4 Building Materials that can Drastically Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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Did you know that in the US, buildings and skyscrapers use more than 40 percent of the country’s energy? Skyscrapers are bigger power hogs than the transportation and industrial sectors. So one way to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to use different materials when constructing these skyscrapers.

Here are 4 materials that can be used when building skyscrapers that will dramatically reduce power consumption:

Zero-Carbon Building Block
zero carbon building block

Replaces: Cinder blocks
Manufacturer: Lignacite

How it works: Carbonated aggregates (CO2 mixed with sand, cement, and water) plus recycled materials create one of the first carbon-negative chunks of masonry.

Heat and Light – Blocking Windows

heat and light blocking windows

Replaces: Old-school glass
Manufacturer: Heliotrop Technologies

How it works: An electro-chromic coating lets a relatively inexpensive glass composite window adjust heat and light transfer to reduce energy consumption.

Pollution-Eating Concrete

Pollution eating concrete

Replaces: Concrete
Manufacturer: Marshalls Paving

How it works: Titanium dioxide in “Noxer blocks” traps nitrogen oxides and potent greenhouse gases and converts them to water-soluble nitrates.

Solar Shingles
solar shingles

Replaces: Roof-mounted solar panels
Manufacturer: CertainTeed

How it works:
Building integrated photovoltics, or BIPV, have been around since 2005, but they were not as affordable as they are today.

Why Paternity Leave is Good for the Kids and Wife

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Fathers who take a long period of leave (two weeks or more) after a birth are more likely to regularly engage in early child-caring tasks such as feeding and reading bedtime stories than fathers who do not take time off.

Dad's who take paternity leave
After the baby comes, most men have to return to work immediately because of financial reasons. And of course, the employer has no obligation to pay the father for parental leave. Unfortunately that is the law of the land. But in some other countries like Norway, Sweden, Australia and soon Britain, fathers do and will receive paid time off for paternity leave. The idea is encourage men to become more involved in caring for their children, share the role of caregiver at home, and help women return to the workplace. While the obvious happens – Fathers become more involved in childcare activities such as helping a baby to eat, changing diapers, bathing and reading to a child, there is now further evidence to conclude why paternity leave is good for the kids and wife.
why paternity leave is good for wife
According to new academic research, findings show that:
  • The children of fathers who take long leave after their birth are more likely to perform better in cognitive development tests and are more likely to be prepared for school at the ages of four and five
  • In almost any way a child can be better off, they are better off for having an involved father in their lives. Kids stay in school, do better in school, get into less trouble, get arrested less, get divorced less, have better health
  • Having men help at home can help women establish breast-feeding and can also increase a man’s sensitivity to his partner’s needs, strengthening family bonds as a whole
  • With Dad stepping in to help out, it helps make returning to work for Mom much easier. Returning to work after maternity leave is a huge stressor for many moms because of having to re-arrange work life around the new baby. With dad helping out, Moms can make a smooth transition back into the work place by arranging to have flex time or just work part-time
  • It gets men more invested in the household from the get-go. “When a baby comes, it sort of recalibrates the division of labor at what one economist has called a crucial time of household renegotiation. It has surprising ripple effects further down the road, particularly with regard to routine chores that have to be done every day or every night, and therefore frees up women to work longer hours”

I think in a few years the stigma associated with men who take extended leave when a baby is born will disappear. Moreover, since we’re in a situation now where women in many cases are better educated than men, it is imperative for countries and companies to find ways to keep these highly productive women in the workplace. But enough talk about the chores, the beauty of this idea is that it helps fathers bond with their children – and that is priceless.

About the author – Eric Melchor is a native Houstonian who resides and serves on the Midtown Management District in Houston Midtown, is a former adjunct Professor at UHD, and has lived in NYC and Europe.

Why we are Pawns in the Hands of the Health Care Industry

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Imagine shopping for a car and while you are at the car dealership, kicking the tires, test driving the car you like, you have no idea what the value of the car is. In fact, there is no official pricing information about the car on the window. Sounds like a far-stretched idea, but in the early 1950s, such a pricing sticker didn’t exist. It wasn’t until US Senator Mike Monroney shepherded a bill through Congress requiring that official pricing information be glued to the window of every new automobile sold in the US. It was a very effective means of disclosing the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, and a way to show other important information to the consumer such as facts about the fuel economy, its environmental rating, and more.

The sticker price has made buying a car easier, rational, and understandable. Knowing the base price of something allows us what to expect, and if the price is higher than normal, then we will expect more value. Gone are the days of irrational and inexplicable pricing – at least for the car industry.

Price appendectomy

Today, there is another industry in desperately need of a ‘sticker price’. It is the Health Care industry. Playing a game of blind man’s bluff, the Health Care industry routinely charges outrageous amounts of money for services that are actually inexpensive. For example, in a recent study of the costs of routine appendectomies performed throughout California, though the procedures were largely identical, the charges varied anywhere from $1,529 to $182,955. Why was there such a huge difference? Good question, but efforts to discover the answer have turned out to be futile. Costs are like trade secrets. We need more than an MSRP sticker, we need a medical Freedom of Information Act wouldn’t you agree?


