August 24, 2010
Click To Enlarge
There’s been a lot of dramatic weather this year, in fact more records than in recorded history — I would like to take a moment to consider their impact.
Many, many people suffer, and much property was damaged or destroyed. These extreme weather events are all consistent with the predictions of climate change. Let’s go out on a limb, for a moment, and consider a world that has, with increasing frequencies, climate events like these. This isn’t going far out on a limb, because this kind of weather instability is one thing climate scientists have been predicting, correctly, as a result of climate change.
What climate change scientists predict are resulting in some downstream impacts, which I tend to think are likely to be the most immediate threats to our “first world” ways of life. (more…)
May 3, 2010
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.
June 20, 2009
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…)
May 10, 2009
Our bathroom tub and sink drains regularly start running slow, and I regularly go the the hardware store and buy some drain cleaning product, like Drano, Plumber’s Helper and others. I regularly pour this caustic or acid liquid down the drain, following directions carefully. It never works the first time, so a second application is needed, and usually that works enough to get me another few months. Rinse, repeat.
Recently, I got a professional strength cleaner that was “virgin sulfuric acid”, had a bottle that was wrapped in a plastic bag, was covered with warnings, skulls-and-crossbones and instructed not to get it on anything organic, or even metals. It was labeled “Environmentally Responsible”. Hmm. I wonder if pouring stuff like this down the drain is a good idea? I did anyway … and it didn’t work either.
I knew better — when I was in college, and for a few years after, I was a carpenter, then worked in real estate management. Real plumbers don’t use the liquids, they use a plumber’s snake. But you don’t have to have a fancy one that plugs in — I have had a hand-cranked snake for years, and it takes some effort, but works great. (more…)
May 3, 2009
My Mom is visiting, taking a well-deserved rest from care of my father, who is no longer able to care for himself. After a few days of catching up, I found myself unable to restrain myself from reciting my manifesto. Sorry, Mom.
Condensing the details into a big picture that makes enough sense for a smart, but not-so-technical, and not-as-young person as I is a good opportunity. Throughout my life, I have observed that I only really understand something when I am able to present it in straightforward, no-jargon and instructive manner. For example, I have taught several software development languages to novice computer users — I often learn as much as the students I have taught.
We discussed clean coal and carbon sequestration, amongst other things. The simple explanation (more…)
Actual Size: 2-1/4 Inches
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…)
April 24, 2009
100 (Billion) Bottles of Beer On the Wall
PBS’s Frontline aired a program called Poisoned Waters
this week — it’s an excellent program, discussing how coastal waters and estuaries are still polluted, despite several areas of progress caused by the EPA enforcing regulations of the Clear Air Act in the 1970s. And while sewerage is no longer being dumped into rivers, other industrial effluents are.
In particular, they mentioned agricultural waste — animal manure, but also industrial waste, harder problems because the sources are dispersed and tend to leech into the groundwater system, rather than be poured directly from the end of a pipe, as in the case of sewerage treatment plants.
One frightening aspect of the show focused on how new chemicals that mess with our endocrine systems are in the water, but not being taken out of public drinking water supplies … partly because scientists cannot yet quantify theirs effects. Thus, there are no regulations or standards for these chemicals, yet ample evidence to suggest they are harmful not only for the numerous fish turning up dead in the water, but for people. And chemicals we know are harmful are still around, like PCBs. One person working at the Washington, DC water supply said she would not drink the water out of the tap.
It occurred to me that information like this could cause people to say “see, it’s a good thing I am drinking bottled water”. (more…)
February 12, 2009
I have spent the last several weeks testing the HighSierra FCS-200 water saving shower head; it costs about $25, provides a great shower experience, uses only 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM) and I highly recommend it.
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 other very 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…)
December 28, 2008
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…)
November 18, 2008
Simple and Inexpensive
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.
(And, I just noticed that TerraPass sells one called the Half a Teaspoon Shower Watch for $30) (more…)