Renewable energy and traditional baking cooperation in Palestine

Green Prophet - June 02, 2014

Erella Dunayevsky bats a red balloon at a little girl, who chases it giggling. It could be any grandmother and grandchild playing together. But in this case, not only are Dunayevsky and the little girl not related, but one is an Israeli and one is a Palestinian.

“I’ve been coming here for 12 years and it’s very simple – I have the freedom to choose my own friends,” Dunayevsky, a therapist, tells The Media Line.

The villagers here eke out a living herding sheep and goats. There’s no extra money for toys or other luxuries. In the summer, their shack is boiling hot – in the winter, it is freezing. Tarek Al-Hadalin, whose brothers and sisters are among the children playing, say they look forward to the weekly play-dates.

“On Mondays, they start asking me when is Thursday coming?” Al-Hadalin told The Media Line. “They really wait for them to come. It shows them that there are good Israelis just like there are good Palestinians.”

Many of these Palestinian villages don’t have water and electricity. Residents eke out a living from sheep and goats. Erella says her visits are not political. They’re just a way for Israelis and Palestinian to breach the walls that divide them.

“It creates trust, for us and the people we come to know,” Dunayevsky says. “It has waves, if I know Tarek, then he takes me to his friend, and it goes like that.”

For example, she has helped Tarek’s mother find a market for her traditional embroidery in Israel.

These Israelis also try to help solve problems with nearby Jewish communities in land that Israel acquired in 1967. Israelis from one community, Carmel, are trying to force Tarek’s family to move a traditional bread-baking oven that is built into the ground, saying that the smell bothers them. Shepherds here have to detour around the community to get to grazing land they say belongs to them.

A few miles away, another Israeli, Elad Orian (who we’ve interviewed many times on Green Prophet) is figuring out ways to provide Tarek and other Palestinians here with sustainable water and power. These villages are in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank completely controlled by Israel.

“There is no infrastructure for Palestinians in Area C,” Elad Orian, the co-founder of Comet-ME told The Media Line. “The state of Israel has been trying to get these people to move off their land and move from Area C to Area A and B. One of the main tools they’ve been using is planning or lack thereof. They do not provide infrastructure services to these communities. They do not enjoy water or electricity.”

Orian says Comet ME, funded by the German government, has provided 20 systems of solar panels to these villages, which has brought electricity to about 2000 Palestinians. He says electricity is a revolution for many of these Palestinians.

“It touches every aspect of your life. Illumination and communication, refrigeration — everything depends on electricity,” he said. “It’s a real revolution and the real beneficiaries are women. Their lives are really transformed. It reduces the gender specific workload tremendously.”

For example, he said, laundry machines make washing clothes, which is traditionally women’s work, much easier. In addition, right now, many of the women are using milk from their sheep and goats to make butter. Electricity means they can use a machine rather than doing the work by hand and save hours each day.

Tarek, who is finishing high school, dreams of becoming a documentary filmmaker.

“I used to have to study with a gas lantern and it was difficult,” he said. “But now, with the solar panels we have electricity all the time. I can study, watch TV, and use my computer as much as I want.”

This is reprinted from the Middle East News Source, The Media Line

Image of wind energy turbine in Tuba via Elad Orion Facebook page

Categories: Lifestyle

Shipping container “cargotecture” not all it’s stacked up to be!

Green Prophet - May 31, 2014

Shipping box homes make sense where containers are available and alternate resources scarce, but it’s still cheaper and less energy consuming to build a structure using traditional framing or concrete block. Jump onto “cargotecture”  if you want to make an architectural statement.  But if you want to build sustainably, aim small, use local materials, and insulate.

Let’s lead by example: The Hive-Inn hotel concept by Hong Kong-based OVA Studio looks like Jenga for giants – surely you remember that stacked-block puzzle that was part of your kiddie toy box (or - maybe you recall it as a nerdy parlor game)?

The building, schematically designed for the Radical Innovation Awards, is made up of used shipping containers plugged into a steel “hive”.  Its modular design (and a permanently mounted rooftop crane) allows for hotel suites to be changed on whim without disturbing the surrounding containers.

Well, not quite on whim.  This is a concept, so connections to power, water, and life safety systems (including vertical circulation) are not addressed – nor likely to be easily interchangeable as tenants change.  Impact and interruption to street level activity each time a box is moved in and out of place will be significant. And how’s the erratically-loaded tower stand up structurally (not to mention seismically!)? (Well, someone is a Miss Crankypants.)

This scheme depicts the building as a hotel and the architects point out extensive branding opportunities, with individual containers sponsored by different companies – decorated with corporate images. Imagine “live-in” advertising, or pop-up boutiques promoting limited time sales events. As tenancy changes, so would the building’s facade – an evolving panoply of color and signage. Is that really a good thing?

Consider cities such as São Paulo, Brazil (the world’s 7th largest city) – in 2006 it banned all outdoor advertisements - that’s billboards, transit ads and storefront signage. A 2011 survey indicated that 70% of residents found the ban beneficial, allowing the true nature of the metropolis to emerge from behind the advert clutter. Subliminally, it’s also a respite from subconscious bombardment to part with your money…the antithesis to the Hive Inn.

OVA Studio suggest their design could be used as emergency housing or medical care units. Mobile apartments or offices are another option, allowing you to ship off easily (contents could remain inside the unit) to a new zip code.

Seems some people are turning to cargo container structures as a green alternative to traditional building. On the surface, it’s logical. There are growing numbers of unused containers, collateral damage from global trade imbalances. Costs prohibit shipping empties back to their point of origin (it’s cheaper to buy new containers and factor costs into shipping fees) – the result is a mountain range of steel boxes sitting idle at most world ports.

