“You’ll be my arms, and I’ll be your eyes”

Hi Folks:

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s well worth watching. We first read about it in an article in the Huffington Post. In China two specially-enabled men, lifelong friends, are changing their world – one tree at a time. When he was three Jia Wenqi lost his arms from a burn resulting from touching a power line. Jia Haixia was born with sight in only one eye, but he was blinded in an industrial accident in 2000. After losing his sight he became despondent. Both men were concerned by the environmental degradation in their area and so they teamed up to start planting trees. With no budget they used only hand tools and planted branches cut from existing trees. In their first year they planted 800 trees; 2 survived. They’ve now planted more than 10,000 trees and hope to cover a mountain.

They deserve our applause, and our support. How can you make your world a little better?

Hugs,
M&M

P.S. A classic tale, also well worth reading, is ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ by Jean Giono. Originally written in French, it’s also available in English.

P.S. II, the sequel. A story we first heard about in 2012 is a man in India who has planted a forest by himself: The Man Who Made a Forest

Happy Earth Day!

Earth

(click on image to see 4K footage from the ISS)

Happy Earth Day, everyone! As the saying goes:

“Love your Mother. Good planets are hard to find.”

Hugs,
M&M

Dawn Redwood, Dressed Up for Spring

Being Green – ‘Green’ Fuel?

Hi Folks:

I came across both of the articles below on the same day, and both outline similar ideas.  If you’re interested in environmental topics you’re likely aware of the process for converting used fry oil into biodiesel, and the process of creating fuel oil using bacteria.  But this is something different.  Since fuel is basically hydrocarbons, the basic idea is to combine carbon from CO2 from the air with hydrogen from water to create fuel.  Technically it’s not ‘carbon neutral‘ because burning the fuel releases the CO2 back into the atmosphere (in addition to whatever energy was required to produce it) but it’s a really intriguing line of research and one that I trust will go forward.

Air Fuel Synthesis
Converting sea water to Navy jet fuel

Mike.

P.S. Speaking of fuel, I was at the office supply store yesterday to pick up a batch of paper for our printer and I noticed they were stocking a paper made from 80% wheat straw and 20% wood fibre.  It sounded good to me, and I almost bought a package of it to try until I turned it over and discovered that while the company is based in Canada, the actual paper is made in India.  How does the energy and trees saved in using a waste product to make paper balance out against the fuel used to ship it halfway around the world?  It reminded me of another article I’d read recently that spoke to the balance between building an energy-efficient house and having a long commute to work every day.  This isn’t intented to be critical of any particular company, but it does speak to the challenges we face as individuals, as communities and as inhabitants of a global biosphere in the choices we make to ‘live green’.

For me, I bought the Canadian-sourced, FSC and Rainforest Alliance-certified paper instead.

Hero Rats

Hi Folks:

Yes, it’s been over a month since we’ve posted anything, and for those who drop by regularly we apologize for that!  However, as the saying goes, “You won’t recognize the house when you come to visit; we’ve moved.”  We’re now able to see actual floor instead of just boxes so we’re back!  Now then…  the following isn’t new, but it is relatively new to us and we appreciate what they’re doing so we thought we’d share it.

I don’t think anyone has ever considered war a good idea.  From time to time there have been those who have found it necessary for one reason or another, but eventually there are winners and there are losers, politics and policies change, map lines are redrawn and everyone picks up their stuff and goes home.  Well, almost everything.  Among those items left behind are ‘anti-personnel devices’, a.k.a. landmines.  Continue Reading →

Walking Victoria

Hi Folks:

Spring has been well under way in Victoria for a while now, even though we did have THREE WHOLE DAYS of winter this year… BRRR…  Victoria is often described as having a ‘Mediterranean climate’, but Marcia and I prefer to simply tell people that we live on an island in the Pacific.  Victoria is in somewhat of a rain shadow so we don’t get as much rain as those areas north or west of us, and with the ocean all around us our climate is wonderful pretty much every time of the year.  Okay, okay, I will admit that my first purchase when I moved to Victoria (in a late October) was an umbrella, but I was able to leave the snowblower behind.  It’s a worthwhile trade as far as I’m concerned!

