Environment and Technology (continued)
- Environment and Technology continues from...
- Page 1
Information and inspiration...
- The example of Portugal
- Environmental documentaries, movies and videos
- Greenhouse gases (data)
- Down to earth
- Environmental web pages and blogs
- << Main contents list
The example of Portugal
Portugal is a world leader in the exploitation of its natural resources, including sunlight, to generate clean renewable energy.
Portugal produces enough hydro-electric, solar and wind energy to export some clean-generated electricity to other countries in Europe. In May 2016, it ran for 4 days on renewable energy alone.
We were lucky that year to be able to cruise the Douro River, a wonderful experience. It started and ended at Porto and included navigating 5 locks, among them the highest single-lift lock in Europe.
Along the way we saw many examples of Portugal's use of solar power and hydro-electric power, and learnt why its world-leading investment in renewable energy is so good for its economy, as well as for the environment.
Click any image below if you would like to enjoy the cruise and find out more!
Click any picture above if you would like to see my photo record of this trip.
Environmental documentaries, movies and videos
Britain had some extraordinary weather in 2012, varying from severe drought to record levels of rainfall, with flash floods across the country.
The excellent Channel 4 documentary Is Our Weather Getting Worse? considers if extreme weather is to be expected occasionally, or whether it provides evidence of an increasing climate change problem - not just in Britain, but everywhere.
It presents some startling and sobering images of what happened to our weather in 2012, and some carefully considered thought as to what's behind it.
Click the screenshots above, or go here, to read my major article based on this documentary, and to see many of the many amazing images that the documentary presented.
"Home" is an incredibly beautiful, passionate movie directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, co-produced by Luc Besson ("Léon" and "The Fifth Element") and narrated by Glenn Close. Filmed entirely from the air, it provides a unique view of our planet and what we are doing to it.
Made on a not-for-profit basis, it was released in cinemas and also on the Internet. You can watch the entire one and a half hours as an official full-size, high definition video on YouTube - or for maximum quality download the video from here (if you download it, you may need to know about BitTorrent).
Using beautiful and compelling images even for scenes of devastation and poverty, the movie makes it all too clear how little time we have left before irretrievable damage is done.
Some people who view it online (2,500,000+ as of August 2009) will, I suspect, give up watching it before the end for one reason or another - but the many others who stay with it will discover that it ends on an optimistic, positive note, describing many of the good things that are going on.
This last theme is: "It's too late to be a pessimist", but it doesn't start until 1 hour and 21 minutes into the movie. If you watch it at all, please don't give up half way!
If you are interested, you will find more about this movie here on my Categorian blog.
Here's another one - a video of the most inspirational 6 minutes on the environment you are ever likely to hear:
This is a 13-year old Canadian girl speaking at an International UN Conference on the Environment in Brazil. I doubt that any of the delegates will ever forget it.
If there are more powerful messages reminding us of our responsibility to the future than the "Home" movie and this girl's speech, I have yet to hear them!
- Another must-see video...
- You will find this below in the Choices section, because that's what it's all about.
Greenhouse gases (data)
If you are looking for serious data on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, one of the best sources is the United Nations Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory Data.
Click the image above for a very interesting simulation of the CO2 emissions of the world's countries, as well as their birth and death rates, based on the UN data. It's a nice interface - just hover the mouse over a country to see its environmental data.
If you run the simulation, it is worth reading what David writes below the map, and following some of his links.
A country turns red on the map each time that 1,000 tonnes of CO2 is emitted by that country - in the case of the USA, that is about once every 5 seconds. Using the map I can't find any other country, apart from China, coming anywhere close to this.
Note that the simulation doesn't use live data. As of December 2008, the data comes from 2004 (the latest available for all countries in the world at that time), or about half-way through the Bush administration. The situation is undoubtedly worse now, especially in Asia.
If you are looking for more recent GHG data, try here.
Also, in 2004 Americans were only the tenth-worst CO2 producers on a per-head basis - that dubious honour went to citizens of Australia, Kuwait and Luxembourg, among others (countries with relatively small populations).
As David Bleja, the simulation's designer, points out, the Earth only cares about the total amount of CO2 (and other even more climate-dangerous gases), irrespective of where it is coming from or how many people produce it. It's a global problem - we all need to work together to fix it.
There are many Americans who are concerned about GHG emissions - for example, see this excellent web site. If you are concerned too (whatever country you live in) and want to make your voice heard, please give this site a visit!
