We Need to Steer in the Right Direction, towards Electric Vehicles

The number of cars on the roads worldwide has surpassed one billion, with the U.S. having the largest car population at about 239.8 million cars. It is estimated that by 2050 the worldwide car population will reach 2.5 billion. This would require a production of 120 million barrels of oil per day, which is 37 million more that we require today. Since transportation currently accounts for 23% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, increasing transportation will only make global warming increasingly worse. In order to compete with these rising emissions, we need to move towards alternative energy vehicles.

An excellent alternative to the regular “gas-guzzling” cars are the All-Electric Vehicles (EVs). EVs run on electricity only and are powered by rechargeable batteries that propel the electric motors in the car, allowing it to move. EVs are much more energy efficient, environmentally friendly, require less maintenance, have better performance, and have reduced energy dependence over vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs); which are the cars that require gasoline. EVs are very energy efficient in terms of how much energy they convert from their source to power the wheels. EVs convert about 59%-62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power the car, while ICE only convert 17%-21% of the energy from gasoline to power the car. EVs are much more environmentally friendly than ICEs because they emit no tailpipe pollutants and if the electricity is from nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, or wind power plants there are also no air pollutants. EV’s energy costs are also less than ICE’s energy costs. The cost to drive an EV 100 miles is significantly less than the cost to drive an ICE 100 miles (Figure 1.).

Additionally, as a bonus, EV’s motors are very quiet, have stronger accelerations, and require less maintenance than ICEs.

Yet, of course, there are some downsides to the EVs. Two of the main downsides that most people would worry about if deciding to buy an EV is it’s driving range abilities and recharge time. Most EVs can go only about 100-200 miles before needing to be recharged, while ICEs can drive for over 300 miles without needing to be refueled with gasoline. Also, fully recharging the battery can take from 4-8 hours. EVs can either be charged at the house or at a charging station (Figure 2.).

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Figure 2. shows an example of an EV at a charging station.

There are also other downsides to EVs, which are the high cost to replace a car battery (which may need to be replaced) and the heavy weight and consuming size of the battery packs.

As usual, whenever there is a technology that is an alternative to help save energy, there are usually downsides. Yet, with EVs, there aren’t downsides that are un-manageable or “not worth it.” I believe EVs are rare, but exciting, because they truly benefit the community, and more importantly, the environment. With technology advancing everyday, the small issues of the driving range, recharging time, and battery weight, size, and cost will eventually become irrelevant, and soon enough All-Electric Vehicles will be the obvious choice, not that they aren’t already!

Workouts to Watts

Becoming environmentally friendly is rewarding, yet it can also be a pain. Turning down the heat to face the cold, carpooling, unplugging your devices, and always remembering to turn off the lights are everyday “energy savers” that are beneficial, but not everyone does them. it could be because of laziness, lack of knowledge, lack of interest, or even forgetfulness, but either way, energy is still being wasted every day, and A LOT of it. So what if I were to tell you that there was a way of saving energy without even knowing you were? Too good to be true? Well clearly you haven’t been to the New York Sports Club on Eight Avenue, The Cadbury House Club, California Fitness in Hong Kong, The Great Outdoor Gym Company or to the other few human powered gyms around the world!

These gyms have invested a lot of money into new workout equipment that allows your sweat to power the machine your on, a T.V. in the gym, or even the gym itself! These companies have already converted several hundred machines at dozens of U.S. health clubs and university gyms. Each machine has a generator that converts the motion of the wheels into electricity, which is then fed into the power grid. In some pf these gyms, the generators ate noticeable, with each being attached to a black box with wires running out of it. (Figure 1.).

Figure 1. People at the gym working out on bikes that can generate electricity from the motion of the wheels due to the attached generators. The generators can be seen at the front-bottom of the bike, and wires (covered by the strip of black mat) can be seen running from each of the machines.

Figure 1. People at the gym working out on bikes that can generate electricity from the motion of the wheels due to the attached generators. The generators can be seen at the front-bottom of the bike, and wires (covered by the strip of black mat) can be seen running from each of the machines.

There are many positives to these gyms green initiative. The first, obviously being that the gyms are being more energy efficient by using the immediate energy generated by the exercise machines to power materials in the gym and less energy wasteful by not wasting all the energy that the gym-goers work so hard for. Second, it is great for business because the gyms are able to promote themselves as environmentally friendly, which is appealing to many people. Also, a lot of the equipment shows on the screen attached how much energy you are generating while working out, which is an extra motivation to work out for longer, faster, and harder (Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Screen on exercise machine that shows the amount of watts the person has generated.

