Posts Tagged ‘green technology’

Squeaky clean

I live in an apartment building whose pipes have a long-standing and intense hatred of the tenants, which causes them (the pipes, not the tenants) to leak, explode, make banging noises at night, spontaneously come to life and smash through the walls, that sort of thing. It’s lovely.

We’d just finished a round of repairs taking several months and involving the replacement of several walls, so naturally, it was about time for the drains to spontaneously fail again. So I thought, “Well, this is okay; I’ll try out one of these ecologically friendly cleansers I keep seeing.”

As y’all probably know, chemicals poured into municipal water systems have a way of turning up in neighbouring rivers and lakes and getting back into the drinking water supply. So I want to avoid pouring unnecessary chemicals down my drains. I also want my drains to actually function, though.

So I went to the nearest natural products store and asked about non-toxic drain cleaners, which I was sure I’d seen there. They told me they didn’t carry them but could order them specially if needed. This didn’t seem terribly useful to me, since in my experience, ninety-
nine percent of drain problems are of a moderately urgent nature. I know maybe two people (my mother is one) who are sufficiently foresighted that they would actually pre-order a cleaning product they might use once in five years. (She’s also worryingly well-prepared for tornadoes, considering that she lives in southern Ontario. I think she may know something the rest of us don’t.)

The second natural products store I tried was closed for renovations and the third and fourth didn’t carry this stuff either, although one of them had at least heard of it. While walking through the city from one store to another, I probably passed a dozen or so chain-store pharmacies, all of whom, I’m quite sure, were well-stocked with Draino and the like.

I finally found what I was looking for (NatureClean Drain Cleaner) at Jardins Sauvage on Monkland Avenue. Elated, I took it home, tried it overnight, and found absolutely no result.

This is the most common complaint about ecologically safe cleansers: that they’re less effective than the toxic kinds. So I was actually kind of pleased when the Liquid Plumr failed to work either. I mean, yes, now we have to get the landlord to fix this (which, to his credit, he’s usually pretty quick about doing) but at least I don’t have to write a disappointed post about the ineffectiveness of trying to do one’s bit for the water supply.

Instead, I can write a disappointed post about how hard it is to find the stuff in the first place.

To their credit, pharmacies have been doing a much better job in the past few years of stocking recycled-fibre toilet paper, phosphate-free dishwashing liquid and the like. But the less common corners of the cleaning product world remain the domain of scary liquids that can burn through your eyeballs and so forth. It’s something I can see changing, but pretty slowly.


Videos – at last!

Okay, I have finally learned how to post Vimeo videos to this blog – huzzah! The following two videos are from our May symposium in Montreal. The first is Thomas Lovejoy, Biodiversity Chair at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. The second is Laurie Michaelis of the Living Witness Project. Laurie is presenting by audio linkup from the UK, because he has eschewed flying due to its high environmental impact. (Although if this thing ever becomes commercially viable, maybe we’ll get him over here someday.) Enjoy the videos, and watch for more coming soon!

Soylent Green is…robots?

Some days I love the internet – not in the Superman and Mrs. Blog sense, but in an entirely platonic haze of bafflement.

Which brings us to the. Best. Press release. Ever.

Company Denies Its Robots Feed On The Dead

Zombie jokes aside, though, it’s a cool idea at first glance. Basically they’re robots powered by biomass – twigs and leaves and so forth – which they’re able to gather themselves. Somebody suggested in the article comments that they could be used for clearing railroad tracks and remote roads and whatnot. So far so good.

The downside: at the moment, this is a military project, funded by DARPA. The company says the “commercial applications…are enormous”, but let’s not kid ourselves, eh? When people start talking about making war “greener”, I have to go and have a lie-down.

Also: I can’t help wondering how discriminating these robots are. I’m not talking about eating people here, but suppose we do end up using something like this for remote-area work (because in more populated areas, I’m pretty sure road cleanup is done by roving bands of Girl Guides – at least that’s what we had to do for our Community Service Merit Badges when I was a kid). Can we be sure they’re not going to start chewing up important bits of the ecosystem here? Robots are notoriously bad at visual recognition, and eating endangered species is exactly the kind of thing they’d probably do. Just for spite.

Eh, so basically, my inner geek and my inner environmentalist are going to be having some serious arguments over this one. Still, you gotta love robots.