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Archive for February, 2012

The Scientific American article, “Can we get off oil now?” dated February 28, 2011 has some very interesting points.

Too much of our oil we are dependent on comes from countries like, Africa, Middle East and Venezuela. (See full list of members of OPEC: http://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/about_us/25.htm) Many of these countries either have internal strife or they are not very friendly to the U.S. (they just like our money). Any of these countries could at any time begin the process of cutting off our oil supply and would we have enough money, oil reserves and troops to go after the oil?

The article says it well: “Eight of the top nine oil exporters are dictatorships or autocratic kingdoms, a control structure funded by our own dollars that is suddenly being shaken.” This was after the banking collapse and the financial crisis.

This paragraph brings home some of the hidden costs of oil most people have no idea exist: “The payoff of significantly reducing oil consumption would reach far beyond the economy and the environment, by the way. A study by Boyden Gray and Andrew Varcoe noted that oil companies are permitted under a waiver of the Clean Air Act to include known carcinogens such as benzene, toluene and xylene in gasoline, which raise octane (power output). The study showed that the added cost to healthcare and shortened lives in the U.S. comes to more than $100 billion a year.”

The article says what so many have said before: “To be clear, the goal is to break U.S. addiction to oil, not just foreign oil.” But how?

One solution is to get us off oil by transitioning toward liquid fuels that can take the place of petroleum is to implement a $1-per-gallon-gasoline-tax. This tax would be phazed in over time a nickel each month to give people time to begin finding alternatives, other options. This tax is the idea of Thomas Friedman who advocated that the tax go to lower the national deficit. Other people say the tax should go to fund new alternative fuels.

The RAND Corporation in a white paper they issued argued for a crude oil tax, “at the refinery, spreads the burden across all taxpayers, not just motorists and truckers.” Spreading out the tax would be more preferable, but then it would have to be significantly more than a dollar-per-barrel.

Another option would be to have two kinds of taxes, one on the crude itself and to help reduce car usage, and its associated health and other hidden costs on society tax both diesel and gasoline at the pump. Both could be fazed in over a period of a year at a nickle at a time at the pump, or in the case of crude, $5 a barrel every 3 months.

There is also the argument that subsides would have to phazed out just as the tax is being phazed in to make other options more affordable and desirable.

But, would this move us toward something better? No! Not necessarily. There is no gaurantee that something better would happen as corporations are known for taking short-cuts and doing what is in their best interests and makes them, and their stock holders, a profit. Here are my thoughts.

Hybrid and Flex-fuel vehicles are a joke. If were to have used them we should have started back in the late 70s and 80s. We need to move faster than implementing something that will take years to get them into the hands of the public.

Electric cars sound like a good idea but tell me, how much of that car is made with petroleum products? Did a light bulb just come on? Have never thought about this before? The answer varies slightly but around half of every car has parts that are made from petroleum. Here is a list: bumper, cloth covering the whole inside of a car, the floor carpets, all the hoses and belts, the battery casing, coating on the wires, lenses for all the lights, door panels, dashboard, seats, mirror housing,  knobs, switches, gauges, sound-system, ignition system, cables, computer, oil, lubricant, seat-belt, brake line, brake fluid, floor petals, anti-freeze, fuel line, steering wheel, and wheels. Did I miss anything? It really doesn’t matter because the point is, the car is able to move due to petroleum and is almost completely made from petroleum. So electric cars are out.

Hydrogen cars are out. Don’t even get me started talking about what a colossal waste in every sense of the word persuing Hydrogen as a fuel is. It is NOT a source of energy and never will be. It is an energy carrier. It takes more energy to liberate hydrogen from its bonds that you get out. Besides like the electric car it would be mostly made of petroleum.

Liquid fuels are a serious waste of money. We can make use of ethanol (not from corn) and biodiesel (from more than soy) to transition off of petroleum but we will never be able to grow enough to supply every car, truck, train, or boat with a liquid fuel. We would face a serious limitation in how much we can grow and still be able to feed ourselves. Liquid fuels from other sources, like coal or natural gas would face their own peak and quick decline soon after their introduction. Besides the idea is we transition off all fossil fuels in order to not be dependent of foreign imports any longer.

What does that leave? Some fringe ideas like cars that run on compressed air. This would actually be a good idea for the interim but not the long-term if we are to move off of petroleum. Running cars on compressed natural gas is another waste of our efforts. We would run out of natural gas in less than ten years if we had any significant number of personal cars using natural gas.

