Archive for the ‘Go Green’ Category

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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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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