Solar Energy

What is solar energy?

Solar energy is energy that is obtained from the sun that is converted into thermal or electric energy. There are different methods for capturing solar energy, but the main one is photovoltaic devices. In photovoltaic devices there are semiconductors that are used to generate electricity. When the panel is bombarded by solar rays, electricity is generated directly via an electronic process that occurs naturally when semiconductors are present.

What makes solar panels efficient and sustainable?

Solar panels obtain energy from the sun, the cleanest and most abundant energy source available on Earth. With this being said, we see that solar energy is not only abundant, but it is also renewable (really important), sustainable, and eco-friendly. There are also multiple applications for solar panels including energy conversion, water distillation, and even aid in powering satellites in space. Solar panels are also very quiet. Another perk is that if your home collects more solar energy than your home uses, you can sell that excessive energy, meaning you have less bills to pay. As of 2008, the government also gives tax benefits to home users of solar panels. Investing in solar panels is ideal, although there are a few cons to solar panels.

What are the cons of solar panels?

One of the biggest problems with solar panels is that we have not yet come up with an inexpensive method of storing the energy obtained from solar panels. This leaves us with an intermittent energy source, which is not highly appreciated in the States. Although solar panels are extremely efficient and unharmful when compared to natural gas and other fossil fuels, there are a few pollutants associated with solar panels. Currently, solar cells are made with materials that are rare and expensive to nature. This along with other manufacturing processes are associated with greenhouse gas emissions. This is, unfortunately, true. However, as of today, it is impossible to create something that is completely neutral when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Luckily, the technology is improving every day.

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Waste Management

Every day, the world population expands, and along with them, the resources they use. This also affects the waste that people dispose of, because after they use a product, they have to do something with the container, right?

Just think of your daily activities: the food leftover, paper, plastic, and other materials eventually go to the trash, recycling bins, and compost at some point. Now, imagine that the 7 billion people in the world do the same as you do. Then we will see that the amount of trash produced in the world in gigantic. The US alone is the biggest producer of waste in the world, followed by Autralia, Denmark, Switzerland, and Canada.

The following graph shows the world in relation to the amount of trash produced per country. The darker the color, the more waste produced:

Rubbish in the world

What is Waste Management?

It’s the collection, transportation, and disposal of garbage, which includes municipal, agricultural, and others.

251 million tons of trash and recycled materials were generated in the USA in 2012 alone. In the trash collected, 87 million tons of compost were gathered and materials that could be recycled were separated from trash and properly placed in recycling stations. Because trash generated increases every day, individuals can help reduce the amount by consuming less, recycling, and reusing when possible.

Methods of waste disposal:

Reuse: As simple as it sounds, you can find new uses for your no-longer-wanted materials.

Recycling: Collecting disposed materials and transforming them into new products.

Composting: Biodegradable materials are used in the soil as nutrients to aim in the strong growth of plants.

Waste minimization: It is the easiest and most practical method, it consists of simply reducing waste.

Landfills: The most popular waste disposal method now, consists of burying waste in lands. There are treatment methods to reduce odors of disposed materials. A rising problem with landfills is that they occupy space, and that is a luxury for many countries that are overpopulated.

Incineration: Waste is burned at high temperatures, reducing it to 20-30% of the original volume. Countries with limited space are turning toward this disposal approach.

Plasma gasification: By means of using electricity, waste is reduced to gas, and converted into renewable energy. Dangerous materials can be destroyed with this method.

Waste to energy: Non-recyclable waste is converted into renewable energy.

References:

Municipal Waste Generation per Country: http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Environment/Municipal-waste-generation

A rubbish map: http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/06/daily-chart-3

Waste Management: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/waste-management.html

Municipal Solid Waste: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/

What is Waste Management? http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/waste-management-and-waste-disposal-methods.php

BC Eco-Challenge 2015!

Logo_revised

Berea College is among the top 10 American Colleges that reduced energy consumption in the USA in 2014! Also, the college ranked #1 in the state of Kentucky as the biggest recycler!

Last Spring (2014), Berea College participated in two national competitions that engaged colleges in sustainability practices: Recyclemania and Campus Conservation Nationals. Several departments on campus- Sustainability Department, HEAL (a sustainable community developer organization within the CELTS umbrella, the center of community service at the college), and the Recycling department partnered up to create an exciting competition where students on campus could feel motivated to be sustainable agents of change.

This year, we are participating again in both competitions under our college brand “BC Eco-Challenge Competition,” where we will aim to beat our results from last year, a very challenging goal, yet attainable with the participation of students and faculty members.

