bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Germany’s Solar Power

I just came back from two weeks in Europe.  It was the first time I was there while keenly aware of renewable energy and our environmental impact.  I spent a majority of the time in Germany and was very impressed with what I saw.  I drove through most of Bavaria (or Bayern).  Almost every town, no matter how small, had at least one house or barn with solar panels on its roof.  Driving along the autobahn I saw several solar panel farms.  I did not go out of my way and yet I saw solar energy everywhere.  If a roof wasn’t at a good angle, the solar panels were tilted on top of the roof.  You can see examples in the pictures below.  Even as I was working on creating this post, I came across an article on Treehugger (one of my favorite sites) about Germany’s solar power.  Their pictures are of better quality and look like what I saw while I was there.  I was very glad to know that what I saw was being used.  solar panels


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Energy Efficient Homes

One of the things I want to do with my blog is help the average person (if there is such a thing) know how to be more eco-friendly and energy efficient.  Not everyone wants to go out of their way, but there are still small things we can do.  There are also bigger things we can do, especially if we own a home.  I do not – I’m a renter with no control over the fact that my windows don’t always shut properly.  My parents do own a home.  They have recently decided to make some changes and I think they are worth sharing.

The first thing they did was put solar panels on their roof.  It was something they had thought about because of the established technology that gives clean, efficient energy.  However, they had found out that it cost $40,000 to put them on.  A friend of theirs got some help and put them on for half that, but it was still too much.  Then Vivint Solar came to their door with a proposal which they accepted.  Two of their friends who lived in the area (including an engineer who looked at the schematics) had already had the solar panel installed.  The basis for the deal is that Vivint Solar is ‘renting the roof’, and so there is no upfront cost.  My parents get a percentage of the electricity generate by the solar panels and the rest Vivint Solar sells to NStar (or whatever energy company who is the energy provider).  Their bill to Vivint Solar fluctuates based on the amount generated and the amount used but has been about $60-80.  Their electric bill used to be about $200/month.  This summer they have been paying nothing or a few dollars to NStar.  They expect to pay more in the winter, but it should still be about half of what they were paying before.  It seems like a good deal economically as well as environmentally.

Their next step is changing their heating and cooling system so that they are much less dependent on oil.  This proposal came from Next Step Living.  My parents knew nothing about this, but are interested in helping the environment and this proposal also came with no upfront costs.  Two of their friends also have this technology in their homes.  It is a Total Climate Control system made by Fujitsu that works with condensers outside of the house.  Each room gets a heating and cooling unit or a vent in the ceiling from a unit in the attic, each of which has an individual thermostat.  The oil system stays in place because the system doesn’t work when the temperature gets too cold (as in -5 degrees Fahrenheit).  Before it is installed an energy audit is required.  My parents had Next Step Living do it.  They were given a list of suggestions and free energy efficient lightbulbs.  They are only paying $500 of the cost of implementing the suggestions.  In terms of the money, Next Step Living works with Commerce Bank, NStar and MassSave, and my parents are securing a zero interest loan of about $23,000.  It will take them about 7 years to repay after which they will own the system and not have to pay.  It means that instead of paying $340/month for oil, they will pay whatever small amount they use when it gets really cold in the winter and $274/month to repay the loan for those 7 years.


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A Week at the Beach

I just spend a week on Cape Cod.  It is possibly my favorite place on Earth.  I have visited the town of Wellfleet every year since the day I was born.  It is remarkable in that there are many fresh water kettle ponds very close to the ocean.  In the middle of the 90 degree days, a swim in a pond was perfect.  Then I would spend the early evening in the beach.  As beautiful and relaxing as it was, I didn’t stop thinking about the environment, carbon or sea level rise.Newcomb Hollow Beach, our family’s favorite, had changed dramatically in one year, although it had actually gotten wider.  At the same time, I could see erosion of the dunes.  Two recent hurricanes had definitely made an impact.

