Saturday, 26 December 2009

Eco Funnies

Our deteriorating environment is on everybody's mind. The world's political "leaders" managed to blow the opportunity for real change that "Copenhagen" offered. Yet another Christmas produced about 30% more toxic landfil for December than any other month of the year.

Discouraged? Depressed? Time for some eco funnies! I came across these in our paper the other day:
(Click to enlarge)

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Let’s Settle This Once And For All

A quick primer for those who have been blissfully ignorant of “The Freshcut Christmas Tree vs. the Artificial Christmas Tree” debate: proponents of the freshcut Christmas tree point at the fact that it’s a natural product, often grown locally or regionally.

Proponents of the artificial Christmas tree point out the fact that the cut tree is a disposable item that gets thrown away after only a few weeks of use, whereas the artificial equivalent will last for many years.

So who’s right? Well, if you like the smell of freshcut pine and don’t mind the needle mess, then go for that real tree.
If it’s about low-cost convenience, then the tree of the collapsable plastic variety may be your thing.

Charlie brown got the right idea way back in the '60s
(from "A Charlie Brown Christmas", 1965)

Things get a bit more complicated, though, if we ask ourselves which option is less damaging to the environment. It all boils down to Carbon Footprints: how much energy was involved in creating a product from scratch and getting it into your hands? This number considers all energy that's involved: extracting resources, manufacturing, transportation, packaging, advertising, final disposal - and everything inbetween.

Turns out that the artificial tree (85% of them are made in China) has a pretty big carbon footprint. With 3505 Watts it’s over 20 times more energy-intensive than a real tree.
Artificial trees are also a petroleum-based product; manufacturing them involves a long list of toxic by-products.
Also, artificial trees will not last forever and break down after 6 to 10 years. Any petroleum-based will breakdown into toxic components, many of them cancer-inducing.
And lastly, when that old artificial tree becomes landfill, it will be there for hundreds of years, slowly oozing contaminants into our soil and water table.

Freshcut old Christmas trees will decompose (or get mulched) nicely; they helped remove carbon from the environment and provided a home and food for wildlife while they were growing. That stops the moment they get cut, of course. And if you live in an area where they don’t grow naturally (say California, the Arctic, most of Europe), then that tree has to be trucked in from very far away.

So there you have it folks, you heard it here first: the freshcut tree is definitely the lesser evil.
The even better solution: get a live tree, and replant it after the holidays. And if you’re fortunate enough and have firs growing near your house (like we do): decorate a tree on the spot, passers-by will love you for it.
Merry Christmas (trees)!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Winter Driving's Ecological Footprint (wheel print?)

It took a bit longer than usual, but winter’s definitely here now: we’ve had our first snow storm and the next one’s in the forecast. Temperatures dip to around –24 at night and haven’t been above freezing since Nov. 30. But the surest sign winter’s here is: the winter tires are back on again.

After a few close calls in the past we opted for studded tires this time. Wow, what a difference; unbelievable traction.
Noisier, too. Which made me wonder if all that extra traction translates to extra fuel consumption…

Mmm, studs...

Well, the good news is: no, so far studded tires seem to get the same mileage as their standard non-studded winter tires. The bad news: no matter how you cut it, winter driving uses a lot more fuel than summer driving.

It’s not just the tires, of course. It’s mostly the frigid temperatures that make your engine run a lot less efficient. It takes the motor much longer to warm up, and even then it often doesn’t reach ideal combustion temperatures. Add the energy required to run your lights, defrosters, cabin heater (and seat heaters for the whimps out there), and you get the picture.

As a certified ego geek I try and drive as environmentally conscious as possible, resulting in great mileage for our ancient ’97 Ford Escort. During the warmer months (April – October): around 6 litres/100 km (that’s 39 Mpg for you non-metrics). But once November comes around the numbers quickly get less glorious: around 7.8 litres/100 km (30.1 Mpg).

Maybe not too bad compared to most cars (and trucks for sure), but still: a whopping 25% drop in fuel efficiency…
Guess there’s only one way around it: drive (25%) less!

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Eco Centre’s Coming To Town!

Maybe your life’s just too busy to make it to Nolalu to visit us. Maybe you’re afraid you won’t be able to find us (if your sense of direction is anywhere like mine). Or maybe you just hate winter driving. Whatever the reason, we’ve had numerous requests to “do something in town”.

So when Thunder Bay’s Confederation College approached us to do a series of courses for their Continued Education Program we were just tickled pink. Finally, the Nolalu Eco Centre will be coming to town this winter!

We’ll be offering 2 different courses: “Living Off the Grid” (on Wednesday Jan. 27 and Saturday Feb. 6) and “Introduction to Solar Power” (Wednesday Feb. 17 and Saturday Feb. 20).

Both are brief introductory courses that will give you a very practical bird’s eye view of what’s involved in a seriously greener life style, the challenges and rewards.
It’s practical, hands-on information from folks who live what they preach. And with a fee of only $36.00 it’s hard to go wrong.

If you live in Northwestern Ontario, check your free winter issue of The Key, and go to the brand-new “Living Green” section on page 71 for more information. The same information can be found online here.

It won’t replace the experience of visiting the Nolalu Eco Centre of course, but hey, at least you won’t get caught in a snow storm!