Sunshine Recorder

Link: The Problem With Going Green

Living high on the Prius Fallacy: Why we pretend that more benign consumption is good for the environment.

A favorite trick of people who consider themselves friends of the environment is reframing luxury consumption preferences as gifts to humanity. A new car, a solar-powered swimming-pool heater, a 200-mile-an-hour train that makes intercity travel more pleasant and less expensive, better-tasting tomatoes—these are the sacrifices we’re prepared to make for the future of the planet.

Our capacity for self-deception can be breathtaking. In 2010, a forward-thinking friend of mine took me for a ride in a Ford Fusion, a gas-electric hybrid that gets more miles per gallon than comparable cars with conventional engines. His dashboard fuel gauge filled with images of intertwining green foliage, a symbolic representation of the environmental benefits we were apparently dispensing from the tailpipe as we aimlessly drove around.

I felt a twinge of idiotic virtue while in that car, as I also do when I leave an especially large pile of cans, bottles and newspapers at the end of my driveway for the recycling truck. Like many concerned Americans, I’m susceptible to the Prius Fallacy: a belief that switching to an ostensibly more benign form of consumption turns consumption itself into a boon for the environment.

If only all big problems could be tackled with product substitution. We’re consumers at heart, and our response to difficulties of all kinds usually involves consumption in one form or another. My car’s a problem? Tell me what to drive instead. Wrong water heater? I’ll switch. Kitchen counters not green? I’ll replace them. The challenge arises when consumption itself is at issue. The world faces a long list of environmental challenges, yet most so-called solutions are either irrelevant or make the real problems worse. That’s the conundrum facing anyone who yearns for “sustainability.”

Energy efficiency—which has been called “the fifth fuel”—is especially problematic. In 2010, I flew from New York to Melbourne, Australia. My plane consumed a lot of energy and had a big carbon footprint; in fact, my proportional share of the jet fuel burned during my round trip was greater than the total amount of energy that the average resident of the Earth uses, for all purposes, in a year.

But the environmental problem with modern flying isn’t that our airplanes are wasteful; it is that we have made flying so efficient that the main impediment to traveling 10,000 miles isn’t the cost but the unpleasantness of spending a whole day watching movies and sleeping in a cushioned seat.

When people talk about reducing the energy and carbon impact of air travel, they almost always focus on improving the design of engines, wings and fuselages, or on using computer systems to shorten flight paths and eliminate delays. By this point, though, the total potential gain in any of those areas is small. Today’s passenger jets are already something like 75% more fuel efficient than the jets of the early 1960s, and the physics of flying imposes a low ceiling on further advances.

The main effect of additional engineering improvements will be the same as for all such improvements in the past: to make travel easier, cheaper, more convenient and more attractive—thus encouraging us to do more of it. That’s a good thing for those of us who love to play golf on other continents, but it doesn’t move the world closer to resolving a long list of energy, climate and environmental challenges. In fact, it pushes the solutions further away.

Even if you think that climate change is a left-wing crock, this ought to be a matter of gnawing concern. Global energy use is growing faster than population. It’s expected to double by midcentury, and most of the growth will be in fossil fuels. Disasters like the BP oil spill attract world-wide attention, but the main environmental, economic and geopolitical challenge with petroleum isn’t the oil that goes into the ocean; it is the oil we continue to use exactly as we intend.

Many people assume that we’ll conquer our addiction through technological innovation. But engineering breakthroughs not only enable machines to do more work with less fuel; they also make it possible to manufacture new and desirable products, swelling our contentment as consumers and further increasing our dependence.

Many supposedly green strategies pose a similar conundrum. Consider locavorism—the idea that it’s irresponsible to eat food that was produced more than a short distance from where it’s eaten. But shipping is almost always a trivial contributor to the environmental impact of eating.

Much more ecologically meaningful is what we eat, how it was grown, how much irrigation it required, what was sprayed on it and how it was prepared. Locavorism is appealing because it feels enlightened but entails no actual sacrifice. A colleague of mine produces her own eggs by raising chickens in her backyard. But she also drives individual hens to the veterinarian, giving her breakfasts an impressively huge carbon footprint.

Even when we act with what we believe to be the best of intentions, our efforts are often at cross-purposes with our goals. Increasing the efficiency of lighting encourages us to illuminate more. Relieving traffic congestion reduces the appeal of public transit and fuels the growth of suburban sprawl. A robust market for ethanol exacerbates global hunger by diverting cropland from the production of food.

We may believe that we care about the world’s deepening environmental challenges and are merely waiting for scientists, environmentalists, politicians and others to come to their senses and implement effective solutions. But we already know more than enough, and we have for a long time. We just don’t like the answers.

Flying from New York to Melbourne in 1958, on a propeller plane, consumed more energy per person than my 2010 flight did, but it was “greener” nevertheless. It required stops in San Francisco, Hawaii, Canton Island, Fiji and Sydney, and it cost each coach passenger something like a quarter of that year’s U.S. median family income, each way.

If comparably slow and costly flights were the only travel option available today, I and almost all of my fellow passengers would certainly have stayed home: a gain for the environment, though a loss for the global economy. The only unambiguously effective method of reducing the long-term carbon and energy cost of air travel is to fly less—a behavioral change, not a technological one.

But where’s the fun in going nowhere?

Link: Revolutionary Plots

Urban agriculture is producing a lot more than food.

…The second green revolution is an attempt to undo the destructive aspects of the first one, to make an organic and intimate agriculture that feeds minds and hearts as well as bodies, that measures intangible qualities as well as quantity. By volume, it produces only a small percentage of this country’s food, but of course its logic isn’t merely volume. The first green revolution may have increased yield in many cases, but it also increased alienation and toxicity, and it was efficient only if you ignored its fossil fuel dependency, carbon output, and other environmental impacts. It was an industrial revolution for agriculture, and what might be happening now is distinctly postindustrial, suspicious of the big and the corporate, interested in the old ways and the alternatives. This is more than a production project; it’s a reconnection project, which is why it is also an urban one—if we should all be connected to food production, food production should happen everywhere, urban and rural and every topsoil-laden crevice and traffic island in between. 

Today, major urban agriculture projects are firmly rooted in Burlington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and dozens of other American cities. Sales of vegetable seeds have skyrocketed across the country. Backyard chickens have become a new norm, and schoolyard gardens have sprung up across the nation and beyond since Alice Waters began Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard Project almost two decades ago. Organic farms and farmers’ markets have proliferated, and for the first time in many decades the number of farmers is going up instead of down. Though those things can be counted, the transformation of awareness that both produces and is produced by all these things is incalculable.

