My 5: Artie Knapp, Author and Illustrator

November 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, My 5, Slideshow


Artie Knapp, author and illustrator. Photo: Courtesy Artie Knapp

Artie Knapp, author and illustrator. Photo: Courtesy Artie Knapp

When Blue Planet Green Living interviewed author Artie Knapp, we asked him our two favorite questions. Here are his responses. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

What are the five most important things we can do to protect the planet?

  1. Our water supplies are vital for our existence, and we must do a better job of keeping them clean. Among other things, we have to put a stop to garbage being dumped into our oceans.
  1. Improving our air quality by enforcing stricter emission standards is something that must never wane. We must also enforce stricter penalties on organizations that don’t properly dispose of chemicals.
  1. The BP oil disaster in 2010 was a strong reminder that we have to find safer alternatives for energy. Doing so will not only keep our air cleaner by having fewer vehicles burning fuel, but it will also help alleviate disasters that destroy food supplies, as well as natural habitats.
  1. We have to keep our communities cleaner by picking up waste. Cleaner communities help alleviate the spread of diseases and sickness.
  1. Bees are dying at alarming rates, and the ramification this will have on pollination is profound. If this rate continues our world’s food supplies will face dire consequences. This isn’t making headlines like it should be, and more funding is critical for scientists to get a better understanding of what is causing this to happen.

If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say to him?

I would tell President Obama that I appreciate his service to our country. I think he has done a lot of positive things, especially with what he inherited from his predecessor. I would also wish him well on his reelection bid in 2012.

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The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting by Chris McLaughlin

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting

Maybe you’re already a gardener, ready to plant some vegetables to reduce your grocery bill and gain some peace of mind about what additives you will not be putting into your family’s bodies. Or, maybe you secretly yearn for a yard filled with colorful flower blossoms from early spring until late fall.

If you see yourself in either of these scenarios, then The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting: Turn your organic waste material into black gold, is for you. No, this isn’t a book about planting a garden. It’s about how to nourish the soil you will use to grow amazing veggies and posies. And, I have to say, it’s even fun to read.

Compost Happens

“The first thing you need to know is that no matter what you do—compost happens,” author Chris McLaughlin says. She sets out to educate, support, inform, and entertain her readers.

I’ve always been a kind of a sucker for the “idiot’s guide” type of book, since I don’t know all that much about anything. I’m not much of a gardener, but I started a compost pile 20+ years ago as an environmental gesture to remove organic waste from the garbage can.

McLaughlin is right, “compost happens.” I knew nothing. I did my composting with the most minimal effort possible. I created a designated spot in the far end of the backyard, put some landscaping logs around it, and began dumping all the kitchen waste there. (Even I knew enough not to put in any meat scraps.)

All I did was keep a covered bucket under the sink, then haul it to the backyard when it was full. Then I dug a small hole and poured it in and covered it up with some dirt. The microbes and worms did the rest. Simple.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t know about the valuable applications of the black gold I was creating has been a terrible waste. After reading this book, I realize I have been accumulating a pile of invaluable compost without actually putting it to use.

From “Idiot” to Composter

In this enjoyable, easy to read, and surprisingly thorough and diverse book, McLaughlin moves us from “idiots” to knowledgeable composters ready to create black gold with minimal effort and maximum results. She not only tells us how to make the stuff, but how to use it effectively and with ease.

Most environmentalists are aware of the rebound in “locavore” eating and the mushrooming of home gardening: community gardens, potted mini-gardens on apartment balconies, backyard gardens, plots shared with neighbors, and even indoor greenhouses to extend the growing season.

But we also are recognizing the urgency for using more sustainable methods. These are part and parcel of the composting process:

  • eliminating synthetic fertilizers
  • using natural weed control
  • growing plants that are healthier and more disease and pest resistant
  • conserving water

McLaughlin reminds us that “composting is sustainability at its finest.” It’s good for our gardens, good for us, and good for the earth. She quickly addresses the issue of common myths and bad reps about composting, such as it attracts rodents, or it stinks, or it requires lots of time and effort and is very complicated or expensive. Nix on those. Read on.

Composting Made Simple

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting is well organized, succinct, and rich in information, helpful hints, and DIY instructions. I particularly enjoyed the iconic little sidebar boxes in each section that address potential problems, provide definitions about terms and techniques, offer fun facts, and afford opportunities to “dig deeper.”

Perhaps most encouraging is the admonition: “Ignore anyone who tells you it has to be a certain way. Use a system that fits your lifestyle.” Yes!

The Basics of Composting

Here are the nuts and bolts (or shall we say, “the humus and mulch”) found within the 193 not-dense pages:

Part 1 – “The Dirt Beneath Your Feet”

  • Learn what makes soil healthy and fruitful, and discover the benefits of composting.
  • Find out how it works and the four main things every compost pile needs.
  • What to compost and what to avoid.
  • The difference between a “hot” and “cold” compost pile, and how to do it.
  • Inexpensive do-it-yourself methods of building your pile.
  • How to shop for commercially available bins.
  • Troubleshooting if necessary.
  • How to use the gold, once it’s ready.