Continue Reading →

The Man Who Made a Forest

Hi Folks:

Sometimes you come across a story that leaves you (almost) speechless.  I am a writer, after all.  Although this story appeared in the April 1, 2012 edition of ‘The Indian Times‘, it’s no April Fool’s joke.  One man, two hands, two feet and thirty years created a 550 ha (~1360 acre) forest in rural India.  By himself.  Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng began by planting bamboo when he was 16, then when that had grown he began planting, watering and pruning tree seedlings.  He brought in red ants from his village to help the soil.  Nature built the rest.  The full story is in the Indian Times article.

I salute him.

He’s not alone in his work, though. Wangari Maathai began the ‘Green Belt Movement‘ in Kenya, and it’s now become an international organization.  Although Ms. Maathai is no longer with us, the GBM continues its goal of planting one billion trees internationally.  In Indonesia, Willie Smits and the Masarang Foundation are helping local communities, wildlife and the rainforest, and the people of Vakan’Ala (‘Pearls of the Forest) are doing similar work in Madagascar.  Amazing.

Hugs,
Mike.

P.S. You can read Jean Giono’s fictional story, ‘The Man Who Planted Trees‘ and a similar one, ‘Where the Sun Spilled Gold‘, by following the links.

Earth Hour 2012 in Victoria, BC

Hi Folks:

As you probably know, Saturday night from 8:30-9:30 local time was ‘Earth Hour‘.  Originally conceived by the World Wildlife Fund and the Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney, Australia in 2007, it has since become a world-wide event.  Marcia and I were wondering how much participation there would be in Victoria so we headed up to the top of Christmas Hill to find out.  Christmas Hill is part of the Swan Lake/Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary here in Victoria, and being a large rock outcrop in about the middle of the city, it affords a spectacular view of the city and beyond.  We were pleased by what we saw.  Although street lights and outside lights for some businesses needed to stay on for safety reasons, much of the city was otherwise dark.  I made a quick video with my cell phone camera, a 360° panorama, which you can see below.  NB: I’m a photographer not a videographer, and there places where it was so dark that the camera had to hunt for focus.  That however, is the point!

Earth Hour 2012, Victoria, BC
Click on the image to view the video

Our thanks to everyone in Victoria and around the world who participated in Earth Hour.  It’s a way of saying that you care about this little blue marble we call ‘home’.

Hugs,
Marcia and Mike.

Being Green – Another Look at Solar

Hi Folks:

Normally I do my ‘Being Green‘ posts on Fridays, but this one’s been bumped a day.  I’ve written two previous posts on energy from the sun: “Going Solar” and “Bottling Sunshine“, but this week I wanted to highlight a couple of ongoing projects that are really addressing this more completely.

In his 2011 TED talk, Paul Romer outlined ideas for the world’s first ‘charter cities‘.  The idea has its own benefits and challenges, but it is already garnering some interest.  An example of a ‘charter city’ that is currently being built might be the following: If you do a search on the term ‘solar valley‘, one of projects will show up first is a ‘model city’ being constructed in Shandong, China.  A product of the Himin Solar Energy Group, China’s Solar Valley is looking to both produce and use solar technology concurrently.  From the website:

“Covering an area of over 330 hectares (815 acres) in total, China Solar Valley leads the way in solar industrialization, including the seven wonders in solar area, namely, an unprecedented solar thermal manufacturing base, the first automatic production line of evacuated tubes in the world, a company-owned solar museum, a PV lighting road of over 10 kilometers, a demonstration area for solar architectures, a professional testing center well beyond international requirements, an international renewable energy communication center—the main site of 2010 International Solar Cities Congress (ISCC).”

More information on this ‘model city’ may be found here.