We think more about food, know more about food, care more about food than we did twenty or thirty years ago. Food has become both an upscale fetish (those menus that overinform you about what farm your heirloom ham or parsnips came from) and a poor people’s radical agenda, a transformation of the most intimate everyday practices that cuts across class—though it has yet to include all of us. In 1969, the Black Panthers ran breakfast programs to feed hungry inner-city children, and those children—or rather the children and grandchildren of those children—are still hungry, and the inner city is still a food desert: a place where access to decent food, or even to food, is not a given. But farming has come to the ’hood. And everywhere else.

When I go to colleges like Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, which has a food garden project on campus, I sometimes find myself telling the students that baby boomers in their youth famously had sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, but the young now have gardens. Gardens are where they locate their idealism, their hope for a better world, and, more than hope, their realization of it on the small scale of a few dozen rows of corn and tomatoes and kale. Thought of just as means of producing food, the achievements of urban agriculture may be modest, but as means of producing understanding, community, social transformation, and catalytic action, they may be the opposite. When they’re at their best, urban farms and gardens are a way to change the world. Even if they only produced food—it’s food. And even keeping the model and knowledge of agriculture alive may become crucial to our survival at some later point. 


Abundance on Trial: The Cultural Significance of “Sustainability”
Every now and then a single word emerges from our common parlance to achieve the status of a master term. Such a word gives expression to discrete needs and purposes, but it also provides a perspicuous lens through which to view the ethical disposition and emotional temper of a culture at a particular moment in time. The argument of this essay is that “sustainability” has become just such a word for our moment, deserving closer attention than it has so far received.
This essay seeks to address a set of neglected questions about the cultural significance of sustainability’s rise to a master term in our society and to distill its deeper moral and ethical salience from the wide spectrum of its connotations and applications. We will see how varying concerns over what Americans (and humans more generally) are not presently sustaining reflect a deep-seated anxiety that goes to the very heart of our most basic assumptions about what it means and takes to thrive in the contemporary world. Specifically, we will see how such assumptions are themselves connected to growing uncertainty over whether the relationship between humans and nature is one primarily defined by scarcity or abundance. In light of these anxieties and uncertainties, we will also see how the rise of sustainability to a master term represents accumulating disappointment and disillusionment with those key terms once believed constitutive of modern progress—terms like “development,” “improvement,” and “growth.” The cultural significance of sustainability, in other words, is related to the mounting scrutiny and doubt now facing the master terms of modern progress.
In the summer of 2011, two separate but well-publicized reports by climate scientists issued global calls for sustainability. “The Stockholm Memorandum,” put forward by a group of Nobel Laureates who might well be expected to champion the cause of sustainability, contended: “we are the first generation facing the evidence of global change. It therefore falls upon us to change our relationship with the planet, in order to tip the scales towards a sustainable world for future generations.” Similarly, in a report commissioned by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene,” a perhaps unexpected champion of sustainability called on all the peoples and nations of the world to “protect the habitat that sustains us.”
They are not alone. Today, there are thousands of organizations across the planet dedicated to the cause of sustainability in one realm or another. The range of advocacy and application is remarkable, including everything from sustainable economic development to sustainable architectural design and city planning, fashion and apparel, energy, farming, education, healthcare, and so on. As the Nobel Laureate and Vatican reports suggest, the range of constituencies promoting sustainability is equally remarkable. Before we can properly engage the cultural significance of sustainability, it is necessary to develop a fuller picture of how the language of sustainability has become so pervasive.

Abundance on Trial: The Cultural Significance of “Sustainability”

Every now and then a single word emerges from our common parlance to achieve the status of a master term. Such a word gives expression to discrete needs and purposes, but it also provides a perspicuous lens through which to view the ethical disposition and emotional temper of a culture at a particular moment in time. The argument of this essay is that “sustainability” has become just such a word for our moment, deserving closer attention than it has so far received.

This essay seeks to address a set of neglected questions about the cultural significance of sustainability’s rise to a master term in our society and to distill its deeper moral and ethical salience from the wide spectrum of its connotations and applications. We will see how varying concerns over what Americans (and humans more generally) are not presently sustaining reflect a deep-seated anxiety that goes to the very heart of our most basic assumptions about what it means and takes to thrive in the contemporary world. Specifically, we will see how such assumptions are themselves connected to growing uncertainty over whether the relationship between humans and nature is one primarily defined by scarcity or abundance. In light of these anxieties and uncertainties, we will also see how the rise of sustainability to a master term represents accumulating disappointment and disillusionment with those key terms once believed constitutive of modern progress—terms like “development,” “improvement,” and “growth.” The cultural significance of sustainability, in other words, is related to the mounting scrutiny and doubt now facing the master terms of modern progress.

In the summer of 2011, two separate but well-publicized reports by climate scientists issued global calls for sustainability. “The Stockholm Memorandum,” put forward by a group of Nobel Laureates who might well be expected to champion the cause of sustainability, contended: “we are the first generation facing the evidence of global change. It therefore falls upon us to change our relationship with the planet, in order to tip the scales towards a sustainable world for future generations.” Similarly, in a report commissioned by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene,” a perhaps unexpected champion of sustainability called on all the peoples and nations of the world to “protect the habitat that sustains us.”

They are not alone. Today, there are thousands of organizations across the planet dedicated to the cause of sustainability in one realm or another. The range of advocacy and application is remarkable, including everything from sustainable economic development to sustainable architectural design and city planning, fashion and apparel, energy, farming, education, healthcare, and so on. As the Nobel Laureate and Vatican reports suggest, the range of constituencies promoting sustainability is equally remarkable. Before we can properly engage the cultural significance of sustainability, it is necessary to develop a fuller picture of how the language of sustainability has become so pervasive.

Currently Reading

Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins

Hawken (The Ecology of Commerce) and Amory and Hunter Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, an environmental think tank, have put together an ambitious, visionary monster of a book advocating “natural capitalism.” The short answer to the logical question (What is natural capitalism?) is that it is a way of thinking that seeks to apply market principles to all sources of material value, most importantly natural resources. The authors have two related goals: first, to show the vast array of ecologically smart options available to businesses; second, to argue that it is possible for society and industry to adopt them. Hawken and the Lovinses acknowledge such barriers as the high initial costs of some techniques, lack of knowledge of alternatives, entrenched ways of thinking and other cultural factors. In looking at options for transportation (including the development of ultralight, electricity-powered automobiles), energy use, building design, and waste reduction and disposal, the book’s reach is phenomenal. It belongs to the galvanizing tradition of Frances Moore Lapp’s Diet for a Small Planet and Stewart Brand’s The Whole Earth Catalog. Whether all that the authors have organized and presented so earnestly here can be assimilated and acted on by the people who run the world is open to question. But readers with a capacity for judicious browsing and grazing can surely learn enough in these pages to apply well-reasoned pressure.

