Green App of the Week (6/24 – 6/30/12)

June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today’s App: Eco-Labels

Organic. All Natural. GMO Free. Animal Welfare Approved. Antibiotic Free. Dolphin Safe. Earth Smart. Fair Trade Certified. What on earth do these all mean?! These are the labels that we see every day on our canned goods, groceries, cleaning supplies, meats, and everything in between. They confuse us. We wonder which are more important, and if manufacturers are even telling us the truth about how their products were produced.

This week’s app, Eco-Labels, helps you to decipher just what these manufacturers are trying to tell you. Once you find the label in question in the app’s list, a simple click opens you up to wealth of information. First and foremost, it tells you what the label means. Next it answers a few important questions: Is the label meaningful? Does it have weight in the world? Is it widely accepted as a truthful label? Once you find that rating – usually described with terms such as “highly meaningful” or just a plain “No” – the next thing the app informs you on is whether or not the label is verified by an independent source – basically, does someone other than the company that made the product have any input into the label that gets put on it. Other information the app provides is whether or not the label is consistent, and whether industry members get input into the regulations of the label.

One of the things I really love about this app is that not only does it give you a rating or piece of info – i.e., doesn’t just say that the label is verified – it also explains why. Sometimes these explanations are only a sentence or two, but other times they’re quite extensive, spanning paragraphs of unbelievably useful information. Another favorite feature of mine is, in actuality, so simple that it’s brilliant – it includes pictures of the labels! One last feature of the app that it think makes it more useful than other apps of its kind? A search bar.

Overall, this app is simple, user-friendly, and if anything is just a little too all-inclusive.

My Grade: A

 

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The History of Environmentalism: Part 2: Lighting the Fire (Early Civilizations – The Middle Ages)

June 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

drought

drought (Photo credit: IRRI Images)

In the beginning, people lived in harmony with the environment. However, following the Neolithic Revolution, agriculture spread and people began to settle down. So began humanity’s conquering of the environment. In particular, the three major issues facing our environment as history turned towards the Middle Ages were the spread of agriculture, the increased use of water, and the creation of unprecedented amounts of waste.

Agriculture Spreads and Grows

Agriculture by definition does not have to be environmentally damaging. However, early techniques, such as slash-and burn agriculture, had severe effects on the environment when done in increasing quantities. Deforestation by any means, as was necessary to create much of the land needed for irrigation, has a wide spectrum of dangers, ranging from the atmospheric to the hydrological, and including a devastation of biodiversity. Irrigation isn’t much better, as the diversion of water severely damages aquatic ecosystems, and destroys soil quality downstream. Continuous farming dries out soil and drains it of it’s life-supporting minerals.

The early farmers soon started to discover that they were causing these problems for themselves. Many of them found new ways to farm that were better for the land. The Iroquois people of the northeastern part of what eventually became the United States used a farming method known as the “Three Sisters,” in which they planted corn, climbing beans, and squash together, allowing them to grow and mutually benefit each other, while keeping the soil fresh. Other civilizations began to rotate their crops, allowing fields a year or so to sit and regain their nutrients, often planting nitrogen-fixing plants like beans to help replenish the soil.

Unfortunately, despite improvements in sustainable agriculture, as the world moved into the early centuries CE, the population of our planet grew at previously unheard of rates. Due to this, sustainable practices often had to be ignored in order to survive, with farmers choosing to produce as much food as possible, without concern for the future. This would not only not improve, but worsen in the centuries to come.

Water Waves Goodbye

Irrigation for increasing amounts of farming already required a ton of water as the centuries rolled on, but agriculture is not the only thing that required water. People need water to survive, and they need it ready on a daily basis, clean, and ready to go. Wells sprung up around the world, drawing gallons upon gallons of water out from underground. Damns diverted water from rivers to reservoirs and cisterns, where water could be stored, to aqueducts, which moved it all around the world, to places it never had reached before. This became a self-perpetuating problem – the more water that you could move in store, the more people who could live on our planet, and therefore more water was needed.

This increase in water usage didn’t necessarily show any negative effects right away. However, like just about every other environmental problem our world has faced, the effects would show up later on in history.

Waste Grows Alongside Cities

So now that agriculture has grown, there’s generally enough food to go around, and water is plentiful as well. New advances in agriculture seem to happen one after another, after another, and it seems that each day another group of people no longer has to farm and can turn to a new specialization, from pottery and basket weaving in the beginning, to skilled metal-smithing and jewelry making later on. Where better to practice your trade, and, more importantly, to sell your wares, than in a city. People flocked to these cities, to work, to sell, and most importantly, to live.

