Carter Lavin

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About Carter Lavin

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  • Website URL http://indianhillmediaworks.typepad.com/energy_matters/
  1. I play soccer in a large park in the eastern part of Salamanca. West of the park are the train tracks and on the other side of the tracks is a large elementary school, immediately east of the park is a nearly 100 year-old ammonium fertilizer plant. Map here The plant's smoke stacks are pretty short since the plant was built way before that part of town had anyone living there. This means the smoke doesn't travel all that far from the plant. The lucky thing for the students and park users is that the winds blow the smoke south, not west (generally). This is bad news for the soccer field that is just a little bit further south of the plant. My Air Pollution professor explained how he used to play on that field when he was younger and how you would get mild rashes or slight chemical burns from the grass. He said now practically no one uses that park. If the wind blew to the west, my park would not be nearly as healthy and breathing would be a lot more difficult when playing soccer. Knowing whether or not you live near a large source of air pollution is very important, but knowing the wind patterns in your area is important too. There were plans to close down the plant and move it far from town, but due to the global economic crisis, they can't afford to do that. And since they want to move the plant there is no point in upgrading its pollution filters or extend the smoke stack. So we still have a toxic and useless soccer field to the south. The silver lining is that this fertilizer plant doesn't make its own sulfuric acid, a chemical needed to make inorganic fertilizer whose manufacturing process is very polluting; it buys the chemical from factories in less populated areas. Supposedly, this plant is a pretty important one in Spain as it satisfies a large percentage of the ammonium fertilizer needs of the nation and since it exports to other EU nations. But right now, it looks run down. My ball went over the wall the other day while I was playing soccer so I hoped the fence thinking it was some abandoned factory. I was very surprised when a guard came out and told me I was not allowed there. Here is to hoping that the economic situation improves so the factory can be moved further away from children.
  2. Soccer in Spain is kind of a big deal. Rivalries here are pretty huge, Real Madrid vs. Barcelona is like Yankees vs. Red Sox but with more Catalunyan separatist pride, so it's a much more political statement here. As I've been trying to get into Spanish culture I've been watching a bunch of matches and I can't help but notice the shear amount of energy related advertisements on the side lines. I have seen solar power company ads and ads encouraging people to turn down their thermostats. That's a pretty powerful message to have where everyone can see it. I hear PETA tried to get a Go Veg ad to air during the Super Bowl but it was pulled due to highly sexual content. Feelings towards PETA and objectification of women aside, the idea of having a Go Veg ad during the most watched sporting event in the US is pretty cool. I doubt many fans would put down their hotdog, but it could get people thinking more about it. When people start thinking about what they're eating, that's when they start cutting down on meat. After all there are a bunch of good reasons, and the idea of eating meat is a little creepy. Warch the Go Veg advertisement below: 'Veggie Love': PETA's Banned Super Bowl Ad I saw a piece of graffiti here that illustrated the example nicely it said (translated): To eat meat is to eat death, your body is a cemetery Representing the Stars and Bars I have just finished my first week of classes at Universidad de Salamanca where I am studying environmental sciences for the semester. My eco-classes are: Air Pollution Sustainable Agriculture Sociology of Ecology and Forest Defense Techniques It promises to be interesting. My Sustainable Agriculture class seems like it'll be pretty much "The Omnivore's Dilemma" but as a class. Which is great since I loved the book. The Air Pollution class promises to be interesting as the professor talks a lot about how cars are evil and how we have a whooooooole lot of them in the US. As I'm the only American in the class, a lot of heads turn to me. Oh the USA, so beloved in the world. The first thing people ask me when I tell them I'm from the US is "so you really like Hamburgers right?" They seemed shocked that there is such a thing as an American Vegetarian
  3. It's called a clothes line. What you do is you connect a piece of string between two points so that it is taught and then you put wet clothing on it. This can be done inside or outside and it saves you a bunch of money as well as lowering your carbon footprint since you don't need the materials for a dryer or the energy that it takes to run the machine. There are also a bunch of other advantages to your clothing by line (for example your clothing won't shrink). I don't know the official figures about Spanish clothes line use but anecdotal evidence suggests that a majority of Spaniards use them, my host mother is no exception. It's a bit cold outside so it takes a while for everything to dry and there is only so much space on the line so you the load size is kind of small but that's fine with me since it lowers my carbon footprint. It's funny how higher energy prices are leading us back to simpler times and back to devices we used to use for hundreds of years and the whole thing about the simplest solution is often the best one.
  4. From Madrid to Salamanca The trip has been pretty uneventful, nothing too eco/energy related to remark on except the usual thing about how trains are amazing ways to get around. But I did notice this as an East Coaster. The amount of sprawl here is next to nothing. The only time you see buildings are when you come across a town. The rest of the way is grass, hills, rocks and trees…I want to say that it’s an open canopy savannah. Part of the density may be caused by the seemingly inhospitable terrain in western Spain but a big part is that these cities were build before the car so they are built on a human scale (unlike some American cities I could name). Living on a human scale is vital to a sustainable future because a city if a city’s lifeblood is cars, its pulse will stop after Peak Oil. There were lots of trees around the tracks but I did see wind farms in the distance a few times, but as there were a lot of trees and the farms were in the distance, I was unable to snap a picture so you’ll have to take my word on it. Also, urban density preserves natural areas from development which is always a good thing... Eco-Friendly Pest Control for Salamancan Convent The other day I was walking around town when I bumped into a falconer feeding his falcon on his leather-gloved arm. Since it was Christmas here recently, and their are tons of days to various Catholic saints I figured he was here as part of a fair or something like that for kids. I asked him what he was doing with the falcon and he explained to me that there are far too many birds and mice around the convent and the park nearby and that he and his falcon were there to take care of that. What a great form of pest control, both clean and green. It doesn't use harmful chemicals like DDT or inhumane traps (like the glue traps Georgetown University uses to get rid of mice- or it's what they gave me and my roommates when we had one). Plus it's cheap and pretty cool. I Thought I left These Ideas Behind in the US The other day was my first day in my two week language program at Universidad de Salamanca. It’s four hours a day, the first two are language, the next hour is writing and the final one is culture. As it was the first day, we went around the room and said where we are from and what we are studying. After I said I study environmental sciences my writing professor said she doesn’t believe in recycling and that they just mix everything together and throw it in a landfill. I hear that all the time in the US and I eventually got so sick of it I took a tour of a recycling plant and guess what, they actually recycled. Craziness. Maybe there are a few towns out there that have corrupt recycling programs, but the world does recycle. It would be an impressive act of subterfuge if the entire world made up a billion dollar materials industry. In my culture class when I said I study environmental sciences, (since STIA is a little hard to explain) my professor asked me if I believed in Global Warming. I told him that it is the most important problem facing society and we must solve it immediately. He responded by saying, so you think it’s real? I wish it weren’t but just because I wish it were so does not mean it is. Hopefully these professors' opinions are the exception, not the rule.
  5. Is It Easy Being Verde?

