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Solutions & sustainability - Apr 3

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This ecologist is not just gathering dust
Canadian uses it to make a briquette that heats homes and saves trees in Kenya

Ben Singer, The Globe and Mail
KIBERA, KENYA -- In her tiny mud-walled home outside Nairobi, Zainaba Adhiambo shows off the ash remaining in her charcoal-burning stove called a jiko, the only appliance in the dark unventilated kitchen.

Like most of the 700,000 residents of Kibera, Africa's largest slum, Ms. Adhiambo relies on her jiko for both heating and cooking. She says coal-smoke used to fill her home, staining furniture and affecting her four small children. But not any more.

Now she uses an innovative briquette made from the dust waste of traditional charcoal manufacturing. The brainchild of Canadian ecologist and entrepreneur Elsen Karstad, Chardust briquettes are providing part of the solution to a complex health and environmental problem affecting Kenya and much of Africa.

Most charcoal in Kenya is from wood illegally cut from public forests and burned under mounds of soil to carbonize it.
(31 March 2006)


Sterilizing water with solar radiation

Sarah Rich, WorldChanging
In too many parts of the world, water is as much a cause of death as a source of life. Cleaning contaminated water is mass quantities presents innumerable challenges. Filtration and pipe systems can be unreliable and costly. But one innovative technique has recently proven surprisingly effective, and remarkably simple.

In Tanzania, villagers have been placing plastic water bottles full of dirty spring water in the sun on their black tar rooftops. After eight hours (or less in very hot areas), UV rays and heat have killed off the bacteria that cause cholera, dysentary, and typhoid.

The water bottle approach has benefits beyond the reduction of digestive illness. Most villagers sterilize their water by boiling it, which is taxing, time consuming, and sometimes dangerous, requiring trips into the bush to gather wood. Additionally, the open fires cause respiratory troubles and eye irritation. (Though I do wonder about about the health hazards of the melting and leaching of the plastic as it gets heated repeatedly atop a hot surface.)

...For all its potential problems, though, the method does seem to have a lot to offer - it's very inexpensive, and can be implemented by anyone, anywhere that the sun gets hot enough to kill potential contaminants. It's also spurring a new demand for the collection and distribution of plastic bottles.
(X April 2006)


Jason Edens, rural solar advocate, answers Grist's questions

Grist Magazine
Q: Where do you work?

A: I work at the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a grassroots nonprofit organization whose mission is to make solar power accessible to people of all income levels.

Q: What does your organization do?

A: At RREAL, we install solar heating systems onto the homes of low-income families qualifying for energy assistance. In Minnesota, and indeed across the country, hundreds of thousands of families depend on energy assistance to ensure they stay safe and warm through the cold winter months, collectively receiving tens of millions of dollars. Although energy assistance is a much-needed service, it does not offer a lasting solution.

Our Solar Assistance Program offers a permanent solution. Rather than paying families' heating bills year after year, or even generation after generation in some cases, Solar Assistance creates lasting structural change by empowering families and fostering self-reliance.

Public energy assistance is a subsidy to the fossil-fuel industry. Solar Assistance is a solution to a persistent societal problem as well as a solution to a persistent environmental problem.

(27 March 2006)
Related: Jason Edens, rural solar advocate, answers readers' questions


Nice lawn, M'Lord, but please don't eat the grass

Erik Curren, Augusta Free Press
...From the viewpoint of ecology, big, green, water-hogging and chemical-dripping lawns are the Hummers of the landscaping world. True, lawns do act as carbon sinks - they store CO2 that would otherwise go into the atmosphere and add to global warming - but only in a teeny-weeny way. Otherwise, lawns serve mostly as status symbols that hurt the environment in the cause of conspicuous consumption. And with Peak Oil on the way, since lawn-care relies so much on fossil fuels, lawns may soon be a luxury we can't afford. Just like an SUV?

So, maybe it's time to think about getting tough on turf. When I talked to her at her 1910 house in Staunton's historic Newtown district, Janet had one word to say about lawns: "silly." To help us all enter the Post-Lawn Age, Janet has just published her 17th book, From Grass to Gardens: How to Reap Bounty from a Small Yard. Here, she tells the story of how she turned her front and back yards - only 2,600 square feet total - into lush mini-fields of fruits and vegetables.

Last column, I talked about how local farmers can help us find food security in uncertain times. In our current industrial system, food travels 1,500 miles on average from farm to plate. When oil prices go up, food prices will also rise. Supplies could even be interrupted. Some of us might feel hunger for the first time in our lives. We must work towards local self-sufficiency while we have time. Local farmers can help. But the best way is to grow our own food at home.
(3 April 2006)


How to stop guzzling gas

Scott Reeves, Forbes via MSNBC
NEW YORK - Little things can add up to big savings when driving your car — especially on the cusp of the spring travel season and with gas prices again heading for the roof.

Practical steps such as keeping tires properly inflated, combining trips, driving at off-peak hours to avoid stop-and-go traffic and following the maintenance schedule in the owner's manual will help ease the pain at the pump.

"When you add these little factors together, it can make a big difference in your gas mileage," says Roy Cox, manager of technical training and research for AAA's National Office in Heathrow, Fla., and author of "Improving Fuel Economy: Money In Your Pocket.

...Crude oil futures have climbed above $65 per barrel amid strong demand created by the upcoming driving season and continued concern about supplies from Iran and Nigeria. This means higher prices at the pump and provides additional incentive to drive economically — unless you feel it's your duty to enrich ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and others.

Conservation has three basic parts: driving habits, vehicle maintenance and vehicle selection. For many, the toughest thing about saving gas is breaking old habits. Obeying the speed limit is the most basic step in boosting your mileage.
(2 April 2006)

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