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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Green grins and groans

We begin a new irregular feature on Greener this month called Green Grins and Groans. The new column will have short, current press picks from around the world which are either Green Grins, some good news to bring a smile to your day or Green Groans, I can't believe they did that!

Each month we'll post the best submissions from our readers and find some way to reward those published through our network of advertisers. So start browsing the funny, famous and infamous for your favorite Green Grins and Groans and send them to the editor at Greener Mag

5/30/06 Tampa :-o

A Florida man whose car was stolen from in front of his apartment Sunday admitted to police that he had left the motor running. When asked why, his reply, he was using the car's battery to recharge his laptop, also missing.

With prices pushing $3.00 a gallon US that works out to about $4.50 to recharge his computer assuming a 6 cylinder car will burn about 1/2 of a gallon of gas per hour x an average 3 hours recharging time. Maybe he'll rethink the process next time around.

5/06 St. Petersburg :-)

Newly formed baseball franchise, the Florida Devil Rays announced their first community involvement project this month. The rays have selected 6 area educators to recieve grants. The grants will cover the teacher's expenses as they assist Earthwatch expeditions over the summer break.

The teachers will participate in a variety of studies including the rain forests in Puerto Rico, diamondback terrapins in New Jersey and climate changes in the Arctic. The baseball team will also donate $2500 to each school.

5/10/06 Tampa :-)

Dr. Muhammad Yunis, professor of economics and founder of Grameen Bank and the revolutionary concept of providing small low interest loans known as "microlending", was awarded the Global Citizen of the Year award by the Patel Foundation for Global Understanding.

Dr. Yunis's "microlending" concept has provided small, low interest loans - averaging $120 - to more than 2 Million individuals who must use the money to start a small business. The loans, all to individuals from underdeveloped nations, have changed the traditional paradigm of banking and laid the ground work for economic stability among thousands of the world's poorest communities. Garmeen means village in Hindi

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7:20 AM

Friday, May 26, 2006

Environmentally friendy water storage

West central Florida is experimenting with a new fresh water storage system called "aquifer storage," literally storing a bubble of fresh water beneath ground with out tanks or other artificial containers.

The fresh water, runoff from overburden during heavy, seasonal rains, is pump injected into the center of deep, natural underground water wells. These wells are produced by erosion from natural seepage through the permeable limestone coral that forms the foundation of the Florida peninsula. The water in these natural wells is extremely brackish and not at all suited for human consumption nor even landscaping.

Fresh rainfall runoff, which occurs annually during Florida's summer season, is typically stored in surface retention ponds. When the rains are too monsoon-like, the excess is diverted over spillways into the Gulf of Mexico and lost.

Because fresh water is less dense than brackish, the fresh rainwater forms a bubble within the surrounding salt laden underground well. The bubble of fresh water mixes only slightly, at its interface, with the surrounding brackish water.

Later, when dryer months come, the fresh water bubble, which had been treated by ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and any pathogens, can be pumped back to the surface and used for irrigation. Project engineers plan to build a full-scale demonstration system this summer, capable of storing 60 to 120-million gallons of fresh water. If all goes well, they expect to begin pumping as much as a million barrels a day from the well.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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3:47 PM

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More than green, an environmental building

It cost $1.2 Billion, required 40 years to construct and has stood its ground against earthquakes, continental drift, invasions and aerial bombing. It was once the great symbol of Constantine's empire and named for the patron saint of Istanbul it is the Hagia Sophia, Αγία Σοφία and she may be about to lose her crown as the most expensive building ever erected, but not her fabled place in history. Greener satellite photo

Earlier this month The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation announced that the projected cost of the Ground Zero Memorial in south Manhattan had risen to nearly $1 billion, twice the figure first proposed by Governor Pataki. Architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker plans for the memorial called "Reflecting Absence", is to be funded in part by donations that have so far grown to just $130 million.

As controversy swirls around the design for the site and costs continue to ramp up we thought this might be a good time to examine another great building in antiquity, the Hagia Sophia completed in December 537. Originally built of recycled stone on the site of an ancient church The Ayasofya Museum, as it is now known, was constructed as the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for imperial ceremonies. During the Latin Occupation (1204-1261) the church became a Roman Catholic cathedral. It was converted to a mosque after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.

This building is more than just history however, it symbolizes what a people, a culture deems most important about their relationship with the natural world. When the Emperor Constantine envisioned his great hall of power and statehood he envisioned more than just a place of worship he saw the wonder of his building rising up to the heavens as both a seat of secular, administrative power and an icon for the faithful, their solemn contract with nature and God.

