Thursday, July 31, 2008

Netherlands and Japan

I wasn't aware that there is so much in common between Netherlands and Japan. I was amazed to find many similarities when I visited Leiden, Netherlands for a summer a couple of years ago.

I think one of the major factors that makes these two countries similar is population density. Netherlands - 395/km², Japan - 337/km² . Pretty close. Or actually, I was surprised to find that Netherlands is denser than Japan which is infamously packed with people.

Netherlands is a very small country with very dense population. However, Dutch people use land and resources very efficiently. They rank third worldwide in value of agricultural exports, behind the United States and France! How could they manage to do this when the land available for agriculture is very limited? Netherlands is also dubbed as one of the greenest countries in Europe (or in the world).

Japan is also very small and dense. Although it is sluggish in environmental policy, it is advanced in energy efficiency technology and process efficiency. Prius and Kaizen are some of those examples.

Photo above is a market in Netherlands, below Japan. Similarly dense! People are just filling up the small space like this everywhere.

I can't stop feeling that this is where people start to internalize the concept of "efficiency" as a second nature.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rohnert Park, Sonoma Co, CA

Rohnert Park, Sonoma is the local government with very advanced sustainable strategies. It has already set GHG reduction target. It is promoting smart growth and sustainable development.

I happened to pass by the town the other day, and decided to cruise around to see if I could find anything sustainable.

I took a picture of a new development that apparently tries to promote mixed use. I think the first floor is meant to be offices/shops, and second floor and upward is for residential use. Each property is rather small, and built right next to each other.

If you are from old European or Asian (or probably other) communities, this is not extraordinary at all. Mixed use is a traditional way to use limited space efficiently.

But here in US, this is something rather new just because the land has never been scarce. Urban area has been sprawling horizontally, requiring more untouched land to be developed. It wasn't until recently that people started to question about the practices because it leads to waste of almost all the resources: land, energy, water, electricity, etc.... With current high gas price, more people/local governments should be interested in planning communities differently to reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled).

City of Rohnert Park is one of the front-runners to explore the US version of smart growth. Stay tuned with them!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Super lunch! Bento box

Eating little bit of everything is one of the key philosophies of Japanese cuisine.

For presentation, it requires putting together little bit of everything in a coordinated manner. Beauty: well balanced nutrients intake, enjoyment of eating and aesthetics - it's almost an art.

Bento lunch box (to go) is a simple, daily-life version of little bit of everything. At home, Moms have been making Bento for family.

There are a lot of websites that talk about how to make Bento; authentic(like the pic), casual, fun and Bento for kids! Check them out. Or you will find whole bunch of information just by Googling by "Bento box".

Great alternative for brown bag.

Lunch in a box
Cooking cute
USAlifehacks (Japanese)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eco-cute in English

Monday, July 21, 2008

Don't ask me what I need to drink

Soda is not sustainable. It's not sustainable for health.....just too much sugar.
It doesn't help reduce GHG emission either. Liquid is not compactible, so it takes space and it's heavy. We need to consume enormous amount of energy to transport so many millions (or more?) of bottles and keep them cold. A top of that, soda is accompanied with so much ice that needs more freezers on duty.

I am growingly annoyed when I go to the restaurants and asked "what would you like to drink?" even before I settle down comfortably! With this timing, I almost have to answer immediately! When I get really annoyed, I say "just water please". What I really mean is "Leave me alone and give me some time to think."

But otherwise, I imagine that many people would answer their favorite soda almost automatically. That means, you have almost automatically and unconsciously entitled yourself for 300Kcal or more extra sugar. To make the matter worse, in many places soda is free to refill.

I understand that drink is money making item for restaurants. And offering less soda might hurt business and might increase complaints from customers.

But really sustainable restaurants should be able to offer other values than soda. Plus, really delicious, tasty food doesn't go along with soda. Soda tastes too junky with good food.

Photo: Tea is an Asian alternative for soda. Tim Riley

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hooray for small house!

To Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Start by Shrinking Buildings

New Mexico architect Edward Mazria proposes the 2030 Challenge. It calls for an immediate 50 percent reduction in fossil-fuel-based energy use in all U.S. buildings and complete elimination by 2030.

This target sounds very bold. What kind of state-of-the-art, cutting and innovative green building technologies or concepts are involved in the proposal?

First step: Make a house smaller!

Again (from my previous post), it has nothing to do with technologies, it's about changing the way of life. I really appreciate the fact that he chose downsizing as the first priority.

I am from the country where average house size would only be somewhere around 1000 sq feet. Here it is 2400 sq feet. I can't stop feeling sorry to see so much energy being wasted only to heat/cool the spaces that nobody is occupying. Smaller houses also reduce your ecological footprint overall, not just carbon footprint.

I know that living in larger house is everyone's dream.

But I don't want to achieve my dream by sacrificing our children's future. We won't be worse off by living in a bit smaller house (even though Japan's case is a bit extreme). Plus, it could be a solution for devastated housing market....smaller houses are definitely much much more affordable than large houses. A lot of people need affordable housing...and now.

Photo: an example of a house in Japan. Compare the size of the house with the car parked in the garage and you will see how small the house is. Also, most houses have multiple stories just to maximize the capacity on a limited land.