Part 2 – “Worm Wrangling 101: Vermicomposting

You can do without the worms, as I have for 20 years—or read it and then decide. You’ll definitely be better informed. This chapter covers:

  • How to harness the power of worms for particularly potent composting.
  • Everything you need to know about housing and feeding worms.
  • What to do with all that rich worm poop

Part 3: “Creative Composting: Beyond the Bin”

  • Bed, Sheet or Sandwich Composting (you’ll have to read it, I’m not telling)
  • Grasscycling for keeping grass clippings where they belong – on your lawn
  • Mulching is composting, too
  • Planting cover crops for adding nutritional value to your soil
  • Taking compost into the community as a way of sharing the wealth and building community

I told you this book was thorough and diverse.

Three Additional Resources

In the back of the book, McLaughlin gives us these helpful resources:

  • Appendix A: A useful glossary of terms for easy reference
  • Appendix B: The “Resource Appendix,” with helpful websites and blogs on composting, a list of retailers selling composting supplies, other books on composting, a list of university extension offices, and some composting organizations
  • Appendix C: “Compost and Worms in the Classroom,” a fun resource for teaching kids, complete with activities and classroom planning

A Gift to the Earth

If you are or are going to be a gung-ho gardener and composter, this book is invaluable. If you are a new or casual gardener, this book is invaluable. If you are no gardener at all and just want to expand your horizons, this is also valuable and fun to read. If you want to help the planet and cease from putting your organic material down the garbage disposal or in the garbage can, by all means, take a look.

The truth is, I don’t feel like I’m as much of an “idiot composter” as when I began reading. And McLaughlin supports whatever composting efforts I decide will fit in my lifestyle. That’s a gift for me, my garden, and the Earth.

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Miriam Kashia

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

August 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Audio, Blog, Books, Front Page, Poverty, Women

It has been nine years since Koffi Annan, then the UN Secretary-General, made the statement at the Fifth World Congress on Women that the future of our planet depends upon women.

Much progress has been made towards the realization of the United Nations 3rd Millennium Development Goal to “promote gender equality and empower women,” but so much more still needs to be done.

For several years I have followed New York Times columnist, Nick Kristof, as he travels the world, often at great personal risk, shedding light upon the overwhelming challenges that women throughout the globe continue to face. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, both Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and authors of two previous books, are about to release their much anticipated Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Women hold up half the sky – Chinese Proverb

As Kristof says, “We wrote a book devoted to women in the developing world because, if you want to fight poverty and extremism, you need to educate and empower women and bring them into the economy. A country can’t grow and be stable if half the population is marginalized.

The reviews of Kristof and WuDunn’s book suggest that it will enlighten, but also inspire readers. Their book tells the inspiring stories of brave women who have overcome the most terrible circumstances to set their lives on a bright new path.

Once inspired, then what?

I have chosen to accept the invitation extended by Mercy Corps to activate this inspiration into action.

If you’re interested in joining Mercy Corps in an unprecedented endeavor to provide women with the training, financial resources and education needed to raise their families and communities out of hunger, please consider reading “Half the Sky” and hosting a fundraising event. Mercy Corps will send you all the information you need to host a successful event, whether it’s a campaign set up on your Facebook page or hosting an informal luncheon. Visit OneTable on the Mercy Corps website for details.

Together, we can help women around the world use their own ideas and energy to lift their families out of poverty. Click on the book image to the left to pre-order the book, which will be released September 8, 2009.

Laura Mack
Contributing Writer
Blue Planet Green Living

Conserving Water, a Sinkful at a Time

Comments Off on Conserving Water, a Sinkful at a Time

Don't waste the water going down your drain — capture it for watering plants. Photo: © Dev-

Water shortages in California are contributing to a drought that could end farming in California’s rich agricultural areas by the end of this century, according to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. And farms aren’t alone in the danger zone. Cities, too, are facing disaster, if we don’t slow global warming, Chu said in a February 4 interview in the L.A. Times.

But, slowing global warming is a long-term process that requires efforts on a global, or at least a national, scale. What can Californians — or any other drought-affected people — do about the water shortage right now, on a local level?

One suggestion is to reuse the waste water generated by showering, washing clothes, and using the sink. These sources of waste water are called greywater, and though you won’t want to drink it, you can easily reuse it to water some of your plants and trees.

Although soapy water is bad for rivers and streams, it’s actually good for watering plants, according to The Natural Home Building Source, which offers plans for greywater treatment systems.

“From an environmental standpoint,” their website says, “the main reason for greywater reuse is to actually reuse the soaps, skin particles, shampoo, and hair conditioner as plant fertilizer, keeping them out of waterways. Phosphate rich soaps and mild cleaning chemicals in your wastewater are considered pollutants because they accelerate algae growth in the waterways, which in turn leads to oxygen depletiion for fish and other marine life.”

Hands-on Workshop in L.A.

But how do you capture greywater in a manner that’s convenient and doesn’t make a mess? If you’ll be in Los Angeles this Wednesday, you can find out at a Greywater Workshop at the GOOD Space on Melrose.

