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Coastline Preservation

Living in the Chicago, the only erosion I tend to worry about is the kind that results in decaying roadways, ergo creating construction zones and traffic jams that cause me to lose hours of my life stuck in traffic. I hear about erosion problems in the plains; about dust storms and flat, dry land that’s left unprotected from elements that sweep it away. Occasionally, I visit a relative’s home on Lake Michigan and notice the subtle wearing-away of the giant bluffs lining the shores.  This prompts me to think more about people who actually face the threats of erosion on a daily basis.

Although the farmers in the plains of the Midwest go to great lengths to prevent harmful erosion in their fields, it is the inhabitants of the oceanic coastlines that really make me wonder. My brother lived in the Florida Keys where, in some spots, the land is only inches above sea level. Oceanside dwellers are repeatedly blasted with hurricane winds and waves that flood their shores and quickly overtake their homes and businesses. Having so little land to begin, they cannot afford to lose any more ground to erosion.

According to the National Weather Center, the U.S. endured 273 hurricanes from 1851-2004, 92 of which were classified 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew ravished through the Florida leaving an unprecedented path of destruction, and in 2005 Hurricane Katrina showed us how hellacious mother nature can be.

In Katrina, Louisiana learned how delicate their land was as it was swept away at hurricane force. The sudden deluge submerged miles and miles of land where homes, schools and businesses were built. People who had never questioned the stability of their homes were overcome as their foundations literally washed away from beneath their feet.

The devastation of a natural disaster can truly destroy the very basis of our lives. Whether its something small like a decaying roadway or a diminishing shoreline or something drastic like the erosion in the plains or a hurricane-ravished coast, the natural erosion of our land is a serious problem. Whether you recognize it or not, the earth is our foundation and, although we treat it as though it can take anything, it is a precarious element and we must be careful to conserve it.

Proof That It Pays

Higher prices create hesitation, for some, to invest in energy saving equipment, worried that they won’t see the payoff soon enough. But, U.S. energy news may provide the extra push to change their minds. Rebecca Smith of the Wall Street Journal reported that “Slack demand for electricity across the U.S. is leading to some of the sharpest reductions in power prices in recent years…” A drop in electricity demand has helped reduce daily market prices by 40% during the first half of the year.

For decades the demand for electricity has had steady growth. In fact, 45 of the last 58 years have seen growth exceeding 2% per year. The significant decrease in demand has come with the economic downturn, but there is at least one bright spot in the dark state of the economy: It has forced consumers – both commercial and private – to buckle down on their consumption.

It’s unfortunate that it takes a massive crisis to force us to make responsible changes. Reduced productivity, employee cutbacks and job losses have all contributed to the diminished demand. Whatever the stimulus, the result has been positive for power prices and energy conservation.

All consumers can’t expect to reap the benefits of energy price cuts right away as some people have locked-in price contracts. Over time, however, we expect to see a softening effect for everyone. For businesses, the savings could amount to just enough to keep them from making further cuts in employment and production. For private homes, reduced power prices will help take the edge off already overwhelming costs.

What does this mean? It means that the changes we’ve made since we’ve been forced to cut back have really worked. Not only are we saving by consuming less but we’ve actually lowered the price of the goods. Kudos to all who have contributed. Whether its switching to CFL bulbs, turning off the a/c or building a more energy-efficient home, everyone has come together to create change. For those of you who haven’t made the changes, this should sway you to consider the investment. Simple conservation can lead to a more universal form of savings.

Congrats, New Jersey!

The state of New Jersey is getting creative in its efforts to promote renewable energy. A new project by the state’s largest utility company will make New Jersey no. 2 in the nation in solar energy production. – California being no. 1. 

Despite a lack of sunshine, high winds and open land, New Jersey has made strides to become a leader in renewable energy production. New Jersey Public Service Enterprise Group, the state’s largest utility, is in the process of installing around 200,000 utility poles with solar units, and the state is encouraging industrial solar installations. Postal giant, FedEx, says they will begin installing what will become the nation’s largest rooftop solar facility on the rooftops of its distribution hub in Woodbridge, NJ next month. 

A $514 million dollar state program along with a 30% tax credit from the federal government provides incentive for companies like FedEx to invest in alternative energy sources in New Jersey. New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program launched the Renewable Energy Incentive Program, providing incentives for renewable energy projects using solar, wind, and biopower technologies. These programs follow New Jersey’s 2008 Renewable Clean Energy Programs, including the Customer On-Site Renewable Energy (CORE) Program and the SREC-Only Pilot Program, which ended as of December 31, 2008.

The state has seen a great response to their clean energy initiative in the past. Due to the high volume of applicants for up-front solar rebates beginning in 2005, the project quickly exceeded its budget. Now there is a line-up of applicants – over 1,200 waiting to join the program.

The state also provides tools and resources to encourage more responsible consumption. NJCleanEnergy.com provides resources to stay on top of the renewable energy industry, including tools to calculate emissions; news of recent program changes; and a library of information sources. 

