A New Culprit?

The earthquake that hit Nepal is hardly news anymore. The 7.8 magnitude quake on April 25 caused enormous damage and even killed 19 on Mount Everest. If that wasn’t enough, the 6.3 magnitude aftershock the following day just rubs salt on the wound. Does anyone recall how earthquakes happen? The earth underground is made up of tectonic plates, which are like chunks of rock pressed and held together. When rocks slip past each other violently, break, or somehow make a jerky movement, the earth aboveground feels the tremors of those plates suddenly setting into a new place.

Featured image

Seems like everything underground is out of our control, doesn’t it? The most we do to the earth is drill it and no one seems to think those can cause an earthquake. Maybe not drilling, but Dr. Vivek Kumar Srivastava claims that global warming can cause an earthquake and undoubtedly has caused the one in Nepal. But how does heat in the atmosphere affect the earth beneath us? Well, it’s a chain reaction in this case. With the global temperature rising, ice and permafrost in the Arctic melts and raises sea levels. And perhaps a few centimeters of extra water wouldn’t be too bad, but sea levels have been on the rise for a while and are projected to rise by another 1 or 2 meters by 2100. Of course, coastal cities will be hit hardest, but this also means that there will be an extra 1 or 2 meters of water weight sitting all over the globe, adding much extra weight on the earth’s crust. Higher pressure on the earth’s crust causes the greater stress between the tectonic plates beneath us and therefore jerks much more violently into place.

Featured image

The connection seems plausible, and of course no one is pointing fingers. But will we be in the near future? It’s been repeated over and over again that humans are the greatest cause of global warming and that we would come to regret our inaction gravely in the future. But could this be that future? Collapsing food chains, heat waves, rising seas, we’re observing and hearing about them all. But some people in the world might be paying for the fury of global warming right now. I’m aware that, I’m using the word “might”. Are we still going to take that chance?

For the First Time in 40 Years… Economic Growth Hasn’t Lead to an Increase in CO2 Emissions.

On an average, people tend to commonly associate CO2 emissions with the economy. So, what I am trying to get at is that many people think that if there is a global economic growth, in correlation, we expect to see an increase int he CO2 emissions as well. However, for the first time in over 40 years, we are seeing that this is not the case. This my friends is amazing news for all of us who care about the environment. While this is great news, the question still remains; what has triggered this trend to finally changed? Well, there are several factors and the International Energy Agency has evaluated all of the reasons that they believe that there hasn’t been an increase, but rather a decrease in the CO2 emissions, even though there was an increase in economic growth.

China is the worlds largest CO2 emitter and it is also the country where a majority of the worlds industrial work takes place. Over the past two years, China has taken an initiative to reduce the amount of CO2 that they emit by shifting towards using renewable sources of energy, rather than using non-renewable sources of energy. In China’s case, they have led the world in the amount of solar installations with the hope of cleaning up the countries polluted air. In figure 1, you will see that by the end of 2015, China hopes to add as much as 15 gigawatts of solar energy, which will power around 16 million houses. They want to accomplish this task by installing cheap solar panels on top of commercial buildings, rather than just confiding panels in the rural areas.

Figure 1.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.07.23 PM

Additionally, the second factor that has attributed for there to be a decrease in the amount of energy used is the idea that awareness causes people to change their behaviors. People are greedy. Unfortunately,  this is the hard truth. If you tell them that they will save money by buying certain types of technology, they will be willing to do it. This has been happening all over the U.S. The more aware people become about the energy that they are using, the more willing they are to change their behaviors and their electronics. Over the past year, home energy efficiency has decreased drastically, causing there to be an overall decrease in energy. In figure 2, you will see that there is a decrease in the amount of energy in a per capita basis as well as a GDP basis. 

Figure 2.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.25.06 PM

The third, which can be overruled, but it is still just as important. The IEA has reported that one of the reasons there is a decrease in CO2 emissions is because transportation has become more efficient. Cars are now being made in order to be more efficient.

