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Earth Day: In the Cloud

22 Apr

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Yesterday I heard a story on NPR about cloud computing.  I’m a big fan of keeping documents on the cloud.  I use a lot of different computers and I like to be able to access my data from any of them.  I use Evernote, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, Flickr and iCloud and that’s not including things like email, social media, and, yes, WordPress.  I knew about the security concerns of these services, but the NPR story was the first time that I heard anything about the environmental impact of cloud computing.

Searching the Planet to Find Power for the Cloud

If you don’t have time to listen to the four-minute story, the gist is that powering one cloud storage facility uses enough energy to power 57,000 homes.  They use millions of computer servers that all need to be constantly cooled by air conditioning.  Facebook actually has a data center near the Arctic Circle so that they can naturally cool their servers.  Apple, Box and Google run their clouds on renewable energies.

Greenpeace is one of the environmental organizations with initiatives to green the cloud.  Their Clean Our Cloud program spotlights companies using green technologies and lobbies for changes in those that don’t (they’re looking at you Microsoft,  Amazon, and, sadly, Pinterest).

After hearing the story, cloud computing seems pretty wasteful, but compared to the alternative it actually cuts energy consumption by up to 87%.  This makes sense when you take into consideration that, like buying in bulk, it’s often easier to streamline energy savings in a fewer large-scale operation rather than in numerous inefficient personal setups.

Many of the studies I found were commissioned by providers of cloud services, so they can only be trusted so far.  They’re trying to acquire cloud customers so these studies intend to negate the impact of data center energy consumption.  I wouldn’t put my money on the exact percentages they report, but the general principles are sound.  I think as wasteful as cloud services seem now, they will become more efficient and greener fairly quickly.  With just financial incentives, companies will be motivated to make more efficient data centers as time passes.  Even if environmental improvements are just a side effect of their cost-saving measures, the benefit still stands.  An article in Forbes also points out the impact that e-commerce in general has had on the environment, citing the rise of telecommuting, online purchasing and the decrease in brick and mortar stores and paper use as benefits of the move to the online economy.

I think that the move toward cloud-based services is a positive direction, but the implications of that still need to be studied and improved.  As  individuals, there isn’t much we can do to improve the efficiency of data centers.  I would suggest using companies that take advantage of renewable resources and demonstrate responsible environmental practices.  You can see a list of the good and bad companies as well as guides for calling them out on social media at Greenpeace’s Click Clean website.

~April

Earth Day: Weekend Images

20 Apr

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Itsy Bitsy Spider
Spider at the Austin Botanical Garden

Happy Easter Everyone!

~April

Earth Day: Go Camp

18 Apr

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Yesterday Robin called asking me to put up a post since she was heading into the wilderness. I quickly agreed to switch days since I’m heading out to camp today.  Of course I proceeded to immediately forget our pact as I gathered up my camp gear and then sat on the couch and watched a movie instead.

Our camping plans did remind me that this weekend is the start of National Parks Week. And on April 19 & 20 you’ll get free entry into the parks.

Join Robin and I in celebrating National Parks Week, getting outdoors and shirking obligations. You won’t regret it.

~April

Earth Day: UGH!

16 Apr

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From the department of “You’re Totally Missing the Point” comes this gem:

dasani
Cinemark, a fine paragon of film, but not so much of environmentalism, delivered this to me as my weekly coupon today. Putting aside the fact that $2 off a bottle of water when there are water fountains in the lobby is considered a deal, offering a discount on bottled water for Earth Day is equivalent to free bacon on Passover.  Lots of stores will be running Earth Day promotions this year, but it’s important to judge whether or not they’re really earth friendly.  Is owning another reusable bag all that green when you already have 42 languishing in your back seat?  Probably not.  It’s fine to take advantage of deals that you’re going to use, but before you jump on an Earth Day deal, think about it for a second. That will certainly be longer than Cinemark considered this partnership.

~April

P.S. This coupon is only good once so if you try and use it and it doesn’t work we’ll all know someone else missed the point.

Earth Day: Every Last Drop

14 Apr

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Arthur C Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  While this usually conjures up images of Google Glass, sophisticated AIs and (in my dreams) teleportation, sometimes I see an amazingly-designed website and think the same thing.  That’s the case for Every Last Drop, a UK website aimed at bringing awareness to water usage.  Not only is it informative, it’s also beautiful, and that makes it effective.  I’m not a coder by any means and so it’s probably not surprising I think this level of computer skill is magical.  I challenge anyone not to be a little impressed at the whimsy this site offers though.

Make sure you check out the website for the full effect, but for a little more info and some simple Earth Day water-saving tips, enjoy their video as well.

Every Last Drop – How to Save Water Film from Nice and Serious on Vimeo.

~April

Earth Day: Weekend Images

12 Apr

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Caterpillar (I think it might be a Garden Tiger Moth?) at Irvine Regional Park

~April

Earth Day: AmazonSmile

10 Apr

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If you’ve logged into Amazon lately, you may have seen a little pop up that allows you to link your account to a charity. The program is called AmazonSmile and you can choose from millions of charities to support, everything from the super local to global giants. After you choose a charity, Amazon will donate .5% (I know, a bundle) of your eligible purchases to your charity of choice. You just have to remember to go to smile.amazon.com instead of the regular Amazon start page. Then, you’ll see a note near the price telling you whether an item is eligible or not.  You can change your charity whenever you choose.

