bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy

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Sustainable Design and water conservation

I wanted to write one more post about water conservation and what I learned while I was in Europe.  As I was thinking about the article, I went to the library and got out a book that gave me even more ideas.  The book was Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide by David Bergman, which is a bit technical but very interesting.

There are some simple things we can do in our own homes to make them more eco-friendly.  I mentioned in my post about my parents’ house that they put in energy efficient lightbulbs.  Turning air conditioning units to a few degrees warmer and turning off lights help lower energy consumption as well.  There are also more complicated things we can do without rebuilding.  These include adding insulation (in my parents house their pipes freeze in the winter if they don’t leave the taps running which is a terrible waste) and putting in low flow toilets.  What I noticed in Europe was that almost all the toilets, public and private, had two flush buttons.  I was never one to go with “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down”  because I couldn’t get over the gross factor.  I just didn’t want urine sitting there for any length of time.  But with a dual-flush system, you can minimize water usage for urine while not risking clogging the toilets all the time.  The other big difference in European bathrooms is the lack of stable shower heads.  Both of the bathrooms in the apartments I stayed in required me to hold the shower head.  It turns out I used a lot less water and got just as clean.

To get back to the book, there were two mentions of Europe in the book that I thought I would highlight.  I don’t know if you are familiar with Material Safety Data Sheets, but I have seen them a lot in theater.  They are published for all materials and contain all known hazardous ingredients and any other safety information.  In the U.S. apparently the hazard has to be recognized by the government (well-established with evidence) before it needs to be included.  Apparently in general Europe doesn’t wait for conclusive evidence and errs on the side of caution.  Practical for safety, but less practical for the bottom line.  The other mention of Europe was the Passive House movement, which apparently started as the Passivhaus movement in Germany.  The idea behind it is to build houses that don’t require as much energy rather than trying to using alternative energy sources.

The last month has made me think I should move to Europe.


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High Tide on Main Street by John Englander

I read this book based on a recommendation of another blogger and I am so glad I did.  One of the best things about it is the amount of charts, graphs and pictures that are used.  It is particularly helpful when he shows graphs of long periods of times and then blows up the more recent past to show the effects that recent greenhouse gas emissions have had.  I realize that I was already a believer, but it does seem to prove that humans are changing the atmosphere and sea level.

This book has a lot of science in it, but it was still incredibly readable.  I am not someone who enjoys reading science textbooks, or even scientific studies.  John Englander has made the science understandable and easy to digest.  There were plenty of things I wasn’t aware of – like the cycle of ice ages and how we are actually due to start the cooling phase heading toward another ice age.  The sea level is at the high point with less water trapped in ice sheets.  It looks like this started to happen in the past centuries but something (humans) changed the course of history.  (Not to sound too dramatic.)

Did you know?  Sharps Island off Maryland sunk into the Chesapeake Bay in 1962?  Apparently due to sea level rise, erosion and sinking land.  Holland Island, also in the Chesapeake, disappeared in 2010.  Or how about this?  “At our current rate of carbon emissions, we will increase carbon dioxide levels… roughly 20,000 times faster than at any time in the last 540 million years.  Temperatures… are now rising about 55 times faster than they did even during the most recent cycle of glacial melting.”

Englander also talks about the impacts of sea level rise.  Here is a website that models sea level rise on the coastline of the U.S.: Climate Central.  The NOAA also has one.  He goes through various cities and talks about what they would face and how much of their population would be effected.  It is worth noting that along with changes in shoreline, the water table will rise with sea level and so many inland areas will also be affected.

Here are a couple more links from the book that I thought were interesting:

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Overheated by Andrew Guzman

The subtitle for this book is The Human Cost of Climate Change.  It paints a scary picture of what the world will look like in fifty years and a hundred years.  It also makes a compelling argument for why we can’t afford to ignore what is happening.  The book assumes that there will be a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2100.  This is on the low end of the temperature rise that can be expected.  It’s smart in that it allows the author to avoid being considered too alarmist and it turns out even a 2 degree rise would be horrific.  I think everyone should read this book.  Rather than write a true review, I would like to highlight some of the author’s major points.

