Experimenting with Composting

Sqrlta asked me to write a short post on my experiences with composting. There are several excellent how-to articles on the web on composting that may do a better job but this is my experience and suited for my purpose.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, we were lucky enough to have space demarcated for composting although it was an open-style composting made up of wooden planks and chicken mesh. The previous owners had simply dumped dry leaves and twigs in and weren’t actively composting kitchen waste. The first thing I did was remove the mesh and planks from one side of the composting area and place a plastic composting container that I got from Amazon.

Compost Enclosures

Compost Enclosures – one open and other closed

Although you get composting barrels that make for better aeration and stirring, I found those expensive for my first foray into composting[1]. Plus, this container perfectly fit in the current enclosure I had carved out. The important aspects of composting are that its bottom should be in contact with the ground so organisms like earthworms can make their way through your compost. It should be well aerated and needs to be frequently stirred. Ideally, it should be damp and should have a proportionate mix of brown (dry leaves, small twigs, etc.) and green waste (kitchen waste). The container did not take too long to assemble and I already had some dry brown leaves to start. Also, make sure to keep it covered with a tight lid at all times so you do not attract rodents. It is advisable to place the compost container/area a little away from the house or rather the entrances of your house.

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  1. Most cities offer rebates for composting if you provide a receipt. Check with your city’s recycling/composting department first []


Maya Lin – Unchopping a Tree from What is Missing? Foundation on Vimeo. Nearly 90 acres of deforestation occurs every minute and deforestation accounts for 20% of global warming emissions [via Kottke].

Weather Betting

It seems like weather betting is in. First Nate Silver and now a Texan car dealer [hat tip]. The former to challenge global warming skeptics and the latter to boost his business.

The New & Improved Prius 2010

The prima donna of all hybrid cars, the Toyota Prius has released its 2010 edition and by all accounts has delivered its most perfect model so far. The most significant change is the enlarged and more powerful 1.8-liter gas engine that has tested to be more efficient than the old 1.5-liter one and has also improved acceleration. But couple of innovative optional (and expensive) packages caught my attention:

Two more option packages set the Prius apart from more common economy cars and aim to establish its wired reputation. First is the $3,600 solar roof package, which includes a solar panel that powers a cabin ventilation fan to keep the interior cooler when the car is parked. It also includes a remotely activated electric air conditioner the driver can use to pre-chill the interior for as much as three minutes before entering the car.

I find that a perfect merger of its perceived environmental image and consumer comfort. But I am somewhat skeptical of a ‘green car’ running a remote-controlled AC with no one in the car. The mileage has also increased to an astounding EPA mileage ratings of 51 mpg city and 48 mpg on the highway, compared to 48 and 45 mpg for the old car. However, the temptation to add more and more features for ever-demanding consumers has also proved to be too great:

It only gets worse in the winter, because the available leather-wrapped seats now boast electric seat heaters. These devices, among my favorite options in most new cars, are a contradiction in the Prius because the heating coils amount to a near-dead short in the electrical system that heats the wires built into the seat bottoms. It’s possibly the most profligate possible use of electricity, though one which I regularly enjoy in various test cars. This single feature probably draws more electricity than anything on the car save the electric motor, and it seems completely out of place on a Prius. And this doesn’t even address the matter having of leather seats in the car voted “Most likely to haunt the parking lots outside vegan markets.”

I guess environment-friendliness can be taxing and some people rather buy the Prius as an advertisement of their environmental beliefs rather than actually act on them. But still, the Toyota Prius is still a far superior hybrid vehicle than its counterparts. Pending some personal and professional decisions, I might be in the car market for a car soon and the temptation to get a hybrid is strong. However, the wallet will definitely rule supreme.

Picking faults in Wall·E

You know some people are simply itching to criticize when they pick minor faults in an animated movie to write a full-length column. Daniel Engber faults Wall·E for equating obesity with environmental collapse. He chides the movie for making fun of fat people and reminds us that genes have more to do with obesity than overeating.

Although largely right about reasons for obesity, he misses the point that Wall·E is trying to make. The movie never implies as Daniel suggests that we don’t change the way we live, we’ll all get really fat and destroy the world. I may be mistaken but I’m sure that the movie suggests that you first destroy the world and then get fat with all that lounging around on the cruise spaceship. I’m no expert on obesity but given the sedantary lifestyle of the people shown on the spaceship, you don’t need the help of genes to get obese. I disagree that “obese, infantile consumers who spend their days immobile in hovering lounge chairs, staring at ads on computers screens” are a subtle jab at Americans. I’ve seen more people serious about exercise and staying fit in American than I’ve in India. It is the lifestyle, stupid! People from any other nation or culture if possessed similar luxuries then they too would fall victim to obesity.

As I mentioned before, Wall·E may have references to protecting and conserving our environment but it definitely doesn’t make any sort of direct reference against or taunts to obese people. *Spoiler Alert* Mind you, the obese captain does manage to wrest control from his HAL-like controlling robot in spite of his obese frame. That said, it doesn’t mean that Wall·E is a perfect movie and doesn’t suffer from anamolies. Sunil writes about several such inconguities and anamolies; some of which had crossed my mind as well. But the charge that Daniel hurls at the movie doesn’t hold much water.