Down to earth
This beautiful image comes from National Geographic's article "Our Good Earth", which charts the lessons that have been painfully learnt from mistreating the Earth's soil - and how things are (finally) starting to improve.
In particular, the article describes the renaissance of Terra Preta, sometimes described as the "Black Revolution". Among other benefits, the use of "biochar" is a biological way of removing carbon from the atmosphere.
The good solutions coming out of this are summarized in my article on the International Biochar Initiative, which you will find here on my Categorian blog.
Environmental web pages and blogs
You will already have seen many (hopefully useful) links to useful pages on the environment.
A collection of the most useful links will also be found at the top right hand side of this page.
You can also get there by clicking the image to the right (remember that you will be looking for links in the right-hand column of
- Don't debate who is right about climate change - assess the risks instead
- Choosing energy solutions: diversity, trade-offs and real numbers
- << Main contents list
Don't debate who is right about climate change - assess the risks instead
It took one person to point out that arguments about whether humans are causing climate change are dangerously irrelevant at this point in time.
The fact is that all businesses (and many other organisations) know that there is a well-tried approach to decision-making in the absence of complete certainty. It's called risk assessment.
Here it is, applied to the future of everyone living on our planet:
If you are looking for a simple, effective way to make a real difference to our future, then tell as many people as possible about this video, if you haven't already!
(This could have appeared in this previous section, but it seems to fit better here.)
Choosing energy solutions: diversity, trade-offs and real numbers
- The [green energy] times they are a-changin'
- Since 2017 the energy choice equations have been changing radically. The reason has to do with the plummeting prices of solar panels, combined with the rapid development of energy storage technologies (batteries, flywheels and others).
- You can read more about this revolution here.
- Environmental activities that you can participate in
- Help to start a Transition Town (or village/city/forest/island)
- Make money from green investments - why not?
- How to put over an environmental message (and how not to)
- << Main contents list
Environmental activities that you can participate in
There are many ways in which you can get involved in environmental activities. Click the image to the right (or go here) for an example from the UK's Channel 4, which has sections on campaigning, volunteering, lobbying and acting locally.
From the page:
You can make a difference to the environment by living in a green way and by supporting campaigns. This section gives examples of what you can do at home, in your workplace, and in your community. From restoring hedgerows to tackling global warming, many organisations are working to prevent further environmental damage and make our planet greener. You can take part in their activities, support them financially, or simply tell other people about them.
Whatever the pressures on your life, work, family, health or mobility, you can bring about change. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that 'the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'. What will your first step be to a greener life and a greener planet?
Even if you aren't resident in the UK, there are some useful ideas here.
If you are interested in improving the natural world around you, then the BBC's Breathing Places has some great ideas which can be applied anywhere, as well as activities in which people in the UK can join.
Another suggestion: become a PAL! You can join a growing grassroots movement to make our environment litter-free.
Brits, for example, apparently drop 30 million tonnes of litter each year, then spend more than £1bn on cleaning it up.
If this strikes you as crazy, and/or you would like to make a difference, all you need to do is commit personally to picking up just one piece of litter a week (if you don't already), then register as a PAL at the People Against Litter web site, and - most importantly - invite a few friends to do the same thing.
You will find many more links on getting involved with the environment here. These links cover the entire planet - you can, of course, restrict the search to show only pages from the country in which you live, by clicking the radio button near the top of the page.
Help to start a Transition Town (or village / city / forest / island)
There is no better way to explain what a Transition Town is than to quote (slightly edited) from the Transition Network's web site:
- It all starts off when a small collection of motivated individuals within a community come together with a shared concern: how can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change?
- They begin by forming an initiating group and then adopt the Transition Model with the intention of engaging a significant proportion of the people in their community to kick off a Transition Initiative.
- A Transition Initiative is a community (lots of examples here) working together to ... address this BIG question:
- "For all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"
The community recognises two crucial points:
- We used immense amounts of creativity, ingenuity and adaptability on the way up the energy upslope. There's no reason for us not to do the same on the downslope.
- If we collectively plan and act early enough there's every likelihood that we can create a way of living that's significantly more connected, more vibrant and more in touch with our environment than the oil-addicted treadmill that we find ourselves on today.
The Transition Network has contributed enormously to this process by building a ready-made action plan for people to use, and a mutual support and publicity network for those who participate. They are making a big difference to the world - and you can, too.
