Yesterday, a massive failure of a water pipe serving my home, and two million of my neighbors, threw Boston into disarray. Some sort of car bomb in Times Square (that didn’t go off) has disrupted many and alarmed many more. I have been writing about the BP Oil Spill this week. All are connected — they are more than “catastrophes”: they all help remind us how connected and dependent upon technology we are … and I hope perhaps makes people think for a moment (or longer) about what that means.
Connecting With Nature
I have been a hiker and camped in the wilderness since I was a boy — when you’re climbing a mountain you know how precious water is, but also learn how little of our technology we actually need to survive. This said, I prefer my modern tent, clothing, water purifier, backpack and clothing to what I had forty years ago. But stepping into real, pristine wilderness almost instantly connects me to the systems of the source. I think my strong environmental bent is mainly linked to this life experience.
Millions of us living in the Boston area are using backup water now. It’s far from a catastrophe — the water we’re able to use from other reservoirs is untreated, so we have to boil it to kill the bacteria that might make us ill. I found it remarkable and somewhat heartening to see how quickly we came together to deal with the problem. But for a few days at least, we’ll all have to develop some new habits, put up with some inconvenience, and suffer some economic loss. Will we also stop to think, if only for a moment, that two million of us could have our water supplies and lives affected due to the failure of one pipe? I can imagine much worse scenarios.
The attempted car bomb in Times Square was disruptive in a different way. Little will change, but one can only think the residents of Manhattan had a little chill run up their spine, recalling the impact of terror from 9/11.
In the Gulf of Mexico, a single failure has created a widespread environmental disaster. It will affect the livelihoods of many, and disrupt a sensitive eco-system, likely for many years to come.
We have been talking about climate change for decades now. In the first phase in the 1980′s we began to realize that our domination of nature, through technology and energy was causing a problem. In the second phase by the 2000′s, we realized we had to act immediately to deal with it. Now in the third phase, we are realizing that we have missed our chance to solve the problem and we now also need to take steps to deal with the inevitable consequences.
So let’s consider these current disasters. Needless to say, the events in Boston and New York were trivial compared to the BP Oil Spill. But each stemmed from a single failure of technology that supports our complex infrastructure. Each resulted in a near immediate change in the way we live our lives, whether just for a moment, or perhaps far longer, but change our lives we did. Conveniences and necessities are affected — the impact is greater and longer depending on the scale. Now in 2010, five years after Katerina tore apart New Orleans, the city is beginning to come alive again. It could take years to reverse the impact of the oil spill.
But compared to impacts of climate change that scientists predict, all of these events will be forgotten as blips.
We’re Not Just Surface-dwelling Resource Extractors, We’re People
Take a moment to realize that we survive only when we live as a part of the earth, not just as surface dwelling resource extractors. Our dependence on the proper function of the earth is largely in our hands, and absolutely a matter of life and death. We must take significant action now. Yet we’re dithering on even the most trivial changes.
We can and do come together in times of crisis, and we accept change because we have no other alternative.
The magnitude of the crisis of climate change is vastly larger and longer than any of these current disasters. Yet of course each of these events will cause us to ask, “What could we have done to prevent…” the oil spill, the car bomb, and Boston’s water problem. Committees will investigate. We’ll make changes. These problems are concrete, current, and real.
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
The problem with climate change is that it hasn’t really “happened” yet, and never will, in any single event. It is abstract, difficult to measure, and hard to tie to any given event. It’s only in the aggregate … after we start seeing patterns (or see something more dramatic and visual), that climate change will become real to most people.
I fear that as we try to figure out how to prevent oil spills, bombs, and water failure, we are missing the much bigger opportunity to take action. If we reconnect with nature, and look around, perhaps it would be evident that the way to stop oil spills is to find a different form of energy. I fully recognize that this will not happen overnight. But I think we under-estimate ourselves if we say that we can make change happen overnight, or even in 10 years.
We’re pretty good at responding to problems. But we’re terrible at doing what it takes to prevent them. Take a moment to think how powerful nature is, on this lovely spring day, and join in the movement of people who are willing to take action and understand that we need to deal with climate change.
I while back, I reviewed the Shower Professor shower timer. I had tried an egg timer variety, but you really have to look … and it’s steamy in a shower. Cheap, but … cheap. I looked around at several other options, but they are kind of pricey. Heck, somebody has a serious issue if they need to buy one for $125 that has a password and locks the water off after a preset time period. Either that or they have a teen-aged girl (I’ll have one of them in a few years, and am bracing myself).
But if you are in the group of people who just want to do your part to save a little water, and save a fair amount of money, I am still happy with the simple $5.99 digital timer that I use, with the hokey name the Shower Professor. It beeps at the right pitch and volume: you can hear it, and it stops after five beeps so you don’t have to do anything to avoid waking up the household. And it has several reasonable preset times — it has gotten to be a habit just to press a single button when I get in — unless I haven’t had my coffee yet, I’m in and out in about 4 minutes. My wife shaves her legs, so her showers are longer — there’s a good preset for that. The kids use it, too. Because it’s easy. (more…)
A reader sent me a gizmo (in a regular envelope) that saves almost 10%, each flush, called the WaterSaver. It’s a small bit of plastic, costs $5, and installs in a matter of seconds (no, really). On a low-flow toilet, that’s about 1/3 cup of water per flush.
