Friday, January 30, 2009

Trash man

Sustainable Dave, as he's calling himself in his newest venture, spent 2008 attempting to produce as little trash as possible without drastically altering his lifestyle. He chronicled his efforts on his previous blog, 365 days of trash. He didn't just log his trash for the year, he kept it in his basement and weighed it in January. Just about 30 pounds, not bad. According to sustainablog, he did all this while still eating his favorite junk food.

The only drastic measure he took was starting a worm bin to dispose of food and paper scraps. I'm not sure why I'm all hung up on trash here. I guess I feel it's not getting enough attention in the current green hysteria. I'm always happy to see folks thinking about how to simply reduce waste.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The last biofuel standing

Another good step towards biodiesel and ethanol from algae.

I'm still skeptical of biofuels in general, since they generally use lots of land and water and aren't that efficient. Algae are pretty darned efficient and (paradoxically, since they live in a pond) use very little water. If biofuels are going to work, they are going to be algal.

The only other reasonable biofue is celluosic ethanol, which is almost as much of a pipe dream as clean coal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

BPA is everywhere!

My Podcast directory is a little backlogged. I read a biography of Mo Berg, MLB catcher turned OSS agent, a while back and remember the description of his apartment in which months or years worth of unread newspapers and magazines were stacked. He insisted on going through them in order and not skipping anything. I'm approaching that with my podcast list.

The point being, the November 21st Environment report just popped up on my playlist. In it we hear that although many dangerous chemicals enter our body through items we purchase and bring home, most of us don't know it. We also hear about a report that BPA leaches out of any kind of plastic in the microwave.

The continual denial of industry spokespersons is laughable at this point. Even if each case is small, people eat lots of stuff from microwaves and much of it is heated in plastic. That's going to add up really quick. If you add up all the BPA in all the Campbell's microwave soups and released the same amount into the water supply of a small city (maybe the same size as the number of soup eaters), you'd hear something about it.

Exit strategy

The last post on curtailment was pretty much an unorganized brain dump. I have a whole lot of related ideas to these and will probably continue to off load them here in an attempt to formulate some more coherent opinions.

We recently saw one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history come to light. One of my first thought on this (and I'm not the only one) is that the global economy and stock markets in general are large part pyramid scheme. Investments get positive returns only if the economy grows in either investors or consumers. What happens when there are no more people to invest? What happens when there are no more customers?

Resources are fundamentally limited on this planet. Whatever your view of a reasonable lifestyle and the longevity (or lack thereof) of the fossil fuel supply, there is a maximum number of people that can live on this Earth. At some point we will reach that number and the only way to get new customers is to take them from somewhere else. The global economy will (unless we colonize Mars) stop growing at some point. What happens then? Does the pyramid scheme unravel? Can we gracefully reach a stable state without a large correction?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


This book review over at Sustainablog got me thinking about ways the next century may play out. I got so lost in my thoughts, that I didn't finish the first paragraph of the review.

First of all, forget about global warming for now. Yes, it's real and we should address it, but it is just one of many reasons why there will be a lack of resources (by western standards) in the future. There are lots of ways this could play out, but if things don't change, there the bottom billion or two are in for some serious hurt. Meanwhile, those of us who helped cause the problem will have to cut back. The question in my mind is whether we can change our ways before anything really bad happens.

The Earth is a complex system of energy and resource cycles fueled mainly by the sun. If things get too out of balance, there will be a correction. Think famine and disease more than "The Day After Tomorrow." If it's not economically and politically feasible to preemptively change our ways, maybe we should try to more the global economy towards a system that will gracefully reach it's stable point rather than grossly over shoot it require a serious correction.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The original green revolution

For many of us raised in the last few decades, the words "green revolution" are more likely to thoughts of organic farming and vegan diets than John Deere and Monsanto, but roughly half a century ago, the industrialization of agriculture vastly improved yields and threatened to end large scale hunger.

In the 21st century, the label "Green revolution" is beginning to look poorly named. It did produce huge crop yields, but only with heavy dependence on petroleum to create fertilizer. Industrial agriculture takes a heavy toll on the environment in many ways. First, monoculture directly reduces biodiversity on farms. Heavy pesticide and antibiotic use selects for more virulent pests and destroys the diversity of beneficial bugs (both invertebrates and microbes). Heavy fertilization (along with antibiotics and pesticides and herbicides) wash out into the environment causing blooms of opportunist organisms (algae in lake eutrophication) who drive out other species and upset ecosystems. Corporate farming places a bureaucratic wedge between decision makers and the land causing the deterioration of the environment to go unheeded.

Michelle over at Garden Rants wondered recently if there isn't a better way. I'm inclined to agree with her. I also wanted to point out that one of the lessons I see in the green revolution is that creating more food won't make hunger go away. Hunger seems to be largely a political and economic problem.

By attempting to modernize the third world in the image of the developed world, we have laid bare our shortcomings. Our current model is unsustainable, and the currently developing areas of the world need to change tack and look for new models of sustainable development. We can, I believe, best help that by looking inward to try and address our own failing first, whether as an individual, a community, or a nation.

Of course we can't stop trying to help those around the world who are in desperate need, but we need to stop pretending that our way is the best and only way. We all know the old saying about giving a man a fish. But instead of merely teaching him how we fish, we should helping him find the best way to fish his pond. It will probably work much better than our methods, and we may learn something in the process.