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Reduce your personal environmental impact for 2019: tips and tricks
Posted by: December 17 2018
Reduce your personal environmental impact for 2019: tips and tricks
It is that time of the year to come up with all kind of New Year resolutions: lose weight and eat healthier. Travel more. Work less. Spend more time with our loved ones. Those will definitely top the list for most of us. Yet we have another great one for you to add. How about we start 2019 with every intention of reducing our carbon footprint? Effectively, reducing your carbon footprint means that you will reduce your personal impact on the environment - preferably by becoming completely ‘carbon neutral’, which means that your net impact on the world amounts to 0 (or, for the really ambitious ones, will be positive - meaning that you give back more to the world than you take from it). Unbeknownst to us, we are susceptible to wasting energy on things that would require virtually zero energy to change. And reducing our energy footprint is key in conserving resources, in doing so reducing greenhouse gas pollution. By becoming more sustainable ourselves, we can do our part in stopping climate change and the destruction of ecosystems. Helpful tips and tricks that you will find surprisingly easy to implement in your new daily routine for 2019. Plug out your devices! Although some people will claim the opposite, it is a fact that most applicants will keep on using energy when they are idle. This is a phenomenon aptly called ‘phantom load’, something that can add more than € 100 to our annual energy bill - and something that is basically wasted energy! So, directly unplugging your appliances and devices after using them will save both money and the planet. Afraid it will be too labour-intensive? Consider plugging such items into one single power strip and turn that whole strip off when you are done cooking, doing laundry, or getting ready in the morning. Get regular check-ups This applies to pretty much everything, whether it is your car, your heating and AC-systems, your fridge, your oven, your washing machine… If you take better care of those installations and appliances, they will not only last longer - great for your wallet and the environment! -, they will also use less energy. Double win! Dress appropriately - especially indoors Most of us will want to feel comfortable in our own homes. While we do usually dress weather-appropriately when going outside, we refuse to do so at home. Bring on the comfy shorts and tops, even in the dead of winter - or your favourite hoodie in the midst of summer! So we adjust our thermostat accordingly. Not quite a sustainable practice. You are better off sticking closer to the outdoor temperature. So turn up the airconditioning by some degrees in the summer and dial down the temperature of the heating in the winter. Again both a money and climate saver. Natural laundry Did you know that a significant portion of your energy bill can be attributed to your laundry machine and dryer? Therefore, you might consider greening up laundry day. Instead of putting your clothes in the dryer, you could install a rack in the garden and let them dry up ‘au natural’. Even better, the smell of fresh grass and sunshine cannot be beat by any fabric softener! For the real enthusiast, also consider doing the laundry by hand. Round up some neighbours and friends and make it your fun gossip afternoon. Saving $$ on the energy bill while giving your washing machine a break! Photo by: Eric Withsoe Travel responsibly Now this would make a great resolution! Preferably, you would leave your car in the garage and opt for public transport, or bike or walk instead. If you do, however, really need to get out in your car, there are some ways of becoming more carbon neutral as well. For instance, by turning off your engine when you are not driving. Do not keep on idling when stuck in a traffic jam, waiting for the traffic lights, or parked in the drive-thru. Once you are ready to start driving, it is generally a good idea to accelerate gently and save gas. For the same reason, keep an eye on your speed: reducing your speed will really make a difference in your car’s gasoline consumption. Shop responsibly Finally, consider tackling your shopping addiction and climate change in one go - while, once again, doing your bank account a huge favour. When you go shopping, whether it is for groceries or just ‘for fun’, consider how these things will affect the world around you. Consider looking into organic and local products, produced in a sustainable manner and not hauled halfway across the world to end up in your bag. Find products that fit your needs, so do not get that huge family home or mini-van if you are just by yourself. Bring your own bag when shopping and avoid heavily packaged products. And most importantly, keep on asking yourself: do I really need this? Well, there you have it. Reducing your carbon footprint can be as simple as following these tips. And it might even save you money! So, without having to compromise on your lifestyle, you can make a promise to be more sustainable in 2019. Will it be on your resolutions list? Cover photo by: Luke Michael https://www.whatsorb.com/community/artificial-intelligence-a-game-changer-for-climate-change-and-the-environment Read more...