There is no single idea that will keep us all driving our cars, trucks, trains, or boats into the future. There are no alternatives. Don’t even mention algae because the amount of energy input (petroleum is used in lubricating the pumps, growing drums or membranes, tubing, pipes, filter, and some of the chemicals have petroleum ties) would be greater than the energy output. Algae is a lost cause. We should have worked on this one decades ago.

My solution: raise the tax as quickly as possible on both the crude and at the pump. Use the money to build an infrastructure of PRT transit systems, light-rail and both medium and heavy rail relying on electricity to move them, not diesel. Buses for public transit would disappear. Use the tax to set up a lab where brilliant scientists with not corporate ties would be given the task to find ways to mimic nature in producing plastics, along with other products, for the public transit systems. All items produced would have to be produced in such a way that at the end of their life would either be harmlessly returned to the soil or remade in some way so there is never any waste.

And how does this tie into growing food? Duh! 1) Farms would have to be divided up and made much smaller. 2) Food needs to be grown where people live and not transported. 3) We will need to rely more on natural fibers to replace all the petroleum based fibers. 4) The colors used in making cloths or for print work would be replaced with natural materials. 5) All farm equipment would have to rely on either electricity or biodiesel, but the farmer would have to produce it themselves and use it on the farm – no transport involved or the return on invested energy would go way up becoming unsustainable. 6) Nothing less than 100% organic everything. 7) The old systems would have to be allowed to crumble for this transition to occur just like everything eventually dies.

There you have it. I see not other way,  everything else but a direct heading toward complete transition off of fossil fuels as a waste of money and time. I would love to hear what you have to say so please comment.

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For well over a decade people have questioned whether continued growth, especially exponential growth, can be sustained or worth pursuing.  This is for several reasons, there are limits to growth as we live on a finite planet. Resources are not limitless, even nature has limits it imposes and doesn’t allow one species or another to go beyond the limits that lead to its own death. In fact nature allows for die-off to occur limiting any one species to not dominate a particular ecosystem.

Let me first look at Nature. Lets say a particular animal begins to have too many young. If there is plenty of food then nothing happens and all the young that are born not deformed or experience disease live. But if the food or water supply is limited for one reason or another then both the young and older animals die off. Usually the weaker members. Nature keeps a delicate balance so the food or water source is not over exploited to the point of desertification where both plant and animal die off completely as well as any other species within that ecosystem.

The only species that does not limit itself and does everything to prevent natural methods of die-off from occurring is us humans. Modern medicine pats itself on the back with claims of having fended off many diseases through vaccinations or disease prevention methods. In doing so it has allowed many genetic weaknesses to creep into the human gene pool and the eventuality of Pandemic scares many health officials.

So what does this have to do with a No-growth Economy or the I Don’t Pay movement? Everything!

First, we humans have overtaken much of the Earth at the expense of other species and that can not continue. We either reduce our numbers voluntarily or we will find that our numbers will be limited involuntarily.  Second, as cheap energy comes to an end and other resource run out we will find that there is a natural limit to the amount of food we can grow when we can no longer spend 10 to 40 calories to obtain one calorie of food.

Herman Daly, an ecological economist, started in the 1970s to present, and publish books, on the topic of limiting grow and steady growth. His premise is that if an economy comes to a stead state, one that does not continue to grow, will eventually reach a state where it finds an equilibrium to remain below the carrying capacity of the planet. Currently we are consuming enough for two planets and if everyone alive were to live like a person in the U.S. we would need four to five more planets.

The idea of living within our means, the availability of natural resources, does not have to be a life in darkness or hunger as present delusional and misguided economists, and their followers, would have you believe. Where is it written that if we live within the Earth’s natural limits we have to go hungry or without anything? Nowhere.

If we look at Mondragon, Spain we can actually see an economic system that comes very close to being a no-growth economy. Everyone within the cooperative system of Mondragon is neither very rich nor poor. People have often said when driving through the city of Mondragon how nice it looks, how well off things look, middle-class. The businesses within the system are cooperatives which have a triple bottom line where the employees, the business and the community all share equally in any profits. When the financial crisis hit in 2008 the bank within the cooperative didn’t even take much notice. It is one of Spain’s most successful banks.

To have an economy that does not grow does not mean people go without, not do businesses or anything else. It just means no growth. No excess. A limit on greed. It also limits waste.