The workshop includes a hands-on demonstration, which will prepare attendees to collect and reuse greywater from their homes. Presenter Erik Knudsen will also explain other strategies for conserving greywater, cutting your water bill, and saving freshwater resources.

Water conservation starts in your own sink. Photo: © Orlando Florin Rosu -

The following agenda for Wednesday’s workshop is quoted from the GOOD website:

  • “How to hack your plumbing
  • How to create a greywater surge tank for your washing machine
  • Greywater compatible detergents
  • Choosing the best plants for greywater
  • Creating mulch basins
  • Greywater dos and don’ts
  • Water conservation and efficiency”

You’ll also see the following notice — worth paying attention to — as well as the date/time/location information for the workshop:

“It just so happens that much of what we’ll be demonstrating is illegal under current plumbing codes. But codes be damned! We’ll show you how to be a discreet and responsible greywater outlaw.

Erik Knutzen’s Greywater Workshop
Wednesday, May 27
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
GOOD Space, 6824 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles CA 90038
RSVP here.”


What about the rest of us, who won’t be at the Los Angeles workshop? The GOOD site recommends the following books for do-it-yourselfers:

I can testify to the excellence of Dam Nation, as I purchased a copy from Change of State Performance Project, the acting troupe that presented Take This House (And Float It Away), in Iowa City last month. Among a number of excellent and well-written articles, you’ll find drawings that show how to adapt your plumbing to divert greywater to an outdoor storage container. So, if you can’t get to the workshop, you can still learn what you need to do to conserve and reuse greywater at home.

Of course, greywater is only one source of water you might capture. Watch this website for a future post about how we will be collecting our rainwater for reuse here in Iowa City. But be sure to check your local regulations; you may be surprised to learn that capturing rainwater is illegal in some locations.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Ansel Adams at 100

The following book review is part of a series writer Jordan Jones calls the “Environmental Canon,” books that have shaped the environmental movement. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Photographer and naturalist Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is surely one of the most accomplished and ubiquitous artists in American history, his career a rare intersection between extraordinary popular success and widespread critical acclaim. Though now decades old, his striking black-and-white photographs still maintain a large cultural presence through museums, books, magazines, calendars, coffee mugs, posters, and clothing. Almost every American has had some contact with Adams’ work, if only in passing.

Despite this familiarity (or perhaps even because of it), I found my understanding of the man and his work to be incorrect, simplistic even. Adams was primarily a photographer of the natural world, and his most famous compositions are monumental landscapes, shot in stark black and white (Adams rarely worked in color). To the casual viewer like myself, these works appear to express the hugeness, the permanence, of nature — everlasting beauty. As I would come to learn, though, he sought not to depict the eternal, but the ephemeral.

Adams was born in San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century. Though he lived an urban existence and was the offspring of upper-class parents, he quickly developed a love of nature. He possessed an energetic, irrepressible personality well-suited to the rigors of the outdoors. Struck by the beauty of the West’s relatively unspoiled wilderness, he would devote his life to its preservation and be inspired to document it through photography.

As he aged, Adams deftly combined the roles of environmentalist and artist. He joined the Sierra Club at 17 and was deeply involved with the organization for the rest of his life, even serving as its director for a time. Though he wielded great influence through the group, Adams’ photography was arguably a more effective, and universal, means of communicating environmental concerns. His stunning photographs of the great Western wilderness — many taken before the bulk of industrialization occurred — are as eloquent and direct as any written argument. Indeed, if one’s aim is to depict ineffable beauty, words are unnecessary.

During the catastrophic years of the 1930s and 40s, Adams would be criticized for choosing to focus on the natural world rather than on contemporary social and political problems (the Great Depression, World War II, etc.); but, ultimately, history would vindicate him. As the natural world became more polluted and despoiled, Adams felt a pressing need to remind both the citizenry and the politicians of the worth and vitality of nature. In a sense, he was ahead of the curve. Decades before the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring — which electrified the public and the environmental movement — Adams had already been hard at work on these issues.

Examining his photographs, I came to realize that, as an artist, Adams was not interested in simply depicting the natural world, but in depicting the natural world and its relationship to light. He explored this relationship with his so-called “zone system” technique, which enabled him to measure and manipulate tones of light. He was also concerned with expressing the way a particular scene made an observer feel. His work then, as critic John Szarkoski observed, does not seek to present only the basic appearance of a scene — its “external event” — but also to convey the emotional content of a scene — its “internal event.”

A fine example of this is Adams’ breakthrough 1927 piece, Monolith, the face of Half Dome. In it, a massive slab of stone juts into a black sky, as grim and beautiful as an ancient fortress. Adams intentionally darkened the sky, in order to demonstrate the scene’s power and majesty, or at least the power and majesty he perceived. As he said of the photograph in his autobiography, “I had been able to realize a desired image: not the way the subject appeared in reality but how it felt to me and how it must appear in the finished print.” He would more fully articulate this artistic philosophy with his technique of “visualization,” which, as one might guess, involved visualizing the desired result and feeling of a photograph before creating it.

