Green Christmas and Artificial Trees

For most families, the Christmas tree is the centerpiece of their holiday spirit. If you’re trying to go green, you may have invested in an artificial Christmas tree. If you think about it, during your lifetime you probably waste around 60-85 trees on Christmas so buying an artificial tree could be a great way to lessen your carbon footprint. But is buying an artificial tree more green than getting a real tree each year? The answer is yes and here are a few reasons why.

Deforestation might be one of your concerns, but you should know that most Christmas trees are grown on farms. These trees are grown throughout the year for the season and are not taken from national forests. Although you might not be sacrificing trees in nature when you buy a Christmas tree every year, you should also know that thousands of gallons of gas are used to harvest the trees and transport them.

If you have ever driven out to a Christmas tree farm and cut your own tree down, you know first hand of the gas that it takes to get out to the farm. By purchasing an artificial tree you cut down on the amount of gas needed to go get your tree and the demand for harvesters to bring them to market.

When you do decide to buy an artificial tree for your family you should try to find one that is made in the United States. Trees that are made overseas commonly contain lead. When you buy one that was made in the US, you cut down the chances of exposing yourself and any children to lead poisoning.

If you ever need to dispose of an artificial tree, you should check with local hospitals, homeless shelters or charities to see if they need one. Artificial trees can take up space in landfills and will take centuries to decompose. If your tree was made in China or another foreign country it might contain lead. Be sure to include this information to the new owner so they know to wash their hands after handling the tree.

Christmas trees are great for bringing the holiday spirit into your home. However, wasting gas and carbon emissions to go get the tree can be bad for the environment. Instead of polluting the air every year, you should invest in an artificial tree. These are great and can last for over 30 years if taken care of. Be sure to take all of the precautions needed when buying an artificial tree and make your Christmas a green Christmas.

Peter Thiels’s Floating Sea City?

What do you think? Is a floating sea colony science fiction or sound planning? In your opinion, is a floating sea colony a work of science fiction or feasible planning of architectural engineering?

Peter Thiel the founder of PayPal invested $1.25 million in an ambitious project–floating, autonomous colonies at sea. The entrepreneur who pays students $100,000 each to drop out of school and pursue business ideas, is one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific investors. Thiel’s fellows, students years old or younger, will leave institutions such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University, to work with a network of more than 100 Silicon Valley mentors and further develop their ideas in industries like education, biotechnology and energy.

More than 400 people applied for the fellowship, and 45 of them were flown out to San Francisco in late March to present their ideas to Thiel’s foundation and the network of Silicon Valley mentors.

After selling his then-startup PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion, Thiel bankrolled Facebook in its infancy. A series of successful investments has subsequently placed him nicely on the Forbes billionaire list.

Thiel, inspired by Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, has said that indeed he thinks sea colonization is an important step in securing mankind’s future on Earth. Thiel said:

“Decades from now, those looking back at the start of the century will understand that Seasteading was an obvious step towards encouraging the development of more efficient, practical public sector models around the world,” Thiel said in a statement in 2008, when he made his initial investment ($500,000) in the project.

His most recent grant of some $1.25 million for the Seasteading Institute could help propel development of independent island colonies off of the coast of San Francisco Bay.

A former Google engineer and the grandson of Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman, Patri Friedman is working on the seasteading project. Friedman told Details magazine:

Big ideas start as weird ideas…The ultimate goal is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government.”

Friedman and Thiel say that the colony should be ready for “full-time settlement” in seven years. A professor of architecture at UC Berkeley, Margaret Crawford and world famous expert on urban planning, however, is not so convinced. “It’s a silly idea without any urban-planning implications whatsoever,” she said to Details magazine.

Introducing: The Conversation

A group of Australian scientists recently began a new online effort to correlate the body of science and the rising human influence on the climate system.

Their initial piece, “Climate change is real: an open letter from the scientific community,” covers The Conversation, an academic Web site that aims to provide a credible source of analysis and information on important issues as traditional journalism shrinks.

The letter is in the style of recent American-fronted efforts to counter individuals and groups who have mastered the use of the Web as a means of disseminating and aggregating all kinds of information be it fact or fiction so long as it casts doubt on climate science.

In contrast to Skeptical Science and RealClimate, tightly focused on science questions, this initiative appears to be trying to both clarify the state of the science on global warming and the same breath encourage policies that might possibly curb greenhouse gas emissions.

This excerpt manages to do a justice to the overall style:

“Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people. A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.”

“On the other extreme, economic instability and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and other interests vested to whip up ill-informed, climate scientists and populist rage have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.”

The Cancun Calculation

CancunClimate talks in Cancun, that were four years in the making, successfully sparked a new deal on climate change. About 175 nations agreed to salvage the disappointing results of the Copenhagen.

The extra sessions, of at least a week long each, and a linked plan to prepare new draft U.N. climate texts would help pave the way to the next annual meeting of environment ministers in Cancun, Mexico, November 29-December 10.

The agreement will help prevent deforestation, promote the transfer of low-carbon technologies to developing countries and, by 2020, establish a green fund, worth $100bn (£63bn) a year.