Shipping container architecture (tagged “cargotecture”) is appealing due to the boxes’ availability, strength, durability, and cost (many sell for under $1,000) – and they sure make for pretty images when re-purposed. But how’s it experienced in three dimensions? Individual containers create awkward spaces; long narrow rectangles with very low ceilings. Multiple boxes can be combined to expand interior volume, but cutting, grinding and welding steel is energy intensive.

Steel boxes are coated with toxic chemicals to make them durable for ocean transport – think chromate, phosphorous, and lead-based paints. Factor in the energy required to make them habitable; sandblasting the entire structure, burning openings for doors and windows.

The average container produces about 1,000 pounds of hazardous waste before it can be re-used as a structure. Bundle all this with the fuel-guzzling heavy machinery needed to move the container from port to final position, and this green habitat looks more like a white elephant.

Images from Design Fetish

Categories: Lifestyle

Solar Roadways: energy-generating roads that light up at night

Green Prophet - May 30, 2014

What if asphalt roads around the world were replaced with modular panels that generate energy during the day and light up at night? Our air would be cleaner and we would spend much less money on fossil fuels. Turns out, thanks in part to a compelling Indiegogo campaign, Solar Roadways may be coming to a highway near you.

When global warming first became a real and present danger, years ago, the Solar Roadways team began toying with various ideas to reduce modern society’s dependence on fossil fuels.

They turned their attention to roads, and began to wonder whether it would be possible to replace asphalt and concrete roads with modular energy-generating panels that could take a beating.

As their ideas evolved, they began to realize that they had hit upon something not only really worthwhile but maybe even feasible.

So feasible, in fact, America’s Federal Highway Administration awarded the group a substantial grant to build a prototype that would generate energy and provide light at night with energy-effiient LEDs, manage storm water runoff, and even prevent snow accumulation during winter months in northern latitudes.

Related: collecting energy from roadways with Innowattech

Phase I of the Solar Roadways project was so successful, the highway administration awarded the group a second round of funding to the tune of $750,000. And then Solar Roadways launched a crowd funding campaign that was so successful, there’s a very strong possibility that one day at least some of us will be driving on roads that generate energy.

Seeking one million dollars to hire engineers and other staff to perfect the design and shift from prototype to production, Solar Roadways instead has raised nearly $1.7 million – nearly double their original goal.

This success speaks volumes about the power of the crowd, but it also reflects a growing trend – people are investing in renewables because they believe that a future with cleaner skies is possible.

In addition to generating energy such that the hexagonal panels would eventually pay for themselves, the solar tiles could be used to build parking lots, bike pathways and sidewalks. And they could be tweaked to charge electric vehicles.

If this happens, fossil-fueled vehicles would no longer be necessary, since electric vehicle could be charged all across the country – wherever the roads are installed.

It’s hard not to lament the delay in pursuing such forward thinking ideas as this, a delay caused in large part by the fossil fuel industry. But better late than never right?

You can still support the campaign – that is, if you would love to see a network of solar roadways in your area.

Categories: Lifestyle

Sensibo says it’s already cool. Now make your AC energy smart!

Green Prophet - May 30, 2014

Israeli start-up Sensibo is convinced it can uptick your air conditioner’s IQ.  They’ve created a mobile app (with associated hardware) that allows you to control your air conditioner (AC) from anywhere.

The app works with all “split units” (wall-mounted equipment that can heat or cool an interior space, or simply function as a room fan) as long as the unit has a remote control (and virtually all do).

Sensibo says its app could save consumers up to 40% on their AC electricity costs. Pretty cool!

You install a device on your AC unit that connects it to the internet. It also collects data from the surrounding micro-environment, allowing you to program on/off times so you could precondition room temperatures before use.  It can alert you to AC power status, so you’ll never leave the unit on in an empty house. It includes sensors for temperature, humidity, light and movement.  But the best feature may be veering into asset management: the app sends notifications when filters need cleaning or replacement – ensuring optimal performance at all times.

“We saw a huge opportunity to bring smart technology to the majority of the world’s A/C systems, filling a critical gap in the market without asking users to go out and buy a whole new air conditioner,” said CEO and co-founder Omer Enbar (pictured above).

He founded the Tel Aviv-based company last year.

Crowdfunding can kick-start more than realistically-proportion fashion dolls! Sensibo launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo seeking to raise $70,000 by July 4 to finance production. Initial investors are eligible to buy AC kits for discounted pricing in advance of public offering (shipment is planned for early 2015).

Sensibo points out that while their device is “smart”, the user needn’t be; the interface is easier and more intuitive than ordinary AC remote controls. The app – which is compatible with the majority of worldwide AC brands – can run on a smart phone, tablet, computer or Pebble watch. The device is installed in minutes using 3M mounting tape; which makes it both simple and portable – ideal for renters.

Enbar estimates that there are a billion air conditioners around the world that can work with his product. Make your AC unit smart, so that your monthly power bill doesn’t.

Or ditch the air con and get airy fairy with this hand-painted fan. Parisians do it!

Categories: Lifestyle

An au natural topless tour trend the Middle East’s resisting

Green Prophet - May 30, 2014

Planking’s passé, horsemaning is history, and while selfies are thriving in Tunisia, a new photo trend has emerged with the winning combination of mashing the beauty of nature and people. “The Topless Tour” invites people everywhere to shed their shirts to “feel the freedom and share their beauty with the world”.

The world is responding, but one slice of the planet has completely resisted the fun.  There’s not one photo uploaded from the Middle East!

The Topless Tour was started by three London-based dancer pals who – while hiking in Norway – spontaneously whipped off their tops for a discrete and arty photo (no word as to who actually snapped it!).  They posted it on Instagram; a trend was born.

