Urban Environmentality

Milk it for all it’s worth!

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 26, 2009

With the panic of the Swine Flu spreading around, at least we now a little bit more about the cow. After a six year effort with more than 300 scientists from 25 countries around the world, the cow’s genome has been decoded. The cow in question, a Hereford name L1 Dominette, is one of the types of cows commonly found on our plates (well, not mine… I’m a vegetarian).

L1 Dominette sounds a little too “barcode-ish” for me – lets call her Daisy. With Daisy’s genome decoded, scientists and agriculturalists have a deeper insight as to which cows and bulls to breed to create the strongest dairy producing animals. Using this info to impact the meat market is likely soon to follow.

As interesting and important as genome decoding is, I’m curious to know what can be made of this data apart from contributions to better the human food chain. Haven’t humans already been manipulating cow breeding behavior for years through hormones and selective breeding? We’ve already figured out how to produce the most desired traits by breeding two cows together, and we didn’t need gene sequencing to point us in that direction. 1-cowbackpacks

Harris Lewin, a geneticist who worked on the project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, discussed other uses for the gene decoding apart from food consumption. This information could help us breed cows that produce less methane, a highly dangerous greenhouse gas.

Or, better yet, maybe this could help lead to better developments on how to trap methane and convert it to a usable gas! Changing their diets has proved to reduce methane production, as a study performed in 2008 in Argentina showed. The Argentinian team even developed a sort of cow backpack to trap the methane as a test of measurement. While methane also comes from coal mines, landfills, and gas pipes, an estimated 30 percent of Argentina’s green house gas emissions could come from cows alone.

Daisy’s genes might be more precious to the environment than they are to our bellies.


Happy Earth Day!!

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 22, 2009

n827911_40649032_91181Last year, for Earth Day 2008, my good friend Tassia and I went to Central Park and helped paint a canvas mural using milk based paint (above). Not too sure how I’ll be celebrating this year, but I must say it’s not for lack of activities to choose from. Last year, I felt like the only thing going on was in Central Park. This year, there’s Central Park, Grand Central Station, stuff going on at NYU, a number of green fashion events, that new Earth documentary that Disney produced, and tons of other interesting sounding things. 

Earth Day’s increase in importance over the last year is (at least to me) a dramatic indicator of change. The social awareness of the importance of celebrating our Earth has spread like wildfire, probably due to the increase in fear of what will happen to us if we don’t make this change. 

The real question is… how long will it last? Shouldn’t every day technically be Earth Day?

Just something to chew on. Have a great celebration!


Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 21, 2009

John Tierney, science writer and New York Times blogger, wrote a column that was published in yesterday’s New York Times. It was an interesting column that made a hefty prediction about the future of green energy. Using a famous equation developed in the 1970s, Tierney shows how the logistics of the equation have changed since it was originally created. I=PAT, or environmental impact = population x affluence x technology, required less people, less wealth and simple technology in the 1970s.

For today’s environmental equation, Tierney believes a few things are different for this equation. For one, he doesn’t believe there will be any big “green revolution” to spark a change. More surprisingly, he says the planet will be greener as people become more wealthy. While industrialization can cause an increase in pollution, more people can afford cleaner water and air and will begin to use more environmentally friendly energy sources that are less carbon intensive.

Really interesting, very well researched article. Check it out here.

EPA Gets Smart

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 20, 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday that carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases are now officially considered harmful pollutants to humans and to the environment. This means that emissions of these gases will soon be regulated by the agency, but there will first be a 60 day period for comments before any legislation proposals are made. 

This ruling is, in my opinion, long overdue, but it was necessary for the EPA to conduct the research required to make such a claim and make sure there was enough evidence of the gases’ harm to place regulations on it. This is a crucial ruling in terms of the global warming debate, and it will be interesting to see what sort of EPA regulations are made.  

Combined with Congress’ hopes of a cap-and-trade system, it finally seems as if the US is on it’s way to tackling this problem head on, and the time couldn’t be better. The EPA found that US greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2007, mostly due to fuel and energy consumption. The efforts on the individualized, small scale level apparently are not enough. 

For more on the Environmental Protection Agency’s findings, check out their climate change page. 

“The Onion” Describes Carbon Offsetting

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 19, 2009

Carbon OffsettingNote: Since this was taken from The Onion, this graph is, of course, strictly for entertainment purposes and should not be taken seriously. This made me chuckle and I just thought I’d pass it along. Carbon offsets have always confused me a little bit – in theory, they sound fantastic, but the skeptic in me is always asking “Is this for real? How do I really know if it’s working or not?” Of course, I still have the Facebook Greenbook application anyways…

Exploring “green” computers

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 15, 2009

Many computer manufacturers are trying hard to create and market their new products as being the most environmentally sound computer/monitor/laptop/whatever available. Take a look at some of these:

“The new MacBook. The world’s greenest family of notebooks.”

