Friday, September 23, 2011

Should Another Owl Be Killed So This One Can Live?

Once the West's poster child for endangered species, the Northern Spotted Owl is now threatened by one of its own kind --- a striped cousin called The Barred Owl.  The feathers are flying --- among biologists, conservationists and animal ethicists.

The effort to save the northern spotted owl during the last 20 years has helped preserve old-growth forests, even if it sparked the 'timber wars,' battles between conservationists, timber companies and the construction industry. But now the owl faces a new threat: a closely-related cousin, the barred owl. This larger, brasher, faster-breeding transplant from the East Coast has invaded the spotted owl's territory, which ranges from Northern California to Washington State.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing an experiment to selectively take out barred owls, by lethal and nonlethal means, to determine if this would give the spotted owl any advantage. But that's sticking in the craw of some conservationists, birding groups and animal-rights advocates because the experiment alone could mean killing hundreds, if not thousands, of these birds.

The barred owl removal plan poses an ethical question to the public: Does it make sense to kill some species to save others? At what point should we intervene? Or should we step in at all? "Such questions often go unarticulated, even though public agencies confront these hard choices all the time," says William Lynn, a bioethicist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who was brought in by the Fish and Wildlife Service to convene discussions with stakeholders on the ethical issues. Even before wildlife officials release their draft environmental impact statement this fall, the controversy is generating hot debate among conservationists, wildlife biologists and animal rights activists. 

Francesca Lyman reports for The Sacramento Bee California Forum section September 18th, 2011.

IMAGE: John and Karen Hollingsworth, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Monday, May 2, 2011

Desert Living Center Educates in Las Vegas

The Desert Living Center (DLC) in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, is showcases green building methods, materials and technologies that are appropriate for a desert climate, such as thick straw bale and rammed earth walls, and evaporative cooling towers that lower heating and cooling energy use. The buildings are also orientated to maximize solar for heat and light using passive design principles, with minimal mechanical systems. Stormwater is collected in this area of very low rainfall so that it can be used to irrigate gardens. Walls are insulated with shredded blue jean material, and salvaged materials include recycled railroad trusses  that form a roof structure. Solar panels cover parking areas and are used as design elements in free-standing pole-mounted systems. The five DLC buildings are part of the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, a 180-acre park that features a 1.8 mile trail system with interpretive overlooks, historic structures and archaeological sites; an eight-acre botanical garden with thousands of native and drought-tolerant plants, outdoor classrooms and a cooking demonstration area, and an accessible garden; the Cienega desert wetland that serves as a home for hundreds of native plant, bird and animal species; and a reconstructed cauldron pool depicts the natural springs that once bubbled from beneath the valley floor.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eko Kuca Is Self-Heating Home in Serbia

Serbian inventor Veljko Milkovic creates designs for eco-houses along with other energy-saving devices. Using passive solar design principles and earth-shelter techniques, he adds reflective surfaces below windows that unfold to capture and amplify solar gain into the home through the glazing; he also includes reflective surfaces under the eaves that help bring solar gain into the homes during winter. His self-heating eco-house – or Eko Kuca - building concept saves up to 85 percent on heating, 100 percent on cooling, 30 percent on lighting and about 20 to 40 percent on building materials, based on monitoring. The Eko Kuca is covered with a sod roof that sweeps up over the earth-bermed house to provide additional insulation for an energy-efficient envelope. In 2009, the Eko Kuca won a First Place Award for Serbia and Montenegro as part of the international Energy Globe competition for worldwide sustainability.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Software and Online Tools for Sustainable Design

Solaripedia links more than 230 software and online tools to help with sustainable design. Most of the tools are free for use and some are available by subscription or purchase. The tools can help with solar design, passive design, acoustics, lighting, wind energy systems, PV sizing, psychrometrics, rainwater collection tank sizing, water budgeting, window design and heat gain, shading design and landscape calculating for vegetation and wind breaks. Listed in alphabetical order by name of tool, a brief description helps you figure out if it's the right tool for you, then just follow the link.

Canton Tower Features a Complex BIPV System (China)

Canton Tower is the tallest tower in the world as of February 2011. Also known as the Guangzhou TV Tower, it is 600 meters tall, twisting over the Haizhu District of Guangzho (formerly known as Canton), capital of Guangdong province in China. One of its most remarkable to me is the BIPV (building integrated photovoltaics) system that sheaths part of the building under its giant lattice framework. The solar power system is comprised of a-Si (amorphous silicon) thin-film modules that are installed on facades under the steel mesh. LED technology is used extensively for all lighting so that the tower consumes only 15 percent of the allowed maximum for facade lighting, further contirnuting to its energy efficiency. The dynamic twisting form of the tower is composed of straight shafts that encircle the core of the structure, creating a cinched 'waist' that is designed to be as small as possible at a span of 15.6 meters while still accommodating the elevator shafts and fire escapes. Designed by Information Based Architecture (IBA), a firm based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, it includes a park at the tower’s base, an elevated plaza, a pagoda-park, retail facilities, offices, a television center and a hotel.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Apartments Above, Parking Below Yield Grand Views

One might argue that by providing 480 parking spaces for automobiles, a project is not that sustainable. The Mountain, a housing and parking development in Copenhagen began as two separate projects that would have situated a huge parking structure next to a multifamily residential project - creating a potential eyesore and blocking the sun. Architects Bjarke Ingels Group of Denmark saw it as an opportunity for residents to be elevated above the city with magnificent views, solar access and rooftop gardens, with parking tucked under. The resulting structure is adjacent to bike and walking trails, lightrail, and a canal. It has been a somewhat controversial building, rising out of the flatlands near Copenhagen and swathed in a gargantuan metal mural of Mount Everest. From the south side, the building presents a series of gardens and terraces that slope away from the street - with an organic feel of vegetation and wood trellises. The other elevations, though, provide stark materials that loom high above the human scale.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Off-Grid House in Costa Rica Is Zero Energy

The Casa ISEAMI is located  in the rainforest of Costa Rica, where its humid environment encourages mold and fungi growth on buildings. The architects for ISEAMI - Robles Arquitectos - therefore designed this house using an all-white structure that allows mold and other pests to be revealed immediately. Casa ISEAMI is totally off-grid using an on-site hydropower system plus photovoltaics on the roof - two micro hydro turbines generate 800 kWh per year and a rooftop solar system generates 10,800 kWh annually. The casa utilizes passive solar design with large overhangs for shade and rainwater collection, and its orientation maximizes natural ventilation. Large skylights provide daylighting and an almost direct connection for inhabitants to the sky. A solar thermal system provides hot water. The Casa provides headquarters for Costa Rica-based ISEAMI (Institute for Sustainability, Ecology, Art, Mind and Investigation). The house is situated on a hill above the ocean on the biologically diverse Peninsula de Osa, 30km from the nearest town. The area contains five percent of the world`s biodiversity so it was imperative for the Institute to create a building that has virtually no negative impact on the surrounding environment. Building materials are recyclable at the end of their useful lives.  The casa is the first phase of building houses a multifunctional space for ISEAMI (Institute of Sustainability, Ecology, Art,Mind and Investigation) on the ground level, with the second level providing a residence for the Institute`s director.