Modern lawn care: a lot of hot air

One of the things I strongly believe in is the need for manual labor, especially during these highly industrialized times. I believe such work yields better results and it keeps us grounded, in touch with the earth from which we ultimately draw our living. I dislike the “modern” methods of lawn care, where one uses hedge trimmers and leaf blowers to do a job which can be done much more adequately by simpler, manual tools such as a broom and a pair of hedge scissors.

Don’t mistake me for a luddite. I use lawnmowers when they’re justified, like when a lawn requires it, because of its size, or because it can’t be cut by a push-mower or a scythe. The scythe in particular is a great way to cut grass, and it’s also a great workout for one’s back and abdomen. It’s been around for millennia. It’s only been replaced by machinery during the last couple of centuries.

If you live in the suburbs, then this next picture should be familiar to you.

That, of course, would be landscaping day, or if you happen to live within a larger community that has a lot of lawns, this would be part of landscaping week, which would happen every month, or worse, during frequent rainfall, every couple of weeks. Every day of that period, the maddening roar of the leaf blowers would be heard all over the compound, gnawing away at your brain, making it impossible to take a nice afternoon nap, or to concentrate on a project.

I find it so inefficient to blow leaves around all day, for hours on end, when a pair of men with a couple of good brooms and some rakes would make short work of those leaves, with no noise at all, no pollution from two-cycle engines, and much less dust. I’ve often seen landscaping teams use tractors to mow little patches of grass where a push mower would have done just fine, or use hedge trimmers to walk for entire yards and trim little weeds here and there, when a man could have simply pulled them up by the roots.

I associated this sort of inefficiency, expense of petrol, noise and air pollution with the US, because so much gets wasted there these days, by people who feel entitled to everything the country has to offer, even though they offer little to nothing in return. So I was surprised to find the same waste had arrived in Romania, where my wife and I currently reside.

Here people still use scythes to cut the grass in the countryside. It’s a wonder to behold a good scythe-handler. A single man can make short work of an entire hillside in an afternoon. And it’s even more beautiful to hear the noise a sharpened scythe makes as it cuts through long grass: a metallic whoosh, coupled with a slight singing of the blade at the apex of its swing. Every other noise of nature is perfectly audible: the birds, the bees, the distant bleating of sheep, the breeze blowing through the grass and the edge of a forest nearby… It’s wonderful!

And yet, the noxious use of leaf blowers and hedge trimmers has found its way into Romanian cities, probably brought here through the export of popular American culture. Here, too, we can see workers parading through our street and through the city center with leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, making a huge noise of it all, for days on end. It’s such a pathetic (and polluting) spectacle. The noise is unbearable. Here we have tall brick buildings, built by the Saxons. These cities seem made for echoes. The wall of noise obliterates everything around. It bounces off the walls and can be heard hundreds of yards or kilometers away. It’s such a waste.

It was but a few short years ago that the city would hire scythe-men to come and cut the grass. In a few short hours, with a few swoops of the scythe, they’d be done, and someone would come after them to gather up the cut grass. It was peaceful and quiet. Now, we’re polluted with noise, and the blasted filthy smoke from the blowers and trimmers.

The sad part is that here, the public lawns found on streets and in city parks are not of the scale found in the States. They’re small. And Eastern European grass is soft. If one must use more modern machinery, they could easily switch to push mowers and be done in the same amount of time, without all the ridiculous noise and smoke.

Aside

Marine mammals, underwater sounds and shipping noise

A neat talk by Peter Tyack at TED, entitled “The Intriguing Sound of Marine Mammals“, in which he explains the effect of human noise on the sounds made by marine mammals, and what’s being done to correct the situation. A few tidbits:

  • Better propeller designs decrease propeller noise by up to 90%
  • Insulating the engine chamber from the hull reduces engine noise by up to 99%
  • Slowing down the ships by 50% decreases overall noise and reduces fuel consumption by 30%

There’s also a cool cartoon at the end of the talk, called “Good Vibrations”, made by Jeremy Clapin.

Green IT Week: June 1-7, 2010

ComputersOFF.org is hosting a virtual Green IT Week from June 1-7. This is an issue that’s of particular importance to me. Having been an IT director, I know how much power the combined laptops, desktops and servers of an organization can consume, and how much pollution is generated by the disposal of computer hardware (see this post, and this one as well).

