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Growing Green: Building industry coalesces around environmental techniques

Randi Bjornstad, Eugene Register-Guard
Concern about global warming, energy conservation and rapid depletion of the Earth’s nonrenewable resources has not gone unheeded in the building industry in the United States.

Manufacturers, financiers, insurance companies, builders, utilities and designers nationwide have formed a coalition to encourage – and confer honors upon – huge industries and small builders alike that choose to use environmentally friendly building and landscaping techniques.

The U.S. Green Building Council, which includes more than 4,000 volunteer member organizations nationwide, has developed a checklist of dozens of ways buildings can be constructed to save resources, reduce energy consumption and provide better working and living environments for their inhabitants.
(30 April 2006)

Dongtan and greening China

Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
By most measurements, China’s impact on the planet is now second only to that of the U.S., and China’s coming on strong: China is expected to have more cars that America in fifteen years, has built the second largest freeway system in the world and is expected to overtake America as the leading climate culprit. Indeed, China’s impact on the future has been dubbed by some the Great Wall of Unknowns.

China has accomplished a miracle of economic development, raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and forging itself into an industrial powerhouse in just a few decades. But that development has extracted a terrible environmental cost, with China rapidly becoming the most polluted nation on the planet. Indeed, pollution, environmental degredation and resource depletion are so severe in China that a leading government official there warned that unless China can find a more sustainable path, “the miracle will end soon.”

China has bold plans for confronting this crisis: green buildings, green cars, wind power, nanotechnology, mobile technologies, solar, even a green (or green-ish Olympics and new models of measuring economic growth to account for environmental costs. Whether these responses will actually take hold in an authoritarian and corrupt political culture is a different matter, of course, but a Green China may yet astound us all.

Since so much depends on building better cities, one of the more promising signs (though problems are still rife) is the rise of new green urban developments in Shanghai, Beijing, and Huangbaiyu. Our favorite is the Dongtan project on an island near Shanghai, billed as the world’s first Eco-City, which will eventually house half a million people in green buildings powered by renewable energy. Dongtan is absolutely the best current model for bright green Chinese city planning.

We’ve written about Dongtan a lot, but the latest edition of the BBC program Costing the Earth has a great show which nicely tells the story. As architect Alejandro Gutierrez says,

“All over China now, peasant farmers are becoming urban citizens, working in factories, doing urban service jobs and so on. So China has initiated this extraordinary process of urbanization. They’re expecting to build about 400 cities the size of Bristol in the next 20 years. Urbanization is becoming the dominant factor in what is happening in China and how China, ultimately, will affect the rest of the world”

I can’t recommend Miriam O’Reilly’s work on this show highly enough. On projects like Dongtan hinge the fate of our planet.
(1 May 2006)

Vampire Power

Jeremy Faludi, WorldChanging
No, it’s not the latest summer B-movie. It’s not a Red Bull knockoff for goths. It’s the electricity your appliances keep sucking down even when they’re turned “off”. (Also called standby power.) Sometimes it’s surprisingly large: a DVD player might use 75% as much power when off as when on, and many stereos use 90%. Anything with a transformer, such as chargers for mobile devices or computer power supplies, keep using power whenever they are plugged in. Sometimes it’s just a watt or two, but sometimes it’s much higher. As GrinningPlanet points out, this still only amounts to 10% of most people’s energy bills, but that still adds up, particularly in an office. Vampire power is an issue that’s been known for quite a while, but industry is accelerating on things you can do to stop it.

How do you know if your innocent-looking printer is secretly a vampire?
(2 May 2006)

Bye the Book
My year of teaching environmental science without a textbook

Eric Pallant and Terrence Bensel, Grist Soapbox

In the first class of the 2005-2006 school year, after calling roll and introducing myself and co-professor Terry Bensel, I told our students they were participating in an experiment. An experiment that, as far as we knew, no one else had undertaken. They were taking an Introduction to Environmental Science course with no textbook.

…Initially, Terry and I were motivated by the prospect of supplying students with real voices on environmental issues in real time, and reaping the altruistic pleasure of saving the students a hundred bucks. We hoped, too, to counteract the disease that is carried by only two known vectors, Tsetse flies and textbooks: sleeping sickness. While it is hard to be certain whether fewer students fell face-first into their keyboards than would have collapsed on a textbook, surveys we collected at the end of the first semester suggested they preferred the online version of learning.
(2 May 2006)
The course outline with readings is online.