Weathering the weather

Going Green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 5, 2009

Sweltering summer heat is finally upon us, along with how-to-keep-cool considerations.

According to Grist.org, "fans are either equal to or better than a high-efficiency room air conditioner" in terms of how much wattage they suck and the energy they use. Not to mention the environmentally unsound fluorocarbon refrigerants often used in air conditioners, which are difficult to dispose of and contain atmospheric pollutants. US Department of Energy calculations show that even Energy Star-certified window units are less efficient than several fans running at once (if you make sure you don't leave them on all day).

The most effective cooling strategy is to install a ceiling fan, which uses even less energy than a stand-up version, and does the best job of circulating the air. Added green bonus: ceiling fans obviously help circulate warm air too, which can keep heating bills down during the winter. But who's thinking about winter when we've got a few weeks left of warmth?

• Another surefire way to keep cool (provided that the skies stay clear for longer than an hour) is to head to the beach. While you're there, join Planet Green's Ban the Bags, Butts, and Bottles campaign. The Discovery Channel Web site (planetgreen.discovery.com) is promoting its eco-aware Blue August, and inviting beachgoers to submit their photos of sandside litter (before picking it up and discarding it, of course).

• Before it got hot, it rained for two months. Remember that? Phoenix managing editor Jeff Inglis does, because he'd recently bought a 55-gallon rain barrel from the Portland Water District for $65. Good timing! The recycled plastic barrel, which collects water from Inglis's gutters, filters it through a screen, and has a spigot at the bottom, provides him with a water source for activities for which "you don't need drinking-water quality water," such as hosing down the dog after a muddy trek, or watering the vegetable garden. Not only do rain barrels help decrease water use, they also reduce stormwater pollution by diverting run-off that would otherwise absorb pollutants and end up back in lakes and streams. Sure, they overflow (especially during Maine monsoon season), but at least 55 gallons gets conserved before the barrel spilleth over.

• Speaking of the rain, if we want to blame it for one more thing (in addition to the ruination of many a summer plan, and the collective misery of a city), we can hold it responsible for the lack of shellfish in our lives. AccuWeather.com researchers found that excess rain — and therefore excess run-off of silt and dust into rivers, streams, and eventually the ocean — contributes to red tide, which, in Maine, mostly affects humans who eat shellfish that are contaminated with toxins in the algae. On Thursday, the state Department of Marine Resources announced that red-tide algae levels seem to be abating.

• If you're enjoying those steamers outside, make sure you're slathered in (eco-friendly) sunscreen. Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) guide to sunscreens. And choose carefully. The health and environment watchdog studied more than 1500 sunscreens and found that three out of five of them "either don't protect skin from sun damage or contain hazardous chemicals — or both." (The federal Food and Drug Administration has no comprehensive set of standards for sunblock products.) The top-ranked beach and sport sunscreens in the EWG's 2009 report are Soleo/Atlantis Organics All Natural Sunscreen SPF 30+, and Badger Sunscreen SPF 30. On the positive side, the EWG found an increasing number of sunscreens that protect against both types of ultraviolet rays — UVA and UVB — that can penetrate the skin and cause short-term sunburns and lasting damage.

Deirdre Fulton can be reached at dfulton@phx.com.

Related: Layers of buying local, Going Green: June 12, 2009, Going Green: July 10, 2009, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Science and Technology, Technology, Health and Fitness,  More more >
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