We know that we must use less fossil fuels, to abate climate change. But in recent years, we’ve all year about millions of birds and bats being sliced apart with blades of turbines, and many others flying into the blades, as their navigation is affected. Today things are a bit better, but RSPB in particular has been criticised for allowing a big wind turbine to be built on its own headquarters, while telling off the government for building off-shore wind farms, near breeding sights on the Yorkshire coast.
The mountains and moors, the wild uplands, are to be staked out like vampires in the sun, their chests pierced with rows of five-hundred-foot wind turbines and associated access roads, masts, pylons, and wires. Paul Kingsnorth
Modern wind turbines like Vortex Bladeless appear to be much better, these have no blades at all. They are like tall silver ‘vibrating wands’ that generate electricity as they shake around. But there is never a perfect answer, as hydro-electric dams can block the migration of fish (and therefore harm creatures that feed on them). And birds and insects often get incinerated through intense sunlight from solar farms, especially when mirrors are used.
So what’s the problem? The problem is at source. Einstein once said that ‘you can’t solve a problem with the same mentality that created it’. All ‘proper environmentalists’ say that the issue is why we are using so much artificial energy in the first place. If we all lived simpler lives, then our need for energy would rapidly decrease. But that would massively decrease the profits of energy companies, and nobody owns the sun!
This way of thinking has many fans, including ecological writers Satish Kumar and Paul Kingsnorth. Both are on the same page with this, that the answer is not to ‘solve climate change with technology’. Having said that, most people don’t live off-the-grid. The most eco-friendly way to get ‘green energy’ is likely to generate your own, as a small energy generator that doesn’t impact wildlife habitats is the way to go. But what about everyone else?
This is a ‘hold your nose and do what you can’ moment. All the main electricity companies are about profit and burning fossil fuels. The main green companies (bar one) all make energy from burning slurry from factory farms (including the green and non-profit ones). And the one that doesn’t (Ecotricity) is a huge fan of building more wind farms. The founder Dale Vince (he’s the one who bought a football club and turned it vegan) is in the midst of trying to create ‘grass gas’ as opposed to shale gas (fracking), by capturing carbon from harvested grass and straw.
The company has recently launched a mobile phone network Ecotalk, where profits are used to fund nature reserves for wildlife. If you have your own solar panel, you can sell back to them any excess energy, and receive money – they in turn need less wind power to produce energy for their customers.
The main reason why wind turbines kills birds is not always the blades themselves. It’s because governments and companies site turbines in areas where wildlife live – wetland habitats, sea colonies etc. This means roads are often built so that trucks can drive through wetlands and wildlife habitats to maintain the turbines. All the biology experts say that if you are going to use wind turbines, use small-scale ones, and site them in areas where native wildlife don’t live and breed.
If you work in this industry, read Renewable Energy and Wildlife Conservation by a wildlife biologist who has extensively studied all the clean energy options. He offers a balanced approach, to try to help both sides. Or for yourself, read Living Off the Grid. This is packed with tips to use less energy, even if you are not going to go full ‘off-grid’ yourself.
Zero Waste Alternative to Air Coolers
Energy is not used just to warm up homes, but also to cool them down. Air coolers are better than air conditioning, as they are far simpler and most work on a modern evaporation system, using water to cool the air, rather than just flying chemicals around your house or office. You just keep them topped up with water, and give them the occasional clean. Keep them near open doors or windows for best circulation (keep all air fans away from pets, especially pet birds for their safety). If you only are using the cooler for yourself, you can put it nearby (say on your desk).
If building a new home, use Passivhaus design to naturally cool your home via high ceilings etc. In India, vastu shastra is based on using natural laws to design new homes: morning rooms that face south are used for meditation, while evening rooms that face north are reserved for bedrooms etc, so they don’t overheat. Here are some simple ways to cool your home (don’t cool homes below safe temperatures for older/vulnerable people and pets, and don’t overheat either).
- If safe, keep windows ajar in hot weather. For cats that bask near open windows above ground floor, you can use a screen to keep them safe (most cats don’t ‘land on their feet). Flat Cats and Cataire are two options (here’s a good guide on choosing the right one).
- Use quality curtains or blinds to keep heat in or out. Use light fabrics in two layers, so you can add heat in winter. Close in hot weather or for windows that face south or west. Or use solar shield shade screens (they may obscure view). Never burn candles near soft furnishings for safety, nor place potted plants nearby (see more on how to stop birds flying into windows).
- Use steamers and slow cookers in kitchens, rather than roasting items for hours in the oven.
- Insulate your attic to stop heat escaping or radiating down from the rest of the roof/house.
- Landscape outside your house, to keep heat outside and block sun rays with trees etc. Deciduous trees are best because they let heat pass through in winter, but provide shade in warmer months. Or use shrubs on lower walls to block the sun (don’t plant near foundations, underground wires or septic tanks/sewers). Read Climate-Wise Landscaping (see make your garden safe for pets to know toxic plants/trees/mulch to avoid).
- Switch to energy-efficient lightbulbs, as these not only use less energy, but also give out far less heat.
- Use a safe retractable line (or fold up rotary lines when out of use for safety) rather than using tumble dryers. If drying clothes indoors on racks, do so in the bathroom (not in ‘dry rooms’ where they could cause mould).
- Switch off appliances when not in use. And ensure fridges/freezers have plenty of ventilation, to avoid them pumping heat back into the kitchen.
- Hot at night? Take a cooler shower, switch to a lower tog duvet and sleep on a bed that’s closer to the floor (check futons don’t have horsehair). Try natural cotton, hemp or linen sheets and buckwheat pillows (not for babies) that can reduce the heat of your head, as you sleep. Also try facing east or north.
Evapolar is a portable air cooler that can lower the temperature and your bills, using a whisper-quiet evaporative cooling process. It passes over water-moistened pads, to immediately cool the air, akin to ‘feeling a chill’ if you got out of a pool on a warm day. It does not spread bacterial or mould, and uses a nano-thin fibrous structure to create a powerful effect in a small space. Designed as a personal unit, you have to be in the centre of the device’s airflow with the front grills facing you, within 1 to 1.5m distance away. The outgoing temperature depends on air temperature and humidity level. Good ventilation is also important. The maximum temperature decrease that can be reached is 10-12°C (18-19°F).