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What We Can Do As Individuals
We need to reverse the current buildup of emissions in our air before we cause an irreversible climate change. We also need to improve the availability of safe drinking water.
Unfortunately, just reducing pollution may no longer be enough for us to avoid climate change; rather, we must actually pull a good deal of the human-contributed carbon out of the air.
Fortunately, there is a method to remove excess carbon from the air quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively. It is a method that involves all of us: We can convert our biomass (dead leafs, food waste, organic solid waste, etc.) into a form of charcoal by use of simple kilns.
The charcoal, called biochar, is made mostly of carbon (that has been pulled out of the air by plants). We can spread the charcoal on the ground to enrich the soil. This is one of our most powerful solutions to avoid climate change. Biochar can store carbon in the ground for hundreds of years or more.
Biochar can also be helpful throughout the world in filtering water. Since biochar is a low technology solution, villagers throughout the world can make biochar and use it to help filter their water. (Biochar can remove many chemicals but the water may need to be boiled to disinfect it.) According to the World Health Organization, over 80 percent of illnesses globally come from polluted water.
Water can be boiled or pasteurized using inexpensive solar cookers or biomass cookers. Black carbon from inefficient cookers are a major cause of concern as the number two source of emissions causing global warming. Inefficient wood-burning cookers can be replaced with efficient biomass-burning ones that release low emissions.
We have already lost half of our rainforests and a significant portion of that has gone to burning wood for cooking or heating. Biomass cook stoves that do not require wood can also be helpful in curbing deforestation.
Wind turbines could now provide over half of our electricity generaton if we decided to go that path to help reduce global warming and pollution. Coal plants, the source of half of the electricity in the United States, can now be built to cause very little pollution through gasification and carbon recovery.
Some priorities for specific action:
1. We can work with our neighbors to build at least one biochar kiln to convert our biomass into biochar to fertilize our yards, to sell biochar as a community project, or to give biochar away to our favorite agricultural charities.
2. We can write legislators, mayors, governors, and others to request that government at all levels provide incentives and methods for converting biomass into biochar or electricity. Neighborhood cooperatives can be developed. Cities can build and run biomass-fired power plants to generate alternative energy as well as biochar. Biochar can be put in the ground almost anywhere people are growing plants. Perennial prairie grass can be planted in open fields and then harvested for creating biochar.
3. We can write legislators to also encourage them to replace use of fossil fuels for urban electricity with efficient wind turbines and, for coastal areas, ocean-based wind generators. Ask legislators to require all new coal-fired plants to use the latest carbon sequestration technology and to require all existing coal plants to be retrofitted with carbon sequestration technology. In 2006 in the USA, coal-fired power plants contributed 81 percent of 2343.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from energy-generation plants.
4. We can write legislators to encourage them to provide incentives for farmers to convert their biomass (corn stalks, etc.) into biochar and to use biochar to enrich their fields. Encourage farmers to use other practices, such as continuous no-till farming, that improve soil carbon sequestration. Also ask legislators to encourage research into other natural carbon sequestration methods, such as the cultivation of algae. Aggressively pulling carbon out of the air by methods, such as soil carbon storage with biochar, may be essential.
5. We can support projects to help villages to replace use of wood for fuel in cooking and water purification with solar cookers or biomass cookers.
6. We can develop projects with villages in other countries to convert biomass to biochar and then use the biochar to enrich the soil. We can also encourage them to plant trees that are efficient for reducing global warming, reduce pollution, increase oxygen, improve soils, and conserve water. Researchers found that trees good at sequestering carbon include American basswood, dogwood, Eastern white pine, Eastern red cedar, gray birch, red maple and river birch. "That combination, they found, would increase carbon sequestration by 86 percent, and reduce the emission of volatile compounds by 88 percent."