The ephemeral aspect of nature is the primary concern of Adams’ work, as demonstrated by his fascination with nature’s most transitory element — light. In one of Adams’ most famous photographs, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, the tombstones of a village cemetery reflect the last light of a dying sun. In the background, a mysterious moon rises into the sky, already beginning to imbue the scene with its own eerie glow. The photograph is a beautiful meditation on the ephemeral nature of all things, including nature itself. A similar effect is achieved in Sunrise, Mount Tom, in which a black, gnarled stump dominates a barren foreground against a backdrop of shining, snow-covered mountains.

Adams’ work is really about the briefest of interactions between light and matter; it is about moments. And though these moments may occur in the seemingly eternal, natural world — on the surface of a lake older than humanity or on the jagged tops of primeval cliffs — they are moments, nonetheless. If nature is a “Divine performance,” as Adams said, then it is as fluid and fleeting as any play or recital.

Once one begins to view Adams’ photographs with these concerns in mind, they take on a completely different character. A pretty flower becomes a symbol of fragility. Distant mountains dwarfed by clouds and sky remind us of our own smallness. As I learned, “prettiness” or “bigness” are not Adams’ first priorities. They are, rather, byproducts of his pursuit of natural epiphanies. And epiphanies are not permanent.

This concern with impermanence and fragility highlights one of the major ironies of Adams’ career. His photographs and work with the Sierra Club were a driving force behind the creation, promotion, and maintenance of national parks, most notably Sequoia and Kings Canyon. But the popularity of his work — which celebrated the tremendous beauty of nature — also led to increased tourism to the same wildernesses he had worked so hard to protect. In his later years, he would become embittered by the National Parks Service’s philosophy of “resortism,” which, in its drive to allow the public greater accessibility to its national treasures, cheapened and despoiled many of them through the building of roads, hotels, and the like.

The vitality and wonder he labored so hard to depict were in danger of being lost — sold and commodified like something off a conveyor belt. He once wrote, “Wilderness is not only a condition of nature, but a state of mind and mood and heart. It cannot be confined to the museum-case, seen only as a passing diorama from superlative throughways.” It would prove extremely difficult to instill in the public (and the federal government) the deep reverence and understanding of nature that Adams desired them to have.

His work and life, then, have taken on an even greater significance since his passing. As Ansel Adams himself once said, “The response to natural beauty is one of the foundations of the environmental movement.” If this is true, then he is arguably one of the movement’s most articulate and influential figures. At the same time, his work is a chronicle of what has been diminished, or even lost. In addition to environmentalist and artist, Adams unfortunately took on a third role as well: historian.

Jordan Jones

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Jordan Jones’ Environmental Canon

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

The Revenge of Gaia – Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

John J. Audubon – Iconic Painter of Birds

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

The Creation – An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

The World Without Us

Silent Spring

The Fine Print

Neither Jordan Jones nor Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of this book or any other incentive or reward for reviewing it.

Blue Planet Green Living does, however, participate in the Amazon affiliates program. If you purchase a copy of this book or any other product by clicking on an Amazon link on this website, a small portion of your purchase price will go toward operating expenses on Blue Planet Green Living.

For more details about our review policy, please visit our Policies page.

“We Can Get Completely Off Oil in 15 Years”

January 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Electric Cars, Events, Front Page, Oil, Slideshow, Solar, Wind

Jeff Wilson has a plan: “We can free the United States of its dependency on oil, not just foreign oil, in 15 years.”

Yeah, sure. This guy’s dreaming. I thought, as I began to read his book, The Manhattan Project 2009. I’ve heard pie-in-the-sky schemes before.

Then I read his book, and I was convinced. My next thoughts were, Everybody needs to read this book. It’s all here, in a step-by-step program. He’s even written legislative proposals for congressmen. It’s all here, and it is possible. I wanted to talk to this guy.

So, Julia and I called him. We caught up with him in his office near Minneapolis.

BPGL: In 2008, you authored The Manhattan Project 2009, which describes a step-by-step process for the U.S. to escape our dependence on oil. How did you get interested in this topic?

WILSON: I’ve always had an interest in energy-related topics. I have degrees in physics, math, and electrical engineering.

1600 computer batteries power the Tesla.

6,800 lithium ion battery cells power the Tesla electric car. It can go 200 miles on a single charge and accelerate from 0 to 60 in four seconds.

I wanted to know the real situation with oil and our real possibilities for moving into alternative energy. There’s no consistent story about our oil use. Our government doesn’t have a consistent story; the media doesn’t have a consistent story. I delved into the research to answer the question for myself. What I found was so interesting that I felt compelled to share it.

I don’t see myself as a natural writer. My only virtue is that I have no patience for anything other than people getting straight to the point.

BPGL: How did you come up with the title?

WILSON: “The Manhattan Project” is a term I heard bubbling up here and there in the discussion about energy. The general public is way ahead of our federal government. The people know we need to get something done and are working to get to it. State and local governments are working toward it.

