Category Archives: Green Living
Hello! I’ve been writing a lot lately about how new apps and the proliferation of smart phones are changing our lives. Since I’ve neglected this blog for way too many months, I wanted to bring you up to date with some of these recent articles.
Last week, the Washington City Paper ran my cover story on the “sharing economy.” In a departure from my usual third-person style, I was able to call on couple of years of personal experiences as a “collaborative consumer” for this story. I also talked to other people using D.C.’s car and bike shares, Airbnb and eatFeastly hosts, and interviewed pundits who say the burgeoning “sharing economy” is ushering in big changes in the way we live.
Here’s an excerpt from the story:
Sharing enthusiasts see a future with less pollution, inefficiency, and injustice—not to mention fewer cars. But sharing services aren’t always green (you can, after all, share a private jet). They seem more likely—not less—to accentuate class differences and perpetuate the same bad behavior on commercial, labor, and environmental fronts that everything that came before them did. And while sharing depends on high-tech social media and smartphone apps, in many ways the collaborative world harkens back to the past: to barter systems; the hyper-localism of preautomobile societies; and the almost small-town importance of reputation, which will increasingly follow us around as “data exhaust” that could replace the credit rating. Still, the changes afoot are propelled by decidedly 21st century realities: population growth, booming cities, rising costs, and shrinking personal space.
Earlier in February, the Washington Post published my latest story on “geomedicine,” an emerging field in which doctors and other caregivers use mapping tools and “Big Data” to gain insights into their patients’ lives so they can offer better treatment and advice.
The story features Asthmapolis, a company that makes a new asthma inhaler that has a GIS sensor for mapping the patient’s every puff. Other experiments in “geomedicine” are using social medial platforms to share information, not just about illnesses, but about environmental exposures, as well as mapping farmers’ markets, healthy eateries, parks and other recreational outlets. It’s proponents say the geo-mapping can help us understand the environmental factors driving an individual’s health problems and then map out ways to address them.
Scientific researchers are also using geographical information and mapping to delve more deeply into the precise origins of illnesses and how environmental factors play a role in health. Italian researchers, for instances, have linked skyrocketing cancer rates, birth defects and other illnesses in communities outside of Naples to mafia-related dumping of industrial waste in an area that has come to be known as “the triangle of death.”
The Potomac is the nation’s most imperiled river, according to a report issued today by the nonprofit group, American Rivers.
The river, which supplies drinking water to five million people in the Greater Washington region, suffers from a bad case of runoff from laws and factory farms, alike. those woes have turned the Potomac into a spawning ground for so-called “intersex fish” – male fish born with ovaries. Yikes! Scientists have linked the chemicals in lawn fertilizer and “chicken litter” (manure produced in large quantities at the region’s poultry farms) that get washed into the waterways where they wreak havoc of fish reproduction and create habitat-crippling dead zones bereft of oxygen, among other things.
The Washington Post today notes that U.S. Congress has failed to act despite growing evidence that what’s happening to the fish may be a disturbing sign of the human health implications. In fact, sentiment on Capitol Hill is moving in the other direction with Republicans periodically launching attempts to roll back the Clean Air Act, reporter Darryl Fears notes, quoting environmentalists.
The landmark federal law, which turns 40-years-old this year, has led to major improvements in the health of the nation’s waterways, experts say. At the time of its passage in 1972, some U.S. rivers were such reeking open sewers that they sometimes caught fire. Nevertheless, the Potomac is one of ten that continue face the most serious ongoing problems.
Besides the Potomac, today’s top ten list, of sorts, includes the following:
- Green River (which runs through Wyoming, Utah and Colorado)
- Chattahoochee River (Georgia)
- Missouri River (nine states in the central United States)
- Hoback River (Wyoming)
- Grand River (Ohio)
- Skykomish River (Washington)
- Crystal River (Colorado)
- Coal River (West Virginia)
- Kansas River (Kansas)
Earlier this year I had an assignment investigating the links between climate change and weather. In the course of the reporting I talked to a Yale pollster who says last year’s extraordinary weather — dry and drought-like or rainy and flooded in most places — has done more to convince people that the climate is indeed changing than any number of increasingly urgent reports like this one from the OECD.
For the story, I spoke with climate scientists too, and learned about efforts to better pinpoint when rising global temperatures play a role in a particular extreme of weather. It’s a still evolving area of science. Controversy rages. Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has perhaps most riled his colleagues — not to mention climate change contrarians and non-believers — by suggesting that today global warming should be considered a factor in all weather. Not all climate scientists agree — one even called it a “crap idea” in a major UK newspaper! But Trenberth hasn’t backed off. He elaborates on the idea in a new article due out this spring.
You can read all about this (and much more!) in my just published cover story in E Magazine. There’s also a sidebar on the impact to harvests and water supplies if the world remains on its current trajectory toward 10+ degrees Fahrenheit of warming.
If you still have time, check out my piece on Italy’s growing woes with the “ecomafia.”
In this year’s Solar Decathlon wrapped up earlier this month with 19 homes – more than half of which cost less than $300,000 to build. Affordability was one of the 10 categories on which the homes are judged this year in the biannual competition pitting universities from around the United States and a few foreign countries. The new cost/affordability bar, which replaced the lighting contest, inspired the student designers to drive down the cost considerably. According to the event’s sponsor, U.S. Department of Energy, this year’s houses were about 33 percent cheaper this year than those that competed two years ago. “Solar for less” was just one of the industry trends reflected in this year’s entries.
Read my story in Architecture Week.
WaterShed, the lushly landscaped energy self-sufficient home built by a team from University of Maryland won first place in this year’s Solar Decathlon, which wrapped yesterday on the National Mall. The nearly 900-square-foot home, complete with rain garden, beat out 18 other entries from universities around the U.S., Belgium, Canada, China and New Zealand.
As the name suggests, the Solar Decathlon is all about building the best dwelling that can be fully powered by the sun, but this year several teams tackled two other issues of increasing concern to commercial builders of “green” homes: air quality and water conservation. In fact, both Team Maryland and the team from Purdue University, which took second place, showcased their original inventions in the air quality arena.
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