BC Eco-Challenge 2015 will have a slightly different setup than the ones of previous years: Dorms will be competing against each other (previously they were divided into neighborhoods). The amount of materials recycled as well as the reduction of energy consumption will be calculated on a per student basis in each dorm (this way, we calculate the % increase/decrease per student in each dorm, and not simply the total amount). Finally, we will have a prize for the winning dorms for both competitions! Soon we will announce the prizes.

Dates to remember:

Recyclemania: February 1st-March 28th

CCN: February 9th-February 28th

Green Game: Tuesday, February 2015:

Women’s game: BC vs. Lindsay Wilson 5:30pm

Men’s game: BC vs. Alice Lloyd  7:30pm

So, what are these two competitions about?

Recyclemania

Dates: February 1st-March 28th

The college has been participating in this annual competition since 2012, increasing student awareness about why we need to recycle. The goal of the competition is to reduce waste, reuse materials whenever possible, and increase recycling efforts to prevent those items from going to landfills. Participating colleges learn a great deal about what we can recycle, tips on what to do with reusable materials, and about effects on the environment when being more sustainable.

Here’s a list of materials that you can recycle at Berea College:

recycle this

Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN)

Dates: February 9th-February 28th

Out of the 109 participating colleges in the electricity category, Berea College ranked among the top 10 best colleges at reducing energy consumption! One of the most successful activities we had was the 1st Carbon Neutral Basketball Game in the State of KY.

The goal of CCN is to reduce energy consumption and educate students and the community in general about practices that reduce the amount of energy we consume.

CCN_Top_10_Savings

Here are some facts about the best energy reducer dorms last year:

1st: Home Management 23%

2nd: Kettering 22.8%

3rd:Danforth 19.8%

4th: Seabury 14.3%

5th: Deep Green 12.9%

The 2nd Carbon Neutral Basketball game will take place on Tuesday, February 2015:

Women’s game: BC vs. Lindsay Wilson 5:30pm

Men’s game: BC vs. Alice Lloyd  7:30pm

There will be some surprises during both half-time games!

Tips to reduce energy:

- Unplug electronic devices when you are not using them

- Turn off TV, lights, laptops

- Share dorm fridges!

Resources:

Building Dashboard at the college: http://buildingdashboard.net/berea/#/berea//

Recyclemania: http: //recyclemaniacs.org/

Compete to reduce: http://www.competetoreduce.org/2014

Global Issues: Food Security

Food security, according to the World Food Summit, is considered to exist “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. In today’s world, with more than 850 million under-nourished people[1], we are tremendously far from saying that food security exists. The idea of food security does not simply entail feeding the people of the world but strives to do so in a way that is sustainable and beneficial to local communities across the globe. In order to do this successfully, organizations that strive to implement food security must try to get to the root to hunger. Is food insecurity due to production issues, war, or lack of materials, land, water, or seed? The causes are as diverse as the land, posing a large challenge to people striving towards accomplishing food security.

There are many organizations and government funds that are used to feed people of the world but more often than not, these attempts are poorly thought out and rather than trying to fix the root of the problem, they may only try to mask the problem temporarily. For example, sending thousands of pounds of rice to an area is going to feed people temporarily, yes, but it will not even come close to solving the problem. To solve the problem and get closer to making food security exist, there are three key factors that need to be focused on: environmental health, social equity and human health, and economic vitality. Rather than simply donating food and causing communities, states, or countries dependent on outside resources, our best bet is to implement a plan by providing necessary materials for that community, state, or country to become dependent on themselves.

Food_System_Diagram

Food for Thought: There is enough food produced to feed everyone on the planet adequately. The problem we face is distribution.

For references and more information check out these resources:

1www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story028/en/

http://www.actionagainsthunger.org/impact/food-security-livelihoods

http://www.berea.edu/celts/community-service-programs/hunger-initiatives/

http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/ena/wfp270716.pdf

http://vam.wfp.org/

Sustainable Transportation

Sustainable transportation is about reducing overall carbon dioxide emissions to benefit the health of humans and our ecosystems. Today, transportation accounts for about 23% of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Sustainable transportation was created to provide the necessary modes of transportation at an exceptionally cheap costs. Lower prices benefit the economy, benefit the individuals that use this accommodation, as well as benefit the environment.

There are many negative impacts to living in a world where nearly each individual has their own car. This requires more money, energy, and resources for the creation and maintenance of roads and cars. More accidents are more likely to occur with more cars on the road. Much more gas is consumed and used, depleting our stores of natural resources.Sustainable transportation can aid in economic success, social success, and the quieting of your consciousness.

There are many new forms of transportation being created today to ensure that emissions are limited within the planets ability to absorb them. To be considered sustainable, they use non-renewable and renewable resources at or below the rates of development. All this is done while minimizing the impact on the use of land.

greentranspic

See what modes of transportation are available for you in your community and give it a try.

