Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy

Welcome back to Stay Sustainable! So far, I have shared with you all¬†the meaning of sustainability, how to live a more sustainable life, and even how to eat more¬†sustainably! For today’s blog post, I am going¬†to be discussing the pros and cons of¬†several renewable energy technologies including wind power, solar power, and hydroelectric power.

WIND POWER

PROS

  • There is no way we will run out of it – Wind power is truly renewable! The sun creates wind and since we will always have the sun, we will always have wind.
  • Wind turbines¬†create virtually zero pollution – Unlike coal or oil, wind power does not release toxins or heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming.
  • It’s cheap and getting cheaper – As more and more turbines are being used around the country, their prices are continuing to drop. In fact, prices have fallen by 80% since the 1980’s!
  • The energy produced is extremely energy efficient – Some of the larger wind turbines can create enough power for 600 homes. Wind power has the potential to power 20x more than what the entire human populations needs.
  • Wind turbines can be installed on agricultural lands – Most of the wind turbines in the United States are found in the Midwest, the portion of our country dedicated to agriculture. However, wind turbines can be installed on these lands without interfering with farming. Also, farmers can earn money by allowing companies to install turbines on their land!

CONS

  • Turbines may pose a threat to avian wildlife – Thousands of birds and bats fly into moving turbines each year.
  • Wind is an intermittent source of energy – Wind doesn’t blow reliably, meaning some days there may be no energy¬†produced. Also, severe weather may cause damage to the turbines.
  • They can be loud – Turbines can produce sound between 50 and 60 decibels, which may be extremely unpleasant if one is installed near your home.
  • Manufacturing and installation costs are high – While wind power does save you money in the long run, the upfront costs can be expensive.
  • Turbines are not aesthetically pleasing – Many individuals find wind turbines to be very unattractive.

SOLAR POWER

PROS

  • Just like wind power, we will never run out – The sun is forever!
  • Solar power releases very little pollution – While the manufacturing and installation of solar panels may release small amounts of¬†green house gases, using them releases virtually zero!
  • Solar energy can be used all around the world – The sun shines everywhere!
  • Panels are low maintenance – Panels only need cleaning 3-4 times per year and that’s it!
  • The technology is improving – Residential solar panels are about 15% efficient, but new solar technologies are constantly being created and improved. Some solar panels created in the last decade are around 40-50% efficient!

CONS

  • Some pollution is produced – As mentioned before, the harvesting of sunlight releases virtually no pollution but the manufacturing and installation of panels does contribute small amounts of green house gases.
  • Solar power is intermittent – The sun goes down at the end of the day and objects such as trees or your neighbor’s house may cast a shadow on your panels, reducing the amount of energy harvested. Also, day-to-day weather changes can greatly impact the amount of energy collected.
  • Energy storage is expensive – Because solar power is intermittent, some individuals like to store energy in batteries. However, these technologies can be very¬†costly.
  • They may not be optimal in certain climates – Solar panels work best in climates that are warm and have sunshine all year round. In places such as the Arctic where parts of the year experience little to no daylight, this is not efficient.
  • High installation costs – Similar to wind power, solar energy saves money in the long run but installation costs can be more than $1,000.

HYDROELECTRIC POWER

PROS

  • Hydroelectric power plants do not release pollution!
  • It is very reliable – Compared to wind and solar power, there is very little fluctuation in the amount of energy collected over time.
  • Hydroelectric power is flexible – Water flow can be adjusted very easily. For instance, if electricity use is much lower during a given month, then the water flow can be reduced, saving water for times when electricity use increases.
  • This form of energy production is fairly safe – Unlike nuclear energy or fossil fuels, hydroelectric power does not require fuel to run–water is the fuel. Not to mention, water is free!
  • It is extremely efficient – Hydroelectric power has a higher energy conversion efficiency than both solar and wind combined with about 90% efficiency!

