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Although Kermit the Frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green,” over the past decade, it sure has been cool to live green.
Ever since An Inconvenient Truth debuted in 2006, there seems to be one eco-friendly product or innovation that takes the U.S. by storm each year and enters the mainstream. In many cases, it’s a product that has been around for years that becomes popular due to legislation, lower prices or a scientific health study.
Even without a crystal ball, we can look at some of the green trends that appear to be on the rise heading into 2018.
What Makes a Green Trend?
In order to identify which green trend is about to take off, it’s helpful to look back at how previous green trends came to play. Here are the biggest green trends since 2007 and the trigger that started each:
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL)
Highest U.S. CFL sales of all-time
Proper disposal of medications
DEA starts national drug collection events
Consumers stop buying CRT screens and recycle old ones after digital switch
Metal water bottles/ Bisphenol A (BPA)
Drop in reusable plastic water bottle sales due to BPA concerns
Cyber Monday catches Black Friday for consumer interest in holiday shopping
High gas prices, new models lead to 73 percent increase in hybrid sales over the previous year
Legislation, social media
New tech for acquiring natural gas leads to countless protests over environmental impact
Americans demand (and pay for) locally sourced foods
Legislation, natural disaster
California droughts make graywater a hot topic to water plants and grow crops
Dakota Access Pipeline
Legislation, social media
Native American tribe protest goes viral on social media
Documentaries like What the Health lead Americans to consider more plant-based diets
There’s no real pattern to discern from the past 11 years, other than the fact that these green trends were fueled by new laws, health studies, social media or a reduction in price. All of these circumstances are difficult to predict.
Candidates for 2018’s Greenest Trend
Before we crown a winner, here are a few contenders for the biggest green fad of 2018:
Companies embrace telecommuting: Yes, working from home already feels big, but only 3 percent of the U.S. workforce got to work from home in 2015. The environmental benefits are obvious, from reducing car emissions to limiting office waste. But companies are finally starting to see the cost savings in telecommuting, and as the unemployment rate falls, working remotely will be a top way to recruit new talent in industries like technology and health care. Expect to see fewer employees around the office next year, and for a positive reason.
Emphasis on food product labeling: Consumers have already shown they want to know where their food comes from and its ingredients, but labels can tell so much more. The FDA will be requiring food manufacturers to print new nutrition labels starting in 2018 that provide a more accurate account of nutritional elements. Whole Foods has also announced that all its food products must provide genetically modified organisms (GMO) information on the label by September 2018. Expect to spend more time at the grocery store researching what goes in your body.
The solar revolution takes hold: Until recently, most of the investment in solar technology was restricted to commercial buildings and the richest homeowners. But the price of solar panels continues to fall, and it’s not just for buildings anymore. Some of the coolest innovations in electronics are due to solar power. Expect to see more solar-powered backpacks, watches and city trash cans, as Americans embrace the power of the sun.
And the Winner Is . . .
Emphasis on food product labeling
This trend has everything consumers care about when it comes to green trends: government involvement, health concerns and even the price impact as health care cost increases necessitate better nutrition. Plus, in two of the past four years, the green trend was related to diet.
What do you think the big green trend will be this year? Let us know in the comments below.
Predicting the Biggest Green Trend for 2018
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In case you haven’t heard, downsizing is the new black …Lisa BeresDecember 27, 2017
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By nibbling plants and stimulating new root growth, the old argument goes, cows can encourage deeper root networks, which suck up more carbon. Proponents of grass-fed meat have embraced these findings, saying that pasture-raised livestock could mitigate the impact of meat consumption on the environment.
The new report — cleverly titled “Grazed and Confused?” — acknowledges that pastured cattle can be carbon negative, but this depends on the right soil and weather conditions. In most places, according to the report, grazers produce much more greenhouse gas than they add to the ground. It is an “inconvenient truth,” the authors write, that most studies show grass-fed beef has a bigger carbon footprint than feedlot meat. “Increasing grass-fed ruminant numbers is, therefore, a self-defeating climate strategy,” the report concludes.
