Now that we’ve been here for 5 weeks, we’ve started to think about how we can bring what we’ve learned here in Portland about living sustainably and bring it back to wherever we might find ourselves next, whether it be at home, at Duke, or even abroad.
This cutie might die because of us.
One main topic on everyone’s mind around world is the future of energy. While we are currently very addicted to oil, more and more, we are seeing the very negative effects that our addiction has caused. From the record high temperatures being set around the United States and the world, to the melting of ice at an alarming rate, to the rapid rate of species extinction, it has become very evident that things need to change, and hopefully change quickly. Major focus has since been placed on what new forms of energy we can harness, beyond those we have been using for years and years, such as coal and oil.
So many choices.
An article that very deftly summarized many of the possibilities for the energy of the future is this one from National Geographic. While it is a little old, from 2005, it still brings up some points that still ring very true today. First of all, its main conclusion that there won’t just be one single type of “silver bullet” that solves all of our energy needs. Instead, all of the possibilities have their own pros and cons, and we most likely will have to diversify, using a little bit of solar, wind, hydroelectric, etc. as we move forward. In fact, when I asked everyone in our group which type of alternative energy was their favorite, wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear were all named, which just reinforces the idea that we will need to invest in many technologies in order to properly ready ourselves. However, this has not and will not be easy. There are many political, technological, and environmental obstacles that must be faced in the installation of green technology, and one must consider all the issue at hand to make a proper decision.
Dump No Waste.
Beyond these more high-tech of “going green,” there are many more low-tech yet equally effective ways to reduce our environmental impact and hopefully help preserve, or even improve, the environment. Many of these methods are part of “green infrastructure,” using more natural methods to help properly build and run cities, beyond just building newer and more effective facilities or technologies. This last week, we worked with one such green infrastructure program with the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services(BES). We helped mark storm drains in order to alert and educate homeowners about how their storm water, the water that runs off from the street into the drains, runs directly into the Willamette. Thus, any harmful substances they pour into those drains, like oil or paint or soap from washing the car, can go directly into the native habitats of a whole milieu of animals and can easily disrupt the natural ecosystem. I actually really enjoyed marking the storm drain. The whole process, cleaning off the curb, then putting the glue onto the little decals, then affixing those decals to the curb and making sure the glue was sufficiently surrounding the plaque, was strangely really fun and relaxing. Though our group of Caroline, Emma, and I did have some issues like the top of our glue tube breaking or having to stop every time we saw a cat so Emma could take a picture with it, we felt like we had accomplished something, even if it does only have a little impact. But a whole lot of people each having a little impact and end up making a quite big impact in this world.
Expert storm drain markers + cat
Use your brain. Install CFLs.
Going green is not limited to giant wind turbines and solar panels and storm drains and city planning. There are plenty of things that just about everyone can do in order to help reduce their own carbon footprint and even make a bigger impact beyond just one’s home. First, there are many simple technologies that can help reduce the amount of energy used, from using compact fluorescent light bulbs to installing low-flow showerheads or having as many of your appliances be Energy Star compliant as possible. Also, simple changes to one’s daily routine can easily save energy, water, and ultimately money for the homeowner, like making sure to always turn off lights when not in use and not running water while brushing your teeth.
Xeriscaping is beautiful!
Again, much like the bigger technologies, you can easily make some substantial changes in your household without having to buy fancy new gadgets, instead focusing a little on what is outside the house: the lawn. The standard lawn consists mainly of a large swath of grass surrounded by a few trees, flowers, and other plants. This uses up a ton of water, a lot of which just ends up draining back into the storm water drains. Instead, you can easily reduce the amount of water you use and waste by planting native plants and having a smaller lawn area, which is called xeriscaping. As detailed in this Seattle Times article, xeriscaping is a way of gardening that emphasizes having to water as little as possible. And who doesn’t want to have to water their plants less? While originally intended mainly for drought-prone areas like the Southwest, xeriscaping is currently a viable way to landscape just about everywhere, especially with increasing world temperatures and terrible droughts like the one so many are experiencing right now. Landscapes that follow these principles can still be very beautiful and end up using much less water. We all have heard the motto “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” and here you have the chance to really reduce the amount of resources you use.
Another very easy and beautiful way to reduce the amount of water that goes back into the steams and rivers and to have that water does drain be clean and pollutant-free is to plant trees! Trees are not just beautiful plants that can provide shade, fall colors, fruit, and many other enjoyments to everyone big and small. Their roots help to absorb pollutants from the water that end up back in the water with salmon and other organisms in the ecosystem, in addition to removing pollutants and carbon dioxide from the air. In addition to that, trees help add value to a property, tree-lined streets tend to have lower crime rates and slower moving cars, and the shade from trees can help cut energy spending during the hot summer months. It just so happens that there is an organization here in Portland that will help you plant trees! Friends of Trees (where I just so happen to be interning this summer) is an amazing organization that, for a price cheaper than buying and planting yourself, will help you pick out, plant, and care for a tree, either along the street or in a yard. In fact, Friends of Trees has been working with BES in helping to build “green infrastructure” to help reduce the amount of storm drain runoff by planting more trees to absorb that excess water. Seriously, trees are awesome. While not every city has Friends of Trees, many do have similar organizations that help to plant trees. And even if your city doesn’t, the concepts used by Friends of Trees can be applied anywhere around the world.
In just this pretty long blog post, I have shown many ways, both bigger picture and smaller personal changes, that technology, both high- and low-tech, can be used to help reduce your carbon footprint and help preserve this amazing environment we all are lucky enough to inhabit.