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Local groups use peer pressure – and fines – to cut carbon emissions

James Kanter, International Herald Tribune
sing solar panels and a mixed bag of more rudimentary techniques – including reading by candlelight and converting the waste from her toilet into fertilizer – Jacqueline Sheedy has turned the former coal barge where she lives into a model of energy efficiency.

Now Sheedy has set herself a new goal: To stop burning coal and use wood only from renewable sources.

“I’m scared of the cold this winter,” Sheedy, 42, said. “But it’s going to be difficult for everyone else to cut their carbon footprints, so I should also keep on setting myself personal challenges.”

Sheedy, who earns a living teaching urban gardeners how to grow food, may be more dedicated than other eco-enthusiasts. But the phenomenon of low-carbon living is spreading, especially in Britain, where climate change is a hot political issue.

Some local initiatives emphasize adoption of new technologies or vastly improved rates of recycling. Others aim to push the government to set a mandatory cap on the amount of carbon dioxide each citizen may generate. But all these efforts face a balancing act: Satisfying a desire among the early adopters to make quick progress and, at the same time, developing models that could become accepted by the general public.

Sheedy belongs to a CRAG, or a Carbon Rationing Action Group, based in Islington, North London.

Craggers like Sheedy aim to hold each other to account by imposing fines on members of the group who fail to keep their emissions under a certain quota. Those members who emit progressively less each year can earn money from more profligate members, who must pay into the system.

The first step for craggers is to calculate their emissions from their natural gas and electricity bills and their travel. The next step is to make personal sacrifices, from turning down the heating to giving up driving to work, to prove that big cuts are feasible without paying for expensive new technologies or buying carbon offsets.
(16 October 2007)

Harvest the rain; build a rain garden

David Iribarne, Petaluma Argus-Courier
What is a rain garden? It is a natural or built depression in the landscape that diverts rain water that would normally flow into your gutter, retaining it in your landscape. It is a natural filtration system, filled with native plants, that cleans runoff and recharges our aquifers. A rain garden is really just a strategically located low area where storm water can be captured to soak naturally into the soil. And guess what? You can easily build one in your yard!

…How do I build a rain garden?

Location is the key. The object is to divert water that normally would flow into the gutter during a storm away from the gutter and into the landscape. A good spot is down slope from a downspout of your roof.

…How do rain gardens help?

If you chose to build a rain garden instead of a standard garden, you should be proud. You have taken the first step to helping to improve the environment and the quality of water for yourself, your neighbors and the native wildlife. As I’m sure many of you are aware, urban sprawl has reduced our natural landscapes to paved roads, homes and acres of lawn. Unfortunately, these surfaces do nothing to stop the run-off in major storms. This run-off carries all of the industrial pesticides, herbicides and nutrient rich fertilizers into the drains and into the rivers and even into the water treatment plants. A rain garden filled with native plants will capture and hold this water, before slowly releasing it into the soil, clean and fresh.

David Iribarne is the water conservation coordinator for the city of Petaluma [California].
(17 October 2007)
Thanks for the tip to Master Gardener BT.

Note that urban water user is a big user of energy (required to gather, store, clean and distribute water). Gardening with rainfall vs piped water thus saves energy. -BA

Sweden’s sustainable finance system
Andi Hazelwood, Global Public Media
Oscar Kjellberg is the former CEO and current strategic manager of J.A.K. Members Bank in Sweden, an interest-free, member-owned savings and loan.

In this interview with Andi Hazelwood of Global Public Media, Kjellberg talks about the history of J.A.K Members bank, explains the J.A.K. banking model and illustrates how the conventional interest-based system, with it’s growth imperative, is unsustainable.

Kjellberg also discusses how the J.A.K. model differs from the interest-free Islamic banking system, and how the current mortgage and currency crisis in the US is a result of interest-based financing.
(16 October 2007)

Hey kids, check out these energy-saving tips.

Jessica Worful, Christian Science Monitor
Global warming is all about energy. The sun’s energy illuminates the world, and the unique combination of gases in Earth’s atmosphere holds in just the right amount of the sun’s warmth to help life thrive.

But in the past 200 years or so, humans have changed the amount of certain gases in the air, such as carbon dioxide, or CO2. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas release CO2 when they’re burned. And much of the world’s energy needs are met by burning these fuels.

Carbon dioxide holds heat in the atmosphere. As humans have increased their use of fossil fuels, the levels of CO2 and other “greenhouse gases” in the air have risen, too. So the planet’s climate is changing.

You probably know that when you turn on a light, you’re using electrical energy. But have you ever thought about the energy it took to make the shirt you’re wearing? How about your last meal? Or the shower you took this morning?

Clothing factories use electricity. It takes electrical power to process food that you see on supermarket shelves. Also, the vehicles that brought these goods to the store probably burned fuel to get there.

And your shower? Well, it takes energy to heat the water you used, and it requires even more power to clean and treat all the water that went down the drain.

All this energy use accounts for a good deal of the rise in global CO2 emissions. You might wonder, “How could I possibly help?” After all, we each have to wear clothes, eat, and bathe. But we can get dressed, dine, keep clean, and work and play in ways that use less energy.
(16 October 2007)
As the CSM demonstrates in this article addressed to young people, the basic ideas of energy and sustainability are ***not that complicated***.

Related: Bloggers share tips to go green (Guardian)