The architects chosen were among the greatest of their time a mathematician named Anthemius of Tralles and a physicist, Isidorus of Miletus. Constantine charged them with an impossible task, build something that has never been achieved before, a building for the millenia. Other public buildings built before and since were of two varieties then. One, after the fashion of the Greek Classic style was based on squares or rectangles, often adding a curved end wall called a basilica, these buildings were the temples that became template for the Christian legacy of cathedral building.

The second of the common building styles, equally important to society were oval or round structures. These were usually reserved for shows of administrative authority and most often crowned by a dome. The Hagia Sophia was to combine both forms thus proclaiming at once the divine authority and the secular power of Constantine and his namesake city on the Bosporus, Constantinople.

Anthemius and Isadorus proposed a building, which would eventually rise more than 180 feet above the city. Placed inside Hagia's cavernous interior, the statue of liberty would barely brush its dome with her torch. Their revolutionary concept, which solved the puzzle of supporting a dome on four straight walls of a square, was to create massive rectangular halls standing against the exterior of each of the four supporting walls. The strength of these galleries absorbs the pressure of the dome's weight pushing out on the support walls and redirects it onto the foundation. The building requires no interior supporting structure; its massive dome seemingly floats between heaven and earth on a series of delicately arched windows.

The novel construction requirements necessitated development of a host of new materials and technologies many of which may still be found in use today. Lime mortar, a mixture of sand, quicklime cement and water, is extremely dense and thus heavy when set. To lighten the weight of the dome and at the same time strengthen the bonding capacity of the mortar the masons mixed bits of shattered brick into the wet mortar. Less dense than the mortar and randomly aligned, the broken fragments strengthened the mortar just as oriented stranded board is stronger than solid wood.

Hagia represented at the time new methods of design and construction as well as a marked change in the concept of building as machine and a multifunctional use that included but was not restricted throughout its many reincarnations to uses, which its builders could never have conceived. Unlike the pyramids before it or the Coliseum in Rome The Hagia Sophia’s great contribution to history is that for 1500 years it has been not just a symbol of an emperor’s greatness but rather a continuously functioning, resource for a variety of human activities and habitat. The great building of Constantine’s vision continues to point the way for 21st century designers that perhaps the greatest purpose for any building is adaptive reuse. In that regard The Ayasofya may be the greenest building on earth.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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4:50 PM

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Recycle and renew

This Saturday, May 13, letter carriers in more than 10,000 cities and towns across America will collect non-perishable food items donated by customers. They will be participating in the 14th annual National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Food Drive—the largest annual one-day food drive in the world. Postal employees in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands will collect food and deliver it to local community food banks, pantries and shelters.

The annual food drive comes just before the onset of the hurricane season and it is also a reminder that it's time to check the provisions in those emergency evacuation kits. Non-perishable food items that have been stored for 6 months or less now need to be replaced. If you read our article Planning for disaster last season you probably have a ready list of those emergency staples most of which will be dried, preserved, highly nutritional items such as aseptically packaged milk, juice and tofu or dehydrated vegetables,potatoess or meats sealed in foil. Most of these items have a recommended shelf life of 6 months or more so now is the time to use them and replace with a fresh supply.

Now, you can happily serve the stored items along with regular meals over the next few days or, as we've done, add them to the canned goods and other non-perishables that you donate to the Letter Carrier's Food Drive.

Make certain the the food items are still within their expiration dates and that the packages have not been damaged while in storage. That's all there is to it, you have recycled a valuable resource to a worthy, local cause, saved some effort and made a necessary step toward revitalizing your emergency kit.

All the items from our kit shown above will go to the Carriers drive and the replacment items came to less than $25.00, enough meals for two adults for seven days including snacks.

Greener Magazine

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11:01 PM

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Nations first commercial biomass to energy deal struck

In what is perhaps the nation's first commercial application to convert biomass to energy a small Florida firm Monday signed a 25 year contract with N Carolina based utility giant Progress Energy Florida to deliver electric power produced from a renewable agricultural resource.

Biomass Investment Group plans to build a 130-megawatt power plant, producing electricity not by burning oil or natural gas but grass grown on a 15,000-acre farm. Don't start saving your lawn clippings however the fuel used in this process is called Arundo donax or "Giant Reed", which is similar to bamboo and grows rapidly, 5 cm per day, to nearly 3 meters in height.