With Herman Daly’s no-growth economy all physical resource are recycled, repaired, or something else which keeps them within the system and not wasted. By doing away with waste you could naturally do away with pollution, environmental degradation and so forth. In other words, those things that current economics sees as externalities are no longer considered external to the system and are included so they can be dealt with.

With a system adopting a no-growth economy the current I Don’t Pay movement actually makes sense. Why should we pay twice for something that gets government funding and he out of our pockets. It only encourages waste. In a no-growth economy public transit systems would be as free as libraries and everyone would have equal access to them. Having free public transit would also encourage more people to leave their cars at home or not even own one if the infrastructure is there for public transportation. People would argue the opposite but look at European cities that currently have a surcharge to enter city centers actually helps to cut pollution and congestion. It works.

No-growth economics actually works with the limitations of Nature and all the natural resources. As fossil fuels run out there would be a move smoothly toward renewable sources of energy and the transition would be unnoticeable. That is not happening in the U.S. It would also encourage a move toward more local smaller economies as we once had not long ago. Food would be grown closer to home, closer to where it is consumed. In a no-growth society it would also separate industrial sewage from human to create energy, methane, and the resulting valuable fertilizer  would end up back on the land where it belongs.

This idea of closing the loop on resources means they would be recovered for recycling, repair, reviving them, re-purposing, or for remixing them in some advantageous way so they never end up in a landfill. The whole process of using resource would be rethought and reworked to one that leads to being more sustainable.

I’ve just taken you from natural die off all the way through no-growth economics. If we continue with business as usual then we will end up dying off. If we take the advice of people like Herman Daly, and other people like him, then we can follow the lead European countries have set moving toward something that is truly sustainable, without all of the green washing.

Ok, I admit it, I took Herman Daly’s ideas a little further, but they make sense in an economy that does not grow.

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There is a growing movement in Europe at the moment called I Don’t Pay! This post will be most controversial but it goes along with what I am trying to do with the overall Greenhouse Project.

We had Occupy taking over many major cities around the world. People camped out in good and poor weather to make a statement about the state of the world and the way things are being run. Even the major news outlets, blogs and websites keep taking about the 99% and the 1% and how the wealth has moved upwards. How it has been co-opted by few people for their sole greed and no social good has come of it. Phrases like, “too big to fail” have now become part of our lexicon and some have even said that they should have failed to help drag the top downward and broken up the “too big” into much smaller more manageable businesses.

Now I was sent a link to a YouTube video titled, Movement “I Don’t Pay” is spreading acrosss Europe (english subs) [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqeTGTU6FFg ] . The video is not even 5 minutes long and yet it has a powerful message, why pay for social programs. Why pay for things when the government subsides them? Why pay for something like public transit that gets government money? Why are people paying twice for things?

In the United States because our government offices at the state, federal or local levels don’t get audited or have to reveal where they spend their money we often don’t know how our tax dollars are spent or just how much a particular entity is getting. I suspect between the Occupy movement and the I Don’t Pay movement we are going to see much more information coming out to shine a light where there has been none.

Now I know what you are thinking, what does this have to do with food, food production, or the selling or buying of food. In the United States farmers, the big farmers, the corporate farms get huge amounts of subsides to either not plant crops, to plant particular crops, to manage the land as it is leaving it wild, or to produce a particular end product, like sugar. Food and non-food crops and end products are subsidized almost from seed to market, and in some cases they are when dumped onto the international markets.

When I came up with the Greenhouse Project I right away started wondering how can I produce food at the best price possible and even make good whole organic food affordable to people who don’t necessarily make a lot of money. What follows are just some of the ideas I’ve had.

Building the greenhouse where people are so they don’t have to go very far will reduce ‘food miles’ greatly. By reducing what it costs to get food from seed to table in this way will cut production costs. All people would have to do is walk, bicycle or if needed drive a very short distance to buy fresh food just picked moments earlier. People will also increase their nutritional intake by eating food that was harvested at the peak of ripeness.

Energy is one of the biggest contributors to the cost of food raised in a greenhouse. What if the cost could be greatly reduced or even completely eliminated how would that effect the price of food. By building the greenhouse as a passive solar greenhouse it takes advantage of the solar energy gain during the day storing excess heat underground in a heat battery which can help even out the temperature and reduce the need to heat the greenhouse. Now living in Denver, Colorado there will be times when heating the greenhouse in the winter is needed. In the summer there will be days when cooling will be needed or the greenhouse would overheat. How to handle this?