Oil extraction: Tar Sands

Oil extraction can take several ways, such as conventional (oil drilling and tar sands) and unconventional methods (oil shales, gas to liquid processes, and biomass-based liquid supplies). Tar sands is the most detrimental conventional method for extracting oil from underground because it contaminates water, pollutes the air, and releases carcinogen chemicals into the environment.

Tar Sands

What are Tar Sands?

It’s the process of oil extraction releasing natural gas, sand, and water at high pressure into underground drills to facilitate the extraction of oil. The resulting product is a combination of water mixed with clay, crude oil, and bitumen. In order to produce one barrel of oil, the extracting company needs to release about five barrels of water into the drilling site.

The extracted oil will later be processed by separating the bitumen and oil at a refinery establishment.

What is the problem with Tar Sands?

Since the discovery of the second largest deposits of oil in Alberta, Canada (the biggest deposit is located in Saudi Arabia), the Keystone XL pipeline project has been put in place to extract as much oil as possible from this site. This activity has economic incentives to the parties involved because it brings revenues and growth for the company. However, it also exacerbates dependency on fossil fuels.

The real problem with the Keystone XL project- as well as with tar sands in general- is that they destroy natural ecosystems by transforming the forest- in the case of Keystone XL- into drilling sites, killing native fauna and flora species, polluting rivers, and releasing carcinogens into the atmosphere. Communities living nearby drilling sites have to pay for the consequences of Tar Sands: increased cancer rates, scarcity of jobs, contaminated crops, and toxic water.

Tar sands increase greenhouse emissions at a higher rate than normal oil drilling (which does not involve releasing natural gas and sand at high pressure). This is why Tar Sand is considered the dirtiest oil extraction method.

To learn more about Tar Sands, watch this TED Talk with Garth Lenz in Canada, where he explains the detrimental effects that the extraction of oil by means of tar sands is having on Alberta’s Boreal Forest and wetlands:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84zIj_EdQdM

Alternative Solutions to Tar Sands?

Governments could divest money for tar sands projects into research and development of sustainable energy solutions, solar power, and wind power, among others. Working towards sustainable energy solutions will not only benefit the environment, but also our general economy.

References:

What are Tar Sands?: http://www.ran.org/what-are-tar-sands

Stop Dirty Fuels: Tar Sands: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/dirtyfuels_tar.asp

Conventional Crude Oil and Oil Sands: http://www.albertacanada.com/business/industries/og-conventional-crude-oil-and-oil-sands.aspx

What is Bitumen?: http://www.eurobitume.eu/bitumen/what-bitumen

 

 

How do you get your fish?

How does your supermarket get its fish?

Many of us do not know the answer to this question. Commercial fishing is a massive industry. It is such a massive industry that the Natural Resource Defense Council has data showing that more than half of the global fish populations have been fully exploited and about one third of the global fish populations have been over exploited. Over time due to commercial fishing, fish have decreased dramatically in both size and quantity. In the past 50 years, according to Peta, 90% of large fish populations have been exterminated. With such drastic and detrimental methods of commercial fishing, we are breaking down the oceanic food web, eliminating species critical to the ecosystem.

How does this affect the economy?

Not only does commercial fishing have a devastating impact on our oceans, the ecosystems of our oceans, and our climate, it also is having a very negative impact on the economy. The NRDC has shown over-fishing costs nearly 50 billion dollars per year, half of the value brought in from global seafood trade. With such a high demand for seafood, many jobs are provided through this industry. However, by working towards rebuilding fish populations, according to NOAA, more than 500,000 U.S. jobs would be opened up while bringing in close to $30 million in sales.

Why exactly is commercial fishing so detrimental?

The most detrimental form of commercial fishing is bottom trawling. Bottom trawling is the aquatic version of clear cutting forest. Massive tires are attached to the bottom of the catching net. The wheels go across the ocean floor scraping up everything in its patch, coral, fish, and all other forms of life in order to stir up the sediment of the ocean floor to catch the maximum amount of fish. It is for this reason that this is viewed as the worst method. The huge wheels running across the ocean floor kills everything in the way.

The most common fishing method is long-lining. When long-lining, according to Peta and TED, ships will unreel up to 75 miles of line covered in thousands of baited hooks. These are tailed behind the boats luring hungry fish in. What is so detrimental about this method is the large amount of undesired catch getting caught up in these lines and killed. Some of these animals included are sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and tons of fish.

Another form of fishing are gill nets. Gill nets have weight at the bottom and buoys at the top to keep it afloat. Gill nets are often referred to as the wall of death. These can be up to a mile in length. Fish that run into these nets can suffer for days by becoming trapped in the net. Some may also die from getting cut up in these nets. Many species that are not desired by the fishers get caught in these traps resulting in a pointless death.

What is the impact on a large scale?

Check out this short, but extremely informative TED talk.