To put things in perspective, at .5% you’d have to spend $20,000 to donate $100 to your charity. Even with my thousands of dollars of work purchases every year, I still can’t hit that benchmark. Still, even a little bit can help. It’s probably more impactful to choose a larger charity that a lot of other people will donate to than to give a few bucks to a local charity. You’re better off just donating the money outright.  It’s better to donate something than nothing at all though and if enough people take advantage of the opportunity, a lot of charities will benefit.

In honor of Earth Day, consider a charity that protects our natural resources. Some great ones are NatureBridge, The National Park Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, The Appalachian Trail Conservancy or The Sierra Club. Thousands of other environmental charities are available, so pick your cause and use your Amazon addiction for good.

~ April

Earth Day: Exercise and the Environment

8 Apr

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Since I started blogging again, I’ve really wanted to talk about exercise.  In July last year I had reached my highest weight, went up a size in pants and was just feeling all around blah.  Something inside me woke up and I managed to stop eating bags of chips for dinner and replacing that with whole foods as often as possible.  After I dropped a few pounds, my friends joined a gym and I reluctantly agreed.  I’d never done any sort of exercise program before.  The last physical activity I did regularly was marching band.  When we ran the mile in high school I think I topped 20 minutes.  And I can walk a mile in 20 minutes.  I was intimidated and suspicious, but peer pressure is a great motivator so I went.  When I didn’t throw up or pass out my first visit, I started to think I might be able to do this and here I am a few months later (and 20 pounds lighter), with a regular gym and running routine that isn’t motivated by peer pressure at all.

When our Earth Day month started, I thought that there has to be some way I can connect the environment and living healthfully.  Aside from diet, which is intimately connected to the earth and our food system, I think certain kinds of exercise can inspire and support a love of the earth as well.  Not long after I started strength training, I went for a hike.  I was amazed that unlike previous expeditions, I was able to keep a steady pace without getting too out of breath.  That’s when I first realized that the work I was doing indoors was going to improve my enjoyment outdoors.  Bonus number one!

While I do a lot of my strength training indoors, studies show that working out en plein air is a double dose of endorphins.  Not only do you get the benefits of being active, you also get a little cure for your nature deficit disorder.  I’ve been running outdoors twice a week lately (I’ve come to be a treadmill hater) and there is nothing that can pull me out of a morning funk more than turning a corner and seeing the ocean.    According to the same study listed above, working out outdoors also boosts performance and makes the exercise seem easier.  It doesn’t take a lot either.  Even five minutes of working out in a natural environment has an impact on mood, self-esteem and creativity.

Sure there are tons of personal benefits to getting outdoors and being active, but what about benefits for Mother Earth?  Here are some ways that getting in shape can help the planet.

  • Walking, biking or running to work or to run errands instead of driving saves gas.
  • Running outdoors as opposed to on a treadmill saves two pounds of CO2 per 30 minute workout. (source)
  • A growing number of “green gyms” promote environmental responsibility by generating energy and using refurbished equipment.  My favorite quote from this article is, “If we’re enabling people to be good stewards of their own bodies, it seems like the natural progression of that is to also be good stewards of the environment.”
  • If you do work out indoors, choose the elliptical or stationary bike (or better yet, weights) over the treadmill.  They consume far less energy.  (source)
  • If you’re concerned about your health, you should be concerned about the environment.  Many environmental factors affect our bodies.  By being more environmentally responsible, you’ll be improving your health and the health of those around you.

~April

Earth Day: Weekend Images

6 Apr

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To keep life simple, every weekend day that I have a post, I’m just going to share a picture that reminds me why our planet is so darn cool.

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The Devil’s Backbone on Mount Baldy.

~April

Earth Day: @ Your Library

4 Apr

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Since I suggested a television show last time, I want to round that off by directing you toward some literature.  There’s nothing greener, when it comes to reading, than using your library.  Sharing resources is key to the “Reduce” part of the equation and the whole point of libraries is to facilitate that.  If you love print books you probably already use your public library for that, but I’m a convert (well, 90% of one anyway) to ebooks.  Last year, I shared some services you may not know your library has, but I’m going to repeat one of them here.

If you’re looking for a way to quickly amp up your knowledge on the environment, I’d give your local library a try.  While every library will offer different books, here are a couple the Los Angeles Public Library has that I’m considering looking into this month.  You can get some of these books as audio versions, which is how I’ll be getting my green reading.  Print is being saved for Game of Thrones this month.

Invisible Nature by Kenneth Worthy – This book takes into consideration that most people do want to protect the environment, but also want all the conveniences of modern life.  Worthy puts the lifecycle of products into perspective by showing how our choices affect the environment.

The Last Great Sea by Terry GlavinThe North Pacific Ocean is the largest fishery in the world and integral to the survival of many species, including our own.  Covering science, anthropology and history, Glavin delves into the reasons this portion of the world is so fascinating.

The Nature Principle by Terry Louv – By now I hope you’ve read Louv’s Last Child in the Woods which introduced “nature deficit disorder”.  The Nature Principle details ways our society can continue to live more closely with nature.

Travels in Alaska by John Muir - Since I’ll be traveling to Alaska for the first time this year, I’m trying to find something as amazing as Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes, which I read when I went to Hawaii.  I didn’t know John Muir had a lot to do with Alaska and considering he’s such a superstar, I can’t wait to hear his reflections.

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene – String theory, The Big Bang, black holes… yeah, I totally understand that stuff.  According to the reviews, this book might at least get me started.  And if I love it there’s his books on parallel universes (The Hidden Reality) and the one on the nature of time and reality (The Fabric of the Cosmos).  That should keep me busy.

Search your library’s catalog for words like “environment”, “nature”, or “climate change”.  You can also try browsing the menu under nonfiction and looking at science, nature or sociology.

~April

 

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