7. We can write legislators to ask them to support strong tax incentives for the purchase of vehicles rated at over 30 mpg (city) or are certified as Super-Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicles (SULEV). In 2006 in the USA, 98 percent of 1,990.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions were contributed by the use of petroleum products for energy in the transportation sector. The "over 30 mpg" vehicles with SULEV ratings are dominated by gas-electric hybrids for now (2009), but the newer Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) vehicles gaining over 30 mpg should also be supported. In 2011, look for gas-electric hybrid vehicles that use the new lithium polymer batteries that may allow vehicles to travel over 40 mpg; Hyundai may be the first of such vehicles. Also ask your legislators to support conversion of cars and trucks to less polluting fuels, such as hydrogen fuel cells for electric vehicles, compressed natural gas (GNC), and hybrid gas-electric. Also encourage use of sulfur-free diesel fuel with use of catalytic converters for diesel trucks.
Support legislation requiring cattle and sheep to be vaccinated to reduce methane in the atmosphere.
We can support legislation to require truckers to use auxillary power units during their required 10 hour rest periods rather than idling their trucks. This effort could reduce pollutants from trucks by up to 11 million tons per year in the United States and also reduce the use of fuel by thousands of dollars per year per truck.
8. We can initiate and support legislation to prevent the building of any new power plants that use coal-pulverization technology. Require existing coal-pulverization plants to include effective carbon capture technologies . Require any new coal plants to use coal gasification as well as effective carbon capture technologies. The United States generates over 50 percent of its electricity from coal plants and has the most coal reserves in the world. China gets over 80 percent of its energy from coal and is building new coal-pulverization plants at an alarming rate. India is doing the same. The amount of greenhouse gases that will be created by the planned coal-pulverization plants in the three countries will be enormous.
9. Along with our family, friends, school, and neighborhood, we can assess our household environments and our contributions to the global environment. Calculate our own carbon footprint and purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to neutralize our own household's contribution to global warming. Generating biochar, of course, reverses out carbon footprint.
10. We can reduce Peak Hour Usage of Electricity. We are starting to have a shortage of electricity during peak hours (7AM to 10PM). At the same time, we have surpluses of electricity available at other times (10PM to 6AM). Legislators need to help reduce peak loads. For example, incentives could be provided for power plants to invest in fuel cells to store electricity during off-peak hours. Incentives could be provided for home owners and businesses to use fuel cells to store electricity during non-peak times. By distributing the availability of existing electricity throughout the day (and night), we can reduce the need for new fossil fuel based power plants. Hydroelectric, solar, and wind sources can then play a much larger role in meeting our energy needs, even now. We can reduce pollution, global warming, and the cost for electricity, all at the same time.
11. We can encourage governments (at all levels) to invest in renewable power sources rather than fossil fuel power sources. There are at least five reasons for not investing in additional fossil fuel power plants.
a. Massive reserves of gas and oil have been discovered recently in the United States, making coal less competitive. Coal-fired power plants have been the largest single source of excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the air but, because of comparative costs, coal-fired power plants are starting to fail. Using plant waste as a fuel to replace coal makes economic sense. If the waste is heated without oxygen, the carbon in the plant waste can be converted to a solid carbon char, preventing the emission of carbon dioxide into the air. Decaying plants place much more carbon dioxide in the air than human activity. If we convert to waste-fired power plants we can reverse the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
b. Oil reserves will eventually be insufficient, even with a large increase in drilling.
If we invest in oil, rather than real solutions for the future, we are headed for a disaster.
c. Use of renewable energy sources can help solve our problems now and for the distant future.
Building additional fossil fuel plants cannot solve our problems now or for the distant future.
d. Building more fossil fuel power plants will increase both pollution and global warming.
e. We use oil (petroleum) products thoughout our lives, not just for fuel.
We use petroleum to make electrical equipment, vehicles, appliances, plastics, paints,
tires, lubricants, containers, coatings, building materials, and much more.
Are we ready to use up our supply and lose these uses forever?
What We Can Do About Global Warming and Pollution
Reduce emissions in the air by doing the following:
1. Ensure that every community has at least one kiln to convert the community's biomass into biochar and then uses the biochar for fertilization.
2. Ensure that farmers in every county have at least one kiln to convert their biomass into biochar and then use the biochar for fertilization.
