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by Doug Moss & Roddy Scheer

Dear EarthTalk: What's the latest in residential air conditioning? How can I stay cool but stay green this summer? -- Jackie B., Reno, NV

The environmental impact of traditional air conditioning systems is significant. Fortunately, there are several advancements in A/C technology that allow you to stay cool while minimizing your carbon footprint. Here’s are some eco-friendly cooling solutions and tips on how to stay green this summer.

One of the significant advancements in A/C is inverter technology. Unlike traditional units that turn on and off to regulate temperature, inverter models adjust the compressor motor speed to maintain a consistent temperature. This is more efficient and reduces wear and tear, extending the life of the unit.

Harnessing solar energy for cooling is a game-changer. Solar-powered A/C units use photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into electricity, significantly reducing reliance on the grid and lowering electric bills. The initial installation can be costly, but the long-term savings and environmental benefits are substantial.

Another green option is geothermal heat pumps that utilize stable underground temperatures to cool in the summer and heat in the winter. These systems use up to 50 percent less power than conventional heating and cooling. Installation is complex and expensive, but the energy savings over time can be significant.

When selecting an A/C unit, look for models with high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratios (SEER) and Energy Star certifications. These ratings indicate that the unit meets stringent energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ensuring reduced energy usage and lower carbon emissions. Meanwhile, ensure that your air conditioning system is running efficiently by scheduling regular maintenance. Cleaning or replacing filters, checking for leaks, and ensuring the unit is in good working order can improve performance and extend its lifespan.

Regardless of the type of cooling technology in your home, investing in a smart thermostat can optimize your system's efficiency. These devices learn your schedule and preferences, adjusting temperatures automatically to reduce energy consumption when you’re not home. They can also be controlled remotely via smartphone apps, allowing you to make adjustments on the go.

Another way to keep the indoors cool—and reduce the load on whatever A/C system you have—is to improve insulation. Use fans to circulate the air inside to make it feel cooler than the actual ambient air temperature. And use curtains, blinds or reflective window films to block the sun's heat during the hottest parts of the day. Plant trees or install awnings outside to provide shade and reduce heat gain. And open windows to circulate fresh air, which reduces the need for A/C anD also improves indoor air quality.

CONTACTS: ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2024: Room AC, https://www.energystar.gov/most-efficient/me-certified-room-ac/results?is_most_efficient_filter=Most+Efficient; 5 Ways to Stay Cool During Extreme Heat, https://www.fema.gov/blog/5-ways-stay-cool-during-extreme-heat; How to stay cool without air conditioning, https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/18/health/how-to-stay-cool-without-air-conditioning-wellness/index.html; How to Choose an Energy-Efficient Air Conditioner, https://www.constellation.com/guides/appliances/energy-efficient-air-conditioners.html.

Dear EarthTalk: What are the environmental impacts of the widespread legalization of marijuana in recent years? -- Mac Styles, Tallahassee, FL

Cannabis is an increasingly popular recreational and medicinal drug that is capable of producing psychogenic effects. As more states legalize cannabis for some medicinal and recreational uses, cannabis production is on the rise.

On average, cannabis requires double the amount of water than food staples like corn, soybean and wheat. Over 60 percent of marijuana grown in the United States originates from California. Additionally, California produces nearly 75 percent of the nation's fruits and nuts and over 33 percent of its vegetables. Californian agriculture is significantly supported by aquifers, surface water diversion, springs and rivers. The rising demand for cannabis may exacerbate water scarcity, divert freshwater from essential agriculture and municipal needs, and harm water ecosystems by altering stream flows.

A single pound of commercial marijuana product correlates to over 4,600 pounds of carbon dioxide (C02) emissions produced. Additionally, cannabis plant matter has been found to contain high concentrations of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs), especially monoterpenes, which have been linked to increases in ground-level ozone pollution and particulate matter that can lead to severe health issues. Further, cannabis cultivation is often enhanced by pesticides and ammonia-rich fertilizers that are used to supplement the plant’s high nitrogen requirement. The ammonia frequently volatilizes into the atmosphere, bonding with nitrogen oxides to produce particulate matter. Runoff from these inputs also causes soil acidification, water eutrophication, oxygen depletion and harm to aquatic life.

Indoor planting facilities require significant energy for lighting, heating, ventilation and dehumidification. One 2012 study even attributed “the energy consumption for this practice in the United States at 1% of national electricity use, or $6 billion each year.” Back then, only 16 states had legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Today, that number has risen to 38 states, suggesting that current energy consumption for indoor cannabis production is likely even higher.

Several foundational changes could make cannabis crops more sustainable. Many states that have legalized cannabis have not established energy standards for indoor cultivation facilities. By mandating LED bulbs instead of metal halide or fluorescent bulbs, policymakers can initiate energy reduction. However, this is not always feasible. Facilities located in cooler areas sometimes rely on the heat generated by non-LED bulbs to keep temperatures warm enough for the cannabis to grow.

In the early days of the cannabis industry, it was widely believed that growers had to use reverse osmosis (RO) to remove heavy metals and sodium from water before applying it to their crops. Roughly half of the water that was put through RO was discarded as wastewater. Yet, testing showed tap water works similarly without impacting product quality, prompting a shift away from RO.

Some facilities are transitioning their root media from traditional, non-recyclable 'stone wool' to a coconut-fiber-based product. Coconut fiber offers improvements in water retention and filtration, allowing plants to maintain a cleaner root environment and reduce watering frequency. Moreover, coconut fiber promotes better aeration and drainage, preventing waterlogging that can lead to root rot.