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

Among his many gifts, Joseph Campbell’s most impressive was the unique ability to take a contemporary situation, such as the murder and funeral of President John F. Kennedy, and help us understand its impact in the context of ancient mythology. Herein lies the power of The Power of Myth, showing how humans are apt to create and live out the themes of mythology. Based on a six-part PBS television series hosted by Bill Moyers, this classic is especially compelling because of its engaging question-and-answer format, creating an easy, conversational approach to complicated and esoteric topics. For example, when discussing the mythology of heroes, Campbell and Moyers smoothly segue from the Sumerian sky goddess Inanna to Star Wars’ mercenary-turned-hero, Han Solo. Most impressive is Campbell’s encyclopedic knowledge of myths, demonstrated in his ability to recall the details and archetypes of almost any story, from any point and history, and translate it into a lesson for spiritual living in the here and now. 

Link: Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?

Michael J. Potter is one of the last little big men left in organic food.

More than 40 years ago, Mr. Potter bought into a hippie cafe and “whole earth” grocery here that has since morphed into a major organic foods producer and wholesaler, Eden Foods.

But one morning last May, he hopped on his motorcycle and took off across the Plains to challenge what organic food — or as he might have it, so-called organic food — has become since his tie-dye days in the Haight district of San Francisco.

The fact is, organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. The industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. Or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic.

Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo, of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Healthy Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup.

Over the last decade, since federal organic standards have come to the fore, giant agri-food corporations like these and others — Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars among them — have gobbled up most of the nation’s organic food industry. Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore.

All of which riles Mr. Potter, 62. Which is why he took off in late May from here for Albuquerque, where the cardinals of the $30-billion-a-year organic food industry were meeting to decide which ingredients that didn’t exactly sound fresh from the farm should be blessed as allowed ingredients in “organic” products. Ingredients like carrageenan, a seaweed-derived thickener with a somewhat controversial health record. Or synthetic inositol, which is manufactured using chemical processes.

Mr. Potter was allowed to voice his objections to carrageenan for three minutes before the group, the National Organic Standards Board.

“Someone said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Mr. Potter recalls.

And that was that.

Two days later, the board voted 10 to 5 to keep carrageenan on the growing list of nonorganic ingredients that can be used in products with the coveted “certified organic” label. To organic purists like Mr. Potter, it was just another sign that Big Food has co-opted — or perhaps corrupted — the organic food business.

This book is not a tree. It is not even paper. Instead, it is made of plastics developed around a completely different paradigm for materials, polymers that are infinitely recyclable at the same level of quality-that have been designed with their future life foremost in mind, rather than as an awkward afterthought. This paper doesn’t require cutting down trees or leaching chlorine into waterways. The inks are nontoxic and can be washed off the polymer with a simple and safe chemical process or an extremely hot water bath, from either of which they can be recovered and reused. The cover is made from a heavier grade of the same polymer as the rest of the book, and the glues are made of compatible ingredients, so that once materials are no longer needed in their present form, the entire book can be reclaimed by the publishing industry in a simple one-step recycling process. Not is the reader’s pleasure and convenience an afterthought to environmentally responsible design. The pages are white and have a sensuous smoothness, and unlike recycled paper; they will not yellow with age. The ink won’t rub off on the reader’s fingers. Although its next life has already been imagined, the book is durable enough to last for many generations. It’s even waterproof, so you can read it at the beach or in your hot tub. You’d buy it, carry it, and read it not as a badge of austerity- and not only for its content- but for its sheer tactile pleasure. It celebrates its materials rather than apologizing for them. Books become books become books over and over again….
— William McDonough & Micheal Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Link: George Monbiot: After Rio, we know. Governments have given up on the planet.

The post-summit pledge was an admission of defeat against consumer capitalism. But we can still salvage the natural world.

It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit in Rio last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses.

The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before.

The thought that it might be the wrong machine, pursuing the wrong task, cannot even be voiced in mainstream politics. The machine greatly enriches the economic elite, while insulating the political elite from the mass movements it might otherwise confront. We have our bread; now we are wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses.

We have used our unprecedented freedoms – secured at such cost by our forebears – not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world’s most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption. The mutual dependencies of consumer capitalism ensure that we all unwittingly conspire in the trashing of what may be the only living planet. The failure at Rio de Janeiro belongs to us all.

Link: Booklist: Factory Foods Exposed

Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” commercial drew in more than 5 million views, and McDonald’s has recently unveiled a plan to remove sow gestation stalls. It appears that fast food chains are trying to jump ship from the industrial farming label that’s branded the business. But why the sudden focus on animal rights and ethical farming? What exactly do terms like “free range” and “local” mean, and where does our food come from? For this week’s GOOD Books, we’re looking straight into the convoluted American food industry.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair: The bible of meatpacking industry exposés, The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair in 1906, was the first of its kind to uncover the nauseating realities of the American meatpacking industry. Sinclair’s story follows a family of Lithuanian immigrants who find themselves unable to attain the “American Dream” working at Chicago’s Stockyards, where their lives become nightmarish. Sinclair originally intended for this book to expose the perils and exploitation that immigrant workers in the meatpacking industry faced, but the story became the herald for food sanitation. Thanks to Sinclair’s muckraker reporting on the industry’s rat-infested and waste-water soaked meat, corruption, and its overall sickeningly unsanitary conditions, the meatpacking industry experienced an overhaul. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act were both passed following the book’s release, and worker conditions slowly improved.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer: Just for fair warning, this might turn you into a vegan—Natalie Portman turned into one after reading this book. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s first foray into nonfiction, he humorously and intelligently shares his personal, rocky relationship with vegetarianism. Part collection of anecdotes, part research investigation, and part social commentary on America’s eating habits, Foer shares how he came to realize how the chicken on his plate was once a living, breathing animal prior to becoming a nugget. This childhood realization ends up changing his life. From translating scientific terms to easy-to-follow layman’s description to personally investigating the ethics and horrors of factory farms, all for the sake of his soon-to-be-born son, Foer seeks to find an answer to why people eat meat without giving a second thought.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan: In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, journalist Michael Pollan deconstructs a meal on the table and literally traces it back to its roots. He grapples with the question “Where does our food come from?” by inserting himself into the frighteningly unnatural state of U.S. industrial farming, investigating the backbone of “organic” sustainability, and finally pulling on his hunting boots to shoot, gather and cook his own meal. Realizing what America eats can be queasy and shocking, but Pollan’s humorous narratives seamlessly propel the book from diseased industrial feedlots straight to the forest floor, which makes the truth a little easier to digest. His quests to present the truth behind the American food industry makes him do things from purchasing a cow who will live and die in a CAFO to following its journey into becoming a standard McDonalds burger. In the process, he works on a grass farm, observes factory farms, and eventually comes to the conclusion that everything we eat, even the menu at mega-chain McDonalds, is corn-based. Pollan unravels the tight ropes on which the food industry is currently balancing, while tackling issues like obesity, food anxiety, oblivion and ethics along the way. The message is unsettling, suggesting that Americans have planted themselves to the point of detriment, ruining not only ourselves but also the very biology of animals that surround us, but hopeful in the sense that omnivores ultimately have the power to shape what to eat.

