« previous 10

Following the footprints

Carbon footprinting--a topic that I didn't know much about until a few months ago--is getting some serious mainstream attention. Everyone wants to know: just how many greenhouse gas emissions are generated in order to make the products we consume?

Take Apple for example. Want to know how many kilograms of greenhouse gases are emitted from your iPod nano? Check out the environmental performance report that the company posted last month. The MacBook Air itself might weigh less than 2 kg, but by the time it ends up in the recycling depot, 340 kg of greenhouse gases will have been emitted in order to make it, ship it, use it, and discard it.

Apple's not the only one who's started following their carbon footprints. The UK's Carbon Trust would like companies to start labeling products to reveal the footprint of different goods and services. Think of it as a nutritional fact label for the environment.

What else can you learn from carbon footprints? Quite a lot, according to the Wall Street Journal. Tesco learned the recipe for a low-carbon load of laundry (liquid detergent, cold water, and don't touch the clothes dryer); Patagonia found that its largest footprint was the polyester in its jackets; and Aurora Organic Dairy discovered that cows are gassy, gassy beasts.

Following carbon footprints can also help you figure out how to be a low-carbon consumer. For instance, around 70% of the carbon emitted over the life-cycle of a Toyota Prius comes from the fuel used to move it. That means that driving less frequently, more efficiently, or buying a smaller car with even better mileage can make a big difference.

But if you are thinking of trading in your old computer, think again. Since most of a computer's emissions are from the manufacturing of semiconductors, it's best to get as much life out of your PC as possible before retirement. Of course, if you can power it with renewable electricity, all the better.

October 24, 2008 | 10:10 AM Comments  {num} comments


Gouda in Kalomo
Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

The sun was setting as we said goodbye, knowing that we had a good 2 hour journey in the dark ahead of us. I wasn’t too concerned. [...] I think I was smiling the whole way.

Though my frustrations about the project still stand, they’ve been tempered by my sense of hope. [...] The cooperatives can still meet their targets. There are people like Tangson and Kennedy who want to see it succeed. So this thing we’re trying to do…there’s a chance it just might work after all.
Thulasy Balasubramaniam, a friend from Calgary, is working with Engineers Without Borders in Zambia. She is assessing the suitability of a market for sorghum--a drought and heat resistant alternative to maize, the staple food crop in Zambia.

Her job hasn't been easy. Heavy rains and flooding damaged the sorghum demonstration crops: farmers have reported losses of 50 to 80% this year. Along the way, Thulasy has struggled with feelings of powerlessness and frustration.
I worked very hard alongside my hosts, trying my best to keep up and realizing all along that not only have my muscles atrophied from under-use but so has my mind. The abundant world in which I was raised has actually limited my ability to conceive of what is possible, of what my body is capable of, of the elegance in simplicity.

There is so much we can do.
At the same time, here is always a kernel of hope in Thulasy's posts. Through patience and guarded optimism, she has been buoyed by examples of success. At the same time, she's uncovered a deeper understanding of life in rural Zambia, and the incredible people she now calls friends. And did you know that they make Gouda in her town of Kalomo?
Whyson, my co-worker, says that when outsiders see images of village life or drive through in roaring white land-cruisers, they say, “Oh, these people are suffering.” Yes, one cannot deny that there is a fair bit of suffering in rural Zambia. But what visitors fail to see, Whyson says, “is that these people are living.
Thulasy is entering her second year of life in Zambia; I wish her all the best and look forward to hearing more of her stories. Especially if they involve moonbows!
We ran through the spray of the Falls in darkness, chasing moonbows as if they were pixies, trying to touch them with our fingers and toes... We screamed at the top of our lungs, giddy from enchantment (but also ridiculously cold from the Fall’s spray). We marveled at the beautiful circle in the sky as its light fractured into a spectrum of colour, made sparkles of the billowing mist, and all the while, lifted our spirits.

June 29, 2008 | 12:06 PM Comments  {num} comments

Getting Twice as Far in the Future

Last October, we released a report: "Factor of 2: Halving the Fuel Consumption of New U.S. Automobiles by 2035". The piece got some attention from Joe White at the Wall Street Journal just a month before the U.S. Energy Bill increased fuel economy standards for the first time in 20 years.

The report details design and sales mix changes that could halve fuel consumption (measured in liters of fuel consumed per 100 kilometers) in the average new vehicle sold in 2035. This translates into a fuel economy of roughly 50 mpg by 2035--a target that is nearly as ambitious as the 35 mpg by 2020 requirement in the Energy Bill.

The report is available on our research group's website. Check it!

