NY Times: Solar and Wind Energy Gaining Traction

A great piece of news came downwind from The New York Times: Solar and wind energy are finally starting to become competitive with conventional, environment-damaging fuels such as coal and natural gas. 

For the first time ever, it's now possible to produce renewable energy at a cost equal to coal. In some markets, "green" energy has been cheaper than the dirty fossil fuels. A handful of companies have signed contracts, called power purchase agreements, for solar and wind at prices below that of natural gas, particularly in the Southwest and Great Plains. 

So, what does this have to do with you? Quite a lot in fact. And it will affect your children and grandchildren even more than you. Global experts point out that climate change is a stark reality that all citizens of the earth face today – not in 30 years or next week, but now. According to a White House report, California has been experiencing devastating droughts, low-lying U.S. cities such as Miami already experience high flooding, and farmers across the country are having to reassess their crops to confront the weather alterations. 

According to The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia's national science agency, global sea levels rose about 6.7 inches in the last century, and the rate in the last 10 years is almost double that of the last century. What's more, the period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade in every region of the U.S. on record. 

Fossil Fuels
One of the leading contributors to this climate change is fossil fuels.

"The burning of coal, oil and gas, and clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and it has been known for almost two centuries that this carbon dioxide traps heat," the researchers wrote in the White House Report, titled "National Climate Assessment."

A Change in Dialogue
As a result, even over the last year, the climate debate has shifted from "Is climate change real?" to "What are we going to do about climate change?" As solar and wind energy become more viable, we can start cutting our output of fossil fuels and work toward greater sustainability. 

This paradigm shift directly aligns with the views of Ilchi Lee, The New York Times' bestselling author and a proud advocate of a peaceful, sustainable world. Lee aims to reduce our carbon footprint and leave a legacy of the world better than how we found it. 

That's why the solar energy shifts are so important. 

Earlier this year, Austin Energy in Texas signed a deal to create 20 years of output from a solar farm at less than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour. In Oklahoma, American Electric Powered tripled the amount of wind power it had initially sought after recognizing how low the bids came in. These are only some of the examples. However, at least for the near future, the low prices will not allow wind and solar farms to supersede power plants, experts concede.

Khalil Shalabi, vice president for energy market operations and resource planning at Austin Energy, suggested the falling prices of renewable energy is still a great sign. 

"Renewables had two issues: One, they were too expensive, and they weren't dispatchable," Shalabi told The New York Times. "They're not too expensive anymore."

Do You Recycle Your Aerosol Containers?

Chances are you've used an air freshener, a bottle of hair spray or whipped cream before. And many of these sprays come in aerosol containers. But once you're finished with these products, can they be recycled? The short answer is yes, but only if they're empty. In this case, you can put them in the bin designated for steel or aluminum at your curbside program.

If the can has contents left inside, contact your local recycling facility about disposal options. Oftentimes, an aerosol with leftover material must by properly disposed of by a household hazardous waste-processing facility. Be sure never to puncture the bottle, as it may cause harm.

What Are Aerosols Exactly?
Aerosols are collections of tiny particles of solid and/or liquid suspended in a gas. In fact, these particles are so microscopic that they measure from about 0.001 to 100 microns (a micron is one-millionth of a meter). Aerosols are typically categorized into different subgroups: fumes, dusts, mists and sprays. 

Are Aerosols Bad for the Environment?
To fully understand the answer to this question, let's take a step back and look at the environment itself. The Earth's atmosphere consists of a number of gases, including nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor and atmospheric aerosols. Roughly three-quarters of all aerosols found in the atmosphere come from natural sources – sea salt, soil debris, smoke from forest fires and volcanic eruptions are all contributors. 

Because of concerns that aerosol sprays were damaging the environment, in the 1970s the U.S. banned the use of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), which are compounds inside certain aerosols believed to be linked to ozone layer damage. Clean Air Act and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation further restricted CFCs for non-consumer products.

Today, aerosol cans use propellants such as hydrocarbons and compressed gases like nitrous oxide that do not deplete the ozone layer. Aerosol spray cans produced in a handful of other countries might still contain CFCs, but they cannot be legally sold in the U.S. 

Still, even though deodorant sprays and air fresheners aren't depleting the ozone layer, they are not in any way deemed good for the environment. The hydrocarbons or compressed gases are known contributors to climate change. Scientific American says every time you use them, you are growing your carbon footprint very slightly.