Cutting meat from your dinner table just by 20%

I recently found that IPCC Chair Dr. Pachuari is a strong advocate of eating less meat (or beef more specifically). According to his estimate, if the Americans reduce eating beef by 20%, it will have the same effect as replacing all SUVs in this country with Prius. That is a lot.

And it doesn't require any technologies! (actually, many effective solutions to tackle climate change have nothing to do with advanced technology; it's just changing the way of life.)

For those who have never linked eating meat to global warming, here is how it works:
1) To secure pasture to grow cows, forests need to be destroyed
2) It requires a lot of energy to freeze/transport meat which is currently occurring on a global scale
3) It requires long distribution/consumption path until the meat finally end up in your table or in the restaurant, and it all requires freezing.

Where there are enormous concerns on obesity and its various impacts on life in this country, cutting meat is a great solution both for your health and for earth's health. And it will save some/or dozens or more? cow's lives.

Here is the tip: once you start cutting meat, your body is less and less dependent on meat. I am not a vegan, but I don't eat beef much just because I don't feel like to or I don't feel I need to. Check out Tofu hamburger recipe to start off!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stay cool! Sensu, Uchiwa and Higasa

Sensu: Japanese old style fan.

World of artisanship.

Uchiwa is also a traditional Japanese fan but much more casual.

Higasa ( parasol) has evolved a lot. Most of today's models cut UV rays.

If you want to mimimize the use of air conditioner, ask people who lived lives without air conditioner! They have so much to offer.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Right to say NO to overcooling?

What is the most comfortable indoor temperature in summer?

I often see 78F for air conditioner setting as energy saving threshold. And actually I found that my office is kept at 78F.

Darn it, I feel cold.

I don't use air conditioner when I leave home, so I comfortably wear no-sleeve shirt + skirt+ pair of sandal. (Highest is around 100C these days) But once I am in the office, I am cold! I put socks on and add another layer of cloths when I am alone in my cubicle, even when I know it looks terrible with what I wear! I can't stand freezing feeling. What makes worse, I cannot stand the difference of temperature - I feel tired by going from 100F to 78F, then back to 100F and then back to 78F.......doesn't look like my body is responding well to the fluctuation.

The temperature is even lower in shopping malls, restaurants and a lot other places where they apparently set air conditioner lower than 78F.

I just have to wonder if I am the only one who is freezing at 78F?

Do I have the right to say No to overcooling? It makes me stupid especially when I think I am collectively emitting GHG just to freeze with my sandals on.

Recommended energy saving/GHG emission reducing air conditioning temperature in Japan is 28C (82.4F).

I am very curious to know if there is anyone else who wants indoor temperature higher in summer. I just wonder if we can collectively say NO to overcooling.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

G8 Summit in Toyako, Japan

Even though it's my country, I have never been impressed by Japanese politics, especially the way it deals with international affairs. So I am not touching political aspects of this Summit today although climate change is one of the focal points. I just wanted to introduce some eco-information on Summit website because it's available in English.

Some articles are interesting.

Click "eco ideas".

Monday, July 7, 2008

Getting children eat vegetables

I did not use processed baby food for my son and tried to cook as much fresh vegetable as I could. But even though, he (2 years old) does not always eat vegetables.

But this works like magic.

He wants more and more of carrots! (carrots are not his favorite food actually)

They are sold in local grocery stores in Japan in variety. I don't seem to find them here.....

They are so effective.

You can use them for other food as well.

Incentivizing Light/Small cars

I went back to Japan in June for a couple of weeks and was surprised to see how passenger vehicles keep becoming smaller and lighter. (I have been here in US for 4 years now, so the change was pretty striking) A lot of cars are not even under "compact" category....much smaller. They are also square to maximize their interior capacity. Now it sounds totally reasonable that Wagon R by Suzuki (not Prius!) is the top selling car in Japan for so many years.

There is a category called "light vehicle" in Japanese vehicle regulations; it enjoys less taxation and cheaper insurance. Also, the parkings are required to have lots dedicated to light vehicles (I guess much smaller than the lot for "compact" here in US). Wagon R is a light vehicle.

When Japan was a flourishing economy, driving light vehicle wasn't cool at all (besides being small, light vehicle has to carry different license plate to normal vehicles) ; people wanted more expensive, normal sized cars. But now, people are less interested in buying gorgeous cars. Or in buying cars at all. Cars are losing its value as status symbol as people's values and economic situation changes (downturn, obviously) and high gas prices (it's much higher than here in US). It's rather just a tool for transportation where efficiency gets priority.

Gas prices are getting high in US as well. There is surging interest in compact/small/energy efficient cars. If it comes with some tax/insurance relaxation, it will further stimulate the interest.

Definition of light-vehicle
Max length 3.4m (11")
Max width 1.48m (4.8")
Max height 2m (6.6")
Max displacement 660 cc
Max power 47kW

Thursday, July 3, 2008

You can be fined by conserving water??

Sacramento couple who let lawn die to save water face $746 fine

Just reminds me how much impact climate change/environmental issues has on all aspects of our daily lives and how unlinked they are from the rules that govern our daily lives.