CONTACTS: The carbon footprint of indoor Cannabis production, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0301421512002285; Cannabis industry inches toward sustainability, https://cen.acs.org/environment/Cannabis-industry-inches-toward-sustainability/100/i30; Marijuana Industry Seeks to Lessen Its Environmental Impact, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2022-05-09/marijuana-industry-seeks-to-lessen-its-environmental-impact.

Dear EarthTalk: What are some innovative ways companies are accessing renewable energy nowadays? -- Peter V., Milwaukee, WI

With energy production accounting for upwards of 75 percent of global greenhouse emissions and more and more companies looking to reduce their carbon footprints, it makes sense that a whole new generation of start-ups would spring to life to help put business customers together with green energy producers.

One of these innovative green go-betweens is Copenhagen-based Reel Energy. Businesses looking to slash their carbon footprints can call upon Reel to provide them with green power at fixed, low prices for five to 10 years. Reel, in turn, uses this funding to contract with solar and wind developers to break ground on new renewable energy projects. Reel has expanded heavily throughout Europe in recent years but you can expect to see their deals pop up increasingly in the U.S. and elsewhere moving forward.

Another take on B2B green energy sourcing comes by way of Seattle-based Drift Energy, which helps companies buy 100 percent green power and thus offset their other carbon emissions. Customers sign on the dotted line to purchase all of the energy they will need for one to five years, and Drift gets to work supplying them with green power culled from local wind farms, solar arrays and hydroelectric dams. By helping take the guesswork out of sourcing green power, Drift is able to help other businesses do the right thing and derive emissions reduction and PR benefits in the process.

Meanwhile, Clearloop out of Nashville Tennessee takes a similar approach by syncing up companies looking to reduce their carbon footprints with new sources of green energy. But Clearloop’s version emphasizes environmental justice, using customer funding to break ground on wind farms and solar arrays in traditionally disenfranchised and overly polluted communities across the American South. To date, Clearloop has funded dozens of wind and solar projects in Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Yet another green energy matchmaker model is LevelTen Energy, also from Seattle, which runs the world’s largest platform connecting green power buyers and sellers. LevelTen’s marketplace allows buyers to compare different options, receive custom offers and reduce risks through automated analytics for market price offers. By lowering the risk of investment and widening access to green energy, LevelTen streamlines the process of purchasing renewable energy. To date, LevelTen’s transaction infrastructure has helped broker some 4,500 renewables-based power purchase agreements (PPAs) funding more than 1,800 wind, solar and other renewable power projects in 28 different countries.

Still another way for companies to procure green power at fixed pricing and reduce their carbon footprints is by going in on group buys of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) through Evergreen Renewables. RECs represent proof that one megawatt-hour of electricity was generated from a renewable energy source. A recent deal orchestrated by Evergreen and transacted on its marketplace saw eight brands go in together on the purchase of enough RECs to fund the repowering of a 55 megawatt wind farm in Texas that was otherwise slated for demolition. These types of deals enable even smaller companies to participate in large group buys of RECs, further expanding access to green energy.

CONTACTS: Reel, https://www.reel.energy; Drift, https://www.joindrift.com; Clearloop, https://clearloop.us; LevelTenEnergy, https://www.leveltenenergy.com; Evergreen Renewables, https://www.ever.green

Dear EarthTalk: How is the fight to prevent wildlife trafficking going? -- L.K., Chicago, IL

Wildlife trafficking, defined as the illegal trapping and/or poaching of wildlife for consumer trade, is second only to habitat loss as one of the largest modern threats to wildlife. The criminal practice overwhelmingly targets elephants, large reptiles and coral, and has resulted in the extinction of rare species of plants, reptiles and fish. High extinction risk is common among species targeted by wildlife crime; of the 4,000 species worldwide that are currently poached for trafficking, 40 percent are already listed as threatened or near-threatened.

The trade also harms people, as many foreign animals can spread dangerous diseases to previously unexposed people and livestock. Impoverished peoples in the poached animals’ countries of origin are especially harmed by the industry, as the profiting criminal organizations often blackmail people with limited financial options into doing dangerous work for them.

Despite the harm wildlife trafficking has caused to wildlife and people, the industry has continued to expand over the last century, and now has an estimated annual value of roughly $23 billion. Thanks to practices such as trophy hunting, hoarding and exotic tourism gaining momentum over the years, the demand for poached wildlife goods has only increased.

Additional access to the industry has been provided by the convenience, safety and relative anonymity of online transactions, making it harder than ever to track the transportation and delivery of goods. Many nations that suffer from high rates of wildlife trafficking also lack sufficient law enforcement and security to adequately monitor their borders for illegal traders. However, many governments, nonprofits and environmental workers are making efforts to remedy these issues.

In 2022, the United States Agency for International Development committed $75 million per year towards reducing trafficking in more than 35 African, Asian and Latin American countries. The money will go towards behavior change campaigns, more careers in conservation, and increased law implementation and security capacity so that borders are more consistently monitored. Similar efforts from the likes of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and the non-profit Wildlife Conservation Society have already led to a 35 percent increase in convictions for wildlife crimes. These programs are key in our societal efforts to collaborate with governments, indigenous peoples, local communities and local tourism and transportation to discourage wildlife crime.

Trafficking often feels like a distant issue, but there are still ways for us to help combat wildlife crimes. For starters, any evidence of online trafficking should be reported to the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online or the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Tourists should also exercise caution when encountering especially exotic goods, experiences or foods. You can verify if some organic products — specifically fish, supermarket goods, and products made with palm oil — are sustainably sourced by visiting the websites for Good Fish Guide, the Giki app, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil respectively.

CONTACTS: The Coalition To End Wildlife Trafficking Online, https://www.endwildlifetraffickingonline.org/; Good Fish Guide, https://www.mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/; Giki, https://giki.earth/; Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, ??https://rspo.org/.

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org. Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org.

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