CONS

  • Destruction of natural habitats – Creating a large dam can have huge ecological impacts on the body of water and the surrounding land.¬†Dams can change the flow of rivers or completely block the migration of aquatic animals, leading to the potential for species decline.
  • There are high installation costs – While the cost of operating a dam may be low, the construction and installation can be extremely¬†expensive. Not to mention, it requires a lot of human labor.
  • The construction of the dam releases green house gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
  • It can cause flooding of the surrounding towns or cities – Not only does this pose a threat to humans, but wildlife as well.
  • Limited reservoirs where they can be implemented – Very few suitable reservoirs remain where dams and hydroelectric power plants can be installed, making them one of the least common forms of renewable energy sources in the world.

Most of this information I learned in several environmental science classes for my minor. However, if any of this information has changed or contradicts any new research you have found, please feel free to comment!

Eating Sustainably

Eating Sustainably

The evolution of modern day humans, Homo sapiens,¬†began about 200,000 years ago in Eastern¬†Africa. These first humans were hunter-gatherers, foraging berries, nuts, and plants and slaying large mammals for their meat. Eating meat¬†provided high-quality protein into the diet and hunting required group collaboration and communication. Thinking strategically and working for the benefit of the group ultimately lead to the development of language, communities, and growth of the human brain.¬†Not only this, but this flesh-filled diet¬†impacted the evolution of¬†our ancestors¬†and has ultimately resulted in the anatomy and physiology¬†of humans we see today. So, if humans have been consuming meat for thousands of years, why would anyone choose to stop eating meat? As someone¬†who has researched and followed the vegan lifestyle for more than 12 months, I hope to help you answer this question and help you gain an understanding about what it means to be vegan in today’s society.

What is veganism? Veganism is a lifestyle that abstains from the consumption of animal products including meat, fish, honey, gelatin, eggs, and dairy. Some individuals go as far as avoiding any animal products, including non-consumable items such as leather, fur, silk, and suede.

Why go vegan?¬†Some individuals go vegan to improve their health. Some individuals go vegan to lose weight. Some individuals go vegan due to ethical reasons. Some individuals, including myself, choose to eat vegan¬†to help the planet. How does being vegan help the planet? Well, very simply, by reducing the amount of resources needed to provide food for the human population. It requires 10x as many resources to feed someone who eats meat and dairy products compared to someone who practices veganism. This is because the animals that we eat require large portions of land to feed, roam, and be contained. Unfortunately, this land is often created by converting undisturbed habitat such as forest or prairie into animal agricultural lands. Not only this, but the animals need to eat and “beef up” before consumption, which requires even more land just to grow the crops used for livestock¬†feed. As much as 33% of crop lands in the U.S. and around the world are used to feed cattle rather than human stomachs. In Brazil, 5.6 million acres of land are used to grow cattle feed for livestock…for Europe. Imagine if we stopped (or extremely lowered to be optimistic) our consumption of animal products, allowing access to more lands and crops to feed our growing populations? Animal husbandry also contributes to increased greenhouse emissions. Livestock, specifically cows, create massive amounts of polluting gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and ammonia through belching and flatulence. As much as 18% of global emissions are produced by livestock. In fact, some studies have shown that the average dairy cow can produce anywhere from 53-132 gallons of methane per day! Luckily, this problem may be solved in the future.¬†Several studies have found that feeding seaweed to cattle can reduce the amount of flatulence and overall “gassiness”¬†produced, therefore reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases. Here is the study for those of you who are interested:¬†Can Seaweed Farming Play a Role In Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation?

COW

Tips for going vegan! Now that I have told you about the environmental benefits of the vegan lifestyle, I am going to share a few tips about how to become a successful vegan!

