8 Great Green Ideas From the New York Times Best of 2008

The New York Times put out its annual Year In Ideas issue, looking back at the best ideas of 2008. Changing the energy landscape and fighting climate change inspired at least eight interesting of the innovations from scientists, inventors, artists and researchers. The list is strong on theoretical ideas and weaker on good ways to actually implement, but hey, it’s the ideas list — not the best business models of the year list.

The Biomechanical Energy Harvester: The blogosphere dubbed Canadian professor Max Donelan’s biomechanical energy harvester “knee-brace power” earlier this year. While it’s an interesting idea, we think more compact devices that harvest smaller mechanical movement — everyday motion and vibrations — will have a chance of being adopted on a larger scale. For example, M2E Power could soon be selling a device that, when tossed in a backpack or purse, can provide an hour of talk time for some six hours of normal movement (about two days), and will cost somewhere between $25 to $40.

Brickley’s Internal Combustion Engine: Mike Brickley tossed out some parts of the internal combustion engine to cut down on friction by 35 percent and his tweaking could potentially deliver an engine that gets 20 percent better mileage than a standard car.

Carbon Emissions Are a Pain: Swiss inventor Annina Rüst developed a translucent leg band that detects your daily energy usage wirelessly (I don’t really get how, and slowly pokes out stainless steel thorns in your leg — ouch! The point is to remind you that you’re over-consuming and potentially relieve some global warming guilt.

Necessity Defense for Global Warming?: Some Greenpeace activists painted England Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s name on an E.ON power plant smoke stack, and a British jury declared the activists justified in the name of global warming. Pretty unusual, and it likely won’t hold up in other courts.

A Kangaroo A Day Keeps Global Warming Away?: If 11 percent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from methane produced by cattle and sheep, then Australian Wildlife Service’s George Wilson contends that boosting the kangaroo-as-food population and reducing the cattle and sheep population would do a lot. For the international community that doesn’t regularly eat ‘roos, it sounds weird, but hey, whatever works.

An Alternative to Gallons Per Mile: Instead of gallons per mile, a couple of Duke professors are arguing for gallons consumed per 10,000 miles, which they say would help car owners better realize the gains in efficiency and clear up some of the confusion in the counterintuitive MPG system.

Fight for the Rights of Plants: Ecuador recently declared that nature should have constitutional rights, and the result, as the Times puts it, could be “a raft of new lawsuits against oil and gas companies.”

Smart Idea in Boulder: Boulder, Colo., is getting a city-sized smart grid dubbed SmartGridCity courtesy of Xcel Energy; it’ll cost around $100 million.