Cities have a unique problem – they’re packed tight. On a farm, you have maybe 10 people living on a farm with a 10 mile radius, while in a city you have no less than 10 to 100 times that (at a minimum) living in the same sized space. Human beings create 3-4 pounds of biological waste each day, not counting any non-human waste they may create. When people were out hunting and gathering, nature took it’s course with the materials, breaking them down, often before any other humans reached the same site. On a farm, there’s plenty of space to take care of the waste, and not too many people producing it. Unfortunately, in a city, that isn’t necessarily the case.

In a city, the problem of what to do with waste became a major problem. With so many people in such a crowded place, that waste begins to take up a lot more space than is necessarily available. As cities develop, and streets are paved, the amount of available space shrinks even more. In other words, humanity was headed down a dangerous path.

Did anything improve as the Middle Ages dawned? Stay tuned to find out!

Environmental Video of the Week (6/17 – 6/23/12)

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

For the second time this week, I’m proud to introduce a new weekly series, the Environmental Video of the Week! Each week, I’ll post and review a video related to the environment or sustainability that I found particularly moving, informative, or in this week’s case, just plain fun.

Check it out. This week’s video is “A Beginner’s Guide to Giving a Damn (About Climate Change)” from Live Earth.

So why do I like this video? Well, let’s start with the obvious. It’s just fun! With it’s adorable cartoon-cutout animals, bright colors, humorous dialogue, and hilarious sound effects, it’s hard not to enjoy this video. The video is accessible to people of all ages, intelligences, races, beliefs, etc – making it an all around useful tool for introducing environmental conservation to anyone.

One of the things that particularly struck me about the video is its message. The video exists to promote the same thing I do – to provide small, simple ways to make a huge impact on our environment – in a good way, of course! This message is exactly what the world needs, and for that, I chose to feature this video as my first Video of the Week.

Green App of the Week (6/17- 6/23/12)

June 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Sustainability Revolution has begun! Green is taking over our world. From solar panels popping up on suburban roofs around the country, to local, organically grown foods being sold in an exponentially growing number of local markets,  it’s became generally accepted that sustainably-minded business is here to stay. Last week, I wrote about a new social network that can help eco-geeks band together, and after a bit of research, I’ve discovered another field of emerging green business: Apps. Starting with today’s post, every week I will feature a different Green App – some clearly focused on sustainability, others that can be used for environmentally friendly purposes.

Today’s App: Verde 

Verde means “Green” in Spanish, a fitting name for this iPad app, which is a kind of all-encompassing app for conducting your own personal do-it-yourself energy audit. In just four easy steps, you can figure out how to save (according to the app’s website) an average of $200 a year in energy costs.

It’s easy to use. Start by selecting your geographical zone from a map, then let the app use your location to figure out your electricity rate cost. Third, add appliances and other energy-consuming devices you have at home from one of 7 categories (Lighting, Heating, Air Conditioning, Computers and TV, Kitchen Appliances, Other Electronics, and Electric Vehicles). For each appliance, you can be as specific, or as nonspecific as you want and edit how often you use it to more accurately account for it’s energy consumption. Last but not least, you click finalize and end up with a report like the one below, detailing exactly how to make your home more energy-efficienct – and cost efficient.

Your Final Report

What I love about this app is that it takes the idea of an Energy Audit – something that is often free, but still intimidating – and makes it easy to do yourself. Many homeowners don’t like to have their homes audited, because they feel that they get pressured into doing the repairs recommended to them, so Verde provides an alternative, allowing homeowners to make their own decisions, or to check up on what they’re told by professional auditors. The app is super easy to use, and can be as specific or nonspecific as possible. The only flaws I find are the app’s focus on electricity, and not so much on other types of energy (i.e. gas), and that it basically ignores the idea of airflow and home sealing, which reasonably can’t be measured by an app. Overall, however, I love this app – it focuses on exactly what I think is important – things that are easy to do and have super-significant environmental and economic impacts.

My Grade: A-

Top 7 Inventions to watch for in 2012

June 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

A friend of mine just forwarded me this article. To no surprise, all seven of these inventions involved sustainability and the environment. Check it out!

Here it is: Top 7 Inventions to watch for in 2012 | MYOO.

The History of Environmentalism: Part 1: Early Societies

June 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the beginning, there was the Earth. Since its formation four and a half billion years ago, it is the unique qualities of our Earth that have allowed life not only to survive, but to thrive. While we may have only just recently begun to understand how this came to be, respect and gratitude for, and reverence of our environment and our Earth are almost as old as humanity itself. Once our earliest ancestors mastered fire, and settled down to begin living an agricultural life, then we see the beginnings of these feelings about the environment. Most of this showed up in similar forms around the world: Religion.