First, by having more than one method of extracting unnecessary heat and storing it. Heat can be stored under the greenhouse in what people now call a ‘heat battery’ which is a concept that came out of the 70s and has been updated a bit. Using fans excess heat is drawn downward underground and stored. When extra heat is needed the same fans transfer the heat back into the greenhouse. Simple actually. In the 70s a rock bed was used and today pipes laid underground are used instead. The same thing really.

Another way to deal with heating, or cooling needs, is to make use of a heat pump that can efficiently store heat in a large tank of water or use that heat for cooling instead. Either way a heat pump makes the best use of the energy input by returning about twice that in heating or cooling. If there is still excess heat on the very hottest days of the year vents and fans would help move the excess out of the greenhouse.

What if it’s the middle of the winter and there is not enough solar gain, then what? That’s where the passive design of the greenhouse comes into play. It doesn’t just rely on one source of energy to keep the greenhouse warm. To help supplement the need for heating small animals can be utilized, like rabbits. These rabbits can be housed throughout the greenhouse to distribute their heat output more evenly. People who work in the greenhouse would also contribute their body heat. These things would not be able to heat the greenhouse on their own so there has to be something more.

A methane digester could be utilized throughout the year to produce methane that is stored in ordinary LPG or larger tanks. The size of the digester would be determined by the amount of material added each day. A simple digester design used in India which holds about 2,500 liters of material would produce enough gas for a family of four to cook all three meals, heat water or produce light using a gas-lantern for several hours each night. Now this digester is small and meant for a single family, but the potential for producing enough methane is there. In the summer the gas would be compressed and stored and when it gets too cold it could automatically be tapped to keep the greenhouse well above freezing.

Combining the passive solar gain with storage, body heat, heat pump(s), and methane production the cost of heating the greenhouse could be reduced to nothing. Electricity could be produced on site using Photovoltaic panels and windmills. Excess electricity produced can be stored as compressed air in the same way methane is stored and when extra is needed it drives a turbine generator combination.

By reducing the cost of food production makes it that much more affordable. Along with these ideas there would also be the idea of Solidarity Economics. This is not a new concept but one that began in early 1990s which came out of ideas stated in the 1970s. It is all about being fair and less of a consumer driven society that is headed for self destruction.

Not one of these ideas is new. Everything I’ve present has been around for decades. Food shouldn’t need subsidizing it should be freely available to every person at a price they can afford.

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I have no idea why so many people treat what Nature does as something new, it’s not. Maybe it is because people have so removed themselves from the natural world, the soil, food production, or even maintaining a healthy organic garden that it seems like new science to them. Nature was the original architect here and it’s been around a lot longer than we have. It not new it is ancient knowledge.

What am I talking about? Simple, the biology of living soil. Of the Earth itself. Without it we would not exist.

I came across an article in the Colorado Gardner: A Thinking Gardner’s Companion, Education Issue 2012. The article titled, ‘Biological Farming & Gardening,’ the author Mikl Brawner. In the article this biological method is actually referred to as a “new” method (his quotes). He is right in saying that, “instead of a bellicose mentality that birthed the pesticide-fungicide-herbicide and chemical fertilizer approach, the biological approach taps the same cooperative relationships that Nature herself has long employed successfully for survival and sustainability.” So why use the word, ‘new?’

The author is also correct in that we shouldn’t be blaming Nature for poor responses in our farming or gardening methods. Pests in the form of unwanted plants (weeds) or insects are not Nature’s fault but people’s own misguided ideas about how to manage them. Plant health is dependent on far more than chemicals. We need to look at the soil itself, the health of the soil to see if all the macro- and micro-communities are fully intact and healthy.  The soil itself is a living organism teaming with many lifeforms from fungi to bacteria and even insects.

The chemical approach looks at only NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potash (potassium)) and sees the soil only as a holding medium for the plant and not as a living thing or living community. That is what “better living through chemistry” has given us – dead soils. Desertification, salt accumulations on the surface, increased water usages, land that is dying are all the result of this method of raising plants for food. The once ‘fertile crescent’ where farming began was turned into a desert by improper farming practices. The fertility of Egypt is disappearing the same way and in California as well as many other parts of the world still relying on improper use of the land. Technology will not help us with this problem. It would actually be better to put aside technology. Only Nature can help us, and is waiting for us to ask for her service.

