Monthly Archives: September 2012

Potty Talk: The Re-Invention of The Toilet

Aside from some aesthetic advances and rudimentary low-flow innovations, the modern flush toilet basically has not evolved since its prototype first appeared at the end of the 16th Century. This year, Bill and Melinda Gates thought they’d accelerate the flow of progress by holding a contest to invent a better toilet. Across the globe over 2 and a half billion people don’t have access to adequate sanitation. The result: disease and death in the developing world that could be avoided entirely if only someone could come up with a toilet that didn’t require running water, electricity, or septic systems, wasn’t expensive, and didn’t create pollutants. Our guest today on Sea Change Radio is part of a team that invented precisely such a toilet. Clement Cid and a group of other Caltech graduate students, under the leadership of Caltech engineer Michael Hoffman, built a toilet that not only runs off of solar power, it actually creates hydrogen fuel and usable water. Hear how this team came up with the design that won the Gates Foundation contest and could potentially augur a cleaner, safer life for billions of people all around the world.

The Dirt on Compost: Jason Mark

Have you ever been to the dump? It’s a pretty smelly place. Part of what you’re smelling is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that’s created as biodegradable garbage breaks down. A number of studies have found that approximately one-third of all waste entering landfills can be composted instead, and over 90 American cities have responded by initiating curbside composting services. Residents separate out their garden waste (and in some cases food scraps), the biodegradable garbage is picked up and diverted, maxed-out landfills experience relief, and the city has a marketable product in the form of rich compost soil. Everybody wins – who could possibly be against this? Well, it turns out that some people are. Waste Management Inc., the nation’s largest waste disposal company and landfill operator, now captures methane from some of its landfills and converts it into energy. While that sounds pretty good, too, our guest this week on Sea Change Radio explains to host Alex Wise the complex set of issues that surrounds the question, “what’s the best use of biodegradable garbage?” Jason Mark is both a journalist and a farmer – listen now as he gives us the dirt on compost.

One Man’s Trash: Architect Michael Reynolds

What do you get when you combine the contoured and colorful aesthetic of Gaudi with the sensibility of an ecological innovator? You might get my guest today on Sea Change Radio. Michael Reynolds’s vocation, Earthship Biotecture, represents something of a revolution in architecture. Using what most architects would consider trash, Reynolds began working in the 1970s to create experimental homes that were designed to be completely energy self-sufficient.

Due to the experimental nature of the projects, and the fact that many of the methods he was using in his buildings were untested, Reynolds ended up losing his credentials as an architect. So he renamed what he does – it’s not architecture, it’s Earthship Biotecture. Now that he has been at it for several decades, Reynolds has perfected methods for solar heating, geothermal cooling, and greywater capture, all using materials with low or even negative environmental impact. He’s heralded among many environmentalists as a visionary, and joins host Alex Wise today from his New Mexico home.

Chris Mooney: Inside The Republican Brain and Climate Denialism (re-broadcast)

If you’re listening to this show, chances are you believe that climate change is real, that it’s a problem, and that human actions have brought us to where we are today. 

Some Sea Change Radio listeners are Democrats, some are Republicans, and a large number may not identify with either party – but all are probably pretty concerned about responsible environmental stewardship, irrespective of their specific political party affiliation.

There is one political party here in the United States, however, whose official position is to deny the threat of climate change and block any and all attempts to slow environmental degradation, in spite of the large body of scientific research that contradicts that position. Our guest this week on Sea Change Radio is Chris Mooney, whose book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science — and Reality explores why so many Republicans refuse to accept things that most experts identify as factual. Mooney talks with host Alex Wise about the book, what he posits, and the research that backs him up.