Mainly inspired by dance, sport and yoga, the topless travel pix are tame. (See the lead photo of trend-starters Ingvild Marstein Olsen, Lydia Buckler and Olivia Edginton posing in Norway’s Rondane National Park.) Most all of the snaps capture people’s backs. The viewer follows the poser’s gaze to the scene beyond, and the bare-breasted play second fiddle to the stunning settings.

The trio told GrindTV that they became “addicted to the liberation” of being topless in the great outdoors.  They began taking more photos in new places, posting them under hashtag #thetoplesstour, attracting an international following with nearly 15,000 Instagram followers and 10,000 Facebook likes.

“The Topless Tour is the opening of your bare chest and heart to the world,” Edginton told the Daily Mail.

The photos are tasteful; nothing is gratuitous. (Although a few cheekier models also go bottomless.)

The remote settings are spectacular. Photos have been staged in California and Colorado, Cape Town and Vegas, Thailand and India – but not one originates from the Middle East or North Africa (MENA). Why is that?

Surely this region offers some of the planet’s best natural portrait studios.  So where are the shots from Jordan’s Wadi Rum, Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, or Israel’s Ein Gedi?

Photographer Spencer Tunick braved this region’s sensitive sense of modesty in his series of naked floats in the Dead Sea.  Lebanese Olympian skier Jackie Chamoun set off shock-waves when she posed partially nude on the slopes outside Beirut for a risque calender project.  Tunisian feminist Amina Tyler faced the camera head-on in her naked selfies. They’ve greased the skids for showing skin, so where is everyone else?

Check out the photos on Instagram or on their Facebook page. Why go naked?  The founding trio promises that “time will stand still and make you feel so alive.”

Are you a fun and fearless traveler? Want to bring attention to the natural wonders of the Middle East?  If you decide to drop your own top somewhere in the MENA region – please be respectful of local mores (and cautious of local laws!),  Tag your photos with #TheToplessTour, and do leave a link to your image in our comment section.

All images from #TheToplessTour Instagram site

Categories: Lifestyle

Bulbing: optical illusion tricks us into thinking this flat LED lamp is 3D

Green Prophet - May 29, 2014

Studio Cheha’s Nir Chehanowski has designed an extraordinary flat LED lamp that looks three dimensional. Called Bulbing, the lamp is made of high quality materials and manufactured locally in Tel Aviv. Find out how it works after the jump.

It looks like a bulging three dimensional bulb, but actually it’s only 5mm thick and 100 percent flat.

Studio Cheha uses a laser cutting process to cut out the acrylic glass, which is known for its superior light-transmitting  properties. Each lamp comes with five different designs that are easily lifted out of the base.

“Bulbing is a development of my earlier works,” writes Chehanowski, “using 3D wire-frame images and transferring them onto 2D materials, to create functional and delicate design pieces that trick the eye!”

In addition to having the surprise element that is certain to impress guests, the energy-efficient LED bulb produces an warm glow without overheating. And it will last up to 50,000 hours!

The base is CNC-cut from plywood birch and then handcrafted and sanded, ensuring the most dedicated attention to detail and resulting in a truly spectacular design that is bound to liven up any room.

“All circuitry is wired, adhering to the highest electric standards,” Studio Cheha notes in their Kickstarter campaign. “Upon placing the acrylic glass design in the lamp’s base (where the LED is positioned), the light breaks through the etched surface.”

If you’d like to support the campaign, you can have your very own optical illusion at home. There are several designs to choose from, including a skull, teddy bear, galaxy or a starry night.

:: Studio Cheha

Categories: Lifestyle

First pics of Israel’s greenest building – Porter School of Environmental Studies

Green Prophet - May 28, 2014

Geotectura sent us images of their recently completed Porter School of Environmental Studies. Construction broke ground in December, 2011 on what is being called Israel’s greenest building, and now it’s complete. Even the mayor came out to inaugurate Tel Aviv’s living laboratory and environmental sciences showcase on May 21, 2014.

The newly inaugurated building at Tel Aviv University practices what it preaches. As students occupy themselves with the challenges of our era, they have a real-time laboratory in which to conduct experiments, demonstrations, and research.

Working with Axelrod-Grobman Architects and Chen Architects, Geotectura carefully designed the interior to optimize natural lighting and ventilation, and to use just the right amount of renewable energy without generating waste. Under floor heating produces just enough warmth to keep people comfortable at their own level, but not enough to heat vacuous spaces.

A three-story EcoWall with a series of steel columns, pathways and terraces reaches down the building’s southern facade.

Related: Construction breaks ground on Israel’s Greenest Building

This wall – a visible highlight of the multifaceted project – has multiple functions, namely to protect the building from noise, pollution and excess sunlight, to generate thermo-solar energy through a sires of tubes in the wall that heat water (and also activates the building’s air-conditioning system independently of the national energy grid,) and to act as a real-time showcase of the groundbreaking work undertaken at PSES.

Small terraces or labs are built into the cage-like EcoWall, which we think is such a brilliant concept. This space is visible to everyone – students, researchers and even visitors, creating a spirit of collaboration and sharing and creating a sense of accomplishment and wonder that everyone can share.

A smart network of computer-controlled LED bulb surface on the eye-catching capsule that projects information and data to great distances. This allows passengers in cars or buses on Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv to access some of the information displayed.

During the design and construction phase reviews, PSES got high scores from the U.S. Green Building Council, and it seems the building is on track to achieve LEED Platinum – the absolute highest certification possible.

:: Geotectura,

Categories: Lifestyle

Meditative LED bowl lamp recharges with circular motions

Green Prophet - May 28, 2014

Shlomi Mir is one of Israel’s most visionary designers whose recent tumbleweed anti-desertification project earned him a Lexus Design Award alongside giants like Toyo Ito. But its his beautiful rechargeable LED bowl lamp that we are drooling over today – an elegant combination of art, design, tradition, technology and even spirituality.

