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Carbon Footprint by Zip Code

Have you seen this great visualization from the Cool Climate Network? It’s household carbon footprint by zip code, based on home energy use, transportation, and consumption of goods and services. It’s really striking how green Boston and its immediate suburbs are, and how red the circle around them is. The companion carbon calculator lets you estimate your own carbon footprint more accurately.

Carbon Footprint by Zip Code

That’s dramatic.

Since taking a GIS class this fall I’m really interested in data visualization. Did you know the New York Times dialect map had the most views of any article in 2013? And it was posted on December 20! It really pushes home that we need to be thinking about more interactive ways to communicate information.

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Local Energy Planning in Medford

I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted anything (see the usual excuses: school, work, buying a house), but I just had to share some videos that I helped create at MAPC. I’ve been interning in the Energy Division of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council for the last nine months, assisting local governments with energy efficiency and renewable energy work. I think this video about our Local Energy Action Program with the City of Medford sums it up really well. And I especially love it because I helped them with the two residential outreach programs they mention: the National Grid Community Efficiency Initiative and Solarize Medford. More than 550 Medford residents completed home energy audits and 48 residents and businesses installed solar panels in 2013 as a result of these programs.

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Nontoxic Pest Control

As you know, we have a tiny garden in self-watering planters on our porch. This makes caring for our herbs and veggies easy. We only need to refill the water reservoirs about once a week, and we get much better results than we did with the old pots. However, we hit a bump in the road in our mini garden paradise  last weekend: tons of tiny, long-legged, red bugs all over the tomato plants. After a little research, I found out they were red aphids, and although they don’t usually kill full-grown plants, they can destroy new growth. Not on my tomato plants.

Aphid-free

Aphid-free

I’d rather avoid pesticides, if possible, so I started looking online for organic ways to get rid of aphids. A gang of ladybugs would be great, but failing that, the most common suggestion was spraying the leaves with a mixture of dish detergent and water (a couple tablespoons per gallon, spray both sides of the leaves, and rinse off after a couple hours). Even better, some people suggested just blasting the plants with a garden hose, or in my case, a particularly powerful spray bottle. And it worked! I sprayed away all the aphids that I could see, then did the same every other day for the few stragglers left. A week later, I don’t see any aphids at all. Who knew it would be that easy?

I suspect the aphids may have been drawn to the high nitrogen content in the vermicompost that we used this year. Our greens to browns ratio is always a bit top heavy. Now we have more of an incentive to keep it balanced: not wanting to deal with disgusting bugs!

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Easy Limeade

It’s almost embarrassing to call this a recipe because it’s so simple, but it’s a great thing to have in the fridge on hot days like this weekend.

Mmm...refreshing.

Mmm…refreshing.

Easy Limeade

(Adapted from Martha Stewart - sorry, Cheryl!)

3/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
5 cups water

1.     Make simple syrup by boiling 1 cup water in a small saucepan, adding sugar, and stirring until dissolved.
2.     Add lime juice and the rest of the water. Stir.

Yeah, it’s that easy. We usually buy bottles of lime juice at the store, but if you want to get fancy, you can juice 6 limes instead. It *does* taste better that way.

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MyEnergy Home Dashboard

I’ve been tracking my energy use with the MyEnergy Dashboard for about a year now, and it’s a really easy way to parse data. You just save your username and password for your utility’s site (electricity, natural gas, or water), and each month it automatically updates on MyEnergy. Then you can browse through the information however you want. One way is a chart with usage over time. It illustrates very dramatically the drop in our gas usage when our landlord replaced the furnace.

The difference the new furnace made is dramatic.

The difference the new furnace made is impressive.

MyEnergy also lets you compare your energy usage with others who have signed up for the service in your town, with a handy dandy continuum that shades from green to red to give you visual cues. You can even set “friends” to compare yourself to. Proponents of community-based social marketing say that social norms (basically, peer pressure) are an effective way to get people to take environmentally friendly action, like saving energy, and I have to admit that I’m a little embarrassed that my gas usage in the winter is so much higher than the norm in Cambridge. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually taken action on it yet. We did a lot of weathersealing when we first moved in here, and I think the next step would be something more drastic, like convincing my landlord to do an energy audit and add more insulation. I’m working myself up to it.

Ouch.

Ouch.

MyEnergy was just bought by Nest. I don’t know what that means for MyEnergy (other than them pushing the thermostat on the website), but I’m hoping Nest will integrate their technology with it so you can track your energy usage even more granularly. I don’t have a Nest yet, but Massachusetts does have a $100 rebate…

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