Under the agreement, substantial lessening of carbon emissions will keep global temperature rise to 2°C–and possibly build up that target to 1.5°C.

The problem is: the amount of emission reductions being pledged are insufficient to meet that goal. They are now roughly at 15% below 1990 levels by 2020 when 40% is the amount needed.

The establishment of the Green Climate Fund, led by 24 representatives from both developed and developing nations, equally divided between the two, money from wealthy nations is to be distributed to poor nations to assist with climate change mitigation and adaptation. $30 billion in assistance money has been pledged by the European Union, United States and Japan, in addition to $100 billion a year starting in 2020.

STING: City Farmer Movie Maker

Sting is famous for his involvement with the Rainforest Foundation, which he co-founded in 1989 with his wife Trudie Styler. The foundation seeks to protect the Amazon rainforest from deforestation. Well, last month the music legend played a benefit concert for the organization.

But Sting’s eco-friendly activism does not stop there. He is also involved in other environmental causes such as supporting sustainable food – which is the inspiration for the artist’s next production: Sting is producing a film about Vertical Farming.

Sting and manager Kathryn Shenker, the project’s partner, purchased the film rights to:
The Vertical Farm: Feeding Ourselves and the World in the 21st Century. The book written by the concept’s proponent Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor at Manhattan’s Columbia University, is set to be released in October by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.

Vertical farming is a system of farming in which food is grown within tall city buildings as quite an effectual means of using land and a way to get fresh food to the local residents.

The book describes the system as such:

“Imagine a world where every town has its own local food source, grown in the safest way possible, where no drop of water or particle of light is wasted, and where a simple elevator ride can transport you to nature’s grocery store—imagine the world of the vertical farm.”

Sting says that the film will document the first vertical farm to be constructed in a major U.S. city. The movie will be shot in Newark, New Jersey.

Last week, Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago made the announcement that he is also supporting plans to establish a vertical farm in Chicago. In a building near Milwaukee’s former historic stockyards, at a conference last week, Daley spoke of his vision of organic foods grown the year-round.

Actually, the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center is working with the Illinois Institute of Technology on a vertical farm called The Plant. The plan, located in an old meatpacking plant, will develop a vertical farm including farming Tilapia and then recycling the wastewater from the fish tanks for the plants in the building.

Vertical farming proposals have actually been much talked about throughout the last decade, as an agricultural solution for world hunger in the 21st century created in high-rises as a sustainable form of urban agriculture.

Seed Bombing with Jin-wook Hwang

The term “seed bombing” has been used steadily since the 70’s when the guerrilla gardening movement began. Since then, we have been exposed to all sorts of inventive types of seed bombs. The original type was a condom filled with fertilizer, water and wildflower seeds, but most guerrilla gardeners use the all-natural kind made of simply mud, compost and seeds. Different recipes abound, but they are all quite similar. So when somebody finds a way to redesign the seed bomb concept – it’s exciting news.

South Korean designer Jin-wook Hwang came up with a new design for a seed bomb. His idea can be used on a larger scale than the neighborhood-greening ones which we’re used to. In his project portfolio, Hwang tells of the inspiration behind his idea:

“After The 2nd world war, Gale Halvorson, an American pilot, dropped candies in the name of hope for children in Berlin. The seedbomb is the bomb of hope like the candies of Gale Halvorson.”

Intended to be airdropped into arid environments, the seedbomb is actually a vessel carrying smaller seed capsules. When the bomb gets released, it falls apart, scattering the seed capsules inside. Each capsule contains a small amount of soil and nutrients along with seeds. For the first part of the plants’ lives, the seed capsules act as tiny greenhouses, thereby protecting the fledgling plants.

As the plants grow, the seed capsules biodegrade. What is left remaining is a new crop of plants in an area that was once dry and void of vegetation. Hwang’s vision is to drop his seedbombs into areas where most humans would never think to start a garden. The idea is that by reforesting some of the planet’s arid locations, we can improve not only the landscape, but the overall health of the planet.

More about Trees

Forests in the northern hemisphere seem to be growing faster now than they were 200 years ago; according to a study of trees in eastern America, this is a result of climate change.

The trees appear to have accelerated growth rates due to longer growing seasons and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air. Scientists have documented the changes to the growth of 55 plots of mixed hardwood forest over a period of 22 years, and have concluded that they’re probably growing faster now than they have done at any time in the past 225 years – the age of the oldest tree in the study.

Geoffrey Parker, is a forest ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. He said that the increase in the growth rate was unexpected and might be accredited to the higher temperatures and longer growing seasons observed in the region. The growth may also be influenced by the significant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, said he.

The study, which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that northern forests may become increasingly important in terms of moderating the influence of man-made carbon dioxide on the climate.

Dr. Parker and his colleagues have been carrying out a detailed census of the trees on a regular basis since 1987, measuring every tree and sapling which has a diameter of more than 2cm (0.78in).

They calculated that the forest is producing an additional two tons of wood per acre every year, which is equivalent to a tree with a diameter of two feet sprouting up in the space of a year.