Fortunately, grass-fed beef is not the only solution being bandied about: Research shows that a small dose of seaweed in livestock feed could drastically reduce methane emissions. And if you really want to reduce your impact on the climate you could, you know, stop eating meat.
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When Hurricane Irma scraped its way up the Florida peninsula, it left the state’s electrical grid in pieces. Between 7 million and 10 million people lost power during the storm — as much as half of the state — and some vulnerable residents lost their lives in the sweltering days that followed. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of electrical workers from around the country rushed to the Sunshine State to repair damaged substations, utility poles, and transmission lines.
But in Palm Coast, on Florida’s eastern seaboard, midway between Daytona and St. Augustine, Jim Walden never lost power. As he and his wife listened to debris clattering off their roof, 24 solar panels and 10 kilowatt hours of battery storage kept their lights on and their refrigerator cool. Over the ensuing days, as electric utilities struggled to return power to Florida’s storm-wracked communities, the only thing Walden and his wife missed was their air conditioner (which would have drained their batteries too quickly).
“It worked flawlessly,” Walden says of his solar-plus-storage system. “We had plenty of power for the fans to keep us cool and the lights when you walk into the bathroom at night. The wife would even run her hairdryer off of it.”
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Walden’s setup — which draws power from the sun during the day and dispenses it at night, with or without the help of the grid — is an illustration of how we might reimagine our electrical system to be more modular, resilient, and renewable-powered. We’ve already been struggling with the question of how to build (or rebuild) our grids to better accommodate solar- and wind-generated energy. But this month’s run of record-making Atlantic hurricanes has made finding an answer — one that will help us better weather the storms of the coming century — even more urgent.
Questions about reliability have dogged renewable energy from the beginning. Simply put, when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, you’re not getting any energy from those sources. Our grid, by contrast, is set up to provide constant, unwavering power around the clock. We’re only just starting to address the challenge of reconciling these two basic facts in one functional system. (Hint: The solution involves batteries). But according to a Department of Energy report, wind and solar power have not made the U.S. power grid less reliable, even as the amount of renewable energy loaded onto it has shot up.
But the grid is getting less reliable overall. Thanks to perpetual delays in updating old infrastructure, the United States sees more power outages per year than any other developed country — costing an annual $150 billion in lost productivity.
And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. Even as Florida’s lights turn back on, the Atlantic keeps serving up hurricanes like Maria, which left all of Puerto Rico in darkness that could last as long as six months. Overall, the average number of annual weather-related power outages doubled from 2003 to 2012, a Climate Central report found.
One basic improvement the United States could make to its power grid is moving power lines from above-ground utility poles to protected underground conduits. This is how Germany rebuilt its grid after World War II, and now it suffers very few outages, says Blake Richetta, the U.S. VP for German clean-energy company sonnenBatterie. The country has fewer than 12 minutes of blackout per customer per year, compared to the 244 minutes that plague Americans.
But moving America’s 300,000 miles of transmission lines underground would be an epic investment of time and labor — just the sort of massive infrastructure project we’ve been putting off.
Florida utilities did invest in some storm-hardening of their power infrastructure in the past decade, replacing wooden poles with concrete ones and placing them closer together as a response to hurricane damage in 2004 and 2005. The state’s largest investor-owned utility, Florida Power & Light, spent $3 billion on improvements over the last decade, including an $800-million smart-grid project completed in 2013 with backing from the Department of Energy. The initiative involved deploying more than 4.5 million smart meters, sensors, and flood monitors, all networked together to give the utility real-time information on how power is moving around the grid.
Those moves helped lessen the damage Irma caused, according to Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy. During the hurricane, several power substations were able to shut down when flooding monitors indicated equipment was at risk, saving the utility several days of work and possibly millions in equipment repair.
Still, Silagy’s company had to deploy around 20,000 workers in camps across the state to patch power plants and transmission lines in the days after the storm. And a utility spokesperson told ABC News that parts of the electrical grid on Florida’s west coast will require a “wholesale rebuild.”
“This is going to be a very, very lengthy restoration, arguably the longest and most complex in U.S. history,” VP of Communication Rob Gould said.