Masanobu Fukuoka came up with a brilliant approach when he suggested making seed balls. Using seed balls along with other techniques can rehabilitate the soil by reviving the soils communities and allowing green to come back to land once abused by people.

Not many people have heard of Bob Dixon who created the imprinting technique for the Arizona desert. It is actually a simple technique. By dragging a drum with ‘V’ shaped points creating alternating ‘V’ shapes in the soil traps seeds when the wind blows and the next time it rains the desert comes to life with new grasses which begin the process of rebuilding the soil, preventing soil erosion and building up organic matter after just the first year.

Using such techniques along with composting in place or adding organic matter that decomposes on its own time, encouraging microbes and fungi, and the return of humus to the land rather than burying it in a landfill will go a long way to greening deserts and repairing the damage people have done.

In the home garden making compost or dung (poop) tea without brewing it, by steeping it like a sun tea overnight, will help to rapidly rebuild the soils organisms. The various enzymes released will help to break down other matter that then becomes available to the plants.  Using worm castings will help plants to be more healthy and resist damage. Learning to companion plant will help support desired plants or fend off invaders or insects. Once the community is rebuilt it is actually less work than current gardening methods.

In rebuilding your soil’s community it is very important to not constantly disturb the soil by digging or plowing. Rather learn to leave the soil alone and plant using seed balls or by making single holes to add a seed, or to transplant a small plant. Then add additional mulch and compost. Digging is one of the most harmful things we can do to the soil and isn’t necessary. Fukuoka and other No-Till methods have proven this. Whether in the field or garden, leave the soil alone to encourage better health of the soil.

A big thing in many cities is that people have learned to take away dead plants in the Fall or early Spring and send them to the landfill. This is one of the worst things anyone can do. Organic matter does not belong in a landfill.  In the Fall, gather up the leaves and other organic matter and either store it if it is too windy or mulch it right away. The same in the Spring as the ground thaws. All organic matter belongs where is came from, it shelters the soils organisms below, prevents soil erosion by not allowing rain to hit the soil directly, and provides nutrients to new growth. That is Nature’s cycle.

In keeping the soil healthy we stay healthy. By increasing the soils organism we encourage the number of healthy organisms in our own guts which keep us healthy.

Healthy soil = Healthy people.

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Where I live in Denver there is a wonderful project, the GrowHaus, in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood.  Before I even took a trip out there I was told it looked like a bombed out city. There are a number of industries and train tracks that run through the area with people living wherever there is space enough for a house. In the past the area has had its share of  problems with pollution. It is listed as a Superfund site because the  soil is contaminated namely with arsenic and lead. There are other contaminants I am sure. What to do with such a site? How can you honestly encourage people to grow their own food when it would become contaminated?

Let me say this from the onset: I have not seen the EPA report on the levels of contamination or anything else. What follows are just my ideas in hopes to get something moving forward, maybe an idea, and begin the process of allowing people access to clean food from their own garden.

How to deal with persistent poisons like lead and arsenic? After all arsenic is a poison found in rodent kill kits. I’m not exactly sure the exact years, sometime during the Victorian era, people used arsenic in small quantities to harden nails or improve their looks and become resistant to it should anyone try to poison them which had deadly consequences in the end as arsenic accumulated in the body.

In bioremediation plants and other natural sources are used to deal with environmental pollutants. Lucky for us nature has a bacteria and an enzyme that breaks down, reduces arsenic to arsenate. I am no chemist or fully understand the process that allows this to occur. But it seems this bacteria uses arsenite as a food source. Arsenite and Arsenate are two versions with an electron shift. That’s as far as my chemistry goes. I’m sure there’s plenty of scholarly papers on the subject someone could find online.

Onward. Since we have these two toxic substances in the soil we have some ways of dealing with it: take the soil away and bury it or leave it in place. If you leave it in place there are plants along with soil organisms that can be used to help pull the toxins from the soil or deal with them in place.

In studying composting methods and soil building methods I suggest the following two things:

1) A combination of sheet mulching, worm towers and using straw bales to build up healthy soil levels to be able to grow food.
OR
2) Create raise beds that are about four feet tall (or five) filled with clean healthy soil and worms with organic matter.

Both methods work well to get a garden started but the raised bed does little to address the toxins.  People would also have to be completely committed to composting and creating new soil which is added every year. The toxins can become diluted to a point but they are not gone. People would have to go against what they know about gardening and not stir up the soil by plowing or digging. Instead, it would be a process of building up, adding to the top new soil in the form of finished compost.