What a positive way to affect change. If New Jersey, a state of less than 7,500 square miles can come second in solar production to nearly 156,000 square-mile California, imagine the national impact if the next 48 states followed their lead.

Wind For Water

We often take for granted that, in the U.S. and most developed nations, we can turn on a faucet and immediately produce hot or cold water, clean enough for drinking. We forget that there are places in the world so remote that running water is just a myth and not a reality. Places where drinking water comes straight from the same river where people bathe, wash their clothes and let their animals drink. Places where hauling water in buckets replaces twisting a knob on the kitchen sink. In some remote locations, even finding water can be a struggle. Regions lack the technology to redirect water sources and struggle to maintain a supply big enough to survive. However, an emerging technology may be the answer to this problem.

Eole Water SAS, has helped develop a solution for water-deprived areas. The French company has produced a wind turbine device that can extract water from the air. (The atmosphere is charged with moisture and is the world’s second largest water reserve.) The device, called the Water Eole, uses wind energy to liquefy water vapor. Basically, the wind turbine sucks in air; the electricity produced by the turbine is then used to cool the air and condense the water vapor.

The Water Eole can be installed in about one hour and can produce up to 800 liters of water per day. The costs depend on the model but range from 9,000-25,000 Euros. So far, the company’s focus is distributing to humanitarian organizations, but there’s no reason the rest of the world couldn’t benefit from this technology. It is a sustainable process using clean technology to produce green water – wind is the only fuel needed and no CO2 is released. Plus, the Water Eole reminds us that water is difficult to extract and, therefore, is important to conserve.

Taking Initiative

It seems our friends on the East Coast are really stepping up their game. First we hear about the strives New Jersey has made to stimulate production of alternative energy sources. Now we’re seeing New York municipalities launching programs to help residents become more energy efficient.

Municipal governments from Long Island to the Bay Area are helping residents purchase efficient furnaces, weatherize their homes and put solar panels on their roofs. The costs of such procedures are usually enough to keep most homeowners from making the shift to energy-efficiency. But, these programs are designed to be “recession proof.” Long Island suburb Babylon’s town supervisor reported to the Wall Street Journal, “To me it’s the perfect recession programs. It’s cost-effective. You’re actually creating jobs in a way that is not impacting taxpayers. But it’s helping everyone by improving the environment.”

Babylon launched its “Long Island Green Homes” program last October after a redefined solid waste program freed up $2 million of the solid waste reserve fund to seed the program. Now, residents can apply for as much as $12,000 in loans to finance home energy-efficiency improvements and rooftop solar panels.

The program works like this: After an energy audit, the town pays a local contractor to make energy improvements. The homeowner then pays the money back to the town through regular trash bills, with 3% interest. The best part is that the loan is structured so the homeowner pays less than he or she is saving in utilities.

So, local contractors are getting more business. People are conserving our resources and reducing their environmental impact – all while saving money. This sounds like winning situation.

So far, the program has been a hit. Babylon reports that about fifty homeowners a month call the town to ask for energy audits, most of which are converted to work contracts. A local contractor has already reported retrofitting 42 homes and counting since the program began and has had to hire additional employees and plans to hire more.

These New York municipalities are surely trailblazers and it seems that more local and state governments are close behind. According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, eleven other states now have laws on the books that allow local governments to establish financing programs for home-energy improvements. Pilot programs, like Babylon’s, have launched in five cities in California and several other local governments around the nation.

A Lesson Learned About Soil

While surfing the web, I came across and interesting article on the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) website – a site specializing in water and soil conservation. In an effort to learn more about these issues, I perused some of the links and I found one that worked particularly well for me. The link was titled “Helping People Understand Soils.” I know, I thought it was for kids at first, too. But, after reading through its ten key messages, I found that, although stated simply, this article contains lessons for anyone. So, here’s what it said (in a nutshell):

Lesson #1: Soils perform vital functions. They sustain plant and animal life below and above the surface. Soils regulate and partition water and solute flow. They filter, buffer, degrade, immobilize and detoxify. Soils store and cycle nutrients and they provide support to structures.

Lesson #2: Soil is the basis of the ecosystem. The living systems occurring above and below the ground surface are determined by the properties of the soil. We often ignore the soil because it is hard to observe.

Lesson #3: Soils Support Life. Organisms like bacteria, fungi, earthworms and more live in the soil and perform important roles in decomposition, release of nutrients, creating pores and stabilizing soils.

Lesson #4: Soil management affects soil quality.

Lesson #5: Soils have unique physical, chemical and biological properties that are important to their users.Traits like color, texture, structure, consistency, roots and pores all all important soil characteristics. Soil is a natural body of solids, liquids and gases with either horizons or layers or the ability to support rooted plants.

Lesson #6: Soil-forming factors determine the location and type of soil. Factors that affect soil formation include parent material, climate, living organisms, topography and time. Within the United States there are 23,000 soil series in various combinations with different slopes and surface textures.

