Ecopedia is a bit like our version of Wikepedia, but for ecological ideas or technologies. Written in a short, easily digestible way that summarises what is going on without all the fuss…

We want this to evolve into a excellent and free resource where you can learn about things. If you think there is something that is missing, let us know and we will do our best to include it just for you! Please recommend to others with the Facebook and Google+ like buttons on the right.

You cans scroll through the entire alphabetical listing or click the letter that starts your enquiry (so, for example, for biomass, click ‘b’) to jump to that letter then scroll a little further to your choice.

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z numbers

Search function to follow…

A-Z listings

AAA – Items starting with A

AC/DC –  electricity reaches our homes in AC (alternating current) and many of the appliances we rely on are therefore AC too. Many of the renewable energy sources generate DC however, which needs converting to AC for use by such appliances. DC appliances are becoming more common, such as laptops and phones. Careful consideration needs to be made when planning renewable energy or off grid systems to ensure maximum efficiency, which may mean dual wiring systems or sourcing DC appliances.

Algae – primarily marine organisms, single-celled or multicellular, that use sunlight and chlorophyll to feed, but lack the roots, leaves, flowers, etc. of true plants. They can be used to generate oils and fuels on a large scale and in non-drinking water zones (like seas and oceans) and often touted as one of the key technologies for the future.

Anaerobic –  a process which occurs in the absence of oxygen.

Anaerobic digester – in the absence of oxygen, matter is broken down by bacteria to produce fertilizer and methane which can be used to power cooking equipment. (In a normal ‘open’ compost heap, air is present which produces CO2, generates heat instead and so the compost would get warm). The methane produced by anaerobic digestion can be stored for burning in stoves later. Storing of renewable energy for use later is very difficult (fossil fuels took millions of years to form) so this is an excellent way of storing energy. This would be a good example of a Permaculture approach: getting as many uses of something between source and sink as possible. Dry (or composting) toilets for instance indeed produce compost too, but are simpler than anaerobic digesters. However heat produced is mostly or totally rejected as a waste product rather than used efficiently, as the gas produced with a biodigester.

Atmosphere – Layers: from lower to higher:
Troposphere: from the planet surface to roughly 7-17 kilometres up. It makes up about 75% of the atmosphere. Weather occurs here, through exchanges of heat. The outer boundary is called the tropopause.
Stratosphere: reaches up to about 50 kilometres,  including the ozone layer.
Mesosphere: 50-85 kilometers up to the mesopause. Meteorites break up here.
Thermosphere: to 640 kilometres up. Auroras appear here. The layer of molecules broken up-ionized-by particles from the sun is the ionosphere that makes radio work by bouncing radio waves back to the Earth.
Exosphere: merges with space.

(Relative) Atomic Mass – All elements are graded in relative atomic mass to Hydrogen (a single Hydrogen atom is given the relative mass therefore of 1). Carbon is 12 (12 times heavier than Hydrogen) and Oxygen 16 (16 times heavier than Hydrogen). CO2 therefore has one atom of Carbon (12) and two of Oxygen (16 each) totalling a relative atomic mass of of 12 + (2 x 16) = 44

Return to index

BBB – Items starting with B

Biochar – is charcoal produced largely from wood (biomass) which is then partially burnt in a low oxygen environment. This is then returned to the soil which locks in the carbon for thousands of years, effectively reducing environmental CO2. The carbon in turn holds moisture which reduces water demand of crops by reducing drying out, hosts helpful bacteria which increase crop yields and improves the nutrient content and fertility and helps with water purification, reduces energy and fertilizer requirement, controls pests and weeds and significantly increases biodiversity. Biochar has been found to have been used by some ancient civilisations and is currently being rediscovered.  It is perhaps the best way we could rapidly, safely, permanently reduce atmospheric CO2 which also benefits our planet. Each ton of carbon stored as biochar effectively removes 3.7 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It takes 2.12 GtC (giga tonnes of carbon, or 2120,000,000 tonnes) to increase the atmospheric carbon by 1part per million (ppm). Atmospheric carbon grows by 4.5 GtC/yr resulting in a 2 ppm increase in CO2 content each year.

Biodiversity – is the word used to describe the range of living things that exist in the world, or a particular place. The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing reduction in biodiversity. Named the Holocene extinction, the reduction is caused primarily by human impacts, particularly the destruction of plant and animal habitat. In addition, human practices have caused a loss of genetic diversity. Biodiversity matters as each animal, plant, bacteria, fungus etc has a crucial role to play in supporting the system which supports us all.

Biodynamic Farming – is a type of organic farming technique founded by Rudolf Steiner that involves the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations and astrological planting calenders. Although it seems unlikely there is any scientific explanation for some of the practices, there are many positive links and supporting evidence with spreading helpful bacteria, microbes and fungi that have been killed of by pesticides and herbicides of modern farming. There are 9 main preparations that are described in Rudolf’s guidance and are used in homoeopathic quantities to reintroduce or seed areas. This destruction of the microscopic flora and fauna is blamed by many to be a huge contributor in our dependence on chemicals and the related eduction in fertility and soil quality. Practioners are convinced by the results.

Biofuels – are fuels made from biological materials. They may be grown specifically to make fuels, or they may be used from waste products, such as corn husks. Biofuels are nominally zero carbon as they are derived from carbon which has been extracted from the atmosphere, in our life time. However, the transportation and treatment costs along with largely competing with crops grown for human consumption, add additional economic, social and carbon costs which are often overlooked. Using waste products is preferable as they do not compete for food production, and the carbon footprint of production can often be considered zero (so long as the main product assumes responsibility for it).

Biogas – Gas (methane) produced by the anaerobic digestion of cellulose containing material. In our case, we use waste products to generate gas. Since these products are material which is produced in our life time, this is also a renewable source of energy.

Bio-digester – the equipment used to anaerobically digest biological material into methane and sterile fertilizer. This is often used in developing countries to store and supply energy for cooking.

Biomass – is biological material comprised of living or recently living material and frequently used as fuel (such as wood). It is a renewable energy source and unique in natural form in that it is able to be stored which means that supply and demand can easily be met – try asking for a sunny day when you NEED power!

Biome – a specific eco-system which develops in response to the prevailing climate.

(The) Brown Economy -an economy based on the consumption of carbon fuels such as oil, coal and gas. As opposed to the green economy, one based on renewable energy.

