Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us -- it's the Week in Green.
Our smartphones have become more than just an accessory -- in some ways they're an extension of ourselves -- but we might want to rethink our relationship to the technology. Marcus Bleasdale's sobering images, published in the October issue of National Geographic magazine, pull back the curtain on the many men, women and children who are locked into a cycle of horrific exploitation driven by the demand for consumer electronics. If that depressed you, here's a little photographic dose of awe and inspiration to make you feel better. Check out this set of jaw-dropping images of Earth taken from outer space that were curated by the European Space Agency as part of its "Observing the Earth" archive. San Francisco resident Judah Schiller found a way to bike across the San Francisco Bay by creating a "water bicycle" that floats on a pair of pontoons. French biochemist Pierre Calleja unveiled an innovative new lamp that is powered entirely by a tube filled with glowing green algae. And Inhabitat even managed to find a green lining to the government shutdown that has furloughed almost 1 million federal employees: Cutting back on the workforce might reduce the nation's emissions.
The Solar Decathlon -- the world's biggest green design competition -- comes to a close today, and Inhabitat has been on the scene in Southern California reporting on all the contestants. Some of this year's best homes include Team Capitol DC's net-zero Harvest Home, which is wrapped with an edible garden; Team Las Vegas' DesertSol Home, which is perfectly suited for a harsh desert climate; and Team SCI-Arc and Caltech's DALE House, which expands to more than double its size. Some of the other highlights at this year's event included Team Austria's LISI Home, which uses a movable exterior curtain to keep cool, and Stanford's Start.Home, which is built around a prefabricated mechanical core.
Millions of Americans were angry about the government shutdown, partly because of the hypocrisy of it. Here's a prime example: While ordinary citizens have been shut out of the country's national parks, it's been business as usual for oil and gas companies that have been able to continue extracting fossil fuels from federal lands. Meanwhile, 90 percent of the country's nuclear regulators were furloughed last week. In other energy news, researchers in California made a major breakthrough for nuclear fusion by focusing beams from the world's most powerful laser onto a tiny hydrogen pellet, generating more energy than was absorbed by the fuel. A kid-powered merry-go-round in Ghana generates electricity from the power of play, and the world's largest binary geothermal power plant just opened in New Zealand. Geothermal doesn't rely on weather conditions, so it can run around the clock without interruption. Advances in renewable energy technology may seem frustratingly slow in real time, but we've actually come a long way. Thanks to technological advances, the cost of solar PV cells has dropped an amazing 99 percent since 1977.
In other green design news, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei recreated his enormous Forever Bicycles installation, which is made up of 3,144 bikes, at this year's La Nuit Blanche culture festival in Toronto. Mexican architect Juan Carlos Ramos unveiled designs for the Pyramid House, which looks like a mini replica of the pyramids at Giza. Wilkinson Eyre's Gardens by the Bay in Singapore hauled in the 2013 RIBA Lubetkin Prize for the best new international building. Designer Fredrik Colting unveiled The Tikker, a morbid wristwatch that lets its wearers know how much time they have left before they die. And Brooklyn-based designers Emily Webster and Mustafa Bagdatli developed Tangeez -- a set of recyclable, circular plastic building discs that use LED lights to create a wide combination of colors.