Inspired by traditional Tibetan Singing Bowls, traditional mortar and pestles and modern technology, Mir designed the lamp to be meditative and functional.

Equipped with a copper coil that functions as both a reflector and energy generator, along with a low-energy Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulb, and a magnet, the lamp is recharged with kinetic energy.

But it requires a very specific kind of motion to charge this lamp – a meditative and circular motion, one that makes it easy to do a few minutes of meditation in exchange for a gentle illumination.

Related: Wind-powered Tumbleweed robot rolls back encroaching desert

It doesn’t require a great amount of force to produce the energy necessary to re-charge the lamp; instead, it rewards a gentle approach, which is so brilliant on so many different levels. What a beautiful way to incorporate a slower, more earth-connected mentality so that technology can have a beneficial impact on our lives.

Albeit still completing his studies at the Bezalel Academy of Design (where else?) in Jerusalem, Mir has an impressive design repertoire under his belt already.

“I got hooked on design building guitars and websites, spent my army service developing E.O.D.robots, and over the past few years have been developing interactive exhibits for Madatech Israel National Museum of Science, Technology & Space,” he writes on his website like it’s no big deal.

He adds, “For me, design is a bridge between different fields and disciplines, details and context, theory and practice – connecting problems to solutions.”

We couldn’t agree more.

To see more examples of fine Israeli design, be sure to check out Shlomi’s website.

Categories: Lifestyle

Climate change is sucking nutrition from our crops

Green Prophet - May 28, 2014

Researchers now say in a revealing Nature paper that the most significant health threat from climate change has started to happen.

Crops that provide a large share of the global population with most of their dietary zinc and iron will have significantly reduced concentrations of those nutrients at the elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 anticipated by around 2050, according to research by Israeli scientists published in Nature this month.

Given that an estimated two billion people suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies, resulting in a loss of 63 million life years annually from malnutrition, the reduction in these nutrients represents the most significant health threat ever shown to be associated with climate change, they report.

Humanity is conducting a global experiment by rapidly altering the environmental conditions on the only habitable planet we know. As this experiment unfolds, there will undoubtedly be many surprises. Finding out that rising CO2 threatens human nutrition is one such surprise.

Some previous studies of crops grown in greenhouses and chambers at elevated CO2 had found nutrient reductions, but those studies were criticized for using artificial growing conditions. Experiments using free air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE) technology have subsequently become the gold standard as FACE allows plants to be grown in open fields at elevated levels of CO2. However, even prior studies using FACE had small sample sizes and have been inconclusive.

Itai Kloog from Ben Gurion University in Israel analyzed data involving 41 cultivars (genotypes) of grains and legumes from the C3 and C4 functional groups (plants that use C3 and C4 carbon fixation) from seven different FACE locations in Japan, Australia, and the United States.

The level of CO2 across all seven sites was in the range of 546-586 parts per million (ppm). They tested the nutrient concentrations of the edible portions of wheat and rice (C3 grains), maize and sorghum (C4 grains) and soybeans and field peas (C3 legumes).

The results showed a significant decrease in the concentrations of zinc, iron, and protein in C3 grains. For example, zinc, iron, and protein concentrations in wheat grains grown at the FACE sites were reduced by 9.3%, 5.1%, and 6.3% respectively, compared with wheat grown at ambient CO2. Zinc and iron were also significantly reduced in legumes; protein was not.

The finding that C3 grains and legumes lost iron and zinc at elevated CO2 is significant. It is estimated that 2 to 3 billion people around the world receive 70% or more of their dietary zinc and/or iron from C3 crops, particularly in the developing world, where zinc and iron deficiency is already a major health concern.

Another interesting finding was that zinc and iron varied substantially across cultivars of rice. That finding suggests that there could be an opportunity to breed reduced sensitivity to the effect of elevated CO2 into crop cultivars in the future.

Image of empty plate from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Green Lebanon braces for summer drought = short showers

Green Prophet - May 27, 2014

Lebanon is bracing for severe summer drought. As in nearby Jordan, longstanding water management problems are stressed to the breaking point following the driest year on record and a winter exacerbated by a massive influx of Syrian refugees.

The country has received just 431 mm (17 inches) of precipitation since September, less than half last year’s 905.8 mm and far below the yearly average of 812 mm.Lebanon’s meteorological service says

The country hasn’t seen such low levels since 1932, when just 335 mm was recorded, according to Hadi Jaafar, assistant professor of irrigation engineering and water management at the American University in Beirut.

In Ammiq, in the east of the country, the effects of the dry winter are already visible.

Farmer Khaled al-Kaabi has begun watering his fields a month earlier than usual because the rains that ordinarily feed his lands never came.

“Usually we do this at the end of May, but this year the lack of rain has forced us to do it now,” he said as he irrigating rows of wheat for animal feed.

But the increase in the country’s population since then makes this year’s drought far more serious, he said.

“This year, and although we received a little bit above 400 mm, it is far worse,” he said.

“Back then, the population was less than half of today’s, and so were the agricultural areas,” he added.

“Relatively speaking, it is the driest year on record for the inhabitants in this country.”

Ordinarily, Lebanese farmers irrigate their fields by digging channels that divert water from local rivers or wells that fill with rainwater.

But the rain and snow that usually feed the rivers and wells never arrived.

“This year, we will have to pump up water from below ground, but if this drought continues next year, there’ll only be five percent of that groundwater left,” Kaabi said.

Syrian refugees compound crisis

Lebanon has the highest proportion of arable land to residents in the Arab world, but just 12 percent of the land is cultivated, and agriculture contributes only 11.7 percent to GDP, behind services and industry.