I’ve written about this topic since 2004. Here are three of my articles that deal with saving energy in IT:

Green IT deals with two things:

  1. Electronic Waste: Minimizing the negative impact of information technology use on the environment, and
  2. Energy Efficiency: Using information technology to help solve environmental issues

They’ve put together a few facts that help to drive home their message, so I’m going to quote them below.

By turning off your computer each night or when not in use (i.e. lunch times, weekends, when in meetings at night) for a year you save as much energy as it takes:

  • to run a clock radio for 1,392 weeks
  • to make 9,280 bags of microwave popcorn
  • to wash 464 loads of washing
  • to use your blow dryer for 5,568 hours
  • to vacuum for 464 hours
  • to produce 3,480 plastic bags
  • to run your microwave 24 hours a day for a week
  • to boil your kettle for 24 hours a day for 268 days

By turning off your computer tonight when you leave work you will save as much energy as it takes:

  • to run a clock radio for over 3 weeks
  • to make over 20 bags of microwave popcorn
  • to wash over 1 load of washing
  • to blow dry your hair over 12 times
  • to vacuum for over 1 hour
  • to light a 100 watt light bulb for over 10 hours

For both companies and individuals, there are some really easy actions they can take to reduce their energy use, including:

  • Turning off computers, games consoles and TVs when they are not in use
  • Setting your computer to “sleep” after 15 minutes of inactivity (this reduces the power it uses because “sleep” mode is a lower-energy use mode for the computer to operate in)
  • Turning devices off at the power point (because even in standby mode your appliances are using electricity)
  • Buy green energy (to help push electricity suppliers to convert from coal based production – which creates greenhouse gases and requires mining – to sustainable technologies like wind power)
  • Buy and use a laptop instead of a desktop computer. Laptops only use 190kW (average) of electricity per year.

Want more of these neat factlets? They also have 100 Green IT Tips. They’ve put together a video as well, where various celebrities endorse the cause.

Make sure to check their website from June 1 to June 7 for more good info about Green IT.

Turning trash into usable products

Ann Wizer from XSProject Foundation (as in “excess”) is making custom-designed bags and other products from non-recyclable plastic waste found in Indonesia and the Philippines. She buys the raw materials from trash pickers, whom she pays at above-market rates, and, using trained artisans, creates beautiful products from trash that would be clogging landfills, streets and waterways in those countries.

Through its work, the Foundation is protecting the environment, reducing poverty, and teaching locals how to sustain themselves through the work of their own hands. The end results are beautiful, as you can from the photos and the embedded video below. The cause is noble, the work is noble, the means are innovative, sustainable and ennobling, and so I think Ms. Wizer and her XSProject Foundation deserve our applause for the wonderful work they’re doing.

Embedded video from CNN
Turning trash into usable products (CNN)

xsproject-bag-1

xsproject-bag-2

xsproject-bag-3

* I would have linked to their online catalog of products, but at the time of writing this, it seems to be down.

Images used courtesy of XSProject Foundation.

Is global warming a cyclical event?

While most agree that global warming is occurring, they do not agree on the root cause. Some say global warming is caused by man, mainly by CO2 emissions, while others say it is part of a larger picture of cyclical global warming and cooling events that have occurred throughout history. Unfortunately, the debate is mostly one-sided, with man-made global warming proponents getting most of the media coverage, and the cyclical global warming proponents ostracized and denigrated as false scientists.

A new salvo was launched recently against the man-made global warming side, with the publication of an article by Danish professor Henrik Svensmark, entitled “While the Sun Sleeps”. As the title alludes, Mr. Svensmark believes the sun shows reduced magnetic activity and is about to go into a period of hibernation, which means a period of global cooling will likely begin soon. The full translation of the article from Danish to English is available on Anthony Watts’ blog, and I encourage you to read it. Here’s a quote:

When the Sun is active, its magnetic field is better at shielding us against the cosmic rays coming from outer space, before they reach our planet. By regulating the Earth’s cloud cover, the Sun can turn the temperature up and down. High solar activity means fewer clouds and and a warmer world. Low solar activity and poorer shielding against cosmic rays result in increased cloud cover and hence a cooling. As the Sun’s magnetism doubled in strength during the 20th century, this natural mechanism may be responsible for a large part of global warming seen then.