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg: While poultry and meat industries have been routinely blasted for their problems by various investigators, the fishing industry has had troubles of its own. In Four FishNew York Times’ seafood writer Paul Greenburg investigates the murky issues present in global fisheries—and the fact that the ocean’s bounty has limits. The four fish that Greenburg focuses on are the world’s dominant wild-caught and farmed fish: salmon, bass, tuna and cod. By weaving together narrative and research, Greenburg, a life-long fisherman, reveals how farming, biotechnology, and overfishing can ultimately destroy the ocean and its creatures, stressing the importance of sustainability.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: Dept. of Energy finds renewable energy can reliably supply 80% of US energy needs

A report published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures), is an initial investigation of the extent to which renewable energy supply can meet the electricity demands of the continental United States over the next several decades. This study explores the implications and challenges of very high renewable electricity generation levels—from 30% up to 90%, focusing on 80%, of all U.S. electricity generation from renewable technologies—in 2050. At such high levels of renewable electricity generation, the unique characteristics of some renewable resources, specifically geographical distribution and variability and uncertainty in output, pose challenges to the operability of the nation’s electric system.

Key Findings

  • Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.
  • Increased electric system flexibility, needed to enable electricity supply-demand balance with high levels of renewable generation, can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations.
  • The abundance and diversity of U.S. renewable energy resources can support multiple combinations of renewable technologies that result in deep reductions in electric sector greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
  • The direct incremental cost associated with high renewable generation is comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios. Improvement in the cost and performance of renewable technologies is the most impactful lever for reducing this incremental cost.

RE Futures provides initial answers to important questions about the integration of high penetrations of renewable electricity technologies from a national perspective, focusing on key technical implications. The study explores electricity grid integration using models with unprecedented geographic and time resolution for the contiguous United States to assess whether the U.S. power system can supply electricity to meet customer demand on an hourly basis with high levels of renewable electricity, including variable wind and solar generation.

RE Futures, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is a collaboration with more than 110 contributors from 35 organizations including national laboratories, industry, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

As the most comprehensive analysis of high-penetration renewable electricity of the continental United States to date, the study can inform broader discussion of the evolution of the electric system and electricity markets towards clean systems. RE Futures results indicate that renewable generation could play a more significant role in the U.S. electricity system than previously thought and that further work is warranted to investigate this clean generation pathway.


Why White is Wicked
You probably need to be naked to read this book with a clear conscience. This reader, for one, felt like stripping off as the revelations piled up:

it took 700 gallons of fresh water to make my cotton t-shirt;
it’s partly down to me that 85% of the Aral Sea In Uzbekistan has disappeared because its water was used to grow cotton in the desert;
a quarter of all the insecticides in the world are used on cotton crops;
buckets of hazardous sludge are generated during the coating process of the metal buttons on my jeans;
white is energy-intensive because of all the bleaching;
being clean, and wearing white to prove it, has weakened my immune system;
I‘ll use six times more energy washing my favourite shirt than was needed to make it;
nearly all the textiles in my life will end up in landfill – garments, household textiles, carpets, the lot.
The book from which I took these offcuts is neither alarmist, nor moralizing. On the contrary: Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change, by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose, examines the environmental and social impacts of fashion system calmly. This matter-of-fact tone – together with its masses of well-selected examples – make the book impossible to dismiss as mere advocacy.
It is one thing to draw attention to the hidden costs of fashion – quite another to figure out what to do about them. On almost every page, much-trumpeted ‘solutions’ turn out to be less perfect than we hoped, or were told. So-called biodegradable fibres, for example, cannot be chucked on your compost heap (as I, for one, had assumed). The near-ambient conditions of home compost heaps do not provide the right temperature and humidity. PLA fibres (as some of the biodegradable ones are called) decompose only in the optimum conditions provided by an industrial composting facility – and how many of those are there in the world?
Another surprise: natural textiles can be more harmful than syntethic ones. Although polyester fibre, to take one example, is made from non-renewable petroleum, and requires large energy inputs to produce, it is not so environmentally damaging when its whole lifecycle is calculated – from sourcing the raw materials, through the use phase, to the disposal phase. Polyester has lower energy impacts than cotton during the washing and cleaning phase , for example; it is also completely recyclable at the end of its life.

Why White is Wicked

You probably need to be naked to read this book with a clear conscience. This reader, for one, felt like stripping off as the revelations piled up:

  • it took 700 gallons of fresh water to make my cotton t-shirt;
  • it’s partly down to me that 85% of the Aral Sea In Uzbekistan has disappeared because its water was used to grow cotton in the desert;
  • a quarter of all the insecticides in the world are used on cotton crops;
  • buckets of hazardous sludge are generated during the coating process of the metal buttons on my jeans;
  • white is energy-intensive because of all the bleaching;
  • being clean, and wearing white to prove it, has weakened my immune system;
  • I‘ll use six times more energy washing my favourite shirt than was needed to make it;
  • nearly all the textiles in my life will end up in landfill – garments, household textiles, carpets, the lot.

The book from which I took these offcuts is neither alarmist, nor moralizing. On the contrary: Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change, by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose, examines the environmental and social impacts of fashion system calmly. This matter-of-fact tone – together with its masses of well-selected examples – make the book impossible to dismiss as mere advocacy.

It is one thing to draw attention to the hidden costs of fashion – quite another to figure out what to do about them. On almost every page, much-trumpeted ‘solutions’ turn out to be less perfect than we hoped, or were told. So-called biodegradable fibres, for example, cannot be chucked on your compost heap (as I, for one, had assumed). The near-ambient conditions of home compost heaps do not provide the right temperature and humidity. PLA fibres (as some of the biodegradable ones are called) decompose only in the optimum conditions provided by an industrial composting facility – and how many of those are there in the world?