Still, farmers can ill afford to leave their lands unwatered, despite warnings from Jaafar and others about tapping the country’s groundwater reserves.

“The water demand for Lebanon is projected at about 1.8 billion cubic meters per year,” he said.

“Most of this water needs to come from groundwater pumping this year… Renewable groundwater resources will all be depleted and we will be tapping from our strategic reserves.”

Lebanon’s parliamentary committee for public works and energy called in April for the creation of a crisis group to deal with the expected summer shortages.

And to this date, this region is not the only one facing this phenomenon. In fact, Australia considers itself as the earth’s driest lived-in continent. It has the smallest region of steady wetland, compared to other continents. Solutions there have been invested to help the citizens cope, like rainwater harvesting where the government strongly imposes its use and provides education to implement the practice. One company Supatank, a tank manufacturer, helps as well and lessens the burden of installation by helping out households to carry out rainwater catchment.

Over in Lebanon Fadi Comair, director general of hydraulic and electric resources at the energy ministry, described a “truly dramatic situation,” exacerbated by waste and an influx of Syrian refugees.

He said Lebanon could ordinarily expect to have water resources of around 2.7 billion cubic metres in a given year.

Those resources would be sufficient to meet projected annual needs at least until 2020.

“But the influx of Syrian refugees means this balance will tip into the negative by the end of this year,” he said.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR warned in February that the presence of more than a million Syrian refugees alongside four million Lebanese would seriously deplete the country’s renewable water resources.

Comair says that scenario was only made worse by a winter so dry and unseasonably warm that the country’s ski resorts were able to open for just two days.

Mismanagement of resources

But even under the best of circumstances, Lebanon fails to manage the water resources it has, according to Comair.

The country has just two dams and some 70 percent of the water that flows through its 16 rivers ends up in the Mediterranean.

Comair says 48 percent of the water that is collected is then lost because of poor infrastructure and leakage.

Things are expected to get worse, but farmers are already complaining about crop losses, and in Beirut, residents with the means to do so have been forced to buy water from private suppliers to supplement the flow from the state.

The energy and water ministry has publicly called for citizens to reduce their usage, urging them to avoid washing cars and even to “minimise personal water usage, including showers.”

In March, a group of activists and businessmen launched Blue Gold, an initiative to limit water loss and better manage Lebanon’s resources.

Its proposals include better storage facilities and monitoring, wastewater treatment and more water efficient households and crops.

But corruption, bureaucracy and the country’s perennial political paralysis make the prospects for such changes uncertain.

Comair describes a plan from 2000 to build 27 dams and artificial lakes that has languished unimplemented.

“We haven’t been able to carry out more than one percent of those objectives because there is no political will,” he said.

Image of pine cone and water from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Egypt’s environmental suicide by coal

Green Prophet - May 27, 2014

Egypt’s ongoing energy issues, compounded by its current political and economic problems, appear to be going from bad to worse. This is especially so since its natural gas revenues were dramatically curtailed following numerous sabotage attacks on its Sinai gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan.

Egypt once held great promise as becoming a leader in solar energy production (see photo) in the  in the Middle East and North Africa MENA region.  The  World Bank, which has been helping to provide financing for MENA region renewable energy projects , has mentioned that Egypt and other MENA countries are located in a region  that is very susceptible to the ravages of climate change.

In order to provide at least a partial solution to the country’s increasing energy needs, Egypt’s government is now turning to importing large shipments of coal  through its Safaga Red Sea Port, according to an article published in the Saudi Gazette.

The Gazette article quoted comments by Ali Reda, head of the Tourism Investment Authority in the Red Sea, who,  said in a press statement: “Coal will be detrimental to tourism in the Red Sea. Coal and coal hauling (see photo above) will pollute the environment, harm people’s health, and destroy marine life; especially coral reefs.”  He added that bringing in thousands of tons of coal by truck will also harm the country’s roadways and cause numerous road accidents.

This fear was also voiced by  Ahmed Droubi, coordinator of the Egyptians Against Coal movement, who said that bringing in 8 million tons of coal a year would require 250,000 to 500,000 trucks on Egyptian roads, causing significant damage  to its road infrastructure.

Despite efforts made by Egyptian government cabinet officials to curtail the use of coal by “abiding to precautionary measures recommended by the World Health Organization and enforcing those measures on all  facilities that manufacture, import, transport, store, or use coal,”the government seems to be turning a “blind eye” to increasing the country’s use of this polluting energy source.

Turning to coal has resulted  from a significant cut in natural gas supplies to major factories; especially cement factories. Egypt’s energy supplies have also come partially from hydroelectric power generated from its Aswan Dam facility in southern Egypt. This energy source could be curtailed significantly if Ethiopia embarks on its plan  to build a giant dam on its section of the Nile River.

Regarding the environmental impact of coal, the organization Egyptians Against Coal (EAC) say that the use of it  “affects the brain, the nerves, the lungs, and the blood. Research proved that inhaling coal dust causes redox reactions and increases chances of lung cancer, blood viscosity, and narrowed blood vessels.”

Due to the continued political turbulance present in Egypt, it may be naive to expect it to turn to renewable energy.  Solar energy and wind power could help by providing even a small percentage of the country’s total energy needs. In a joint statement issued by several environmental  groups, representatives said that  Egypt needs to pursue other forms of energy production, including use of waste products (garbage, etc) to generate energy. “In Germany, 61% of energy used in the cement industry is generated from waste. In the Netherlands, the percentage rose to 98% in 2009.”

The statement added that several developing countries are also working on long-term plans to discard polluting sources of energy. Egypt’s mounting garbage problem, especially in major cities like Cairo and Alexandria, could become an energy source of its own; and not just food for  pigs and income for ragpickers.

Maybe this idea will one day  become reality; resulting in less use of polluting fuels like coal.