Black Water – is the dirty ‘waste’ water from toilets which may well contain toxins. In a city, these are flushed without thought to the sewage companies who use large amounts of energy and chemicals to process this waste. We feed ours to the bio-digester (see above) which contain friendly bacteria which in the absence of air, produce gas for cooking as well as a sterile fertilizer for the garden.
Return to index

CCC – Items starting with C

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – The collection and transport of concentrated carbon dioxide gas from large emission sources, such as power plants. The gases are then injected into deep underground reservoirs. Carbon capture is sometimes referred to as geological sequestration. The problems include that it is expensive, potentially is not a permanent fix (the carbon can leak back to the atmosphere) and does not address the issue of over consumption or failing to improve efficiency.

Carbon footprint – is “the total set of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person”. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our day-to-day lives through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation etc. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by using equivalence factors for other GHGs.

The carbon footprint is a measurement of all greenhouse gases we individually produce and has units of tonnes (or kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Carbon offsetting – we can reduce our overall carbon emissions by offsetting the emissions we do produce – this could mean investing in schemes such as low smoke, biomass fired stoves for indigenous people who currently use gas (a fossil fuel) or investing in a wind farm. However, many environmentalists do not like offsetting as it could be investing in something that was going to happen anyway, so not technically a benefit. Also, it eases our guilt without actually focussing on reducing our emissions. Finally, some schemes such as tree planting store carbon, a large part of which is released when the tree dies, or all of which is released if it is burnt.

Carbon sequestration – The process of storing carbon dioxide. This can happen naturally, as growing trees and plants turn CO2 into biomass (wood, leaves, and so on). It can also refer to the capture and storage of CO2 produced by industry. See Carbon capture and storage.

Carbon trading – at an international level, countries are allocated an to emit a given level of carbon dioxide (CO2)  as set out in the Kyoto protocol. Countries which do better than their target can sell their allocation to other countries. This is done to mitigate and reduce emissions globally, which are clearly produced on a more local level.

Cars – As a very good rule, the smaller (lighter) the car, the less fuel it uses and the lower the emissions. This is because it takes energy to accelerate mass, so the more mass, the more energy  (fuel) used. For regular cars (without regenerative braking) when you brake the car, the energy is lost to heat in the brakes. This is why the brakes and wheels get hot and why stop-start driving in cities uses more fuel.As a general rule (although not always), smaller engines also use less fuel and emit less emissions. This can depend on load (how much work the engine has to do). Engines work most efficiently around their peak torque figure, which for a diesel is 1500-2000rpm and for a petrol engine around 3000-4000rpm. Diesel cars usually are more efficient (around 20-50% more efficient).

See also Hybrid Cars and Electric Cars

Certified Emission Reduction (CER) – A greenhouse gas trading credit, under the UN Clean Development Mechanism programme. A CER may be earned by participating in emission reduction programmes – installing green technology, or planting forests – in developing countries. Each CER is equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide.

CFCs -The short name for chlorofluorocarbons – a family of gases that have contributed to stratospheric ozone depletion, but which are also potent greenhouse gases. Emissions of CFCs around the developed world are being phased out due to an international control agreement, the 1989 Montreal Protocol.

Chicken Tractor – A mobile chicken house which means that chickens can get fresh forage food and also remove weeds, weed seeds and pests – all whilst manuring and turning an area for later replanting.

Clean coal technology -Technology that enables coal to be burned without emitting CO2. Some systems currently being developed remove the CO2 before combustion, others remove it afterwards. Clean coal technology is unlikely to be widely available for at least a decade.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – A programme that enables developed countries or companies to earn credits by investing in greenhouse gas emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries. These credits can be used to offset emissions and bring the country or company below its mandatory target.

Climate change or global warming? – Climate change is the more scientific term since some areas of the world are experiencing increased temperatures, and others are experiencing lower. Some areas have more rain, and others less. Overall, the temperature is increasing around the globe, but averages ‘dilute’ important differences which affect all life on earth. Man made emissions, particularly CO2 (carbon dioxide) and NOx compounds cause the suns radiation to be trapped in the atmosphere rather than bouncing back into space, which increases the overall temperature. Many other effects of increased temperature worsen the problem too, such as the increased melting of the polar ice caps and glaciers mean that more of the sun’s radiation is absorbed, rather than being reflected back into space. Also, as the temperature rises, the oceans which store huge quantities of CO2, release this back into the air increasing the feedback effect.

Co-generation / combined heat and power (CHP) – most fossil fuel power stations give off a huge amount of heat as can be witnessed from the steam rising from the cooling towers. The useful product is electricity but the low grade heat (low temperature, unsuitable for driving turbines) is a waste product. If we use this heat for, say, heating local houses, schools, factories, swimming pools etc, this waste becomes useful and the efficiency is therefore increased. Not all areas of the world need heat (many need cooling) and because hot water loses a lot of heat when piped, it isn’t that efficient, but nonetheless a great improvement over just dumping it to the environment.

Companion Planting – some plants grow much better together than apart, providing complementary shade, nutrients, or attracting predators which feed on pests. It could also be beneficial directly for the farmer – for instance in Mexico beans are grown up the much stronger stalks of maize so need no additional support. Another method would be to plant say 2 or 3 different plants which harvest and grow at a different times meaning less tilling, less planting and less work. The plants die back in succession allowing the next to take over, which stops weeds overcrowding, effectively a ground cover.
There is a similar (but opposing) argument, where some plants have a detrimental effect on their neighbours. Grass for instance emits chemical which stunt the growth and productivity of most fruit trees, so a lawned orchard is a very bad idea.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) – are light bulbs that use fluorescent technology as used to be seen in commercial lighting, rather than the traditional incandescent light bulbs. They save a substantial amount of energy (about 70-80%), give off less heat which would help in air conditioned areas. They have been criticised for having poor light up times and warmth, but the newer bulbs don’t have this problem. They do however contain small amounts of mercury so need more careful disposal. See also LED lights.

Compost – is composed of organic materials derived from plant and animal matter that has been decomposed largely through aerobic decomposition. The process of composting is simple and practiced by individuals in their homes, farmers on their land, and industrially by cities and factories. It is a good use of what are generally considered waste products, particularly in urban locations. Compost can be used to lighten and enrich the soil with nutrients and also helps to store water through drier periods.

Composting Toilet – A composting or dry toilet is one which does not use water to flush as conventional systems, but is more akin to a tank or hole in the ground. Sawdust is often added after each use to keep the toilet dry and odours away. With time, the waste products are broken down aerobically by bacteria to produce excellent fertilizer. Some environmentalists think that this is a waste of a potential energy source, as if this was done anaerobically by a digester, methane would be formed and could be used as a fuel.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) – Reflective panels track the sun and bounce the light to a concentrated point. This can be a photovoltaic array (since arrays are expensive and the reflectors are relatively cheap) or can be a way of super heating water to drive traditional turbines. This works well for large sites as the costs are kept down, but the amount of control mechanisms and computing make this unsuitable for domestic applications.

