OK, that's it, folks. You can stop consuming till the end of the year - last week we hit the year's limit of available resources, and we are now in overshoot mode. Since we are unlikely to do anything about it, this year we are expected to use the resource equivalent of 1.4 Earths. The good news? Earth Overshoot Day was two days later this year than last, perhaps because of the economic downturn.
BioLite is an affordable wood stove that dramatically reduces emissions. The design cunningly uses its own heat to produce a small amount of electricity using a thermoelectric generator to run a fan that improves efficiency and reduces the amount of wood used. [via AfriGadget]
If you think urban life is stressful, you are probably right, in more ways than you realise. Scientists now believe that a few minutes on a city street can reduce your ability to hold things in memory, and affects the brain's self-control. Something about the cognitive effort needed to redirect attention from all the irrelevant signals we have to filter out. But if you can see trees, grass or other natural things - even through a window - you may experience improved brain performance and even recover from illness more quickly. [via Panopticist]
All those gadgets add up. It's not just refrigerators and air conditioners and electric heaters we need to worry about in our homes. The International Energy Agency estimates that worldwide, consumer electronics now represent 15 percent of household power demand, and that is expected to triple over the next two decades. Any gains made in the efficiency of electronic appliances have been offset by increasing numbers, and by the increasing tendency for devices to be 'always on'. To satisfy the demand from gadgets will require building the equivalent of 560 coal-fired power plants, or 230 nuclear plants, according to the agency.
I wrote previously that speed bumps for generating electricity from the kinetic energy of vehicles is not really a clean energy source, since it’s using the energy of petroleum or diesel – whatever energy the driver is donating to the speed hump has to be regained as the vehicle accelerates after crossing it. But there may be other useful applications, such as when a car must slow down anyway (say at an intersection or toll booth), or when braking is needed on a downhill slope.
There is a company that claims to have the technology for doing this. The New Energy Technologies website shows an application where a car slows at an intersection and passes over their device as it approaches the intersection. That might be a useful attempt at using waste energy, but here’s a more productive idea.
All the cars entering a multi-level parking garage need to use their engines to gain potential energy as they drive uphill; when they leave the garage, they would normally waste this energy, unless they are hybrid vehicles with regenerative braking.
To capture the energy from all cars going down ramps, a device could be installed to control downhill speed by generating electricity using the same principle as regenerative braking. I would be surprised if there is anything on the market to do this, but I can imagine a device that is sophisticated enough to gauge vehicle speed and adjust itself to maintain a constant vehicle speed whatever the mass of the vehicle happens to be. The heavier the vehicle, the more potential energy it has and the more electricity generated. Ideally, the driver could proceed to the bottom without applying brakes, ensuring maximum transfer of energy to the generating device. And if it steered the vehicle as well, the driver could be reading the newspaper on the way down, like in an automatic car wash – with the engine switched off, of course.
In fact, there’s another idea. Why not turn the ramp into an optional car wash? Just add a few extra coins where you normally pay for parking, out pops the spray nozzles and rollers, and hey presto, a shiny car emerges at the bottom. And the water, of course, would be grey water filtered and recycled from the building’s washrooms, heated using the waste heat from the building’s air conditioning system. Since we have gravity at our disposal, the water filtering system for recycling could be gravity-fed, then pumped back up using energy from the cars.
When electric vehicles become commonplace, what will we do with the batteries as they reduce their ability to hold a charge that will take us the distance we have become used to? Will we replace them before we replace the vehicle? Will we take them out and use them for home use to store energy from our solar panels? Will there be better methods for recycling them? Manufacturers are starting to investigate the future of EV batteries.
Avaaz and Greenpeace have organised an international flash mob campaign for tomorrow (Monday 21 Sept) in support of a statement against climate change. A Cape Town flash mob will gather at Rondebosch Common at 12 pm and at 12:18 will freeze in various positions for 3 minutes. Various other simultaneous events have been organised across South Africa (check here). Videos of the events across the world will be sent to the UN Summit on Climate Change.
Related to the event, The Age of Stupid will be screened at the Labia Theatre on 21 Sept at 8:30 pm and on 22 Sept at 6:15 pm. Urban Sprout reviewed the documentary film.
If there is any business that has a vested interest in understanding the risks of climate change, it's the insurance industry. It's difficult to prove that any individual storm, drought or other natural disaster can be blamed on climate change, but insurers have to take a hard-nosed approach to risk, and they are taking climate change seriously.
Yesterday was the opening of a three-day conference in Cape Town hosted by Santam, UCT's Centre for Criminology and research-based consulting firm, Partners for Change. The conference sets out to create opportunities for discussions on understanding climate change; the need for resilience and adaptation; and the role of business - and specifically, insurers - in mitigating environmental change. The "Ecocentric Journey" conference opened with a speech
by Professor Clifford Shearing of the Centre for Criminology.
A changed climate means a changed risk environment, with which insurance must deal. Explaining the perhaps obscure role of the Centre of Criminology as a sponsor of a climate change conference, Shearing pointed out that criminology, too, is concerned with risk mitigation and security. The insurance industry, he said, is concerned with security and played a key role in the emergence of the massive private security industry in South Africa. "Like insurance, criminology deals with security; there is no bigger threat to security today than climate change."
Adaptation in relation to environmental risks is a major imperative for insurance companies. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that many of these risks are not acts of God but the effect of human activity. "We are learning that these events are not beyond human control, but indeed are very much the result of human action as we live in our economies," said Shearing.
The insurance industry, said Shearer, will play a potentially pivotal role in creating regulations and incentives which will persuade clients to place themselves in a better position to adapt to and mitigate the effects of environmental change.
It's only three years to go to the end of the first period of the Kyoto Protocol, and countries are fishing around for ways to achieve what they have so far failed to do: reduce carbon emissions. The UK might make it personal:
Proposals for personal carbon trading aim to cut emissions by giving every person in the country a quota of free ‘carbon credits’ which would be needed to buy electricity and gas for our homes, petrol and diesel for our cars and aeroplane tickets for our holidays. Unlike food rations during the war, carbon credits would be tradable, so people with small carbon footprints could sell their spare credits while people with gas guzzlers and houses full of energy-hungry gadgets would need to buy extra credits to cover their extra emissions. Over time the quotas would shrink, in line with the need to hit emissions reduction targets.
A new report from the ippr suggests that while this would be a costly option, government may need to prepare for it if they are to reach legally binding targets. What will this mean? Certainly by putting responsibility for emissions in the hands of the consumer rather than the supplier, there will be widespread awareness of the carbon implications of individual decisions. Managing the system could be an administrative nightmare, and possibly even result in a thriving black market in carbon credits. But I am convinced that widespread awareness, whether achieved through this system or some other, is essential to really influence the ways in which we affect the environment.
Barrydale is a small South African town in the Overberg district, home to art collective Magpie. They make fantastic light fittings by hand, using reclaimed materials. Helen Brain wrote on Tuesday in TechnoTimes that "it was their 2-metre-high regency-inspired chandeliers, on show in the New York store Anthropologie, that caught the eye of the interior designer commissioned to decorate the Obama family's quarters in the White House." So now there's South African rubbish in the White House. (Not to be confused with the South African rubbish Brandon Huntley in Ottawa currently making news headlines.)
Magpie's are not the only South African light fixtures made from discarded items, though they might be the most elaborate. A while ago I discovered that Nzola Brand Cafe on Church Street in the Cape Town CBD (a wonderful nook for breakfast or lunch) has been fitted out with light fixtures made of plastic found washed up on the city's beaches. I believe they can be bought at the shop next door, so if you are looking for that sort of thing, I suggest you check it out.