Saturday, May 2, 2015

Environmentally friendly options for outdoor plants

A while back I did a post on household plants that filter indoor air pollution. I selected those that, in my experience, were hardy and could do well if neglected (I also had a special subset that were non-toxic, and thus safe for homes with cats and dogs). You can check out the post here.

Today, I'm looking at outdoor plants. Like most city dwellers, I do not have a lot of room (or time) for outdoor plants. Also, I am not a very good gardener (Okay, fine, I'm a terrible gardener). But I do have a little balcony, and I would like to look out from time to time and see some nice flowers or something. For my situation, I'm looking for plants that are 1) pretty, 2) drought tolerant (i.e., low maintenance), 3) well suited for containers, and 4) native and/or beneficial to local butterflies and bees.

Thankfully, my sister is an amazing gardener. And trained horticulturalist. And specializes in natives and xeriscaping (drought tolerant landscaping). And, did I mention, amazing? Anyway, her main advice is to buy organic plants and potting soil. Too often the plants and soil is laced with pesticides that hurt bees and butterflies.

Here are the plants that even I can't kill. Not all of them are native, but none are invasive and they otherwise meet the conditions of growing well in pots, being drought tolerant, and providing food for butterflies and bees.

Top left: nasturtium; top right: cape honeysuckle; bottom left: sage; bottom right: California poppy and cacti; middle: lavender.

Here's a great resource I found while researching the topic.

Comedy Saves the Earth

I don't know where I first read it, but I believed it then and I believe it now. One of the best ways to fight ignorance, especially embattled ignorance, is through comedy. There is no rational way to persuade people who do not believe in science or empirical evidence. So, instead of pursuing a logical path, you have to find a way around it.

Comedy is one of those ways (narrative is another way, but that is a topic for another day). By using jokes, you can break the ice, catch the other person off guard, and stick something in his or her brain that will last a lot longer than an impersonal and disregarded fact.

Here is my small collection of ammunition, to which I hope to add more as time goes on.

1. Obama talking about climate change with help from his "anger translator".

2. Daily Show's John Oliver on the real global warming debate. God bless Bill Nye!

3. Sierra Club's Eco-Comedy Video Competition Winners -- This one is from 2013 on plastic bags. Hilarious!

4. Bikini's as proof of global warming

Should I upgrade to LED bulbs?

The Question

A family member recently asked for my opinion about an article from Wired that urges readers to go out and buy new Philips LED bulbs (the subtitle is "Officially too cheap to ignore").

The Answer

You absolutely can if you want to. There is no downside to doing it (excepting figuring out the best way to dispose of the old bulbs). However, the upside is probably smaller than you imagine. My advice would be to buy new LED bulbs as your old bulbs burn out. Prices will keep going down, so there is no need to rush out and buy them now (plus, newer models of LED bulbs are getting better for enclosed and recessed lighting fixtures). 

The average home uses 5-10% of their energy on lighting. Unless you have a large number of bulbs that you are using very, very frequently, I would not expect any noticeable savings on the energy bill. 

Much more of your overall energy use comes from heating (anywhere from 35 to 50% from the estimates I've read, see graphic below). It would be much better to focus on more efficient ways of heating a room than to focus on lighting.