Condensing Boiler – traditional boilers exhaust hot gas wasting energy. Newer designs have better heat exchangers which reduce this, but still give off steam. A large amount of energy is needed to make steam called latent heat which is given up when this condenses. Condensing boilers therefore use this to increase the efficiency of the boiler.

Cradle to Cradle (C2C) -is a design approach to look at and minimise (zero) the entire costs (not just financial) of any product during its lifetime. This would be from product conception, continuing through the entire life to the start of the next generation, including its death and disposal. For a product to have zero cost environmentally, at the end of its life, it must be composted, recycled etc to leave no waste.

Crop Rotation – all plants remove certain nutrients from the soil, by rotating crops by season, the soil has a chance to recover in between. Some plants will add nutrients which are beneficial to following crops
Return to index

DDD – Items starting with D

Deep Cycle Batteries – are typical for fork lift truck, golf cart or electric cars. They differ from standard car batteries as they are used almost until they are completely discharged, meaning they need heavier electrical plates inside. A car battery typically has a high discharge for a short period whilst the engine is cranking, then is topped up by the alternator which is considered a shallow cycle. Deep cycle batteries are the preferred type for storing electricity which is generated by renewable energy systems.
Return to index

Deforestation – occurs as the pressure on land increases continuously, for use as farming, wood, access, building space etc. It is the conversion  of forest land in to non forest use. The forests are the Earth’s lungs, converting the CO2 we produce from burning fuels and breathing, back into oxygen and stored carbon with the aid of photosynthesis. Additionally, cleared wood is often burned, releasing yet more CO2. Removing trees increases soil erosion by wind and rain, causes land slides, and ultimately can lead to desertification. As the population and fuel usage increases, the forest’s ability to deal with the CO2 increase reduces as we reduce the area they take up. Furthermore, many species disappear with it – the reduction in biodiversity.

Return to index

EEE – Items starting with E

Earth Sheltered Home – is a home which has one or more sides built into a hill or a bank. Earth temperatures (a couple of metres down) don’t fluctuate much between summer and winter which means that the temperature needs less man made regulation and consequently less energy. They often have soil roofs which needs some careful thought due to the additional weight, but blend much more gently into the surrounding countryside. They often have great insulation and in cold climates have an atrium to catch sunshine to aid with heating in winter.

Earth Ship – is a building which is autonomous (the theory being it could be launched into space and survive as a system without outside connection). They generally use natural or recycled materials. Many are earth sheltered (meaning that one or more of the walls has earth instead of air behind it) and often have green roofs too. Materials such as car tyres or bottles are often integrated into the structure adding interesting design features. Orientation is critical to take advantage of passive solar heating, although the thermal mass means that overheating can be problematic in summer.

Electric cars – cars which instead of running on petrol or diesel and using an internal combustion engine, they use energy stored in batteries and electric motors. They can be charged by renewable energy allowing zero carbon transportation. The largest problems are that batteries are heavy and expensive, provide a limited driving range and are difficult (time consuming) to charge. Battery improvements are making these technologies finally viable.  Schemes such as leasing batteries, mean that you can swap a discharged one for a charged one and pay a fee – making it more similar to the current system where filling your tank takes minutes and not hours extending the range to the point where they can replace fossil fuel powered cars. Electric cars emit no emissions at the point of use, but if they are powered by electricity from, say, coal fired power stations, they do emit emissions which must be considered. One of the main benefits of electric cars is that they allow the grid to store power by using the sum of all the batteries as a combined store. Individuals could program the storage so that they have enough power left for their intended journey. The generator would pay for this usage, subsiding the price of the car. This is particularly helpful for renewable energy grids where producing energy on demand (as per nuclear or fossil fuels) is difficult.

Embodied Energy – or Emergy, is the amount of energy used to bring a product to market and dispose of it after its use (see Life Cycle Analysis).  Studies show that around 5 to 10 times the energy contained in food is what is needed to bring it to the market! Also, recycling a aluminium can takes 1/85 the energy of making a new one (including mining, refining, transport, manufacturing etc)

Energy efficiency – since energy is a scarce resource and the majority of current methods of wholesale production are high GHG emitters, efficiency of use and generation is essential to a robust environmental solution. Generally ‘green’ methods of energy production are not so dense – that is produce relatively little power compared to nuclear or fossil fuel plants per $ of investment. For us to use renewables, we first need to minimise demand by becoming more efficient. Although solar panels are hip, unless you have done your best to minimise consumption first, they are really only eco ‘bling’ and in any case, will not meet your demands. Even the most efficient houses in Europe need additional off-roof solar panels to be zero carbon, so you really have no chance unless you have made a great effort first with efficiency. Additionally, the costs of generating more of your own energy are massive compared with the costs of being more efficient. Energy efficiency often has no moving parts or servicing costs (such as insulation) and lasts a long time.
Return to index

FFF – Items starting with F

Feedback – describes the situation when output from an event in the past will influence an occurrence of the same event in the present or future

Feedback effect on climate – as the temperature of the globe increases, the ability of the oceans and peat bogs to store CO2 is reduced meaning they release this into the atmosphere, increasing greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere. Also, polar ice caps melt, meaning that less of the Sun’s radiation is reflected back into space. This means that higher global temperatures will increase the phenomena that in turn increase the temperature. Round and round it goes.

Flex Fuel – are vehicles designed to run on a blend of gasoline and up to 85% ethanol (which may or may not be derived from renewable resources, e.g. biomass). This is really green wash- trying to make non eco products greener.
Firstly, it doesnt meant that the ethanol is sustainably sourced – there are also problems producing ethanol which can also compete with food production.
Secondly, all cars can run on a small percentage of ethanol without modification. It would make more sense (if sustainably sourced) to put this in the fuel supply chain for all cars, rather than have only a few which can run on higher percentages. Finally, it is much better to use less in the first place… Should you really feel more ‘eco’ collecting children from a school in a 3 ton truck running on ethanol if you could have walked or cycled… ? Don’t kid yourself you are helping the planet when you aren’t!

Food Miles – the distance your food travels to be grown, harvested, processed and arrive on your plate. Some foods, particularly those out of season and with short shelf lives are transported by plane. Eat local, eat in season, store the food you grow for use when it isn’t available by various low carbon methods such as: drying (fruits, some meats and fish), wrapping and cool storing (root vegetables, apples), canning or preserving (most fruit and vegetables), pickling (most vegetables), curing (meats), salting (meats), canning under fat layer (e.g. duck) . Live a life which is healthier for you and the environment and tastier too! More info on food miles. Studies show that the embodied energy in growing, processing, packaging and transportation is 5-10 times the energy of the food. Clearly, it is more sustainable to grow your own, or buy it locally in reused packaging.