Now, the final reason that CO2 emissions have decreased, while the economy prospers, is due to the fact that there was a natural gas boom, due to fracking. Robert Starvins, a leading environmental economist said, “This has, in turn, led to significant increases in dispatch of gas-fired electricity generation, relative to dispatch of coal-fired generation, as well as increased investment in new gas-fired electric generation capacity, and cessation of investment in new coal generation in the United States.” 

Now, lets rejoice. While the world still needs to make huge strides to bettering the environmental conditions, the progress we are making is incredible. China, the worlds leading CO2 emitter has come to its senses and so is the rest of the world.

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.

Drugs in the Drinking Water?

There are pharmaceuticals in my drinking water?

Unfortunately, there is a high chance that there are traces of pharmaceutical drugs in tap and bottled water. I was very surprised myself to learn about this sad fact. The tap water in the United States in arguably the cleanest and safest drinking water in the world that is free of microbes and other harmful chemicals. (1) According to the Associated Press investigation, there are varying drugs such as antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. (2) But how exactly does this happen? What are the environmental and health implications of having drugs in our drinking water?

How Do They Enter Our Drinking Water System?

Over last few years, the numbers of U.S prescriptions have rose 12%, tallying up to 3.7 billion prescriptions. Adding nonprescription drug purchases to this list adds another 3.3 billion.(3)  With a grand total of 7 billion prescription drugs entering a population of 320 million people, there is no wonder why our drinking water is contaminated. When people take these medications, not all of the medicine is absorbed by the body. Therefore, unmetabolized or unused drugs are being flushed down the toilet. The waste water is then treated and released in reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. Next, some of that water is cleaned at treatment plants and then piped to consumers. (4) The problem is that most of these treatment plants do not remove all of the drug residue.

But wait, human waste and voluntary disposal are not the only causes for contamination in our water system. The drugs that veterinarians use to treat animals with arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity are sometimes the same drugs that are used to treat humans. (5) Similar to humans, the drugs are still prevalent in the waste by products. In the same way that thorough human waste drugs enters our water system, animal waste is washed into streams, rivers, and groundwater systems. This not so pure water eventually ends up in our bodies.

The Effects On Human Health & The Environment  

Although these drugs are found at parts per billion and per trillion, scientists are still concerned about the lifetime effects of these drugs floating around in our drinking water. There is research evidence to support that small amounts of medicine can have devastating effects on human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells, and human breast cancer cells. It can cause kidney cells to grow too slowly, cancer cells to proliferate exceedingly, and the blood cells showed signs of biological activity associated with inflammation. (6) Additionally, there is evidence from the global and national community of the damaging impacts that pharmaceutical ridden waterways can have on wildlife. Male fish have been found to essentially turn into female fish by creating egg yolk proteins which is usually found in females! (7) This is a clear red flag that having drugs in our water (although in a small amounts) is definitely not beneficial to human or Environmental health.

Solutions?

So now the big question is what can we do about our drinking water? Apparently it does not matter whether you drink tap or bottled water; we are all still at risk. It is time that we pressure our government and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  As human beings we are entitled to clean drinking water and safe food. It is about time we the people of this nation truly had the power to change the ball game for all our sakes (and the environment’s!). Over the past few weeks in this blog series, we have been posting many articles about how one can save energy. However, this is time when we need to use it. We need to use the energy that it requires to protest, write to congress, and voice our opinions. Don’t you want to know what’s floating around in your drinking water?