Another surprise: natural textiles can be more harmful than syntethic ones. Although polyester fibre, to take one example, is made from non-renewable petroleum, and requires large energy inputs to produce, it is not so environmentally damaging when its whole lifecycle is calculated – from sourcing the raw materials, through the use phase, to the disposal phase. Polyester has lower energy impacts than cotton during the washing and cleaning phase , for example; it is also completely recyclable at the end of its life.


The World as We Know It Is About to End, According to Really Frightened Scientists
A new study by 22 biologists and ecologists has found that environmental changes on our planet are reaching a point of no return that leads to mass extinctions and harms human welfare. The situation, said one scientist, “scares the hell out of me.” That would be James H. Brown, one of the authors of alarming paper published by Nature, talking to New York Times Green blogger Justin Gillis. Brown is not one of your everyday cranks predicting raptures and the end of days. He is a macroecologist at the University of New Mexico. And as The Atlantic's James Fallows, who pointed out this terrifying study to us, writes, this could be the most important news of 2012. How soon do these scientists expect the world as we know it to end? Gillis writes, “within a few human generations, if not sooner.” The most frightening thing is that this finding isn’t about what will come if we do not act, but that our effects on the planet’s environment — global warming, population growth, and overall resource extraction — means that we’ve already passed a ”tipping point.” This isn’t a plea for change. These are things scientists have been warning us about for decades.

The World as We Know It Is About to End, According to Really Frightened Scientists

A new study by 22 biologists and ecologists has found that environmental changes on our planet are reaching a point of no return that leads to mass extinctions and harms human welfare. The situation, said one scientist, “scares the hell out of me.” That would be James H. Brown, one of the authors of alarming paper published by Nature, talking to New York Times Green blogger Justin Gillis. Brown is not one of your everyday cranks predicting raptures and the end of days. He is a macroecologist at the University of New Mexico. And as The Atlantic's James Fallows, who pointed out this terrifying study to us, writes, this could be the most important news of 2012. How soon do these scientists expect the world as we know it to end? Gillis writes, “within a few human generations, if not sooner.” The most frightening thing is that this finding isn’t about what will come if we do not act, but that our effects on the planet’s environment — global warming, population growth, and overall resource extraction — means that we’ve already passed a ”tipping point.” This isn’t a plea for change. These are things scientists have been warning us about for decades.

(via absurdlakefront)

Link: David Suzuki: The Fundamental Failure of Environmentalism

Environmentalism has failed. Over the past 50 years, environmentalists have succeeded in raising awareness, changing logging practices, stopping mega-dams and offshore drilling, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But we were so focused on battling opponents and seeking public support that we failed to realize these battles reflect fundamentally different ways of seeing our place in the world. And it is our deep underlying worldview that determines the way we treat our surroundings.

We have not, as a species, come to grips with the explosive events that have changed our relationship with the planet. For most of human existence, we lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers whose impact on nature could be absorbed by the resilience of the biosphere. Even after the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago, farming continued to dominate our lives. We cared for nature. People who live close to the land understand that seasons, climate, weather, pollinating insects, and plants are critical to our well-being.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the environmental movement. In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, which documented the terrible, unanticipated consequences of what had, until then, been considered one of science’s great inventions, DDT. Paul Mueller, who demonstrated the effects of the pesticide, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948. In the economic boom after the Second World War, technology held out the promise of unending innovation, progress, and prosperity. Rachel Carson pointed out that technology has costs.

Carson’s book appeared when no government had an environment department or ministry. Millions around the world were soon swept up in what we now recognize as the environmental movement. Within 10 years, the United Nations Environment Programme was created and the first global environmental conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden.

With increasing catastrophes like oil and chemical spills and nuclear accidents, as well as issues such as species extinction, ozone depletion, deforestation, acid rain, and global warming, environmentalists pressed for laws to protect air, water, farmland, and endangered species. Millions of hectares of land were protected as parks and reserves around the world.

Thirty years later, in 1992, the largest gathering of heads of state in history met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The event was meant to signal that economic activity could not proceed without considering ecological consequences. But, aided by recessions, popped financial bubbles, and tens of millions of dollars from corporations and wealthy neoconservatives to support a cacophony of denial from rightwing pundits and think tanks, environmental protection came to be portrayed as an impediment to economic expansion.

This emphasis of economy over environment, and indeed, the separation of the two, comes as humanity is undergoing dramatic changes. During the 20th century, our numbers increased fourfold to six billion (now up to seven billion), we moved from rural areas to cities, developed virtually all of the technology we take for granted today, and our consumptive appetite, fed by a global economy, exploded. We have become a new force that is altering the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the planet on a geological scale.

In creating dedicated departments, we made the environment another special interest, like education, health, and agriculture. The environment subsumes every aspect of our activities, but we failed to make the point that our lives, health, and livelihoods absolutely depend on the biosphere—air, water, soil, sunlight, and biodiversity. Without them, we sicken and die. This perspective is reflected in spiritual practices that understand that everything is interconnected, as well as traditional societies that revere “Mother Earth” as the source of all that matters in life.

When we believe the entire world is filled with unlimited “resources” provided for our use, we act accordingly. This “anthropocentric” view envisions the world revolving around us. So we create departments of forests, fisheries and oceans, and environment whose ministers are less concerned with the health and well-being of forests, fish, oceans, or the environment than with resources and the economies that depend on them.

It’s almost a cliché to refer to a “paradigm shift”, but that is what we need to meet the challenge of the environmental crises our species has created. That means adopting a “biocentric” view that recognizes we are part of and dependent on the web of life that keeps the planet habitable for a demanding animal like us.