That also explains why most climate scientists try to ignore this possibility. It does not favour their idea that the 20th century temperature rise was mainly due to human emissions of CO2. If the Sun provoked a significant part of warming in the 20th Century, then the contribution by CO2 must necessarily be smaller.”

As for me, I’m still on the fence about this, but I’m leaning toward what Svensmark says. It makes more sense to me. While there’s little doubt that the Earth has been warming for the past few decades, that weather patterns are screwed up, and that pollution and emissions are running rampant and must be reduced drastically or eliminated where possible, I’m still not sure we’re behind the global warming phenomenon.

What tilts the balance of my opinion further away from man-made global warming is the face being used for the campaign — that of Al Gore. Try as I might, I can’t stomach the guy. When I think about his claim to inventing the internets, and his electricity-chugging lifestyle (which goes in stark contrast to what he’s saying when he speaks publicly), and his face, which just isn’t the face of a man that should be trusted — I’m sorry, I just have to look for more proof before I believe what he’s got to say. I’m also still in shock that the man got a Nobel Prize for the stuff he talks about — after all, he’s little more than a pusher of carbon credits, which are dangerously close to a green, global Ponzi scheme in my book.

Who knows, I might be wrong about Al Gore — he may be genuine for all I know — and in that case, I hope the agenda he and his supporters are pushing goes through, but right now, I believe global warming is cyclical, and only time will tell for sure who’s right.

More importantly, I believe global pollution must be addressed regardless of who’s right and wrong on global warming. Our environment is on the verge of collapse due to all the crap we’ve been pouring into it since the 1800s. Pollution is a real threat to our survival, as countless studies have shown. Let’s do something about that, right away.

Concerned about swine flu? Know who to thank for it

To all those people who are worried about swine flu — you should thank the pig farming industry for it, and the rotten politicians who keep it going the way it is, even though it’s one of the worst polluters in the US. It’s no wonder new viruses are getting cooked up in those industrial pig farms, given the conditions in which they keep the pigs.

And perhaps you should also thank your local landscaping companies, who, about this time each year, dump tons of pig offal around your communities at outrageously high prices. Along with the smell, you’re also getting a dose of swine flu, trichinella and other intestinal parasite eggs, and who knows what other poisons, cooked up nicely in fermented pig manure.

sow-with-piglet

Enjoy all this, and keep in mind you’re the one financing the whole shebang when you buy pig meat and you hire landscaping companies based not on how sustainable and non-polluting their methods are, but on how tall they can make your pansies and grass grow…

:!: Updated 5/3/09: Wired Science confirms my hunch that the pig farming industry is to blame for this virus in an article entitled “Swine Flu Ancestor Born on US Factory Farms.

Signs of overpopulation

Signs of overpopulation are virtually everywhere — and can even be seen when it comes to the basics of life, like food and shelter. Besides the obvious signs, like crowded cities and roads, and rampant consumption of our natural resources, there are other signs that may or may not be readily apparent, depending on your outlook.

First, let’s have a look at the current world population. As I write this, the figure stands at well over 6.7 billion people. Given people’s reproduction habits, particularly in developing countries, and the fact that population growth goes virtually unchecked, thanks to our being the dominant species on earth, with no natural predators of any kind, how many more hungry mouths do you think our planet can support, particularly when most people’s diet consists of meats instead of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and other plants?

Housing

Have you thought about housing lately? Those of you who read my articles regularly know how worked up I am about the flimsy plywood boxes they build and call houses in the US these days, and for good reason. But, other than greed, why is it that houses nowadays are built with a 30-50 year span in mind? Even important buildings are built for only 100-year life spans. In the past, buildings were made to last several hundred years or even thousands of years, and certainly many of them still stand, centuries and millennia later. Some say it’s because tastes change with each generation, and there’s no reason to build something for a longer lifespan when it’s only going to get torn down. Perhaps. Then again, Roman and Greek architecture is still in fashion, entire millennia after it was laid out in stone.