The Health Care industry is about patients, but the patient population has been largely powerless. Over time, the patient has been reduced to merely another raw material while members of the medical community – hospital chains, nationwide insurers, and large employers have become much more powerful. This should not be the case. In time, patients will likely demand to know more what their dollars are being spent on. That is how American consumerism has always operated, but what we need is transparency in treatment, cost, and institutions – in other words, a digital price sticker.

Original story “Sticker Shock” by Andy Grove, featured in Wired, November 2012.

Lessons Gun Dealers can Learn from DOT

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In the past few years, 51 lives have been lost at the hands of three mentally ill young men. Can anything be done to prevent guns from getting in the hands of the mentally distressed?

It’s very easy for a person with a documented psychiatric disorder to access a gun. So how can licensed dealers prevent firearms from getting in the hands of the mentally ill? Well, we can take a page out of the Department of Transportation screening process. When a truck driver wants to get a license to operate an 18-wheeler in Texas (which is equally deadly if used irresponsibly), they have to provide medical records. These records are detailed and include vital signs, lab work and medical conditions. After the DOT reviews the medical records for each patient, the DOT deems if that person is capable of driving a truck. This careful scrutiny of truck drivers is intended to protect our roads from the dangers of these big rigs when operated improperly. Should we not do the same thing for would be gun owners?

In the past 5 years, 51 people have been killed by three mentally distressed people. The deaths are irreversible, but gun legislation is not. In 1791, the simple idea that it was the citizen’s right to use a gun to hunt and protect himself led to the Right to Bear Arms. Maybe today, adding a few clauses such as mandating states to upload mental health records onto a federal database, educating gun retailers about proper screening for mental health and prohibiting gun sales to all psychiatric patients wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Original story “Time to make it harder for mentally ill to get guns” by Monica Ghosh Kalra featured in the Houston Chronicle on August 31, 2012.

Who is going to Solve the World’s Water Crisis? Singapore.

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Did you know that 3,900 children die every day from water borne diseases? Moreover, more than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, namely 1.1 billion people, and more than two out of six lack adequate sanitation. So with the population ever increasing, it’s only a matter of time before we face a critical shortage of drinkable and potable water. Luckily, the Singapore Public Utilities Board has found a solution.

In an effort to reduce reliance on water imported from Malaysia, Singapore turned to reverse osmosis – in essence, converting wastewater into H2O. Yes that’s right, water filled with urine and pooh. How did they do it?

Four treatment plants throughout the country take sewage, filter it through several membranes, and expose it to ultraviolet light to make it safe to drink. Now 30% of the country’s total water demand is met using recycled sewage water.

The most difficult challenge for Singapore to overcome was not building the treatment plants or implementing the reverse osmosis, but persuading people to drink the urine. To combat this, a dedicated communications team conducted a massive public education campaign which included a TV documentary. They also released the cleaned-up wastewater into resevoirs where it got re-treated along with regular tap water. Psychologically, this extra step was vital in helping the people of Singapore accept NEWater as drinkable water.

Original story ‘Gross National Product’ by Erin Biba, featured in WIRED, Sept. 2012.

How today’s playground actually discourage activity

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We all know that the internet and fast food are some of the problems to blame for child obesity, but now there is evidence to show that school playgrounds also contribute to this epidemic. Yes, school playgrounds.

For years now, schools have chopped down trees and have replaced the playground space with asphalt and basketball goals in belief that it would encourage exercise and make kids happier. However, researchers at the University of Western Ontario discovered that the opposite is true. By planting global positioning systems on elementary school children in an effort to understand how their environment influences their activity levels, researchers are learning that kids won’t use the playground for a number of reasons.

First let’s take a step back and take a mental picture of what a school playground looks like. For many years, playground design consisted of picking a gym set out of a catalogue. They are generally flat areas of asphalt with little seating, little shade, and one big metal play structure (aka jungle gym). Now with that said, researchers are learning that during recess time in the Spring, there is no shade so kids are waiting for recess to end. In addition, some kids won’t use the jungle gym because the older kids are monopolizing it.

Research has also revealed that outside of the playground, children are more likely to walk to school when there are tree-lined streets because they feel more shielded from traffic. The study is not finished yet, but the learnings so far have been amazing.

Original story appeared in The Globe And Mail, Aug. 31, 2011.

Substance Abuse Problems? If in Houston visit PDAP, it’s free.

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If you haven’t heard already, several community centers in the Houston area have either reduced hours or closed down because of budget woes. Thank goodness the Palmer Drug Abuse Program (PDAP) is not burdened by the fiscal constraints facing Governments. PDAP is a program in Houston where a young person can walk in and ask for help, and no one will ask how much money they have, what their family’s income is, or whether they have insurance.

PDAP has been in service for 40 years. Rather than focusing on treatment or therapy, it relies on a 12-step program designed to help kids realize that if they loved, accepted, and supported one another, the could go forward and live a sober, happy, stable life.

There are six satellite PDAP locations throughout the city that serve between 550 and 600 kids annually. Regardless of one’s degree of substance use or abuse, PDAP is a safe place to come, to have fun, to engage with their peers, to learn social and leadership skills and to be around other kids who have made the choice not to take drugs or consume alcohol.

So far this year, 70 percent of participants who actively participate in the program achieve 30 days or more of sobriety. If you know someone who has a substance abuse problem, please tell them about PDAP. Thanks.

Original story by Rick Burleson, “Offering a second chance”, Houston Chronicle, May 29, 2011