Friday, October 19, 2012

Arctic Ice Melt

by Alison Tsai

The rate at which the ice in the Arctic is melting has reached record levels this year, setting off numerous predictions, warnings and questions about the future. The ice that melted had an area the size of Canada and Alaska combined, causing the total Arctic ice expanse to dip below 1.4 million square miles, a drastic change from the 2.7 million square miles in 1972. This massive discrepancy is largely due to human activity and the burning of fossil fuels.

The shrinking ice mass has had several notable effects, including the reopening of the Northwest Passage. The use of this passage would be beneficiary to large companies, who would glean bigger savings from a shorter shipping route through the Arctic.

But without as much white ice reflecting the sun’s heat, temperatures will rise, causing an amount of global warming equivalent to twenty years of carbon dioxide emissions. The warming is also affecting the jet stream, in which greater fluctuations may cause more extreme climate conditions. Animals indigenous to the area, as well as native communities, are already being forced to adapt.

The retreating ice has also allowed more accessibility to the fossil fuel supply the Arctic holds. This opens the area up to major ecological damage in the case of leaks or explosions. Shell has already been granted permission to drill for oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas and is expected have a $10 billion profit. Shell has already experienced problems with its spill containment dome though, raising concerns that the risks outweigh the profits.

Coastal cities are at risk as well, as rising sea levels threaten to encroach on the land. Island nations such as Tuvalu are already considering evacuation plans.

Some have predicted the ice will have almost completely melted as soon as 2020. One report predicts that if the earth does not adjust to climate change, over one hundred million lives will be lost by 2030.

These dire forecasts have environmentalists and other experts in the field clamoring for reform and change in human behavior before it is too late. Any difference you can incorporate into your daily living to reduce your CO2 emission footprint will help, whether it is by consuming less red meat, opting for public transport, walking or biking, purchasing local produce, using alternative energy sources, or choosing any of the countless other options.

What changes will you make?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

2012 DFW Solar Home Tour

by The Sustainability Steward

On Saturday, October 6, I toured some of the homes here in Plano on the annual DFW Solar Home Tour, sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES).  This is the 17th year that ASES held a national solar tour, with 14 homes in the Metroplex listed on the self-guided tour.  The City of Plano demonstrated its leadership in sustainability with four homes on the tour, the most of any one city the area. 
The homes on the tour were the Caldwell home at 3700 Hearst Castle, the Elliot residence at 2401 Trellis Lane, the Neukranz house at 3309 Rampart in east Plano, and the home at 3325 Canoncita occupied by Bill and Libby Perry.  Although it was an overcast day, it was a perfect way to visit with the homeowners and get their perspective of having solar panels installed on their roofs and the electricity savings that they are now seeing.
The first home I visited was the residence of John Caldwell on Hearst Castle drive. John is a fascinating individual, and not only discussed his solar energy system with me, but shared his organic garden and his patented invention, the bicep bike.  He teaches a gardening class through the Plano Parks and Recreation, while his bicep bike was recently highlighted on Gear TV (as also shown on Youtube):

His solar array gives him approximately 25% of his electricity needs, and on days that he is actually producing more than consuming electricity, TXU credits him at $.13 kWh for the energy he is producing for the power grid.
The next stop on the tour was the Perry home on Canoncita. Not only do they have panels on the south facing side of their home, but on the west side as well, and as a result, are averaging about 50% of their annual electricity consumption with the solar cells installed on their roof. 

Their system has been installed for a year, is able to be monitored online in real time. The Perry family was very open about the techniques they have adopted in water conservation as well, and have one of the most environmentally friendly homes I’ve encountered in our community.

The last home visited was the Elliot home on Trellis drive. This, too, has optimized its ability to collect energy from the sun with a nice array of south facing panels.  Panels are best positioned at a 33 degree angle facing the south, and a solar system of 4 kWh will typically generate over 5,000 kWh of electricity a year in our area. 