Forage – Generally food for animals which is wild, native, and or unwanted. The use of forage reduces the need for animal feed and often removes plants or pests that would otherwise be damaging to the productivity. Foraging is also a largely forgotten method of collecting wild food from the countryside for human consumption. (See also Food Miles above.)

Fossil fuels – are fuels formed by natural resources such as large scale anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms. The age of the organisms and their resulting fossil fuels is typically millions of years, and sometimes exceeds 650 million years. The fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, and natural gas contains high percentages of carbon which contains high energy densities and is readily burnt in air to produce power. The problem with this is that we are burning in seconds what took millions of years to produce and is clearly not sustainable. The burning of these fuels unlocks carbon which produces carbon dioxide, our main greenhouse gas.
Return to index

GGG – Items starting with G

Gaia Theory (GM) – states that all organisms on earth interact with their inorganic surroundings and behave as a single, self regulating complex system resembling a single organism. In essence, as things get out of balance, systems come in to place to regulate this imbalance. It is sometimes seen that the damage that humans are causing will wipe us out, but life on Earth will continue, with or without us. See video of Gaia Theory

Gasoline – see Petrol and Diesel

Genetically modified (GM) – Food made with genetically altered ingredients. Ingredients that have had their inherited characteristics changed, making them resistant to certain chemicals or to ripen quicker (for example). We have been altering the genetics of plants and animals for centuries by selectively breeding certain characteristics. However, this is now being done at the genetic level which is much more specifically focussed,  gives more rapid and unchecked change and the long term effect on humans, and other animal and plant life, of growing and eating these modified foods has yet to be fully researched. It is of particular concern in places such as Mexico, where the population is dependent on one crop (maize) and anything damaging this could have a profound effect. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of GM foods is that we don’t know how they will affect the existing populations, particularly with crops where cross pollination cannot be controlled.

Global Warming – See Climate Change

Global Warming Potential – See green house gas equivalent

Grafting – is a method of propagating plants and has many advantages over seeds. Firstly, grafted plants have the same genetics as the parent it was taken from. Apples and pears for instance are almost always grafted as seedling rarely produce the same as the parent tree. Secondly, a graft can produce a great cross, for instance a rootstock can be used which suits the soil where you plan to grow, but you dont like the fruit these trees produce. You could therefore graft a fruit you do like onto a rootstock which is strong for your soil type. Thirdly, you can accelerate production. A tree grown from seed may take 5-10 years to produce fruit, however, a graft from a fruiting tree can be grafted onto the rootstock of a seedling and may produce fruit in 2-3 years. Finally, you can have one tree with many fruiting varieties grafted on. This would mean you could have one tree which produces, for instance, many types of apples. This can save space and extend the production of fruit rather than produce a glut of one type.

Green house gases (GHG) – are gases which stop radiation which enters our atmosphere from the sun being reflected back into space. This causes a greenhouse effect, warming and changing our climate. Some of the key greenhouse gases are CO2 (carbon dioxide), NOx (nitric oxides) and CH4 (methane). Different gases have a different effect in reflecting radiation, and exist or are emitted into our atmosphere in different amounts.

Green house gas equivalent – There are many green house gases which stop heat being radiated back into space raising the temperature of Earth, but the main ones to consider are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO). Because they have different effects on global warming per unit mass, an equivalence number is often used to quantify the effect compared to carbon dioxide. These gases stay a different length of time in the atmosphere, so they are usually considered over a period of 100 years. The global warming potential of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide therefore, is 1, 25 and 298 respectively. (That is, one tonne of nitrous oxide has 298 times more effect on climate temperature than one tonne of carbon dioxide).

Green Manure – a crop of  plants, such as legumes or clover which fix nitrogen into the soil which benefits subsequent plantings. They can add biomass, transport nutrients from deeper in the soil to closer to the surface to be used by other plants. They also also restrict the growth of weeds by competing for light and nutrients.

Green Roof – is when the roof of a building is covered with a water tight membrane, then soil and then planted. The benefits are that it catches rainwater reducing run off and flooding, can provide a layer of insulation and thermal mass, provided a habitat for wild life and can reduce urban temperatures.

Green Tariff – Electricity suppliers often offer a ‘green’ tariff, one that is produced by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. This allows you to effectively have a wind turbine or solar panels on your house, but taking advantage of the efficiency that large commercial systems have and without the need to have any investment, infrastructure or maintenance yourself. It often costs more per unit of energy (kWhr) and it encourages suppliers to invest in this area. However, in some countries the suppliers are obliged in law to meet some percentage of the supply by renewable energy, so it could be that they are effectively re-selling you this and your efforts in supporting renewables make no impact. Ask, ask, ask!

Green Wash – Green wash is a mixture of the words ‘green’ and’ whitewash’ and is  used to describe the deceptive use of green marketing or spin for corporate ends. Make sure you understand the real impacts, not just what the selling company are telling you. Read around and ask questions.

Grey-water Harvesting – Grey water is the water which has been used for bathing or washing clothes and dishes. It therefore is not drinking water, nor as contaminated as toilet waste (black water) so is called grey water. Normally, it is flushed down the drain: However we can store it and reuse it for flushing toilets and watering plants, again reducing the demand on supplied water. Greywater can have a slight colouration which some people are sensitive too (that is, that the clean water in their toilet is not the drinking quality they are used to). We think this is a small price to pay to reduce water consumption and is simply a point which needs re-learning. There is no harm in this!!! Problems can occur in warmer climates where stored grey water can be a food supply for bacteria. Keeping the grey water storage capacity to 1 or 2 day’s supply will cure this issue, since the bacteria take more time than this to take hold.

Ground Cover – a plant used as a green manure (see above), to hinder weed growth, to lock soil to prevent erosion and retain moisture etc. A ‘crop’ which in itself is not a product, but helps the general environment.
Return to index

HHH – Items starting with H

Heat pumps – by using the refrigeration cycle, heat can be pumped from one area to another and are usually powered by electricity. The heat stored in the Earth is practically infinite and is renewable (since the sun and the earth core heats the earth surface daily). This energy in the form of heat can be pumped into a house for heating purposes. This process itself takes energy input, but the heat recovered is more than the heat input, meaning the cycle is very efficient (approximately 300%). The process can also be run in reverse to cool a building, pumping the heat outside. However, in this case, the energy used to pump the heat is a waste product (since we want cooling). This means the efficiency is much less than for heating. A PV panel supplying electricity for a heat pump for a heating system is a viable zero carbon heating approach, but buildings need to super efficient for this to work financially and physically.

