Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Way back in the mid-twentieth century, if you lived in proximity to the border, finding Canadian coins in your pocket or coin purse was common. Even rolled coins dispensed by banks likely had a Canadian coin or two. Because of a difference in weight or metal content, vending machines had to display notices that Canadian coins could not be used. The exchange rate typically favored the U.S. but not by much. Many merchants would accept Canadian currency, but at a discount.

When I operated a retail business on the northern Oregon coast, occasionally a customer would refuse to accept a Canadian coin in change and I thought, Oh, you’re from California. Over time, the exchange rate widened and Canadian coins no longer were generally accepted anywhere.

Canada, unlike the U.S., stopped circulating pennies a few years ago because the cost to produce a copper coin was more than one cent. Also unlike the U.S., dollar and half-dollar coins are commonly in circulation. They also have a two-dollar coin. The smallest currency denomination is five dollars. The Canadian dollar coin featured the image of a loon, so it became known as a “loonie.” The two-dollar coin, naturally, is a “toonie.”

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Saving Birds from Renewable Energy

As electricity-producing wind farms proliferate, more birds die. Researchers have found a simple solution to the birds being killed by flying into wind turbines. Painting one of the three blades black reduces the carnage by seventy percent. One black blade minimizes “motion smear” of the whirling blades, making a turbine more visible.

According to a noted expert, wind turbines are a mortal danger to already-endangered bald eagles. “The windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles. They’re killing them by the hundreds.” The expert went on to state his credentials: “I know windmills very much, I have studied it better than anybody.”

An actual scientist says about a hundred bald eagles are killed annually by wind turbines. The total of all bird deaths caused by turbine blades is about three-hundred-thousand birds each year.

For some perspective:

  • Various studies estimate that in the United States, cats kill two- or three- billion (with a “B”) birds each year.
  • Flying into windows causes the death of somewhere between four-hundred thousand and a billion birds.
  • Crashing into cell and radio towers claim another seven-million bird lives.

Enough about birds. What about people? According to that same noted expert, wind turbines also cause cancer in humans.

Solving the Wild Peeing Problem

It’s been a problem as long as guys have been drinking beer. There’s not always a nearby place to relieve one’s self. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Fewer public rest rooms are open. Many businesses although open, have closed their facilities, even to customers.

Public urination causes problems and not just of decorum. Urine has a corrosive effect on buildings and other structures. (In my urban neighborhood, it’s mostly dogs leaving their stains and aroma on building corners, pillars and posts.) In the city of Amsterdam, fifteen people a year fall in and drown when pissing into canals. But the city is doing something about what they call the “wild peeing.”

A Dutch company is marketing “GreenPee,” a stand-alone urinal that requires no plumbing or sewer connection. GreenPee is a planter with vegetation growing out if it. On the side is an opening with a target zone for a person to aim at. Inside the planter is hemp which captures the urine. Amsterdam says that since they began installing GreenPee planters in 2018, wild peeing has been reduced by half. (They have also installed a few retractable urinals for women.) The hemp-urine mixture is composted and becomes a phosphate-rich organic fertilizer.

The GreenPee has a reservoir to collect rainwater for the greenery at the top of the unit. The planters also attract bees and other insects that are necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

GreenPee not only gives people something to aim at, but also converts that urine into something useful. A few of these could be helpful in our cities’ tent encampments.

Heating the Planet with Cooling

Good news about the COVID-19 pandemic: it will kill fewer people than will die as a result of the changing climate.

Scientists are sounding alarms that the planet is heating up much faster than predicted. Our environment is changing more quickly than plant and animal species can adapt. The coronavirus affects mostly humans, but a warming planet affects all life.

Fortunately for first-world humans and their pets, air conditioning will protect them from an overheated earth. Or will it?

(Richard M. Nixon liked to have wood crackling in his fireplace. When the room became uncomfortably warm, he cranked up the air conditioning.)

More than 3.6 billion refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioning units are in use around the world, keeping our bodies comfortably cool, our food and beer cold and our pizzas frozen. In days of extreme heat, air conditioning keeps the most vulnerable of us alive. Those that don’t have AC want it and many will get it. Air-conditioning use increases at the rate of ten percent a year.

The problem is that all this cooling contributes to heating up our atmosphere. Cooling units use hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), the replacement for hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), which the Environmental Protection Agency banned in 2010. (Who knows, the current E.P.A. may bring them back.) HFC is not as bad as HCFC, but it’s still a greenhouse gas being diffused into the atmosphere.

Cooling equipment uses electricity, a lot of it, and not very efficiently. Most equipment sold today is only one-half to one-third as efficient as what is available today. And as we know, most methods of electricity production releases greenhouse gases. Clean coal, anyone?

As with most everything, there are no simple solutions.