Below are a few sources that have more information concerning particular states’ and cities’ purity of drinking water.

http://www.disposemymeds.org/index.php/environmental-impact

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/translating-uncle-sam/stories/how-polluted-is-us-drinking-water

-http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-03-10-drugs-tap-water_N.htm

Its Hard Not To Care When There Is So Much Smog In The Air

Living in New England, we have all encountered several blizzard warnings in which we are advised not to leave our homes. But can you imagine not being able to leave your home due poor air quality. For many of us this is unimaginable. How could the air quality within a whole country be so poor that one could not leave their home? For me, I actually lived through a smog epidemic during the summer of 2013 (Figure 1). This epidemic was so bad that the government made it illegal for individuals to leave their homes for about 3 days. Smog and excess air pollution is a chronic problem in Asian countries. This week I decided to dive in deeper and truly understand how smog build up occurs and why we see it so often in Asia.

Figure 1

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.23.09 PM

Smog by definition is the combination of smoke and fog. Smog is a black haze comprised of a mixture of pollutants (Figure 2). But how exactly is smog created? As previously mentioned, smog is essentially a combination of pollutants in the air. When these pollutants are burnt the fumes are then released into the air.  These fumes come directly from things such as heavy traffic, high temperatures, sunshine and calm winds.The smog we see today is called photochemical smog. Photochemical smog is when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC) in the atmosphere. Examples of nitrogen oxides include car exhaust, coal power plants, and factory emissions. Examples of VOCs are include gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents. When the sunlight hits these particles it sparks the creation of fumes thus creating smog. Asian countries tend to have high populations thus resulting in an increase in the number of automobiles and heavy traffic. In addition, Asia being located near the equator makes for high temperatures and plenty of sunshine. These factors double the effects of smog and amplifies the effect. 

Figure 2

1368215712648

Smog can be extremely detrimental to ones health and in some cases it can be fatal. Smog gives off an immediate effect and theres no gradual build up. Smog can cause minor health issues such as a cold and pneumonia. Although this is the case, smog can also be responsible for major health issues such as lung cancer. Smog is most commonly known for causing irritation  in the eyes and increasing the difficulty to breathe (figure 3). Smog also deteriorates plant life. With several pollutants in the air, this makes it difficult for plant life to prosper and continue to grow. More often than not plant life can completely die as a result of smog. 

20100107_SMOG_effects-89_large_prod_affiliate_91

So what can you do to help? There several small actions one can do to reduce the amount of smog emitted in urban areas. First and for most, avoid driving if it is not necessarily. Try walking, carpooling, and or using bikes if everyone tries to do this smog emissions will slowly begin to decrease. In addition, fill your automobile with gasoline during the cooler hours of the day; this prevents gas fumes from heating up and producing ozone. Finally, if one cuts down on gas powered appliances and uses electrically powered appliances in stead this will also reduce the amount of smog.

The smog epidemic personally effected me and I am fearful that the problem will increase if we dont do anything about it. This problem can be reduced as long as we are aware and try and put forth our best effort to reduce the number of gas powered appliances we use!!! What will you do to reduce the effects of smog on our community?

How the Second Law of Thermodynamics Took Down Ancient Egypt

I know what you are thinking. What does science have to with the fall of arguably the most remarkable and culturally rich nation’s demise? To understand this puzzling question, we first must understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Rudolf Julius Emanuel Clausius was born to a wealthy family on January 2, 1822 in Poland. In 1840 he attended the University of Berlin with hopes of pursing a degree in history. However, he discovered a new passion and concentrated on mathematics and physics instead.[1]

Clausius became famous in 1850 when he wrote his first paper on the mechanical theory of heat, otherwise known as the second law of thermodynamics[2]. This law essentially states three important facts: 1. Heats travels hot to cold, 2. Heat cannot be converted into useful work, and 3. Every isolated system becomes disorderly overtime. [3] The third part of this law is the most important in understanding the fall of Ancient Egypt. In simplistic terms, as time continues, things decay. For example, refer to the diagram below to look at a snow flake. Snowflakes start off as orderly systems with intricate patterns unique to every flake. However, as time continues snowflakes melt and turn into water. What once was an ordered system, turned into chaos. Disorder is always more probable then order in any system.[4]

 

This image describes how over time systems become more disorderly. [5]

 

The Fall of Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was one of the most influential River Valley civilizations that lasted from 3000 BCE until 332 BCE. This empire outlived Christianity by a thousand years and was already gone by the time western culture even existed.[6] The Egyptians created an empire that they thought would last an eternity. Due to its geological location, it was no surprise that Egypt became one of the most power nations in this region. Being near the Nile River and having fertile land made producing food a breeze. Having easy access to food, allowed the Egyptians to pursue other endeavors such as building the Great Pyramids of Giza (see image below). They also had an abundance of resources to create such huge monuments.