Every once in a while in America, we have something really important come up for which we need action right now, no ifs, ands, or butts. In the Manhattan Project and the Apollo missions, we stepped up to the plate and accomplished the impossible in a very short time. That’s what needs to happen now.

BPGL: How are we going to pay to create the infrastructure necessary to recharge electric cars?

The Chevy Volt. Photo: (c) General Motors

The Chevy Volt, an electric car of the future. Photo: (c) General Motors

WILSON: In the book, I propose government subsidies to promote the manufacture and purchase of electric cars. This will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. But keep in mind that, in 2008, we spent at least a trillion dollars more for the oil we used (including the price of oil and the cost of protecting our oil interests) than we did in 1998, just 10 years before. And we aren’t using substantially more oil now than we did then. The cost of using oil kept rising. It has become so hideously expensive that we can afford to make a very major investment in getting ourselves off of oil and still come out ahead financially.

BPGL: You’re working against a number of huge lobbying entities — the internal combustion auto industry, oil companies. How will you combat that?

WILSON: I see the move toward the electric car, in particular, and alternative energy, in general, moving much faster than I anticipated. And it’s gaining momentum quickly.

A couple of entrepreneurs started a business software company. They sold out to SAP software, and walked away with $400 million. One of them, Shai Agassi, says he realized then that he had enough money. He asked himself, What can I do with the rest of my life? He settled on a cause: getting us off of fossil fuels. So, he started a company called Better Place. Its main focus is how to most efficiently move the world to electric cars.

To do this, we need to put a number of things in place, most particularly, the infrastructure. This means we need charging stations everywhere: at businesses for their employees, in shopping centers for customers, and at home. He’s also working with car companies Nissan and Renault to help design the necessary support systems.

Better Place’s first client was Israel, a country that feels much more threatened by dependency on foreign oil than we do.

Its second customer was Denmark. By the end of 2007, Denmark was getting 20 percent of its electricity supplied by wind. Their problem was that they had so much wind energy installed, if it was blowing during a period of low demand, such as at night, they had far more electricity than they had customers to buy it. They were giving up some return on investment on their wind generators because they had too much energy. They saw electric cars as an opportunity to use the electricity during non-peak hours, nighttime. Everyone wins.

Better Place’s third customers were the cities San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. They all made commitments to make the Bay Area compatible to electric cars. They are planning to spend up to $1 billion to construct charging stations in the next few years

Better Place has now signed contracts with the state of Hawaii as well as a large electric company in Australia. There is a list of other pending contracts, too. Their business is exploding. And all this is happening without governmental support or, rather, in spite of it.

Small wind installations will change the way the grid works.

Small wind installations will change the way the grid works.

I see Better Place as the next Microsoft. The big companies of the late 1900s related to computers. In the new century, alternative energy and electric cars will be the boom industries. Better Place is growing so fast, I’m not sure how they’ll keep up with it.

BPGL: Does your book deal with anything about home energy use?

WILSON:  No, not really. Home energy use is not so dependent on oil. Heat and electricity for homes come mostly from natural gas, uranium, and coal, and we have at least 20 years before those supplies will get tight.

My book is different from most green-related books on the market. Mine focuses on oil and getting us off oil. Seventy percent of oil in the US is imported. Worldwide, we’re using oil at two times the rate at which we’re discovering new oil. But here in the United States, we’re using oil at four times the rate at which we’re discovering new domestic oil. The oil supplies are tight and getting tighter. We have an immediate crisis with oil.

BPGL: We’re looking at a huge paradigm change. The people are changing much faster than the government does. How can we push the government?

Solar installations supplement power in many states.

Solar installations supplement power in many states. This installation has been working for 20 years.

WILSON: The other point that drove the title and format of the book is that I not only saw the general populace ahead of the government, I saw them concluding that nothing will happen with the federal government before the current administration is out. Everybody is hoping that something major will happen with the new administration.

In the book, I provided all the information needed to create a proposed energy policy. In fact, the second chapter is a proposed legislative agenda of bills that need to be passed daily, as soon as the new president takes office.

BPGL: Who is helping you push this?

WILSON: I’ve sent the book to Shai Agassi, to my governor, and to mayors in cities in California, who are pushing electric cars. I’ve done radio interviews and articles on a few websites. I’m hoping for that big break, but don’t know where that might come from.

BPGL: Where do you see home energy use in the future?

WILSON: I mention this in the book, in my legislative proposal for the Smart Grid. In every backyard, you’ll have a 100 kW battery buried there, which can run an average house for three days. The Smart Grid will solve the problem that we currently have with intermittent energy from wind and solar. We need a way to even out the general electrical demand. Ultimately, that means storage at individual homes.

This is how I see the future: At your home, you’ll generate whatever electricity you can with solar panels. You’ll have an Internet connection between your battery charger, an energy controller, and the electric company. You’ll be able to get the price of a kW at any given moment. Then you can buy when it’s low, and sell to the grid when the price is high. In some cases, you might make money. In the big scheme, it evens out the electrical demand for the grid, and makes it so you run your home on the lowest price of electricity.