That is where I would also add worm towers. A PVC pipe with holes drilled in the bottom part of it which is buried in the ground. Compost materials would be added through the top closing it off with a cloth stretched over the opening. This encourages the materials to break down which encourages worms to come into the area to eat and deposit their poop. They will also go in and out of the pipe depositing their poop outside the pipe. Worm poop is a rich fertilizer which can help build up soil nutrients. This will encourage a host of other organisms to move in that can work with the contaminants to help make them not as harmful. Mushrooms have also been used to help clean up sites because they release various enzymes which break things down and recombine substances to make them bio-available for new plants.

Again, this is where I am a little lost in the chemistry. Arsenic is technically something that can’t be broken down. It is a metalloid, being the same family of metal like substances.

By combining methods of bioremediation, sheet mulching, adding new organic matter like compost, clean leaves or straw will help dilute the lead and arsenic in the soil. It is by dilution and as the soil becomes more active with organisms of all kinds that the toxins can become less of a problem. It would take quite a bit of work and time to accomplish this, but it is possible.  Bioremediation makes use of microorganisms which can reduce, eliminate, contain, or transform to a more benign state contaminants present in the soil.

By applying the methods of sheet mulching, composting, worm towers, and adding a good layer of organic material of leaves or straw can help those microorganisms to do their job much better. Feeding them will build a healthier soil and every year the process continues and the better the harvest becomes.

Just so people are clear, I am not claiming that all the poisons will just disappear or be gone in a year and everything comes up roses. This is a process which takes time and it may be that the first year will be a year of planting and discarding plants while adding more compost and organic materials the whole time. This process has been used and can certainly work for the Elyria-Swansea area too. I would love to be there to help this process of bioremediation along, and then maybe someone can teach me the chemistry behind this process.

Build some soil. Grow some food.

 

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In the last few years I have heard time and again about Living Green, or Green Living. The idea is to live in a more sustainable way. Yet, so many people who don’t know better seem to have the notion that if they adopt some of the ideas labeled as Green that they are living in a sustainable way. Not so.

Some of the ideas being pushed as being Green: turn off unused lights & other electronics, use recycled products and recycle as much as possible, buy paper made from non-tree sources such as kenaf or hemp, have houseplants to clear the air, use a ceramic mug instead of a paper or plastic cup each time, use washable flatware and dishes rather than throwaway, add a green roof, carpool, walk more, bicycle, skateboard, roller blade or roller skate, insulate your home, use green energy, use public transportation, change your light bulbs to more efficient ones, turn the thermostat down in winter up in summer, compost and so on …. But are these things sustainable? NO, not by or of themselves. They are only a small piece of an overall puzzle. Don’t get me wrong they are worth doing.

Let me explain. All these things and many more that people are suppose to do that are called Green are on their way to being sustainable but they are not in and of themselves sustainable. Each of these plays its part, if made from things that Nature can recognize and then reabsorb without effort. You see, only Nature is truly sustainable and if Nature can not deal with the waste that an item generates or the item itself once it can no longer be used, reused, recycled or repurposed then it is not sustainable nor is it anywhere near being truly “Green.”

We need to stop producing things that are not sustainable. Rather we need to look to nature to find ways to mimic it. Has anyone looked a beautiful shell? Wondered how it was made? Did you know it was made at so called “room” temperature (in the water or on land) and with a minimum of energy input. The shell was made without mining anything or causing destruction. It was produced one layer at a time from freely available materials without much effort and yet we can not do the same without using a lot of energy and effort. That is what we need to change.

I think that for something to be labeled as “Green” then it should also be fully sustainable in the bigger scheme of things. It should generate no waste, unless that waste is food for something else. It should be easily reused, repaired, recycled, or repurposed before it is returned to Nature to be devoured – with exception of metals which should be continuously recycled.

Nothing should ever find it’s way to a dump-site, burial ground or be disposed of the way in which we currently do. All landfills should be, 1) harvested for the methane until there is no more, about 25-30 years, 2) then opened to have all materials mined for recycling, including the goo at the bottom needs to find a use other than burning it.

So, what does any of this have to do with feeding people or the Greenhouse Project. Everything!

The idea behind this project is to close the loop and recycle nutrients so the soil doesn’t become depleted for continuous production and health of the plants. As the health of the soil goes so does the health of the people, and other life forms.