Could it be that cost is being used to drive people toward cheaper and flimsier building methods? Have you checked to see what it costs to build your house out of stone or bricks, with nice ceramic roof tiles? And have you stopped to consider if there can be enough building materials out there to build everything, for everyone, out of thick, solid rock or brick? It’s not feasible or sustainable. We’d have to grind down a lot of mountains and dig up countless valleys, and we still wouldn’t have enough raw materials to satisfy demand. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt the pocketbooks of those who produce and distribute the building materials if the cost is higher…

Wood

How about timber? One statistic puts the rate of deforestation (for rainforests) at three football fields per second. That’s only the rainforests, mind you, not the temperate forests, which contain most of the hardwoods that are used for construction. The history of the eurasian temperate forests is a sob story onto its own. The thing is, trees regenerate at a much slower rate than current demands dictate. At the end of the day, there simply aren’t enough trees in the world.

I’ve seen what deforested land looks like, and it’s a sad sight. It’s full of stumps and clumps and roots and holes, and it looks like it’s been through war. I’ve seen entire mountainsides in Romania and elsewhere cleared of trees, mindlessly, putting the people in the valleys at risk for avalanches and mudslides and rock falls.

Very few timber companies obey the rules once they’re left to their own devices on the land. They’ll clear the trees out with no thought for tomorrow or for the life of the forest. They simply don’t care what happens after they’ve made their money. What they do is to provide a momentary abundance of wood and a long-term lack of supply, matched by increasing demand. Sadly, we’re currently in the long-term lack of supply part of history, while demand is still increasing.

Cost is once again being used to drive people to flimsier wood, if you can even call it wood. Most furniture you can buy nowadays is not made out of wood, but out of pressed wood pulp — basically, bits of all kinds of crappy wood stuck together with glue and pressed together into boards. You just try buying some furniture made out of real, solid wood — that is, if you can afford it.

On one hand, I’m disgusted by this, and on the other hand, it’s logical. In order to use trees economically, you have to use them in their entirety, even their bark. You can’t afford to only get a few good, solid planks out of a tree trunk. You have to grind it down with its bark and branches, turn it into pulp, then glue it together to get particle boards. That way you get a lot more “planks” out of a tree, and you can build more stuff out of it.

Unfortunately, companies are really cheapening out on particle boards. They’re using less glue, which means the boards will start to fall apart when put through normal use, and they’re churning out thinner boards that can’t carry any amount of significant weight. This means you can’t use your bookshelves to hold books or any sort of significant weight, and the doors on your new closet stand a pretty good chance of falling off after a few months, because the screws that hold the hinges and door handles in place can’t grip the fake wood and start slipping out. To add insult to injury, even if you manage to keep your “new” furniture in decent shape, you can’t move with it. Furniture these days will fall apart or get really wobbly if only moved around the house, much less moved around the state or the country. It’s just not made to last.

Food

What can I tell you here? It’s a mess. On the one hand, you have people who are doing the right things, like eating healthy, organic foods, and on the other hand, you have the majority of the population out there, who’s happy eating meats, drinking their sodas, and snacking on all sorts of crap food made with fillers and artificial substances and colorants and test-tube flavors. And why not, right? It’s cheaper to make that crap, cheaper to transport it and to distribute it to people, and there’s more profit in that than in healthy fruits and vegetables, which spoil. Artificial crap pumped full of preservatives doesn’t spoil. It can still be sold and turn a profit months down the road. You can’t do that with an organic apple. What’s good for the corporations in this case is also good for overpopulation. It’s much easier and more profitable to distribute crap food to lots and lots of people than it is to stock them with real food.

What’s also happening is that our food chain is being hijacked. There are several large corporations out there bent on producing genetically modified foods. The benefits quoted to the public sound good on the surface, but they’re not real. The only real benefit is to their bank accounts. You see, what they’re doing is destroying the seeds’ capability to generate life. Each new crop made from their seeds is unable to germinate. Farmers have to turn to those same corporations each year and buy the seeds, and the fertilizers and pesticides made for those seeds in order to get new crops. In essence, they have once again been enslaved, become serfs, not to medieval lords, but to corporate executives.