Fireworks: the most effective way to instantly ruin your New Year’s resolution of becoming more sustainable
Posted by: December 17 2018
Fireworks: the most effective way to instantly ruin your New Year’s resolution of becoming more sustainable
Watching the fireworks New Year’s Eve. While most of us will have plenty of activities on the night itself, sipping champagne, watching the traditional tv-shows and playing games with family, there are quite a number of people who enjoy another recurring tradition: watching the fireworks. Whether you opt for looking out from behind the relative safety of your window, gawking at the professional show amidst thousands of others in a crowded square, or going out to light up the sky yourself. Fireworks are mesmerizing, dreamy, and very romantic. But at the same time, they are not exactly great for the environment. Photo by: Gregie Bertaud And while it will not be a thing most of us are wanting to hear, because ‘it is tradition and a symbolic way of welcoming the new year…’ Well, just hear me out if you want to optimize the number of new years that future generations will get to enjoy as well. The colorful, artistic lights flickering in the sky, accompanied by rhythmic booms reverberating in our hearts, will fill us with joy. With happy and perhaps not so happy memories of the year that we just said goodbye to. With hope and anticipation for the year to come. It will fill us with love and with good intentions.  And with harmful particulates and elements. U nfortunately all the things that make fireworks so pretty and attractive are exactly those things that make them so bad for us. Gunpowder will help it lift off and reach the sky. Metallic compounds give it its gorgeous colors. All of these elements are made up of carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting substances, that can make its way into our soil, air, and water . Some of those really bad guys that are present in commonly used fireworks include perchlorates. These are responsible for the explosion, as they feed oxygen in the charcoal-sulfur fuel that powers up the explosive, serving as the so-called oxidizers. The pyrotechnics industry is particularly looking at two types of perchlorates for this: potassium perchlorate and ammonium perchlorate.   Fancy names for something so inherently bad, as they can cause all kind of health problems, most significantly hypothyroidism: an illness that limits the thyroid’s ability to ingest iodine, which will lead to a lack of hormones in the human body - hindering all kind of bodily functions and potentially giving rise to all kind of disorders, especially in children.   Then there are particulates. These can be found in the smoke resulting from the burned charcoal and sulfur and will make their way to our lungs. This could pose an instant danger for those suffering from asthma-related diseases. Merely looking at an air-quality monitor spiking out in the hours after a fireworks show should get you concerned about the air that you are breathing.   There are even more rather ominous sounding elements that can be found in your firecrackers, flares and Roman candles. Strontium, aluminum, copper, barium, rubidium, cadmium: terms that you might remember from your chem class as being rather delicate and dangerous substances, yet that are freely used to color our fireworks. All of them carry nasty side-effects when ingested in high doses, including impairment of bone growth, mental disorders, Alzheimer’s, cancer, skin diseases, paralysis, heart problems and - in the worst case - death.   Translation? For the next few days or weeks, you will be eating, drinking, and breathing all kind of highly toxic and destructive particles. You’re welcome. Some will object at this point, claiming that it cannot be that bad. Fireworks are, after all, not an everyday event (that is, unless you work in Disney World). And are those one or two days per year that we shoot all kinds of garbage up in the atmosphere really something worth worrying over? Especially as the industrial sector keeps on regurgitating substances that are seemingly identical on a daily basis?   Admittedly, the chances of attracting any of the diseases given above for the volumes going up in the air on New Years are so small that they could be considered insignificant. Yet we should not just think about ourselves (which might coincidentally just be another of your New Year’s resolutions), but consider the impact on our environment as well. Some cities will experience more smog and air pollution on New Year’s Day alone than in the previous year as a whole. That is a fact.   These toxins will get in the atmosphere, in the soil, in the water. Aquatic life will suffer , cows eating polluted grass will pass it on to us through our hamburgers. With every piece of firework launched, a toxic rain will fall down on our lands that will impact all living beings. And the worst part? The majority of these chemicals are persistent, which means that they will not break down in nature, but stay in our ecosystems indefinitely.   And no, there has not been enough research performed yet to be able to state with certainty that fireworks do actually pose an instant, immediate danger to us and the world around us. But the evidence as given above will, if anything, make perfectly clear that it cannot possibly be any good.   Only clinging onto it for the sake of tradition, would be silly - and hugely negligent. Cover photo by: Mervyn Chan https://www.whatsorb.com/category/waste Read more...
Are white Christmases a thing of the past?
Posted by: December 10 2018
Are white Christmases a thing of the past?