Read more on Egypt’s energy issues:

The Dam that May Damn Egypt’s Future

Jumpstarting Solar Power in the MENA Region

Will Israel’s Natural Gas Tap Flow to Turkey?

Photo of Egyptian solar panels: Tarir Institute for Middle East Policy

Categories: Lifestyle

Up your eco coolness and become a fan of fans

Green Prophet - May 27, 2014

Summer’s coming – watch as its warm weather seduces us into abandoning green principles – flipping on the air conditioner (AC) for a fast blast of freeze. Is there a greener way to beat the heat? You bet, and going retro is the smartest way to up your coolness! Look below for this DIY project for fans.

Shade and moving air are the greenest means of fighting heat, making sunshade devices and fans the superheros of natural cooling. Fans have been around since prehistoric times in the form of primitive flat panels flapped slowly by human power to push waves of air across people and spaces. The electric model didn’t come online until the late 19th century, table top units featuring metal blades (usually encased in a protective cage) set atop a pedestal base. Plug it in, and enjoy the cooling (and portable) comfort of artificial wind.

Comparisons between fans and AC are an apples versus oranges discussion as each has a different function.  An AC cools a room by lowering the temperature and wicking off humidity.  A fan simply moves the air, which doesn’t change room temp but can cool bodies within it (as long as the ambient temperature is less than 90° F and humidity lower than 35%, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association).

I just came off a 30 minute treadmill trot and am sitting near an open window typing this. The strong Amman breeze – while warm – is definitely cooling me off – for free.

Here in Amman (and in most Mid East cities) AC’s allure is threefold.  It cools room temps, muffles outside sounds of traffic, construction and exuberant mullahs, and  - since windows are closed – keeps mosquitoes at bay. How can a simple electric fan compete?

By becoming performance art!  I stumbled upon a craft blog that showed how to turn a low-energy-consuming and affordable tabletop fan into a piece of movable art.  An easy DIY project that’s also kid-friendly – (link here for the how-to).

Slap on some paint in loosely applied stripes, and when your fan is in motion a kaleidoscope rainbow will appear. Or spend a few minutes online, where you can see different painting techniques with a variety of results.

How to paint your fan video below:

Click here to view the embedded video.

So easy.  So green. And so cool.

Categories: Lifestyle

Bill Gates declares war on world’s (surprisingly) deadliest creature

Green Prophet - May 26, 2014

Something’s bugging Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.  So obsessed is the billionaire philanthropist that he’s dedicated the first week of May to raising awareness to the world’s deadliest creature - the mosquito.

The tiny pests are not as headline-grabbing as people-munching sharks or polar bears, so Gates is shoving ‘skeeters into the spotlight to start a global conversation that will save hundreds of thousands of lives.

“On my recent trip to Indonesia, I got to feed the world’s deadliest animal,” Gates said in a Reddit post where he uploaded a picture of himself offering up a forearm to a boxful of bugs.

Mosquitoes carry an arsenal of devastating diseases including malaria, encephalitis, yellow fever, chikungunya fever, and dengue fever. “The worst is malaria, which kills more than 600,000 people every year; another 200 million cases incapacitate people for days at a time. It threatens half of the world’s population and causes billions of dollars in lost productivity annually,” Gates wrote.

A single bite from an infected mosquito can cause malaria. Occurrence varies throughout the Middle East; many areas are considered to be malaria free, while others have seasonal risks. The tiger mosquito (aedes albopictus), one of the 100 world’s worst invasive species according to the Global Invasive Species Database, originated in Southeast Asia but has spread to the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Africa. They were detected in Israel and Lebanon in 2003, and in Syria two years later .

Mosquitoes serve as “vectors”, transmitting diseases from one human or animal to another. A mosquito bites to get a blood meal, but if the host is infected, the bug gets a side order of virus or parasite. It’s a prime example of commensalism: the virus reproduces inside the mosquito without harming the insect, who later passes the viruses to others.

“Sharks kill fewer than a dozen people every year and in the U.S. they get a week dedicated to them on TV every year. Mosquitoes kill 50,000 times as many people, but if there’s a TV channel that features Mosquito Week, I haven’t heard about it,” blogged Gates, “Considering their impact, you might expect mosquitoes to get more attention than they do.”

If you’re planning a trip and you’re wondering how to protect yourself from vector-borne illness, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers’ Health page.

In addition to blogging about the issue, Gates and his wife Melinda are working with health experts to find innovative ways to cure deadly diseases, like the mosquito-borne virus dengue. They’ve committed a quarter billion dollars to the cause – learn more on the Gates Foundation website.

Images from Reddit

Categories: Lifestyle

Trash selfies to shame Tunisia’s government

Green Prophet - May 25, 2014

Social media has again proved to be a powerful tool in Tunisia, where a group of people started a Facebook page that turns the ubiquitous ‘selfie’ into an opportunity to express disgust with the country’s stinking trash problem.

Everywhere you go in this otherwise beautiful Mediterranean country, and I really do mean just about anywhere, you are bound to come across big piles of trash. In the cities, on train tracks, on the middle of a street, on the beach.

After a while the sight of so much plastic, paper, cans, glass, jars, luggage, furniture, clothing and other waste in overflowing trash cans or informal dump sites becomes so distressing, it’s hard not to push it out of one’s mind. This is my experience, at least.

SelfiPoubella, which joined Facebook on May 16, 2014, less than 10 days ago at time of writing, aims to keep people from ignoring the problem.

The group encourages residents to take a selfie of themselves standing in front of a big trash heap somewhere in the country and then share it on Facebook and Twitter. By using the hashtags #SelfiePoubella (which means Trash Selfie) and the name of the city, town or village in which the photograph was taken, the photos are easy to search.

