Blue Marble

People Powered Farms?

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 9:04 PM EDT

Two grad students from MIT want to harvest the energy of human movement in urban settings. The so-called "Crowd Farm" would turn the mechanical energy of people walking or jumping into a source of electricity. James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning say a Crowd Farm in Boston's South Station railway terminal would work like this: A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps would be installed beneath the station's main lobby. The slippage of the blocks against one another as people walked would generate power through the principle of the dynamo, which converts the energy of motion into an electric current. They point out that although a single human step can only power two 60W light bulbs for one flickering second, a crowd in motion, with 28,527 steps, for example, could make enough energy to power a moving train for one second. The pair tested a prototype stool at the Venice Biennale and in a train station in Torino, Italy, which exploited the passive act of sitting to generate power. The weight of a human body spun a flywheel, which powered a dynamo that lit four LEDs. "People tended to be delighted by sitting on the stool and would get up and down repeatedly," said Graham.

Glad to see innovation coming from new, even unexpected, fields. Just shows how many human brains are turning to solving these issues. Sometimes hope abounds. JULIA WHITTY

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Birds on the Pill?

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 4:56 PM EDT

pigeon.bmp

To curb the out-of-control population growth of pigeons in Hollywood, and the excrement that comes along with them, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has suggested giving them birth control pills. OvoControl P will be placed in rooftop feeders in the next few months around the 5,000 pigeon-strong area in a "humane" attempt to control this poopy situation. The method is supposed to cut the population in half by 2012.

This plan brings about various questions. How much will the pills cost and who is going to pay for them? Are they truly safe for the birds? Are people upset? Is this ethical? Here are a few answers:

  • Cost: The pill costs $4.88 per pound. That means around $6 a day for 100 pigeons and $60,000 a year (including food, feeders, reports and worker compensation).
  • Who's paying: The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce will pay $1,000 in September. The Hollywood Entertainment Business Improvement District pleged $5,000. The rest? Lobbying to business improvement districts.
  • Ethical quandry: This method is allegedly the most humane way to go about it. The pill interferes with egg development, and the plan was proposed by PETA after all.
  • The enraged: Well, we can probably bet the Bird Lady isn't too happy.

And all this because people like feeding birds. Well done, Mary Poppins.

—Anna Weggel

The Power of Wind Energy

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 8:24 PM EDT

This Friday, the House is voting on bill H.R. 969, including the Udall-Platts Amendment that will require more of our electricity to come from renewable power sources like wind. In addition to creating jobs, the amendment is designed to keep electricity bills low, reduce our dependence on sources of power that aren't created in the U.S., and curb greenhouse gas emissions. Check it out.

Big oil & coal are fighting it. Fight them. Renewables are good for all stakeholders on planet Earth. JULIA WHITTY

Kashmiri War Good For Wildlife

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 7:59 PM EDT

The violence that's killed thousands of people in South Asia's disputed Kashmir region has, ironically, fostered a 30 to 60 percent increase in the population of endangered Asiatic black bears. The bears are the victims of poachers, who hunt them for their fur, paws, and gall bladders, which have mythical medicinal qualities. The WorldWatch Institute reports the story by the Toronto Globe and Mail, that the presence of the Indian military and opposition fighters in Himalayan forests has discouraged poachers from entering the area, allowing the bears to recover slightly. . . Hmm. War. What is it good for? . . . Not to mention which, maybe it's kept a few from the dancing bear (aka slave) trade.

Check out some of the lucky few. JULIA WHITTY

Sharkrunners Lets You Play Marine Biologist

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

Here's a blog from publishing house O'Reilly on a Discovery Channel online game called Sharkrunners that lets you play the part of a marine biologist tracking sharks, many endangered. You get a virtual boat and virtual crew but track real-life sharks tagged with GPS receivers. When your boat encounters a shark, you're alerted via email and/or SMS. You get three hours to collect data about the shark, the goal being to collect as much data as possible. (Okay, in the real world more data is not always better, case in point: our overwhelmed intelligence agencies, but…) As Brady Forrest at O'Reilly reports:

My boat, the Roo, has just left the port of San Luis Obispo. We had our first encounter 15 minutes after leaving port. Now that I have some funding I'll probably get another crew member (which increases the likelihood of my getting data and decreases the likelihood of my crew dying) or upgrade my boat (a better craft allows me to stay out to sea longer). My single shark encounter netted me $2,200. Given that the game launched a week and players already have over $700,000, I think the players really like it.