Yes, climate change is real and happening. A few notable exceptions aside, this is something that we mostly agree on. And while we might prefer to discuss more uplifting topics at the Christmas dinner table, this one is bound to come up - alongside politics and the current state of the economy, obviously. Your uncle or father in law will undoubtedly bring up how back when they were young, white Christmases were considered to be normal. Snowy and cold winters, ideal for huddling together with the family around the fire, swapping stories and gifts. No, then look at today, barely a snowflake in sight, let alone any prospects of a White Christmas in the near future. After another glass of wine, the debate will have sparked - with various relatives claiming that it is all the result of global warming, making the world inherently warmer and therefore crushing any hopes of significant snowfall any time soon. That is, if you live in or near the Northern Hemisphere - those living near the equator or south of it have always celebrated Christmas on the beach, in bikinis and shorts; once there is even a remote chance of a White Christmas over there, we really ought to get worried. Another downside of  climate change Then there is always the chance that the weather will in fact take a turn for the worse, preventing said relatives from visiting the family gathering due to excessive snow storms and blizzards. Then the remaining family members will quickly commiserate over this as being another downside of climate change, causing extreme weather events to be more frequent and significant. Be as it may, our chances for a picturesque, cosy White Christmas will be diminishing in years to come. Snow cover and sea ice has been declining dramatically in the Northern Hemisphere, with snow predicted to become an increasingly rarer event. And while your nephews and nieces may be disappointed at the lack of sledding and skiing opportunities, the problem of fewer snow days is actually much greater than just hurting the typical Christmas aesthetic. It will accelerate global warming, as snow typically reflects the sun’s energy back into space, therefore cooling down our planet. When melting, it also provides water for a great number of communities downstream. And this does not even take into account the financial and social strain it will put on ski villages and resorts, taking away their lifeblood. Climate change is something that concerns all of us - and something that will definitely impact Father Christmas as well. Santa would be finding himself in quite a pickle now that he risks losing his gift factories to the melting snow caps on his native North Pole. Apart from the urgently growing need for him to relocate his facilities, he would also be facing a problem with his trusty travel companions: his reindeer. Large reindeer populations are threatened by global warming, as the Arctic gets warmer and the landscape is altered - changing their habitat permanently and irreversibly. In quite some regions, reindeer are already considered to be an endangered species, such as in southern Canada and in the USA. The animals are slowly moving up north, and this restriction of their territory will bring along a wide range of problems, including the isolation of some populations and the high chances of others interbreeding - with potentially disastrous consequences. Thus, Santa might soon face the unavoidability of replacing Rudolph and his friends. Not only will we have to change out all reindeer-themed decoration, we might also find it harder to get our hands on a real, original Christmas tree. Christmas tree farms have found it increasingly harder in recent years to produce a decent harvest, as the result of intensifying extreme weather events, such as the extreme heat and drought in the last few summers and tornadoes and flash floods in the months after. Hence, you might find yourselves fighting over a limited number of Christmas trees that will be available. And while you are at it, you might just consider stocking up on your chocolate supplies early as well. Those of us who treasure fond memories of sitting around with scorching hot cups of cocoa, will be alarmed to hear that the world’s chocolate supply is in danger. As it is, a large portion of this supply originates from two countries: Ghana and Ivory Coast. These countries are looking at a huge loss of land that is suitable for the production and growth of cacao, partially caused by unsustainable farming practices that are still employed today, combined with the weather negatively impacting the crops. Now that would be a great anecdote for the dinner table discussions: climate change taking away our precious chocolate. And our maple syrup, while we are at it, that we may have just generously poured over our pancakes, cookies or waffles. The maple trees that are delivering this substance thrive in a freeze-and-thaw habitat, that can also be impacted negatively by climate change. And if this habitat changes, the trees will change accordingly, possibly reducing their substance production or stopping it altogether. So, if you wind up in a heated discussion on the effects and causes of climate change, you might just be able to plead your case by mentioning how it might even destroy all the things that make Christmas great. Now if that isn’t a great reason to make a resolution to green up our lives, nothing is. https://www.whatsorb.com/category/climate Read more...