I propose that the greenhouse itself be made from reclaimed items as far as possible or items that are renewable in some way. The water within the greenhouse be reused as much as possible – grey water used to flush toilets, in hydroponics or a living machine. Black water is used to produce methane before it too is put through a living machine leaving only clean water at the end. The energy (heat, electric, methane, …), which has been reduced to its minimum, be produced from Solar and Wind mainly. (All energy consumption is used in the most efficient manner and no more.  Hard to explain in such a short piece.) That the greenhouse become a model of efficiency, low energy use, maximum food production and an ecosystem itself.

Once food production has been achieved that the project move onto producing fiber for the making of cloths and paper. It grows oil seed plants which can be used straight or converted to biodiesel. The oil can also be turned into plastics or other products. That whatever waste the greenhouse produces is made into something; methane, alcohol, worm food, …, which is then returned to the soil to grow food. No waste. Everything is used somehow.

The fiber which was turned into cloths once used up and can not be used as rags either that it be consigned to the compost or burned as fuel and any metal or plastic items be reused on a new shirt.  That it is returned to where it started from, the soil.

By following this principle we could grow more than enough food to help feed people who normally could not afford healthy organic whole food.  I am not much for giving food away – give a person a fish they eat for a day. I am more in favor of giving people a helping hand to help them feed themselves – teach them to grow food, fish, they feed themselves for life.

Food for life. Hence my overall idea of establishing food forests within the city which neighborhoods maintain and harvest. Would this put us out of business? Maybe. But, that is a long way down the road and we could run out of cheap fossil fuel energy long before that happens. I want to create this process to: 1) work out the kinks and teach others wherever  to do the same, 2) get more people to once again respect Nature as the source that maintains all life on this planet, 3) to grow food in a truly sustainable manner.

We will face opposition from supermarkets, wholesalers, even farmers who would all claim they would go out of business. They would be right. But a system that uses between 10 and 50 calories of energy to bring people their food is not sustainable nor can, or will it, last forever. As cheap energy begins to run out these farmers, wholesalers and supermarkets will go out of business and I hope that this project, and many other projects like it, will be around to help feed people and teach people the skills they need to survive.

Until next time, Go Green to end up Sustainable.

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I talked about poverty and the need to grow more food locally, or give them the land so they can lift themselves out of poverty by first feeding themselves. Once poor people have full bellies they can begin to think about other things. Well there’s another community that is so often overlooked and that’s what this short piece is about.

In my Greenhouse Project, or any other project for that matter, I have not seen one mention as what do for, how to handle or how to address the needs of the disabled community as we run out of oil / energy.  We are seeing the end of cheap abundant energy right now.

This post will not pull punches I will instead head right in and be as honest as I know how. If some people find this not to their liking, too bad. This is an important topic and I will not apologize for it.

Over the last several years I have been doing a lot of reading and talking to people about peak oil, transitioning off oil, energy descent, renewable energy, Passiv Haus, localization, gardening, permaculture and much more. But no one has ever addressed what will happen to people with special needs, disabled people? What would happen if next week we wake up and there is no more oil? Where will people in wheelchairs get electricity to charge them? How will people with respirators breath? How will people with assistive devices communicate or function? If the energy stops, what happens to these people? Do they just stop too?

I have no easy answers as there are so many different types of  needs I can’t possibly address them all. But let me at least present this as a partial solution:

1) When there is a transition town meeting that a representative or members of the disabled community attend to be recognized and made part of the process.

2) When growing food locally is mentioned that any special dietary needs also be included.

3) People need to think about medical needs as part of the whole solution.

4) Members of the disabled community demand a presence in national and international discussions with regard to peak oil, peak water, peak land, energy descent and so on.

5) NGOs / Non-Profits and government entities need to address the needs of the disabled community beyond the basics and what happens when finally the oil runs out or becomes unaffordable.

Many people are seriously mislead by the energy companies into believing that energy is still abundant and we have nothing to worry about. Not so. That is so very untrue. There are so many experts now from many disciplines, and their numbers are growing, saying we need to prepare today. From their collective knowledge I believe we only have until 2030. No, that is not the date we run out of oil, but rather the date when oil will become affordable, because we will realize there isn’t as much as has been claimed. Oops. This will be a big deal to everyone. A very big deal but more so to the disabled community.

What are the answers? I don’t know. The disabled community needs to make their collective voices heard or they will be left out and the future will not be so happy for them.

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