Heirlooms and hybrids – There are two main types of plants to choose from: modern hybrids or heirloom varieties. Hybrid seeds are created by crossing two selected varieties, usually resulting in vigorous plants that have higher yields than their heirloom brethren. Heirloom vegetables are old-time varieties, open-pollinated instead of hybrid, their seeds saved and handed down through multiple generations of families. Some people say heirloom varieties are more tasty and nutritious than modern hybrids. They also don’t grow so uniformly, meaning that the food they supply does not ripen simultaneously, extending the usefulness and avoiding gluts which makes them suitable for home consumption. Hybrids therefore are more suitable for mass production.

Hybrid Cars – run on a mix of a normal internal combustion (IC) engine running on hydrocarbons and battery powered electric motors. The IC engine switches off when the power is not needed, so town driving can be done via the electric motors alone with zero emissions (at point of use). The IC engine runs for higher power requirement driving (such as motorway driving or to recharge the batteries). Newer hybrids can also be charged from the mains, increasing their electrical credentials. Hybrids can therefore be used locally as an electric car, and longer distance as a traditional car which makes them more usable, since electric cars have poor range due to battery limitations.

Hydraulic Ram– is a  cyclic water pump powered by the kinetic energy of water.  It functions as a hydraulic transformer that takes in water at one hydraulic head (pressure) and flow-rate, and outputs water at a higher hydraulic-head and lower flow-rate. The device utilizes the water hammer effect to develop pressure that allows a portion of the input water that powers the pump to be lifted to a point higher than where the water originally started.
Return to index

III – Items starting with I

Insulation – is a layer which reduces the rate of heat flow between hot and cold objects thereby increasing thermal comfort and saving energy consumed by the heating /  cooling system. It is of use for both building heating and cooling requirements, where the temperature between inside and outside is (substantially) different.

IPCC – The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change “is the leading body for the assessment of climate change, established by the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences.”  In essence, they quantify the effect of manmade climate change and recommend strategies to reduce GHG emissions and the effects on the environment and humanity.
Return to index

JJJ – Items starting with J

Return to index
KKK – Items starting with K

kilowatt (kW) – A unit of power equal to 1000 watts or 1.341 horsepower – a rate of doing work in metric units.

kilowatt hour (kWh) – One kilowatt of power applied for one hour (this is a unit of energy, not power. This can be seen since a kilowatt is a is a unit of energy per time period, then we multiply by time again)

Kyoto Protocol – A protocol attached to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets legally binding commitments on greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialised countries agreed to reduce their combined emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. It was agreed by governments at a 1997 UN conference in Kyoto, Japan, but did not legally come into force until 2005.
Return to index

LLL – Items starting with L

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) – a method of assessing and evaluating the costs over the life time of a product, be that in financial, energy or carbon terms. Often buying cheap costs dearly over the lifetime proving to be a false economy. A good example is that a well insulated home costs more to build and therefore buy, but these costs are recouped many times over during the lifetime of the home. Likewise, more energy will be needed to make the insulation, but again, this is saved many times over.

Light Emitting Diode Lighting (LEDs) – LEDs are becoming cheaper and more usable and now can replace incandescent light bulbs. They are still more expensive than CFLs or incandescent bulbs but the price is falling and they are in face even more efficient. The light is often ‘colder’ and some people find this unacceptable, but again, this is improving all the time.

Light Pipes – are tubes which direct natural light from the outside to darker places within buildings. Excellent for bathrooms or just internal rooms with no windows. They have very small heat loss and make a huge difference to the feel of the room. Clearly they don’t work at night, but can have the benefit of a substantial artificial light but without needing power.

Light Pollution- We use light to see where we are going and what we are doing, yet inefficient lighting shines light straight out into space. This is not only is of no use to us at all, but adds pollution in the form of the wasted greenhouse gases from electricity generation, but also blocking our view of the stars above by lighting water vapour in the atmosphere. It is particularly prevalent around big cities. See this BBC article.

Load matching – one of the problems with renewable energy is that of matching supply with demand. The sun is only around in the daytime, and radiation is reduced when there is cloud cover, so, so is the electricity it generates. Likewise, wind can occur day or night, but is also dependent on weather conditions which are variable. Also, our demand fluctuates, so high consumers, such as a kettle or an air conditioning unit may well consume more than we can generate. A storage system, such as a bank of batteries allow us to level out the supply and demand, much like a reservoir for water.

Low flush toilets – Toilets are the biggest consumers of water in typical houses and old style toilets can use 13.2 litres of 3.5 US gallons per flush. Low flush toilets were introduced to reduce the consumption of which is normally drinking quality water. Early designs were very poor and users often needed to flush several times. Toilets can have ‘dual flush’ where there are 2 flush volumes for obvious varying requirements. Low flush and dual flush combined toilets can successfully operate with flushes as low as 2 and 4 litres saving a huge amount of water, related energy and chemicals such as chlorine.
Older toilets can be modified to use less water, but sometimes this is not very successful as the flush design may need to be changed too and is a mechanical part of the design of the porcelain. Conversion kits are cheap and sometimes fitted free too by your water company, so ask!

Return to index

MMM – Items starting with M

Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) – in highly efficient homes where air tightness and insulation are excellent, ventilation needs to be supplied to remove smells and condensation at the source (in the bathroom or kitchen). Mechanical extraction with large ducts minimises fan power and the outgoing warm but stale air gives up its heat to the incoming fresh air. Efficiencies can be above 90%. In a normal house, most ventilation is supplied by leakage which is uncontrolled and simply loses heated (or cooled) air which is highly inefficient.

Megawatt (MW) – A unit of electricity equivalent to 1000 kilowatts.

Methane (CH4) – is a flammable gas which is produced when plant matter is broken down. Large natural reserves are used as a fossil fuels.  It has a global warming potential of 25 (meaning it has 25 times the effect of carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere). Animals emit methane into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Increased population of humans and increased meat consumption means the animals we grow for food are emitting an increasing amount of methane.

Micro renewables – renewable energy which is generated and used locally, on a small scale rather than, for instance a wind farm.

Mitigation – restoration to compensate for a specific environmental impact, usually off-site.

Mono-culture – the farming process of growing the same crop over large areas. Although this is often easier to harvest, it increases pests and pathogens, systematically reduces nutrients in the soil.

