No (Central) Air Conditioning? Five Money-Saving Tips

Happy first day of summer!

In honor of the occasion, I’ve decided to share a few tips for keeping cool.

Central air conditioning is a marvelous invention, creating a cool and comfortable oasis from the beating heat of summer.  But many older homes do not provide this heavenly amenity, leaving us either without air conditioning at all or reliant on old grumbly window units that suck down huge amounts of electricity.

Whether you are without AC or cool the key corners of your home with individual units, keeping the base temperature of your home as cool as possible is the secret to increasing your comfort and lowering your electricity bill. (Even those with central air can save a few dollars.)

Use these five steps BEFORE you turn on the AC to keep your home from heating up and your wallet from drying out:

  1. Sunlight is your enemy. During the day, especially when you are out of the house, close the blinds! For those that blinds that hang horizontally, close them completely with that the underside of the blinds is facing toward you. This keeps sunlight from leaking in between them on their downward trajectory. You may be surprised at how dark a room can get in the middle of the day with effectively closed blinds.
  1. Heat rises. On very hot days, or if you know that your upper floor is a heat trap, open the top of the windows several inches. (Usually the top pane will slide down in the same way the bottom slides up, but this feature is often overlooked.) Providing an opening near the ceiling will alleviate some of the heat build up by allowing the hot air to rise and escape.
  1. Nighttime is your ally. At night, as the air gets cooler, open the windows: any and all of them. Open windows on opposite sides of the house allow for a cross breeze will cool the space much more effectively than any one window alone.
  1. Evict the hot air. Use a fan. Set up a window fan or prop a box fan in front of the window, facing OUT. This may be contrary to “common sense,” which would suggest that you want the fan blowing cool air at you, but if you’re trying to blow air in, you will be fighting against the hot air already occupying your house. Instead, push the stuffy air out of the room with the fan, and cool fresh air from other open windows will naturally fill in behind it. When you turn the fan off, you will still be surrounded by that refreshing nighttime air.
  1. Spend time outside. Shady areas can be surprisingly comfortable places to eat, chit-chat or relax that are often overlooked. While not a way to keep your house cool—strictly speaking—taking advantage of natural breezes rather than artificially cooling the air inside of your house will expand your living space and lower the stress on your wallet.

Do you have any good tips for beating this heat this summer?  Share your advice in the comments or on twitter using @sarahpbennett and #SaltWater.

13346291_1015685631818451_7355454403111797099_o.jpgSunrays shine through a foggy forest canopy in this majestic photo of Redwood National and State Parks (NPS) in California. Redwoods get about 40 percent of their water intake from coastal fog. Photographer Michael Ryan hadn’t planned to shoot that evening, but when he saw light blasting through the forest canopy, he knew he was finally in the right place at the right time. “Fleeting moments like these don’t come often, and I feel extremely fortunate that I had the experience I wanted. Suffice to say, it was one I will never forget.” Photo courtesy of Michael Ryan.— with Michael Ryan Photography at Redwood National and State Parks (NPS). (Via Department of the Interior Facebook page.)

Home Sweet Science

Recently, I came across this compilation of stories on paths to ecology.  It got me thinking about my own boomerang away from science and back again.

The daughter of two scientists, I was raised in an academic and inquisitive household.  We spent Saturday mornings growing crystals or building a mag-lev train track.  Vacations always included trips to the local aquarium, science museum, or university.  So when given the chance to chart my own path, I like to say I “rebelled,” launching into my undergraduate college career headed straight for a dual degree in government and history. I took no science courses my freshman year.  (And no math, to boot.)  All of my course work was reading, reading, and more reading.  I never had an assignment that I could “finish.”  And at times I felt like I wasn’t doing anything.  Needless to say, I tacked back toward my roots, found my way home, and finished my degree: still in government, having concentrated in environmental policy.  A worthwhile compromise.

I embarked on my first environmental policy work experience with NOAA, joining the team that ran the Northeast Cooperative Research Program.  (Now I mentioned that my parents were scientists.  My dad was a marine biologist, more specifically a marine mammalogist, a cetologist, a studier of whales.  Growing up surrounded by the public enthusiasm to “save the whales!” I had no idea what I was getting into with fisheries in the Northeast.)  Let’s just say that after returning from an industry expo my second week on the job, I had experienced the discord first hand.

But, the unique part about my particular program was it’s cooperative mission.  Our research was executed in partnership with the fishing industry.  In fact, the program was based on the idea that fishermen had valuable expertise and that their participation in research would lead to even better management solutions.

This is where I came to understand that open communication leads to cooperation and collaboration, and that cooperation and collaboration are key to successful resolution of natural resource issues. We need to understand each other before we can work together, and in order to understand each other we must get to know one another. Government managers can’t stay walled off by bureaucracy; academic scientists can’t stay in the ivory tower; and the fishing industry must come ashore.

We need to find a table where we can all come together–perhaps a wind-worn, salt-washed picnic table on a fishing pier–where the scientist, the fisherman, and the government official can talk amongst each other, can speak the language, and can learn from each other.

This has become my mission: to bridge the gap between science and policy with communication, to facilitate constructive dialogue around natural resources, and to find solutions that strengthen local economies, natural ecosystems, and stakeholder relationships.

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“Fight for the Bay”: A Political Dead Zone Exposed

51QjOBl3olL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_In his book, Fight for the Bay, Howard Ernst uses the ongoing discussions and efforts surrounding the health of the Chesapeake Bay to expose a larger trend in the American environmental debate. He discusses the “clash of values” between three major schools of thought that leads to environmental conflict in the United States.

  • Ernst argues in favor of Dark Green environmental thought, which argues that humans have an inalienable right to a clean environment—to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and sustainable natural resources. Just as with the classic American rights of life and liberty, no one should be allowed to infringe upon that right by damaging nature.
  • Light Green environmental thought sees preservation of the environment as a human responsibility, rather than a human right. While the Dark Greens call for government action, the Light Greens encourage actors to follow voluntary environmental goals.
  • Cornucopian thought stands in opposition to both “shades” of green. The economy is the primary human concern. These thinkers prioritize property rights and the right to use nature for economic gain, whether as a means of disposal or as a source for harvest.

Ernst is concerned that efforts to improve the condition of the Chesapeake, as with the U.S. political system, are oversaturated with Light Green thinking. The hegemony of Light Green thought has lead to failed partnerships, leaving the Chesapeake Bay and all of its major tributaries on the EPA’s “impaired” list.

A Lunar Portrait

Daguerreotype of the Moon from March 1840, attributed to Dr. John William Draper.
Original image courtesy of Prof. Baryd Still, NYU Archives.

This is the oldest surviving photo of the moon.

These days anyone with a cheap point-and-shoot camera or even a cell phone can snap a picture of the Moon (although I highly advise using at least an entry-level dSLR) but there was a time when that wasn’t the case. Go back to the late 1830s, when photography was in its infancy and methods for capturing light and shadows for posterity were on the cutting edge of invention, and the Moon was an elusive target for even the most skilled practitioners. But, in March of 1840, John William Draper changed that with his lunar “portrait”—the world’s first true astrophoto.

Thanks to Lights in the Dark for sharing. Read the full post here: This is the Oldest Surviving Photo of the Moon.

The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking

“There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively,” says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.

Read the BBC News article here.