Regulars and Shorts

Green Bits: May 2012

By Pax Rasmussen

News and ideas from near and far for a healthier, more sustainable future.

Solar in the city

Last month, the Wasatch Solar Challenge team announced plans to help significantly lower the cost and simplify the process for residential and commercial solar energy projects. The Challenge team, made of representatives from Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Midvale City, Park City, Summit County, West Valley City, Utah Clean Energy and the Utah Solar Energy Association, is one of 22 teams nationally to receive Rooftop Solar Challenge funding. The funds will be used to help clear a path for rapid expansion of solar energy—by increasing access to financing, standardizing permit processes, improving grid-connection standards and updating planning and zoning codes.

SmartTrips for East Liberty

Last month, Salt Lake City launched the SmartTrips program for East Liberty neighborhood residents (approximately 1,000 households)—a program that incorporates several approaches to help remove barriers that prevent residents from taking advantage of alternative transportation options. East Liberty was chosen for its size, mix of residential and business districts and proximity to public transit and bicycling corridors. Residents can sign up online, and will receive a free pedometer, bicycle taillight and a one-week UTA pass, along with information and resources on alternative transportation, such as the Salt Lake bikeways map. Community classes and programs, such as Intro to Bicycle Commuting and Shopping By Bike, are also available.

Props to U

The past few years have seen a boom in University of Utah sustainability efforts—such as their wind power program and huge recycling effort. Last month, the U claimed third place out of 73 colleges and universities for eco-friendliness.

Groovy house, man

A company in Santa Barbara, California, is set to build Cheech and Chong’s dream home: A house built of hemp. North Carolina-based construction company Hemp Technologies has developed a construction method using a material called Hempcrete, a mixture of hemp, lime and water that is energy-efficient, non-toxic and fire-resistant. Plus, growing the hemp sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The only problem? Growing hemp is illegal in most states, since it contains trace amounts of THC, the mind-altering chemical in marijuana. And we all know how dangerous marijuana is, don’t we?

Bike lanes are better

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Cetner for a Livable Future at the Bloomburg School of Public Health published a study last month that analyzed how well drivers follow three-foot bicycle passing rules. The result? One out of six drivers break the rules. The good news? Bike lanes cause a 20% increase in safe passing. Makes me happy to see new bike lanes in SLC every year!

Bill Nye on bikes

What will the city of the future look like? According to Bill Nye (the Science Guy): Bikes, and lots of them. And tunnels that funnel wind so riders will always have a tailwind. Check out this video of Nye (who seems thoroughly stoned) explaining, in detail, the bike-oriented city of the future. It’s a trip.

Where traffic comes from

Ever wonder why no matter how many more roads we build, traffic never gets any better? Check out this cute video that explains why (spoiler: it’s because the more roads we have, the easier it is to use your car, so more people do use their cars, creating more traffic), and how to fix the problem (spoiler: it’s by investing in public transit and bike-friendly roads, not in more roads and oil subsidies). Vid is in Spanish, but subtitled.

HFCS woes

Regular readers of this column are aware that I take every opportunity to write about the evils of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Here’s another reason to ditch the soda: HFCS is linked to autism. In a new peer-reviewed study in Clinical Epigenetics, researchers show that HFCS can mess with the body’s uptake of dietary minerals—in this case, zinc. A protein that helps the body eliminate heavy metals from the body needs zinc to work right, and if it doesn’t get it, those heavy metals cause a number of problems, autism among them. They found the problem is especially worrisome during the fetal stage. There’s some calcium/lead stuff going on, too.

This article was originally published on April 25, 2012.