    Photo credit: Mossaiq Where you live determines many things about who you are. Whether it is your quality of education, cultural awareness or general health, it’s all about location location location. Being green is no exception. Currently I am visiting Madrid, and I keep wondering to myself “how easy it for the citizens to be green?†It is Southern Europe after all so we know they use less gas, electricity and water than we do in the US, which is mainly caused by much higher prices of those commodities here and that the region has serious issues with droughts in the summer. But the whole story is not explained by price. After all, I am a tourist who doesn’t pay any utilities here, but I am still being green(er) than usual because of the Madrid infrastructure. First off, Madrid actually has a city-wide recycling system unlike Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC (all places I’ve called home at one point or another). There are giant recycling bins dotted throughout the city, clearly labeled so even a foreigner like myself whose Spanish is not the best, can understand. I have seen them in every stage of varying stages of overflowing to nearly empty, but the key thing is that they are being used and used correctly. I’m not sure what the residential recycling system is yet, what kind of things they take or even if there is one, but it’s only my second night here. Secondly, the infrastructure is there to use water efficiently in both city parks and businesses. At my hostel (Cat’s Hostel) all faucets are on timers (very, very short timers) which practically makes all showers navy showers. But since the user has no control over how the water runs, I can’t stop it when I just wanted to quickly rinse my hands or tooth brush. As far as water management goes, I think that is still a net plus although slightly inconvenient (which raises questions about the efficiency vs. convenient chart). Thirdly, the city of Madrid gets major points for irrigating its flora properly using drip irrigation and not sprinklers in el Parque de Buen Retiro (its central park). I do not understand why other cities and organizations (like my school Georgetown) do not use this exceedingly simple and efficient form of watering. Finally, every toilet I have seen here (and that I noticed on my trip to Israel last year) has the two types of flush capability; one for liquid waste and the other for both types. I have yet to figure out how to do it properly though which tells us two things. I am probably a fool for not being able to figure it out (much like Sylvester Stalone in Demolition Man) and that you have to give people more than just the resources to be efficient or green, you have to let them know how to use them properly.