Waste To Energy Systems

“Green” and “Sustainable”- New Age Terms For Old Philosophies

“Green” and “Sustainable”- New Age Terms For Old Philosophies

Turn on the news, open a magazine or read a blog and chances are you will come across the "green" and "sustainable" movement that is sweeping the world. It is a necessary change in our way of thinking in order to create a cleaner, safer environment for future generations. But we have to ask ourselves, is this really a new way of living? Or a new spin on a way of life that has been used since the first people settled? Can we learn from our predecessors tried and true ways of life to help guide our efforts?

Ancient cultures used renewable energy concepts to thrive thousands of years ago. Some of these concepts include passive solar energy, sustainable building, and wind energy. Our latest technological advancements stem from very old concepts and understandings of nature thanks to those that came before us.

The Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde CO shown shaded during summer months

Cliff Palace using direct sunlight as warmth during winter. 

Passive solar energy means that basic physical concepts (such as sunshine, warm air rising, and cool air falling) are used to heat and cool a building, without the need for fans, water pumps, or other “active” mechanical equipment (http://www.passivesolarenergy.info/). Over 2000 years ago, cultures like the Ancient Greeks, Chinese, Romans and Egyptians in the East utilized passive solar techniques to warm and cool their homes, along with the ancient Indian cultures in the Americas. They would use their knowledge of sun angles as building guides. The Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde, CO is a wonderful example of this technology. The dwellings are built into the side of a cliff allowing direct sunlight to enter the buildings during winter months and indirect sunlight during the summer months. The Indian culture knew how to optimize the sun's summer and winter path.

Sustainable Building techniques go as far back in history as 600 BC in Mesopotamia. One of the 7 Ancient World Wonders, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was essentially a sustainable building concept know as a green roof. Green roofs serve several purposes for a building, such as absorbing rainwater, providing insulation, creating a habitat for wildlife, increasing benevolence and decreasing stress of the people around the roof by providing a more aesthetically pleasing landscape, and helping to lower urban air temperatures and mitigate the heat island effect (wikipedia). The concept of a green roof has been used throughout history, benefiting all cultures that used them. Vikings were known to use sod as a roofing material for their long houses. In the cold climate, it helped insulate the homes. Even early American settlers in the Great Plains used this building technique, creating the term “Soddies” for these home types.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Ancient vertical windmills located in present day Iran.

Wind energy is probably to most well known renewable energy that has been used through the centuries. From boats to wind mills to cross ventilation for buildings, wind has been harnessed by cultures. The first evidence appears 5,000 with boats being powered by wind on the Nile River. The earliest windmills that were used to grind grain were developed in Sistan, a region in what is today Iran and Afghanistan, in the 600s. The blades on these horizontal-axis windmills were made of sturdy reed mats (National Geographic).

The ancient cultures were green and sustainable out of necessity but the positive effect was that the world was able to sustain the populations’ needs. The most important lesson that we can learn from these ancient cultures is to live within our means, do not produce or acquire more than we need and abandon our disposable mentality. Going back to our roots will make an easier and successful transition into green and sustainability movement, reducing the negative impact the post industrial world has had on the Earth. Everything that we truly need to survive and flourish is already provided to us so it is our job to ensure that we properly care for the source of our existence.

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