Monday, November 20, 2017

Why did these farmers voluntarily pay a lot more for water?

Agriculture uses about 70% of our water, but we gotta eat, right? These Colorado farmers realized that their aquifer was rapidly depleting, so they decided they should pay more for water, a lot more, 3-4 times as much.

What happened? They reduced their water use by about 30% and are still thriving as businesses. The aquifer is recharging. There’s a lesson here for the West.

As for farmer Messick, he says the payoff is worth the added costs.
"It seems stupid to actually tax yourselves and cost yourself more money," Messick says. "But the big picture is you stay in business, you keep your community whole and everybody gives a little."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What would happen if everyone went vegan in the US

Agriculture greats a lot of greenhouse gases, uses a lot of water, and most uses a lot of synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. So what would the effects be if all Americans became vegan. This scientific study indicates it might be somewhat less than previously thought.

According to a new study, a nation of 320 million vegans would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by some 28%, far less than the amount now produced by the livestock industry. The authors claim the switch could also lead to deficiencies in key nutrients—including calcium and several vitamins.

That said, 28% reduction in greenhouse gases would still be something to savor. Take a look at their assumptions to see if you agree with their findings.

Going out in eco-style

Even your last act can make a difference to your family and the earth. Instead of paying a fortune to the funeral industry, more and more people are exploring greener, cheaper alternatives.

When I was on a volunteer vacation to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, I was shocked to find that the cemetary and the lake below was a polluted ‘brownfield site,’ thanks to formaldehyde in the embalming fluid.

This method (of burial) also consumes a great deal of natural resources. Each year, we bury800,000 gallons of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, 115 million tons of steel, 2.3 billion tons of concrete, and enough wood to build 4.6 million single-family homes.
I don’t want to lock the atoms I’ve borrowed at the time of my death in a hermetically sealed box. They aren’t my atoms anyway; you don’t die with the same atoms you were born with. Your body is constantly trading atoms with Nature.  I want my last atoms to go back into circulation. That’s my version of reincarnation. I’ll come back as a tree, a grub and maybe a butterfly.

What do you want?

If you’re curious about options, here’s a recent article.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Here’s a way coal country could participate in renewables

Of course the flattened mountains left by “mountain top removal” could sport solar panels. But Germany is looking into using the mines as a water-battery. Usually these “pumped storage hydropower” systems involve pumping water up to a lake during periods of excess power (eg, wind at night) and then flowing the water downhill through turbines when we need a bit more. But that requires pretty good hills and land for reservoirs.

But what about the mines? They are verticle storage too.
The upper reservoir was set to be built on existing infrastructure, while the lower reservoir would be located more than 500 meters deep in the rock.
I just hope the engineers create a closed system because any water that goes down in the mine will come back seriously polluted if it touches rock.

Here's why coal mines could be crucial cogs in the transition to renewables - CNBC

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Why sustainability should be part of STEM/STEAM

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (add art) are popular trends in education right now. They are certainly important skills to be teaching our youth but we must be careful to prepare them to address the problems of the 21st century, not make them worse.

In our view, STEAM is a means (how) and sustainability should be the end-in-mind (why).

We see at least four benefits in embedding sustainability principles into STEM/STEAM programs:

Innovation should be directed toward solving the world's problems.  Teaching kids to build robots is fine, but what about having them build robots that can clean up an oil spill, plant trees, or open doors for amputees? Sustainability, writ large, encompasses all the big problems of the world. Linking STEAM and sustainability can increase student engagement. They want to be part of the solution, not a helpless recipient of previous generations' mishaps.

Systems thinking reduces unintended consequences. Too often we have solved one problem only to create a bigger one. Think of DDT or the pesticide/food production/bee problem. Since sustainability involves looking at the interconnections between the environment, economy and community, it reduces the chance that innovations will have serious unintended consequences. At a minimum sustainable thinking will help identify potential consequences so they can be managed.

Sustainability already has a robust toolbox. The typical engineering approach has been called Heat-Beat-Treat. The industrial society has been Take-Make-Waste. Both are unsustainable. We certinaly don't want to be reinforcing that thinking with our youth. Instead sustainability practitioners have developed a large suite of tools that might inspire or inform STEAM projects. For example, biomimicry uses nature as inspiration. Already companies are making paints inspired by the cleaning process of lotus leaves or bullet-proof vests based on the strength of spider filament. Here's a short list of techniques that students could draw upon:
Employers are looking for people with sustainability knowledge. This region is trying to brand itself as a sustainable destination, so we will need people who understand these concepts to help bring our institutions and businesses up to expectations. More and more careers have a sustainability component and new careers are being born. Countries around the world are working toward 17 Sustainable Development Goals (like zero hunger, clean energy, sustainable communities).

Why is it hard for some to embrace a plant-based diet?

For me, becoming a vegetarian was a relief. It’s so tricky to cook beef or fish just right. You have to worry about salmonella from chicken. I felt bad about how animals were treated. Groceries were cheaper without the meat and fish, and it was suddenly easy to keep off the weight. The only seriously over-weight vegetarian I ever knew preferred Mac-and-cheese and cheesecake to more normal vegetarian fare.

I still feel a little guilty about the dairy and eggs, but I tried the vegan yogurt-equivalent and just couldn’t get into it. And then there’s cheese. I try to comfort myself that we don’t eat a lot of either and I try to buy from responsible producers. At least nothing had to die to feed me (well, other than the carrots, and if I’m honest calves so I could have a little milk.)

With fears of climate change, some are calling for everyone to become vegetarian or vegan. But this Popular Science article asserts that it’s unrealistic. According to the article, five times more people lapse than stick with it. One of the barriers is that it can make people feel awkward in the dominate meat-eating society. That might change if plant based diets were the norm. But this article suggests we should give up the hope of this happening. What do you think?

Stop pretending that all Americans could ever go vegan - Popular Science

The advice I give people who are interested is to switch gradually and don’t make it your identity. Why do we say, ‘I’m a vegetarian,’ instead of, ‘I prefer eating vegetarian.’ Meatless Mondays can be matched with Meatless Wednesdays and Saturdays as you learn how to make delicious meals. Every time you choose vegetarian, you’re doing something good for the Earth and likely your body.

But you don’t have to be ‘religious’ about it. If you can’t imagine Thanksgiving without turkey, buy a free range bird that at least had a happy life and isn’t filled with artificial hormones. If you almost never eat meat, then it can become an amazing treat when you do. Confession: on the few times during the year when we have breakfast out, I really enjoy the bacon! And when my friend cooks a salmon on a cedar plank, it’s a gift from nature. Rather than scarfing down dead animals in every sandwich without thinking, honor their lives if and when you do eat them.

Why insurance companies are divesting fossil fuels

Insurance companies have been worrying about climate change for decades. They end up footing the bill for a lot of weather damage and the expansion of disease throws off their actuarial tables.

But until recently, their fears hadn’t affected their investments. But that is changing. The largest insurance companies are based in Europe and they are starting to dump fossil fuel stocks. There’s a nice diagram showing why this matters to them, how their investments had been fueling the same problems they had been trying to avoid.

Growing number of global insurance firms divesting from fossil fuels - the guardian