Monthly Archives: February 2012

Cradle to Cradle

The current economic system is built on constant growth, and growth has come to be synonymous with ever increasing the amount of material goods produced. This model of growth is highly unsustainable and environmentally destructive. Even if the energy used in manufacturing is eventually generated by only renewable means, the products would still consist of nonrenewable materials obtained through mining.

To reduce the amount of resources required for the ever increasing production of material goods, cradle to cradle product development needs to become the standard. Cradle to cradle refers to products that have a life beyond their initial purpose. Products are designed to either be biodegradable or completely recyclable so that their impact on the environment is minimal. This form of production is not necessarily sustainable but it is a large step in the direction of wisely using resources and reducing the human impact on the environment. By manufacturing products in a way that prevents them from simply becoming trash, the amount of waste entering landfills would be drastically reduced.

Though widespread development of cradle to cradle products may not exist currently, there are a number of companies that are producing cradle to cradle certified products.  Below are just a few examples of the cradle to cradle certified products available today.

Homes

 

                                              House with Bark House® siding

Highland Craftsmen Inc. has produced Bark House® shingle siding. These exterior shingles are certified as cradle to cradle because they are made from reclaimed poplar bark from a sustainably designed forest. The bark is harvested within 100 miles of the manufacturing site to reduce transport of materials. The process of preparing the bark for siding does not require water, harsh chemicals, or large amounts of energy. The product is durable and has been proven to last 80 years maintenance free. The product is also completely biodegradable, creating no waste once the siding is removed.

 Diapers

gDiapers are the only cradle to cradle certified diaper currently available. These diapers are unique because they are a diaper cover with a non-plastic, flushable, and 100% biodegradable insert. The product creates no landfill waste and is also compostable and breakdown completely in 50 to 150 days.

gDiapers are an environmentally conscious alternative to disposable diapers.

In addition to the product itself being environmentally friendly, gDiaper also participates in GreenShipping. GreenShipping allows for the carbon generated from the shipping process to be calculated and offset by other conservation methods to make shipping carbon neutral.

furniture

                                                  Herman Miller’s SAYL chair

The Herman Miller SAYL Chair is designed to use fewer materials than conventional work chairs. The backing is made of a mesh that uses less plastic to produce. The entire chair is 93% recyclable and manufactured using 100% renewable energy. The company of Herman Miller has established sustainability goals to be attained by 2020 that includes a carbon footprint of zero, no landfill waste, and no hazardous waste creation.

Playgrounds

Playworld Systems creates playground equipment. All of the playground equipment in their 2010 catalog was cradle to cradle certified.

This is one of many cradle to cradle certified playgrounds produced by              Playworld Systems.

The company has been consistently dedicated to green development and has recently taken action to reduce their carbon footprint during. Most building materials for their play sets are made from recycled metals, the product’s packaging is recyclable, manufacturers are located within 150 miles of the facility to reduce transportation, and 90% of waste generated by the company is recycled. In addition to reducing carbon, their products have been made more environmentally friendly by no longer contain PVC.

Potential for electric cars

Many solutions have been put forth to reduce the national dependency on oil. Some solutions suggested in the book Energy: Science, Policy and the Pursuit of Sustainability by Robert Bent, Lloyd Orr and Randall Baker are severe increases in oil taxes or removing oil subsidies efforts to increase the cost of gas and evoke a reduction in oil consumption.

Instead of implementing these drastic and expensive measures, perhaps by providing viable transportation alternatives, the reliance on oil will begin to decrease.  One new area of technology that has the potential to facilitate this is the electric car.

Above is an image of a 2012 electric car.

Turning to electric cars instead of traditional cars can bring the fuel source to America and reduce our dependency on foreign sources of energy. The electricity generated and used by electric cars comes from power plants that utilize coal and natural gas. Though coal can be very detrimental to the environment, natural gas is a relatively clean source of energy that has been recently discovered to be in great supply throughout the United States. Hydraulic fracturing is a new technology that is allowing vast amounts of natural gas to be extracted from previously unproductive shale.

Though currently the electric car can only travel about 100 miles on a single charge, new battery technologies are being developed to increase this distance dramatically. Improving batteries would make electric cars a cost-effective and energy conscious alternative to traditional vehicles.  Increasing the number of electric car charging stations throughout the country and advances in technology have the potential to awaken the public to the possibilities of reliable gas-free transportation.  In the near future, electric cars could become a serious alternative to traditional cars and allow the nation to shift away from foreign oil and toward domestic sources of energy.

Current Energy Policy

The Obama Administration energy policy focuses on renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and nuclear.

In the recently proposed 2013 energy budget, the Obama Administration demonstrated its belief in creating a sustainable energy future. The budget focused on ways to increase the amount of jobs related to renewable energies, advance clean technologies, and increase national security in relation to energy sources and maintenance.