If you are interested in learning more about solar energy in our community, please consider joining the Plano Solar Advocates.  The Advocates have a goal to increase the installed base in the city of Plano to 5MWp of solar capacity by 2015, or, approximately 1000 homes or business sites with installed solar panels.  More information on the advocacy program and promoting Plano to become a leader in solar energy capacity in Texas can be found at:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Recycling for the Future of Plano

by Kris
For those of us lucky enough to call Plano home, we want to make sure it will remain a place we are proud to call home. We can start by taking advantage of those curbside recycle bins that have been at the end of our driveways for over a decade. Go Plano!
The curbside program collects the following recyclable materials to be processed for shipment to recycling markets:
  • Newspapers, magazines, & catalogs
  • Phone books
  • Glass jars, containers, dishes, drink ware, & vases
  • Paper bags
  • Aerosol cans
  • Aluminum cans
  • Junk mail
  • cardboard
  • Plastic bottles and containers
  • Shredded paper
  • Chipboards/boxboards
 So we have the bins and we know what to put in them, but WHY RECYCLE? Recycling:
  • Helps to sustain our environment for future generations
  • Conserves our natural resources and protects wildlife habitat and biodiversity
  • Decreases emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change
  • Reduces toxic chemicals and toxic waste
  • Saves energy
  • Prevents water pollution
  • Reduces the need for landfills and incineration
  • Increases manufacturing jobs
Those are only 8 of many more reasons why we should recycle, but they’re some great reasons aren’t they? Other ways to promote recycling, other than collecting and processing, is to purchase items we know that can be recycled. It’s a continuous loop that reduces room for additional waste. Once you get the hang of it, it will become a habit and you will know that you’re doing everything you can to make Plano (and our earth!) a better place for future generations to come.
I like to set out a paper bag near the garage where I put all my recyclable items throughout the week. Than the day before trash days, I’ll bring it all out and place it in the recycle bin. It’s that easy! It barely requires any effort, but we’re making this city better. Lastly, don’t forget - your habits often reflect on family and friends, so be a leader and start setting these green examples today!
Keep living green,

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


by EcoDad

Chances are that someone in your life is affected by asthma.  Asthma hits over 25 million people, so it is likely a friend, relative, or coworker, has been struggling to breathe in recent weeks.  You probably have seen them using their steroidal inhalers more often while others, like my wife, were forced to start taking prescription drugs such as singulair or prednisone to help open their airways.  

The reason for this is an increase in ozone air pollution.  You’ve seen the local weatherman on the news briefly mention today’s air pollution watch, or driven passed the signs on the highway that read, “orange air quality day, please carpool”. This is due to high levels of ground level ozone.  So, what is ground level ozone?  It is a gas consisting of 3 atoms of oxygen instead of the normal 2.  Ozone is not emitted directly into the atmosphere. Instead, it is formed when volatile organic compounds and nitric oxides react in direct sunlight.  Emissions from power plants, industrial facilities, and gasoline vapors contribute to the formation of ground level ozone. However, the main source is from motor vehicle emissions. 

Ozone pollution is a greater concern in the summer months due to the strong sunlight and high temperature, which are the ideal conditions for the chemical reactions that form ozone.  Ozone is a regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Unfortunately, most of North Texas is classified as a nonattainment area. This means that our area fails to meet EPA standards for ozone concentrations, so we already have a problem with this pollutant that is amplified during the hotter months.  Healthy people can also be affected. If you spend a lot of times outdoors during bad air quality days, you may find yourself out of breath easier or getting tired quicker. Coughing, sore throat, and chest pains, are some of the acute health problems caused by breathing in ozone. Repeated exposure can even cause permanent scarring of lung tissue.

You may be thinking, “but I thought ozone was good”. You are correct.  The EPA has a saying about ozone.  Good up high. Bad nearby.  Ozone in the stratosphere shields us from much of the sun’s harmful rays. However, in the troposphere, or ground level, it is a pollutant that has harmful effects on people and will even damage the trees, crops, and other foliage. There are many things that you can do to help your friends and family breathe easier.  Keep abreast of the day’s air quality index. You can download the Air Now apps for your smart phone, or sign up for email alerts at:  Whenever you see a bad air quality alert, be cognizant of the choices you will make, so that everyone in North Texas can breathe easier.

8 Things Anyone Can Do to Reduce Ozone

  1. Don’t sit in your car with the engine running. Avoid idling time in you vehicle whenever possible.
  2. Do not refuel your vehicle or lawn mower during bad ozone days. If you must, do so at night or early in the morning.
  3. Do not use outdoor gas equipment such as lawn mowers or leaf blowers.  You can drive to from Plano to Lake Texoma and back home and still produce less pollution than one hour of emissions from your gas mower.
  4. Consider electronic mowers.  Most residents of Collin County can receive a rebate for replacing their current gas mower with an electric....up to $150!!!
  5. Keep your vehicle well tuned.
  6. Carpool or use public transit.
  7. Use a propane grill instead of charcoal.
  8. Pray for rain.