This is picture of the Pyramids of Giza. [6]

Unlike a snowflake, the Ancient Egypt’s transitions to disorder took about 3,000 years. It was very gradual, and can be broken up into 3 main periods: the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom. As each kingdom progressed, the entropy increased. Entropy measures the degree of disorder in the system.[6] As the entropy increased, this nation constantly got one step closer to destruction. In the path to demise, there where uprising, wars, corrupt rulers, oppression, droughts, and famine.[7] Finally around 300 BCE, the mighty Egyptians where defeated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

What does that mean for us?  

Have you ever wondered why the world seemed to be falling apart? There is murder corruption, war, and greed seen everywhere across the globe on the daily. The world as we know it, moment by moment is getting more chaotic. One day there will no longer be a United States of America or the even the ideas in which we hold dear. There will come a day our civilization will succumb to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Every day entropy in our system increases; it is just a matter of time before we become like the Egyptians.

If It’s Sunny You’ll Save Money

Considering the fact that this blog is online, I am assuming that you are using a computer, smartphone or tablet to view this page. Now, I ask you to take a moment to reflect and think about how long you have been on this computer and how much electricity you have been using during the duration of this time. The average American spends about 5 hours a day on digital devices ( figure 1). Annually, that is a total of 1825 hours on digital media. Think about this, and think about how much it costs the average American to power their digital devices.  This means that the average American can spend up to 600 dollars just on electrical bills for their computer. However, what if there was a way to power your computer just using the environment around you?

Figure 1

  o-TV-DIGITAL-DEVICES-570

Using solar power is all the rage as individuals are discovering that they can cut back on electrical bills by using energy from the sun. Solar panels allow us to use , solar energy (a type of solar power) which comes from the sun. In doing so, solar energy can be converted into electrical energy, which can then be used to power things such as a computer and other devices which need electricity to work (figure 2).  Solar energy allows one to power devices with low cost renewable energy and using solar energy to power devices is a fairly simple process.

(Figure 2)

solar-energy-diagram

Companies such as Samsung and SOL have developed laptops that run solely on the energy from the sun. The computer developed by Samsung is powered by a solar panel embedded in the lid. In order to function the computer needs approximately 2 hours of sunlight to get 1 hour of working battery life. When fully charged, the computer battery can last up to 14 hours straight. This computer costs about $350 US dollars. Similarly the company SOL (known for developing devices using solar energy) developed a laptop which uses solar energy as well. This laptop is more efficient than the Samsung, as it is equipped with a detachable solar panel which can obtain 10 hours of battery life from just 2 hours of sun exposure (figure 3). This Laptop costs the exact same amount as the samsung computer, costing about $350 US dollars. By purchasing either of these laptops one would be purchasing a laptop $400 dollars less than the average computer and it is powered free of charge due to its solar panel technology.

Figure 3

samsung-nc215s-solar-powered-netbook

Converting to solar energy is 100% cost efficient and can end up saving you thousands of dollars (figure 4). Personally, I think that everyone should convert to solar power as it is a natural never ending resources that the earth has given us. Although one must pay for the initial cost of installing solar panels, in the long run solar panels save you up to 7 thousand dollars (figure 4). By using solar energy one can cut back on electrical bills and it makes for a more cost efficient lifestyle. Developing technology that allows computers to run on solar panels is truly revolutionary and I think that there is no better place to start converting people to using solar energy, than the devices we use on a day to day basis.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.05.13 PM