Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where, o Where, is the Great Bear These Days?

Let me be clear... I ABHOR nighttime lighting. I do understand (and appreciate!) the importance of some lighting for safety and security. But my previous post should have made clear how excessive and redundant much of our nighttime illumination really is.

Anyone who has tried to escape the evening glow that emanates constantly from the Miami skyline can attest to its intrusive nature. Whether you are on a vessel in the middle of Biscayne Bay, camping overnight at the remote outpost of Flamingo, or hunkered down in the Florida Keys, Miami is always discernible-- manifesting itself as a semi-circular orb of conspicuous light erupting off the horizon. Thanks to such pollution, the south Florida night sky is typically dominated by only the brightest first and second-magnitude stars. A few familiar asterisms still appear (i.e., the big dipper), but the larger constellations they help form have long since disappeared from view. Think about it-- we, and our children, can no longer view the same stars that have been seen by our collective ancestors since the dawn of human history. Our generation has successfully conquered the moon while simultaneously extinguishing the stars around it.

I myself have often been complicit. I've been known to enjoy some holiday lighting around the home, and have often left the porch light on to welcome visitors. Time to investigate new strategies for cutting my electrical use and dimming my own light output.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Humbug! My December Epiphany

Yesterday's Earth Hour gave me occasion to remember a time this past December when I briefly thought I was having a near-death experience. And not surprisingly, it occurred while running through the streets of Miami. Let me explain...

I try to get in a few miles of jogging every day in the early morning. On one such run in December, I was unexpectedly overcome by some very bright light in the pre-dawn hours.It wasn't the light of the full moon that illuminated the night sky brightly that morning. Nor was it the strobe light that flashed brilliantly from my armband to alert passing motorists of my presence. Nor was it the LED strobes from the cyclists, runners, and school buses that I passed along my daily path in turn. Nor was it the headlights and high beams that greeted me head-on as I passed vehicles in the street, nor the crimson taillights of those traveling in the opposite direction. It wasn't even the gaudy, multi-colored displays of the holiday season that blinked and burned with the light of a thousand bulbs wastefully in the wee hours of morning.

Rather, it was a newly installed series of streetlights that caught me by surprise. I had watched them get installed over the previous year along the relatively desolate road that I regularly run. This "improvement" to the community was proudly promoted as a product of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA)-- supposed evidence of progress beyond our disastrous economic slump. And though the largely unnecessary street lamps only cost us a quarter million dollars, I wonder where the money will come from to operate and maintain them for the decades to come.

It wasn't until that December morn that I had seen the new lights in operation. Though the surprisingly brilliant light I encountered was not a portal to the afterlife, it did give me pause to consider the hell of light pollution in which I reside while alive.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tonight... One Hour... Make a Statement

Since 2007, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been organizing the annual Earth Hour, a now international grassroots effort to intended to highlight the important things we can do collectively for the good of the one resource we all share in common-- the blue planet. The idea is simple: individuals, organizations, and governments-- representing hundreds of millions of people-- will turn off their lights at precisely 8:30 PM this evening for a full 60 minutes in a show of solidarity and cooperation. Will you participate?

Organizers leave it up to the individual participants to decide how they will honor Earth Hour, as it is a largely symbolic event. Though the focus is on turning off non-essential lighting, you are free to show your commitment to conservation however you see fit. For those of us who have just spent the day basking in the south Florida warmth, it can also mean just turning off your a/c for an hour. Most importantly, its a time to consider how we can all show leadership in extending conservation practices beyond the sixty minutes of Earth Hour...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tragedy In Japan Makes It Hard To Keep It Light

Since I started this project a few months back, I've always tried to keep a wry sense of humor about it. But, as I mentioned in my very first post, my quest to become a more conscientious and efficient energy user is strongly rooted in more serious concerns. In particular, efforts on the part of Florida Power and Light to construct two new nuclear reactors on the shores of Biscayne Bay prompted me to finally take stock of how I was living in favor of wiser use. After all, if it is possible to halve our current consumption through simple changes in behavior, is expanding Turkey Point really worth the additional risks to our health and environment?

The frightening reality unfolding around the badly damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is a resounding wake-up call to the rest of the world. Five days into the aftermath, the plant has not only suffered three major explosions, but a tank holding spent fuel rods is now ablaze. The reactors are experiencing a meltdown worse than Three Mile Island, and rapidly approaching the severity of Chernobyl.

The devastation in Japan is gut-wrenching and so extensive that it-- like another disaster called Charlie Sheen-- is difficult to process with the human mind. Still, we had better pay attention. EVERY nuclear facility we construct is wrought with some element of risk. Regardless of where it is constructed, EVERY nuclear facility bears a real probability of failure. Whether by the sheer force of a tsunami or a powerful surge of a tropical storm; whether by the howling winds of a tornado or a typhoon, or at the careless hands of a technician or the careful hands of terrorist-- EVERY plant is susceptible to unimaginable damage.

Monday, March 14, 2011

49 Bucks! 49 BUCKS!!!!

That's the total of this month's energy bill: $49.30! I didn't think it was possible, but our energy bill dropped even LOWER than last month's $55.00 charge. We actually used 70 kWh less energy over the past four weeks. And that's a more than 60% reduction in energy use from the same time period last year. Not bad for a family of four living in a 4/2 in south Florida!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

1 Catfish = 2 Months of Home Energy Use!

Time to update our tally once more. As we figured earlier, the departure of our walking catfish on Saturday and it's requisite aquarium can expect to save us 0.24 kWh per day. And since there are approximately 300 days left in this year, that equates to a projected energy savings of 72kWh for 2011. Make no mistake about it, pets of every shape, size, and species require a great deal of energy (from both our outlets and ourselves!) The aquarium I've maintained in my home for the past ten years used an estimated 870 kWh of energy. At my current consumption rates, that's almost enough juice to power my ENTIRE home for two straight months!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where Do Catfish Go To Mingle With Boas and Pythons?

I'm at a crossroads: how do I resolve my current catfish dilemma? There is a way.

Every year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sponsors a Nonnative Pet Amnesty Day at ZooMiami. The event is an opportunity for owners of non-domesticated animals (no doggies or kitties, please) to turn in pets they can no longer care for to a network of certified adopters. Provided they are healthy at the time of surrender, no animal is euthanized. I will be taking my (very healthy!) walking catfish to the event this coming Saturday.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Energy/Environment/Animal Welfare Dilemma

So here's the current state of affairs. I have a nonnative species that has been living with me for the past five years. That's one less invasive organism causing harm in the wild, right? Except that the very act of keeping it alive is still causing measurable environmental harm through the otherwise unnecessary use of energy (not to mention the associated manufacturing of the aquarium and all the trappings necessary to maintain it.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Cost of One Catfish

About five years ago, I adopted a wayward catfish and dropped him in my home aquarium with my red-eared slider turtle. But a few months back the turtle, which we had owned for over eleven years, passed away. Now my tank is populated only by the catfish, and honestly, I yearn to finally be free from the burden of an aquarium altogether. While I've long dealt with the hassle of feedings, cleaning, and the purchasing of supplies, I'm now growing aware of the energy drain as well.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

These Fins Were Made For Walkin'...

About five years ago, a walking catfish flopped its way up to the front steps of my mother's house. Walking catfish are a nonnative species that has proliferated in the canals and wetlands of south Florida after being first discovered in the late 1960s. Knowing that I have an interest in such things, she immediately called me and informed me she had the homely creature in a bucket. "You want it?" she asked. In hindsight, it was an odd offering for someone to make. And yet, I immediately said yes.