Sustainable Christmas tips & tricks
Posted by: December 10 2018
Sustainable Christmas tips & tricks
The merriest time of the year has arrived and preparations for Christmas are in full swing. Most of us will be planning extensive dinners with friends and family, and decorating our homes with lights and sparkling decorations. We might travel substantial distances to be with our loved ones on these special days - or some might opt for travelling that very same distance to be away from it all, preferring to celebrate the holidays on a skiing trip instead. Although it might not be exactly in line with enhancing this Christmas spirit, we do feel compelled to show the other side of this fun-filled coin: the energy required and the waste directly or indirectly generated by Santa and his little helpers. And no, while we will not be as nit-picky to discuss the inefficiencies of transporting all those gifts from the North Pole to our homes and the effect of this hard labor on the elves and reindeers, we would like to point out some ways of making your holidays somewhat greener. Fake trees are not sustainable at all - in more ways than one Most people will readily agree that plastic Christmas trees do not embody the true spirit of the festivities. Yet we are happy to provide even more reasons for why those fake rip-offs are a bad idea. Although they might last for several years, they are far from green. They cannot be recycled, have been produced in low-cost, far-away countries such as China, and are simply not real trees. If you’d opt for a real one, it would actually help the climate, as those remove carbon from the atmosphere while growing. Yet it is important to verify that your tree is actually sustainably grown and did not travel exceptionally large distances to get to your living room. Optional bonus: find a tree that has roots and can be replanted after December is over - if you put it in your own garden, you might just be able to re-use it the following year. And if you are really enjoying those green fingers, you might just grow your own Christmas tree. Specialised kits are available on the market for this purpose. Managed to get your hands on a tree that will definitely not last another year and is starting to lose all of its needles before 2019 rolls around? Make sure to recycle it, not just toss it out as landfill. Better sustainable decorations and candles All kinds of lights in fun shapes, colours and forms, miniature trains running through lit up miniature cities, singing Santa’s and dancing Rudolphs. What do they have in common? Right, most of them will run on batteries. Not to mention the many gifts that require batteries, or the photo camera that will be used to snap all those happy images. Batteries are nasty, toxic things. They are not biodegradable, nor recyclable, and their production is rather cumbersome. While it might not be realistic to wish for a completely battery-free Christmas (and rather boring, too), it would already be a great improvement if we could opt for rechargeable batteries instead. Or check out the new AA size USB rechargeable batteries, that you can plug into a USB connector for recharging at any time. Candles are another one of those things that we take for granted but that might require somewhat more thought than we currently spare for it. The frequently used paraffin candles are made up of petroleum residue, making it rather bad for the environment. Candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are a better option if you’d want to be eco-friendly. Recycle your grandma’s Christmas card Heaps and heaps of Christmas cards are coming in every year. People are eager to let each other know how they have been doing and that they have been thinking of each other. And while these cards are great to put around the house, once January comes around, most of us will readily throw them away. And when you keep in mind that the average person receives 17 cards each year, you can only imagine the waste this will result in. So, you can also imagine what difference a little effort to recycle those cards will make. Perhaps you can send an e-card instead; recycle last year’s cards to make new ones; or ensure that the cards you buy are made of recycled paper. Very happy sustainable holidays All of the tricks above will surely make for a Christmas that is both unforgettable and as eco-friendly as possible. If you could also come up with a dinner menu that is largely composed of local, organic products and not made up of pineapples and wine from halfway across the world, you are guaranteed to be on top of Santa’s favourites list this year. https://www.whatsorb.com/travel/travel-sustainable-10-easy-tips-to-go-green-on-holliday Read more...
Nuclear power: will it destroy or save the world?
Posted by: November 30 2018
Nuclear power: will it destroy or save the world?
The cold hard facts One billion people go to sleep every night without access to electricity. Two and a half billion people do not have access to clean cooking fuels or heating fuels to take care of their families. These statistics, highlighted in a TED-talk by energy scholar Joe Lassiter, are absolutely staggering. It is shocking to realise for us, in the western world, that there are many in developing countries living without things that we would consider a basic need. Just imagine telling your teenage son that there will be no more television at night. Or your 14-year-old daughter that there’ll be no more internet at home. Yet the issue of expanding the power grids and guaranteeing access to electricity or fuels is a double-edged sword that cuts much deeper than the simple logistics of increasing coverage. As it stands, the world is already pushing the envelope of what we can actually generate. The exploitation of fossil fuels and scarce resources have brought us to the edge of a deadly cliff. We are waging a war with Mother Nature that we are bound to lose - if the increasing volume and severity of natural disasters is anything to go by. Building  nuclear reactors There are solutions. One of the most frequently mentioned - and definitely most debated - being the construction of new nuclear reactors. Wait, hold on. The same nuclear reactors that we are working so hard to get rid of? That we, ever since disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima, have vowed to replace by safer and greener alternatives? Yes. Those. In order to understand this movement, some key elements have to be understood. First of all, modern reactors are much safer than their notorious counterparts. At the same time, they are cleaner than most of the alternatives involving coal or other fossil fuels while