The budget proposes increasing jobs by investing in American green technologies and moving away from oil. One of Obama’s energy goals is to reduce American dependency on oil by one third by 2025. This will help create a market for new American technologies that will take the place of oil.

Below are just a few examples of what the funds in the proposed energy budget would finance:

  • Solar power cost reduced by 75% to make this clean source of energy competitive with other energy sources. The idea would be that eventually solar would be competitive without relying on subsidies to lower the cost.
  • Wind energy is another area that the budget is investing money as a means of increasing renewable energy.
  • Nuclear power plants would be updated to improve safety.
  • Coal burning power plants would receive funds to increase their efficiency which would reduce the amount of CO2 created during the burning process.
  • Research into new energy technologies that would help reduce dependency on oil

These are all important areas of energy development that would reduce dependency on foreign oil and increase the presence of renewable energy. Thought it seems that to decrease oil consumption overtime, specific investments in oil alternatives should be outlined. A greater investment in biofuels and public transportation infrastructure could prove effective. The new proposed budget is a direct reflection of the 2010 energy policy of the Obama Administration. The administration’s policies regarding energy support renewable sources and aims to reduce the usage of energy supplied by fossil fuels.

Centralia Pennsylvania Coal Mine Fire: A Timeline of Events

In 1962 the small town of Centralia Pennsylvania, population 1,100, decided to use an abandoned strip mine as a landfill. Those constructing the landfill were instructed to fill in the many holes created by failed mine shafts with fire resistant material before they filled the area with trash. Soon after opening, there was a trash fire at the landfill that was extinguished over the course of a day. While cleaning up the mess created by the fire, 15 feet hole was discovered that led directly to the underlying coal mines. This hole allowed the fire to ignite the extensive coal seam under the city and surrounding area.

In 1969 the coal seam was still smoldering, so a trench was dug in front of the coal fire to stop its advance. Unfortunately, only a handful of construction workers were hired, they worked only a few hours a day, and were given Memorial Day off of work. By the time the trench was completed several days after initiation, the fire had managed to spread past the trench.

The fire was thought to be extinguished until 1979 when a local gas station owner discovered that the underground gas tanks had a dangerously high temperature of 172˚ F. This discovery raised the town’s concern over the dangers of the fire.

In 1981 the still burning coal fire turned dangerous when a hole 4 feet wide and 150 feet deep suddenly opened up under a 12 year old boy while playing in his grandma’s backyard. Similar incidents of mine subsidence occurred in town and noxious gas emanated from the ground. Chronic respiratory illnesses were reported throughout the town.

A small example of mine subsidence.

In 1983 another plan to build a trench was proposed to contain the growing coal mine fire.  The plan was to dig a 500 feet trench around the entire town to stop the fire from spreading to the other towns nearby. This would force all residents to abandon their homes and evacuate the town. The town’s people felt that this plan definitively proved that the government was just trying to seize control of the mineral rights to the underlying coal that would be worth thousands of dollars. After a state government review, it was determined that the proposed plan was too expensive, so it was decided to just let the fire burn itself out. Though the fire was left to burn, the government decided to buy out all of the town properties and evict the people.

By 1991 Most of the buildings in Centralia were demolished and the highway leading to the town was closed, and in 1992 all remaining buildings were claimed through eminent domain and condemned.

As of 2006, only 11 people remained in town and refuse to surrender their property. The fire continues to burn and cause damage to the area. The highway passing thorough a nearby town has suffered repeated damage from the fire and has been permanently diverted around the area.

This is an image of the damage to the highway caused by the fire.

Currently, the fire underlies 400 acres and is still spreading. Steam vents, unstable ground, carbon monoxide, and poor air quality are a few of the dangers from the fire.

Sign posted on the outside of town to warn travelers.

Legal action is under way to evict the last 9 remaining residents of Centralia while the residents fight to overturn the states claim of eminent domain. The city is no longer shown on maps and its postal code was revoked. If left alone, the fire could continue to spread and burn for another 250 years.

Image of Centralia taken in 2001. Follow this link for more 2001 images of the town.

I decided to post this because Centralia Pennsylvania is a tragic example of the damage that fossil fuels can cause. Most people consider the effects of burning coal for electricity, but few realize the hazards created from obtaining the coal. The Centralia fire started because of abandoned coal mines that were not properly sealed. The immense underground fire will burn for centuries and emit large quantities of carbon dioxide and noxious gasses into the atmosphere. Even today the town is affected by our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. The nine remaining residents living in Centralia refuse to leave because they believe the government is trying to steal their mineral rights. They do not accept that they must abandon the area due to immense health concerns and physical danger. It is our nation’s high investment in coal that is keeping the residents of Centralia and others like them from doing what is in their best interest for their health. Coal mining accidents are common and can cause great harm to all involved. These accidents could be reduced if our dependency on coal derived energy was reduced. At some point there comes a time when obtaining coal and other fossil fuels will become very dangerous and we must make a choice between what is cheap and what is safe.