Mulch – a protective cover placed over the soil, to retain moisture, reduce erosion, suppress weed growth and seed germination, and provide nutrients as it decays. Typical mulches may be made of pulled weeds, unused plant parts, cardboard, organic (non plastic) carpet, newspaper etc.
Return to index

NNN – Items starting with N

No or low till – Tilling or ploughing is done on a commercial scale to break up and aerate the soil and also to turn in roots or waste products (e.g. the roots and short stems after wheat is harvested). The problem with this is that it increases soil erosion, turns dormant weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate (then necessitating targeted herbicides). By avoiding walking on the beds (or driving a tractor!) the soil is left aerated rather than being compressed. The weeds are picked out by hand and mulched, returning nutrients to the soil. The amount of effort and therefore carbon fuel associated emissions are also reduced. It can be hard work at the start, but with time, the site improves!
Return to index

OOO – Items starting with O

Octane Number (RON) – Octane number is used to define the resistance of a gasoline to knock or pre-ignition, which can destroy an engine in seconds. Modern engines can automatically change the ignition timing to take advantage of higher octane rated fuels which results in more power and better efficiency. Usually the increased costs of these more advanced fuels are compensated by the resulting increase in economy and corresponding reduction in CO2.

Off-Grid – off grid living means living without a connection to the water supply or sewage, gas and electricity. This is done by generating or recycling these resources yourself. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s far better for the environment, we just need to think a little more about what we are doing.

Organic vs. non organic – Organic foods are grown with limited use of synthetic materials. Recently, there has been a huge surge in organic foods, but if you research a bit and think about it, it isn’t the whole answer. Organic foods can still contain chemicals – we don’t use any. Organic food may not be fairer – you can have organic battery hens. All of our food is grown naturally and the animals are free range and fed natural food without chemicals. To be certified organic, you need to prove the history of the land for years which may not be possible, even if the land has been used organically. The difficulty in obtaining organic food certification reduces supply and increases the costs as you will see in your local supermarket. We believe we produce food which is not only better than organic, but cheaper, and grown locally. Come and try it for yourself.
Return to index

PPP – Items starting with P

Passive Design – Using design to reduce the reliance on energy. For instance, using insulation in a building which needs heating or air conditioning will reduce demand passively. Passive design works year on year, has few moving parts, needs very low or no maintenance. Orientating a building such that windows face the sun in winter may reduce heating demand when it’s cold, conversely large roof overhangs in hot climates stop the summer sun from further heating a building, reducing cooling loads.

Passive Infra-Red – is a type of motion sensor used for switching lights, particularly in communal areas. They often have a timed delay so they stay on for a short period. They ensure that lights are not left on unnecessarily and therefore save a considerable amount of energy if correctly installed.

Passivhaus – is a German house building standard which requires extreme levels of air tightness and insulation to reduce heating levels to such an extent that central heating is not required. It works particularly well in areas that have cold winters or hot summers. Physically it means that the walls are very thick to house the insulation, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and triple glazing are also required.

Peak Oil – is the date (now in the past) of peak oil production globally. Since oil is finite, and we have already exploited the easiest and largest sources the rate of oil production/extraction is now falling. This means that the price of oil can only increase rapidly from now on. This will only help in the future with encouraging the use of renewable energy systems.

Permaculture –  an intelligent approach to designing human settlements and  systems that mimic the relationships found in nature. A word based on PERMAnent agriCULTURE and PERMAnent CULTURE. The outcome of this is that there are no waste products and each output can be made from a multitude of sources. It is the process of growing several species of crops or vegetation and wildlife or livestock within the same environment, where these animals and crops will complement and nourish one another.

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them and of allowing systems to display their own evolutions.” – Bill Mollison

Perennial – Plants which live for more than 2 years are described as perennial (annuals live for just one year). There are perennial vegetables which can be used as a food source (well known examples would be rhubarb and asparagus). Once settled, they give food every year with very little work and maintenance, require no digging or tilling, actually improve soils and reduce soil erosion.

Petrol (Gasoline) and Diesel – are separated from crude oil by fractional distillation (since they evaporate at different temperatures, this quality is used to separate the crude oil). Since crude oil is a fossil fuel, so too are petrol and gasoline.
Petrol engines have combustion which is ignited by a spark, whereas diesel is ignited by the temperatures and pressures which are higher by design, inside a diesel engine. Several factors make diesel engines more efficient than petrol engines. Firstly, the calorific value (the amount of energy per unit volume) is slightly higher in diesel than petrol (gasoline). Secondly, in a gasoline engine, the air to fuel ratio (AFR) is fixed at around 14.7 to 1 to ensure proper combustion and to help the catalytic converter. It changes the power it produces by throttling (restricting) the air entering the engine, and therefore the amount of fuel it consumes. Diesel engines on the other hand have a more or less fixed air consumption and regulate the power by adjusting the AFR, so can run much leaner, especially at low loads and speeds. Finally, the lack of a throttle in a diesel engine reduces the pumping losses.

Pioneer Species – in re-establishing zones that have been damaged, pioneer species of plants begin to grow which get replaced over time in what is known as succession. Pioneer species generally grow quickly and need a lot of light. They then provide an environment which establishes other varieties.

Photo Voltaics (PV) – Solar panels which convert sunlight in the form of radiation, into electricity. A renewable energy source. They take a reasonably large amount of energy to manufacture with carbon payback periods typically 2-8 years. However, most panels are guaranteed for 25 years and often function without problem for more than 40, so are clearly a net benefit. There are currently 2 main types of panels, polycrystaline and monocrystaline, the second of which are more efficient and more expensive than the first. Improvements in technology are making panels more efficient, cheaper to produce and with less waste in production and may even now be printed. Feed in tariffs now available in some countries substantially increase the return on investment. This means also that finance companies can now ‘rent’ the space on your roof and supply free panels in return for the power they produce.

PIR – see passive infra red

Plastic– a durable, mouldable, cheap, easily recyclable and highly useful material derived largely from synthetic modification of oil products. The problem is that it is so cheap that the we use it as if it were disposable and it takes hundreds of years to decompose. We are not anti-plastic at all, and think that if we used it as a quality reusable product (think “designed for life shopping bags” rather than throw away carriers that barely get one use) that the world would be a whole lot better place. The same mentality if applied for food packaging, bottles for drinks, domestic and industrial products and foods would save huge amounts of wasted resources and polluted landfill. For info For instance, in the USA, 2.5 million plastic bottle PER HOUR and 25 billion styrofoam cups are uses every year, almost all of which goes in landfill after just one use!

Poly-culture – is agriculture using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of the natural eco-system. This can be done by alternating lines of the different crops, or inter-planting crops which may produce at different times of the season.

PPM (parts per million) – is a ratio used to express particularly, the level of concentrations of chemicals in the atmosphere. See 350ppm at the end of the listing for information on CO2.
Propagation – is the reproduction of plants via various methods. Seeds generally produce offspring, but not always the same as the parent. For this reason cuttings and grafting are often used.

Primary and secondary forms of energy – Primary energy is one which is used in it’s raw state, such as gas or coal. It can be transported with hardly any loss, but is still a fossil fuel. Electricity is a secondary form of energy and is largely generated from fossil fuels. The system of generation and transportation loses around 2/3 or 66% of the energy in its original state. For this reason, it is usually more carbon efficient to heat a house with gas than electricity. Electricity is difficult (impossible) to store on a commercial scale, so power stations store coal or gas and pre-empt spikes in demand causing further (but necessary) inefficiencies.