3. Ensure that farmers use cost-effective wind turbines to generate electricity for towns and cities. Wind turbines are now 20 times more efficient than they were in 1990 and are a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels. Farmers can use their crop fields to host the quiet wind turbines, providing appropriate space, as well as giving farmers additional income.
4. Ensure that any new coal-based power plants use both coal gasification and carbon recovery technologies. Prevent any new coal-pulverization plants from being developed. Worldwide these steps may reduce carbon emissions by 20-30% or more. Plans are in place in the USA, China, and India to build many more coal-pulverization power plants.
5. Ensure that all cattle and sheep are vaccinated to reduce their methane output. Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gase. Reducing the methane output of cattle and sheep could significantly reduce greenhouse gases each year.
6. Ensure that coastal areas near large populations use ocean based, cost-effective wind turbines and water turbines to generate electricity. Ocean turbines, based on waves or movement of the tides, can be ecologically sound and still produce massive amounts of energy for cities.
7. Ensure that the World Bank and other sources provide loans to all countries for cost-effective wind turbines and water turbines to generate energy.
8. Ensure that the World Bank and other sources provide loans to all countries for biochar kilns and solar cookers made from foil and cardboard and biomass cookers. The solar and biomass cookers can provide the fuel needs, saving forests. The cookers can also boil water to increase water safety. According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of illnesses come from unsafe water. Between 70 and 90 percent of wood in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is harvested for fuel.
9. Ensure that schools in wealthier countries adopt villages in poorer countries to help them have biomass cookers and solar cookers for boiling water and cooking. Biomass cookers and solar cookers can help prevent illnesses by making safe water available, help save people from starvation by providing free fuel, save forests, reduce pollution, and help reverse global warming.
10. Ensure that the World Bank and other sources provide loans to all countries for planting trees for rebuilding forests.
11. Ensure that the World Bank and other sources provide loans to all countries for diverting rain water, especially flood water, to man-made lakes or reservoirs to conserve fresh water, which can be used for trees as well as humans. Ensure that the World Bank and other sources provide loans to all countries for using biochar to help with water filtration.
12. Ensure that the World Bank and other sources finance research to develop practical and cost-effective alternative fuels, especially fuel cells, for motor vehicles. Collaborate with fossil fuel industries so that they can become providers of an overall systemic solution rather than competitors against the transformation of energy use.
In addition, individual families in the United States and Europe can:
1. Use compact flourescent light bulbs or LED light bulbs for indoor lighting
2. Use sensors to turn off lights when not in a room
3. Use heavy insulation on hot water heaters, ceilings, and walls.
4. Turn hot water heater thermostats down to 120 degrees
5. Use insulated glass on windows
For many more solutions, such as other solar cooker designs, see Ecology. As individuals, we can follow the recommendations that apply to individual households.
The Need for Water Conservation
We have a global shortage of drinking water, and the shortage is increasing rapidly. Many people are dying from a lack of drinkable water or from contaminated water. Globally, we have built dams to increase the availability of water and energy for urban use, but we may have already built too many. We have changed the amount and nature of water reaching our oceans, reducing nutrient-rich sediment for the oceans to foster life. Our inefficient use of water is reducing the amount of water available in underground water tables at an alarming rate, ensuring that, on our present course, much less drinkable water will be available for our children's generation.
What We Can Do About Water
Reduce home water usage in the USA and Europe by 50 percent by doing the following:
1. Divert rainwater from roofs to rain barrels (for use on the yard).
2. Disconnect downspouts from the sewer and divert the water into the yard (but away from the foundation).
1. Redirect sink, tub, and clothes washer water into a container for yard use.
2. Limit yard watering to cool times of day and use only one inch per time and only once per week.
3. Reduce the water used each time the toilet is flushed or get a low-flow toilet.
4. Find and stop leaks in faucets and toilet
5. Use flow restrictors on faucets and shower heads
6. Plant trees to help retain water in the soil
1. Divert water from roofs, yards, and streets into lakes, even man-made lakes.
2. Build lakes near cities to collect runoff from the rain.
3. Stop using open rivers to carry sewage to the ocean
4. Plant trees to help retain water in the soil
Find more on this topic at water conservation.
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Hydroelectric and Wave Power
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