BPGL: I see giving the public access to the grid info as counter-intuitive to the way the current power companies see the grid. They see it as “their grid.” They don’t want the public to know the price at which they buy and sell electric power. Won’t that be difficult for them to approve?

WILSON: The only interface between the electric company and the general public will be, “What’s the price at any given moment?” They’ll change the price up and down with supply and demand.

Today, the electric companies are the power generators, but over the next 20 years, they’ll shift to simply being power brokers.

BPGL:  They have to start improving the grid now.

Wind farms provide 7 to 8 percent of the energy in Iowa and Minnesota.

Independent wind farms contribute more than half the power of XCEL Energy.

WILSON: We’re moving from 500 and 1,000 MW power plants, to 10 MW wind farms. Instead of a few huge generators, you’ll have a large number of small generators.

Look at XCEL Energy, one of the biggest power suppliers. More than half of the wind energy that they bring on line, they purchase from independent wind farmers. Power companies will have to switch to purchasing power from independent generators.

Just in the last few days, I read about Xcel Energy’s experiment with a 7 MW-hour battery at a wind farm. That would supply about 200 homes with a full day of electricity. They are installing it and starting to play with it. Right now, the batteries are too expensive to be practical, but they’re getting ahead of the curve. The ones they’re using (sodium/sulfur), are about the size of two semi trailers.

Indianapolis Power and Light is experimenting with a 1 MW lithium battery for dealing with peak handling.

Minnesota and Iowa are the two biggest states for in-state wind generation. Both get 7% of their in-state generated power from wind. That’s developing into a healthy competition.

BPGL: We’ve been reading about car companies doing research on lithium and problems with the electrical flow. When you have that much power in a small space, there is risk.

WILSON: Altair Nanotechnologies makes a battery that, in my mind, is way ahead of all the others. They got rid of the polymer electrolytes that have been in most lithium batteries. Their battery is unusually safe. They’ve shot a bullet into it, dropped it till it bursts, and nothing happens. The brand name is Nanosafe.

The Nanosafe battery can do 10,000 or 12,000 discharge cycles — which is 10 times as much as a typical lithium battery — before it starts to get weak. And, it can be charged quickly.

The Phoenix uses

This Phoenix can be fully charged in 10 minutes.

The first electric car being made with it is from Phoenix Motorcars in San Bernardino, California. It can be charged in as little as 10 minutes. There will be a problem getting that much power from the electric company for 10 minutes, but at least the car and battery have that ability. In fact, Altair claims its batteries can be charged to 80% in 60 seconds. It’s a game-changer in battery technologies.

This kind of battery technology makes long-distance travel possible. The first-generation Phoenix cars go 120 miles on a charge. The second-generation goes 250 miles. You can charge it in 10 minutes, then go another 250 miles. Now, you’ve answered the problem of long distance travel with the electric car.

I see a number of companies advancing in technology so fast that it’s mind boggling to me. A couple of other battery companies are being forced down that path. Warren Buffett just bought 10% of BYD in China for a quarter of a billion dollars. They’ve started shipping an electric car. Their battery can quick-charge in 30 minutes. This one came out of nowhere. Warren Buffet called that one correctly. They’re taking on the world. They can go 100 km without recharging.

Another quick-charge battery is the one in the Subaru test car. It charges 80% in 15 minutes. I’m not sure who supplies their batteries.

Do you see my earlier point? I’m surprised at how quickly this stuff is moving even with our government standing in the way.

BPGL: So, the conclusion here is that your legislation is key?

WILSON: Yes. I guess the point I was making was, it’s moving surprisingly fast without the legislation, but let’s get the legislation in place and go full force.

BPGL: With bailouts from our government for the automakers, wouldn’t this be a good time to force them to change their behavior with your legislation?

WILSON: I see the current issue of the Big 3 as being more an issue of survival. They had their chance a few years ago with the General Motors EV-1 that they were shipping into California. They let that drop. Really, whether most of the Big 3 stays in business or not doesn’t have much bearing on the advancement of this technology.

In my book, I propose providing subsidies directly to the consumer to purchase electric cars. Let the customer decide who’s offering the best products. There are plenty of other companies who will step up to the plate.

The cool thing about green collar jobs is, we’re not just making an excuse to give someone a paycheck. These paychecks will be paid back many times over with the money we save on energy.

BPGL: What do you plan to write in the future?

WILSON: I can’t say that I see that far ahead. What I have in mind is to do frequent updates to the book. I’ll put out a new addition about every six months.

BPGL: How long did it take you to write the book?

WILSON: My first book was How Much Energy Does My Car Use? I finished that one in April or May of 2008. That’s when I decided to write the second book. I submitted the finished manuscript around Labor Day.

It was a labor of love. I love this technology. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed running the numbers on this stuff. I get real excited about it. We’re about to move into a very interesting future.

BPGL: One last question. If you could speak directly to Mr. Obama, what would you say?

WILSON: Our government showed us a couple months ago that, if they consider something to be important and urgent, they can come up with a trillion dollars over a weekend.