  1. Have a positive attitude РWhile it may seem difficult at first, be open to trying new things and remind yourself why you are doing it.
  2. Cook from scratch –¬†Most processed foods contain some traces of dairy including eggs and milk. To avoid an accidental intake of dairy products, make your food from scratch with fresh produce, herbs, and spices. That way you know everything that is going into your food!
  3. Learn to read labels РAs I said before, it can become extremely difficult to determine what products are found in your food. Take some time to research various ingredients or additives to determine those that should be avoided.
  4. Legumes are your best friend – Meat is traditionally the main source of protein in the diet with fruits and vegetables containing virtually no protein. Legumes such as green beans, black beans, peas, and chickpeas contain high amounts of protein, iron, and calcium, making them a great substitute for meat.
  5. Remember your vitamins – Because the vegan lifestyle is very limited, make sure to take vitamins to fulfill your body’s needs and avoid any deficiencies.

For my next blog post on Stay Sustainable, I will be discussing the pros and cons of various renewable energy technologies. Until then, here are some great vegan recipes!

Baby Steps

Baby Steps

Now that you have learned what it means to be sustainable, I am going to give you all a variety of tips and tricks on how to reduce your waste production, save energy, and ultimately, be good to the planet!

Plastics – just don’t –¬†Plastics have a very interesting history in our society. Weirdly enough, the first plastics were developed in the mid-1800’s to serve as a more ‘eco-friendly’ alternative to the elephant ivory found in billiard balls. Soon, plastics were being used to create toys, packaging, home goods, silverware, parachutes, ships, submarines–just about anything! Sounds amazing, right?¬†Well, it turns out¬†our precious plastics had one issue: they weren’t going away. Global-Forecast-of-Plastic-Consumption-by-CellphonesPlastics began to build up all over the world and soon filled our streets, soils, and oceans. Today, we add 10-20 million tons of plastic products to our oceans each year and about 66-129 million tons to our landfills. This plastic leaches harmful and sometimes lethal chemicals into our lands, posing a threat to¬†native wildlife and human health.¬†Not only this, but the process of creating synthetic plastics releases greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. So, what is the best way to avoid poisoning our lands, wildlife, and our own bodies? By avoiding plastic at all costs. Here are some ways to avoid using plastic:

  • Pack your lunches in reusable containers (preferably glass) instead of one-use plastic baggies.
  • Buy a reusable water bottle and thermos–this¬†way you can avoid one-use plastic water bottles and Starbucks coffee cups.
  • Do not use straws–they are completely unnecessary!
  • Buy fresh produce from farmers’ markets rather than frozen, plastic-wrapped (not to mention processed) food.
  • Use bars soaps rather than bottled products–make sure they don’t contain microbeads!

If you are really interested in reducing your plastic consumption, here is a recipe I found for homemade toothpaste: https://www.diynatural.com/homemade-toothpaste/

Change your lighting and appliances –¬†America and the rest of the globe are just beginning to realize the untapped potential of sustainable lighting and appliances. The United States has approximately 4.7 billion square meters of commercial space, requiring roughly 100 power plants just to supply it with electricity for lighting. However, this can be greatly reduced by replacing traditional bulbs with¬†light-emitting diodes (LEDs). While LEDs may be expensive, they¬†use about 90% less electricity than traditional or compact fluorescent bulbs, leading to greater savings over time.¬†Energy starAs for appliances, investing in something as simple as an energy efficient dishwasher or water heater can lead to¬†$400 in savings each year! Just look for the Energy Star label designed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. An appliance receives this label if it is significantly more energy efficient than the minimum government standards, as determined by standard testing procedures (Energy Star Website).

I have attached a¬†great¬†website about geothermal energy–a reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable source of energy to power your home!¬†https://www.geothermal.org/what.html

Transportation –¬†Today, most transportation¬†is powered using oil. However, oil is costly¬†economically and environmentally. America spends billions of dollars every year protecting oil–billions of dollars that could be invested in creating much more sustainable sources of fuel. Not only this, extracting and burning oil¬†releases large amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. We need to invest in more fuel¬†efficient transportation, specifically cars, that do not rely on crude oil.¬†Battery-powered hybrid cars may be the answer. The average fuel mileage in the¬†United States is 8 miles per gallon for a new car. However, plug-in hybrid cars could average 100 miles per gallon or more. This increase in efficiency could greatly reduce pollution, specifically greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Companies such as Tesla are taking this a step further. They are creating electric cars that can run exclusively on electricity and can be¬†plugged into a home grid powered by solar panels. However, hybrids and electric cars are not totally environmentally-friendly. The materials needed to create hybrid cars requires mining, which can release harmful substances into the air and cause physical environmental damage. If you want to avoid this, just ride a bike!