Joel Salatin responds to New York Times’ ‘Myth of Sustainable Meat’ 
Joel Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farm — which was featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary film Food, Inc. He is a third generation family farmer working his land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with his wife, Teresa, son Daniel, daughter Rachel, and their families. Polyface Farm, an organic grass-fed farm, services more than 3,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. Salatin writes extensively in magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA, and American Agriculture.
The recent editorial by James McWilliams, titled “The Myth of Sustainable Meat,” contains enough factual errors and skewed assumptions to fill a book, and normally I would dismiss this out of hand as too much nonsense to merit a response. But since it specifically mentioned Polyface, a rebuttal is appropriate. For a more comprehensive rebuttal, read the book Folks, This Ain’t Normal.
Let’s go point by point. First, that grass-grazing cows emit more methane than grain-fed ones. This is factually false. Actually, the amount of methane emitted by fermentation is the same whether it occurs in the cow or outside. Whether the feed is eaten by an herbivore or left to rot on its own, the methane generated is identical. Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world; herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration. Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands. Quick, or we’ll all perish. I assume he’s figuring that since it takes longer to grow a beef on grass than on grain, the difference in time adds days to the emissions. But grain production carries a host of maladies far worse than methane. This is simply cherry-picking one negative out of many positives to smear the foundation of how soil builds: herbivore pruning, perennial disturbance-rest cycles, solar-grown biomass, and decomposition. This is like demonizing marriage because a good one will include some arguments.
As for his notion that it takes too much land to grass-finish, his figures of 10 acres per animal are assuming the current normal mismanagement of pastures. At Polyface, we call it neanderthal management, because most livestock farmers have not yet joined the 20th century with electric fencing, ponds, piped water, and modern scientific aerobic composting (only as old as chemical fertilization). Hence, while his figures comparing the relative production of grain to grass may sound compelling, they are like comparing the learning opportunities under a terrible teacher versus a magnificent teacher. Many farmers, in many different climates, are now using space-age technology, biomimicry, and close management to get exponential increases in forage production. The rainforest, by the way, is not being cut to graze cattle. It’s being cut to grow transgenic corn and soybeans. North America had twice as many herbivores 500 years ago than it does today due to the pulsing of the predator-prey-pruning cycle on perennial prairie polycultures. And that was without any corn or soybeans at all.
Apparently if you lie often and big enough, some people will believe it: Pastured chicken has a 20 percent greater impact on global warming? Says who? The truth is that those industrial chicken houses are not stand-alone structures. They require square miles of grain to be carted into them, and square miles of land to handle the manure. Of course, many times that land is not enough. To industrial farmers’ relief, more often than not a hurricane comes along just in time to flush the toilet, kill the fish, and send pathogens into the ocean. That’s a nice way to reduce the alleged footprint, but it’s devilish sleight of hand with the data to assume that ecological toxicity compensates for the true land base needed to sustain a factory farm.
While it’s true that at Polyface our omnivores (poultry and pigs) do eat local GMO (genetically modified organism)-free grain in addition to the forage, the land base required to feed and metabolize the manure is no different than that needed to sustain the same animals in a confinement setting. Even if they ate zero pasturage, the land is the same. The only difference is our animals get sunshine, exercise, fresh pasture salad bars, fresh air, and a respectful life. Chickens walking on pasture certainly do not have any more leg sprains than those walking in a confinement facility. To suggest otherwise, as McWilliams does, is sheer nonsense. Walking is walking — and it’s generally considered to be a healthy practice, unless you’re a tyrant.
Interestingly, in a lone concession to compassion, McWilliams decries ranging hogs with rings in their noses to keep them from rooting, lamenting that this is “one of their most basic instincts.” Notice that he does not reconcile this moral imperative with his love affair with confinement hog factories. Nothing much to use their noses for in there. For the record, Polyface never rings hog noses, and in the few cases where we’ve purchased hogs with rings, we take them out. We want them to fully express their pigness. By moving them frequently using modern electric fencing, polyethylene water piping, high-tech float valves, and scientifically designed feed dispensers, we do not create nor suffer the problems encountered by earlier large-scale outdoor hog operations 100 years ago. McWilliams has apparently never had the privilege of visiting a first-rate, modern, highly managed, pastured hog operation. He thinks we’re all stuck in the early 1900s, and that’s a shame because he’d discover the answers to his concerns are already here. I wonder where his paycheck comes from?
Then McWilliams moves on to the argument that economic realities would kick in if pastured livestock became normal, driving farmers to scale up and end up right where we are today. What a clever ploy: justify the horrible by eliminating the alternatives. At Polyface, we certainly do not discourage scaling up — we actually encourage it. We think more pasture-based farms should scale up. Between the current abysmal state of mismanagement, however, and efficient operations, is an astronomical opportunity to enjoy economic and ecological advantages. McWilliams is basing his data and assumptions on the poorest, the average or below. If you want to demonize something, always pick the lowest performers. But if you compare the best the industry has to offer with the best the pasture-based systems have to offer, the factory farms don’t have a prayer. Using portable infrastructure, tight management, and techno-glitzy tools, farmers running pastured hog operations practically eliminate capitalization costs and vet bills.
Finally, McWilliams moves to the knock-out punch in his discussion of nutrient cycling, charging specifically that Polyface is a charade because it depends on grain from industrial farms to maintain soil fertility. First of all, at Polyface we do not assume that all nutrient movement is anti-environmental. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for animals in nature is to move nutrients uphill, against the natural gravitational flow from high ground to low ground. This is why low lands and valleys are fertile and the uplands are less so. Animals are the only mechanism nature has to defy this natural downward flow. Fortunately, predators make the prey animals want to lounge on high ground (where they can see their enemies), which insures that manure will concentrate on high lookout spots rather than in the valleys. Perhaps this is why no ecosystem exists that is devoid of animals. The fact is that nutrient movement is inherently nature-healing.
But, it doesn’t move very far. And herein lies the difference between grain used at Polyface and that used by the industry: We care where ours comes from. It’s not just a commodity. It has an origin and an ending, start to finish, farmer to eater. The closer we can connect the carbon cycles, the more environmentally normal we will become.
Second, herbivores are the exception to the entire negative nutrient flow argument because by pruning back the forage to restart the rapid biomass accumulation photosynthetic engine, the net carbon flow compensates for anything lost through harvest. Herbivores do not require tillage or annuals, and that is why all historically deep soils have been created by them, not by omnivores. It’s fascinating that McWilliams wants to demonize pasture-based livestock for not closing all the nutrient loops, but has no problem, apparently, with the horrendous nutrient toxicity like dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey created by chemical fertilizer runoff to grow grain so that the life of a beef could be shortened. Unbelievable. In addition, this is one reason Polyface continues to fight for relaxing food safety regulations to allow on-farm slaughtering, precisely so we can indeed keep all these nutrients on the farm and not send them the rendering plants. If the greenies who don’t want historically normal farm activities like slaughter to occur on rural acreage could understand how devastating these government regulations actually are to the environmental economy, perhaps McWilliams wouldn’t have this bullet in his arsenal. And yes, human waste should be put back on the land as well, to help close the loop.
Third, at Polyface, we struggle upstream. Historically, omnivores were salvage operations. Hogs ate spoiled milk, whey, acorns, chestnuts, spoiled fruit, and a host of other farmstead products. Ditto for chickens, who dined on kitchen scraps and garden refuse. That today 50 percent of all the human edible food produced in the world goes into landfills or greenie-endorsed composting operations rather than through omnivores is both ecologically and morally reprehensible. At Polyface, we’ve tried for many, many years to get kitchen scraps back from restaurants to feed our poultry, but the logistics are a nightmare. The fact is that in America we have created a segregated food and farming system. In the perfect world, Polyface would not sell eggs. Instead, every kitchen, both domestic and commercial, would have enough chickens proximate to handle all the scraps. This would eliminate the entire egg industry and current heavy grain feeding paradigm. At Polyface, we only purport to be doing the best we can do as we struggle through a deviant, historically abnormal food and farming system. We didn’t create what is and we may not solve it perfectly. But we’re sure a lot farther toward real solutions than McWilliams can imagine. And if society would move where we want to go, and the government regulators would let us move where we need to go, and the industry would not try to criminalize us as we try to go there, we’ll all be a whole lot better off and the earthworms will dance.