We, on the other hand, have become a large experiment for the long-term effects of genetically modified foods. What really gets my goose is this: how dumb do you have to be to realize that it’s not good to mess with seeds, and with their God-given right to germinate and yield new life? What sort of devilish greed runs through your veins and blinds you so much that you don’t realize that by destroying the life-giving properties of seeds, you have set yourself up for a major food supply disaster? When you’re a single point of failure in a big, global food chain, you’d better believe you’ll fail at some point, and everyone will suffer as a result of your stupidity.

I also don’t buy the recent food safety measures the White House is talking up. I think they’re really just double talk for pushing the small farmers out of the marketplace, through heaps and heaps of regulations and hoops they have to jump through. I think the goal is to make the process so onerous that only those with deep pockets will be able to afford to reach the marketplace, and once again, that will allow the large corporations that already control most of the food chain to gain more of a foothold just when things were looking brighter.

What about the famines in Africa? For decades, there have been famines in Africa. And there have been efforts to “eradicate” those famines for those very same decades, yet we still have famines. What’s really being done about it? Not much. I know this will sound cruel, but, hypothetically speaking, if you could somehow control the situation, why do something effective about those famines when you’ll only be contributing to an already out of control overpopulation?

Each year, tons and tons of corn and wheat are destroyed in the US because selling them would mess up the commodity markets. Those same tons of grains could go to Africa, or to other places where they’re needed, couldn’t they? Say they could get there through the benefit of some aid societies. Unfortunately, most of that aid still wouldn’t make it to the people. It would make it to the warehouses of the corrupt people in charge of those countries, where it would get re-distributed among those who prop up the same corrupt regimes.

Wars

While we have no more global wars — thank God for that — we do have little wars these days, and they manage to wipe out undisclosed numbers of people each time. Yet, somehow, with all our modern census methods and computers, we still can’t seem to figure out just how many people get killed in these wars.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the mission of the UN and NATO to stop wars? Let me quote you the primary reason for the existence of the UN, right from their charter:

“To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace”

And yet, with all of those heads of state gathered together, and with all of that clout and power, all that the UN really does is talk — nothing more but empty talk. It and NATO send peacekeeping forces to the regions where wars occur, but almost always, those forces are puny compared with what’s needed, and they have no teeth. They do nothing except stand by while the killing and raping occurs miles or even furloughs away. That’s incomprehensible.

Do you honestly think that wars cannot be stopped or dictators toppled? These things can happen very quickly through the use of spies and elite forces. You don’t need to take out entire armies, only their leaders and key points in their logistical structure. But if you did that, then certain corporations and governments couldn’t profit from all those weapons they get to sell to various governments, and that would be a disaster, wouldn’t it?

Medicine

We have all of these organizations dedicated to wiping out chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes and whatever else there is, and they’ve been at it for decades, yet no cure is in sight. Perhaps I’m more cynical than most, and maybe I have good reason to be that way, but maybe it’s not in the best interest of the world that these diseases get eradicated. They’re some of the only things keeping our population in check.

After all, we’re collectively living longer while more of us are being born each second. When you ask someone older how they feel about death, most will say they want to stay alive as long as possible. They won’t care how, they won’t care if they’ll be a bag of bones kept alive by drugs alone, they’ll want to keep living. To what end?

Better not wipe out the diseases, there should be something to make us kick the bucket. After all, who would believe you if you told people to stop eating crap and start eating raw foods, and then they wouldn’t suffer from any diseases and they’d live longer, too? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Then we have stuff like all these kooky viruses that certain labs out there get to play with and mix around, sometimes with very deadly results. Oops, how did that happen? No matter, move along, nothing to see here. Does it matter there is now a virus that could literally start a plague and clean a billion people or so from the face of the earth? No, it’s not important, right? Who knows what other nasty stuff is being cooked up for us in some government-funded test tube somewhere…

In closing…

Doesn’t it all seem like a long-term passive-aggressive punishment from a greedy yet moronically short-sighted bunch of overseers? Oh sure, on the surface, what’s important is the quality of our foods, cures for our diseases, eradication of wars, quality housing and the comforts of modern living, and yet… something’s still rotten in Denmark. It’s when you look a little deeper that you find greed is driving this freight train, not social responsibility, no matter what the short-term and long-term costs may be.

I’d like to know if we can sack the current “overseers” and get someone intelligent, kind, balanced and responsible to take care of things. This poor planet could use some better leadership.