Solar Grove

Kyocera installed an array of 25 “solar trees” in their parking lot, letting employees park in their shade. Cars stay cool, and the mini-plant generates enough power yearly to save an estimated 338,905 pounds of carbon dioxide (which would otherwise be spewed into the air by conventional power generation).

Cheap plastic solar is not nearly as efficient as traditional solar, but it destroys the price barrier for small private projects like this.

Music: Tom Waits :: Drunk On The Moon

Bottled Water: The Hoax

Watched a great Penn & Teller “Bullshit!” episode a few months ago on the bottled water industry, which confirmed what many of us already suspected: Bottled water is not more pure than tap water, nor more healthy, and the bottled water industry is environmentally nasty. Not to mention the fact that most people can’t tell bottled water from tap water in a blind taste test (in the episode, they crafted some fancy “high end” water labels and affixed them to empty plastic bottles, which they then proceeded to fill with water from a rubber garden hose in the back alley; the footage of diners at a fancy restaurant being invited to comment on the taste of the “gourmet” waters was priceless). Loved the close-up of the Dasani bottle label, which proclaims proudly “Source: Milwaukee municipal water supply.”

Because Penn and Teller cuss so much (well, Penn does), and because their shows often seem skewed or riddled with personal agenda checkpoints, I sometimes find their credibility dubious. So it’s nice to find an op-ed in the New York Times coming to exactly the same conclusions.

Nor is there any health or nutritional benefit to drinking bottled water over tap water. In one study, published in The Archives of Family Medicine, researchers compared bottled water with tap water from Cleveland, and found that nearly a quarter of the samples of bottled water had significantly higher levels of bacteria. The scientists concluded that “use of bottled water on the assumption of purity can be misguided.”

Oh, and there’s the small matter of highway robbery:

Ounce for ounce, it costs more than gasoline, even at today’s high gasoline prices; depending on the brand, it costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water.

Bottled water is the ultimate consumer suckerpunch, yet remains phenomenally popular. Do people simply not know it’s a consummate waste, or do they know and buy it anyway? The whole phenomenon is beyond me.

Music: Mike Watt :: Maggot Brain

Berkeley’s Silent Menace

Geodog on how the Prius has become the new Volvo, and the danger to bicyclists and pedestrians of having a lot of silent cars on the road (owners say the car is “stealth mode” when runnning on battery power):

With the Prius, you don’t get any warning — the car literally sneaks up on you. After nearly being run over several times in the last month, and again this night on the way back from the Berkeley Cybersalon, I did a little research and turned up quite a few mentions of this problem, the scariest from a blind person’s perspective … the Toyota engineers need to find a way to make the car nosier, even if it involves something as silly as recordings of internal combustion engine noises that the car plays through an external speaker when the car is in battery mode.

While I’ve certainly noticed the local upwelling of Pria (is that a legitimate pluralization? probably not), I personally haven’t had close calls with them. But then I haven’t been biking as much lately due to knee problems. I think the problem is offset by the fact that the kind of person who buys a Prius is likely to be a more considerate driver to begin with. I have a lot more close calls with drivers of SUVs, and with people talking on cell phones (regardless the model of car). Remember too that all cars have become much more quiet in the past decade — it’s gotten to the point that a vehicle from the 1970s seems loud in contrast.

Music: Caetano Veloso :: Genipapo Absoluto

Chemical Stew: You’re Soaking In It

Washington Post:

Unborn babies in the United States are soaking in a stew of chemicals, including mercury, gasoline byproducts and pesticides … The report, by the Environmental Working Group, is based on tests of 10 samples of umbilical-cord blood taken by the American Red Cross. They found an average of 287 contaminants in the blood, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and the Teflon chemical PFOA.

Of course if all that goo is in the cord blood, it has to be in the mother as well…

Music: Harold Melvin :: Wake Up Everbody

Albany Bulb

57 Images from a sunset walk with Miles and Amy at the Albany Bulb, June 1, 2005. The Bulb is a local landmark – artists (many of them homeless) use this strut of land jutting out into the harbor to create installations improvised from existing junk and ingredients brought onto the land in wagons drawn by pedaled trikes. Repeat visits bring new discoveries. The light is nearly edible at sunset. Rust and graffiti and plant life in chaotic collaboration. Deterioration part of the artistic process, always a joy. Miles mostly concerned with finding rocks to huck into the sea, but occasionally adds his own contributions to the public spectacle.

Music: Palace :: All Gone, All Gone

Tear the Roof Off Each day, more energy falls to the earth from the sun’s rays than the total amount of energy the planet’s 5.9 billion inhabitants would consume in 27 years.

On June 1, the California Senate voted to pass the Million Solar Roofs bill by 28-3.

Salon: The bill would add a staggering 3,000 megawatts of solar capacity in the state — equivalent to the capacity of 10 average-size coal-fired power plants or two nuke plants, and more than 30 times the current installed solar capacity. That could make California the No. 1 solar market in the world, surpassing today’s top two biggest consumers of photovoltaic technology, Germany and Japan.

If this goes through, it could be the one great accomplishment of the beleaguered Schwarzenegger administration. But The Governator has created such a caustic climate that political infighting could lead to the bill’s demise before it ever goes into effect. Meanwhile, union pressure to stipulate wages for the technicians installing the panels could raise the cost of installation 30-40%, virtually killing the initiative. Get it together people.

Music: Don Cherry :: mu pt I – IV. Son Of The East

8% Tanker, 92% Us

At the zoo last weekend, an info kiosk presented by Dawn dishwashing liquid on the effects of motor, crude, and other oils in the oceanic environment on wild birds (Dawn has always been the detergent of choice in bird rescue efforts). Interesting factoid: Of the roughly 24 million gallons of oil humans introduce into the world’s oceans yearly, only 8% can be attributed to tanker spills. The rest comes from jet skis, boats, airplanes, and runoff from cities.

Tip: “Place cooking oils and fats in a sealed container in the garbage rather than pouring them down the kitchen drain.” Have to confess, I had never made the connection on that one.

Generally skeptical of corporate attempts to appear as enviro do-gooders, but can’t fault Proctor & Gamble for donating thousands of gallons of detergent over the years to clean up birds.

Music: Segun Bucknor :: La La La

Solar-Powered Web Hosting

Back in 2003 I had this grand vision to offer solar-powered web hosting. That ended up not happening for a bunch of reasons, but great to see that the idea is taking off. Wired:

The panels are not only good for the environment, they’re also good for business. In addition to saving the companies thousands of dollars a month in electric bills, they’re drawing in customers from all over the world who want to host their websites in a green data center.

Of course, the problem a couple of years ago was that I was trying to think of ways to do it all myself. The answer now, clearly, would be to lease a server in a solar datacenter. But I’m not about to undertake another server move right now. Maybe in a few years…

Thanks Dylan.

Dolphins Found Using Tools

CNN: Some members of a group of Australian dolphins have been found to rip sea sponges from the ocean floor and use them to cover their snouts as they forage for food, apparently to protect themselves from stinging stonefish and other critters. And there’s evidence that the behavior is completely taught/learned, being passed from mother to daughter. This makes the behavior categorically different from instinctive forms of tool use among animals. Brilliant and wonderful. Go Dolphins!

Thanks Kabir.

72 Terawatts of Raw Wind Power

Wired: If wind turbines were installed at 13% of 8,000 sites monitored by Stanford researchers, we could be sucking 72 terawatts of electricity out of the atmosphere — five times the world’s energy needs, which was roughly 14 terawatts in 2002. Lots of caveats and codas to that of course, but the potential is pretty inspiring.

Music: Shelly Manne :: Tommyhawk