Figure 2. Screen on exercise machine that shows the amount of watts the person has generated.

Lastly, this new equipment also helps the gyms cut down on their energy bills because of the gym goers producing their own energy needed to power their machines.

Sadly, this method of saving energy is not as perfect as it may sound. The energy output from each machine is quite small, and it takes decades to make up the money spent on all the new workout equipment through the energy being saved through the new machines. For example, The Canterbury House Club in England spent $981,120 in order to install the new machines in the gym. The new machines installed in this facility are capable of generating 100 watts of electricity, which is about enough to power an 18-inch standing fan at the highest setting, a desktop computer, a large stereo system, or two laptop computers. While this is not much energy, we still have to remember how this energy can add up. It is only a matter of time when the majority of exercise equipment will have attached generators. This could lead to thousands of gyms using this technology, and millions of machines, and with all produced energy from these machines added up, it becomes an appreciable amount of energy saved.

Overall, these new, innovative ways to save energy are just the beginning of an amazing energy efficient future. With these machines already using 30% less energy than regular exercise machines, the main problem is the economics, which can be fixed in the future. If all the gyms in the work used these machines, all our hard work, sweat, tears, and calories burned would not only be benefitting us, but it would be greatly benefitting our planet.

Energy Production Gone Wrong… Surprised?

March 11, 2011, a major earthquake, followed by a 15-meter tsunami, destroyed the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The plants at Fukushima were Boiling Water Reactors (BWR, shown in Figure 1.). A BWR produces electricity by boiling water with nuclear fuel and uses the steam from the water to drive a turbine, which creates electricity. The steam then is cooled and condenses back into water until it is heated by nuclear fuel again. The nuclear fuel is uranium oxide, a radioactive mineral.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

The devastation from Fukushima released unmanageable amounts of radiation, and about 80% of the radiation is still being released into the Pacific Ocean through ground water. Yet, why is this relevant to us? 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean every day, and it has started to affect the United States. According to the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center, radiation levels all over the U.S. are elevating, specifically the west coast. (Shown in Figure 2.). The total amount of radioactive material from Fukushima is increasing everyday in the U.S., and it is steadily building up in our food chain, which could cause radiation poisoning in innocent civilians all over America.

Figure 2.  Caution Symbols Key: Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

Figure 2.
Caution Symbols Key:
Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation
Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation
Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation
Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

With an increase of radioactive material in our food chain, people will have a high risk of developing cancer or other health problems due to the high exposure of nuclear radiation. These possible risks are already being foreshadowed by the effects the nuclear radiation is having on the ecosystems along the west coast. On the Alaskan coastline, polar bears, seals, and walruses are beginning to suffer from alopecia (loss of fur) and skin lesions, and along the California coastline there has been a tragic amount of sea-lion deaths. For example, 45% of the pups born during the summer have died, when usually pup deaths are below 33%. Also, many types of fish are being affected by the radiation. Along the Canada and Alaska coastlines, the population of sockeye salmon is at a “historic low.” Along the west coast of Canada, fish are suddenly bleeding from their gills, bellies, and eyeballs, and the cause is predicted to be nuclear radiation. A test in California found that 15 out of 15 Bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima and plankton found in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the West Coast had very high levels of cesium-137 (radioactive metal). With these cases of death, disease, and illness within the ecosystems of the west coast of North America, soon enough, nuclear radiation may begin to affect innocent people.

It is a terrifying thought how the production of energy can cause such devastation. In fact, it is ironic   how the nuclear plants, which hurt the environment, have been destroyed by the environment (natural disasters), and in result will affect us, the people whom are using the energy. Fukushima is an example of how energy production cannot only directly affect the environment, but also can directly affect the health of humans. How can we prevent this is the future? We can produce energy with safer and more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, a simple, yet expensive method. Although using more efficient energy sources can raise the bills, when it comes down to it, what is more important, health or money?

Conserving Energy takes a lot more than turning off the lights

Energy is important. It is essential to our daily lives, and is needed and used from the day we are born until the day we die. But with this urgent need for energy, there is also an urgent need to conserve it. Yet, Conserving energy is a lot harder then some people may believe. It has been said that reaching 100% efficiency without wasting any energy is almost “as possible as unscrambling an egg.” While some people believe the keys to conserving energy are turning off the lights, carpooling, and opening windows instead of turning in the AC, those actions make a small difference in the large four economic sectors of energy use in the U.S.