Clearly, Florida — and the rest of the country — still needs to do much more. And according to Jim Walden, it’s going to require a change in attitude for many Americans.
“It’s amazing to me that we live in the Sunshine State, and it’s hard to get people interested in solar power whatsoever,” he explains.
Walden himself got interested because he wanted to save money on his electric bill. Later, with the help of a $7,500 federal tax incentive, he installed his own battery storage to become more self-sufficient, especially during power outages.
The solutions to our collective energy troubles, however, will also need to be collective. One way that could look is scaling up from individual battery-powered homes to networked storage hubs that could act as regional power sources, flexibly responding to the changing demands of the grid.
As one urban resilience expert, Thaddeus Miller, told ProPublica, increasing the defenses of our cities and systems will require deeper changes than any we’ve embraced so far. “Fundamentally, we must abandon the idea that there is a specific standard to which we can control nature,” he said.
That means, for instance, changing the way we think about resilient infrastructure. Rather than working to prevent flooding at all times with high-investment levees and reservoirs, we could work to build facilities that are better at weathering flooding without being totally compromised. These “safe-to-fail” approaches would leave less of a mess after a storm blows through.
Because storms are going to blow through places like Florida, and they’re likely going to get stronger.
“We lose electricity quite often here, believe it or not — there are thunderstorms that can come up and knock power out,” Walden says. “Just to have electricity during those times is a great comfort.”
As solar energy explodes in popularity, there are more solar installation crews mounting solar panels on rooftops and tinkering with home electrical panels. Having the right solar panel installer can really make or break the experience of going solar.
When improperly installed, roof leaks are one of the most common complaints from solar homeowners. By contrast, solar systems can be installed in ways that don’t void roof warranties and actually help protect the roof from the elements. I’ve seen homes where the solar panels protected the roof from hail damage and the panels remain unscathed.
The technical expertise, solar equipment quality and solar system warranties all vary widely by the installer. The good news is that there are many reputable solar installation companies across the country to choose from. Here are some things to look for when finding the winners.
1. NABCEP-Certification Installer
The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners certifies energy installers, including solar PV technicians. The requirements include passing a written test and having a certain amount of solar installation field experience. Although certification doesn’t guarantee good workmanship, it does ensure a certain level of knowledge and experience. Ideally, your solar installation will be overseen by a NABCEP-certified professional or, even better, have a NABCEP-certified crew member on the job.
2. Good Company Reputation
When looking for a solar panel installer, find one with a successful track record. If you have friends and acquaintances with a solar system, find out if they were happy with their installer.
Online consumer reviews are another way to find out more about a company. Solar Reviews is a useful source of information on solar installers and equipment, based on consumer reviews.
It’s also good to find out if the solar installer outsources its labor. If so, the quality of the installation might be less predictable.
3. Ideal Solar Equipment Options
In most areas, there are at least two reputable solar companies to choose from. Getting multiple bids can improve the quality of the finished product and possibly the out-of-pocket cost. For example, some installers take a one-size-fits-all approach to solar system design, while another company might customize your installation based on your needs, goals and the property. If installing your solar system is more complicated, it is especially helpful to find an installer that customizes your solar system design by selecting the best equipment and installation approach.
For help comparing options, EnergySage is funded by the Department of Energy and provides a suite of online tools and resources that assist consumers in researching and shopping for solar. Another service, UnderstandSolar, links solar shoppers to top-rated solar installers for personalized solar estimates. Various installers commonly offer different technology options to their customers. Perhaps you are willing to splurge on some sleek solar panels because they have such a long warranty or you want an inverter with backup power supply when the grid is down. By speaking with different solar panel installers, you can familiarize yourself with the different equipment choices.
4. Comprehensive Solar System Warranty
Various solar equipment comes with different manufacturer warranties, and installers often guarantee their work as well. Because solar is a pretty hefty investment, it is wise to protect yourself with a warranty.