The scientists identified a series of plots with trees at different stages of growth and found that both young and old trees showed increasing growth rates. More than 90% of the tree groups had grown by between two and four times faster than the scientists had predicted from estimates of the long-term rates of growth.
The scientists said that if the trees had grown as quickly throughout their lives as they had shown in recent years they would be much larger than they are now. They based their conclusions on 250,000 measurements taken over more than 20 years.

During the same period, the scientists measured the concentration of carbon dioxide in the forest air and found that it had risen by 12 per cent. The average temperature had increased by three-tenths of a degree, and the growing season had lengthened by 7.8 days. The scientists believe that all three factors have played a role in helping the trees to grow faster.

Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and extended growing seasons could be favorable for agriculture in some parts of the world, mainly in the northern hemisphere. The study in Maryland suggests that the extra growth in trees could help to act as a more efficient carbon “sink”, which would be able to offset the carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.

Hippies Vs. Thugs And Purple Mountains Majesty

Remember when I wrote on December 3 about “The Adventures of Green Grandpa”? Well it turns out the old guy was right about a lot – or at least riding a massive wave of controversy, about to break in the country’s high court.

The uniquely Appalachian form of strip mining which involves the blowing the tops off of ancient and awesome mountains and dumping the rubble in the valleys below – known as Mountaintop Removal, has spurred more protests this year than ever before.

Coalfields Flash PointThere have been nearly 100 arrests in 20 protests in West Virginia this year. The activists of a new group called Climate Ground Zero, have

“chained themselves to giant dump trucks, scaled 80-foot trees to stop blasting and paddled into a 9 million-gallon sludge pond. They’ve blocked roads, hung banners and staged sit-ins”

according to the Associated Press.

The Virginia-based Massey Energy claims that a single 3 1/2-hour protest at Progress Coal Co. in Twilight cost the company $300,000. During that protest two activists were arrested.

Those against Mountaintop Removal say that the industry and its allies are instilling fear and anger among miners, by accusing environmentalists, Congress and the Obama administration of trying to kill coal through regulations.

“Massey equates anti-coal with anti-American”

says an article from today’s Associated Press. The Pittsburgh-based company, Consol Energy blames the planned layoffs of 482 miners on a lawsuit by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

So who are the good guys? The union laborers that are just trying to make an honest buck? Or the environmentalists, who are just trying to save the environment?
The environmentalists use terms like “corrupt,” “greedy” and “thugs” to describe the pro-coal establishment. The Industry responds with words like “hippies,” “extremists” and “terrorists.”
Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you are on the side of the activists. Are we really being un-American in trying to save our “purple mountains majesty?” What would the Founding Fathers have said?

Israeli Firm Creates Energy from Road Traffic

If you remember New Energy Technologies and their electricity generating speed bump, you may now rest assured that they’re getting some help. They’d probably see it as competition, but Israeli firm Innowattech has successfully tested its own method of generating electricity from road traffic.

Energy Generating RoadThe test took place on a 10 meter stretch of Highway 4. Passing cars provided enough power for street lights at that section. The technology that powers it – generators are implanted two inches below the asphalt layer and create energy from the weight of the cars passing over them. The watts are stored in batteries on the side of the road.

An unanswered question remains to be, doesn’t this just take energy from one place and give it to another? What I mean is, the energy that is now used to push down a generator and light up a street light could have otherwise been used for travel. The question, more directly, is this: Don’t the generators slow you down? If so, then you’ll have to use more gasoline to travel, offsetting the benefits. If they don’t, then there shouldn’t be any problem and street lights become self-powered.

If the state agrees to install it on its highways, then I guess it’s worth it. Meanwhile, we’ll be waiting and seeing what comes about.

Fountain of Youth for Real?

Scientists have expanded the lifespan of rats by shutting down the production of S6K1 protein. All I have to say is, thank goodness. Now rats will live even longer! The most important implication is that we won’t have to replace them as often when we test things on them and such.

3D Model DNAYes, I’m joking. I’m sorry PETA. But here’s the serious part. S6K1 (S6 Kinase 1) is a protein that is involved in the body’s response to changes in food ingestion. And apparently, it cuts your lifespan by a fifth or so. Nobody knows why. They just know that it does. There are two ways to handle this. One is to eat a low, constant amount of food that limits the production of the protein naturally. The other is genetic manipulation that blocks the production of the protein at the cellular level.

Now, they’ve known since the 1930’s that reduced calorie intake by 30% for rats and primates extends lifespan by 40 percent. By blocking the protein, they were able to extend rats’ lives without reducing food intake. The genetically altered mice in the experiment lived over 160 days more than their normal counterparts, and at better health.

At 600 days old, the altered mice were leaner, had stronger bones, were protected from type 2 diabetes, performed better at motor tasks and demonstrated better senses and cognition, according to the study.

Here’s some not so good news though. These improvements were only observable in female mice. Male mice showed little difference in lifespan, although they did show some of the health benefits.

Females already live longer as it is! Not fair.