climate change

Lamb's Quarters

While weeds have been a part of my diet for over thirteen years now, and I've had many occasions to speak about eating them, it's been a long time since I've actually served them to anyone. In fact, apart from my wife, I can only recollect that reporter from the St. Albert Gazette, and my room-mates from just before I was married. And with my roomies, it was only dandelion root coffee.

Dandelion root coffee and chickweed omelets were part of a strategy to introduce weed-eating to people using the least foreign tasting species. Something like prickly lettuce isn't a friendly starting point. "Just that picture of prickly lettuce in your blog looked menacing," [info]amandi_khera said. "I don't think I'd ever put something like that in my mouth."

Today though, I'd start with lamb's quarters. It's not just "least foreign tasting". It really tastes good.

This was my supper tonight:

 read more... »

Geothermal Heating

The proper term is "ground source heat pump" (GSHP). I often get questions about this technology, and I think that there are some misconceptions out there, so here goes.

How It Works

The way I think of it, there is a magical black box that can take heat at low temperatures and "pump" it up to higher ones. In Edmonton, the ground a few feet below the surface remains at about six degrees Celsius all year round. This is seasonally-stored solar energy - it accumulates in summer and doesn't cool very much during the winter because there's just so much dirt.

So, a contractor comes and drills long holes (150 - 200 feet, I think) in the back of your yard, and runs tubing down the holes. Then, when heat is needed, the heat pump runs a fluid through the tubes in the earth, and pulls solar heat from it. The exact same effect happens in reverse.

With a GSHP, you can pull 3 - 3.5 units of heat from the earth for every unit of electricity that the heat pump uses.

The Hype - Imported From Elsewhere

Using a GSHP is a brilliant idea in Manitoba or Quebec or Vancouver Island - somewhere where no natural gas is available. The thing is, if your only choice is heating with electricity, a GSHP is in effect 350% more efficient than regular electric heating. That is, with regular electric heating (like from a resistance heating baseboard heater), you get one unit of heat for every one unit of electricity invested. As stated above, the GSHP will give you up to 3.5 units of heat for every one. That's pretty good.

The brilliance of the GSHP in other locations, though, doesn't necessarily translate to Alberta. Here, natural gas is available ubiquitously. AND our electricity is mostly derived from burning coal - the enemy of the human race.

So in Alberta, the only fair comparison for a GSHP is a super-efficient natural gas furnace.

Electricity vs. Natural Gas

Most of Edmonton's electricity is generated by burning coal near Wabamun lake. The generators burn the coal, and convert about 30% of the energy in the coal into electricity. Then, it gets sent down the power line to our great city (some of it gets lost along the way, but we'll ignore that for now). If we use the electricity in a GSHP that is 350% efficient, we get 3.5 units of heat back for every 1 put in. The thing is, we're using electricity that contains only 30% of the coal's original energy value. 30% * 3.5 = 105%. A coal-fired GSHP is 105% efficient, then, when considering the energy that was initially in the fossil fuel.  read more... »

2008 Community League Green Challenge

Some of Edmonton's fine green leaders have a challenge for you all: green your community leagues! Community league buildings all around the city represent an opportunity for green improvement, because most of them were built some time ago, when words like "energy efficiency" and "low flow" were pretty foreign. 

Community leagues are being encouraged to:  read more... »

The Planet Friendly Romantic Gift

Edmonton is gorgeous this time of year. It's rained a few times, the leaves are out, and the weather's great. When we do see rain clouds coming, we're confident that they will do their job and then get the heck out.

This is the season for romantics and husbands who want to stay out of trouble to gather and give flowers to their loved ones. In fact, eco-minded flower givers should be making hay while the sun shines (so to speak).

The cut flower industry is hugely damaging to the environment. Most of the flowers that we buy here in Edmonton are grown in very intensive greenhouses in South America. They are heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. The worst part is flying them in refrigerated planes from there to here. In fact, "the transit of each individual flower generates vastly more than its own weight in CO2" (source).

We're in the middle of a climate crisis that is so huge, we really can't understand how much it will affect us and future generations. So exacerbating it with something as frivolous as cut flowers seem shameful. Especially when there's an alternative: local flowers.

Right now lilacs are in bloom all around the city. These are gorgeous flowers that range in hue from almost white to deep purple. And they are so common that almost any favour-seeking male can get a hold of some. Ask your neighbour, cut some from your mom's yard, or, if worse comes to worse, use the old "it was leaning over the alley" excuse.

It seems to me that a summer's worth of flowers should make up for giving other things (compliments? hugs?) during the winter months. And for the flower receivers out there, maybe send a message that your husband/partner/whatever can get away without flowers for the winter as long as he (who are we kidding here?) makes up his quota when the sun shines on this fine summer city of ours.