The fact that it’s a trillion isn’t a shame. But the trillion should go into something that will pay back big. If you put a trillion dollars into converting to alternative energy, that would have huge payback for us, our children, and our grandchildren.

BPGL: Anything else?

WILSON: The bad news is that the oil supply is an immediate crisis. The good news is that we can get completely off oil in 15 years, if we make the commitment. We can move ourselves into a new world with a never-ending supply of cheap, clean energy.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

There is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Children

December 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Activists, Blog, Books, Front Page, Health

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Despite the overwhelming fear and prejudice of her neighbors toward those suffering from AIDS, Haregewoin Teferra, grieving from the deaths of her husband and daughter, gave up a comfortable, middle class lifestyle to take in dozens of children left orphaned by the virus. In There is No Me Without You, author Melissa Fay Greene humanizes the story of the millions of African AIDS orphans by introducing readers to some of these children whom no one else wanted.

The following scene, in which the author is riding with Teferra to pick up yet another small child, illustrates the attitudes of many of Teferra’s neighbors. A villager, Gerrida, has told Teferra that the child needs her help.

“‘The child is so smiling face,’ Gerrida turned to assure me in English. ‘He is wonderful.’

I wondered briefly why Gerrida didn’t take in the little boy. But if he was indeed an orphan of the unspeakable disease, then she could not. The stigma of the plague crawled across its orphans, widows, and widowers, as if they, too, seethed with germs.”

Although Teferra’s story is highly compelling and would be well worth the read in itself, the book is more than simply about her courage and unselfishness. Greene deftly weaves in a history of Ethiopia, AIDS, and the terrible lack of medications to combat the killer that leaves so many children parenting each other. As the natural mother of four and adoptive mother of two foreign-born children herself, Greene also sheds light on important issues surrounding adoption of these vulnerable orphans.

If you are interested in Ethiopia, foreign adoption, the plight of AIDs orphans, or touched by Karen Ande‘s photographs in our recent post (Children Raising Children: Documenting Africa’s AIDS Crisis), you will want to read this book.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Post:

Children Raising Children: Documenting Africa’s AIDS Crisis

A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids: Understanding Climate Change and What You Can Do About It

December 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Books for Kids, Climate Change, Front Page

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When I was teaching fifth-grade science in the late 1980s, we didn’t talk about climate change. But had the topic been part of our curriculum, as it surely is today, this book would have been in high demand.

The text is accessible for most middle school students, but not insulting to older readers. And helpful graphics add to the readers’ understanding of complex topics. Even though the book is targeted or kids, they may have to arm wrestle their parents to gain custody. It’s that interesting.

If you love a kid (or adult) who wants to learn the basics of climate change in the context of positive actions that can help save our planet, get them this book. They’ll easily find something to intrigue them, to use for school reports, and to inspire their curiosity.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century

“There is a way to live an authentic, productive, meaningful life—and have all the material comforts you want or need. There is a way to balance your inner and outer lives, to have your job self be on good terms with your family self and your deeper self. There is a way to go about the task of making a living so that you end up more alive. There is a way to approach life so that when asked, ‘Your money or your life?’ you say, ‘I’ll take both, thank you.’ ”

Is your life reflecting your values? Are you working hard for “stuff” you really don’t want or need? Authors Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez guide you to take a look at what really matters to you, then make changes that honor your higher purpose.

If you value the planet you live on, but you’re spending on frivolous, energy-sucking toys that largely sit unused, or paying the excess cost of a dripping faucet just because it’s easier to let it run, then your money isn’t working to support your values. As Susan Roothaan, from A Nurtured World, suggests in Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values, this book will help you examine how you’re exchanging your life energy for “stuff” that doesn’t bring fulfillment.

Give it a read. Pretty soon you’ll be looking at your money — and your life — in a whole new light.

Read it on Amazon’s Kindle in a minute or less:
Your Money or Your Life

Don’t have Kindle? Buy it here:

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint

Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values

A Tree Hugger for Book Lovers: Amazon’s Kindle

Wake Up and Smell the Planet: The Non-Pompous, Non-Preachy Grist Guide to Greening Your Day

December 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Family, Front Page

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Ready for a good laugh? Want to learn something at the same time? Then Grist’s book on how to save the planet is a must for your reading list. Grist’s take on the environment makes learning how to be green an entertaining experience. All day long, you have choices to make, and they really do make a difference. If your interest lies in shrinking your footprint and making the world a more inhabitable place, you’ll want to read this book.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living

December 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Books on Kindle

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If you’re a beginner at going green, take heart! This book will show you an abundance of ways to begin your journey. It’s an easy read, but not one that you’ll want to do all at once. Pick it up and put it down. Each time, you’ll find tips that are both easy and useful ways to reduce your footprint, save money, and live an ecologically sound existence.

Want to read it right away? Buy it on Kindle in a minute or less:
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living

Don’t have a Kindle yet? Buy it here today!

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

A Tree Hugger for Book Lovers: Amazon’s Kindle

A Tree Hugger for Book Lovers: Amazon’s Kindle

November 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Books on Kindle, Front Page, Technology

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Amazon’s Kindle is perfect for book lovers, and tree lovers. No trees are sacrificed for my reading pleasure!

