Archive for the 'earth & nature' Category

Green Enough? The Biodegradable Credit Card

Transmitted on Apr 12 2009 to earth & nature

“The biodegradable Discover Card is another way for environmentally conscious consumers to do their part to help protect our planet,” says Kelly Tufts, Discover’s director of marketing. The card, which “breaks down 99% [...] in nine months to five years”, will leave less of an impact on the earth than the other 150 card designs Discover makes available for purchase. But in a market and economy wracked by increasing consumer debt ($5710 in credit card debt per consumer in December 2008), is this really what we need?

If Discover was serious about helping the environment (while encouraging rampant overspending), they could do many things: move their other designs to biodegradable plastic, donate 1% (or some other percentage) to a “green” cause, or work towards environmentally friendly practices in their buildings and corporate mentality (which would discourage overconsumption). This card, in contrast, strikes me as a confused attempt to reconcile two very different modalities, with little benefit to anyone.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

via Inhabitat and Next Nature.

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Save the Salmon – Hack Their Mental Compasses

Transmitted on Dec 03 2008 to earth & nature

Wired reports on a new way to help captive salmon survive in the wild. It’s simple: just reprogram their brains!

Biologist Ken Lohmann speculates that young fish are imprinted with the geomagnetic coordinates of their place of origin, which they use to find their way back home in order to mate. This adaptation works so well that in the 19th century, salmon migrations choked rivers and nourished entire ecosystems. Naturally, salmon are now on the endangered species list. This is part of the reason why biologists are working so hard to understand the salmon’s internal compass.

Lohmann’s concept for a salmon-friendly magnetic generator assumes, of course, that salmon do use magnetism to find their way. But the evidence seems to be there.

Alternative Energy Gets a Reality Check

Transmitted on Jun 26 2008 to earth & nature

Physics professor David McKay has been trying to find the best sustainable energy source to power England. Unlike the vast majority of sustainability advocates, however, he brings some pretty cold logic to the table:

If we covered the windiest 10 per cent [of the UK] with windmills, we might be able to generate half of the energy used by driving a car 50 km [31 miles] per day each. Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s not as huge as our huge consumption. I should emphasize how audacious an assumption I’m making. [...] The windmills required [...] are fifty times the entire wind hardware of Denmark; seven times all the windfarms of Germany; and double the entire fleet of all wind turbines in the world.

Kay moves on to dismantle (or is it dismember?) various alternative energy models, including solar power (which requires obscene amounts of space, especially in a place as sunless as England) and biofuel, which is scarcely better.

The most efficient plants … deliver an average power of 0.5W/m2. Let’s cover 75 per cent of the country with quality green stuff. That’s 3000m2 per person devoted to bio-energy. This is the same as the British land area currently devoted to agriculture. So the maximum energy available, ignoring all the additional costs of growing, harvesting, and processing the greenery, is … 36 kWh/d per person.

Wow. That’s not very much, considering the outrageously generous assumptions we just made [in order] to get a big number.

One interesting suggestion involves using land in North Africa for solar power and routing the current over the sea, counteracting the limited space available for solar panels in Europe. This still doesn’t deliver a whole lot of energy, but it’s feasible.

Part of my respect for Dr. Kay comes from his sheer level of thinking. All of his calculations are based on the assumption that everything is used to its fullest potential– making the results even more scary. In considering hydroelectric power, Kay envisions “millions” of water pumps moving water uphill, poised to create waterfalls-on-demand should the hydro systems fail. Kay’s contribution to the clean-energy discussion is bound to generate some exceptional new ideas–and, perhaps, some much-needed perspective.

Kay’s book, Without the Hot Air, is freely downloadable (still in progress, he claims) here. Well worth a read.

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Astounding Images of Africa

Transmitted on May 21 2008 to earth & nature

Nick Brandt’s photography uses the lens as a magnifier of the textures and tonality of the African wilderness, finding within its breadth and depth a sculptural, rather than pictorial, sense of beauty. The images Brandt captures do not concern themselves with the investigation (and subsequent possession) of their subjects as a whole; rather, they are an exploration of isolated shapes and surfaces that are otherworldly and thus scarcely capable of possession. One can understand what a zebra or elephant is, how it behaves, and what it looks like, but one would be hard-pressed to find themselves in the dream from which Brandt’s zebras have seemingly stepped. While their lives are entirely alien to us, their placement within such surreal context gives them a startling familiarity, as though we had once envisioned such beasts in legend or trance. In this way the work serves as a literal “image-world”, a playground for forms that, while already known and perhaps cherished, have become imbued with peculiar magic by the photographic process; we are part of these beings (we have known them) and yet incalculably separate from them (as we were never present in this space and time).
Elephant Drinking
This dichotomy is what I believe is Brandt’s main concern in photography. While these moments in Africa have in fact occurred, and have thus etched themselves to film, it appears unlikely-—in fact virtually inconceivable—-for us to ever again achieve the same experience in a world outside of the artist’s frames. It is this impossibility which leads to the images’ power, for they represent an unattainable world somehow informed by and cross-woven with our own.Portrait of Two Zebras
Yet, most importantly, for these images to be part of our reality (that is, to be seen at all), we must also acknowledge that these places, these beings, also exist now within our internal universe. Susan Sontag writes that our understanding of the world is affected not by our experience of it, but by our images of it: we are more aware of what has been captured than what has been merely seen. These photographs, then, serve as both an extension of our awareness and a reminder that that awareness will be forever limited to a single shot, to a few focused seconds of sunlight on silver.Giraffes Under Swirling Clouds
Absolutely phenomenal work. I urge you to explore it.

Of Scale & Civilization

Transmitted on Apr 09 2008 to earth & nature

Much has been made of our universe’s seeming repetition of form, of nature’s unerring patterns splayed out in galaxies and electron orbits; wherever we look, we find clues written in the same language. Infinite and infintesimal seem not such polar opposites when one encounters the glow of nebulae within a cell, the roots of trees echoed in your iris. What does it mean, that these designs scale so endlessly?

On a warm summer night in upstate New York, the crackling lights of fireflies floated like lanterns in the darkness; I remember being astonished by the amount of activity they generated, the constancy of their flashing, their sheer ludicrous numbers. Several were flickering overhead, but as they began to flash and group in more geometric patterns I realized that they weren’t fireflies at all– they were a plane.

Without a sense of scale, fireflies and airplanes become the same symbol, the same candles in an unending night: are we really so different from them? Are our lights, or theirs, anything more than signals thrown against the unknowable?

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