Sounds like fun for everyone. Except the sharks. JULIA WHITTY

Simpsons Movie Takes on Environment... Well, Kind Of.

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 1:28 PM EDT

homer_mushing.jpg This weekend I was lucky enough to catch the aptly titled The Simpsons Movie at my local independent theater. With all the hype—7-11s transformed into Kwik-E-Marts complete with Squishees and Buzz Cola, annoying ads during other Fox shows—I was ready to be wowed. But what wowed me, I didn't expect—the movie took on the thorny issue of environmentalism ... well, sort of, if you count Homer fighting power-crazy environmentalists with motorcycles and dog sleds.

In the film, Lisa crusades door-to-door for the salvation of Springfield's lake and, predictably, gets many of them slammed in her face; Homer's her undoing, dumping a silo of "pig crap" into the lake that turns it into a seething, green, boiling pool of acidic sludge; and there's an interesting twist, wherein, the EPA actually cares about the environment. Humorously, the EPA puts a huge, glass dome over the city to keep the lake's toxins from spreading (they care more about the trees than the people of Springfield).

The Simpsons of course fight back and attempt to free Springfield from its doom in the dome and the EPA v Homer battle is surely amusing, but unfortunately, after 87 minutes of comedy, the sentiment that people should not drop "pig crap" into lakes is pretty much forgotten. Not that I was really expecting (okay, I kind of was) great pearls of wisdom from The Simpsons but I had hoped for more examples of criminal environmental degradation, especially since the mastermind behind everything Simpsons is from my home state of Oregon, a state with a long history of fighting the timber and fishing industries to preserve its unique natural beauty.

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Musings on Light Pollution

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 2:36 AM EDT

The Pinky Show Returns. Listen to Ant. JULIA WHITTY

Alaskan Erosion Creates Oil Spill Risk

| Mon Jul. 30, 2007 9:16 PM EDT

Arctic sea ice does more than provide habitat for polar bears and reflect sunlight. It also acts as a barrier between the rough ocean and delicate coastlines, like those of Alaska. With softening permafrost and disappearing sea ice, Alaska's coast is eroding faster than ever and may result in old oil wells actually slipping into the ocean.

In particular, the coast of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (a 23 million-acre area managed by the Bureau of Land Management and a plum drilling site, according to Bush) is eroding faster than ever, a new US Geological Survey study found. The BLM has identified more than 30 oil wells in danger of being reclaimed by the ocean, each of which will cost $20 million to clean to ensure that, if they do get sucked into the ocean, they won't spill even more oil into the state's ecosystem.

Atlantic Hurricanes Doubled Over Last Century

| Mon Jul. 30, 2007 5:57 PM EDT

About twice as many Atlantic hurricanes form each year on average than a century ago. This according to a new analysis by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Warmer sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and altered wind patterns associated with global climate change are fueling much of the increase. The analysis identifies three periods since 1900, separated by sharp transitions, during which the average number of hurricanes and tropical storms increased dramatically and then remained elevated and relatively steady. SSTs have risen by about 1.3 degrees F in the last 100 years, and other studies indicate that most of the rise in Atlantic sea surface temps can be attributed to global warming. "Even a quiet year by today's standards would be considered normal or slightly active compared to an average year in the early part of the 20th century," says study author, Greg Holland.

By the way, the current period has not yet stabilized. So the average hurricane season could be even more active in the future. . . The planet lives and breathes in powerful ways. Here's an amazing video recap of some of the 2005 hurricane season. Stunningly beautiful. Terrifying. JULIA WHITTY

Big Squid In California Waters

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 8:58 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times and others are reporting on the "voracious" jumbo squid "invading" California waters and "preying" on local anchovy, hake and other commercial fish populations. . . .Hmm. Sound a little hysterical? Could anything actually be more voracious, invasive, or predatory than one of our very own? JULIA WHITTY

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