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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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Mario Tama, Getty Images
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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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Health
Watch a Tree Release a Massive "Pollen Bomb" Into the Air
iStock
iStock

In case your itchy, watery eyes hadn't already tipped you off, spring is in the air. Some trees release up to a billion pollen grains apiece each year, and instead of turning into baby trees, many of those spores end up in the noses of allergy sufferers. For a visual of just how much pollen is being released into our backyards, check out the video below spotted by Gothamist.

This footage was captured by Millville, New Jersey resident Jennifer Henderson while her husband was clearing away brush with a backhoe. He noticed one tree was blanketed in pollen, and decided to bump into it to see what would happen. The result was an explosion of plant matter dramatic enough to make you sniffle just by looking at it.

"Pollen bombs" occur when the weather starts to warm up after a prolonged winter, prompting trees and grasses to suddenly release a high concentration of pollen in a short time span. Wind, temperature, and humidity levels all determine the air's pollen count for any given day, but allergy season settles down around May.

After determining that your congestion is the result of allergies and not a head cold, there are a few steps you can take to stave off symptoms before they appear. Keep track of your area's pollen report throughout the week, and treat yourself with antihistamines or nasal spray on days when you know it will be particularly bad outside. You can also keep your home a pollen-free zone by closing all the windows and investing in an air purifier. Check out our full list of seasonal allergy-fighting tips here.

[h/t Gothamist]

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