Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Urban brainstorming

A quick and dirty post this week since I've got an exam tomorrow. I'm also not going to be throwing any links at you or a whole lot of scientific fact. Instead, I want to present you with some of the ideas that pop up in conversation with Trillian as we look at Toronto and think about ways so much more energy could be saved and the urban environment otherwise greened.

All of the condo developments can actually be a good thing in an urban environment. By concentrating population density, resources aren't as spread out and people generally shouldn't need to travel as far for work, shopping, and play. There is also an opportunity to build environmentally-friendly items in from the beginning, though this does not seem to happen as often as it should.

A couple observations based on our current living situation (stepping on soap box now):
  • The city and the condos need to figure out how to implement the green bin program inside high-density complexes. For those not in Toronto, the green bin is part of waste collection and covers organic waste. I was very impressed with it when we had it in our first place, as it includes many items that one generally should not compost (e.g., diapers, pet waste, meat, and dairy). As things are set up now, composting is nearly impossible and I am saddened by how much of our weekly garbage (probably half of the large garbage bag we throw out) could and should be going somewhere other than the landfill.
  • There really should be a way for residents to use the stairs when they only need to go a few floors--and it probably could have been designed so as not to compromise security. In our building, there is no staircase accessible from the lobby. All stairs are fire stairways and therefore dump outside the building. Those doors cannot be opened from the outside (without security's key), so it's not an option at all when coming in from the lobby. The stairwells from parking do not connect with the stairwells from the residential floors, so it's also impossible to just bypass the ground floor. We live on a lower floor, and it is quite ridiculous that we always have to use the elevator. I would actually like the extra exerciseof taking the stairs and it would save on energy.
  • All appliances should be Energy-Star compliant at the least. I'm pretty sure our washer-dryer combo isn't, though I think some of our kitchen appliances are. As renters, we have no say on those, so I'm gritting my teeth and bearing it. But you'd better believe I'm counting down the days until we can get another front-loading clothes washer (less water, less energy, and better cleaning!).
  • Especially since so many condos have underground parking, it would make sense for more of them to look at geothermal heating and cooling. They're already digging down, just dig a little deeper. OK, probably not a possibility for the condos right on the lake, though I think there are options in those cases for tapping the icy cold waters of the lake for cooling purposes.
  • Similarly, solar water heaters would make so much sense on the roofs of these buildings. They're not going to get shaded by other buildings for the most part, and I don't think most of those roofs are used space anyways, so harness what you can from the sun. It might not meet all of the building's hot water needs, but it would certainly accomplish something.
  • Or, how about more green roofs. Trillian, Scooter, and I were walking this past weekend and saw a mid-sized building with trees peeking out over the top railing. Nice, full trees. And I noticed another nearby building with large blooming bushes this morning. There's a way to boost the green cover in the city! For those buildings whose roofs might actually be used by residents, how nice would it be to have a sort of mini-park right there?
  • And finally, solar panels. OK, so Toronto can be pretty gray, especially during the winter. But when it is sunny, these buildings could be pulling in large amounts of electricity. Again, it's unlikely the production would be enough to power an entire building, but every bit captured from the sun is energy that doesn't have to be produced elsewhere. Pair that with energy-saving building and appliances, and there might be a significant drop in energy demand for those particular buildings.
  • This can also be taken in a more futuristic direction: all sorts of new solar cells are in development. One can be spray-painted onto surfaces. When I think about all of those south-western (in particular) exposures on these tall buildings and how much surface area there is (even just on the metal elements if none of the windows could be yielded or the spray couldn't be translucent), that's a lot of potential for energy capture.
So there are a handful plus ideas. Yes, it will cost money for changes to be made, but I think (or at least hope) that most people can see that the money needs to be spent now in order to avoid shortages and catastrophes later that will be even more expensive and cost us in ways well beyond money.

(putting soap box back into storage, though not where I can't reach it easily)

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