Joel Salatin responds to New York Times’ ‘Myth of Sustainable Meat’

Joel Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farm — which was featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary film Food, Inc. He is a third generation family farmer working his land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with his wife, Teresa, son Daniel, daughter Rachel, and their families. Polyface Farm, an organic grass-fed farm, services more than 3,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. Salatin writes extensively in magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA, and American Agriculture.

The recent editorial by James McWilliams, titled “The Myth of Sustainable Meat,” contains enough factual errors and skewed assumptions to fill a book, and normally I would dismiss this out of hand as too much nonsense to merit a response. But since it specifically mentioned Polyface, a rebuttal is appropriate. For a more comprehensive rebuttal, read the book Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

Let’s go point by point. First, that grass-grazing cows emit more methane than grain-fed ones. This is factually false. Actually, the amount of methane emitted by fermentation is the same whether it occurs in the cow or outside. Whether the feed is eaten by an herbivore or left to rot on its own, the methane generated is identical. Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world; herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration. Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands. Quick, or we’ll all perish. I assume he’s figuring that since it takes longer to grow a beef on grass than on grain, the difference in time adds days to the emissions. But grain production carries a host of maladies far worse than methane. This is simply cherry-picking one negative out of many positives to smear the foundation of how soil builds: herbivore pruning, perennial disturbance-rest cycles, solar-grown biomass, and decomposition. This is like demonizing marriage because a good one will include some arguments.

As for his notion that it takes too much land to grass-finish, his figures of 10 acres per animal are assuming the current normal mismanagement of pastures. At Polyface, we call it neanderthal management, because most livestock farmers have not yet joined the 20th century with electric fencing, ponds, piped water, and modern scientific aerobic composting (only as old as chemical fertilization). Hence, while his figures comparing the relative production of grain to grass may sound compelling, they are like comparing the learning opportunities under a terrible teacher versus a magnificent teacher. Many farmers, in many different climates, are now using space-age technology, biomimicry, and close management to get exponential increases in forage production. The rainforest, by the way, is not being cut to graze cattle. It’s being cut to grow transgenic corn and soybeans. North America had twice as many herbivores 500 years ago than it does today due to the pulsing of the predator-prey-pruning cycle on perennial prairie polycultures. And that was without any corn or soybeans at all.

Apparently if you lie often and big enough, some people will believe it: Pastured chicken has a 20 percent greater impact on global warming? Says who? The truth is that those industrial chicken houses are not stand-alone structures. They require square miles of grain to be carted into them, and square miles of land to handle the manure. Of course, many times that land is not enough. To industrial farmers’ relief, more often than not a hurricane comes along just in time to flush the toilet, kill the fish, and send pathogens into the ocean. That’s a nice way to reduce the alleged footprint, but it’s devilish sleight of hand with the data to assume that ecological toxicity compensates for the true land base needed to sustain a factory farm.

While it’s true that at Polyface our omnivores (poultry and pigs) do eat local GMO (genetically modified organism)-free grain in addition to the forage, the land base required to feed and metabolize the manure is no different than that needed to sustain the same animals in a confinement setting. Even if they ate zero pasturage, the land is the same. The only difference is our animals get sunshine, exercise, fresh pasture salad bars, fresh air, and a respectful life. Chickens walking on pasture certainly do not have any more leg sprains than those walking in a confinement facility. To suggest otherwise, as McWilliams does, is sheer nonsense. Walking is walking — and it’s generally considered to be a healthy practice, unless you’re a tyrant.

Interestingly, in a lone concession to compassion, McWilliams decries ranging hogs with rings in their noses to keep them from rooting, lamenting that this is “one of their most basic instincts.” Notice that he does not reconcile this moral imperative with his love affair with confinement hog factories. Nothing much to use their noses for in there. For the record, Polyface never rings hog noses, and in the few cases where we’ve purchased hogs with rings, we take them out. We want them to fully express their pigness. By moving them frequently using modern electric fencing, polyethylene water piping, high-tech float valves, and scientifically designed feed dispensers, we do not create nor suffer the problems encountered by earlier large-scale outdoor hog operations 100 years ago. McWilliams has apparently never had the privilege of visiting a first-rate, modern, highly managed, pastured hog operation. He thinks we’re all stuck in the early 1900s, and that’s a shame because he’d discover the answers to his concerns are already here. I wonder where his paycheck comes from?

Then McWilliams moves on to the argument that economic realities would kick in if pastured livestock became normal, driving farmers to scale up and end up right where we are today. What a clever ploy: justify the horrible by eliminating the alternatives. At Polyface, we certainly do not discourage scaling up — we actually encourage it. We think more pasture-based farms should scale up. Between the current abysmal state of mismanagement, however, and efficient operations, is an astronomical opportunity to enjoy economic and ecological advantages. McWilliams is basing his data and assumptions on the poorest, the average or below. If you want to demonize something, always pick the lowest performers. But if you compare the best the industry has to offer with the best the pasture-based systems have to offer, the factory farms don’t have a prayer. Using portable infrastructure, tight management, and techno-glitzy tools, farmers running pastured hog operations practically eliminate capitalization costs and vet bills.

Finally, McWilliams moves to the knock-out punch in his discussion of nutrient cycling, charging specifically that Polyface is a charade because it depends on grain from industrial farms to maintain soil fertility. First of all, at Polyface we do not assume that all nutrient movement is anti-environmental. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for animals in nature is to move nutrients uphill, against the natural gravitational flow from high ground to low ground. This is why low lands and valleys are fertile and the uplands are less so. Animals are the only mechanism nature has to defy this natural downward flow. Fortunately, predators make the prey animals want to lounge on high ground (where they can see their enemies), which insures that manure will concentrate on high lookout spots rather than in the valleys. Perhaps this is why no ecosystem exists that is devoid of animals. The fact is that nutrient movement is inherently nature-healing.

