Not-So-Environmental Movie Review: Switch

Two days ago, Taylor and I watched a frustrating un-environmental film called “Switch” (trailer) that explores alternative energy sources.

The film follows Texas geology professor Dr. Scott Tinker on a quest around the world to find practical solutions to our energy problems.  He explores every major source of energy, including hydro, coal, oil, biofuels, wind, solar, and nuclear and judges how economically practical they are.  Tinker interviews experts on each energy type, and tries to show how our current power sources logistically and technically operate.  We see a variety of energy machinery and infrastructure, from a Shell oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico to a bubbling geothermal power plant in Iceland.  The film turns shortly thereafter into a “natural gas and fracking are awesome” show, and cuts to a clip of Tinker lecturing a class on how alternative energy technologies need at least another fifty years of development before they can supplant fossil fuels.  In the meantime, he calls for increased natural gas and nuclear energy production.  Continue reading

Our First Pittsburgh Sustainability Salon

Two weekends ago, we attended a “sustainability salon” hosted by local green advocate/gardener extraordinare Dr. Maren Cooke.  On her blog, Maren describes sustainability salons as “basically a house party with an environmental theme,” including guest speakers, a potluck meal, interesting conversation, and a little music making.  The theme for this one, the fourteenth, was food: growing, sourcing, local, organic, etc.

I first heard about the sustainability salons through a lab-mate of mine.  I asked for information from Maren’s husband, a professor in the chemistry department here, and he put me in touch.

The salons are held in their house, an interesting and very green building.  Although the front looks like a normal house with an overgrown winterized garden, the main living area is a wide open space constructed from local wood.  The roof of the house is covered in both solar panels and raised-bed vegetable gardens.  We didn’t get to tour the roof because it was snowy, but I hope to see it soon.

Maren’s rooftop garden! Image from marenslist.blogspot.com

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Composting at Olde Dartmouth Farm

This morning, Taylor and I visited a farm near my parents’ house in Massachusetts with a huge composting operation.  My father bought some fresh compost recently for his garden and brought us along to take a look at where it came from.  The main operation is a horse farm, run by the wife of the farmer we met with. They board 18 horses and give riding lessons.  The farmer, Tom, cleans out the stables every day and uses the manure to make compost.  He has four huge piles, and all he does is move the decomposing material from site to site every few months, which turns it over and allows it to air out.  The last pile is rich, dark, and earthy smelling.  He sells the compost to local gardeners, farmers, and businesses.

Tom also told us about his other green practices on his land, which he is hoping to improve with grants from the government.  The land is sloped to reclaim all rainwater that falls on it, forcing it into a little pond.  Tom is hoping to build a basin next to the piles of compost to let the water settle and filter before transferring it to the pond, and then he is planning organic gardens for the land around the pond.

He mentioned that he had wanted to install a huge wind turbine to generate power, but his neighbors made so much of a fuss about it being unsightly and the vibrations being disruptive that he gave up.  This is happening all over the area because a few poorly engineered projects have given wind a bad reputation.

Visiting this farm has inspired us to get to work on our own compost. (Worms are next!) It’s comforting to stumble upon green practices and people who really believe sustainability is important. Hopefully we can visit more green or organic farms in the future.