Ilchi Lee, a proud advocate of a peaceful, sustainable world, has long encouraged people to take responsibility for their environmental actions on earth. Simple, daily changes can help enhance our energy efficiency and conserve natural resources for generations to come. Enlightenment, Lee states, is not just knowledge. It is also action.

"So one obvious way we need to recalibrate our lives to is minimize the waste of resources that supports our lifestyle," Lee wrote in his book titled, "Change: Realizing Your Greatest Potential." "In pursuit of a more natural life, perhaps we ought to sit a little less and sweat a little more,"

As a collective, we can make a conscious effort to reduce our carbon footprint one step at a time. If possible, use an alternative to aerosol containers, such as a regular rub-on deodorant or homemade whipped cream. When you do use aerosols, be sure to recycle them or dispose of them properly.

Food Sustainability 101

Going green has been doctors' diet advice for decades. Spinach, apples, broccoli – all sorts of fruits and vegetables that are wonderful for you may also be great for the environment. Here's how: 

What is Sustainable Food?
Sustainable food is a way of growing, raising and consuming food in an ecologically and ethically responsible manner using practices that protect the environment. It provides fair treatment to workers, humane treatment to farm animals and decreased exposure to harmful substances such as pesticides, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and unhealthy food additives.

All of these measures factor into living in a sustainable world. Generally, the most sustainable food producers are family farmers and family-owned businesses that have a personal connection with the land they work on.

Why Eat Sustainable Food?
Not only is eco-friendly food better for the farmer's side of the equation, it provides a number of health benefits for you. Consuming sustainably grown, unprocessed (or minimally processed) foods such as whole grains, legumes, and fresh fruits and vegetables is known to decrease cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of certain cancers and improve digestive function. 

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, eating foods produced locally has "distinct advantages." The paper highlights that foods grown far away spend a significant amount of time on the road, and thus have more time to lose nutrients before arriving in the marketplace. On the other side of the spectrum, produce sold within 24 hours is at peak freshness and ripeness, making it a great choice.

"Second, farmers growing for a local (and especially a direct) market favor taste, nutrition and diversity over shipability when choosing varieties," the author Kathleen Frith wrote in the white paper. "Greater crop diversity from the farmer means greater nutritional diversity for the eater." 

The takeaway? Often, local is more nutritious!

Where to Buy?
You can shop for sustainable food at farmers markets, food-buying clubs, community-supported agriculture (CSA) and other places. When you become a member of a CSA, you can purchase a share of vegetables from a regional farmer. Other farmer-run options include farm stands and "pick your own" farms. 

If you shop at a large, chain supermarket and want to find sustainable foods, simply ask. When signs aren't posted to label food from organic or local farm food, ask the store manager to start labeling produce. You can ask the manager of the meat department if any of the meats sold are organic and/or sustainably raised.

To get your own produce, consider gardening yourself. Whether you have a backyard, urban rooftop or community garden, gardening is as local as it gets. 

As a consumer, you play a big role in determining the health of the environment. Sustainable food has an array of benefits for the environment, and sells nutritious food with a delicious taste. In other words, sustainable food is a great chance to start celebrating local, seasonal and artisanal ingredients by purchasing fresh produce directly farmers close to your communities.

Takeaways from the People’s Climate March and UN Summit

On September 21, an estimated 311,000 people descended on the streets of New York City, marching with a message of alarm for world leaders to start taking action on climate change. 

Though everyone from Sting to Al Gore to Leonardo DiCaprio were among the brighter beacons of the environmental movement who attended, the event was rooted in the thousands of ordinary people dedicated to changing the course of history by averting climate crises. It was the largest climate-oriented walk ever. 

One demonstrator was asked why she attended.

"I'm here because I really feel that every major social movement in this country has come when people get together," Carol Sutton of Norwalk, Connecticut, the president of a teachers' union, told The New York Times. "It begins in the streets."

International Inaction
Many have been frustrated with the international inaction on global warming. Ilchi Lee, a long-time advocate of a peaceful, sustainable world, recognizes that maintaining the earth's environmental balance is a not a single country's dilemma or a partisan problem, it is a human issue. 