Lesson #7: Soil Survey is a scientifically-based inventory. A soil survey includes maps, descriptions, properties, climate and interpretations. About 3,000 counties in the U.S. have a soil survey.

Lesson #8: Soils have limitations which must be understood. Soil related problems include corrosivity, flooding, rapid runoff, septic failure, soil born disease, contamination, crop loss, erosion, slope failures and much more.

Lesson #9: Just like plants and animals, soils are classified with scientific names using Soil Taxonomy – the highest level is Soil Order and the lowest is Soil Series.

Water Cops

Major droughts have, historically, affected regions across the United States. Most recently, drought-stricken areas such as Los Angeles and San Antonio have implemented new procedures to help fight water shortages. From restricted water usage laws to higher water prices, local governments have experimented with options to encourage citizens to monitor their consumption. More drastic measures, it seems, are needed, so, Los Angeles and San Antonio have called on the “water cops” to police their neighborhoods.

Los Angeles is now riding out its third straight year of drought. Beginning with smaller restrictions like mandating that not offer water to guests automatically and limiting sprinkler use to only two days a week, the local government attempted to reduce water consumption. But, it seems that people were not exactly obedient of these laws so, now, the city has hired a team of 15 wandering water cops, formally known as the Water Conservation Team.

The Los Angeles water cops receive tips from an anonymous hotline and patrol neighborhoods trying to catch water code violators. First offenders are given a warning and repeat offenders face a $100 fine.

Repeat offenders are not easy to find, however. Since June, the Water Conservation Team has more than 4,600 incidents, resulting in 834 warnings. Only 23 repeat offenders have been fined. The goal, said the Department of Water and Power, is to reduce water usage, not to raise money.

Similarly, San Antonio  has instated its own team of water cops. Their “Water Wasters” hotline receives more than 200 calls per day notifying them of water violations. In fact, over 1,800 water-violation citations have been handed out since April. Fines, in San Antonio, range from $50 to $100. It seems to be working because aquifer levels there are increasing despite record temperatures and a two-year drought.

Los Angeles has also seen results. In June, numbers indicated that city water usage dropped 12.7% from June 2008. These levels are the lowest overall consumption numbers in 32 years! Although the paranoia of being watched by patrolling water cops and prying eyes of neighbors is bothersome, the initiative seems objectively effective.

Even after the drought ends in Los Angeles, its not likely that all water restrictions will end, too. The city’s goal is to reduce water consumption by %15 and it must meet a state-mandated water reduction target of 20% by 2020.

Conserve Now or Pay Later

While reading the June 15 edition of the Wall Street Journal, I came across an article in the Environment section entitled “It’s Time to Cool the Planet,” contributed by Jamais Cascio of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. The headline was accompanied by a clever illustration of the world resting in a bathtub filled with ice and two fans cooling it from either side. Intrigued, I read on and, I have to say, the content of the article proved to be more shocking than the illustration.

The article outlined a new technology called “geoengineering.” Basically, geoengineering attempts to slow the effects of CO2 emissions by extracting atmospheric carbon and controlling global temperatures through sunlight blocking or reflection. Cascio explains that temperature control is the most timely and cost-efficient method and therefore the most likely to be introduced.

Temperature control is achieved by blocking or reflecting light before it reaches the earth. Aside from laying thousands of square miles of light reflectors across deserts (destroying entire ecosystems) or launching millions of tiny mirrors into orbit (deemed unrealistic), the most feasible approach is to increase the Earth’s reflectivity by injecting tons of sulfates into the stratosphere and pumping seawater into the lower atmosphere. The sulfate will, presumably, generate a similar effect to that of a volcanic eruption, scattering light and creating a cooling effect within a matter of weeks. Pumping seawater into the lower altitudes will produce new clouds and thicken existing ones in order to reflect more sunlight. If the phrase, “playing god” hasn’t crossed your mind yet, I compel you to consider the effects of this course of action.

Although Cascio maintains his “reluctant support” of geoengineering, he goes on to list several possible consequences of its introduction. First, sulfate injection, as well as cloud intensification, will have unpredictable effects on global weather conditions.  Unprecedented levels of rainfall or drought could affect areas and studies suggest that, if geoengineering were to abruptly stop, global temperatures could spike. Second, manipulation of the environment cannot be contained to one area. The changes we make in one place will have global effects regardless of political boundaries. So, who decides what the world’s temperatures should be or who is allowed to influence major changes to the environment? This leads to further implications if geoengineering could be manipulated into a military weapon.

Reading these side effects prompted me to wonder how we have come to this point. Are we a world in such environmental disarray that we consider global plans with unpredictable, precarious and highly dangerous implications? Whether you believe in reversing global warming or just reducing your impact and conserving our resources, don’t you think its time to start taking personal responsibility before world leaders are forced to intervene? It’s clear that we are running out of time before drastic measures begin to take place. So here is my cry: do your part, conserve, show the world that we can take matters into our own hands and we don’t need scientists to save us from ourselves.


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