generating much more energy at a lower cost. Their major downside is its negative image, fuelled by fears for nuclear mishaps leaving large areas uninhabitable. Nuclear reactors around the world Some of the world’s largest nations still heavily depend on nuclear power for their electricity needs, including the United States, France, Russia and Spain. Growth economies are in the process of constructing a large number of new plants, including in the Middle East, India, China and Pakistan. The sheer number of people living in those countries that require energy, plus the promises made in the Paris treaty towards fighting global warming and drastically reducing harmful emissions, have swayed their political leaders to be in favour of those nuclear giants. But who can blame them? They are doing what is best for their people. As the billions of people that previously lived in poverty move towards a more prosperous life, this inevitably includes access to gas, to electricity, to resources. We are struggling to live up to the demand as it is today, let alone what would happen if all 7,7 billion of us would want to turn on the light at the same time. Break the nuclear taboo Just as we are unwilling to let go of our newfound luxuries that run on  electricity or other scarce resources, so will those billions who are just now being introduced to it. Demand will double, triple, you name it - while we are fussing about sustainable ways of meeting it. And the best part? We will only start using more energy as we get access to more. Increased supply will drive up demand. It is a cycle that we cannot break free from. Nor will it be realistic to assume that it can fully be met through renewable sources like solar, wind and water energy. Coming back to the issue of nuclear power. It is understandable that many, especially those who lived through the disasters in the past, are hesitant to embrace the idea of more nuclear power plants. Experts largely agree that they have become safer and more reliable, yet do not rule out the potential for disaster at this time. Not to mention the costs and time associated with their construction and maintenance and the headache of decommissioning. But it might just be time to put our heads together and break through the nuclear taboo. Coming together and finding ways of tackling those issues, working towards a safe and clean implementation of nuclear energy, might be our best shot at preserving our world while getting all of us the resources we need in this day and age. https://www.whatsorb.com/waste/finlands-solution-to-nuclear-waste-storage-may-set-an-example-for-the-world Read more...
Tiny houses tips and tricks
Posted by: November 26 2018
Tiny houses tips and tricks
Previous generations often had the ultimate dream of ending up in a house bigger than the one they grew up in. This somehow was meant to reflect how they have been moving up in the world and as a sign of their increased welfare. Yet in recent years, this notion seems to have been overturned. The new generations seem to averse this trend - just as they do for so many others started and upheld by their parents and grandparents before them. Whereas owning a gorgeous, two-story detached house with large garage might have been the aspiration for many generations before us, this view is slowly starting to change. Tiny houses have become the latest fad. These seek to provide its owners with a meaningful, minimalistic living experience, while minimising both the physical and ecological footprint. Even in the smallest of spaces a tiny home can be created that offers a surprising amount of luxury and comfort. There’s not a set definition as to what constitutes a tiny house. Yet most will agree that it is a building that does not exceed some 50 square meters while being largely self-sufficient, through the use of energy and water saving and producing innovations. While a large number of them will be mobile, this is not a requirement - nor is the notion that it is completely ‘off-grid’ (as some of the greatest examples can be found in urban areas). Looking to get your own  tiny house soon? Here are some tips and tricks that will make the move easier. Tip 1: put lager pieces of furniture inside before finishing the walls A common headache, even when moving in regular houses: how to get that gorgeous old family heirloom cabinet in? Or your huge sectional, great for the living area but a pain to move? This problem is amplified for tiny houses, as windows and doors will usually be smaller as well. So you might want to consider moving your furniture in before framing and finishing the walls. Tip 2: consider using ladders for upper-floor acces Still hung up on the idea of using stairs to get to the upper floors? That grand old stately staircase is a definite no-go. But even for ‘regular’ stairs, it might be a good idea to consider replacing them by smaller and moveable ladders. These can be detached when you do not need them and installed when and where needed. Saves quite some valuable floor space. Tip 3: say goodbye to the 8-person dining room table Another unnecessarily luxurious item: the huge, wooden dining room table that will seat your entire family. Why not have it replaced by foldable tables? There are plenty on offer (including some cheap options at IKEA) that do not take up a whole lot of space when folded in, yet are able to magically transform into a suitable alternative. The same principle applies for other furniture, such as retractable pantry drawers that house your appliances. Tip 4: enlarge the space without enlarging anything People’s first concern is usually with the limited space feeling claustrophobic, boxed in. Although there are plenty of ways for you to get around this. Make sure that your window-to-wall ratio is high, for starters. Also, avoid the use of fixed indoor walls. You can opt for open, multipurpose spaces - but if you are looking to get more creative, you could opt for glass walls, or use sliding walls, curtains or room dividers to separate spaces. Tip 5: get inspired by the internet Another great invention of recent times - the internet. Why not use it to your advantage as you go about building and decorating your own tiny house? Plenty of others have built and innovated before you, so there’s a whole pool of knowledge out there for you to dip your toe in. Browse sites like Pinterest for your design ideas, shop on sites like Etsy, join groups on  Facebook  related to tiny house building, and so on. https://www.whatsorb.com/architecture/sunbathing-in-your-tiny-house-with-a-sliding-roof--try-it-with-the-c-cile Read more...
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