Dunes

I enjoy taking pictures, especially while walking on the beach.  What I don’t enjoy is seeing litter on the beaches.  There were also a lot of signs trying to make sure that people were respectful to the environment.  I’m glad that someone cares but also disappointed that the signs were necessary.

Beach Mosaic


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Paper or Plastic?

I think that everyone knows that to be environmentally conscious we should use reusable bags when we go to the grocery store.  I would like to say that this is what I do.  The truth is that most of the time I stop by the grocery store on the way home from somewhere else and didn’t put a reusable bag in my car.  That means that I am confronted with the question at the checkout: paper or plastic?  Today I chose paper.  And then I decided to do research.  It turns out that more energy goes into the making of and the recycling of paper bags, so plastic is the more energy efficient choice.  This was not the answer I was expecting to find.  There are negatives to plastic bags, including the well-known fact that the plastic almost never breaks down and can injure wildlife if it becomes litter.

Here are some sources:

A very concise view: HowStuffWorks

A long explanation from one of my favorite blogs: Treehugger

The New York Times weighs in: New Proposals Like Neither


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Paper Towels or Electric Hand Dryer?

I went to the gym yesterday and before working out I washed my hands.  Then I was faced with a dilemma.  It’s a dilemma that we all face whether we think about it or not.  How do I dry my hands?  The options at my gym are paper towel or air blade hand dryer.  At my house I use a towel that I throw in the wash every few weeks.  I feel good about the lack of energy and carbon footprint from that.  But a towel wasn’t an option this afternoon.  So I decided to do research.  Of course, it all depends.  It depends on the type of air dryer.  It depends on how long you take to dry your hands with an air dryer.  It depends on whether the paper towels were made from recycled paper, and whether the company replaces the trees they cut down.   But the prevailing wisdom seems to be that air dryers are in fact more green than paper towels.  And the better and newer the air dryer, the faster it dries your hands, the less energy it uses.  (Unfortunately, I also discovered that for those most concerned about the spread of bacteria, paper towels do a better job of preventing that.)

Here are some of my sources:

Slate has an answer here: How to Keep Your Paws Clean and Green

One of my favorite blogs has an answer too:  Treehugger

Here’s another answer:  The Straight Dope


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A Walk on the Beach

Today I went for a walk on the beach.  I hadn’t been to the beach yet this year and I love the beach.  I went to Carson Beach in South Boston, which I had never been there before.  I didn’t last very long; it was over 90 degrees and there was no shade.  In fact, I burned my feet on the sand as soon as I arrived there.  I had to wear shoes to take a walk.  The soft sand was too hot and near the water was covered in shells, rocks and glass.  It was a beautiful day and the beach is also beautiful.  The green trees around it make you forget that you’re in the middle of Boston.  It wasn’t that crowded because most people did have to work today – or left town for an extra long weekend.

I wish that I could have enjoyed the beach without having to think too hard.  Instead I think about ocean pollution and wonder what the glass shards used to be and where they entered the ocean.  I wonder who cleans up the beach because I’m sure more litter ends up on it.  I wonder how many more 90 degree days there are going to be this summer.


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Walden Pond

I went for a walk around Walden Pond with a friend today.  I’m always amazed by how isolated it is.  It is so close to Rte. 2 and all of the construction that is currently going on along it.  But the only noise not by nature that I heard was from the train that runs by the pond.  Seeing the site of Thoreau’s house always makes me think about the past.  Thoreau’s Walden is one of my favorite books (actually along with most of Thoreau’s writings).  Compared to when Thoreau lived there, it is not isolated at all.  In fact there’s a building by the biggest beach, signs and fences everywhere.  Along the walk, we’re constantly being told to stay on the path.  Thoreau was able to wander as he pleased and explore every inch of the much larger forest that surrounded the pond.  What he did was extraordinary even for his times, but I still feel like we can learn a lot from his ideas.  Simplify.  Live in harmony with nature.  Buy and take only what you will use.  I’m not saying that’s how I live or that we should all grow our own food.  But I do think we should be more aware of where our food comes from and consider all of things that live in our basement and never see the light of day.  walden pond