Related: Another day in Tunisia chasing balls through trash

Amazingly, the SelfiPoubella page already has nearly 12,000 likes and dozens of people are posting images of themselves – boldly exposing themselves for a cause they believe will effect change.

“Show the true face of our streets and the pollution of the environment,” the group urges on their Facebook page. 

Tunisia is making moves to address the trash problem, which is no easy feat. In order to improve waste management, its necessary to have recycling services and a market for recycled goods, along with sophisticated methods of collecting, sorting and distributing waste to extract its remaining value.

In the MENA region, the trash problem is by no means limited to Tunisia. I have first hand experience of trash seeping into every facet of life in Morocco and Egypt, and Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey all battle with waste management as well.

The wealthier Gulf countries have a somewhat better system for sorting waste after dedicating a great deal of time and resources to the problem, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen litter in far-flung spaces outside of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s west coast.

The MENA region produces on average 1.1 kilogram of waste per person per day, according to the World Bank, and collectively contributes six percent to the global trash production of 1.3 billion tons every year.

By 2025, that number will reach 2.2 billion tons. That is 2.2 billion tons of trash that has become, because of the addition of synthetic materials designed to make stuff last, more or less incompatible with the Earth from whence it came.

We’re drowning in trash. Our oceans are suffering. Camels are suffering. Birds and other wildlife are suffering. And people are suffering too. So if you live in Tunisia and want to help make the trash issue more tangible, take a selfie, and then share it with the world.

All images via SelfiPoubella

Categories: Lifestyle

The Big Bambu evolving bamboo sculpture that will hold you, in Jerusalem

Green Prophet - May 25, 2014

A travelling art exhibit made from thousands of bamboo poles has landed in Israel. Inviting the public to climb on it, and inside it, this is one rare art installation made from thousands of bamboo poles which encourages people to be part of it. 

Big Bambu is being built by professional rock climbers over a period of about six months.

The Big Bambu art installation will be open come June at the Israel Art Museum in Jerusalem. It was conceived by identical twin artists Doug and Mike Starn. This is not the first time it has been exhibited.

Here’s more about Big Bambu as it was growing on a rooftop in New York. See video below:

Originally featured on the roof of the MOMA in New York, visitors walk on the Big Bambu on elevated bamboo paths, even as a crew continues to build a new part of the structure.

Bamboo is considered a sustainable material, moreso than wood, due to its fast-growing nature. It is also a natural anti-bacterial.

Bamboo is water-resistant and bamboo is extremely durable. Bamboo is used in a lot of ways, all the way from underwear to flooring, windmills and and even as bamboo hijabs!

RELATED: A bamboo tower that harvests water from thin air

The Big Bambú is built of several types of bamboo: a Japanese type called Madake, but also a thin Meyeri bamboo and a thick moso bamboo.

All of the bamboo for the installation was grown in Georgia and South Carolina.

Eventually the sculpture will reach the dimensions of 100 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 50 feet high.

Want to visit the structure in Israel come June? Put on some rubber-soled, close-toed shoes if you want to climb through the structure.

Visitors are able to reconstruct the building process, which was carried out by a special team of mountain climbers, to see how the construction changes over time and to witness the creation of a unique work of art.

Perfect for a summertime activity, see the Big Bambú at the Israel Museum Jerusalem, June 10 to October 1, 2014.

More on neat uses for bamboo:
This bamboo tower collects water from thin air
Muslim clothing made from bamboo
Bamboo dome shelters in Iran

Categories: Lifestyle

SmartBrick lets you play with LEGO to build your home – for real

Green Prophet - May 25, 2014

Following the news that 3D printed homes from China can be built in 24 hours, comes a new Israeli invention called SmartBrick.

The company owned by Ronnie Zohar has invented a new material solution for the building industry: bricks that are modular and which stack, creating both form and function for new housing. Cost: 50 percent less than current building materials.

Connected by glue the SmartBrick looks like LEGO blocks but the sides of the bricks can unlock revealing wiring and inner support structures. Each one costs about $25 dollars and the first building will be ready in two years the company states.

Imagine home repairs? Or renovations? Want to rewire your home? No problem with the SmartBrick.

For now the blocks are made from cement but “greener” materials of the future could be used to print these bricks of the future, according to the company which states a significant cost savings, about half the price of a home. The blocks can be assembled to be part of the floor, wall, and roof.

Start with a first floor building and just build up. The same basic block can create towers.

The company seeks $3 million in financing to move ahead, and up.

Categories: Lifestyle

Newly discovered Camelopardalis meteor shower

Green Prophet - May 23, 2014

May Camelopardalis is the name given for a newly discovered meteor shower which may or may not dazzle viewers under clear-dark skies.

The meteor shower is expected when the earth passes through a stream of debris from comet 209P/LINEAR during the night of May 23rd into the early hours of May 24th. The Middle East is well-placed for viewing as the peak will occur during the late evening of May 23rd here.

The parent comet of the May Camelopardalis meteor shower was a dud on recent passes. It was barely visible as a smudge when viewed with telescopes and invisible to the naked eye. But like comet ISON, a promising new comet which fell apart on its first approach to the sun, comet 209P/LINEAR may have seen better days in the 19th century when it would have left behind the trail the earth will soon pass through. If this is true, the comet may put on a very good debut on the night of May 23. But comets and meteor showers tend to be more difficult to predict than weather.

But one thing is certain, you won’t see it unless you look. So try to find a clear dark sky. The meteors will appear to come from the direction of the constellation Camelopardalis- named after a giraffe, not a camel. This is a northern circumpolar constellation and not terribly bright but if you can find Polaris (the north star) and the pan-shaped constellation Ursa-minor, you’re looking in roughly the right direction. (Hint: for those in the Northern Hemisphere, check your latitude and look north. Polaris will be that many degrees above the horizon. )

As you can see in this image generated for the latitude and longitude of Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert, Camelopardalis is very low on the horizon for evenings in the Middle East at this time of the year. You might actually see meteors appear to fall up!