QQQ – Items starting with Q

Return to index

RRR – Items starting with R

Rainwater Harvesting – Collecting rainwater from hard surface run-off such as roofs and driveways has many advantages. Primarily this water can be used where drinking water quality is not required – mainly for washing clothes, flushing toilets and watering gardens. This rainwater substantially reduces the need for supply or mains water.  Rainwater has effectively been distilled by the power of the sun so is far less ‘hard’ which in turn means that much less soap is needed (up to 50% less). It also means less furring up for kettles, washing machines and toilets. Storing rainwater also reduces run-off which reduces the risk of flooding.

Rechargeable batteries – for items which use a large amount of regular batteries (such as AA, AA or D type rather than equipment specific ones), such as children’s toys, cycle lights, remote controls can be powered by rechargeable batteries. Many rechargeable batteries can be cycled hundreds if not thousands of times saving money and reducing nasty chemicals which may go to landfill. Re-use is a higher level than recycling (i.e. better for the environment)

Reduce, reuse, recycle – This is a short phrase that reminds us what we should be doing and in which order. Recycling is being taken seriously by more and more people and governments which is great news. It is not as good however as if you reused the item, or even better still, never used it at all. Recycling aluminium cans takes 1/85 (or just over 1%) or the energy it takes to mine, process and make a new one from the ground. Clearly, it stops us dumping into land fill and stops us ruining the environment with mines too. However, you could get your beverages in glass bottles which can be washed and reused which clearly takes less resources. Like many ideas, some of the best are from things we have done in the past, but simply discarded as being ‘wasteful’ was seen as a cheaper or more convenient route.

Redundancy – redundancy is the duplication of critical components of a system with the intention of increasing reliability of the system, usually in the case of a backup or fail-safe. It is one of the key principles of permaculture, that each system provides more than one function and each function is provided by more than one system.

Renewable Energy – is energy which can be continuously generated over longer time periods without destroying anything (such as burning fuel). Consequently, unlike fossil fuels, there is no net carbon emissions. It includes solar, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal and biomass. Although biomass gives off carbon at the point of burning it, this same carbon was trapped during the growing of the fuel and inside our lifetime.
Return to index

SSS – Items starting with S

Sea level rise – as the average global temperature rises, two effects come into play which cause the sea level to rise. Firstly, the polar ice caps and mountain ice begins to melt finding its way to the sea. Secondly, the thermal expansion of the water itself increases its volume. The combination of these affects gives a middle value of sea level rise of 480mm this century. Low lying islands are disappearing and many cities such as London or New York would be under threat.

Self Sufficiency – supplying your own food, water and energy is relatively simple. Other things are much more difficult – such as I can’t run my own hospital (if needed) or make my own razors… However, the closer we are to self sufficiency, the lower our consumption of resources.

Smart grids – with the use of renewable energy sources, there are inherent problems with supply and demand (see ‘Load Matching’ above). Since electric cars need to be connected to the grid anyway, we could use these as storage devices, evening out the fluctuations in supply and demand. Software can be designed so that batteries can be left with enough power to drive, for instance, the journey to work in the morning. The integration of such technologies means we have a ‘smart grid’ and further facilitates the use of renewable energy

Smart meters – record consumption of resources (typically electricity, but could also be gas or water) in hourly segments and relay this information to a centralised point. This has several benefits, for instance a leak can be found before much waste occurs. Also analysis of the data can be performed to reduce consumption substantially – A simple example would be a urinal may flush automatically at a set time interval in commercial premises, and may continue to do so through the weekend when there are no occupants. A typical water meter recording monthly would hide this data, but hourly data would show this up. If you have more interest in this, get in touch!

Solar Food Drier – Dried food is a great way of preserving without using chemicals or degrading their nutritional value or flavour. Stored dried food (unlike say refrigeration or freezing) does not consume energy continuously. Drying with solar power means that there is no increase in embodied energy (or rather carbon emissions) and furthermore allows the use of seasonal food throughout more (or all) of the year. Solar driers can be made largely from waste building materials if you can source them such as wall studding material and glazing. They usually consist of a glass panel or absorber and mesh shelves to lay out the food to be dried. They are protected from pest attack and easy to load.

All life needs water in order to survive, so removing the water reduces the deterioration which is usually caused by organisms such as mould that feed where there is food and water. Fruits such as tomatoes, apricots, bananas, berries and plums along with vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, green beans, zuchini and corn are all excellent volunteers! Free article on building and using your own drier here.

Solar Hot Water (SHW) – Using sun radiation to heat water for cleaning and bathing. Since water has a high specific heat capacity, it needs a lot of energy to do this. A renewable energy source.

Solar Panels – See solar hot water (above) or photovoltaics (PV) for electricity generation

Standby Power – is the ‘invisible’ power consumed by appliances connected to the supply whilst idle (i.e. not producing anything productive). Electrical items such as phone chargers or lap top transformers are typical, but so too are televisions switched off by remote control rather than the button. The standby power is typically quite small, but adds up over many appliances and households to be considerable. Newer appliances have better design and electronics inside (often mandated by law) and therefore use less in this state. A plug in energy meter is a good device for checking what these items use for yourself (such as a “Kill-A-Watt”. Other appliances such as boilers have a pilot light which consumes gas without heating your water or your home. Again, newer designs are run by electronic controllers and have electronic ignition so avoid this.

Stern review A report on the economics of climate change led by Lord Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist. It was published on 30 October 2006 and argued that the cost of dealing with the consequences of climate change in the future would be higher than taking action to mitigate the problem now.

Sustainable development – is development which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” – Brundtland.

Sustainable agriculture – farming using rather than fighting ecology, using integrated principles (environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity) that will last over a permanent time period. See also Permaculture.
Return to index

TTT – Items starting with T

Tar Sands – As fossil fuels reserves dwindle and the prices consequently rise, we are getting more desperate in quenching our thirst for energy. This, along with some technical advances mean that we can extract oil from areas that were once deemed unprofitable. The problem is that the exploitation of these reserves consumes a huge amount of energy in itself,  increasing the amount of CO2 produced for each unit of useful energy burnt by a considerable margin (10-45%). The result of this and to give you some idea, (and according to Al Gore)  is that a hybrid Toyota Prius run on oil from Tar Sands would have a higher carbon footprint than a Hummer running on conventionally sourced gasoline. Clearly this is an environmental disaster since we need to lower the CO2 in the atmosphere by non fossil fuels and higher efficiency, not use oil with even higher carbon emissions.