I knew that the Industrial Revolution was the beginning of humanity’s love affair with releasing greenhouse gases (GHGs, the most important of which is carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere.  What I didn’t realize was that the Earth didn’t start warming immediately.  It wasn’t until the 197os and 80s that it started and it started slowly.  This delay means that even if we stop releasing GHGs entirely right now the Earth would still warm for a while.

One of the major human impacts of climate change will be the displacement of people.  People will be forced out of their homes for a variety of reasons; rising oceans will force people away from the coast, higher temperatures will cause droughts and widening deserts, glaciers melting will cause floods in one season and droughts in another.  Glaciers store water and release it into rivers as they melt.  Melting too fast or disappearing and melting not at all creates floods, droughts and then a lack of water.  Hurricanes and other major weather events will get worse because warm ocean water fuels hurricanes.  These displaced people will live in refugee camps and overcrowded cities that will have poor sanitary conditions and people packed together breed disease.

The politics involved in global warming are complicated to say the least.  But certain things are relatively clear.  Rivers don’t pay attention to political boundaries and the need for water will cause conflict.  For example, Turkey puts a dam on the Euphrates River and Syria and Iraq have a lot less water to work with.  Tens of thousands and maybe millions of people moving to other countries when their countries are no longer habitable will also cause political tension.

What you don’t want to know:  There are island nations, including the Maldives and Tuvalu, who will disappear under the sea even if we start cutting GHG emissions right now.  “The level of GHGs today is higher than at any point in at least 650,000 years and is currently rising more than fifty times as fast as what would be caused by natural fluctuations.”  “The best information we have from still-earlier periods suggests that you would have to go back at least 15 million years to find another time with concentration levels [of CO2] as high as today’s.  During that period, temperatures were much warmer than they are today, sea levels were 20 to 35 meters higher, and no permanent ice cap existed in the Arctic.”  “Every year, a part of Nigeria about the size of Rhode Island turns to desert.  Across the continent, the Sahara is spreading southward at a rate of more than three miles a year.”  “Between the mid-1970s and the year 2000, for example, climate change caused the annual loss of more than 150,000 lives….”

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Climate Myths by John J. Berger

I recently read Climate Myths by John J. Berger.  I was hoping to learn more about the science of climate change and what, if any, controversies still exist in the scientific community.  Perhaps my expectations were faulty, but I was sorely disappointed by the book.  The first (and very significant) portion of the book is dedicated to the various organizations that have gone out of their way to dispute climate change and how serious it is.  He mentions organizations that don’t exist anymore, which may be interested to a researcher but seem to have no relevance for me.  What was helpful was his discussion of certain more prominent climate deniers and why their credentials make them less credible than climate scientists who all agree on global warming and its impacts.  However, I didn’t like how far he goes in disparaging some of the organizations, even comparing them to Joseph McCarthy and the anti-communism in the 1950s.

I was disheartened to learn about how the media has helped these organizations and climate deniers by giving them as much air time as the thousands of scientists who agree on the gravity of global warming.  One of Berger’s examples was The Wall Street Journal, and here is an article I found: No Need to Panic About Global Warming.  If you look at the sixteen scientists who signed the articles very few, if any, are on the cutting edge of climate science.

Another reason for my reading the book was to feel more prepared to refute in conversation those who might be on the fence about global warming.  The second (and much shorter) part of the book is helpful for that.  He goes through the various ‘myths’ and why they are flawed.  I was very glad to find out about the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Cimate Change (IPCC) that operates under the U.N.  American politics being what they are, this seems like a good place to point people.

I hope to find books that I feel more ready to recommend.  This one is helpful only if you’re specifically interested in the organizations (past and present) who have made enough of American doubt climate change so that politicians are unable to make any progress.