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Mitzvah Moments by Tish Levee - August 2016

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Mitzvah Moments by Tish Levee - August 2016

by Tish Levee

Could we fix our potholes and save energy, too?

I’ve been getting notices from the City of Santa Rosa’s Transportation and Public Works Department about work in my neighborhood this summer, filling potholes and doing the annual slurry seal on the streets. Could there be a better way to spend money than doing this over and over and over? Missouri’s doing just that. Following the lead of several foreign countries, Missouri will be installing the first solar panels on a public right of way in the U.S. by the end of this year.

The Netherlands built the first solar road – a bike path – in 2014. Its first year, 300,000 bikes and mopeds traveled the 230-foot stretch between two Amsterdam suburbs, producing enough energy to power three households, more than had been expected. This January France announced plans to install 621 miles of solar roads over the next five years, to supply power to five million people, and a Germany company, Solmove, made plans to add solar panels to German roads. But it’s Idaho’s Solar Roadways, a small company founded by Scott and Julie Brusaw, that’s creating a solar road on part of historic US Route 66. They raised $2.2 million on Indiegogo and have received three rounds of US government funding.

Although solar roads aren’t as efficient as solar panels on buildings – they can’t be tilted to catch the sun – the sun’s rays can strike some roads up to 90 percent of daylight hours; they take up comparatively little land and can be installed in heavily-populated areas.

Interest in the Brusaws’ venture has come from every state and most countries around the world, with the first contract coming from Missouri. Besides the energy generated by the roadways, they can include LEDs for signage and heating elements to melt snow and ice. They is also a potential for solar roads to charge electric vehicles. Because so much of the country’s surface is devoted to roadways, creating solar farms out of them can go a long way to halting climate change. The Bursaws estimate that using solar panels on roadways instead of existing roads and walkways in the US could produce more than triple the amount of electricity the country uses. To learn a lot more about this great project, which could also create many, many jobs, check out the YouTube the Bursaws did for their Indiegogo campaign in 2014 at youtube.com/watch?v=qlTA3rnpgzU. As it mentions, we don’t have to wait for our Deptartment of Transportation; we can start using this product on driveways and parking lots anytime.

Let’s follow San Francisco’s lead on this one. 

As part of its plan to be Zero-Waste Free by 2020, San Francisco just voted to completely ban all Styrofoam products (none of which are biodegradable) starting in 2017. Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups alone annually. If you want a Styrofoam ban here, too, write your local city officials or county supervisor or send a letter to recyclenow.com (you’ll find lots of good information on recycling here, also).

Reduce global warming and save money by not wasting food. 

Between 25-40% of all food grown, processed, and transported in the US is never consumed. In the US, that’s 35 million tons a year; 97% of its ends up in landfill, where it is a major source of methane – a greenhouse gas that contributes 21 times as much to global warming as carbon dioxide does. Every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Each year waste food costs a family of four nearly $600. Finding lots of tips on how to save by Googling “reduce food waste.”

Where do I learn about all this stuff? 

A lot of the information I get comes from various climate organizations, via email. I want to start sharing some of my favorite websites with you. I really like 1millionwomen.com.au, because it does a lot of what I wanted to do when I started this column ten years ago. This is an Australian site, so some of the language and ideas may seem a bit “off,” but they have some great ideas.