Now, when one thinks of solar, three differing technologies come to mind.  One is the generation of electricity using solar photovoltaic  panels or by using a group of focused mirrors to focus the sun’s light on a boiler, and the second is to create hot water using evacuated tubes.  From an architectural design standpoint, there’s also the idea of ‘thermal mass’ and ‘passive solar’ design to aid in heating a building in winter but shading it in summer.  Passive solar design can work well in temperate climates, but in countries like Abu Dhabi in the UAE, keeping a building warm is rarely a concern.  When designing two new office towers in Abu Dhabi, Aedas was faced with the problem of how to keep the buildings cool in the face of their daily dose of sunshine.  While some designers might choose to use mechanical systems (air conditioning) to achieve this goal, they developed and implement a new twist on a very old idea.  A traditional component of Arabic architecture is the ‘Mashrabiya‘, a geometric lattice screen made of wood (or sometimes stone).  The Mashrabiya has been in use since at least the 12th century, and provides several advantages, among them privacy (the ability to see out without being seen), shade from the street, and through clever design, an updraft of cooling breeze.

For their project in Abu Dhabi, the design team created a set of mechanically operated, geometric ‘petals’ that open and close to provide shade from the heat of the sun.  The panels cover the south side of the buildings, and power for these shades is generated by photovoltaic panels on the building itself.  Since the panels are set about six feet out from the building, the space between the buildings’ windows and the panels provides an air column for updraft.  While not strictly biomimicry, the open and closing of the panels resembles a vertical field of flowers.  More information can be found on the Aedas Abu Dhabi site (move your mouse to the left edge of the screen to open the flyout menu – there’s a video segment as well as the images).  Personally, I think it’s brilliant!

Okay, that’s it for now…  Have a great week!!

Hugs,
Mike.

Being Green – Going Beyond Design

Hi Folks:  Been a little quiet here on the ‘Being Green‘ side of our blog for a while, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight a couple of articles I came across recently.  Actually, in starting this I remembered a somewhat similar post I had written, which as fate would have it, was written almost exactly a year ago.  That one was titled, “Being Green – Questions“.  Anyway, I digress…

The first article I wanted to mention is on the ‘Buildinggreen.com’ site, and titled “Net-Zero Does Not Live by Design Alone: The Human Factor“.  From the article: Continue Reading →

Being Green – Finding Inspiration

Hi Folks:

One of the amazing things about the internet is the ability to connect people in ways that simply wasn’t possible before.  The ‘net of course isn’t a ‘place’ in itself, but an international network that showcases information on every subject imaginable.  I often turn to specific sites as a way of finding inspiration for whatever project I’m working on and I recently came across a few that relate to the ‘green’ field.

The first is ‘The Designers Accord‘.  “The Designers Accord is a global coalition of designers, educators, and business leaders working together to create positive environmental and social impact.” One of the initiatives of the Designers Accord is a series of 17 videos put forth by the people at Core77.  Called the ‘Sustainability in 7‘ series, each short video profiles one person who is working in the area of sustainable design.  My personal favourite is Bill McDonough (he’s my hero) but each one has their own merit.  You can either watch the videos all at once or pick one every day for a short burst of inspiration.  All of the people featured are designers and all of them speak to various areas of design, so you may be thinking that if you’re not a designer these videos aren’t for you.  That’s not true, really.  Each of us, in our own way is the designer of our own lives.  The choices that we make, the items we purchase (and those we don’t) and more each contribute to the impact we make on our present and our future, both individually and collectively.  There’s a lot more than videos to the Designers Accord site; it’s well worth checking out.

The second is the new POV section of the Herman Miller website.  This site profiles the work of five different architects (so far) and gives some insight into how they create the buildings they design.

The third is that the folks at Environmental Design + Construction magazine and Sustainable Facility magazine have completely redesigned their websites.  There’s a wealth of articles, podcasts, webinars and more available.  Worth checking out!

Wherever you are in the world, take a moment to find some inspiration today.  It could be a bird call, the shape of a cloud or someone’s smile… easy to find if you look for it!

Hugs,
Mike.