Google turns its light off

Black Google

Google turned off its lights in support of the global lights out or as they liked to call it in India, Batti Bandh. Did you? This campaign was conducted when I was back in India.Unfortunately it did turn out quite the way it was supposed to be with all the billboards and even the Governor’s House still blazing bright.

Green Train Toilets in India

One of the worst nightmares of Indian public transportation is in using the toilets in the long-distance trains. Even the so-called upper class trains like the Rajdhani didn’t have half-decent toilets at least when I last traveled. I remember holding it back for the entire journey which sometimes lasted couple of days just so that I didn’t have to use the bathroom. Luckily for guys, it is easier to pee without making much contact with the surrounding so I pity the ladies who have to use those toilets.

One of the strangest sights while traveling by trains is peering down the hole and watching the ground whiz by. You couldn’t help but wonder that who in the hell would have thought about such a simple yet disgusting solution for dumping the waste. This open disposal system only made things worse when the trains stopped at the stations sometimes for a long time. But of course, that didn’t stop the people from using them. And you can imagine the mess and stink on the railway tracks especially for people waiting on the platform after the train has departed.According to the article linked below, more than 300,000 litres of human waste from “open-discharge” toilets is littered across India’s 40,000-mile rail network.

Humra Lalu seems to have made quite an impression in the Railways ministry because after he took over as the Railways Union minister, things have been seemingly looking up, revenue-wise although I’m doubtful how much of the credit can be attributed to Lalu. But given the state of toilets as described above and also probably in light of the recent ‘miracle baby’ born in the toilet, the decision to install ‘green toilets’ in more than 36,000 rail coaches comes as a welcome relief. In the recent budget presentation, Lalu promised that three toilet models – controlled discharge, biodegradable and vacuum-retention toilets – would be fitted on the passenger coaches. These operate in the following manner:

  • Controlled discharge model waste from toilets would be discarded onto the tracks only when any train traveled more than 18 miles an hour (solves the problem of littering the tracks at the station).
  • Biodegradable toilet converted the litter via a microbial or chemical process into non-corrosive carbon dioxide or chlorinated liquid (prevent stink and protects the environment)
  • Vacuum-retention toilets, similar to the ones in aircraft, retains the waste in a storage tank (probably the best solution if disposed off properly when the tanks are emptied out).

This decision was hardly made due to hygienic and sanitation conditions but in fact on economic grounds as the disposed waste wore out the rail tracks and associated fittings faster than they are expected to. They have to be replaced every two years although their expected shelf life is at least 30 years. The retrofitting of the toilets is expected to cost around $1billion but I’m sure they’ll recover this cost through savings in replacement part and most of all, conservation of the environment by preventing monsoon rains washing off all that filth into surrounding rivers and lakes.

I’m glad the Indian Railways are leading the way in making large-scale infrastructural changes to the network even though they are starting from the toilets. Hopefully they’ll also install a baby retrieval system. Perhaps next time I travel long-distance by train although chances of doing so in the age of cheaper air travel is remote, I might just relieve myself before arriving at the destination. Of course, considering that my fellow-passengers have remembered to aim correctly.

Change the Margins to Save Trees

Can 0.5 inches save a rain forest? Change the Margins believes so. They want to alter the printing margin preference for Microsoft Word documents from the standard 1.25 inches to 0.75 inch leading Americans to save a whole lot of paper — and trees, and money. Worth a thought, eh?

Green Commercial Shipping

Ships pulled by a giant para sail. Green shipping?

Project Tiger Needed Again

Tigers are rapidly approaching extinction levels in India. The number of tigers has dropped from 5,000 to 1,300 in the past seven years. Probably we need another Project Tiger.

Change your Leaders

Friedman explains why changing your leaders for the environment might be better than changing your light bulbs.

Thirsty Atlanta

My friends in Atlanta might be having a little less water to splash around. Georgia is experiencing its worst drought and the city’s primary water source, Lake Lanier is at historic low levels. The water scarcity problem has been further exacerbated by the need to let go water from the reservoir downstream to Florida and Alabama. This downstream water flow through Chattahoochee river protects mussels and other species of fish. The protection of this wildlife is not only important from a conservation point of view but the economy of small towns downstream is heavily dependent on them.

