Does ‘Being Green’ Mean ‘Saving Money’? Well, Not always….

It is not new that plants help the environment, but I’ve been trying to read more news on the internet about helping the environment in general and I must confess that I am bored. If you google any site talking about environment you will find someone talking about climate change and CO2 and another one saying that CO2 is not causing climate change. It is like have your own soccer team or political party, it is not science any more. Look this article talking about green roofs. This article talks about the advantages and disadvantages (including costs and maintenance) of the roofs (which are not cheap by the way). However, there is one last part in the last line where it says something about “cooling the planet”. Damn it! You go to the commentaries and global warming this, CO2 that. Sometimes you can find even more radical ideas as we should not eat meat because the carbon footprint. Ok, yeah, we should also breath less to release less CO2 and we also should hold our farts because of the releasing of methane (another and even more powerful greenhouse gas). So, are we missing the point? Could we please focus on the benefits versus disadvantages of green roofs? Are we saving the planet using a green roof? I doubt it. However it is an interesting idea, and could be applicable considering the costs/maintenance. They need to be adapted to each place and situation  and of course for some places they can’t be economically viable because they probably need more maintenance than traditional roofs. So a balance must exist.

Credit: Arild Vågen – Own work

Another interesting idea is the use of rain gardens to help the runoff problem. Runoff is the portion of rainfall, snowmelt, and/or irrigation water that runs over the soil surface toward the stream rather than infiltrating into the soil. Each soil type has an infiltration rate (the amount of water able to enter the soil in a specified time period) and infiltration capacity (the upper limit of infiltration rate). However in urban areas the infiltration rate could be close to zero because of the impervious areas (roofs, driveways, parking lots, pavements, compacted soils). Consequently the runoff in urban areas is large and it is a major component of flash floods. In addition runoff flows can pick up soil contaminants such as petroleum, pesticides, fertilizers, trace metals, etc.

The rain gardens capture the initial flow of storm water and reduce the accumulation of toxins flowing directly into natural waterways. Thus the stormwater soaks into the ground instead of flow directly to storm drains.  In addition, they help to control erosions due the excessive runoff. Similarly to green roofs, rain gardens have to be adapted to place and situation. For example, native plants are recommended (for both) because they are more tolerant of one’s local climate, soil, and water conditions.

A place which has a rain garden and a green roof is more environmental friendly and it is also helping to save the world, right? Well, it is important to remember the costs and maintenance of these products. Be green does not mean cheap or easy. However the advantages of green roof and rain garden such as energy savings, runoff and pollution reduction, temperature control should also be considered. Maybe you won’t save the world but you can save a few bucks and have a better lifestyle. Besides, it is St. Patrick’s day, so green is the official color.

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Living Architecture Backgrounders

Changing Ecosystems for the Good. Another Glimpse of Hope

Fact: Humans are changing the world and our landscape and consequently some ecosystems. Is it good or bad? I must admit, my last posts are not really encouraging. We are changing our landscape more for the bad. Sometimes I am searching the internet and then I find hope. After a beautiful ecosystem being totally changed to an infertile ground, Is it possible to rehabilitate it? In Green Gold environmental film maker John D. Liu documents large-scale ecosystem restoration projects in China, Africa, South America and the Middle East, highlighting the enormous benefits for people and planet of undertaking these efforts globally.

I couldn’t believe. It is true! This movie proves if humans want to they can do amazing things for the good. I’d like to see more projects like that. I have more links, I will try to read more about it and post here.

Changes in the Water Cycle Expected with Climate Change. Are We Doomed?

Everybody know we are evolving as human beings. Is this true? When I see how clean water has being handled I have some questions. More than a billion people across the globe don’t have access to safe water. Every day 3900 children die as a result of insufficient or unclean water supplies. The situation can only get worse as water gets ever more scarce. The world without clean water. How many times I’ve heard that. The humankind is polluting, wasting, diverting, pumping, and degrading the clean water that we have. On top of that, water has being privatized. Why? Because is becoming rare and only what is rare is valuable! The rampant over-development of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth. There are companies now saying why don’t we bottle it, mine it, divert it, sell it, commodify it. Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geopolitical map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars. The following two documentaries show how the problem is affecting countries in the world. It is interesting how two documentaries show the same topic. They complement each other.

So, why can we be friends with nature? Is there any hope? According with this recent paper from nature climate:

Adaptation of water resources management will help communities adjust to changes in the water cycle expected with climate change, but it can’t be fixed by innovations alone.

