Posts tagged ‘climate change’

September 20, 2012

Biodiversity and Our Health

Do you think that the loss of biodiversity, the extinction of animals or the disappearance of plants won’t affect our everyday life significantly? Have you thought about how many things we use on a daily basis actually depend on these? Did you know that for example the most important everyday medicines are derived from plants, so you may not be able to get an aspirin if they disappear?

About 50,000 to 70,000 plant species are used for both traditional and modern medicine, and according to some sources half of all synthetic drugs are of natural origin. There are currently about 120 chemical substances from plants, which are used in various important drugs. Modern medicine made from plants are used for the treatment of diabetes, cancer and cardiac conditions, with about 42 per cent of anti-cancer ones coming from natural sources. Some common drugs derived from plants include aspirin, atropine, digoxin, ephedrine, morphine, and
quinine – amongst many others.

Traditional medicine is still used by about 60 per cent of the world’s population and it’s very significant in many local healthcare systems, like in China.

As an example, the drug zinconotide is developed from the peptides of cone snails, who live in the endangered South Asian coral reefs. This medicine is great for treating cancer patients’ pain, for whom the generally used opium is not effective any more. With the disappearance of their habitat, the coral reefs, these animals may also be in danger and so is the medicine.

The Australian southern gastric brooding frogs on the other hand have already become extinct. They would have been very useful for the research into stomach ulcer, as the female frogs raised their babies inside their stomach, but this opportunity is now gone.

And not only the frogs and cone snails but also many other animals, even bears, sharks, horseshoe crabs are threatened by the loss of biodiversity, which might hold secrets for combating various diseases.

Understanding what serious consequences biodiversity loss could hold for us may help us realise that we should take care of all plants and animals, as they may eventually save our lives.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse 

July 4, 2012

Wildfires of the Future

As the UK enjoyed unusually hot temperatures at the end of May, alongside hosepipe bans, other parts of the world suffer from more and more disastrous wildfires.

In the US the ‘wildfire season’ started earlier than usual in Arizona, in the middle of May – with five fires at the same time. After the dry winter, plants were also rather dry and as the spring was warmer than usual, this all contributed to the first big wildfires of the year. Two-thirds of the state of Arizona is currently suffering from extreme drought, and there is hardly any chance of rain during the summer.

 

 

Later in May, residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico could barely see from the smoke of wildfires around them in the city, and fires were also burning in Colorado, Nevada, California and Utah.

Wildfires are getting more and more frequent and more destructive. Last year Texas suffered the most damages on record – with four million acres and about 2800 houses burnt down. Another big wildfire burnt for six weeks and eventually destroyed about 500,000 acres in Arizona – the “Wallow Fire” is now the biggest ever on record in Arizona’s history. And these are only figures from the Southern part of the US, while wildfires are now frequent in Idaho or the Yellowstone National Park, as well as in enormous countries like Australia, Canada and even in
Siberia, Russia.

Besides the obvious financial damages and occasional deaths, scientists have now also calculated the extra lives taken due to the increased air pollution. And while in a normal wildfire trees burn mainly, if the peat underground catches fire, it can significantly increase carbon emissions.

Most of the wildfires are caused by human negligence and lightning strikes. Such blazes have been regular in these environments, but the warmest ever spring with very dry conditions this year can lead to even greater fires than usual. They are very difficult to contain in fast winds, or in cases of merging with another fire.

Throughout history nature created perfect conditions to withstand large forest fires. A natural defense is that trees grow far from each other, but re-planted forests now mean more problem and more dangerous fires.

The recent changes in the Earth’s climate seem to fuel ever bigger fires, thus our future may mean regular disastrous wildfires all over the world, not just occasionally.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image: HowStuffWorks

March 14, 2012

Would You Live in a Passivhaus?

Passivhaus is an energy efficiency standard, developed in 1988, which sets out various criteria for homes and commercial buildings for maximising energy savings – thanks to its orientation, materials used and insulation, amongst other features.

This standard sets maximum values for energy consumption of space heating, cooling, primary energy usage, as well as the highest temperature inside and the level of air tightness – not allowing virtually any air to leak from the house. These requirements can however vary in different countries due to different circumstances, for instance the age of existing buildings.

Passive houses have to be designed and built precisely to the specifications – for maximum gain. The most important features include the specific positioning of walls in order to capture the most sunlight, or the super air tightness. Despite some myths windows on these houses can be opened but due to excellent indoor air quality, the air ventilation system and other factors it’s usually not needed.

Various materials are used for the construction and even the colour of the outside wall is suggested to improve efficiency through either absorption or reflection. Insulation has to be of highest standard and very thick, both at the walls and the roof.

Meanwhile, heating is hardly required as a Passivhaus also utilises the heat energy generated inside the building, for instance by various appliances. Thanks to the careful design interior temperature does not go below 15C  and due to the air tightness there are no cold spots or mould growth inside these buildings.

Lighting solutions are also energy-efficient, thanks to the use of solar-powered lights outside or LED lamps inside – amongst others.

Another great advantage is that such houses can be built in any climate, and there are now over 30,000 such homes all over the world.