The legions cruised through the heart of Manhattan to Times Square and the Far West Side. But as big as the single event was, it was not alone. Demonstrations took place across the globe, from Paris to Papua New Guinea. More than 150 countries joined the protests. The walks were in preparation of the United Nations Summit Meeting on climate change that took place two days afterward. 

One of the main organizers of the event, the international advocacy group Avaaz, presented a petition with more than 2.1 million signatures demanding action on climate change. 

"It's a testament to how powerful this movement is," Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz, told The New York Times. "People are coming in amazing numbers."

What We Learned From the People's Climate March

  • Many people are passionate about taking action on climate change. 
  • It's not too late to do something about climate change. 
  • Climate change is indiscriminate; it impacts everyone, all citizens of the world. 

United Nation's Climate Summit
About 120 world leaders convened in New York City for the United Nation's Climate Summit to discuss climate change. It was the first such meeting in five years. Speakers included President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Nelson Mandela's widow, Graça Machel, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

So, what was accomplished at the Summit?

A total of 73 countries and more than 1,000 business, including Norwegian oil company Statoil, signed a World Bank initiative to encourage governments to set a price on carbon. At the summit, 25 of those companies, including Philips and Unilever, committed to pricing carbon internally and boost their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

Establishing a carbon tax is essential because it penalizes wasteful companies that continue to add harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. 

The summit also debuted the rollout of the New York Declaration on Forests, which proposes cutting the rate of natural forest loss by 50 percent by 2020 and eliminating it altogether by 2030. 

Dozens of city mayors were at the conference and planned to cut emissions at the local level. A new study from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group found that by 2050, cities could cut their annual emissions by an amount equivalent to half of yearly global coal use. 

In the upcoming weeks and months, those who marched in N.Y.C. and others around the world will see what comes of the U.N.'s Climate Summit. 

Why Leonardo DiCaprio Joined Fight Against Climate Change

A week before the United Nations Climate Summit, actor Leonardo DiCaprio was named a U.N. Messenger of Peace. Like many others citizens of the world, DiCaprio said he felt a moral obligation to reroute our perilous path toward climate change. 

Alongside President Barack Obama, former Vice President Al Gore and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, DiCaprio at the summit called the earth's shift an undeniable threat that must be urgently addressed by every nation. The actor implored more than 120 world leaders to do their part to fight global warming. 

"I pretend for a living. But you do not," a bearded DiCaprio told the gathering. "The people made their voices heard (at protests) on Sunday around the world and the momentum will not stop. And now it's your turn."

DiCaprio, who has given millions of dollar to environmental causes, said the argument is over and the scientific facts have spoken. 

The actor's views on sustainability align with those of Ilchi Lee, advocate of a peaceful, thriving world. 

The U.N. Summit was the largest gathering of world leaders to discuss climate change in history. 

Ideas from the National Clean Energy Summit

The National Clean Energy Summit was held in Las Vegas in early August, bringing together clean energy visionaries and leaders to work on reducing our country's carbon footprint. Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton spoke at the summit and warned of the risks of unabated greenhouse gas emissions. 

"Climate change is the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face," Clinton said at the convention. "The threat is real, and so is the opportunity … if we make the hard choices."

Politics aside, taking care of our planet is an international problem. Sea levels continue to rise, ice caps are melting and droughts have reached record numbers in the last decade. In fact, 13 of the top 14 warmest years have come since 2000, the former secretary of state said. 

Clinton urged that the U.S. can become a renewable energy "superpower" and lead by example. To achieve that, we'll have some serious work to do. There is still tremendous waste of energy resources, and America's consumption of fossil fuels remains far too high. 

Currently, Germany is ranked as the No. 1 most energy-efficient country, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Italy came in a close second and even China scored in the top five. The International Energy Efficiency Scorecard took into account everything from fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks to power efficiency standards for household appliances to industry advantages. 

The U.S. ranked 13th, scoring best in the buildings category, while lagging behind in transportation. 

"The United States has made some progress toward greater energy efficiency in recent years, particularly in areas such as building codes, appliance standards, voluntary partnerships between government and industry, and, recently, fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks," the report added. However, the nation will need to make some serious changes to accelerate its path. 

One way to expedite this change is through carbon tax, which is a tax levied on the carbon content of fuels. According to The Tennessean, the carbon tax is widely accepted as the most economically efficient and cost-effective way to reduce CO2 emissions. It would essentially force companies and business to pay a price for carbon pollution as a way to control climate change.  