But, it doesn’t move very far. And herein lies the difference between grain used at Polyface and that used by the industry: We care where ours comes from. It’s not just a commodity. It has an origin and an ending, start to finish, farmer to eater. The closer we can connect the carbon cycles, the more environmentally normal we will become.

Second, herbivores are the exception to the entire negative nutrient flow argument because by pruning back the forage to restart the rapid biomass accumulation photosynthetic engine, the net carbon flow compensates for anything lost through harvest. Herbivores do not require tillage or annuals, and that is why all historically deep soils have been created by them, not by omnivores. It’s fascinating that McWilliams wants to demonize pasture-based livestock for not closing all the nutrient loops, but has no problem, apparently, with the horrendous nutrient toxicity like dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey created by chemical fertilizer runoff to grow grain so that the life of a beef could be shortened. Unbelievable. In addition, this is one reason Polyface continues to fight for relaxing food safety regulations to allow on-farm slaughtering, precisely so we can indeed keep all these nutrients on the farm and not send them the rendering plants. If the greenies who don’t want historically normal farm activities like slaughter to occur on rural acreage could understand how devastating these government regulations actually are to the environmental economy, perhaps McWilliams wouldn’t have this bullet in his arsenal. And yes, human waste should be put back on the land as well, to help close the loop.

Third, at Polyface, we struggle upstream. Historically, omnivores were salvage operations. Hogs ate spoiled milk, whey, acorns, chestnuts, spoiled fruit, and a host of other farmstead products. Ditto for chickens, who dined on kitchen scraps and garden refuse. That today 50 percent of all the human edible food produced in the world goes into landfills or greenie-endorsed composting operations rather than through omnivores is both ecologically and morally reprehensible. At Polyface, we’ve tried for many, many years to get kitchen scraps back from restaurants to feed our poultry, but the logistics are a nightmare. The fact is that in America we have created a segregated food and farming system. In the perfect world, Polyface would not sell eggs. Instead, every kitchen, both domestic and commercial, would have enough chickens proximate to handle all the scraps. This would eliminate the entire egg industry and current heavy grain feeding paradigm. At Polyface, we only purport to be doing the best we can do as we struggle through a deviant, historically abnormal food and farming system. We didn’t create what is and we may not solve it perfectly. But we’re sure a lot farther toward real solutions than McWilliams can imagine. And if society would move where we want to go, and the government regulators would let us move where we need to go, and the industry would not try to criminalize us as we try to go there, we’ll all be a whole lot better off and the earthworms will dance.


Toronto becomes first city to mandate green roofs
Toronto is the first city in North America with a bylaw that requires roofs to be green. And we’re not talking about paint. A green roof, also known as a living roof, uses various hardy plants to create a barrier between the sun’s rays and the tiles or shingles of the roof. The plants love the sun, and the building (and its inhabitants) enjoy more comfortable indoor temperatures as a result.
Toronto’s new legislation will require all residential, commercial and institutional buildings over 2,000 square meters to have between 20 and 60 percent living roofs. Although it’s been in place since early 2010, the bylaw will apply to new industrial development as of April 30, 2012. While this is the first city-wide mandate involving green roofs, Toronto’s decision follow’s in the footsteps of other cities, like Chicago and New York.
Under the direction of Mayor Richard Daley the city of Chicago put a 38,800 square foot green roof on a 12 story skyscraper in 2000. Twelve years later, that building now saves $5000 annually on utility bills, and Chicago boasts 7 million square feet of green roof space. New York has followed suit, and since planting a green roof on the Con Edison Learning Centre in Queens, the buildings managers have seen a 34 percent reduction of heat loss in winter, and reduced summer heat gain by 84 percent.
But lower utility bills aren’t the only benefit of planting a living roof. In addition to cooling down the city, green roofs create cleaner air, cleaner water, and provide a peaceful oasis for people, birds and insects in an otherwise polluted, concrete and asphalt-covered environment.

Toronto becomes first city to mandate green roofs

Toronto is the first city in North America with a bylaw that requires roofs to be green. And we’re not talking about paint. A green roof, also known as a living roof, uses various hardy plants to create a barrier between the sun’s rays and the tiles or shingles of the roof. The plants love the sun, and the building (and its inhabitants) enjoy more comfortable indoor temperatures as a result.

Toronto’s new legislation will require all residential, commercial and institutional buildings over 2,000 square meters to have between 20 and 60 percent living roofs. Although it’s been in place since early 2010, the bylaw will apply to new industrial development as of April 30, 2012. While this is the first city-wide mandate involving green roofs, Toronto’s decision follow’s in the footsteps of other cities, like Chicago and New York.

Under the direction of Mayor Richard Daley the city of Chicago put a 38,800 square foot green roof on a 12 story skyscraper in 2000. Twelve years later, that building now saves $5000 annually on utility bills, and Chicago boasts 7 million square feet of green roof space. New York has followed suit, and since planting a green roof on the Con Edison Learning Centre in Queens, the buildings managers have seen a 34 percent reduction of heat loss in winter, and reduced summer heat gain by 84 percent.

But lower utility bills aren’t the only benefit of planting a living roof. In addition to cooling down the city, green roofs create cleaner air, cleaner water, and provide a peaceful oasis for people, birds and insects in an otherwise polluted, concrete and asphalt-covered environment.

(via industrialmodernityguy14-deacti)

Link: The Myth of Sustainable Meat

The industrial production of animal products is nasty business. From mad cow, E. coli and salmonella to soil erosion, manure runoff and pink slime, factory farming is the epitome of a broken food system.

There have been various responses to these horrors, including some recent attempts to improve the industrial system, like the announcement this week that farmers will have to seek prescriptions for sick animals instead of regularly feeding antibiotics to all stock. My personal reaction has been to avoid animal products completely. But most people upset by factory farming have turned instead to meat, dairy and eggs from nonindustrial sources. Indeed, the last decade has seen an exciting surge in grass-fed, free-range, cage-free and pastured options. These alternatives typically come from small organic farms, which practice more humane methods of production. They appeal to consumers not only because they reject the industrial model, but because they appear to be more in tune with natural processes.

For all the strengths of these alternatives, however, they’re ultimately a poor substitute for industrial production. Although these smaller systems appear to be environmentally sustainable, considerable evidence suggests otherwise.

Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming. It requires 2 to 20 acres to raise a cow on grass. If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs). A tract of land just larger than France has been carved out of the Brazilian rain forest and turned over to grazing cattle. Nothing about this is sustainable.