Amazon’s Kindle is perfect for book lovers, and tree lovers. No trees are sacrificed for my reading pleasure!

I love books. I love new books, old books, the smell of books, the feel of pages in my hands, holding books, and reading. Reading… I LOVE to read. I also LOVE trees. Trees make the world beautiful. Trees inspire me.  Trees are the oldest living beings on the planet.

Things I love about my Kindle:

  • Instant gratification. I can order and download an entire book in just a few seconds.
  • The dictionary. I don’t have to put the book down, or even turn the page, to access the dictionary. I select the line the word is on, and Kindle gives definitions for every word on the line (since it’s not possible to select a single word).
  • Six — count ’em — SIX choices of print size! Some people I know can read tiny print, but not this baby boomer. With the Kindle, I can adjust the print size so that reading is comfortable. And it’s good to know that I’ll be able to increase the size of the print as I get older. Most books don’t come in large print editions. With the Kindle, my choices will never be limited, no matter how thick my glasses get.
  • Convenient size. It’s lightweight and fits easily into my purse (or a briefcase, or backpack, for that matter).
  • Portable. I can take it with me anywhere — airplanes, dental appointments, the pharmacy, anywhere I might have a few moments to read. (And it’s much more pleasant than staring at the walls, reading bad magazines, or watching other people staring at the walls, reading bad magazines, or staring back at me.)
  • No dog ears. I can’t lose my place. I don’t have to put in a bookmark or dog ear a page to find where I left off. The trick is to always turn the Kindle off when closing it. Then it always opens to the last page I was reading.
  • Long-lasting battery. A full charge (overnight) usually lasts through an entire book.
  • Variety. Just about any reading material is available. There are newspapers, magazines, books, even textbooks and cookbooks available on Kindle.
  • Free samples. I’ve read so many books, and have so many favorite authors, that I have (an embarrassing number of times) purchased a book I have already read. Rather than return it, I end up giving it to someone (who may or may not throw it away without reading it), or donate it to the library. Amazon provides a sample of each book for Kindle readers. (That’s not necessarily so for every hard copy book they sell.) I get to read the first chapter or the first few pages without buying the book, so I don’t get “stuck” buying something twice.  And, I get to experience new authors without commitment to the purchase.
  • Reads like paper. The screen isn’t back lit like a computer monitor. I need light to read, but it’s easy on the eyes — feels just like reading paper pages.
  • It doesn’t hurt my hands. I have arthritis. And holding the pages of a book open — especially a new book — can be quite painful, if I’m reading for a long time.

Things that are not perfect (or I have not figured out how to use) on Kindle:

  • No definitions for foreign words. So far I’ve only been able to get English definitions. Maybe there’s a way to get definitions for foreign words, but I haven’t found it.
  • Poor quality cover. I suppose it protects the Kindle if you drop it, but the corners do not fit perfectly and it slips out rather often. Also the elastic strap gets stretched out. I sprang for the better case at about 50 dollars.  (You can buy it on Amazon, but it is NOT a Kindle item. It ships separately.) The quality is superior, it’s more comfortable, and it comes in several colors. Even more important, the Kindle fits in snugly without slipping out.
  • More features than I know how to use. There’s a way to use the Kindle for email and on line browsing, but I haven’t bothered to learn this. I really only bought it for reading, not as a laptop. (Someone else might see this as an advantage, but I don’t really want all those added features.)
  • Frequent resets required. When the charge gets low, it can freeze up. It’s simple enough to open the back cover and reset it with a paperclip. But this happens to me a lot (I tend to read for hours at a time), which can be annoying, especially if I forget to keep a paperclip handy.
  • There’s no going back. It’s difficult to “turn back” ten pages or two chapters to look at something you want to see again, though the Kindle it does have “bookmarks” that you can use to mark passages or chapters. So if you’re someone who goes back often, you might want to mark every chapter, so that you can go back more easily.
  • And a few random comments:

    Here’s one frustrating problem that I did manage to solve: When you order a sample, then buy the book, it won’t open to where you left off; it opens at the beginning. Every page has line numbers at the bottom. If you note these when you close the sample, you can “go to location” of that line after you download the whole book, and start where you left off.

    Oh, and then there’s the price. At $359 (as of today), it’s not an impulse buy for most people, if you only read a few books a year. Newly released Kindle books are usually $9.99 — compared to $20 or more (plus shipping) for hard copies. But if you buy as many books in a year as I do, it saves a fair amount of money.

    I’ve read complaints that the screen gets scratched, but I am very careful not to abuse my Kindle. I keep the cover on and have never had a problem.  (Yes, I have knocked it off the table a few times, but since the cover is always on, it never gets damaged.)

    All in all, the Kindle is PERFECT for people who LOVE to READ. I can sit out on my patio, read a book, and look at the beautiful trees in my yard without feeling like I’ve killed their children.

    Belinda Geiger

    Contributing Writer

    Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

    Related Category:

    Books on Kindle