less-than-green companies in order to save a buck, even while decrying corporate agriculture and factory farming.

So it's a great relief to see some of the folks participating in Occupy Wall Street changing the rules.

For the first leg of these protests, gas-powered generators were indispensable: for lights, for charging up computers and cell phones, for providing heat. But last week, New York City confiscated many of the generators being used (Mayor Bloomberg cited a safety issue). Those generators won't be allowed back into the park, so environmental action group Time's Up! came up with a new solution: bicycle-powered generators.

The video above will do much by way of explanation; but basically the group needs 11 bikes in total to power the whole park. Any money raised for the bikes that goes beyond what they need will be used to build more energy bikes, which will be sent to other occupations. Awesome. 

Click here to donate.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

'Living' Buildings Could Inhale City Carbon Emissions

From CNN

London (CNN) -- What if buildings had lungs that could absorb carbon emissions from the city and convert them into something useful? What if they had skin that could control their temperature without the need for radiators or air-conditioning? What if buildings could come "alive?"

Science fiction?

"Not as such," claims Dr Rachel Armstrong, senior TED fellow and co-director of Avatar, a research group exploring the potential of advanced technologies in architecture. "Over the next 40 years, 'living' buildings -- biologically programmed to extract carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere -- could fill our cities."

Armstrong works on the cutting edge of "synthetic biology," a relatively new science devoted to the manufacture of life-like matter from synthesized chemicals, and is something of an evangelist for the discipline.

The chemicals Armstrong works with, concocted in the lab, are engineered to behave like organic microorganisms -- with the added benefit that they can be manipulated to do things nature can't. Armstrong refers to them as "protocells."

"For instance, a protocell could be mixed with wall paint and programmed to produce limestone when exposed to carbon (dioxide) on the surface of a building," she said. "Then you've got a paint that can actually eat carbon and change it into a shell-like substance."

So, just as iron rusts when it comes into contact with oxygen and water, protocells can produce simple chemical reactions when they come into contact with carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules, turning the CO2 into calcium carbonate, or limestone, which stops the greenhouse gas from rising up into the ozone layer.

As a by-product of this process, the British scientist says that limestone produced by protocells could naturally "heal" micro-fractures in walls, channeling through tiny breaks, helping to extend the life of any structure it was painted on to.

"And not only that," added Armstrong. "The thickness of the limestone will grow over time, creating insulation and allowing your building to retain more heat or indeed sheltering it from heating up underneath the sun."

The layer of limestone could take anywhere between a year and a decade to form depending on the concentration of carbon dioxide in the surrounding air. However Armstrong says that "eventually we will see protocell technology become self-repleting (able to replenish itself) and (it) will be considered alive."

Dick Kitney is professor of bio-engineering at Imperial College London and co-director of the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation. He says that, while the concept is sound, moving it into industrial production is a different story.

"It's a question of scalability," he said. "Getting the process to work in the lab is one thing, but after that you need to work very closely with major industrial manufacturers to understand if it is at all possible to produce on a mass scale. Sometimes it's just not possible."

Kitney says that nobody has yet managed to get any synthetic biological product to the manufacturing stage: "The science is being taken very seriously -- particularly in the UK and U.S. ... but it's still early days."

While Armstrong says the science has been proven in the lab, she too acknowledges that commercial applications are still some years down the road.

"This is bulk chemical manufacturing we're talking about, so the process is slow," she said. "If it were pharmaceuticals it would be much quicker."

But Armstrong's work is gaining interest from the industrial sector. "There's a traditional paint manufacturer here in the UK that is looking into it, but we're all under non-disclosure agreements," she said.

Armstrong admits that, at present, the paint would be capable of absorbing only a tiny fraction of the carbon dioxide emitted in a city like London, which spewed out around 42 million tons in 2009, according to government figures.

"The primitive paints we are developing are not very efficient yet, " she added.

Armstrong doesn't think the paint will be ready for market much before 2014 and, at this stage, she cannot comment on how much it will cost to produce commercially. Despite this, she says a major Australian property developer has already placed a future order for it.

Award-winning British architect Richard Hyams, who worked for 12 years under internationally renowned architect Norman Foster before setting up his own practice, is also an advocate of self-regulating building materials.

But, he says, attitudes will have to change before this technology makes it into the mainstream.

"As with any significant step-change, it's slow to take off," said Hyams. "From developers, to agents, to buyers themselves, people generally don't want to be the first to risk investment in a relatively untested industry when the costs are high."

In addition, says Hyams, legislation is slow, "slicing off the worst building practices from the bottom, rather than advancing the best ideas at the top."

However, Armstrong and Hyams agree that, as the burden on cities to reduce their vast carbon footprints intensifies, the market will look to more radical solutions.

"We're also currently experimenting with the process of bioluminescence," said Hyams. "The idea is that carbon is absorbed by a building to create light. Can you imagine a whole city lit by the walls of its own buildings?"

Whatever the future has in store, our relationship with cities' megastructures and the carbon they produce will likely change. Armstrong concludes with a sobering thought:

"At present, buildings are big machines that take our resources and turn them into poison. In effect, we are living in their waste like we were living in the effluent of animals during the Agrarian revolution."
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

'Going Green But Getting Nowhere'

By GERNOT WAGNER
Originally published in the New York Times

You reduce, reuse and recycle. You turn down plastic and paper. You avoid out-of-season grapes. You do all the right things.

