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Digitizing the Environment

I’m getting really excited by all the activity buzzing around alternative energy. This was something I was pushing for as an activist in college, back in the late 80s. Way ahead of my time? You bet. Frustrated? Oh yeah.

We knew it would take more than us do-gooders, even back then. We knew there’s have to be money in it. And, of course, the world has wised up over the last 10 years, especially over the last three. For my part, I’m thrilled to report that we’re going solar at my house! We don’t have the bucks to buy a system, even though our house is very small, but between the government subsidies right now (they’re going fast!), and the ability now to lease a system for a couple decades, the up-front cost is minimal and the whole thing begins to pay for itself within 5 years. We did this with our Takagi tankless hot water heater three years ago. Yes, it cost more to buy and install, but it’s already paying dividends three years down the road. Our heating bills are remarkably lower than our neighbor, who has the same size house but a traditional “on-all-the-time” hot water heater.

I’m going to be live-blogging the install of our solar system in a couple months once it begins, but if anyone who lives in Sungevity’s service range is interested, I can hook you up with a $500 Amex card, in your pocket, just because you read mentalfloss.com! (not shilling, just using our site’s clout to pay it forward).

What I’d really like to do is start getting involved with wind, because that, by my way of thinking, is the most exciting option coming on the grid. Just today, there’s this great piece in the New York Times reporting that Google, Good Energies and a New York financial firm have each agreed to invest heavily in a proposed $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard. The 350-mile underwater spine, which could remove some critical obstacles to wind power development, has stirred excitement among investors, government officials and environmentalists who have been briefed on it,” says the piece.

Not sure how many of you have driven through parts of California, Nevada, Arizona or other states where we’ve got lots of wind turbines spinning already, but it’s a one-of-a-kind experience. This video below does it a bit of justice, but you don’t get the true emotional impact as when you’re driving through for real. For me, it’s combination of awe (at the size and engineering feat) and excitement for the future. The clean future.

It's like when I was 13 and recording music on my Tascam 4-track on a cassette tape. After ping-ponging tracks a couple times, there was so much tape hiss, it was sort of pathetic. But we knew, one day, not so far off, digital 4 tracks would come along and clean it all up. It was just a matter of time. And so I feel today this renewed sense of optimism about the environment. It's just a matter of time... and all that activism back in college will one day pay off—is already starting to pay off.

If you're interested in the Sungevity cash-back deal, shoot me an email: david 'at' mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Why Blue Dogs Have Been Roaming Mumbai
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Press TV News Videos, YouTube

Residents of Mumbai began noticing a peculiar sight on August 11: roving stray dogs tinted a light shade of blue. No one knew what to make of these canines, which were spotted in the streets seemingly unharmed but otherwise bucking nature.

Concerned observers now have an answer, but it’s not a very reassuring one. According to The Guardian, the 11 Smurf-colored animals were the result of pollution run-off in the nearby Kasadi River. Industrial waste, including dyes, has been identified as coming from a nearby manufacturing plant. Although dogs are known to swim in the river, the blue dye was also found in the air. After complaints, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board investigated and found the factory, Ducol Organics Pvt Ltd., was not adhering to regulatory guidelines for waste disposal. They shut off water to the facility and issued a notice of closure last Friday.

“There are a set of norms that every industry needs to follow,” MPCB regional officer Anil Mohekar told The Hindustan Times. “After our sub-regional officers confirmed media reports that dogs were indeed turning blue due to air and water pollution, we conducted a detailed survey at the plant … We will ensure that the plant does not function from Monday and the decision sets an example for other polluting industries, which may not be following pollution abatement measures.”

Animal services workers who retrieved five of the dogs were able to wash off the dye. They reported that no other health issues were detected.

[h/t The Guardian]

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environment
A Coral Reef in Mexico Just Got Its Own Insurance Policy
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iStock

The Puerto Morelos coral reef, about 20 miles south of Cancún, is one of Mexico’s most popular snorkeling attractions. It also serves a vital purpose beyond drawing tourists. Like all reefs, it provides a buffer for the coast, protecting nearby beaches from brutal waves and storms. And so the beachside businesses that rely on the reef have decided to protect the coral as they would any other vital asset: with insurance. As Fast Company reports, the reef now has its own insurance policy, the first-ever policy of its kind.

Coral reefs are currently threatened by increasing ocean acidification, warmer waters, pollution, and other ocean changes that put them at risk of extinction. Mass coral bleachings are affecting reefs all over the world. That’s not to mention the risk of damage during extreme storms, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

Businesses in Puerto Morelos and Cancún pay the premiums for the Reef & Beach Resilience and Insurance Fund, and if the reef gets damaged, the insurance company will pay to help restore it. It’s not just an altruistic move. By protecting the Puerto Morelos reef, nearby businesses are protecting themselves. According to The Nature Conservancy, which designed the insurance policy, coral reef tourism generates around $36 billion for businesses around the world each year. Perhaps even more importantly to coastal businesses, reefs protect $6 billion worth of built capital (i.e. anything human-made) annually.

When a storm hits, the insurance company will pay out a claim in 10 days, according to Fast Company, providing an immediate influx of cash for urgent repair. (The insurance policy is tied to the event of a storm, not the damage, since it would be hard to immediately quantify the economic damage to a reef.) The corals that break off the reef can be rehabilitated at a nursery and reattached, but they have to be collected immediately. Waiting months for an insurance payout wouldn’t help if all the damaged corals have already floated away.

The insurance policy is one of many new initiatives designed to rehabilitate and protect endangered coastal ecosystems that we now know are vital to buffering the coast from storm surges and strong waves. Coral reefs aren’t the only protective reefs: In the eastern and southern coastal U.S., some restaurants have started donating oyster shells to help rebuild oyster reefs offshore as a storm protection and ecosystem rehabilitation measure.

Considering the outsized role reefs play in coastal protection, more insurance policies may be coming to ecosystems elsewhere in the world. Hopefully.

[h/t Fast Company]

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