I was skeptical. For one, my toilet is the kind that make people hate low-flow toilets. It sometimes doesn’t work in, eh hem, certain cases. We have lived with the toilet’s shortcomings for a while. So anything that might reduce efficacy further seemed like a bad idea.
But I put in the WaterSaver anyway, just as a test, and measured. The simplest way is to measure fill time. Before installation fill time for my toilet was a bit less than a minute; afterward it was about 52 seconds. After three flushes, I calculated that I used about 10% less water. I rushed off to write this blog post, but was distracted by reality. That was four months ago.
But is my forgetfulness is the ultimate endorsement of this product. (more…)
I have now done five low flow shower head reviews so far (sorry, no nude shower scenes in this one) and the HighSierra wins hands down on price and is a strong contender for the best feeling shower of those we have tried.
A water saving shower head can help you conserve water, and in particular hot water which means you’re also save energy.
The othervery good water saving shower heads I tested are larger, and considerably more expensive. Don’t be deceived — the HighSierra model might look like those really cheapo, painful shower heads that they put in locker room showers. But HighSierra’s clever low flow design makes it really a totally different beast. Simple is good; the manufacturer claims that it is less likely to become clogged with mineral deposits, it’s very small, and solidly built.
Here are some criteria I use for water saving shower head reviews: (more…)
Over the last years, as I have been writing this blog I have made a lot of little changes that have added up — the biggest change by far has been simply becoming aware of how my actions use resources. A new site called WattzOn aims to make becoming aware of your impact a simpler proposition.
Figuring out how much energy you use seems easy, or at least it did to me until I tried it. Sure you can add up the things that appear to be the “biggies” — the gas you buy for your car, the electricity bill, the heating and cooling bill and so on.
But that calculus represents a misleading picture of your impact. For one, we eat. It takes a lot of energy to make (and deliver, store, etc.) food. Oh, and we buy things, too. Everything takes energy just to get to your front door before you even turn it on (or trash it when you’re done).
And one I regularly forget: the services our governments provide, from making roads to heating the state house all add up to a huge chunk, too. And what about businesses — how do we add them in?
WattzOn asks you a few key questions, then does a good job of trying to count all of these things up, and then let you see how you’re doing compared to others. My gas company has a similar tool, but it only thinks about gas and electricity. WattzOn is taking on a larger pie, and that’s important. It’s also a lot harder. (more…)
A single cup of coffee per day has reduced my hot water usage by 20.5% — it seems improbable that such a small amount of liquid could have such a large impact, but I have been taking careful notes and checked them twice: it’s true. Here’s how I figured this out.
My hot water usage is composed of a daily shower, a small amount to wash my face, and one quarter of the dishwasher usage, as I share with my family of four. All our clothes washing is in cold water.
As per an earlier post in which I measured the water usage of various low-flow shower heads and settled on the Oxygenics Elite 700. When on full-blast, it uses 1.6 gallons per minute (GPM); when the lever is turned to low it uses about 9/10ths GPM. I’ll typically turn it on high to get wet, shampoo and rinse my hair (50% of shower time), then turn it on low while I wash my face and body (30%), then on high to rinse off (20%), or 70% at 1.6 GPM, and 30% at 0.9 GPM. Because I have set my water heater to about 115 degrees, it’s almost or all hot water.
Our Energy Star dishwasher uses about 4 gallons per cycle, of which I account for 1 gallon per day.
So how does the coffee affect hot water usage? (more…)
Water and energy are scarce resources; here’s a good way to conserve a little of both: a shower timer.
There are three kinds of shower timers I could find: fancy models that actually shut off the water flow, egg timers that run for about 4 minutes, and digital countdown timers. I have found a good, inexpensive choice: The “Shower Professor”.
The first type of timer is fancy: it installs between the shower water spout and the shower head and actually shuts off the water after a set period of time. They cost about $150 or more. This seems like an expensive and rather excessive method.
I tried using an egg timer. They are cute and inexpensive (around $4) but pretty limited. For one, they are set for about 4 minutes, which is the recommended time, but some may prefer an extra minute or so. I also found the model I got hard to read. In the end, I would forget it and stopped using it.
Two models of digital countdown timers are available. Both have a digital display, are water resistant, have a suction cup, and a few buttons. One made by Ripple Products in Australia has several colorful designs (star, duck, etc) for about $20. A new company (that contacted me and provided a free sample) called Shower Professor is similar, and is only $12.98 including shipping.
“The single most important thing we can do is …”. Drive less? Conserve? Change a light bulb? Eat vegetables? Invest in technology for new forms of energy? Cap and trade? Install solar panels? Gas tax holiday? Save the polar bear? Which one is best? Which has the biggest impact?
I say “none of the above”. The single biggest thing we can do is anything … now.
The change you do make is the one that has actual value. The ones you don’t make are just vapor. (more…)