The four economic sectors of energy use are residential, commercial, transportation, and industrial. Different forms of energy power each of these sectors, such as solar, nuclear, hydro, wind, geothermal, natural gas, coal, biomass, and oil (See Figure 1.). The residential and commercial sectors are similar in the ways they use energy. Energy is needed to keep rooms at comfortable temperatures, power appliances, heat water (bathing), provide lighting, and many other technologies. For the residential sector, heating accounts for the most energy use, and in the commercial sector lighting and heating are the main uses of energy. In 2008, the residential and commercial sector used 41% of the total amount of energy consumed in the U.S.

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Figure 1. This image represents the energy use in the United States in 2008. It depicts what sectors (Residential, commercial, transportation, and industry) use what sources of energy, along with how much each sector efficiently uses the energy they are provided with, and how much energy the sectors waste.

The transportation sector includes all modes of transportation, from cars to airplanes to barges. In 2008, the transportation sector used 28% of the energy consumed by the U.S. While this is significantly less than what the residential and commercial sectors used combined, it is actually quite a significant amount of energy. This sector used 71% of all petroleum used in the U.S and 86% of the energy used in this sector comes from gasoline and diesel fuels, and these numbers are predicted to increase. In 2007, cars, trucks, motorcycles, and buses drove a total of 3 trillion miles in our country alone. To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to driving to the sun and back about 13,440 times, and the number of total miles is predicted to increase by 40% in the next 20 years, which will increase the need of petroleum, gasoline, and diesel fuels in this sector.

Lastly, the Industry sector used about 31% of energy consumed by the U.S in 2008. Due to the uses of energy in this sector, such as raising temperatures of components in the manufacturing process or refining crude oil, natural gas and oil are used densely. Most of the Industry sector’s energy goes into forest products, petroleum refining, and the making of aluminum, glass, metal, and steel. These processes use up about 75% of the energy in this sector,

Yet, all the energy that goes into the four sectors is not used efficiently. In fact, more then half of the energy consumed by the four sectors in the U.S. is unused or “wasted.” The energy use in 2008 was an example of this trend. The United States holds about 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes about 23% of the world’s energy usage. In 2008, the estimated energy usage was about 99.2 quadrillion British thermal units (btu) or quads, yet of this energy, 57.07 quads of the energy was unused and less than half, 42.15 quads, of the energy was used.

While it is good to do the little things in our daily lives to conserve energy such as turning off the lights, in order for there to be a sufficient amount of energy being conserved, each sector has to not only decrease their use, but also improve on how much energy is wasted. The residential, commercial, transportation, and industrial sectors in the U.S. wastes between 55-60 quads of energy on average each year. That energy is equivalent to the amount of energy the United Kingdom uses in 7 years. The amount of energy wasted by the U.S. needs to be improved, and while it is impossible to be 100% efficient with energy, the U.S. is currently about 40% efficient, which leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Disrupting the Carbon Cycle is not the only thing Deforestation is Responsible for…

Africa supports approximately 30% of the forests in the world, with a large amount of these forests located in Upper Guinea and Lower Guinea (Congo). Yet, these forests have been subject to an immense amount of deforestation. Although deforestation provides people with goods and resources, it is terrible for the balance of the Carbon Cycle and our atmospheric layers. Trees have large amounts of Carbon in their wood, and therefore when they are cut or burned, CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Unless there are enough trees planted or grown to recapture the lost carbon, the exchange between trees and the atmosphere of CO2 is put out of balance, which is a cause of global warming.

Although global warming is a very popular and conversational topic, there is one topic that is stealing everyone’s attention. You guessed it, Ebola. Ebola is one of the most dangerous viruses in the world today, causing many symptoms, one being internal bleeding, and is most likely by followed death. Now, you may be asking, “What does Ebola have to do with deforestation in Guinea?” Well, this latest Ebola epidemic is believed to have started in one of the small towns in Guinea, and has now spread all over West Africa (See Figure 1.).

Map of Africa depicting Ebola Cases

Figure 1: This map of Africa Depicts what areas Ebola cases have been confirmed or suspected. The highlighted areas in red show where confirmed and probable cases of Ebola have been found. The tan highlighted areas show where suspected cases of Ebola are. As shown in the map, a lot of these highlighted areas are in the Guinea region, where the Ebola epidemic is believed to have started.