Like the leaders at the National Clean Energy Summit, Ilchi Lee is a strong advocate for a sustainable world. By focusing on the brain as determinant for human behavior, Lee is confident that we can unite for the creation of a peaceful, sustainable way of life within the century. 

Ilchi Lee and Nature Meditation

In a recent video titled "Sedona Nature Meditation: Become One with the Serenity of Nature," Ilchi Lee talks about how reaching the summit of a mountain is like reaching that calm, quiet place inside your brain.

"From here, you can see things that are normally too far away," the video presentation says. "You can sense things you may have ignored."

Focusing on the key energy inside you, your mind can naturally become calm and surreal.

Getting Back to Nature
Meditating out in nature is rejuvenating on several levels. Getting back to greenery has a soothing effect on the mind, especially after spending long hours in the office or other indoor spaces.

Whether you're on top of a summit or in your forested backyard, nature can serve as the focal point for mindful meditation. Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down. Start with a few deep breaths, then close your eyes and bring yourself to the sensations of the present moment. Hear the blue bird's song in the distance; smell the leaves and the fresh rain; feel the wind blowing gently against your cheeks.

Pay close attention how your body feels – this is your chance to reconnect your mind and body to the beauty and fragility of your natural surroundings.

When your mind begins to wander, bring it back to the experience of nature. Try focusing in great depths on a single detail: If you hear a bird's call, notice the texture of it and how it resonates in your ears. Avoid labeling the sensations. It may seem to have a shape.

As with any form of meditation, breathing plays a key part. Inhale and exhale in an easy, deep rhythm. Focus on breathing through your diaphragm instead of with your shoulders.

When you feel ready, inhale deeply and open your eyes again. Scan the landscape, from the dirt to trees to flowers to animals and leaves. Any time spent in nature can serve as a form of meditation.

Listen to what your heart tells you. You don't have to stay idle if you don't want to! Some meditators like to stand up and go for a little walk through forested trails. Simply being in nature provides an opportunity to realign yourself with some of the deepest roots of being. Just remember to stay focused on nature.

What We Can Learn From Europe’s New Green Capital

Ljubljana, Slovenia, recently won the 2016 European Green Capital Award, given annually by the European Commission to cities that set a high-bar example of sustainable urban development. While many may never have heard of Ljubljana, we have a lot to learn from them. 

Ljubljana: Leader of Sustainability
The city is the capital of Slovenia, and the political, administrative, cultural and economic center of the region. It's home to more than 280,000 inhabitants. In the last decade, it has evolved into a thriving urban center with an exemplary dedication to sustainability and minimal environmental impact.

The streets of Ljubljana used to be dominated by gas-guzzling cars and trucks. Now, one can see residents taking advantage of public transportation as well as pedestrian and cycling networks. The European Commission reported that the most significant change has been the modification of the traffic regime on the main traffic artery of Slovenska Street.

The Mobility Plan, adopted in 2012, aims to equalize use of the city's public transportation with cars and non-motorized modes by 2020. It has already helped increase public travel to nearly 28 percent. 

Addressing Climate Change
Ljubljana has also emerged as a leader in confronting climate change. The city ambitiously proposed plans to reduce emissions by up to 80 percent by 2050, a goal that reflects the city's commitment to transparency concerning environmental data. As testament, the World Summit Award, a United Nations initiative, chose Ljubljana's Thermal Power Plant as one of the world's five best practices in the area of environmental protection and health for its communication with residents about its emissions and effects on health and the environment. 

Rapid Urbanization
For the first time ever, the majority of the world's population lives in cities, according to the World Health Organization. Even 100 years ago, only 2 out every 10 people lived in an urban area, yet by 2050, more than 7 out of 10 people are expected to live in a city.

Ljubljana's steps toward energy efficiency align with the messages of Ilchi Lee, an advocate of a peaceful, sustainable world. Lee expressed some of his concerns about climate in "The Call of Sedona: Journey of the Heart."

"The clock of civilization is moving much faster than all of us expected, and the earth's environment is losing its balance at a shocking rate," Lee wrote.

With such a rapid urbanization process, it's important for individuals, communities, states and nations to set goals regarding energy efficiency and minimizing the carbon footprint.

