Many of us may not realize this, but the word "ecology"
originates from the Greek words meaning the "study of homes." Our
house needs to be private, safe, and comfortable. We still need to
keep in mind that our home is a part of a larger home--the earth.
Problem: Forests vs. Furniture Most of the time, our furniture comes from tropical
forests. There, precious woods such as teak, rosewood, and mahogany
are logged irresponsibly, leading to tropical deforestation. To help
consumers be aware of companies that cut wood responsibly, the Rainforest
Alliance is issuing "Smart Wood" certificates to these companies.
To be designated as a "responsible" logging company, watershed stability
must be maintained and erosion must be controlled. Furthermore, loggers
need to replant trees to avoid total deforestation.
Another alternative to buying wood from tropical
forests is to purchase furniture made from wood grown in plantations.
This prevents forests from being cut down, which can take hundreds
of years to regrow.
Problem: Toxic Chemicals at Home
There are many hidden health and environmental hazards
that can be found at home. Here is a small list:
Acids: these can be found in standard household cleaners and pool
chemicals. Those with a pH of 0 to 5 are highly corrosive.
Batteries: they can contain corrosive and toxic chemicals,
such as lead, mercury, and cadmium.
Cadmium: this metal element is poisonous to humans and can
be found in paint and batteries.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): these are manmade chemicals that are
trademarked as Freon, Genetron, and Isotron. They destroy ozone by
introducing chlorine into the stratosphere.
Lead: this heavy metal is poisonous when inhaled or ingested.
It is found in old paint, pottery, old pipes, dust, and old water supplies.
Mercury: this metal can be found in batteries that look like "buttons,"
found in hearing aids, watches, and calculators. It is the only metal
that is liquid at room temperature, and is highly poisonous.
Petroleum distillates: these are hydrocarbons which are produced
by the refinement of crude oil. They are present in lip cosmetics,
fertilizers, and fuels.
Solvents: these chemicals can dissolve other substances. Some
common toxic examples are benzene, alcohol, methanol, naphthas, paint thinner
(turpentine), acetone, and a few cleansers and paints.
Polyurethane: can be found in furniture as foam. It is highly
Formaldehyde: a toxic chemical that is used as a preservative; present
in no-iron sheets.
Paint: Use latex paint instead of oil-based paint. Oil-based paint is highly toxic, and its manufacturing produces nasty pollutants. Dispose of paint as hazardous waste, or with latex paint you can let it evaporate outside for one year. Then, you can dispose of it with the rest of your trash. Don't clean your paintbrushes outside, because this can contaminate groundwater; clean them in a sink. Or, instead of trashing excess paint, you can donate it to a school or to someone else who needs to use it.
Usually, we use very toxic household cleansers.
However, there are alternatives. We can use phosphate-free, biodegradable
detergents and dishwashing liquids. Chlorine-based scouring powders
should be avoided, and furniture polishes should be 100% pure beeswax.
To avoid metal polishes that contain ammonia and sulfuric acid, which can
irritate the skin, you can use common household chemicals. Lay the
cutlery on aluminum foil in a pan, and cover it with 2-3 inches of water.
Next, add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Boil it
for 2-3 minutes, and then dry. Brass and copper can be cleansed with
lemon juice and salt instead.
Problem: Excessive Garbage We need to learn how to manage the stream of waste
that flows out of our house every trash day. By simply recycling,
reducing, and reusing your waste, you can help the environment (and earn
or save money!). But how can you know what can be recycled?
Well, take our simple quiz:
Problem: Energy Decisions --
Which type of power is best?
-"Fossil fuels are limited, and nuclear power has great problem.
Why, then, are we not using the resources which the
Earth gives us - the power of the waves or the
wind? We must look ahead, and there is no time
to waste. If we can split the atom, we can surely
harness the tide!"-
Patrick Moore - British astronomer, broadcaster, musician and composer.
Fossil Fuel Of the fossil fuel, natural gas emits the least
amount of carbon dioxide per unit of energy. Oil is next, and then
coal emits twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. The worst
carbon dioxide emitters are synthetic fuels made from coal. The problem
with fossil fuel is that they cannot be replaced, and they release carbon
dioxide, a gas which contributes to the greenhouse
effect. One possibility to improve the environmental impact of
fossil fuel is to remove the carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of
fossil fuel at the power plant, like large industries and utilities.
It is estimated that to remove one half of the carbon dioxide will double
the price of this type of electricity, and a removal of 90% of the carbon
dioxide will cost six or seven times as much.
Solar Thermal Solar electricity is a very promising alternative
to other electricity options. This type of electricity is formed
from steam produced by solar heat, aided by the burning of natural gas.
During the day, this type of electricity costs just a little more than
that of nuclear power plants.
Photovoltaics Another type of solar electricity is formed when
sunlight directly strikes photovoltaic cells. The cost of these cells
has dropped dramatically, and potentially this type of electricity can
be produced below the cost of nuclear power. Research on photovoltaics
could help alleviate the energy problem in the future, since much of the
sun's energy is wasted by being reflected off the earth and back into the
atmosphere. If you would like more information about setting up solar
devices to harvest the energy of the sun, you can contact the American
Solar Energy Society, 2400 Central Avenue G-1, Boulder, CO 80301, phone:
303-443-3130, fax: 303-443-3212.
Hydropower Although hydropower is clean, it has devastating
effects upon an ecosystem. There are few crucial sites left for natural
wildlife and river recreation, and we should preserve these. Dams
change natural cycles in the water, which can disrupt the water
cycle and destroy an ecosystem--without water there is no life.
Dams also can cause contamination of the water with mercury, and disrupts
the spawning ground of fish. Many salmon swim upstream to mate, jumping
up cascades and over obstacles; they cannot jump over a dam! Flooding
of areas that were previous homes to other animals results from damming
a river, along with drying up fertile areas.
OTEC (Ocean-Thermal) This type of power generation utilizes ocean currents
caused by vertical temperature differences. However, the environmental
impact of this type of energy is not yet known.
To obtain geothermal energy, heat is taken from
hot water deep underground. The heat comes from radioactive decay
deep within the Earth. It is not known how practical this type of
power is as a replacement for fossil fuel, but it is known that the world's
geothermal base is as large as our coal base.
Wind Power Have you ever travelled through the desert and seen
funny looking white egg-beaters or windmills? These strange-looking
devices are harvesting the power of the wind. Wind arises from the
unequal heating of the earth from the sun, which causes a wind turbine
to spin. We can then harvest the energy. Unfortunately, it
takes many turbines to produce electricity, and when there is no wind,
there is no electricity generated.
Nuclear Over the years, nuclear power has been discredited,
although it emits no carbon dioxide. The biggest problem is the storage
and disposal of radioactive material, which is dangerous because it can
cause mutations and all sorts of cancers. Furthermore, nuclear power
plants can easily be converted into highly destructive weapons, which makes
this type of power dangerous to the countries using it, and all the countries
around it. We don't want another cold war!
The best choice: Be Energy Efficient By not wasting electricity, you can help reduce
carbon dioxide emissions created by making the electricity, and save money.
Furthermore, by saving energy you can help the environment! You can't
lose by just doing simple things such as turning out the lights when you
are not in the room and carpooling -- as a bonus you can save money.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs give the same amount of light as
incandescent bulbs, using only 20% to 40% of the electricity. By
replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb used just four hours a day with
a 22-watt fluorescent bulb, you can save 114 kilowatt-hours on your energy
bill and 180 pounds of carbon dioxide anually.