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The Kibbutz Sheds Socialism and Gains Popularity

Isabel Kershner, New York Times
For much of Israel’s existence, the kibbutz embodied its highest ideals: collective labor, love of the land and a no-frills egalitarianism.

But starting in the 1980s, when socialism was on a global downward spiral and the country was mired in hyperinflation, Israel’s 250 or so kibbutzim seemed doomed. Their debt mounted and their group dining halls grew empty as the young moved away.

Now, in a surprising third act, the kibbutzim are again thriving. Only in 2007 they are less about pure socialism than a kind of suburbanized version of it.

On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.

Once again, people are lining up to get in.

“What we love here is the simplicity,” said Boaz Varol, 38, who rides his bike along wooded pathways to work at the swimming pool, once for communal use, that he rents and runs as a private business at Kibbutz Yasur, in the rolling hills of the Western Galilee, northeast of Haifa. “Everyone does what they want, we have our independence, but without the kind of competition you find outside.”
(27 August 2007)
Last year, the New York Times reported on a similar renaissance of communal living in the U.S.: Extreme Makeover, Commune Edition. -BA

Knowing your carbon impact increasingly important

Mark Boslet, San Jose Mercury News
Never mind the carbon footprint, needled the New York Times earlier this month when Nicolas Sarkozy, the new president of France, whisked to Paris and back to the United States hours later.

Sarkozy jaunted to a funeral from his vacation hideaway in New Hampshire and then to Kennebunkport, Maine, where he had lunch with President Bush the following day.

Global warming, indeed.

A typical commercial flight to Paris and back to the East Coast coughs out at least a couple of thousand pounds of carbon dioxide per person or a significant share of the 26,000 pounds experts say an average Californian generates in a year. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases building up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

At a time when human consumption of energy is raising fears of a planetary rise in temperatures, carbon counting is increasingly important and necessary. So the Mercury News came up with a formula to help you estimate your impact on climate change – and look for ways to reduce it.

Until global warming can be measured on a personal level, experts say, it can’t be solved. But awareness is only the first step. People can significantly reduce their carbon output without dramatically changing the way they live, but they need to know which of their activities produce the most carbon.
(27 August 2007)

100-square-foot house fits him

Jay MacDonald, via Seattle P-I
For various reasons, more are turning to smaller living
A growing number of Americans are finding that they have more home than they want or need.

The reasons are numerous. Baby boomers, 77 million strong, are looking to downsize in retirement. Young home buyers find it increasingly difficult to afford or maintain larger homes. Urban land is at a premium. Smaller homes in desirable neighborhoods are scarce or outlawed by covenant. And environmental concerns about a residence’s “carbon footprint” have further dampened enthusiasm for spacious showpieces.

In some cases, the small-house trend goes to the extreme Lilliputian end of the scale.

Jay Shafer lives quite comfortably in a 100-square-foot house in Sebastopol, Calif. You may have a tool shed or a master bath about the same size.

Shafer’s home is on the small end of a line of compact, ready-made dwellings he designs for his Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. His designs have won numerous awards for energy efficiency and green building. The homes cost between $20,000 and $48,000, excluding land.

Though many customers use them as vacation homes or mother-in-law cottages, there are those smaller-is-better devotees who, like Shafer, simply prefer to live within their means.
(24 August 2007)

MIT pushes the revolving door

Sustainability MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
On average 8x as much air is exhanged when a swing door is opened as opposed to a revolving door. That’s 8x as much new air that needs to be heated or cooled and that’s why using the revolving door is a great way to reduce energy requirements on campus.

Why should I use the revolving door?

You’ve probably seen the signs around campus saying “Help MIT save energy. Please use the revolving door.” But does it really make any difference? Absolutely. Our estimates show that if everyone used the revolving doors at E25 alone, MIT would save almost $7500 in natural gas amounting to nearly 15 tons of CO2. And that’s just from two of the 29 revolving doors on campus!

How does using the revolving door save energy?

The air that is inside a building has been “conditioned” to make it comfortable for the occupants. We call the equipment that does this “air conditioners” in the summer, but the air heating equipment in use during the winter and ventilation “make-up air” consumed year round is also conditioned air. Energy is required to condition air — to make hot, moist air cold and dry in the summer and to make cold, dry air warm in the winter. Thus, whenever air is exchanged between inside and outside, air conditioning equipment has to work harder, using more energy.

The figure below illustrates how air is transferred in and out of a building. Cold air is more dense than warm, resulting in a pressure differential (“stack pressure”) that moves conditioned air through open doors and cracks in seals. Wind blowing on the building adds to this pressure differential.

The revolving door stops conditioned air from moving freely. An open swing door is like letting go of a balloon- the air rushes out of the opening. A revolving door is never open- seals remain in contact with the walls of the door at all times. Only the air in the chamber with the person going through the door is transferred.
(24 August 2007)
It’s good to see that high-technology is not the only approach to energy efficiency. -BA

Efficiency Measures Could Cut Data Center, Server Energy Use by Half

Alana Herro, WorldChanging
Data centers-large facilities that house electronic equipment to run websites, monitor Internet traffic, and store and process data-can consume more than 40 times the energy of similarly sized office spaces, according to a new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2006, servers and data centers in the United States used 61 billion kilowatt-hours of power, representing 1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption, or the equivalent of 5.8 million average U.S. homes. This was more than twice the amount used for the same purpose in 2000, and the figure is projected to nearly double again by 2011 if current trends continue.

Data centers are found in nearly every sector of the economy, from financial services and the media to the high-tech industry, universities, and government institutions. With a single facility housing hundreds or even thousands of computer servers, storage devices, and network devices, the rate of growth in the centers’ energy use is alarming, the EPA concludes. According to the agency, the power and cooling infrastructure required to keep IT equipment operating alone accounts for half of the centers’ total energy consumption. Servers and data centers run by the U.S. federal government were responsible for approximately 10 percent of the centers’ total electricity use in 2006.

Much of this energy use could be prevented through greater use of energy efficiency and power management tools, the report notes. For instance, making relatively minor, low-cost tweaks to software and airflow management could improve the efficiency of the data centers by more than 20 percent relative to current trends by 2011. Overall, adopting the most state-of-the-art technologies as well as “aggressive” energy-saving techniques could result in a maximum of 55 percent energy reduction by 2011, the EPA notes.
(26 August 2007)