People in West Africa commonly eat Fruit Bats in stew, yet bats are known to be carriers of the Ebola Virus. Due to deforestation, many animals’ habitats are being destroyed, including bats. With bat’s habitats destroyed and human’s have moved into prior forest areas, the interactions between bats and people in West Africa has increased greatly. This increased interaction between humans and bats has also greatly increased the chance that one of the fruit bats that are eaten contained the virus Ebola, and sadly this event did occur. Yet, it did not just effect a few people in Guinea, it has spread all over West Africa, taking thousands of people’s lives, and is now spreading into other continents, such as the United States. While the CDC and other organizations are attempting to contain and control this outbreak, it has not had much effect, and the virus continues to spread rapidly.

Ebola, according to the World Health Organization, has already claimed AT LEAST 4,493 lives, and the number is increasing. Yet, what played a major role in this epidemic? It was human’s impact on the environment. Deforestation has claimed not only a vast amount of the forest biomes in West Africa since 1955, it has also claimed thousands of people’s lives. (displayed in Figure 2.),

West Africa Deforestation from 1955 to 1988

Figure 2. Shows West Africa in 1955 in the top picture and West Africa in 1988 in the bottom picture. The green represents where “closed forest cover,” or full forest, is, the dark yellow represents ‘Fragmented forest,” and the light yellow represents where deforestation has taken place. These two photos show how drastic deforestation has struck West Africa and therefore gives you an idea of how many animal habitats were destroyed and taken over by humans. The full picture of Africa on the bottom right also shows this by using the red areas to depict where deforestation has taken place. This also refers back to Figure 1. and shows how greatly West Africa and specifically Guinea was affected by deforestation.

While global warming did become a large controversy, hopefully this deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus that has ignited immense fear and panic can express to the public what serious effects humans have on the environment, and how what we do to the environment, can strike back on us.

Females Usually Live Longer than Males… Right?

After the 1918 flu epidemic, Women’s life expectancy has risen steadily. In fact, Women’s life expectancy has risen and stayed above men’s, creating an age gap of about 4-5 years. What are the reasons that women tend to live longer then men? Theories suggest that it could be due to the fact that men work at more dangerous jobs, are more likely to fight in wars, and some even suggest it could be because men often avoid seeing a doctor more than women or women have a more advantageous biological makeup.

Luckily for males, the age gap is closing, and their life expectancy is increasing. It is projected that by 2035, men will close the life expectancy gap with females. The reasons for the increase in life expectancy is due to the improvement in safety in the work space and how women are taking on more of the dangerous jobs. For example. there is less of a mortality risk for men when in a career such as mining or being a soldier and women have taken more of the responsibility of these jobs, therefore sharing the risks.

Yet, the close in the life expectancy gap is not completely because of males. Unfortunately for women, mainly American Women, their life expectancy’s have began to decrease. As of now, the drop in life expectancy for American women has affected about 12% of the U.S. women population. Of the 12%, most women lived in rural areas and had low-incomes.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.


Figure 1 shows the areas where women have been recorded to die earlier than the average American woman. The colors represent change in life expectancy from 1987 – 2007. As Figure 1 represents, the American women life expectancy rate has mainly decreased by 1.1-2.5 years across the country.

So why has American women’s life expectancy decreased? In the 1,000 counties that recorded women who had a low life expectancy, a lot of the early deaths seemed to be related to the increase of diabetes, lung cancer, emphysema, and kidney failure among women. Yet what do these health problems all have in common? They all are long-term consequences of smoking. Women started smoking more casually and consistently much later then men did, therefore women are facing these consequences later. Researchers have also found evidence that the increasing issue of obesity in America also affects the decrease in American women’s life expectancy.

Figure 2.

Figure 2.


In Figure 2, Urban/males (blue, fragmented line) and urban/females ((red, fragmented line) represents how over time the gap between males and females is decreasing, both with male’s life expectancy increasing and women’s life expectancy decreasing.

Out of all the deaths in America, both male and female, about half are due to life-style choices or environmental causes. Yet a lot of these deaths can be avoided through personal actions such as quitting smoking, drinking alcohol, eating healthy, and exercising more often. Through these adjustments, people will live longer, and instead male’s life expectancy increasing and women’s life expectancy decreasing, both male’s and female’s life expectancies can be increasing..