Workmanship warranties can vary widely between installers but often last between one to 10 years. The solar equipment has additional warranties that are provided by the manufacturer. Solar panels typically have an equipment guarantee for a certain length of time in addition to a power performance guarantee for energy production. Other components, such as the inverter, can have very short warranties of just a few years or ones that last 25 years. Make sure you are clear about warranties before signing a contract with a solar panel installer.
5. Turnaround Time
Because solar energy has exploded in popularity in recent years, many solar installers have jam-packed installation schedules for months. If you want a solar system installed soon, it is wise to ask what their schedule looks like before signing a contract.
Keep in mind that the timing of when the solar system is installed impacts the availability of the 30 percent federal tax credit. For example, if you install a solar system in February, you need to wait much longer to use the tax credit than if you installed the system in November.
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock
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When you think of recycling, the first image that probably …Lauren MurphySeptember 19, 2017
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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday delivered his long-awaited recommendations on the fate of 27 national monuments that the Trump administration is considering opening up for mining and drilling. Zinke’s verdict, it turns out, is a confusing one.
The Associated Press was first with the story, with a headline that originally read, “Zinke Won’t Eliminate Any National Monuments.” That seems to suggest good news, but the story goes on to note that Zinke said he is recommending that President Donald Trump make changes to a “handful” of monuments. Conservationists say this is exactly what they feared: They don’t know what those changes mean or which monuments will be targeted, because Zinke has been vague on what’s in his report to Trump. But the administration may intend to shrink monuments in New Mexico, California, and Utah — including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, monuments that are important to Native Americans.
“First and foremost I think this news shows how arbitrary the process has been,” says Dan Hartinger, the Wilderness Society’s deputy director for Parks and Public Lands Defense. “Talking about them as a ‘handful’ of monuments is something that’s neither acceptable or respectful of the critical cultural and sacred sites.” Hartinger noted that Zinke’s phrasing seemed to try to frame the decision “as some generous gift or compromise,” when the threat of shrinking protected lands is actually a major blow to conservation. Aaron Weiss, a spokesperson for the Center for Western Priorities, agreed. “A handful could be two; a handful could be eight or 10,” he said. “An attack on one monument is an attack on all of them.”
Conservationists predict Trump intends to shrink some existing monuments to open up lands for new mining and drilling operations, a potential move that Friends of the Earth’s Ben Schreiber described as a “blatant handouts to the oil and gas industry.” Any such land would still be federally managed, but losing monument status would strip it of national park-like protections, which forbid new leases for grazing, oil, gas, and mining.
If Trump does attempt to shrink any monuments, he will invite the first constitutional test of the 1906 Antiquities Act, a law signed by Teddy Roosevelt giving presidents the power to create land and marine monuments. In over a century, no president has attempted to reshape national monuments in the way Trump is attempting to do. In 1938, the Department of Justice opined that the president has the power to create monuments but not revoke them. While a few presidents have shrunk predecessors’ monuments — Woodrow Wilson did, for example — those moves weren’t challenged in the courts. Trump’s decisions will almost certainly be challenged both by Native American tribes and environmental groups.
In late April, Trump directed Zinke to review 27 large land and marine monuments created since 1996, a date that was meant to include two controversial monuments in southern Utah: the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante, created by Bill Clinton in 1996, and the 1.4 million-acre Bears Ears, created by Barack Obama. Native American tribes were among the leading supporters of the Bears Ears monument, which Utah Republican officials fiercely opposed.
Environmentalists have been particularly dismayed by the Trump administration’s bizarre process for reviewing the monuments. “Secretary Zinke’s so-called review of parks and monuments has been a complete sham, with arbitrary criteria for ‘pardoning’ some national monuments while attacking others,” League of Conservation Voters’ President Gene Karpinski said in a statement.
Zinke’s review often seemed to be more focused on pageantry than on preparing for the inevitable lawsuits that would come his way if his recommendations are implemented. The former Montana congressman and self-styled Roosevelt conservationist often came under fire for tightly controlling his public appearances while he spent four months visiting some of the country’s most beautiful monuments. Interior’s social media feeds are filled with photos of him kayaking, flying on a helicopter, and hiking. He surveyed Bears Ears on horseback.