Politicians in Georgia are crying foul and blaming the Army Corps of Engineers who manages the water level and downstream flow. Some politicians are even questioning their motives by pitting man against nature and say, it is despicable to see the Corps trying to save some fish over humans and goes against the natural order of priorities. Well, in fact such logic is skewed because damming rivers and redirecting flows of major rivers is as unnatural as you can get. Of course, doing so leads to development of cities but if you overstretch the limit of these resources more than what they were designed for, ultimately you are looking at the destruction of both beneficiaries. Favoring the humans over the fish might solve the problem for Atlanta in the short term but it does nothing to change the trend of over-the-top urban growth in metropolitan Atlanta. I’m sure people in Atlanta are not lacking in basic water needs such as drinking and bathing but might feel the pinch when they water their lawns around their McMansions. This shortage might just be a way for nature to reclaim what was rightfully hers just as building homes in marshy hurricane-prone regions ain’t going to last forever. Las Vegas is one such city which technically shouldn’t exist simply because it is heavily reliant on the Hoover dam for its water needs (it’s in a desert, for crying out loud!) So can Las Vegas really handle a ceaseless in-migration of people who continue to consume resources at levels of their other American counterparts? Do we really see a conscious understanding among the people to live off the limited resources just as any historic civilization would?

Whoever said that the next war would be over water isn’t off the mark. Certain African countries are already experiencing climate-related conflicts and we are only too aware of the political battles between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery waters. Georgia, Florida, and Alabama now find themselves in the middle of such a battle. In a rational process, people would eventually move away from regions that lack water resources just as animals find a new watering hole but our technological capabilities allow us to prolong the inevitable just a while longer. And when everything else fails, we always have the option of war. Wars have been fought for far less significant reasons so envisioning such a scenario over a life-saving resources is not exactly improbable. Although we might not see Georgia and Florida going to war just yet but the fight over resources that know no political boundaries is causing lot of heartburn in both states and may virtually impact the way of life.

The only solution from this mess although it may be a tad late for Atlanta now is sustainable living. The government cannot always impose restrictions on consumption. Traditionally, such conservation or living with limited resources has been ingrained within the social and urban fabric of any city. However, with unbounded mobility of people within cities there isn’t a common culture of conservation that a city can call its own especially in sunbelt cities which have enjoyed abundance in natural resources to care for conservation. It is simply coming back to bite them.

Should Al Gore now run for President?

After winning the Oscar and an Emmy for his contribution in filming his movement against global warming, Al Gore made it a Triple Crown by adding the Nobel Peace Prize to his kitty. The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Al Gore and UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.Incidentally, the head of the UN Panel is a desi, Rajendra Pachauri and this news has been rightly greeted in the desi blogospheric circles with joy although Amardeep at Sepia Mutiny asks if you can claim to have ‘won’ the prize if you are only the head of a panel that actually won it. But minor quibbles asides, at least celebration of this Indian’s achievement won’t be as ridiculous as calling Sunita Williams Gujarati ki Beti.

However, on this side of the Atlantic the focus is entirely on Al Gore and his mounting achievements in the field of climate change. In spite of painstaking research over the years by many scientists, the effects of climate change have only recently made it to the public consciousness. Al Gore’s documentary-movie, An Inconvenient Truth along with his travels and lectures around the world has been largely credited with the awakening of this just cause. Since people are waking up to the threats of global warming, Gore’s supporters have been insisting that he run for President in 2008. Their requests (or demands) are understandable. The current President who got lesser votes than Gore in that error-riddled election in 2000 is at an historic low in terms of popularity. The current crop of candidates on either do not evoke similar sentiments of feverish fan following. And finally, Al Gore enjoys an enviable reputation around the world and has built up significant political capital that he could leverage to catapult him to the White House. A website, has been set up solely for that cause and has gathered nearly 100,000 signatures in favor of its cause. But is that all that is required to win a President’s race?

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Al Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize

“Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and lay the foundations for counteracting it” [source].

5 Simple Ways to Save Gas

Nope, I am not going to ask you to stop driving your car. The wheel, according to me has been man’s greatest invention and has radically altered our civilization so we don’t expect it to go away any time soon. At the same time, the way we use our wheels may be important for the health of our planet and more so for our continued civilization as we know it. Thanks to the refining shortfall in the United States, we are experiencing astronomical rise in gas prices. This post was initially meant for Darren’s Group Writing Project but I guess I was too late for it. Anyway, here goes:

1. Don’t do the drive-thru

I know, not getting out of your car and picking up that burger or coffee right from the window of the restaurant is tempting. We all do it for the sake of convenience and as a time-saving effort. But rarely are drive-thru lines empty. Usually we have to wait behind at least 3-4 cars even in a small town like College Station. the rush hour (early mornings) is especially crazy outside Starbucks. You would save a lot of time and gas if you just parked and got your coffee. Given that all cars are in the drive-thru lane, the nearest parking spots are vacant.

2. Park at the first available spot

One of the times you waste gas the most is not when you are driving on the highway but instead when you are looking for a parking spot in a crowded lot of a mall. You know that elusive parking spot right near the entrance (and next to the disabled spots) is most likely to be occupied yet you hope it is not and drive past it when in fact, a spot just dozens of feet away is empty. You keep driving around to find a spot that will make you walk couple of feet less. Why? Expecting that person idling his car in the parking spot to back out? He is not, he is just waiting for his wife to get back while he enjoys the cool airconditioning (the worst offender!)

I say, go for the furtherest parking spot where you are assured of an empty spot almost always and walk it out. Trust me, it won’t kill you. You always have your shopping cart to bring out your loot.

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