The EIZO FlexScan monitor with Eco View goes into sleep mode when it doesn’t detect a person sitting in front of it. 

Discovery’s buying guide to green laptops

What do you think is the best design and use of technology? I know there are a gazillion others out there that are easy on the globe, but these seem the most innovative (at least to me). I personally like the EcoView monitor – where can I test out one of those?

A Whale Swims in Brooklyn

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 10, 2009

Changes on Animal Testing

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 7, 2009

Testing on animals is a sticky subject that often leads to heated debates and altercations when brought up. On the one hand, animal testing has been widely helpful in discovering new medicinal treatments and in understanding how diseases or disorders affect the body. On the other hand, product testing on animals seems unnecessary in an age where there are other credible methods.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a statement describing the new way they will be testing the toxicity of certain chemicals. While animal testing had been previously used, they now have “advances in molecular biology, genomics, and computational sciences” that will allow a pre-screening of the chemicals for harmful effects. This new technological system will move away from testing on animals and will hopefully eliminate the practice all together. The “traditional method” of animal testing would not allow the vast amount of chemicals that needed to be tested to process in a timely manner, so a newer, quicker technological system was created.

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Strategic Plan for Evaluating the Toxicity of Chemicals

Mickey likes biofuel, too!

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 7, 2009

The Walt Disney Company released a corporate report in March that outlined the progress made in the 2008 fiscal year in the areas of the environment, community, workplaces, and product development. The sustainability portion of the report documented ways that the company intends to make the five Disney theme parks more environmentally friendly. Plans include protecting surrounding nature (funny, since a bajillion acres of swamp land and orange groves were torn up in Florida and California to build the two American resorts in the first place), waste reduction, less water use, and is looking towards green energy initiatives for the future. 

I have to say, the part that really got my attention was a quip about the Disneyland Railroad at the original Disneyland park in Anaheim, California. Disney and co started using biofuel to power five of the trains in January, using used cooking oil from the resorts’ restaurants to create biodiesel. Oil left over from fried foods is collected, shipped offsite, and mixed with diesel before making it’s way back tot eh happiest place on Earth. While this is more expensive, officials said it should cut down train emissions by about 80 percent. 

This might just be some marketing scheme to increase park traffic… but whatever the motive is, Disney made a smart move. I wonder what other changes will be made?

The Walt Disney Company Corporate Website

How to Plant a Tree Without Getting Dirty

Posted in Uncategorized by urbanenvironmentality on April 2, 2009

I don’t know about you, but iPhone applications amaze me. I don’t even own an iPhone, but I love to play with the applications on my friends’ phones. At the Mac World Convention in San Francisco this past January, a good portion of the booths there were promoting these applications. Some are completely useless, like the app that simulates popping bubble wrap and the “More Cowbell” app that makes a cowbell noise when you shake it. Others just seem like a waste of money – like the iFlirt app that lets you send sexy/flirty messages to other people with application. I’m sure 13 year old girls are all over that one, but I personally don’t see the appeal.

However, some of the iPhone apps are actually quite cool and handy. These applications can tell you the weather conditions, calculate calories by inserting what you consumed, monitor your car’s emissions, tell you where the nearest Chinese restaurant is to any given location (or any other type of cuisine for that matter), and can even allow you to read download-able e-books.

One that has recently sparked my interest is the iPhorest, which simulates planting a tree on your iPhone. You dig a hole by simulating a digging motion, place a seed in the hole, cover it up with soil, create rain by shaking the phone, and when the sun comes out the seedling begins to grow. Keep on creating rain until your tree reaches its full growth. Shaking the iPhone is fun – it’s like creating your own little rain dance. The coolest part is that for every digital tree planted through the iPhorest application, a real tree will be planted by the Conservation Fund, one of the sponsors of the application.

It sounds like a pretty strong idea, but I am a little skeptical. Just like the Facebook applications that supposedly produce a carbon offset, there really is no way of knowing whether or not a tree was actually planted through the application. They can promise that it will be done, but who actually physically goes out and does it? Do they provide any proof that the promises actually are being fulfilled? Being an optimist, I’d like to think that they are.

While the application takes away the physical satisfaction of actually going out and digging the hole yourself, this is a great use of a really popular and fun gadget. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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