One of the earliest, and perhaps the classic(al) example (sorry, had to) of early environmental awareness comes from the ancient Greeks. One of the most prominent of the Greek gods, Demeter (Romans called her Ceres), was goddess of the harvest, and was

Ceres

Ceres (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

worshiped during each of the important harvest times. Other important gods ruled and controlled the waters, winds, seasons, and everything in between. By praying to these gods, the ancient Greeks were able to express their thankfulness for the gifts of the Earth, but their worship can also be seen as an early yearning to understand the forces at work maintaining our planet.

Other early cultures practiced beliefs that focused on environmental sustainability. Jewish law, which was written and practiced even earlier than the Greeks, had strict agricultural regulations. In order to allow trees to grow properly, for example, their fruits are protected in the first few years and are not to be harvested. Other laws deal with pollution, noise, and smoke, amongst other things. The ethical aspects of Dharma in Hinduism encouraged early humans in the Indus Valley to respect their environment, while Buddhism provided others with an emphasis on balancing human indulgence and destruction with the needs of the environment and others.

As a non-religious example, the practices of indigenous people, from North America to Indonesia and Africa, varied as they may be, tend to have some similar traits. Most significant among these are the beliefs that many of them share in conservation, specifically in living off the land. Most of these societies understood that they had to live with the land – they had to take into consideration the other animals, and even the other plants that they lived with and shared an environment and ecosystem with. These beliefs led to practices that have unfortunately not necessarily continued to our present day, especially the practice of using every part of every thing you take out of the environment. For the Plains Indians of North America, for example, when they killed a buffalo, all of the meat would be taken and either eaten or preserved, the bones would be used to make tools, and the skin and furs would be made into tents or clothing. This practice pervaded almost all early peoples, and varied only by the plants and animals they interacted with.

Unfortunately, as time went on, many of these practices, religious or secular, law of the people or law of the land, faded away. Civilizations in the late centuries BCE and early centuries CE started building  huge cities, leveling forests to build roads, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, began fishing and hunting en-masse, and most significantly of all, began to experience exponential population growth. How did this change the world of sustainability? Check back next Sunday for part two in this new eight part series on the History of Environmentalism and Sustainability.

NYC High Line Exemplifies Urban Greening

June 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

In 2009, New York City history was made. A brand new, incredibly unique, and highly integrated linear park opened between the Chelsea and Meatpacking districts of the West Side of Manhattan. The High Line Park, which originally encompassed an elevated stretch from Gansevoort Street up to 20th Street, and currently extending to 30th Street, is not unique in being an elevated park – the Promenade Plantee in Paris is perhaps the most famous example – but is perhaps the first to be built on, around, and incorporating an old elevated train line known as – wait for it – the High Line.
I could easily bore you right here with an over-researched and under-enthused depiction of the history of the High Line and how it came to be a park, detailing all of the different staged ad listing each and every piece of legislation needed to put this thing together, but I’d rather skip to what I think we all would consider the good part – lets talk about the park.
The first thing that hits you, no matter where you ascend to the park, is the color. The park is unbelievably green. Everywhere you look, leafy plants and bushes elicit the feel of a riverside walk, and at one point a photomural of the Hudson River accentuates that point further, as do a variety of unexpected glimpses out over the real river itself.

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Raised above the bustling streets of Midtown Manhattan, only the slightest hint of the chaos below can be made out, in the form of a soothing, rustling breeze. As you walk along the park, and look past the greenery, there’s much more to be noticed. Depending on your point in the park, you may find yourself standing on top of the old rails of the elevated train. At other points along the greenway, you may actually find the old rails, wooden rests and all, being used as a pseudo-planter for the lushness around you.

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In addition to the sheer sustainable brilliance of converting the old tracks to this beautiful park, many more sustainable features can be found across the part. One of them is literally right under your nose – and your feet. The section around 16th Street, stretching a few blocks, is made of wood rather than the shining metal of many of the other sections. This wood is not just any wood – its actually certified sustainable Ipe, with which the benches throughout the entire park are made.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s the matter of economics. In the few short years since the park opened, it has played a huge part in the revitalization of the neighborhood around it. The real estate boom that has occurred around the park is just one more thing to add to the list of reasons how environmental protection and sustainable environmental planning and development spur many other significant benefits.

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