The paper talks about the Pangani River, where the Tanzania Electric Supply Company has three hydropower plants. There, climate change is affecting the water cycle, changing precipitation amounts and droughts duration which is altering the way farmers, pastoralists and Tanzania’s energy company are managing water. All over the world new techniques and planning have been developed. The urban and rural development plans (sometimes) are moving away from large, static projects by combining sustainable approaches of engineering and ecology.

For the Pangani River, leaders adjusted water allocation policies with the changing needs of the communities. Still, they made water availability for ecosystems a main priority by maintaining at least a minimum flow of water to wetlands, riparian forests and mangroves to provide water for wildlife including fish, plants for medicinal use, timber and fruits, for example. Then, as the region’s population swelled, water uses for urban city centres were balanced with the needs of subsistence farmers, pastoralists and the Tanzanian energy company. That same kind of flexibility is the hallmark of the new thinking on water management. Rather than relying on large, long-lived concrete infrastructure, often built all at once and designed based on historical climatic conditions.

It makes sense. Rather than isolating water management issues within a single field, such as engineering or hydrology, the team to solve these problems should include economists, hydrologists, policymakers and engineers. Solutions have been proposed such as the redesigning of water treatment plants that can accommodate extreme rainfall, and the adding of city orchards and grassed bio-swales (which resemble marshy depressions in the land) to slow the flow of storm water from sidewalks. They will act as green sponges all over the city. Thus the water gets soaked up avoiding pumping every time it rains.

Another good example comes from Japan where it is possible to be sustainable (of course I am not talking about the Japanese nuclear power stations). Over centuries they reshaped the land where people and nature could remain in harmony. For the Japanese, it is important that they have a special word for it, satoyama, villages where mountains give way to plains. The satoyama landscape is a system in which agricultural practices and natural resource management techniques are used to optimize the benefits derived from local ecosystems. In the Satoyama villages, each home has a built in pool or water tank that lies partly inside, partly outside its’ walls… A continuous stream of spring water is piped right into a basin, so freshwater is always available. People rinse out pots in the tank and clean their freshly picked vegetables. If they simply pour the food scraps back in the water, they risk polluting the whole village supply. However, carps do the washing up there scouring out even the greasy or burnt pans. Cleaned up by the carp, the tank water eventually rejoins the channel. This documentary talks about the Satoyama villages:

In the Satoyama villages the products obtained (including food and fuel) help safeguard the community against poverty, but without degrading the land, water or other resources. Of course documentaries have a bias towards the ideas which they want to show but can you spot the difference? Also, is water public or private? Am I saying no more bottled water? Am I saying everybody should live in a Satoyama village? No. However I balance must exist between extraction and use. We need to reinvent ourselves.

Do you have anything to say? I’d like to hear your opinion.

More information:

Click to access e_satoyama_pamph.pdf

Journal References:
Palmer, L. (2014). The next water cycle Nature Climate Change, 4 (11), 949-950 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2420

Dr. Agr. Kazuhiko Takeuchi,Robert D. Brown Ph.D., Dr. Sci. Izumi Washitani, Dr. Agr. Atsushi Tsunekawa, Dr. Agr. Makoto Yokohari (2003). Satoyama, The Traditional Rural Landscape of Japan Springer Japan DOI: 10.1007/978-4-431-67861-8

PalyPump an Awesome Idea to Mitigate the Clean Water Problem

Clean water is a problem for some countries, mainly in Africa. In my last post about water there is a link to a documentary called FLOW. For 4 or 5 seconds a guy mention something about a playpump. So I decided to know a little bit more about that idea. Roundabout Water Solutions, who has an agreement with the South African Department of Water Affairs and the Governments of Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland, is raising donor funds to supply rural communities, with clean drinking water, by means a sustainable pumping system, called a PlayPump, that is powered by the play of children.


Ideas like that to help small communities are more than welcome as in How Solar Energy Empowered a Nicaraguan Community Once Devastated by War. However there are some disadvantages as mentioned by this report released by UNICEF in 2007. For example the pumps cost around $14 000 which are more expensive than traditional pumps. Also a Playpump could theoretically provide the bare minimum water requirements for about 200 people a day based on two hours’ constant “play” every day[1]. It is a great idea but it is not to solve to problem the intention is to mitigate it. Of course the costs should be lower than that.

via (read more in) Welcome to Roundabout Water Solutions.