Sunday, April 20, 2008

Living without a carbon footprint

We recently returned from our trip to Costa Rica and Panama and I have been busy writing about it in my new blog. I wont spend much time on it here but I did want to mention one of the villages we visited briefly.

Today many environmentally conscious people are focusing on lowering their carbon footprint and reducing their impact on the environment around them. No matter what they do, they have nothing on the Embera people living in the Darien Jungle.

These people have been living their quiet peaceful lives without a thought for all the accoutrement's and anxieties of our "modern" existence. And believe it or not, there wasn't a Playstation or Xbox in any of their homes. This meant of course that walking amongst their community, unlike most of our own, children were actually outside playing. Hard to believe, I know, but we have the photos to prove it.

In fact, the only nod to modern machinery I saw was the gas powered engine for the boats they used when taking goods to sell in the city 4 hours away.

I realize some would say they are a backwards people, but I wonder how many of them would choose to trade with us if they knew the true extent each of us is tied financially if not physically to the things we own. Would they give up their quiet peaceful lives so they could have all the items we take for granted as the necessities of life if they understood that in return, half of every waking moment would be spent working for someone else so they could afford it?

At times it seems that we are the ones who have it backwards and now we are stuck trying to repair the damage all of our modern luxuries have caused. Maybe if each of us could spend a week or even a month with people such as this, making the "sacrifices" that are needed to reduce our impact on the world wouldn't be such the big deal most of us make it out to be.

If you are interested in seeing some of what we saw on our travels, feel free to visit my new blog.

What is your walk score?

Just ran across this interesting site that can help give another perspective on the value of location when looking for a place to live.

This handy tool allows you to enter your current or potential future address and get an idea of the walkability of the area. It takes into consideration the distance of locations such as schools, restaurants, parks etc. from you and scores it on a scale of 0 to 100 to give you an idea how walker friendly the area is.

So if getting away from the daily commute or simply cutting back on those short trips to the store is a key consideration in your next move then check out Walk Score.

By the way, my area only scored a 25 but fortunately for us most of our driving is a relatively short commute for my wife. Check it out and let me know how your area stacks up in the walk friendly arena.

Photography by hortongrou

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Before I go,,,,

We head out tomorrow on a eco friendly style cruise of the Panama Canal (if you can call a cruise "eco friendly" with a straight face that is ) which I will blog about when we return mid month but before I go I wanted to leave you with some good reading.

A fellow blogger at Savannah Daydreamin' is doing much the same as I try to do here and that is to show how average people can make a real difference in the world around them through little changes in our lifestyle without going nuts and heading for the caves in the process.

Check him out, I know I will when we return later this month.

Finally, some sensible alternatives to corn for fuel

Lately I have been becoming uneasy over the push to add Ethanol made from corn into our nations fuel supply. On the surface it sounds great, reduce our need for foreign oil by using a natural and renewable resource and one day we can kiss these foreign oil companies goodbye once and for all and bring our troops back home.

The trouble is, while corn is renewable, it is also edible and a key ingredient in almost every food item we purchase today either directly or indirectly. Have you noticed how food prices continue to rise lately? Well imagine what they will be like when the very same corn we grow for food (ok, it may be a different quality, but the land use is the same) for human consumption or to feed the animals we raise to eat as well as our pets (yep, take a look at the ingredients, it is usually one of the first in the list) is also a key ingredient used to run our cars. Not only will it mean higher food and fuel prices, but as our need for fuel increases along with our population, it will mean clearing more land for crops.

If you, like me, hate to see us destroy land for oil or coal then it should be just as bad to see it clear cut for the production of Ethanol.

Ok, enough of that. On to some of the new alternatives that are showing some real promise.

One item I ran across today uses bacteria to break down waste products that would otherwise go to the landfill. The University of Maryland research has found that the bacterium S. degradans has an enzyme that breaks the waste down into sugar that can then be turned into fuel.

Researchers say the process, known as the Zymetis process can produce as much as 75 billion gallons of gasoline a year once fully operational. The great thing is no food crops need to be used and waste products that are destined for the landfill can instead be diverted for use to fuel transportation which is a major backbone of our economy. A win win.

The next item is something I have been reading about off and on the past year or so, but there is a new twist that looks like this can come mainstream relatively soon now. Algae, the funky stuff we have all seen growing on ponds has been studied for many years because of the fact that up to 50% of its mass is made up of oil.

The main sticking point to making this a success has been the ability to grow large quantities of it. While algae itself grows very fast, it requires vast amounts of surface space to produce it in large quantities. Enter Glen Kertz, president and CEO of Valcent Products. His patented system named Vertigro, takes algae farming to a new level, literally.

Instead of growing algae on the surface of ponds, he filters it through clear, hanging plastic bags that create as much surface as he needs. They claim they can produce 100,000 gallons of oil per year per acre compared to the 30 gallons you can get from an acre of corn.

So, can anyone out there tell me why our gov't is throwing so much support behind corn Ethanol? The pessimist in me says coal and oil is behind it because eventually people will begin complaining about high food and fuel prices and call for and end to corn Ethanol. But I could be wrong.

The good thing is, there are some very smart people out there dedicated to solving some serious problems and advances such as these can only be held back so long.

Photography by Yvonne Stepanow