February 2, 2008 | 2:02 AM Comments  {num} comments


Math and Gangsters

One of the things on my mind these days is finding a job. A career arc I never considered:
"This what becomes of reformed gangsters: they leave the life to become mathematicians. But Smiley was not one of those studious types who disappeared into hermitage or exile. He was an exhibitionist who slept naked and solved theorems while the glass from the overhead sky-light magnified his derivations and graphs".
From Salvador Plascencia's The People of Paper.

October 27, 2007 | 3:10 AM Comments  {num} comments


Mapping Energy @ MIT

A friend of mine developed a website that shows energy use in buildings on the MIT campus. The graphical interface lets you browse through the years, tracking the evolution of energy use in total energy, electricity, steam, chilled water, or gas.

Can you spot the most energetic building on campus? (you'll have to switch to watts per square meter--it's tiny!)

October 4, 2007 | 12:10 PM Comments  {num} comments


What is Synthetic Biology?

If you are still asking yourself this question, or haven't even yet, then let Drew Endy break it down for you, white board style. Just don't give him your credit card number: synthetic biology is a means to an end, but it is also more than you can afford.

September 16, 2007 | 8:09 AM Comments  {num} comments

Notes from the field

A friend, in a letter from Mozambique, writes about 2 years of life in Rwanda, Zambia, and Malawi:
I have been silent for close to 340 days. This is not that I did not want to share, but I think it is because I felt that I had nothing worth sharing. When you live in a place for a number of years, the strange becomes normal, the amazing becomes ordinary, and the unusual becomes common place.

Meeting after meeting I met people who themselves were passionate for development and the benefit of people in their own countries and communities:
  • a man in Northern Malawi who had operated a food security program in 5 districts for 8 years without any funding

  • a husband and wife couple in Central Malawi who had given up civil servant jobs in the early 1980’s to start a community based farming project and have transformed their valley from a dry, infertile wasteland to a 20 hectare oasis;

  • a group of gentlemen in central Zambia who were in the process of setting up a small corn grinding mill and vegetable garden to generate money to run several development projects in their community
And these stories represent only a small sample of people I came into contact with.

How could I not love this place?

How could I not have hope for the future?
You can read more about his work here.

August 9, 2007 | 11:08 AM Comments  {num} comments


More miles per gallon

Well, the secret's out. Here's our opinion on how to get more miles per gallon:
"Engine and vehicle technologies have improved steadily in the past 20 years, and vehicles have become more efficient. But without either a push from CAFE standards or a pull from soaring fuel prices, the higher efficiencies are routinely offset by the increasing size, weight, speed, and performance of many vehicles.

"The unsettling result is that in the last 20 years the average fuel consumption in new vehicles has not changed.

"But there are ways to lower the cost and the burden of relying solely on regulation. Measures that could stimulate consumer desires for fuel economy would ease both the costs and uncertainty borne by manufacturers."
(P.S. Not that it was a secret or anything.)

May 26, 2007 | 12:05 PM Comments  {num} comments


Augmenting the Motor and the Mental

Douglas Engelbart thinks that improving the way we relate to information can solve urgent problems in the world.

In a talk to the Technology and Policy Program here at MIT, Engelbart shared how his personal goal of boosting the human capability for coping with world problems drove his careear.

Most notably, he spoke on how it's not enough to match the fit between tools and human factors--on a more fundamental level, it's also essential that both work effectively with basic human abilities. Accroding to Engelbart, these include: sensory, perceptual, motor, and mental skills.

This seems very appropriate coming from the creator of the mouse. Engelbart has a broader vision about how navigating and displaying information can improve out abilities to cope with big problems. He's got specific ideas: Collective intelligence, open hyperdocument systems, and a project called HyperScope.

Engelbart seems bang-on with a number of these ideas, which relate to his work with hypertext in the past. Some of these ideas echo existing applications. For instance, I've always thought it was cool how the New York Times website supplies definitions for any word you double click on in an article.

May 18, 2007 | 3:05 AM Comments  {num} comments


Two blogs are better than one?

I've started up a new blog at http://blog.chrisevans.fastmail.fm/. With any luck, this blog at TakingITGlobal should update along with the new one.

May 16, 2007 | 11:10 PM Comments  {num} comments


« previous 10

Chris Evans's Profile

Latest Posts
Following the footprints
Gouda in Kalomo
Getting Twice as Far...
Math and Gangsters
Mapping Energy @ MIT

Monthly Archive

Change Language

Tags Archive
activism canada candles climatechange colombo complexity crackers design development diwali diyas economics engineerswithoutborders english humanrights humansecurity india jaffna lagosxperience lamps mit music peaceandconflict personal perspective politics renewnigeria syntheticbiology zambia

Filter By Type

My flickr Photos Page

Important Disclaimer