Thermal Mass – is the ability of materials to absorb or emit a lot of energy (heat) without changing temperature significantly. In buildings, hight thermal mass components are made of materials such as stone or concrete and this is useful for making use of night time cooling, or cheap electricity for storage systems. It consists of heavy weight materials such as brick, block plaster and derivatives. It is particularly useful for moderating internal heat gains (such as a lecture theatre where many people are present for short periods). By moderating temperature, the requirements for heating and cooling can be more closely and efficiently controlled. By contrast, in areas where there is low diurnal temperature swings and hot climates, thermal mass would cause unwanted elevated building temperatures at night time, which means that lightweight constructions are preferred.
Return to index

UUU – Items starting with U

Utility – in economic terms describes a level of relative satisfaction. Many studies show that money (or consumption) does not buy benefit or happiness in a linear fashion. That is, having a car twice as big and expensive clearly doesn’t make you twice as satisfied. In fact, each increase in available money has a reducing increase in overall utility. This is because each successive piece of wealth has less utility, whereas if this wealth was used by someone poor, they would receive far more benefit. Or, put another way, in a world with finite resources, there would be more utility (benefit or happiness) if we all had equal access to resources.

UNFCCC – The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is one of a series of international agreements on global environmental issues adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The UNFCCC aims to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. It entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has been ratified by 192 countries.
Return to index

VVV – Items starting with V
Vermiculture and vermicompost – is the composting of organic non meat materials which is aided by the use of certain species of worms. Worms can eat their own body mass in organic material every day and breed relatively quickly if the conditions are correct. The worms casts are an excellent nutrient rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner.

Vegetarianism, Veganism and Omnivorism  – Producing meat costs more energy and land space per unit of protein than eating purely vegetable products.  This means that more land area needs to be cleared to grow crops to feed to animals than if we ate vegetable products alone. The debate is long and fierce, but eating excessive meat, particularly red meat can be bad for you.  However, there are certain essential amino acids (that make up the proteins) that are very hard to find in vegetable products in sufficient quantities. The body syntheses some amino acids into others, but the essential ones cannot be made by the body. Vegans in particular need to make sure they eat sufficient quantities of proteins, and particularly the amino acid Lysine.

High meat consumption is often thought of as being due to a rich ‘western’ lifestyle. This is partially true, but some basic maths and nutritional analysis will show that many years ago we had more active lifestyles, meaning we needed more calories. Our protein requirement was the same, but this meant we could eat lower protein foods (such as potatoes and rice) that had high carbohydrates and therefore energy. By consuming more of these foods, we also consumed enough protein. The more sedentary lifestyle that we lead today, means that we cannot eat these high levels of carbohydrates without getting fat, so higher protein foods are a requirement in modern diets. Most edible plants do not contain all the essential amino acids but they are found in legumes, quinoa, or pistachios for example so these must be included in food.

This means that a healthy vegan diet will probably also contain a good amount of exercise! 🙂

In addition, animals, particularly modern high milk yield cows, also emit a lot of methane which is a strong global warming gas.

Return to index

Vermiculture is the use of worms to break down vegetable food scraps and organic matter (such as cardboard or newspaper) to make worm casts (kind of worm manure) or compost which is very high in nutrients which are great for the plants. Special worms are used rather than regular earth worms. This can be done in your house or apartment and leaves no smell, needs less space than composting. See a great video here.
Return to index

Volatile Organic Compounds – chemical compounds that have high enough vapor pressures that, under normal conditions, allow them to significantly vaporize and enter the atmosphere, potentially inflicting damage on the environment. These substances are in all objects, but serious consideration is given to paint and finishings which not only contact directly into our buildings, but have things such as thinners to facilitate drying.

Volunteers – the general use of the word is a person who works for other benefits than money (like gaining experience, wanting to give to the community etc.) A volunteer is also a plant which grows somewhere other than where it was planted, effectively volunteering! Nice.

WWW – Items starting with W

Water – many people from areas with high rainfall feel that water is a renewable resource and use it wastefully. The reality is that a very small percentage (less than 1%) of the world’s water is accessible and sweet (i.e. not sea water or frozen). Also, piped water generally meets drinking standard and has a lot of embedded energy for cleaning, processing and transportation, along with chemical such as chlorine. We do not need drinking quality water for flushing toilets, washing clothes, bathing and watering gardens. Systems such as rain water and grey water harvesting are used to minimise potable water demand.

Of the 326 million cubic miles of water on earth, only about 3% of it is fresh water; and 3/4 of that is frozen. Only 1/2 of 1% of all water is underground; about 1/50th of 1% of all water is found in lakes and streams. The average human is about 70% water. You can only survive 5 or less days without water.

Watt – is a measure of power in metric (SI) units equivalent to one joule per second and named after the Scottish engineer, James Watt (1736–1819).

Weeds – Weeds are simply unwanted plants. Because of our need as humans to control things, these are often plants we didnt seed. Many wild plants are considered weeds. However, many of these ‘unwanted’ plants have great properties, the secret is finding a use for them!

Wind Turbine – is a rotary device that extracts energy from the wind. Horizontal axis machines are more efficient but suffer more from turbulent air flow than vertical axis designs. Wind turbines need to be situated in good wind flow which means that the small ones sold for mounting on homes produce very little and can cause a lot of problems with vibrations. Simple laws of physics dictate that power generated varies with the cube of the wind speed – or more simply, doubling the wind speed produces eight times the power!
Return to index

XXX – Items starting with X
Return to index

YYY – Items starting with Y
Return to index

ZZZ – Items starting with Z
Zero Carbon – where the net carbon over a year for your existence is zero. This includes travel, food, clothing, appliances and services. This is done first by reducing the demand (making things very efficient) and then secondly by generating our own supply. Connecting to the grid for electricity can be done so that high peak loads can be catered for, but overall, this must be zero carbon for the year.
Some systems (e.g. electric buses and cars) claim to be zero carbon, but this is only true at the point of use. The electricity generated almost always has associated carbon which is emitted at the power station. Beware!
Return to index

Items starting with numbers

3 R’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – People often think that if they are recycling then they are doing all that they can. Recycling is excellent, but even better would be to reduce consumption in the first place. (Do you really need it? Can you do it another way? Can you buy things that at the end of their life CAN be recycled). Secondly, if you can, reuse something (such as jam-jars for food storage, old cardboard for sheet mulching, yoghurt pots as plant pots or even old equipment – get creative). Finally, if you really can get no more use from an item, recycle it!

350ppm – “350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.
Accelerating arctic warming and other early climate impacts have led scientists to conclude that we are already above the safe zone at our current 388ppm, and that unless we are able to rapidly return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.”
Return to index

Comments are closed.