We contacted Biomass CEO Allen Sharpe who explained the technology developed by the company's VP Kevin Mills, former researcher at Southern Co. Atlanta. Once the grass crop is harvested and dried in the field, it is dried, chipped and transferred a short distance to the power plant where it goes through a process of gasification and reduction, which produces a high energy gas and bio-oil both of which can be burned to produce electricity. The burning, Sharpe said, is exceptionally clean, producing only small amounts of sulphur dioxide, which smells like burnt matches and nitrogen oxide. Both sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are listed a common pollutants contributing to acid rain and ground level ozone a major constituent of "smog". The burnt ash he told us is returned to the field where it acts as fertilizer.

Sharpe went on to say however that on the positive side, burning the renewable grass crop results in a net reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Arundo, like all plants, utilizes CO2 and gives off O2 or oxygen as a by-product of growth.

Arundo grass is not a native N American species, if fact it was first introduced to southern California as a deterrent to erosion along flood ways. The plant, which is highly invasive and propagates rapidly, has proven to be a nuisance and is now banned in that state. Arundo strains in the United States produce infertile seeds however, the grass readily spreads by clumping and propagates along rivers and wetlands. It has no known nutritive value and is noxious to insects and wildlife thus avoiding predation.

The foliage is sparse and so as it replaces natural plants along riverbanks it provides inadequate shade protection a consequence of which is water temperature increases and lower oxygen levels resulting in fewer fresh water habitats.

We asked Mr. Sharpe if non-native grass posed any threat to Florida’s fragile environment, he replied that the company had been, “a good steward” during the planning stage in asking the Florida Division of Plant Industry to evaluate Arundo donax. We obtained a copy of that report and the overall conclusion of the report’s author is that, “the risk of giant reed’s becoming invasive in Florida is low to moderate.”

That being said the report goes on to state several special precautions that should be applied to its cultivation. A buffer zone surrounding the crop should be free of any native plants and cultivated at least twice a year to keep the crop from escaping. Since Arundo’s primary method of spreading is through the mechanical disruption of its clumping habit caution needs to be taken to insure that stray bits of rhizome are not being transported off site and discarded by accident either by machinery, man or animal.

Also the research stresses that large scale plantings of Arundo should be "isolated from wetlands, rivers, canals and coastlines." When we pointed out that Florida abounds with wetlands, interconnected river systems and marshlands not the least of which is the Everglades which act as a virtual watershed for the entire state, Sharpe conceded that they had not yet selected a 15,000 acre site for their biomass but assured us that when finalized the farm site would be well inland and isolated from any natural water systems.

Governor Bush of Florida announced earlier this year that Florida, with its vast agricultural industry and year around growing season should strive to become a net exporter of energy derived from biomass conversion. With oil approaching $80 a barrel, it seems that investors as well as governments are feeling the lure of renewable, alternative energy technologies.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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6:26 AM

Recycling has no age limit

Imagine driving to the recycling center and seeing a flurry of activity. Not just one or two cars in the parking lot but five or ten or more. Now, picture the folks who are carrying plastics, glass and metal cans to the various bins. What do you see? If you are as lucky as we were on a recent visit, you see people as young as 8 and as old as 85 all practicing environmental stewardship.

A young father was there with his little boy. As they took a container from their vehicle to a bin, the dad explained to his child what they were doing and why. He instructed his son on how the items were separated and how the raw materials would be made into new things for their family’s eventual re-use.

Shortly after they left, an elderly lady arrived alone. She pulled her car up to the plastics container, opened her trunk to remove some plastic bottles. We learned that she has been recycling for 32 years and is very proud of what she does. The woman told us her community was beginning a recycling route and, for a monthly fee she could participate. She said, “Why pay a fee for something I already have done for so long? Why pay someone else for this privilege when I can take a few minutes each week and do something I feel good about?” We couldn’t agree with her more.

On this day we observed these people as well as many others from the young to middle-aged and senior citizens all sharing in the same practice. A practice that teaches lessons about recycling to the young, helps preserve our resources, and just plain makes us all feel good. Now – imagine this happens every day, in every city. How good would that be?

By Nancy Weikle
Greener Magazine

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6:03 AM

Monday, May 01, 2006

Thank You!

Though it's been while since I've published an article here at Greener, I've had a great time being part of the team getting this great little webzine off the ground. All good things come to an end, though, and I've told Harlan that I'll have to leave Greener, as I've been offered an invitation to join the team at Treehugger. I've enjoyed the writing I've done here, and definitely plan to keep reading and to stay in touch. Thanks for everything, Harlan and Nancy, and thank you, Greener readers, for indulging me!

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
Guest columnist -- Greener magazine

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9:42 PM