Green Video Challenge (Revisited)

Student Doc Green loglStudent Doc Green was finally able to post her green living video and I must say, I think it’s better than ours.  She’s doing an awesome job figuring out how to make big changes with small steps in the Lone Star state where people think she’s crazy for bringing her own bags to the grocery store.  It reminds me of how lucky I am to have so much support from my community and my family.  It seems like folks in Bloomington are always talking about green living and I’ve heard about the environmental movement all my life.  I’m not sure I would have taken the initiative by myself the way she has.  And I must admit, some of her “small” steps seem pretty challenging to me.  I may have to give up processed foods for a week this summer just to prove to myself I can do it, if I can.

Thanks, Student Doc Green, for keeping us inspired.

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It’s Pretty Easy Being Green – Video Post

Here is our video post in response to a challenge from Student Doctor Green.  It’s about 3 minutes long and gives an intimate view of our life at home living the green life.  It was fun to make although very time-consuming especially with Will trying to live up to the high standards he required as a video editing teaching assistance.  We hope this video won’t make his professors cry.

Got a topic you’d like to see a video clip about?  Let us know! I’m hoping to capture the baby lambs this April at our friend’s chicken and sheep farm.  Stay tuned.

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Solar Water Heating Lessons

Solar Water Heating bookI just got back from an 8-hour training in solar water heating offered through the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense.  My brain is a little oversaturated but it was a good course and I’m glad I went.  We even got a really cool book published by Mother Earth News!  Solar water heating is one of those technologies that makes infinite sense to me – capture the sun’s rays to heat our water?  Of course! – but I wanted to learn how they actually work.

The class was taught by a solar system installer from Wisconsin who is associated with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, which is an awesome resource for sustainable living ideas in the Midwest.  They run a Renewable Energy Fair every year that covers a wide range of topics from constructing a windmill for water pumping to making window quilts to growing food organically.  There’s also a trade show featuring fascinating products like a whole range of hand-operated kitchen appliances and solar ovens that were developed to purify water in third world countries.  I’ve been twice and highly recommend it.

Anyway, in the solar water class we talked about several types of systems and their various benefits and drawbacks.   The  simple DIY version is a black 55-gallon drum enclosed in a glass box (to provide some insulation) mounted somewhere in your yard with good solar exposure.  You run pipes to carry water from your water supply through the drum (where it’s heated) and then back into your house (to your hot water tap).  It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it works pretty well during the summer.

One major drawback is that this system is very vulnerable to freezing so you really can’t use them during the fall, winter, or spring.  The solution is to set up what’s called a closed system.  Instead of running your water directly through the collector (the black drum), you run a propylene glycol solution outside to the collector and then back into the house where it goes through a heat exchanger (picture your car radiator) and transfers its heat to your potable water before returning to the collector. The gylcol solution will stay liquid to a temperature of negative thirty degrees so you can use it all winter long and take advantage of those clear, sunny, cold days.

I found the class very inspiring but I’m still put off by the cost of purchasing a professionally installed system – approximately $10,000 for a family of four.  The instructor ran some calculations showing that if electric rates keep increasing by 7% a year, the system will pay for itself within 20 years.  It’s true but 20 years seems like a long time.  So I’m rather tempted to try the drum-in-a-box version for awhile and see how that goes during the summer.  I also question their estimates on how much hot water people use on average.  20 gallons per person per day seems like a lot of hot water.  Granted, we wash our laundry using cold water and take short showers every 2-3 days so we’re definitely going to be below average but I figure we use less than a third of that.  Do you know how much hot water you use?  And how to measure it?  The book suggests that if you have a plug-in electric water heater you can use a kill-o-watt but ours is hardwired (and isn’t working very well right now anyway – I think it’s 75% full of lime) so I’m not sure what else to try.

There will be two more renewable energy classes this spring so I’m excited.  It’s not often the government throws education and books my way so I plan to take advantage of all of it.  Oh, and for those of you who are curious about the Indiana Department of Energy and Defense, my understanding is that someone somewhere figured out that one of the biggest weaknesses of Homeland Security is the fact that we’re highly dependent on foreign oil (I know you’re all shocked) so they decided to merge Energy with Defense.  I guess it kinda makes sense and if we can divert some tax money away from building bombers and towards building solar panels, I’m all about it.

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Fame, Green Living, and Oprah

Oprah Going GreenWe don’t have cable (or even rabbit ears) so I’m many years behind in my television viewing but my mom periodically updates me on the programs she watches, especially the Oprah Winfrey Show. As far as television shows go, I think Oprah’s is one of the more palatable ones. I like Oprah. I think she’s an intelligent, caring, motivated woman who is working hard to achieve great things in life. As celebrities go, I believe she uses her powers predominantly for good and that she tries to share her values and beliefs with her audience. However, she has also drifted into the high ranks of the rich and famous and seems pretty disconnected from masses that form her fan base. She went on a road trip last summer and it was revealed that she doesn’t even know how to pump gas. Come on!

Anyway, sometime I dream of a life of riches and celebrity and I figure my best shot for television glory is to be featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Perhaps I could replace the tiny stylish woman who currently pimps green living tips on the show. People could ooh and ah at my stories about driving a greasecar or feeding my table scraps to my worms. They would shudder at the idea of conserving water by flushing less frequently. Oprah would listen respectfully and applaud my efforts while reassuring her audience that pee certainly wouldn’t be allowed to linger in HER household. Washing and reusing ziplock bags? Yes. Cutting back on hot showers? No. Using cloth toilet paper? I can only imagine her look of horror.

However, I like to picture myself captivating the audience with my tales of green living and voluntary simplicity. In my moment of glory, I would like to turn to the audience and encourage them that the best thing they can do for the environment and their personal well-being would be to turn off their televisions. Yes, even the Oprah Winfrey Show. Instead, go out into the world and interact with your neighbors. Find out more about the millions of opportunities out there for making a difference. Start paying attention to the way you live your life – everything from where your food comes from to how you interact with strangers. It would be a powerful transformation.

Alas, I don’t think my message would be heard. Television is a great medium for entertainment and flash but it’s amazingly hard to get across substance and depth. Can I really condense my way of life into a ten-second sound bite? Will a few minutes of videotaped footage of my home reveal the choices I make? Is there any way to actually connect with people and have them feel what I feel?

Of course, the upside of television is that it reaches millions of people so even if I only convince 0.01% of the audience to reexamine their lives, that would still be tens of thousands of people. And that’s why I still love the idea of being on Oprah. Well, that and the free gifts she gives out.  And perhaps we could become part of her vast network of TV, radio, magazines, books, and websites along with lowimpactliving.com (which actually seems pretty cool).

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