What is important is the growing list of officially designated Transition Towns - 462 around the world (as of August 2014) including communities in the UK, Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, and last but not least, the USA.
Make money from green investments - why not?
There has probably never been a better time to invest in green technology and other green developments.
The world is coming out of recession - always a good time to invest - and green programmes and green technologies are leading the recovery.
Solar power is just one example. You will have seen many more examples elsewhere on this web page.
Personally I am keeping my eye on developments associated with the Smart Grid (including solar power) and on investment in green technology in China, together with industries feeding those developments.
You will find many more green investment opportunities here.
How to put over an environmental message (and how not to)
People who believe strongly in environmental things, like people who believe strongly in anything else, sometimes find it hard to get their message over.
People, companies and governments "go green" (as they are increasingly doing) for the best of reasons: they realise that it is in their own interests. They rarely go green because they are being preached at, especially by a person or organization with a "holier than thou" attitude.
Here (for what it's worth) are a few suggestions for winning others over. For the sake of argument, let's assume that it's an organization that you want to convince about something.
- Start by trying to understand the organization's own point of view - even if you think that they are the devil incarnate. What motivates them? What are their difficulties in doing what you want them to do? Being a good listener up front always makes any argument that follows easier to win. There are two reasons for this: firstly, because you will be able to construct your argument better, and secondly, because (as you may have found yourself) it is easier to agree with someone who has started off by really listening to your own point of view.
- A carrot works much better than a stick. When the organization does something (however small) that is going in the right direction, you could "welcome the development", adding that "it doesn't go far enough" - but don't. Environmental campaigners often give the impression that nothing will ever go far enough, unless an earthly paradise as they envisage it has been reached. If you have to say something at all, welcome the step in the right direction - but try to make it sound like you are praising the organization's own decision for its own reasons, not the fact that you have converted them from their previous evil ways.
- Be very careful not to over-state your case, particularly in a public campaign. Make sure that all your facts are correct - if they aren't, your whole campaign will easily be discredited. This sometimes means including facts that don't support your case, as well as the (hopefully stronger) facts that do support it. This approach is no good for whipping up a religious jihad against the evil opponent, but is generally better at convincing people who aren't already in the choir.
- Even if you have to talk about problems, draw people's attention to things that you think are going right. It produces a positive and helpful message that is easier to respond to than an endless diet of doom and gloom. I have tried to do that on this page - how well I have succeeded only you will know!
A nice illustration of an effective approach is Carrotmob. What is Carrotmob? In a nutshell, it's a way of getting businesses to go green by using a carrot (the buying power of lots of organised people) instead of a stick (protests or preaching).
It's a neat idea, and it works!
Environment & technology - another view
This page began with an image of the whole Earth, taken from Apollo 17. Here is a picture taken from much, much further away (and some thoughts to go with it).
I have added a red arrow to the image to indicate where Earth is - it is just visible as a tiny dot.
The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997, and arrived at Saturn on July 1, 2004, over six and a half years later. At that point it was still "only" 90 or so light-minutes away from Earth. Compared to the immense gulfs of space that separate us from any other habitable planet, the spacecraft had barely left home.
So yes, if Earth should become uninhabitable, through our own actions or for some other reason, then we have a very long way to go before we could reach another home.
On the other hand, I am amazed by the achievements that this image represents. When the imaging system on Cassini took this picture, light from Earth (travelling at about 186,000 miles or 300,000 kilometres per second) had taken 90 minutes or so to reach it. This image took about the same time to return to that tiny dot that is Earth, where it was received as the merest whisper of noise by even tinier dishes, processed by JPL, and eventually distributed via the internet so that all of us (tinier dots still on that tiny speck) can look at it.
The technologies that have allowed all this to happen, and the sustained collaboration between so many people in order to achieve the aims of the Cassini Equinox mission, are truly mind-boggling (and the mission web site is literally wonderful - I strongly recommend a visit).
It seems to me that we have an even greater level of technology, commitment and collaborative efforts now working on improving the environment in which we live.
Can we fix our problems before it is too late?
Well, "it's too late to be a pessimist". I believe that if enough of us want to - then yes, we can.
- Something completely different...
- If you are interested in digital photography or image manipulation, then you might be interested in my Beginner's Guide to Photoshop, a major new addition to this site that opened in February 2010.
- It contains stuff that you might find useful even if you don't have Photoshop.