“This exercise was nothing more than a pretext for selling out our public lands and waters as a political favor to Big Oil and other special interests who want to pad their profits,” said Karpinski.
The moon will pass in front of the sun on Aug. 21, cutting a swath of shadow across the country and blocking our nearest star for about two minutes in the middle of the day. Millions of Americans are traveling just to stand in the passing darkness.
The problem is, all those humans (as many as 7 million by one estimate) could do a lot of damage. The official eclipse website compares the event to “20 Woodstock festivals occurring simultaneously across the nation,” which sounds rambunctious indeed. Max Yasger’s farm took more than a month to clean up.
So here are some tips for making your Great American Eclipse as low-impact and environmentally friendly as possible.
Watch out for cars
As small towns prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime level of crowding, the potential for real emergency is high. Traffic jams are predicted for Charleston, South Carolina, and Salem, Oregon, which could make it harder for emergency services to respond to accidents in the hours surrounding the solar eclipse. Plus, hours of inhaling all those exhaust fumes take a toll on your health.
Taking a plane, train, or automobile? Looks like it’s time to research some carbon offset plans. If not, consider giving yourself and the planet a break by taking a bike or bus to your viewing site.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire
It’s wildfire season in the West, which means popular eclipse viewing sites in Oregon — where as many as a million visitors are headed — could be near an active blaze. Multiple wildfires are burning in the state.
Officials expect small fires from eclipse enthusiasts, whether from careless campers or from cars pulling over into tall, dry grass at the edge of the road. The long, wet winter has given way to a hot, dry summer, which means conditions are prime for wildfire. Even a few small fires could get out of control quickly, and evacuation routes will be clogged with tourist traffic.
All of this means officials have placed the risk of a major wildfire emergency at “moderate to high.” One fire scientist wrote: “In short, I fear a disaster; an eclipse apocalypse. I really hope I’m wrong.”
Yikes. You should check wildfire conditions near you before you head to your viewing site. And if you’re camping out for the eclipse, abide by any fire bans and make sure to put out all fires completely. For more information, the Oregon Department of Transportation has a complete guide on how to avoid starting a fire here.
Don’t be trashy
With so many eclipse chasers flocking to small towns and campgrounds along the eclipse route, a lot of garbage will be left behind. Residents of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, are already calling for volunteers to help tidy up. Some towns are putting trash cans and port-a-potties near major access routes, but even these emergency facilities are sure to be overwhelmed. Pro tip: Take your trash with you; bonus points for separating out the recyclables. Basically, don’t make a mess wherever you are. You know, just like any other day.
Of course, the lowest-impact way to watch the solar eclipse is from afar. Even though only 14 states will experience the total eclipse of the sun, all of the lower 48 will see some degree of partial eclipse. So pick up some eclipse glasses (even more important if you’re not in the path of totality) and go stand outside on Monday.
NASA will also live-stream the entire event from multiple space crafts and weather balloons, ensuring you get a prime view, minus the traffic jams and carbon emissions. Just pretend you planned it this way all along.
That’s all kinds of scary. If there’s one place on Earth that would be the worst possible spot for a giant volcanic chain, it’s beneath West Antarctica. Turns out, it’s not a great situation to have a bunch of volcanoes underneath a huge ice sheet.
In a discovery announced earlier this week, a team of researchers discovered dozens of them across a 2,200-mile swath of the frozen continent. Antarctica, if you’re listening, please stop scaring us.
The study that led to the discovery was conceived of by an undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, Max Van Wyk de Vries. With a team of researchers, he used radar to look under the ice for evidence of cone-shaped mountains that had disturbed the ice around them. They found 91 previously unknown volcanoes. “We were amazed,” Robert Bingham, one of the study’s authors, told the Guardian.
The worry is that, as in Iceland and Alaska, two regions of active volcanism that were ice-covered until relatively recently, a warming climate could help these Antarctic volcanoes spring to life soon. In a worst-case scenario, the melting ice could release pressure on the volcanoes and trigger eruptions, further destabilizing the ice sheet.
“The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,” Bingham said.