Following Ljubljana's Example
In recent years, there have been hundreds of projects that have improved quality of life and environment. For example, about three-quarters of the city consists of green space. Between 2008 and 2012, the city created almost 100 acres of new parks – that adds up to a whopping 6,027 square feet of green space per inhabitant. 

Two million trips have been made on the public bike program since 2011. Furthermore 3,500 waste containers have been replaced by 51 underground waste collectors. 

Perhaps we can find new ideas and inspiration to help minimize our carbon footprint, for there is no doubt the citizens of Ljubljana are setting a precedent for the rest of the world to follow. 

Turning Old Batteries into Solar Cells

Leave it to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop a way to turn environmental damage into a going green poster child.

The researchers proposed a system that recycles materials from discarded car batteries into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free power.

Ilchi Lee, an advocate of a sustainable world, points out that car batteries are typically a big source of lead and harmful acids, which, when not disposed of properly, can contaminate the environment. At the beginning of this process, the raw ores that produce lead can create toxic residues. However, by implementing recycled lead from old car batteries, manufacturers can prevent buildup of toxic material from landfills and reuse it in photovoltaic panels.

The system, published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is based on an up-and-coming technology in solar cells that highlights a compound called perovskite, which are cheap, stable and highly efficient solar cells. The novel photovoltaic reached an energy-conversion efficiency of 19 percent and was stable for over 1,000 hours under full sunlight. As such, this compound is surging into the marketplace as a viable option, allowing scientists to make use of it with used car parts.

In the meantime, you can exchange old car batteries at a retailers that sells new batteries. The majority of these retail outlets collect used batteries for recycling. Or, you can take your old car batteries to a local household hazardous waste facility.

6 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Impact

Brainstorming ways to minimize your carbon footprint? You've come to the right place. As much as we don't like to admit it, food, water, gas – the world's natural resources – are limited. Ilchi Lee, advocate of a peaceful, sustainable world, urges that, person by person, we can create change. By making an impact, we can reduce our impact. 

1. Turn Thermometer Up 2 Degrees in Summer, Down 2 in Winter
Heating and cooling accounts for a large percentage of a household's energy consumption. In fact, these services cost more money than any other system in your home – typically totaling about 48 percent of your utility bill, according to Energy.gov.

So, save money year-round by turning up your thermometer in warm weather. An average thermostat temperature for warmer weather is around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're not at home during the day, you can increase the temperature to reduce cooling costs.

Turn your thermometer down in cooler weather. About 68 degrees Fahrenheit is an average winter temperature, depending on your climate of course. Each degree below the 68 mark reduces 3 to 5 percent more heating energy consumption.

2. Plant a Tree
Trees are carbon dioxide's Kryptonite. Oak, maple, apple – no matter the type of tree, it absorbs tons of carbon dioxide – the gas that's contributing to climate change – during its lifetime. 

They also emit oxygen, making your neighborhood a bit fresher place to breathe.

3. Recycle Paper, Glass, Plastic and Anything Else
The importance of recycling cannot be understated. It conserves raw materials, turning used goods into new products. Put another way, by recycling, you are keeping something alive longer.

Instead of throwing away junk mail, recycle it. Rather than tossing empty milk jugs, recycle them. If you're getting rid of glass bottles, recycle them!

4. Don't Waste Water
Scientists agree that in the 21st century water will become the world's most precious limited resource. So, conserve when you can. 

Brushing your teeth takes two minutes. During that two minutes, valuable water may be spiraling down the drain. Turn the faucet off after wetting your brush, and turn it back on to clean your brush. That alone could save 4 gallons a minute. Add that up for a family of four and you've saved 200 gallons a week.

5. Install Low-Flow Aerators 
Low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators can reduce your home water consumption as much as 50 percent, cutting your energy cost of heating the water by as much as 50 percent. This is a great way to conserve water and save money.

6. Carpool, Walk or Bike
Team up with a roommate or colleague to carpool to work every day. Not only will this save you money on gas, it will produce less emissions. In the last year, roughly 85 million gallons of gas was saved by carpooling, according to Commuter Solutions. 

Biking to work is another good alternative. It's another win-win – you get a workout and the environment gets a breathe of fresh air.

With these steps, you can start to optimize your energy efficiency and help preserve the earth's natural resources.