Category Archives: lifestyle

Affordablity theme big in this year’s Solar Decathlon

Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Creative Commons license

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.

Some of the “many hearts” of Oct. 6 Protest

Many hearts + Signs at Oct. 6 protest

 

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Maryland student’s tribute to the Chesapeake wins Solar Decathlon

U of Md's WaterShed home at the Solar Decathlon

WaterShed is the 2011 Solar Decathlon winner

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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Doesn’t sound half-bad: If we all lived like Parisians, the world population would take up pretty small portion of the Earth, according to this visualization by Tim De Chant at the website Per Square Mile.

Reversing the Ride May Reverse Bad Vibes Too

It’s so good to see Capital Bikeshare doing something about the logistical problems threatening to turn its riders against the fledgling cyclist sharing business.

Yesterday bikeshare announced a competition that will enlist members to restock stations. It couldn’t come soon enough; I can’t count the times I’ve been late for appointments, classes and meetups with friends in the last few months because stations were either empty of bikes or full-up.

I love the service. I love being able to pick up a bike anywhere in the city and then drop it off again without having to hassle with heavy locks and worry about theft. I even like the idea of sharing with my fellow citizens, thus lowering my own carbon footprint. But having to hoof it or peddle, sometimes across whole neighborhoods, was starting to undermine bikeshare’s biggest selling point: convenience. Enlisting riders to solve the problem and rewarding them for their efforts sounds like a great idea.

The Washington City Paper also has a post with a few contest details.

The End of Gas?

creative commons license

When gas prices soar, I guess it’s only a matter of time before complaints and government investigations ensue. But what’s interesting about the current spate is how it reflects the transformation underway across he country as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell sell off their gas stations to regional middlemen, known as “jobbers.” This time around, it’s not Big Oil or the little station operators who are taking the heat for price gouging; it’s the jobbers.

While the price spikes have drawn lots of attention, perhaps more interesting in the long-term is what the (until now) relatively unnoticed round of selloffs may lead to: the eventual disappearance of local fueling depots altogether.

What with predictions of peak oil, the rise of alternative fuels and electric cars, Joe Mamo, D.C.’s biggest jobber, told me his company, Capitol Petroleum Group, is really a real estate business. As his properties in Washington and New York City become more valuable for the “dirt” beneath them than the gas or junk food they can sell, he says they will become condos.

Whether this trend could contribute to the high cost of gas in D.C. and other urban areas is a question I don’t think anyone has seriously examined. It’s not an industry that gets much sustained scrutiny (beyond the occasional price gouging uproars). My profile of Mamo, which ran in the Washington City Paper in February, is one of the few (perhaps the only) in-depth look at Big Oil’s pullout from a major metropolitan marketplace. The Washington Business Journal  suggested it helped prompt the District’s anti-trust investigation of Mamo’s company.

For more information on the D.C. investigation, links to the Washington Post coverage are hereCNN Money has a national round-up of gouging allegations, and here’s a link to my profile on Joe Mamo.

A Call for a “Deep Green” Uprising

After news yesterday drew attention again to the failed strategy and sad co-opting of many mainstream green groups, it begs the question: Is a Deep Green Resistance the way to galvanize mass action on climate change? A growing number of activists – Bill McKibben, Tim DeChristopher, Mike Roselle and others – say it will take a civil rights-like movement to wake people up to the society disrupting challenges climate change will bring (and many experts say has already begun.)

While they represent very different places on the political spectrum, they’ve all given up on a broad consensus and aim instead for inspiring a small but effective minority of people willing to put themselves on the line. But that’s about all they seem to agree on. The DGR — which according to its website will have both public and underground branches —  is already under friendly fire from Roselle and other activists who raise some interesting questions about how to start a green revolution without losing mainstream appeal.

Never one to mince words, Roselle’s take on the new resistance: “Deep Green Doo Doo.”

He elaborated in a Facebook post yesterday: “Not that some new thinking is not required, but I’m always sicious of people providing answers to problems which are themselves questions. They have not identified any issues that were not being discussed back in the 1960’s. I’m not a pacifist, but this sort of preaching to the choir is very damaging to the chances, however slim, of building a real movement. We can be the Muslim Brotherhood, or we can be the crowd at Tafir Square? Do we want peaceful transition, or a civil war? Its really up to us.”

Wasting Food = Huge Hidden Water Costs

There’s nothing newsy about the imbalances in world food supplies that has fueled things like the obesity epidemic in the United States and other developed countries where food is cheap and abundant, while parts of the developing world face chronic hunger, malnutrition, famine, and high mortality rates. Humanitarians and policy wonks have wrung their hands over these issues for years over. Now researchers are looking at the problem from another pressing angle: All the rotten produce, meat and moldy grains means the huge quantities of water required to grown them was also wasted.

The U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports on new research by the British government’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) and the environmental group  WWF that examines the average UK household’s water and carbon footprint. Conclusion: “we throw away, on average, twice as much water per year in the form of uneaten food as we use for washing and drinking.” The Guardian goes on to say: “What is worse, increasing amounts of our food comes from countries where water is scarce, meaning the food we discard has a huge hidden impact on the depletion of valuable water resources across the world.

Read the entire article here.

The Importance of Forests, Farmers + Product Safety

A few news stories of note this morning:

Seeing the forest’s role: “By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population may experience water-stress conditions. Forests capture and store water and can play an important role in providing drinking water for millions of people in the world’s mega-cities.” The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization calls on countries to recognize the links between healthy forests and drinking water supplies and do a better job protecting both.

Small farmers lead the way: In a just released short film series, TVE Asia Pacific profiles farmers in Cambodia, the Netherlands, Niger, and South Africa who are members of Prolinnov, a global network  that promotes local level innovation by small farmers.

New Consumer Product Safety Database targeted by “Koch congressman” – Quick, before U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo gets his way! Check out the government database Pompeo has targeted for extinction, some say as a way of paying fealty to his political patrons at Koch Industries.

Second Grade Projects are Cooler Today

 

When I was in second grade, kickball was just about all the excitement – nothing like Cole Rasenberger’s second grade experience.