Good.

Just know that it won’t save the tuna, protect the rain forest or stop global warming. The changes necessary are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action.

You refuse the plastic bag at the register, believing this one gesture somehow makes a difference, and then carry your takeout meal back to your car for a carbon-emitting trip home.

Say you’re willing to make real sacrifices. Sell your car. Forsake your air-conditioner in the summer, turn down the heat in the winter. Try to become no-impact man. You would, in fact, have no impact on the planet. Americans would continue to emit an average of 20 tons of carbon dioxide a year; Europeans, about 10 tons.

What about going bigger? You are the pope with a billion followers, and let’s say all of them take your advice to heart. If all Catholics decreased their emissions to zero overnight, the planet would surely notice, but pollution would still be rising. Of course, a billion people, whether they’re Catholic or adherents of any other religion or creed, will do no such thing. Two weeks of silence in a Buddhist yoga retreat in the Himalayas with your BlackBerry checked at the door? Sure. An entire life voluntarily lived off the grid? No thanks.

And that focuses only on those who can decrease their emissions. When your average is 20 tons per year, going down to 18 tons is as easy as taking a staycation. But if you are among the four billion on the planet who each emit one ton a year, you have nowhere to go but up.

Leading scientific groups and most climate scientists say we need to decrease global annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least half of current levels by 2050 and much further by the end of the century. And that will still mean rising temperatures and sea levels for generations.

So why bother recycling or riding your bike to the store? Because we all want to do something, anything. Call it “action bias.” But, sadly, individual action does not work. It distracts us from the need for collective action, and it doesn’t add up to enough. Self-interest, not self-sacrifice, is what induces noticeable change. Only the right economic policies will enable us as individuals to be guided by self-interest and still do the right thing for the planet.

Every ton of carbon dioxide pollution causes around $20 of damage to economies, ecosystems and human health. That sum times 20 implies $400 worth of damage per American per year. That’s not damage you’re going to do in the distant future; that’s damage each of us is doing right now. Who pays for it?

We pay as a society. My cross-country flight adds fractions of a penny to everyone else’s cost. That knowledge leads some of us to voluntarily chip in a few bucks to “offset” our emissions. But none of these payments motivate anyone to fly less. It doesn’t lead airlines to switch to more fuel-efficient planes or routes. If anything, airlines by now use voluntary offsets as a marketing ploy to make green-conscious passengers feel better. The result is planetary socialism at its worst: we all pay the price because individuals don’t.

It won’t change until a regulatory system compels us to pay our fair share to limit pollution accordingly. Limit, of course, is code for “cap and trade,” the system that helped phase out lead in gasoline in the 1980s, slashed acid rain pollution in the 1990s and is now bringing entire fisheries back from the brink. “Cap and trade” for carbon is beginning to decrease carbon pollution in Europe, and similar models are slated to do the same from California to China.

Alas, this approach has been declared dead in Washington, ironically by self-styled free-marketers. Another solution, a carbon tax, is also off the table because, well, it’s a tax.

Never mind that markets are truly free only when everyone pays the full price for his or her actions. Anything else is socialism. The reality is that we cannot overcome the global threats posed by greenhouse gases without speaking the ultimate inconvenient truth: getting people excited about making individual environmental sacrifices is doomed to fail.

High school science tells us that global warming is real. And economics teaches us that humanity must have the right incentives if it is to stop this terrible trend.

Don’t stop recycling. Don’t stop buying local. But add mastering some basic economics to your to-do list. Our future will be largely determined by our ability to admit the need to end planetary socialism. That’s the most fundamental of economics lessons and one any serious environmentalist ought to heed.
Gernot Wagner is an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund and the author of the forthcoming “But Will the Planet Notice?” A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 8, 2011, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: Going Green but Getting Nowhere.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

The Global Village Construction Set


If you took the time to break down our entire modern civilization into the 50 industrial machines required to make this society tick (with plenty of our current creature comforts), which gadgets would make it onto the list? You'd have to go as low on the chain as possible—to things like bulldozers and bakery ovens; that is, the things that you'd need to make the other things that would eventually make things like iPods and bread.

Well, as you might already have guessed, a group of guys got together to make a list just like that. The result, Open Source Ecology, is a network of farmers, engineers, and supporters building the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). The GVCS is an open source (read: free to access, and "doable" by any person skilled with his or her hands), low-cost, high performance technological platform that allows for the easy, DIY fabrication of the 50 different industrial machines it takes to build a sustainable civilization with modern comforts.

The GVCS lowers the barriers to entry into farming, building, and manufacturing and can be seen as a life-size lego-like set of modular tools that can create entire economies, whether in rural Missouri, where the project was founded, in urban redevelopment, or in the developing world.

A modern, comfortable lifestyle relies on a variety of efficient Industrial Machines. If you eat bread, you rely on an Agricultural Combine. If you live in a wood house, you rely on a Sawmill. Each of these machines relies on other machines in order for it to exist. If you distill this complex web of interdependent machines into a reproduceable, simple, closed-loop system, you get a series of basic items, such as a backhoe and windmill turbine (click here to see a full list with images).

Mind blown yet? Find out more here.