Also, the main criticism of being very expensive is addressed by the continuously decreasing construction costs, while savings could be enormous. In the case of a UK office building, the company Interserve in Leicester managed to save GBP 26,000 at their annual energy costs after moving into a Passivhaus.

Thus, passive houses may mean homes of the future for us or our companies, offering significant energy savings, which is also important for our wallets.

For more info, check out: Energy World, March 2012, “Passivhaus in the UK – an alternative to zero carbon”

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

December 15, 2011

What is Vertical Farming?

As the world’s population is expected to reach 7 billion at the end of October, there is less and less room for this crowd of people, especially in the ‘developed world’. The value of space is increasing, and residential areas may take away precious agricultural land. A solution for this may be ‘vertical farming’.

Vertical farming means to grow plants and crops in tall buildings on various levels – like skyscrapers. It is a sustainable, closed ecosystem, and is most likely to be located in the middle of a city.

In these systems plants are grown hydroponically, thus roots are not in soil but in a nutrient-rich solution, while plants are suspended in a medium, like gravel, wool or perlite.

Existing trials and designs

One of the most well-known vertical farms is in Chicago, called The Plant.  The building accommodates sustainable food businesses (a beer brewery, a fermented tea brewery and a company rearing worms, amongst others), which run on each others’ waste; besides a shared kitchen, and an aquaponic growth system, which circulates nitrates between the fish and the plants. It is off-the-grid thanks to the combined heat and power system and an anaerobic digester running on food waste.

Columbia University’s Dr Dickson Despommier is one of the main advocates on the feasibility of vertical farming and even wrote a book covering his concept. According to Dr Despommier vertical farms are the future and benefits include the possibility of recycling grey and black water, the energy provided by methane, while there is no need for pesticides and plants are protected against weather events. It is also advantageous from a business perspective for cities as it not only creates new jobs but sustainable places and saves precious space.

Another vertical farm plan has been created by Chris Jacobs, an architect, whose design was the first to be published in a magazine. It is called the Circular Farm, and is planned to feature different crops and different animals on each storey.

Vertical Farm by Chris Jacobs

The company Valcent has launched its first similar farm in Devon, featuring the VertiCrop growth system, with suspended trays and a conveyor system. It uses less water than normal production but provides higher yield.

Challenges

The main challenge currently raised about vertical farms is how the sunlight may penetrate these tall buildings or how it would be evenly distributed, while artificial lights can cost a lot. It is not clear either how various large farm animals may fit into these systems. Also, vertical farms would need to keep a close eye on nutrients and temperature so crops will do well, which could be rather expensive.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

October 7, 2011

Performing ‘Green’ Arts

The issue of climate change has been weaving into every part of our lives, and many of us try to do something about it every day. The really committed ones can now even become greener while enjoying performing arts.

It may sound unusual but besides dozens of catastrophe movies, also directors, playwrites and composers have been inspired by climate change.

There have been several plays introduced on stage covering climate change-related issues in the last few years.

In 2009 there were three plays running simultaneously, all focusing on the environmental and sustainability challenges our planet faces. These were The Contingency Plan – which by many is considered the most successful of all so far , Grasses of a Thousand Colours andWhen the Rain Stops Falling, discussing the issues of rising sea levels, genetically modified food and the dangerously decreasing number of fish.

Earlier this year further plays were introduced: the National Theatre’s Greenland summarised several expert opinions on what the world may be facing, while The Heretic introduced a scientist who wonders what facts can actually prove the climate change.

Seven Angels

Besides plays, recently even an opera was staged on climate change, titled Seven Angels. It showed seven angels dreaming about a flourishing garden that used to be in the desert they now live in. The opera was taken on a tour around the UK in June and July.

Greener theatres

The theatres themselves are also doing their bit in addressing environmental challenges, focusing on energy reduction or recycling.

The Arcola Theatre for example wants to be the world’s first carbon neutral theatre by implementing a comprehensive programme, including bottle recycling and  LED lights powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Their Green Sundays series offers an arena for those interested in environmental issues to meet similar-minded people or to discuss the most interesting and latest topics.

Another great example is the National Theatre that recently introduced several energy-saving measures: the new LED lights both inside and outside reduce energy usage by 60 and 70 per cent, respectively. The car park now uses these lights and the CO-emission extractor fans are used only when necessary, while water and paper recycling is also key.  Several energy-saving policies are now in place both for employees and during performances – for instance on how long lights are switched on or when computers should be turned off -, and further plans include improved insulation and a Combined Heat and Power solution.

How to find green performances?

It is now easy to find green entertainment thanks to some online sites.

The Ashden Directory  was first launched in 2000, and it’s a great source for performing art pieces with environmental links.

Besides that, Julie’s Bicycle [9] is an organisation supporting arts and creative industries on how to reduce their environmental impact. They work with several theatres, festivals, venues and even orchestras to help them in becoming ‘greener’. These information are all available on their website.

Enjoying “green art”

Nowadays there are countless opportunities to enjoy green plays and even opera, which are not only entertaining but can teach the audience on issues related to climate change.

And watching these in ‘green venues’ can even further add to efforts tackling climate change issues.

 

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image: The Opera Group

 

 

 

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