Next time on Stay Sustainable, I will be discussing sustainable eating and the science behind veganism!

Introduction to Sustainability

Introduction to Sustainability

Welcome to Stay Sustainable! This blog is dedicated to sustainability and how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. We will be exploring topics including veganism, renewable resources, pollution, and much more! For my first blog, I am going to introduce the topic of sustainability and what it means to live sustainably.

What is sustainability?¬†Sustainability is a term¬†that has been used more often in the past decade¬†than any other time in our history. However, as someone who is majoring in animal ecology and minoring in sustainability, I have found that many people do not know¬†the meaning of sustainability. When I tell my friends and family, “I am minoring in sustainability, I am so excited!” I am often asked, “Oh…wait, what is that?” If you were to look up sustainability in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you would find, “able to last or continue for a long time.” Now, if you were to apply this definition to¬†Earth’s¬†energy and natural resources, you would get, “a method or lifestyle of using or harvesting resources so that the resources are not depleted or permanently damaged.”¬†So, sustainability is all about lowering human consumption of resources and waste production in¬†order to “sustain” human populations and¬†the resources we consume for the rest of time. By practicing sustainability, we will not only be protecting our own species but our fellow inhabitants and the planet we share together.

Why is sustainability important? With the development of modern medicine and industry in the 20th century, the U.S. and other more developed countries found that their death rates and birth rates had stabilized, meaning the amount of births equaled the number of deaths. However, many countries that had access to medicine but were not industrialized became stuck in a transition phase, meaning death rates were low while birth rates were extremely high. This is still the case today for many less developed countries. This, along with other factors such as cultural attitudes and education level, have lead to extreme overpopulation in these countries. So, how does sustainability relate to overpopulation? Well, as a consequence of overpopulation, more food and material resources are needed to support a greater number of people. However, many of our resources are non-renewable, meaning they are of limited supply or it requires too much time for the supply to regenerate (ex: natural gas, oil). Not only this, but the harvesting and use of these non-renewable resources further contributes to our global green house gas emissions. This includes the burning of fossil fuels in cars, planes, factories, electrical energy consumption, and modern day agricultural practices. Over the next few decades, we need to be searching for sustainable, renewable resources that can support our growing populations while reducing energy consumption and green house gas emissions.

What is an example of a sustainable resource? An example of a sustainable resource that has taken storm here in the U.S. and around the world is bamboo. Bamboo is a grass of great strength and versatility. It can be grown on virtually every continent and is known as the fastest growing plant on our planet. A bamboo clump can be harvested after 2-3 years of growth where a hard wood tree cannot be harvested until 20-50 years of growth. Not only this, but the harvesting of bamboo can be done by hand, reducing the amount of green house gas emissions that would otherwise be released with mechanical harvesting. These qualities make bamboo an excellent renewable resource to replace hardwood and softwoods as building material around the world. Bamboo is now being used to construct homes, fences, and even suspensory bridges. While it is great for construction, bamboo can also be used to make clothing, utensils, medicine, and food as well. This is just one of the many renewable resources that has the potential to put humans on a more sustainable and eco-friendly path by providing a number of wanted materials in a short period of time. Some of my later blog posts will touch on more amazing, renewable resources!

Now that you have learned about what it means to be sustainable and what makes a sustainable resource, my next blog post will be about how to make small sustainable changes in your own life that can reduce your energy consumption and waste production!