An added bonus is that this meteor shower comes when the moon is in its crescent phase. It may be possible to see meteors impact the moon. Look through binoculars or a small telescope at the dark side of the moon. If you see a bright flash, it may be the impact of a meteor on the moon!

Image generated with Fourmilab online planetarium

Categories: Lifestyle

Villa Minima #3 looks like a caterpillar on a rocky landscape in Turkey

Green Prophet - May 22, 2014

There’s something so compelling about this minimalistic villa shanghaied on the edge of a rocky Mediterranean landscape. One of five small villas conceptualized for varying landscapes by Italian design studio LAD, Villa Minima #3 is a distorted parallelepiped structure envisioned for a private residence in Turkey.

Designed as additions to existing structures, which are likely neglected or disused, each of the five villas has a different shape that fits the topography for which they are envisioned.

Villa Minima #3 looks like a square caterpillar climbing up the side of a mountain, but it’s actually a 3D figure formed by six distorted parallelograms, a parallelepiped that has been shifted to balance on the rocky cliff.

Related: Simple wave house is a minimalist summer home in Turkey

Because the villa is an extension, it is kept small with no more than two bedrooms and a very simple interior. This one would be 1,615 square feet, if it were built, which is still relatively large for those of us who prioritize the smallest possible footprint.

There’s a master bedroom on one end of the villa, and the living room is on the other end – both of them frame different views of the surrounding landscape in Antalya – right on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea – to which the house has been adapted.

“All projects are based on the distortion of a simple geometric figure; each distortion is a device designed to correspond to a panoramic view from the interior space, framing nature and allowing for contemplation of the landscape,” writes LAD.

“This characteristic underlines the iconography of the projects: the dichotomy between nature and edifice.”

:: Designboom

Categories: Lifestyle

Kingdom renewables so slow, Saudi oil empire to take over

Green Prophet - May 21, 2014

Saudi Aramco may be taking over the Kingdom’s renewable energy industry in order to hasten the uptake of solar, wind and other alternative sources of energy. The move comes after the government-backed group forecasted a significant slump in export revenue as local oil consumption soars.

In a recent report, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil warned that Saudi Arabia’s local demand is so high,  exports could fall to an “unacceptably low level,” Bloomberg reports.

Largely unmotivated to consume energy wisely after years of subsidies, local Saudis could burn enough of their own oil to trigger a significant slowing of the Kingdom’s good years of fabulous riches and fast cars as export revenue shrinks.

By decree from the King in 2010, King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KaCare) was established in part to spur an alternative energy movement - not because of any overwhelming urge to reduce carbon emissions or preserve nature, but because it became clear that one day oil will cease to gush out of Saudi’s fields.

More like it will slow to a trickle when combined with local population growth and surging demand. Maybe taking a note out of the United Arab Emirates’ page, Saudi announced in 2012 that it would invest $109 billion in solar by 2032. But as Bloomberg notes, progress is slow.

Related: Don’t be fooled by Saudi Aramco’s LEED Platinum project

Too slow, apparently.

“The government solar plan is moving very slow, and we are hearing about it for some time, but it’s not maturing as fast as it should,” Gasem al-Shaikh, head of energy unit at Saudi Binladin Group, told Bloomberg in an interview. “The country can’t wait. We are burning more liquids every year, and that’s why Saudi Aramco now is taking the lead.”

The theory goes that after years of dealing with western countries, Saudi Aramco is well-poised to flush out the logistics of incorporating more renewables into their energy mix.

But the company also expressed a desire to implement these changes with caution – they specifically noted that both Germany and Spain suffered for exercising less restraint and therefore ending up with “an uncontrolled boom in solar panel installations.”

:: Bloomberg News ; oil platform image via Saudi Aramco

Categories: Lifestyle

The ‘original iPad’ – 1,200 years before Apple

Green Prophet - May 20, 2014

Turkish archaeologists have unearthed what Discovery News calls the ‘Byzantine iPad.” Dated to the 9th century A.D., the wooden tool was found among a shipyard of roughly 37 ancient ships in Istanbul.

The original ‘iPad’ measures roughly seven inches, except it’s thicker and made of wood, and comprises five overlaid carved rectangular panels coated with wax, Discovery reports.

“Yenikapı is a phenomenon with its 37 sunken ships and organic products,” Ufuk Kocabaş, director of Istanbul University’s department of marine archeology and the Yenikapi Shipwrecks Project, told Hurriyet Daily News. Scientists have been excavating the site for 10 years.

“I think these organic products are the most important feature of the excavations,” says Kocabaş.

Thought to have belonged to the ship’s captain for use as a tool, the wooden box has a sliding lid underneath that hides a carved plate.

“When you draw the sliding part, there are small weights used as an assay balance,” Kocabaş said. 

Related: Turkey’s Yalın Mimarlık Wins Ancient Troy Archaeological Museum Design Competition

An assay balance is a super-sensitive tool used to assess gold, silver and other precious metals in order to determine their value. This is an important tool for a merchant ship.

The ‘tablet’ had other uses as well.

Greek writing found carved in the wax suggests that it was used to take notes, and leather straps that hold the layers together made the box relatively portable as well. Nothing compared to modern iPads of course, but portable for 9th century Turkey.

Discovery writes that a “research team from Istanbul University is now restoring the ship, 60 percent of which has survived in good condition, with the aim of having her set sail again by 2015.”

Only this time, it is likely to have more “advanced” tools on board.

Image: The Byzantine notebook. Credit: Ufuk Kocabaş

Categories: Lifestyle
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